Why You Need to “Kill the Company” Before It Kills You

At first I hesitated when asked if I wanted to take a look at Lisa Bodell’s new book.  Her somewhat startling title, Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution, made me wonder whether or not the topic would fit here. Well, it did that and more!

As employees, we’re often assigned new work methods that were designed without our input.

As managers, we’re often expected to implement work process improvements with one goal–to reduce costs.

As executives, we’re expected to develop more and more innovative ways to improve market share and share owner value.

No matter what your job, you play a killer role in the the company’s future and your own.

Take aim.

Lisa Bodell reveals in her new book, Kill the Company, what she does with corporate clients to shake up their thinking and bring real innovation to light. What’s unique here is that Bodell, as CEO of futurethink,  “gives away” her model and numerous tools that liberate fresh thinking.

She proposes uncovering, in specific terms, how a competitor could “take the company down.”  It’s a matter of asking employees and the leadership, given all the insider information they’re privy to, what it would take to “kill the company.”

It’s that knowledge that readies the company to take internal and external actions to survive!

Bodell writes:

The challenge for most companies isn’t how to get people to be more innovative; it’s how to stop paying lip service to innovation and create a structure and culture in which it can actually flourish and deliver results.

The traditional organizational structures…have innovation in a choke hold.

Too many change initiatives simply add another layer of processes to the to-do lists of already overwhelmed and tired employees….Innovation is supposed to make things better, not worse, easier, not more complicated.

Does this sound like your company? The way you’ve handled or experienced change? If so, it’s time to get serious about turning things around.

Protect yourself.

Not everyone gets to sit in the room where strategies to kill the company are identified and the remedies devised. Each of us, however, needs to make sure that we have what it takes to add value in our jobs for the future.

A stagnant job in a stalled company will kill our careers. Our resistance to innovation in a growing company will kill it too. That means we have to be ready to recognize and take advantage of the changes, both obvious and subtle, in our work environments.

Bodell makes this significant observation:

Soft skills are the new hard skills. You can see evidence of this everywhere…many CEOs and leaders now hail creativity and creative problem solving as the most important business skills.

Just what soft skills will employees need to possess and will organizations need to seek in the coming years? They will be the skills that help organizations challenge the status quo and look into the future, the ones that turn employees into visionaries and help them seek out opportunities and growth in new ways. They will be the skills that enable dedicated learners to handle the blessing and burdens of change.

Bodell identifies these five as the most valued skills in successful employees of the future:

  1. Strategic Imagination“dreaming with purpose”–the ability to recognize the “driving forces changing our world and imaginative enough to harness this potential in a business context”
  2. Provocative Inquiry–“the ability to ask smart, even disturbing questions” that “stretch their own thinking and that of others”
  3. Creative Problem Solving–applying “best practices from offbeat sources and unrelated industries, making connections that others wouldn’t think of.”
  4. Agility–the ability “to think on their feet and nimbly change directions…to be resourceful and confident in their own abilities to handle unexpected situations.”
  5. Resilience–tenacity and “courage to overcome obstacles and push on undeterred” giving their organizations an advantage in good times and bad.”

Reexamine yourself

The same principles that underpin a stagnant company create a stagnant employee, career, and life. The approaches, strategies, and insights that Bodell uses with companies can be put to use by you, whatever your circumstance.

We all need to kill the preconceived notions that we are currently living by if we want to take that next step forward.

There’s no time to kill when it comes to ensuring our future success, only complacency.

Image Source: Gen Connect and Amazon

The Unexpected Career Crisis–Got the Stuff to Survive It? | 4 Essential Steps

There’s no escaping problems. They show up whether we’re ready or not.  Smart businesses have crisis management plans so they know what to do when calamity hits. So shouldn’t we?

I was invited to review Jim Moorhead’s new book, The Instant Survivor: Right Ways to Respond When Things Go Wrong, concurrent with its release. The advice and insights are terrific!

