Creating a Culture from Scratch

Obama’s Social Media Digital Dream Team came to CU’s ATLAS center and spoke on “How Technology, Social Networking and Analytics Helped Secure a Presidential Reelection.  Regardless of your politics, you have to admit what they did reshaped the engagement landscape.

The panel included:

  • Chris Gansen, Engineering Lead, Dashboard, @cgansen
  • Jason Kunesh, Director of User Experience and Product, @jdkunesh
  • Dylan Richard, Director of Engineering, @dylanr

The intense passion and brainpower were inspiring; I’d love to work with any of those guys. Here’re a few tweets to get a flavor of the conversation:

  •  Engineer recruiting pitch “this is going to be the worst job you’ve had” and “you have a chance to impact history”
  • Pitch to potential volunteers – “How wd you like to work for the President”?
  • When people are running w hair on fire – “slow is smooth, smooth is fast”
  • Can have tons of data but it’s nothing w/out a clear, concise way to tell the story.
  • Engineers learned most fm “making it fail” game day. How things actually failed was different than how we thought they wd fail.
  • Everyone is an expert at something you just need to find out what it is.

I was fascinated by the nothing-BIG SOMETHING-nothing quality of their experience.  Basically they started at zero and then cranked for 18 months. During that time they created 200 apps, among other things. Then, whoosh, it all spiraled down the drain the moment the election was over.

As you can imagine, this dynamic presents all sorts of interesting individual and team performance considerations.  Jason talked about establishing culture starting from scratch. He described an iterative process of sharing Story of Self to create that bond:

  • Meet with a colleague.
  • Share a personal Challenge, Choice and Outcome.
  • Notice what we have in common.
  • Now we have a Story of Us.
  • Find another colleague and repeat.

 Elegant. Simple. Profound.


(Also on my mind: DailyDebriefApp, created in conjunction with @spikex, is now available in iTunes. Check it out on Facebook )


“Daring Greatly” According to Dr. Brene Brown

Sometimes you decide to squeeze something in to your already-packed life and in hindsight it wasn’t worth it. Other times, you’re glad you made the effort.

Last night, or rather early this morning (2am), joining a live feed to listen to Dr. Brene Brown was definitely worth it.  Dr. Brown was speaking at the annual International Coach Federation conference in London about how having the courage to be vulnerable can transform  the way we live, love and lead.

Here’s her Ted Talk.

Here are my tweets to give you a flavor of her research and writing:

  • Vulnerability researcher gets “Daring Greatly” from Teddy R quote
  • No such thing as creative people and not creative people, only those who use their creativity and those who don’t.
  • In you, vulnerability looks like courage. In me, it feels like weakness. How do we jump that disconnect?
  • Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s our most accurate measure of courage.
  • If you are not aware about how you do vulnerability, it will do you.
  • Feedback is a function of respect.
  • #1 complaint HR hears is “no feedback.” Feedback done well makes the giver vulnerable too. Interesting catch-22.
  • Shame is the birthplace of perfectionism. We don’t succeed bc of perfectionism, but in spite if it.
  • Cultivating “cool” puts a straight jacket on learning and connection.

Here’s another I forgot to tweet:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Gives me chills every time.

Want more? (I do.) Here’s her latest book


Poor Company Leadership: 5 Worst Leadership Mistakes

Thought I’d share a quick guest post I did for the  OI Partners blog.  OI Partners is a global talent management company helping individuals develop their careers through personalized, one-on-one attention and employers improve the performance of their employees and organizations.  They wanted to know what I’d list as the 5 Worst Leadership Mistakes.  Here’s what I said:

There are many ways leaders can blow it. To me, it’s most discouraging when they trip over things involving interpersonal insensitivity, ignorance or laziness. These gaffes bruise an employee’s sense of loyalty which can have a big ripple effect because:

“Employees rated their relationship with their immediate supervisor as more important to their job satisfaction than benefits and compensation.”

Source: 2011 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement: A Research Report by SHRM

With that in mind, here’s my list of the Top 5 Worst Leadership Mistakes:

1)    Avoid Difficult Conversations – This one is a double whammy. First, by not stepping up to awkward situations or performance concerns, the supervisor doesn’t allow the employee to address the issue. Second, the resulting disruptions create drag on other employees and weaken their faith in the boss’ leadership.

2)    Pride Themselves on a “Hands Off” Management Style – When there’s friction between employees it can be messy. A leader whose go-to strategy is “letting you figure out how to play nicely in the sand box” is basically abdicating responsibility. The leader is ensuring continued distraction and frustration for the team. A good leader sees the issue, considers a range of interventions, and selects one based on the situation. They may choose “hands off,” but it’s not the only tool in their box. This slip is a close cousin to Avoiding Difficult Conversations.

3)    Err on the Side of Less Communication – Despite the email deluge, it’s surprising how often employees feel out of the loop. Leaders sometimes shift position but fail to update those that weren’t in the last, pivotal conversation. They may feel so overwhelmed by the ‘to do’s” of a big initiative that they skimp on the communications that would keep everyone up to speed. Employees can feel left out, exert effort in the wrong direction, and/or think the leader is hiding something.

