Learning

Jumping to Conclusions

Several years ago, I was consulting with Division X of a large company; the president of the division had a reputation of being against change. Corporate had decided to implement a new system, starting with 2 other divisions, then coming to Division X. During an initial meeting at Division X, the division president was “not feeling well” and called in by speakerphone. A while later, Corporate created a 1-day workshop for the leaders of Division X. On the day of the workshop, the CEO and COO came to Division X to kick off the meeting; the CEO spent most of the day in the meeting to underscore its importance. When I arrived at the workshop, the division VP Ops told me that the division president was staying home because he was ill. Given the president’s previous actions and attitudes, we both assumed that he was signaling his disapproval of the new system.

That evening, I talked with my business partner about the concrete-head division president – what to do and how to do it. One of my major tasks as a consultant was to help implement the new system at the division. I mentally created lots of scenarios for truly powerful coaching the next time I was able to have a 1-1 with the division president. My favorite scenario was 2 questions:

1. Do you think that the new system will indeed be implemented at Division X? (The only logical answer was “yes”, because corporate was rolling it out across all divisions. It was already working in 2 other divisions, and corporate would insist that our division be on the new system.)

2. How do you want to be perceived by your people, and by corporate: a) fully supportive, b) mildly supportive, c) neutral, d) mildly opposed, or e) adamantly opposed? You get to choose. (I would hope that the light would click on – that anything short of c) would damage his ability to lead his own people in the division as well as his career.)

So, self-righteously armed with that great scenario, I arrived at the division the next morning to hear that the president had been in briefly looking totally green around the gills, then had gone home to finish recovering from the stomach flu. Several others were also out with the flu.

I’m glad I had confined my disparaging comments about the president to my business partner, whom I could trust to forget them completely once I updated him on the situation. Anything else could have seriously poisoned my working relationship with the client.

To put a moral to this story: jumping to conclusions is like jumping off a diving board. Sometimes there will be water, and you’ll be ok. Sometimes, the water will also contain sharks. And sometimes there will be only a concrete pool bottom where the water should have been. Unfortunately, we don’t know what’s down below when we jump.

I welcome your feedback.

Gary Langenwalter

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Wisdom Workforce

As Boomers start retiring in large numbers, the supply of labor will inexorably dwindle, causing organizations to have difficulty finding and retaining good workers.

One untapped resource for good workers is the retired workers themselves, which I call the “wisdom workforce”. Many employers are hesitant to consider hiring people who are over 50. They believe the stereotypes: “burned out, resistant to new technologies, absent due to illness, poor at working with younger supervisors, reluctant to travel, less creative, less productive, mentally slower, and more expensive to employ.”

Reality is just the opposite. Peter Cappelli, a management professor at Wharton and co-author of a book Managing the Older Worker, says that older workers outperform younger ones, delivering superior performance.

In truth, many retirees would like to remain working, although perhaps as less than full time. They need the intellectual challenge and social interaction. Additionally, many need to do so because of their financial condition. If they were working, this would considerably lower the requirement for government assistance and social services.

In addition to facing a labor shortage, organizations are losing decades of wisdom and experience with each person that retires. Enthusiasm and innovative thinking of younger workers are absolutely essential, but so are wisdom and experience. Organizations benefit by integrating both.

My idea is that an organization would intentionally employ wisdom workers – their life experience helps them stay grounded and keep others around them grounded, leading to better and more consistent performance. An organization could intentionally design jobs to use the strengths of the wisdom workers, while accommodating any limitations such workers might have.

What do you think? Are retired, or semi-retired, people a valuable untapped resource? Would organizations and society benefit by enabling them to continue to work? If so, how can organizations utilize their talents and experience to the organizations’ advantage?

Gary Langenwalter

Disappointment

This past year I’ve focused on becoming a consultant. Its new territory for me since I had been a full time employee (FTE) in Corporate America for close to 40 years. As an FTE, you’re assigned a specific role in an organization with specific performance expectations. You execute your tasks and deliverables, and get rewarded for your contribution (or not). Typically, unless you’re in a very small business, you are “cog” in the big machine, somewhat sheltered from all other functions where you don’t always see the big picture, especially with sales and marketing.

Well, as a consultant or a small business owner you wear many hats. You have to. You don’t generate sales (& income), unless you have paying clients. You typically obtain paying clients by performing marketing functions where, hopefully, you generate enough interest where a prospect wants to employ your services. Which brings me to my point about “disappointment”.