Gone are the cradle to grave careers. Routine upheaval is more the norm than ever before.

We start our careers with great optimism and then experience a shot of reality. We soon discover success depends on our ability to survive the curve balls that come our way.

The art of surviving

Jim Moorhead’s book looks at what we need to do when faced with the unexpected. His 4-step system for conquering professional and personal crises takes the essence of a business crisis management plan and turns it into a survival kit for us. The Instant Survivor puts the control back in our hands.

If you think that crisis will skip over you, Moorhead shares innumerable, fascinating and true stories about people like:

  • Robin Roberts, ABC’s co-anchor on Good Morning America, who publicly faced her breast cancer
  • Terry Francona, professional baseball manager, who navigated career highs and devastating lows, eventually winning the World Series twice with the Boston Red Sox
  • Michael Dell, who, at 27 went from having his company on Fortune 500’s “Best of the Top 500″ list to a stock plunge that nearly ruined the company

The crises we face are just as significant to us, and we need to know how to fight  through them.

4 Survival Steps

Problems can’t get solved until we start solving them. A simple process makes it easier to get going. Moorhead recommends these four steps in “Instant Survivor”:

1. Stay Frosty

Instead of staying calm (which is always easier said than done), Moorhead tell us to move forward calmly  while “freezing out negative emotions of fear, anger, and bitterness.”

He says to sort things out objectively:

Develop a crisis management plan with three stages:

  • Diagnosis (What’s the problem?)
  • Action (What can I do?)
  • After-Action Report (What did I do well and what could I improve?)

He tells us that being self-focused  is the way we can “stay frosty.”

2. Secure Support

It’s tempting to withdraw when a crisis catches us off guard. We may feel embarrassed, ashamed, and hurt–emotions we don’t want to air in front of others. Trying to shoulder a crisis alone is the wrong tactic. Support is essential. Moorhead says,

You can survive and even thrive by denying national and worldwide crises. Yet there is one crisis, whether current or incoming, that you cannot deny. Your crisis. You cannot deny it, and you must take immediate action to deal with it. Because if you don’t, no one will.

The support of others empowers us to lead our way out of the crisis effectively.

Moorhead reminds us that before we’re in a pickle, we need to create a crisis management team (professionals, friends, and business associates) that we can call into action at a moment’s notice.

3. Stand Tall

We need to get a grip on our next moves and that means crafting a written plan. Moorhead emphasizes the importance of getting your proposed actions down on paper and managing your way out of the crisis

He emphasizes the need to be flexible, monitor your progress, and maintain momentum. It’s your plan to turn your crisis around, so you need to own it proudly. He gives you a terrific set of questions to keep you on the right track and standing tall.

4. Save Your Future

Every crisis is a fabulous learning experience. Moorhead’s book is filled with inspiring stories of every magnitude.

He writes about what to do after the crisis is past:

Choose to build a different, brighter future.

  • Your past does not dictate your future–unless you let it.
  • Use calamity to gain clarity on what you want in life.
  • Give meaning to your disaster by helping others through theirs.
  • A life comeback is possible from any depth.

Surviving is a brand

Moorhead ends reminding us that what we do to survive and how we do it contribute to our brand identity. I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “Look at Pat, s/he’s a real survivor.”

There’s a survivor in all of us. We can either make it easy on ourselves or difficult. The Instant Survivor is your leg up.

Making the Right Connections? Take a Fresh Look at the Pieces.

Too often we think we’ll find success if we just meet the right people. Sometimes that’s so.

"Hot Dog" limited edition serigraph by John Gaydos

But we can waste a lot of time cozying up to influencers, just to discover that they aren’t interested in doing anything for us.

Our success comes from demonstrating that we know how to connect the dots and get results!

