Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Step Before the System

Perks are great, but they are detached from the day-to-day.

Often, perks are a way to “shield” managers and executives from the sticky task of creating a healthy, humane, and sustainable day-to-day environment.

“We have a wellness program, what’s your problem?”

What if you have me on so many disparate projects that I don’t have time for your “wellness” program?

There is a need for a deeper conversation about work, what an organization is and its role in our world, how we decide what activities to pursue, and the relationship between customer, employee, and organization.

We have wellness programs – yet the disengagement, burnout, anxiety, and depression statistics are frightening.

We have wellness programs – yet only 1/5 – 2/5 of employees use them, even with incentives and punishments.

I’m not saying that wellness programs are bad. Not at all.

They are a tool in the toolkit and evidence that the organization is at least thinking about the importance of employee health and its importance in achieving organizational goals.

I am just asking for a deeper conversation.

One where we stop talking about workplace wellness as something separate and apart from the work itself.

Much of our issue with workplace wellness is, in my opinion, an issue of prioritization and trying to do too much at once.

Much of our issue with workplace wellness is, in many people’s opinion (most notably Gallup), an issue of management and leadership (or lack thereof).

The wellness programs are helpful.

But if your employees have no time to use your wellness program resources, or, even if they ARE able to use those resources, they work in an environment that doesn’t reinforce their attempts at self-care, the wellness program becomes a shiny, expensive pink elephant.


Harvard Business Review – What Wellness Programs Don’t Do for Workers (Article). This article got me thinking further about the workplace and why working conditions for knowledge workers seem to be deteriorating even though we have tons of research and writing about employee engagement, employee health, and the importance of both for creativity and innovation.

World Health Organization – Stress at Work (Article). When workplace stress and burnout catches the attention of the World Health Organization, you know it’s bad.

Personal Observations on Burnout (Blog Posts) – As you know, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. We can do better.

2 Models of Community Building

Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Evolution of Workplace Learning

Back in 2009, Dr. Tony Karrer predicted that Workplace Learning Professionals would morph into “management consultants”.

At the time, my reaction was “I dunno – that term seems so charged.” 

I think of the overpriced “consultants” that have invaded more than one of my corporate environments because decision-makers won’t listen to people from within the organization. (It means more if they are spending thousands of dollars for the same advice.) 

I think of the management gurus who tell us how to play nice with others, climb the corporate ladder, and win friends and influence people.

Dr. Karrer talked about how the definition of “management” will change.

11 years later, much of what Dr. Karrer wrote about is still true.

We’re still grappling with push vs. pull.

We’re still grappling with the notion that learning is always happening, not just in the classroom.

For those of us with time in the Workplace Learning trenches, our bread-and-butter is making change stick. Or…it should be.

It is NOT the development of courses – classroom, blended, online, or any combination of such.

It’s not even in the implementation ceremonies that mark projects.

11 years later, I find myself as a Change Management consultant.

It doesn’t feel like a very dramatic change – That’s what we (Workplace Learning experts) should have been doing this entire time. Behavior change.

Our jobs are changing and it is becoming progressively clearer that we are becoming “knowledge gardeners” and change managers.

Thinking about the tools I’m building and the programs I’m developing today – 11 years later, this is how my career has evolved.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but in all of the places I’ve worked the training department(s) have been in the unusual position of being able to touch and connect across all departments in an organization. As a result, training departments are in a great position to connect people, synthesize disparate processes and share information.

We talk about creating learning environments.

We talk about breaking down organizational barriers.

Maybe that’s where we need to focus our energies. Creating and cultivating learning environments. Not just tools – LMS, tutorials, courseware, etc. The material remains of information. The “activities” of learning.

We also need to help create a cultural environment. All of our materials are (supposedly) built with attitude and behavior shift in mind – why not direct those skills towards broader cultural purposes?

I’m still helping people get the information they need. Encouraging people within any organization or group I work with to talk to each other and share what they know. Facilitating learning when they need and want it (preferably in much smaller chunks than they are getting now). 

Those things have not changed over the years.

Those of us in the trenches of change – the project managers, developers, designers, business analysts, and trainers – need to gain familiarity with all of the tools that will help make change stick, not just the ones specific to our specialties.

We’re being asked to enlarge our toolkits – and determine wise and best use of our tools.

We’re being asked to combine what works across specializations to find what most effectively creates the results we want in the context we are in.

Using whatever our favorite tool is across all problems can only take us so far.