I recently spent untold hours developing a training proposal with my business partner. Several meetings were held with the prospect identifying their various needs and requirements. We looked at all aspects of the design, delivery and our approach. We were very thorough and our proposal (in my eyes) was AWESOME! But then came the inevitable email, thanks, by no thanks. They had found another consultant who better fit their requirement. What? We could have done an excellent job with the training! Needless to say, I was greatly DISAPPOINTED!!

But after having a conversation with my partner who has been a consultant since 1987 said that rejection and disappointment are life of being a consultant. Well, I don’t like that! Felt like, and probably acted like, a 3 year old having a tantrum! I want to be successful like I was in corporate life. This is much more difficult. I don’t want to feel disappointed the rest of my life. So, I determined I needed to change things up and come up with a strategy that would help me through my next proposal.

So, here’s my new strategy and I suggest you try it too:

1. Let your feelings out. Get mad, yell, or hit a pillow. Have a good cry! I find them very healing. Get the frustration out of your system. Go exercise, take a walk or talk to a friend. Burying your feelings is not healthy, so please choose to let them out.

2. Change your expectations. As a consultant you will not win every proposal. Maybe it will only be 10%, 1 out of 10. Changing your expectations will help you not be overly disappointed.

3. Be grateful. I am grateful for my family and friends, great conversations, learning and growing, health, nature and God’s endless love and joy! I do not take any of these things for granted. They are a gift!

And as Martin Luther King once said, We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. And I am eternally hopeful!

Greg Sievers

Ducks, Football, and Business

What does the college bowl championship game have to do with business, or any organization? Here are two ideas:

1. There was a lot of hype leading up to the college bowl championship game. Almost as bad as the Super Bowl, where I joke that the media have interviewed the refrigerator repairman of the 3rd string tackle’s great-uncle.

Hype, as we’re all aware, is merely forecast, opinion, posturing. It’s not real. What is real is that 2 of Oregon’s players were prevented from playing because they failed their drug tests – they tested positive for marijuana. No hype in the world can alter the results of a drug test.

An AP College Football writer predicted an Oregon win by 5 points. And another writer crowed that Oregon wins in the 4th quarter by wearing its opponents down. Again, forecast and speculation. But not reality. In the 4th quarter, Ohio State outscored Oregon 14-0. Ohio State won, 42-20.

So much for hype and forecasts.

The same is true for business – all the promises in the world, all the forecasts, all the speculation, all the hype, is just that. Empty air. Yes, we require a vision to have us work together to achieve a common goal. But when all is said and done, what really matters is what’s been done. What has been accomplished.

2. In the final analysis, how much does it matter whether Oregon is #1 or #2? Either way, they’ve been to the first national college championship game. Even as #2, they’ll have excellent recruiting position, and excellent financial support, for years to come.

In business, being #2 has its advantages. Avis used the line, “We’re #2; we try harder,” for 50 years! #2 means there is still room to improve. #2 tends to be a little less arrogant, a little less sure of themselves, a little hungrier. And that’s much better for the long term survival of an organization. The business world is littered with #1s who died because they started believing that they were invincible. Bill Gates says that he has learned more from his failures than his successes. So maybe, in the long run, #2 is actually a better place to be than #1.

What has been your experience? Is #2 a better position than #1?

Gary Langenwalter

Looking Backward and Forward

The first month of the year is named after the two-headed Roman god Janus, shown here in an ancient Roman coin. One head looked back, the other looked forward.

One way to look back and look forward is with a Plus/Delta reflection, which can be done individually or in a group. Divide a flipchart or piece of paper into 2 columns. Above the left column write “Plus”; above the right column write “Delta”. Ask what went well in 2014, and write those bullets into the Plus column. And think of what you would like to change next time – write those bullets into the Delta column.

Notice – and this is important – you’re not making things “wrong”. You’re asking, “What would I like to change?” That’s why the column is called “delta”, not “minus”. This allows you to learn from all of your experiences. We coach clients to never use the word “fail.” When they try something, they get a result. If they don’t like the result, they can change something and try again. And if they get the result they want, they can still change something and try for a different result the next time! That’s how people, and organizations, learn. Learning organizations consistently outperform traditional organizations. And they’re a lot more fun to work in!

All of us at PCG wish you and yours a rewarding and “learning” new year.

Gary Langenwalter

Neither Good Nor Bad

I’ve learned not to judge events as “good” or “bad”, under most circumstances.