Put the pieces together

We make “right” connections when we come up with ideas that:

  • solve a problem or settle an issue
  • develop a profitable product or service
  • build or improve an essential relationship

They are a function of you, using your insights and initiative, to put the pieces together, in ways that showcase your:

  • Understanding of  business needs
  • Ability to collaborate and/or partner with individuals or groups
  • Problem-solving capabilities and risk-taking tolerances
  • Willingness to take the lead and own outcomes
  • Ability to communicate in ways that attract support and sponsorship

The pieces only fit correctly if you understand what’s needed to make them connect. Think of a jigsaw puzzle and how, if you force pieces together that aren’t a match, you’ll end up with a distorted picture. The same is true at our jobs.

Think of the coworkers where you work who are the go-to people whenever things are out of whack. They’re successful because they take the time to identify the:

  • underlying problem, not just the surface symptoms
  • solution that will get things up and running without causing other problems later
  • strategy for a long-term resolution that minimizes cost and disruption
  • players who need to participate as collaborators and/or partners

Our career value is determined by how willing and effective we are at solving problems by connecting needs and solutions. That recognition can vault our success.

Hot doggin’ it

Last fall, our local, non-profit arts council held its annual fundraiser–an “affordable art for everyone” auction. The executive director in collaboration with one of the board members came up with idea.

They put the pieces together, creating the right connections, collaborations, and partnerships, by:

  • Attracting artists to submit work for a 50-50 sales split, over 200 pieces
  • Securing an “historic” local hot dog eatery as a sponsor and building the event’s theme around it
  • Commissioning a well-known, local painter to create an original piece called “Hot Dog” (which sold for $1,300; needless to say, most other pieces were significantly less!)
  • Attracting a strong bidder turnout and press attention

After the auction, the owners of the hot dog business suggested making a limited edition print of the original painting. Here was a chance to initiate more “right connections.”

Again the executive director and board member put new pieces together by:

  • Securing a fine art printer to create a limited edition serigraph at an affordable price
  • Making arrangements with the artist to partner on the effort
  • Identifying an art business that would mat and frame the piece for an attractive price
  • Engaging other board members and social media followers to promote and/or purchase the print

Making the right connections bonds you with everyone you engage. That’s how you build your own brand, attract followers, and expand your leverage. Each initiative builds on itself in expansive ways.

Finding intersection

Success is not linear. It’s a function of our choices and our ability to know which way to turn when we face an intersection.

The “hot dog” auction and print experience connected a non-profit organization with individual artists trying to make a go of it. It brought about the involvement of a food business, a print maker, and a frame shop along with art fanciers and a gallery owner.

The old image of the path to career success was a ladder. The idea of climbing steps in a row doesn’t work much anymore. It’s all about connecting and arranging opportunities in creative ways to get the job done. Hot dog!

Got a Problem? There’s a Career for That. | Taking Service to Heart

Real jobs are born out of need. They’re created to solve problems. Solve those problems and create a win-win situation: The business profits and the customer/client is satisfied.

The better we are at solving problems, the more career opportunities we create for ourselves.

Accidental discoveries

I had the misfortune last month of being hit broadside in my new car by a woman who ran the red light while I was turning left off a green arrow. I was not hurt (thanks to my Subaru Outback which deserves a pitch here) and, so far as I know, the other driver only minimally.

A car accident is a problem. In a flash people appear on the scene to help solve it. Others provide help later. Each of these people has a job and a career because car accidents occur frequently. They make a lasting difference when their caring shows. I learned a lot from them.

Police officer–He gathers information for the incident report and later the accident report. Part of his job is to be sensitive to the state of mind of the victims and to be as calming as possible.

Emergency Medical Technician–His/her role is to assess the condition of the crash victims,  provide medical treatment if required, and get a release if either party doesn’t want to go to the hospital. S/he too needs to be observant, patient, and positive.

Tow truck driver–Two tow trucks were required at the scene; my driver was a woman which made me smile. Her job was to get the wreckage off the road quickly and to let me know where the car was being taken. She too was pleasant, efficient, and professional.