I don’t have any prediction for how my career will change over the next 10 years. I’m somewhat shocked (and partially dismayed) that much of what Dr. Karrer and I wrote 11 years ago has proven to be so evergreen.

What I do know is that today’s environment requires me to learn personal agility, discernment, and vision-setting. I need to learn and practice relationship building and safe space creation.

I need to continue being a catalyst for change.

What about you?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Fast Zebras

Almost 10 years ago, Harvard Business Review introduced the idea of “Fast Zebras.”

A fast zebra is someone who is singularly focused on achieving performance results, knows how the organization can both hinder and help, and charts their course accordingly. In particular, they are wise about when to use the formal and rational elements of organization (such as hierarchy, processes, and monetary rewards) and when to use the informal and emotional elements (including values, networks, and feelings about the work).

Jon Katzenbach, How “Fast Zebras” Navigate Informal Networks

I’m somewhat surprised that the idea of “fast zebras” didn’t get more traction.

My suspicion is that “Fast Zebras” threaten organizational hierarchies and, ultimately, leave hostile environments.

Environments often have effective antibodies to rogue elements like “Fast Zebras.”

The concept was also marketed towards organizational leaders. In my experience, most “Fast Zebras” can be found lurking within your line staff.

The project managers, organizational trainers, senior engineers, and business analysts who have worked on many projects, have cultivated strong relationships throughout the organization, and know where the bodies are stashed.

People in hierarchical positions of power, particularly in deeply conservative organizations, often need to maintain the hierarchy. Middle and senior managers are often hamstrung by having to “keep appearances” among their peers and seniors. These individuals are quickly reminded about their “place” and attempts to go around the formal hierarchy are ruthlessly punished. The punishment is often covert and long-lasting.

Individual contributors have a great oppotunity.

We are not entirely beholden to the structure.

We are beholden to results and getting the job done.

In many instances, we need to work around the structure to get work done.

As one of my project management colleagues not-so-gently reminded the Mucky Muck as he wrongly chided the line staff about not working across silos, “If I don’t work across silos, I can’t get anything done.”

Every other line staffer in the room nodded in agreement.

One of the engineers chimed in – “Your problem with silos is with the management. We work together all the time. Heck, half the time we don’t even talk to our managers because then we’d have to wait for the silos to work.”

The project manager and engineer are the “Fast Zebras.”

Are you?

Thursday, August 15, 2019

How Our Attention Gets Hijacked

We are easily manipulated into compliance with someone else’s demands.

Robert Cialdini, Regents’ Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University, identified six principles that, when used deftly, can cause an individual to say “yes” to a request:

  • Reciprocation
  • Consistency
  • Social Proof
  • Liking
  • Authority
  • Scarcity

Think about the number of people taking up residence in your inbox right now. Take out the people you know – co-workers, clients, potential clients, and people contacting you for help. 

If your inbox is anything like mine, what is left is a collection of people who asked for my email in exchange for information – a PDF, or video access, maybe even a book (Reciprocation).

They then use this email to send me more email – sometimes multiple times a day (Consistency).

Occasionally, they will send a testimonial about their work and how awesome they are (Social Proof).

Most of them write in a friendly, conversational tone (Liking).

Many of them will have letters behind their names or may have held important jobs at prestigious organizations.  Barring that, they will share brand-name organizations and important individuals they have worked with (Authority).

These emails contain a call to action that expires at a random time to encourage me … strongly … to ACT NOW!!!! (Scarcity).

This dynamic occurs regularly in daily life.

  • Have you ever performed a favor that you don’t want to do to Reciprocate for something they did for you in the past?
  • Did you ever do a task because the requestor Consistently hounded you about it?
  • Have you ever found yourself chanting at a sporting event, rally, or all-hands meeting (Social Proof)?
  • Have you ever done something for someone simply because they asked, and you like them (Likability)?
  • Do you have a boss that leverages Authority to get you to participate in a project you have no interest in? 
  • Have you ever scrambled to get a report done because a client set a tight deadline (Scarcity), then that same person didn’t even look at your deliverable until 2 weeks later (if at all)?

Cialdini observed that these techniques tend to trigger automatic behavior patterns in people. These patterns, Cialdini noted, “tend to be learned rather than inborn, more flexible than the lock-step patterns of the lower animals, and responsive to a larger number of triggers.”[1]

We have these automatic patterns because we are looking for the shortcut. 

