leadership dot #3346: hype

When you are involved in planning or executing a major event, it is natural to evaluate the program at its conclusion. Undoubtedly, there are Lessons Learned meetings that make note of all the logistical elements to keep or improve. But one component that is often overlooked is whether the anticipation lived up to its hype.

When we are engaged in something big, there is a natural sense of expectation as the launch draws near. Simply asking the question of whether the reality aligned with the vision we had in our mind can provide valuable information to shape future planning. Did we cause people to expect more than they received, or could we have created additional buzz by sharing more of what was planned?

I reflect on this question not only with events but when engaging in anything new. Did the campus visit appear as I expected from the promotional materials? Does the new job align with the position announcement and interview? Does the restaurant match the reviews?

If you think not only about “what is” but also consider “what is expected” you may glean nuanced insights to help you exceed the anticipation in the future.

Thanks, Curt!

leadership dot #3315: appreciating

In a Harvard Business Review article, the authors described the gap between managers and employees when it comes to effective recognition. “Managers incorrectly assumed employees knew how they felt about them,” they write, and managers “reported that communicating appreciation seemed really complicated,” although the employees did not share those concerns.

In contrast, employees shared five ways that managers could effectively express appreciation:

  1. Touch base early and often. The small talk, morning greeting and time to share stories is as important as any task-related work.
  2. Give balanced feedback. If you only share praise, it comes off as disingenuous; only criticism is deflating. Employees want both types to know that you are interested in their development.
  3. Address growth opportunities. Help your staff find new ways to share their talents and learn.
  4. Offer flexibility. It’s not just about remote work or flex scheduling but giving employees control over aspects of their job is an indication of trust.
  5. Make it a habit. Build giving appreciation into your routine and find ways that allow you to frequently and authentically share your appreciation with your team.

Employee retention is more important than ever. Consider incorporating some of these tips into your regular practice to help demonstrate to your team that you truly value them. Just thinking that your employees are great is not enough. Show them!

The Little Things That Make Employees Feel Appreciated by Kerry Roberts Gibson, Kate O’Leary and Joseph R. Weintraub in Harvard Business Review, January 23, 2020.

leadership dot #3307: cop-out

If you know Chicago, you know the iconic Lake Shore Drive that snakes along the shores of Lake Michigan through the heart of downtown. So, if you were a city council member who wanted to bestow recognition on someone, renaming that particular road would be among the highest honors you could bestow.

And the City Council proposed doing just that: renaming Lake Shore Drive to Jean Baptiste Point DuSable to acknowledge the Haitian settler who opened a trading post in the city and is considered to be the first permanent, non-indigenous resident. So far, so good.

But in what is being reported as “a compromise”, council members voted to rename the road Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive instead. To me, that isn’t a compromise, it is a cop-out. By leaving Lake Shore Drive as part of the name, it almost guarantees that that reference will remain the common vernacular. Including the entire name of the honored settler (vs. making it DuSable Drive) also complicates the ease of use, even for those enthusiastic about the change.

As your organization grapples with how to recognize its history, work hard to achieve a worthy end. Not everything needs to be all-or-nothing, but compromise recognition rings hollow to me. Better to have followed the mayor’s suggestion to rename the Riverwalk, name a park in his honor, or provide some acknowledgement that may actually serve to raise awareness about DuSable and his legacy than to settle on an unwieldy name that will be overshadowed by its attachment to the current designation.

leadership dot #3299: seats

The Muny, St. Louis’ outdoor, professional theater has been a tradition for generations in the city, with many making it a ritual to attend each week during its season. The Muny has a wonderful tradition of providing free seats in the last nine rows of seating for its summer musical theater productions. This practice allows 1400 people to experience a professional, live performance without cost, but the distance from the stage results in more “hearing” than “seeing” of the production.

A foundation chose to honor a Muny regular, Patricia Wolf Gould, with a memorable gift in her honor. Each week, “free seat” patrons are randomly chosen and given seats much closer to the stage. The move enables them to be immersed in the production, rather than watching it from afar, and those who are “Patti’s Pick” are able to hear and see the show from a whole new perspective.

I love how personal this recognition is. It would have been easy for the foundation to endow a scholarship, make a contribution to the theater, or provide some other donation on her behalf but creating the seat upgrade program is a way to honor her legacy as well as her life.

Whether you are recognizing someone in large ways or small, work diligently to craft a tribute that specifically honors the person. Consider what is/was important to them, things they loved, areas where they gave their attention or unique ways that you can extend their influence. Special individuals merit personalized recognition, not a generic accolade.

leadership dot #3292: driving force

As part of their sponsorship of an Indianapolis 500 car, HyVee grocery store had the actual vehicle on display. It’s the first time I had seen an official race car up close and was surprised by how incredibly small it is. The seat looks like it would only hold a small child instead of a full-grown adult. I don’t know how they get in!

But what they do manage to fit in is sponsorship announcements. Every square inch of that vehicle is covered with advertisements of the various sponsors — everyone from HyVee to Mountain Dew Zero, Cheetos, Wahlburgers, and more. I am sure there were intricate legal maneuverings to determine the font size and placement of every letter of type on that car, but you certainly know who is the driving force behind it.