Insurance adjuster–The adjuster is the insured’s representative with the other insurance company. His job is to record my account of the accident over the phone. He and the other driver’s adjuster make a determination of fault. The adjuster explains the process, advises on next steps, and also needs to be patient and calming.

Material Damage Adjuster/Appraiser–The appraiser determines what the insurance company will pay in damages. This job requires the ability to communicate these hard numbers with the claimant in a way that demonstrates the fairness of the final decision. Just like the adjuster, the ability to be both factual and caring is important.

Body Shop/Salvage Company Staff–Along the way, my car took a stop at a body shop for a more detailed damage assessment. Then it went to the salvage company that purchased it. The staff and owner were professional, sincerely commiserating with my misfortune.

Rental Car Manager–I got a rental from Enterprise where the young woman manager took the time to make conversation before explaining the terms. It turned out that she was eager to develop her leadership capabilities, so we chatted about that. (When I returned the car, I gave her a copy of my book and she waived the gas charge. Okay, I’d only used 1/8 tank over two weeks, but the gesture was lovely.) She treated me like I mattered as a person.

Car Salesman–I called the salesman who sold me the original Outback and left a voice mail that I’d need a new one. He called me at home to cheer me up. He immediately set aside a car for me. I knew I was in good hands.

For my accident case alone, there are nine jobs, representing nine different career paths, that had been created because people like me get in car accidents.

Each role exists to solve a piece of a big problem, helping accident victims deal with and recover from a scaring and costly experience.

Distinguishing yourself

What has struck me most about this experience was the seemingly effortless caring that each person demonstrated. Every person in my chain had a heart for service.

I know that not everyone with a service jobs “gets it” and I’m sure you have a horror story to tell. But, if anything, this accident demonstrated that when you’re in a job that solves a problem for people and you really care, your commitment to serve will motivate your best performance. Let that be you, okay?

Please remember: Stay off your phone while driving. No texting. Wear your seat belt. Be attentive! :-) Thanks.

Photo from @Doug88888 via Flickr

5 Steps to Survive Turmoil at Work | Dealing with Crisis

It’s unavoidable. In life and at work, big things will go wrong with us right in the middle: 

  • Systems fail
  • Employees rebel
  • Facilities get destroyed
  • Serious accidents happen
  • Stock prices plummet

The closer we are to the center of the crisis event, the more it throws our jobs into turmoil, turning our routines upside down and challenging us to act.

Stress levels rise 

Every crisis is stressful. Often we don’t recognize that stress and its compounding effect on us until we’ve been in the thick of things for a while.

A crisis can overcome us with relentless problem-solving demands. We’re called upon to deal with what’s in front of us while trying to anticipate what’s coming.

If we can’t see or anticipate the end of the crisis, its weight gets heavier.

The disruption a crisis causes grabs hold of us when:

  • Work routines are thrown into chaos
  • Resources and facilities we rely on are unavailable or unreliable
  • Direction is slow in coming or non-existent as the leadership engages emergency plans (if they exist) or grapples with the unanticipated
  • Employees become upset, confused or unable to function effectively
  • People race to fix what they can, sometimes with direction and sometimes without.

Turmoil isn’t pretty, although many covet a good crisis every now and then to get their juices flowing. Truth is, the crisis we get may not be one we’re suited for. 

Crisis as teacher 

On October 29, 2011, an un-seasonal snowstorm dumped massive amounts of wet snow throughout the region where I live, including eleven inches at my farm. The trees were still leaf-covered, so the snow’s weight tore off limbs which dragged down power lines. I was out of power for five days—no water, no heat, and no cooking.

I work for myself. So no power meant the loss of my business infrastructure, particularly access to client information and the ability to create work product without internet access. (Fortunately, I still had phone service.) No power also meant I had to change my work routine and live uncomfortably.