“You and I exist in an extraordinarily complicated environment, easily the most rapidly moving and complex that has ever existed on this planet. To deal with it, we NEED shortcuts (emphasis his). We can’t be expected to recognize and analyze all the aspects in each person, event, and situation we encounter in even one day. We haven’t the time, energy or capacity for it. Instead, we must very often use our stereotypes, our rules of thumb, to classify things according to a few key features and then to respond without thinking when one or another of these trigger features is present.”[2] 

Robert Cialdini, On Influence

Others who are clear on their intention can leverage this to their own benefit. The amount of information noise we grapple with makes us less likely to have both the desire and the ability to analyze information or requests very carefully.[3] 

Skillful manipulators know that we are working in an environment of information overload, and often help to CREATE that overload. That overload reduces our desire and ability to discern what is important to us and whether what is being asked of us is in our best interest.

The best way to fight back is to define for ourselves our values and vision.

[1] (Influence, Kindle loc 295)

[2] (Influence, Kindle loc 362-368)

[3] (citation: Epley, N. and Gilovich,T, (2006), The anchoring-and-adjustment heuristic: Why adjustments are insufficient, Psychological Science, 17, 311-318; Petty & Wegener, (1999), The elaboration likelihood model: Current status and controversies. In S. Chaiken & Y. Trope (Eds.), Dual process theories in social psychology, pp 41-72. New York: Guilford.  As cited in Influence)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

What Are You Amplifying?

What are you amplifying?

All that is “wrong” with the world?

All that is “right”?

All that you want?

All that you don’t?

Oneness or separation?

Love or hatred?

Joy or sorrow?

It’s become clear, to me at least, that it’s time to become mindful and careful about what we are amplifying.

We have been seeing it in the conversations around Facebook, “fake news” and “deep fakes.”

We see it in our Amazon experience.

We see it in the ads that are served to us as we surf the Net.

Each time you click something, buy something, watch something, pause on something – you are amplifying.

Artificial intelligence and quantum computing algorithms begin to shape your world based on what you are paying attention to.

Complicating matters, we are hard-wired to focus on the dangerous and negative. Marketers and those who wish to spread their message know this and act accordingly.

We’re easily manipulated, even when we are doing our best to be mindful.

Think about a time that was traumatic and dramatic.

Now try to remember a time where all was well in your world and everything was peaceful.

How quickly did you remember the trauma and the drama?

How hard was it to remember a peaceful time?

Think about the news? How much of it is trauma and drama?

How much of it is positive?

So much is competing for our attention and doing so in ways that are noisy and negative. Our brains like that.

We are going to keep being fed the noisy and negative – because that is what we are amplifying.

What do you want to do to break the cycle? Change what gets amplified?

What we pay attention to is going to shape our world.

What world do you want to live in?


I find that when a topic begins to cross my path repeatedly, it’s time to pay attention. Quantum computing, recently, has been that topic.

What makes Quantum Computing so interesting, and scary, is that it potentially takes information and either amplifies or cancels it. We are seeing this work in current AI algorithms using binary (classical) programming and current technologies.

Introduction to Quantum Computing ( – non-affiliate link, 60 minutes) This is the tutorial that got me thinking about Amplification. Mid-way through, one of the experts mentioned waves, troughs, and how they amplify and cancel each other. She mentioned that this concept is being leveraged in Quantum Computing and AI applications.

The Grand Challenge and Promise of Quantum Computing (GoTo 2019, 45 minutes) A clear explanation of what quantum computing is and potential applications.

Tristan Harris – How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds (Medium article) Tristan Harris was a technology ethicist at Google. He describes the “behind the scenes” of how technologies are being leveraged to take over our attention.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

When to Stay the Course

Some of us abandon ship at the first sign of discomfort.

Others of us plug away well after it becomes obvious that our expected return on investment is not forthcoming.

This is for those of you who tend to jump ship as soon as the going gets hard.

Dreaming about the thing is, frankly, more fun than actually doing the thing.

When you attempt to manifest, there is a good chance that you will encounter dis-illusionment.

That sinking feeling that the thing you are trying to create isn’t quite what you wanted.

The idea that was better in your head than in reality.

This is when it is incredibly important that you are clear on what you are trying to achieve.

Remember: the change journey tests your “Why.”