A couple weeks ago, an ice storm closed Portland down. One casualty of the storm was a public workshop on Process Improvement (Lean/Quality/Change) that I was going to lead, which got rescheduled to the first week of December. Unfortunately, not all the participants, who had paid for the workshop series, were available on the new date. That’s bad, right?

Maybe not…

I decided to offer the workshop to the participants who could not attend the rescheduled time, at their location, at no additional cost to them, so that they would receive full value for their investment in education. Three organizations accepted my offer. I requested that each of them invite other colleagues, again at no additional cost, so that we would have approximately 8 in the room – a 1-person workshop is VERY small!

As rewarding as it is to lead a public workshop, leading the on-site workshops is even more so. It’s a much smaller group (8, rather than 20). And I am able to use examples from their organization for the major exercises, allowing them to move their organization forward. In the public workshop, that is not possible.

So, as “bad” as the ice storm was as far as messing up people’s schedules and commitments, something good emerged – the opportunity to lead workshops on site for 3 organizations, using their own examples. Now I can view ice storms as “good”. Well, maybe…

Gary Langenwalter

Handling Disappointment

After having become laid off from a corporate job in 2008 (during the great recession), I continued to pursue the same kind of position that I had become used to. I’d climb into that Gerbil wheel (as I now like to call it), and run & run & run, working very hard seeking that goal of being employed again. Yes, many say men place too much of their identity with having a job. So, when they lose one they lose their identity. But I have to say it was primarily financial. I knew who I was & what I was good at. I did various human potential programs and was always doing self-discovery work. I was driven by the need to make money, enough money to just pay our bills. Nothing extravagant. The mortgage, utilities, & food. But after so many interviews & getting so many “no’s”, the disappointment came in, in fact, at times depression.

So, let’s look at this disappointment. I had certain expectations of working to make money to pay the bills. The not working & not making money created a gap in my expectations. That gap became disappointment. Disappointment in myself. Disappointment in me as the husband & father, not fulfilling my bread winner role. As I saw this pattern repeat itself over & over, I began to think maybe, just maybe I needed to change my expectations. My expectations of what kind of job I really needed or desired. Or possibly our expenses were excessive.

The best remedy to deal with disappointment is to acknowledge and work through the emotion it evokes. It is normal to feel upset or angry, but instead of wallowing in self-pity, we need to recognize that this is a part of life and although this will happen time and time again, each time it does, you will only become stronger and more resilient. I now realize that life will continue to offer me lessons which I can either view positively or negatively. It’s a choice. It’s all in my perspective. I encourage you to look at your perspective.

Secondly, what has helped me the most is my network of supportive friends. People who I can truly confide in and share my true feelings. Where I’m not judged. So, I continue to nurture friendships, where I support them and they support me. Which will help me deal with the ups and downs that life continues to offer. And provide a clearer perspective on the meaning.

“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.”

Henry David Thoreau

I welcome your comments. greg

Greg Sievers

Handling Disappointment_gos.docx

We’re Built to Learn

My granddaughter loves to learn – how to climb up stairs, how to pet a cat, etc. I like to learn as well (except for the more abstruse features of my smart phone). Humans are naturally curious – that makes us learning machines. So what can you learn today?

I invested in learning for 2 hours yesterday at a Fundamentals of Organization Development course, jointly created by Cascade Employers’ Association and Oregon Organization Development Network. This was the 2nd of 6 sessions. I’d invite you to join us, but the room is full. (I hope you’ll sign up next year.) Yesterday’s topic was strategic planning. Now, I’ve led strategic planning with clients and taught it at the graduate level, so one might suggest I don’t need to sit in on a 2 hour workshop on strategic planning. If I knew everything there is to know, I would agree with that statement. But I attended for 2 reasons:

1. To refresh myself on the concepts that I already know (even great sports stars use coaches to continue to improve), and

2. To learn concepts that I didn’t know.

I did learn a couple nuggets. I also reinforced a couple key concepts, including “letting go”, which will be the topic of another blog.

I have recently learned that learning is easiest for the very young, because they don’t have any preconceived ideas about what is. They are a blank slate. As we learn, we create our mental map of how society and our organizations and our families operate. This is invaluable – we could not function without it! However, once we have that map in place, learning something new requires letting go of something we have already learned, something we think is “true”. Thus, the longer we continue through life, the more difficult learning becomes, because we have more to unlearn.

So what can you learn today? And what are you willing to unlearn, so you can learn something new?

Gary Langenwalter

gary@portlandconsultinggroup.com