This experience made it clear that, whether it’s a personal or workplace crisis, there are five basic steps for managing it:

  1. Take charge—There’s always something we need to do. We have work that’s ours, so we need to figure out a work-around, right away. (I needed water for myself and my animals, so I needed to haul it out of the creek.)
  2. Team up—Others will likely be affected by the crisis, so we need to connect with them pronto, figure out the resources and capabilities of each, and organize. (My neighbor had a big gas grill and I had defrosted meat. Voila, a hot meal.)
  3. Ask for/accept help—If people have help to give, let them. (I’m lousy at this, too stoic for my own good. Several friends got my attention on this, so I’ll try to do better. I eventually asked a friend with power if I could take a shower at her place. Heaven!)
  4. Reset expectations—A crisis puts us off our game, so we need to recalibrate what’s realistic for our performance and work accordingly. (I could still coach clients over the phone, but I couldn’t send email follow ups until the power came back. My work day was shortened because darkness and cold caused me to hunker down, so I caught up on my professional reading–by lantern light.)
  5. Be patient—Every crisis comes to an end eventually, although we may not know when or what our post-crisis life will be like. It’s important to take one day at a time and remember that the crisis, very likely, isn’t just about you. (I accepted new, necessary time-consuming routines like heating water over the fire pit, using creek water for flushing and washing, and taking advantage of daylight.)

 Be grateful 

A crisis is an experience that gives you a chance to step up. When the smoke clears, people will remember how you handled the situation. It’s important to express gratitude for what you were spared and for the opportunity to contribute to the recovery, no matter how large or small your contribution. Good luck!

Photo from Aleksi Aaltonen via Flickr



3 Problems Solved with a Little Respect | Managing Relationships

Pro athletes are famous for grumbling to the media about players or teams saying, “They don’t respect us.” The words become a kind of call to arms. Sports commentators run the clips repeatedly to stoke what promises to be pending conflict. Then we tune in. 

Disrespect happens to us too. We all bring our dignity to work and expect to be treated respectfully. When we aren’t, we get our backs up. 

Self-esteem sensitivity 

Feeling disrespected is about hurt self-esteem, affronts to self-worth, and lack of deference. It’s personal and can be deep. 

If your response is, “Oh, come on, now,” think of situations where you’ve been offended, intentionally or not, by someone at work. 

Your reaction will likely be more intense if the person who disrespected you: 

  • Had done it repeatedly
  • Was someone you trusted/confided in
  • Was your boss or higher
  • Should have known better
  • Was trying to undercut you

Our challenge is to defuse disrespect toward us while also avoiding disrespectful behaviors of our own. 

Respect disarms perceptions of disrespect 

Sometimes we find ourselves branded as disrespectful and need to use a little respect to solve the problem. Here are a few to consider: 

1. Your boss is insulted by your apparent disinterest in his/her project. 

Start showing respect by arriving early for project meetings, paying serious attention during discussions (which means staying off your mobile device and/or laptop), asking pertinent questions, and responding to requests. 

2. Your coworkers are frustrated because you routinely interrupt them. 

Not letting others speak may seem like you’re demeaning their ideas and considering yourself superior. Launch dialogue with your coworkers by asking questions. Validate what’s said and then add your ideas to the mix. Continue to engage everyone until a consensus is reached. 

3. Coworkers think you don’t like them. 

If you use a dismissive tone of voice, fail to acknowledge others, ignore their overtures, speak impolitely, or criticize openly, your coworkers will feel disrespected. Offering a greeting, engaging in casual conversation, being courteous, and recognizing achievement are ways to show your respect that build positive relationships. 

No respect…No progress 

Lack of respect is no trivial matter. Showing it establishes us as being both professional and desirable as a colleague. 

Signs of respect are in simple things like coming to work dressed appropriately, using polite speech, and showing regard for the leadership whether you agree with all their decisions or not. 

I remember being horrified when, at the senior VP’s staff meeting, one of his vice presidents assaulted him with searing language (including a string of ef-bombs) about a decision he’d made. The senior VP just sat there and took it, not succumbing to the provocation, but red-faced nonetheless. 