Other organizations could follow their lead and likely do a better job of proclaiming and recognizing their sponsors. You certainly don’t have to be as garish and ostentatious as Indy but there may be more public ways of acknowledging those who are powering your organization’s programs and services beyond just a simple line in your annual report. Not every donor wants its name emblazoned on your materials but consider whether there is an appropriate external way for you to show who is providing your fuel.

leadership dot #3282: Tomorrowland

In a recent workshop to help a new staff configuration intentionally craft a culture, I referenced the 2015 Tomorrowland movie and challenged the staff to create their own version of this mythical place. Tomorrowland is “a place where the best and brightest people in the world came together to actually change it.” The dreamers and thinkers unexpectedly received a T pin as their invitation and were transported to this new world where nothing was impossible.

While the movie was “meh,” I have always liked the concept of having a place where dreamers and thinkers come together to do magical things. I thought about this movie again when reading No Rules Rules about Netflix’s “high talent density” culture where they pay top wages to assemble the best people in each position and if you are only “good, not great” you are given a generous severance package and asked to leave. It reminded me of this utopian Tomorrowland but showed that creating the impossible is actually feasible if the right assembly of talent comes together.

You may not be able to shape the whole world as in the movie or even the entire culture like at Netflix, but can you provide metaphorical “T pins” to invite a collection of stars to convene on a specific project? Is it an option for you to identify those worthy of a pin in your organization and afford them latitude to think and dream on company time? Or could you create literal “T pins” as a form of recognition for those who demonstrate that change is possible?

Sometimes we need the arts in order to push our boundaries and set our sights higher. Take steps now to get one step closer to your Tomorrowland today.

No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer, 2020.

leadership dot #3280: touch

At a dedication ceremony for a new Veterans’ Memorial, the speaker reminded us of the importance of recognition that allows us to touch it, providing us with the opportunity to feel closer to those being remembered. Touch is an important aspect of all memory: we take photographs and buy souvenirs from vacations, bring home seashells from our walk on the beach, keep ticket stubs or pressed flowers from significant dates, and have boxes of crayon-filled artwork to remind us of childhood. Memories in our minds are enhanced by a physical trigger.

But those tactile accompaniments often mean little without the story that ascribes its meaning. The same is true for artwork. The sculpture at the Veterans’ Memorial means less if you do not know the significance behind it. Entitled “Skyward,” it gives visitors a view of the sky, the last thing hometown hero Chaplain Aloysius Schmitt saw while pushing sailors to safety through a porthole in a damaged ship in Pearl Harbor before perishing himself. Standing inside the sculpture and looking upward creates much more emotion than just thinking of the tragic scenario.

It’s nice to give people verbal kudos and pats on the back but remember the value of adding something lasting that you can touch. Touch plus story equals a powerful combination of recognition.

Speaker: CAPT Daniel L. Mode, Fleet Chaplain, SEVENTHFLT

leadership dot #3221: pinned

If you look at these two pins they look identical unless you squint and look closely at the teeny-tiny number at the bottom. The problem is that number should be the whole point of the pin: one represents 3 gallons of blood donations (24 pints) while the other represents 14 gallons (112 pints). The sameness belies the vast differences in what they purport to recognize.

Consider, too, whether a pin is an appropriate recognition at all. The Red Cross has been handing out these same pins for decades but they serve little useful purpose. Why not provide a car decal with the emphasis on the number or something more visible to allow the donor to share pride in their accomplishment?

The Red Cross missed the mark by making their recognition about them (the red cross in the middle) instead of about the donor (the number more prominent). Take a critical look at what you share and ask whether it provides real value to the recipient or it’s just something you do.

leadership dot #3120: sensitivity

Few decisions are more sensitive and cause greater emotion than how to do a memorial. It is a delicate topic on a personal level but when you’re planning a public memorial the scope and scale escalate every decision.

People in Las Vegas are experiencing this first-hand as they try to finalize plans for a memorial for lives lost at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in 2017. One of the key decisions is where to locate the tribute. While it may seem obvious that the memorial is at the site of the shooting, others feel that returning to that location would be too traumatic for the survivors. Another key point of debate is what names to inscribed in the remembrance: should it be the 58 who lost their lives there or should the two who died afterward be included as well? There are hundreds of stakeholders and an equal amount of passions and opinions to navigate.

While you may not be responsible for a project of this nature, it is likely that you will be involved in some type of tribute to those who have passed. It may be recognizing a colleague who died, a community member who suddenly or tragically lost their life, or even publishing a list of those who were lost this year. Keep in mind that each of the people you are memorializing leaves behind loved ones who are very much alive – and very attuned to each nuance of every decision you make. Remember to allow others to help shape how you remember others.

leadership dot #3011: cameo

With so many events moving to an online format, you may be struggling to find a way to make the occasion special. While being remote has its disadvantages, it also opens up new opportunities for creative recognition.

One such way is with cameo.com. Various entertainers are available to record personalized messages that can be incorporated into Zoom-type calls. These have been used to present the top awards at banquets, part of showers or wedding celebrations, at virtual graduations, for appreciation or really for any occasion. You could have Bret Favre, Mandy Moore, Dennis Rodman or Chef Rick Bayless as a guest for your next big event, or choose from one of 30,000 others in categories such as Game of Thrones, reality TV stars, comedians, impersonators, queers or musicians to target the celebrity to your audience.

It’s harder to “wow” participants online, but Cameo might provide a new twist that allows you to infuse some personality into your event. Whether you use them or one of the other similar services out there, don’t just try to replicate in-person via the online format. Take advantage of new modalities to create unexpected memories.