If Why you are doing something isn’t strong enough – you will jump off the path at the first opportunity.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What is it about this new idea or opportunity that is so attractive?
  • Where, in my current effort, am I uncomfortable?
  • Am I clear on WHY I am doing what I am doing? What am I trying to accomplish?
  • Will this new idea or opportunity get me there? If so, is it an improvement on your current path?
  • Are your expectations of both this experience AND the new experience realistic?

It’s an art deciding whether to pivot or stay the course.

It requires mindfulness and lots of questioning.

It requires clarity on what you are trying to accomplish.

It requires being real about what you expect to experience in the process.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

When to Pivot

The ability to pivot and see opportunity is probably the single greatest skillset an entrepreneur can have.

Mark Sisson, interviewed by Lewis Howes, episode 827

Life provides us opportunities to question what we are doing and why.

The bigger the thing we are trying to accomplish, the more frequent the universal tests.

You often have a sense as to when a pivot is coming.

You are not seeing the results you expect. Or results are taking longer than you planned. Or the environment has changed around you, making what you are doing less valuable or desirable?

You may also see a great opportunity or have a new idea. One that is a heck of a lot more appealing than navigating the change dip.

So when should you pivot?

There’s no one right answer.

A few questions I ask when I am staring at a potential pivot:

  • How close am I to my “out?” Hopefully, you have defined what your “out” is. It could be a financial number. It could be a specific feeling. It could be an experience.
  • What do the trends look like?
    • If the trend is positive, but you have hit your “out” – do you still have runway? Do you need to come up with a way to shrink the scope of work while taking care of the immediate issue?
    • If the trend is negative or flat-lined for the forseeable future, what is keeping you on this path? What have you learned? Beware the “sunk cost fallacy.”
  • If I am faced with a new opportunity, does the new opportunity have the potential to move me towards my goals faster? Goals in this context aren’t just SMART goals, but also experiential. Does this new opportunity potentially move me towards my goals in a way that I will enjoy more than my current path? Your values and long-term vision should serve as guardrails for your decision-making.

Once you decide to pivot, leverage what you have learned.

Think of what a pivot is. It’s not blindly launching your entire person in another direction, fully committing and burning all your bridges. When you pivot in the physical world, you plant one foot in the same spot and use that as the hinge to explore different angles. You’re not leaving your feet. You’re keeping a little in the tank, you’re staying grounded. 

That’s how you should pivot in life. Keep one foot on the ground (where it’s comfortable), using your knowledge and experience as a base, and explore your options. 

– Mark Sisson, Primal Blueprint newsletter, July 29, 2019

If you are reading this, chances are you have a wealth of knowledge and experiences you have developed over the years.

Pivoting isn’t failure.

Pivoting is listening to your environment.

Pivoting is an opportunity to learn.

Pivoting allows you to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, the experience you had, and the experience you desire.

Just pivot mindfully.


Mark’s Daily Apple (Blog Post/Newsletter) – Mark Sisson is known for the Primal Blueprint lifestyle framework. His newsletter this week had a beautiful reflection on pivoting. Unfortunately, I can’t link directly to it – but even if you aren’t interested in nutrition, Mark provides insight into life, athletics, entrepreneurship and, yes, nutrition.

Lewis Howes interview with Mark Sisson (Podcast) – This is the podcast where Mark talks about his perspective on pivoting.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Accepting Positive Feedback

Much of the conversation around feedback centers around negative feedback.

How to receive negative feedback without getting angry or beating yourself up.

How to give negative feedback in ways that don’t trigger the receiver and allows the receiver to make positive change.

However, many of us struggle to receive positive feedback.

Especially those of us who struggle with perfectionism.

Attagirls, thank yous, this-is-greats and other positive affirmations and appreciations fall on deaf ears.

The response starts with “Yeah, but I didn’t…”

Whenever I catch myself saying “Yeah, but I didn’t…” either verbally or in my head, it’s a signal to pay attention. What is truly being reflected back?

Maybe I’m doing better than I thought I was.

Maybe I DON’T need to do or be “more.”

Maybe whatever I put out there doesn’t need to be perfected.

Maybe my standards for myself and my work are unrealistic based on the requirements for the task, the time I have, the resources I have access to, and the energy available.

This is why I “look outside myself” for feedback.

I know that I tend to look at things with grey and foggy glasses – especially when I am under stress.

I know that my perspective, of myself and of my work, is cloudy and inaccurate.

External feedback, especially external positive feedback, is a valuable source of information that we can leverage to gain a more accurate perspective on our environment and our place in it.

And maybe, just maybe, give ourselves permission to be more human.