4)    Don’t Hold Others Accountable – How often have you worked like crazy to meet your part of a deadline just to have others miss theirs without consequence? How does it feel when this happens over and over? It’s a sure recipe for frustration, resentment, second-guessing, and loss of respect for leadership.

5)    Don’t Hold Themselves Accountable – This leadership pitfall holds all the snakes of number four, but magnified tenfold. The implication is “I don’t have to play by the rules I set for you.” Who wants to work for someone conveying that sense of arrogance?

For some supervisors, these issues are simply blind spots that can be shored up with leadership executive coaching that heightens awareness and generates more effective strategies. For others, the roots of these bad behaviors may be a bit more knotty. It would be advantageous to engage in a robust executive development program that, in addition to raising awareness, untangles motivations, highlights perceptions and their impact, defines the leader’s more desired impact, and creates an action plan for working through this shift.

Which of the above have you wrestled with? I’d love to hear about changes you made and the resulting impact.


The Other “A” Word

(No, I’m not talking about that again.)

“A” as in Accountability:

  1. Doing what you say you’re going to do, by when you say you’re going to do it.
  2. Constructively following up with a colleague who didn’t do what they said they were going to do, by when they said they were going to do it.

Some organizations seamlessly weave accountability into the fabric of their culture.  Others fear and avoid it.  They don’t want to make a colleague look bad, spark a conflict, or invite embarrassing accountability turnaround.   If individual accountability is high for all involved, then good things still get done on time.   A couple of weak links, though, can lead to missed deadlines, grumbling behind people’s backs, and lost opportunities.   You know what I’m talking about.

One team of really smart, committed software as service professionals would get very quiet any time our conversation steered toward accountability.  Lots of big eyes looking all over to escape eye contact with me.  I think one person even stopped breathing for a bit.

Naturally, their determined avoidance meant we were going there!

The team wasn’t sure how to create more accountability, or be brave enough to hold each other accountable.  They were, however, very astute in describing their current relationship with accountability:

  •  It’s squishy, hard to interpret and inconsistent.
  • Thinking about holding others accountable is stressful.
  • Without it, we’re a bunch of individuals without cohesiveness.  It’s easy to stay in our own little area.
  • We don’t tend to assign work to people who don’t meet goals, but we don’t tell them that.
  • We’re great at pulling things together at the last minute and enjoy the buzz and collegiality of that pressure.

This last comment jiggled them out of their stuck place.  In the early days, it was exhilarating for a bunch of single twenty-somethings to crank through an all-nighter and just barely meet a client deadline.  Now, years (and spouses and babies) later, it’s not so much fun.  Regular sleep has also become more delicious than 2am pizza.

Through this lens, accountability wasn’t such a bad guy after all.  It could be the key to:

  • Freeing up time to do things outside of work.
  • Getting behind objectives that point toward success.  (Without accountability, objectives are just something we’re supposed to do, but no one really pays attention to them.)
  • Securing timely access to resources and information.
  • Providing genuine recognition; accountability flags it when people do what they were supposed to do.
  • Having more fun by getting into a flow of accomplishment and knowing others are too.
  • Being acknowledged for something of which we’re proud, versus our capacity for martyrdom (i.e. lack of sleep).

I wish I could say “Ah ha!  Problem solved!” but big change takes practice.  What I can say is that their bravery in naming That Which Shall Not Be Discussed has broken a barrier, opening the way to practice.

What’s your team’s relationship with accountability?


Who Cares Enough to Call You an Ass?

Okay, I got past the title.  Was struggling with the vocabulary because, really, when a person is being a big time jerk others call him/her an asshole, although not usually to their face.  Somehow, my good-girl, Southern upbringing is still enough intact that I can’t quite be that profane in the title.  On the other hand, I don’t want to dilute completely the sentiment by saying “idiot” or “brat”.  (The later seems to be my daughter’s favorite put down these days.)

So, in truth, this is a post about our asshole potential.

Clearly, he has lost his mind (and effectiveness).

Yesterday I was awed by a friend’s zealous commitment to a Big Home Project.  I had never known said friend to be handy or so domestically inclined.  Turns out, work has a high stress potential in the next few months and this diversion will help release the tension.  I was impressed by such pro-activity and self awareness.   Make that, self-awareness nudged into place with the help of his lovely wife.

Very astutely, she saw what was on the horizon and anticipated the possiblity of frustration-fueled bad behavior.  More importantly, she had the chutzpah to ask what he was going to do so he wouldn’t become an asshole.

I thought this was great!  What do I do to keep from becoming an asshole?  Sweat through P90X at 5am, journal, vent to appropriate resources (thanks Mom!), end my day escaping in a novel, and hike with my smiley Golden.

Look at that face! Antidote to crankiness.

Naturally, I was curious:

What keeps you from becoming an asshole?

Then I realized a big piece of not being an asshole is knowing when we’ve crossed the line or are getting close.  Most people are too intimidated or annoyed by assholes or assholes-in-the-make to jump into that scary conversation.  Maybe the more important question is:

Who cares enough to tell you when you’re being an asshole?

Cherish those true few.