Even though the majority of the staff was also against the senior VP’s decision, that display of disrespect was so appalling that it shut down all discussion. 

That’s the consequence of disrespect. It becomes a barrier to progress. When we feel disrespected by someone, we can’t hear what they have to say. So we set up emotional roadblocks that are impenetrable. 

Win with respect 

Feeling respected as a human being, an employee, and a coworker can have a powerful positive effect on any relationship. Showing respect even when at odds keeps the door open and the opportunities for collaboration alive.

Respect doesn’t cost us anything. Actually, showing respect for others demonstrates the respect we have for ourselves. 

Acting respectfully is a behavior we control. It’s an asset to our personal brand and to our careers. It’s another winning career behavior. Try it. You’ll like it. :-)

Photo from Dyanna via Flickr

If You Want a Leadership Position, Stop Asking for Answers

It’s frustrating to be passed over for the leadership jobs we want. We’re always left trying to figure out why.

The answer is in our questions. 

Uh oh, your non-leadership is showing. 

Is this you (or someone you know)? 

When your company announces an upcoming downsizing, do you ask: 

  • Is this going to affect my department?
  • When will the decision be made?
  • What should I be doing to prepare for any changes?
  • What will happen to my career in the new environment? 

When you’re assigned to a ground-breaking project, do you ask: 

  • How do we know this is a good idea?
  • What assurances do I have that we’ll succeed?
  • If it doesn’t work, what will happen?

 When your boss gives you a special assignment, do you ask: 

  • What exactly do you want me to do?
  • How do you want me to approach this?
  • Whom should I use as resources? 
  • What happens if I can’t get it done by the deadline? 

The answer from your boss will likely be, “I don’t know.” Sometimes s/he’ll also add “yet.” 

Effective leaders have a tolerance for ambiguity! 

Good leaders give clear direction but often don’t get it for themselves. Theirs is a world of complex new challenges, change, the unexpected, and risk. They face a moving business target each day. Much of this we don’t see. 

A leader who can’t lead without absolutes won’t be a leader very long. 

Leaders need a tolerance for ambiguity—an ability to act when situations and conditions are in flux, unclear, and often unpredictable. They can’t always wait for the fog to clear before they act to nip a problem in the bud or get out ahead of the competition. 

Instead of precise answers, most leaders act on best guesses. In many cases, they look to us to help them turn those guesses into successes. They need us to bring our ingenuity and talent to every challenge and deliver a fix.

 Be prepared for your unexpected leadership test. 

Every assignment we get is a chance to showcase the leader within. (And it doesn’t matter where we are on the organization chart.) When we’re tapped, we can either ask a zillion “what do I do now” questions or we can take the lead. 

FYI: When you ask your boss “those” questions, s/he is thinking three things: 

  1. “If I knew how to proceed, I wouldn’t be asking you.”
  2. “If I have to tell you how to go about solving this problem, I may as well do it myself.”
  3. “I’ve picked the wrong person for this assignment.”  

Instead, you want every leadership opportunity to showcase your skills, especially your tolerance for ambiguity, like in these situations: 

  • The proverbial sky is falling at work, so you step forward and offer a solution that immediately stops the bleeding, even if it’s only temporary. 
  • No one can make sense out of conflicting directives, customer demands, and/or technology changes, so you present a process to help untangle the confusion. 
  • Everyone is turned inside out over the elimination of a huge block of jobs, so you articulate a positive perspective on ways you and your peers can continue to grow in the company. 

Find your own answers

When you can figure out what to do in a tight spot, unfreeze people who are fearful, find the upside during a calamity, and restore control when things seem in disarray, your leadership brand goes up a hundred-fold. 

Not only have you delivered actionable value, you’ve created a following that will sing your praises, including your boss. When you replace a demand for answers with the willingness to act in spite of uncertainty, you have become an ally to your boss, helping to lift the weight of the ambiguity s/he is balancing.  That builds a relationship that positions you for the leadership position you want. What could be better!