Labor Day Edition

Culture Keepers,

Welcome to the special Labor Day edition of Office Ecology, the newsletter from CharlesBank Consulting. 

I imagine you are, as I am, conducting those familiar late summer rituals: 

  • Biking to the community pool only to find it closed; 
  • Trying to understand why you are wearing a tank top when in fact you suddenly need a parka; 
  • Shopping for a first-day outfit with a second grader only to give up and take her for brownies once it's determined that there is simply nothing that is not too gray, black, white, colored, patterned, ruffled, skirted, panted, pocketed, embellished, buttoned and/or not buttoned. I guess she can wear tattered summer clothes for a while yet. 

Labor Day kicks off a cycle of work rituals too; budget time, appraisal season, planning ahead and, if a culture is so inclined, engaging in reflection. How you structure the reflection time can make the difference between sitting on the steps of the poolhouse in your inexplicably dry swimsuit wondering why the schedule is so hard for you to read, as opposed to doing an Olympic-level high dive off the springiest board in the deep end to the applause of your children and pool acquaintances. 

Consider a retreat; consider one in which you think through the desired objectives of a conversation with your team ahead of time; accept openly that not all things that come up in conversation will be comfortable, and some great ideas may not get to receive follow-up, but these are not reasons to avoid talking; one in which you share a draft of the 2017 plan and are transparent about either asking for real input or simply expressing curiosity about feedback from others.

Finally, on Labor Day, honor a person working hard, even if just for a silent moment. Maybe it's you, or perhaps someone you know well, or maybe it's someone you know barely at all. What would help that person thrive? 
A few articles to wrap up summer:

Stemming the Tide of Incuriosity

The smart, critical leaders that I know usually yearn for smart, critical staff who ask questions. But how to embed this attitude into the culture? Consider replacing brainstorming sessions with relevant-question sessions. 

The Power of Why and What If [NYTimes] 

"The idea is to put a problem or challenge in front of a group of people and instead of asking for ideas, instruct participants to generate as many relevant questions as they can. ...[But] for questioning to thrive in a company, management must find ways to reward the behavior---if only by acknowledging that good questions have been asked." 

Important note: Don't model incurious behavior while employees are learning to question.

Good Advice: "Early, Often, Ugly"

I love this interview with the CEO of Open Table, who says: 

"[Update me] early, often, ugly. It’s O.K. It doesn’t have to be perfect because then I can course-correct much, much faster...No amount of ugly truth scares me." 

Christa Quarels of Open Table [NYTimes]  

She also says, "The paradox of owning what you know and what you don’t know is that you actually seem more powerful as you expose more vulnerability." So true.

To Compete or to Noncompete...

...This has been the burning question in Massachusetts, which tried and failed this summer to revise the ubiquitous employee contracts that restrict post-employment work for competitor companies for a period of time (usually 1-3 years). For a while now, it's seemed like the "cool" employers use noncompetes for nearly everyone...but rarely enforce them. Still, even with the idea that it might not be enforced, an employee could be forgiven for feeling daunted by a noncompete contract---and even stifled from innovation.

The MA House and Senate both came up with intriguing solutions to this issue, but then adjourned without compromise. What will happen? I guess we'll have to see in January.

Non-Compete Law Reform Doesn't Make It in Massachusetts [Fortune] 

CharlesBank Toolbox

I love starting off retreats with an exercise I call "personal histories." Yes,it's great that everyone gets to know each other better. 

But more important than that, I think, this exercise gives everyone's voice a chance to resound in the room, right off the bat. It makes it easier to add to the mix later on.

Exercise: Personal Histories

Provide the group with a large flip chart on which you've written six questions. They can be the following questions, or ones you make up. Make sure that there are deep, important questions on there, and that there are simple, easy questions, too. Go around the room, and allow each person to choose one and answer it aloud. Then maybe go around the room again, for a total of two questions. (If it's really fun, you have my permission to go a third time.) 

  1. What is your favorite type of party to attend? (Halloween, New Year's Eve, etc.)
  2. What has been your favorite concert to attend, and why?
  3. Describe a situation (personal or professional) in which you would like to have a 'do over.'
  4. What is the funniest sitcom you have ever watched?
  5. If you could jump into the pages of any book you've ever read and actually experience the story firsthand, which book would you choose?
  6. If you have to write a one-sentence mission statement for your life, what would it be?
  7. In your opinion, what is the worst first impression you have ever made (personally or professionally)?
  8. What is your favorite foreign language to hear spoken?
  9. Share the funniest thing that has ever happened to you on a date. 
  10. If you could own any prop that was used in a movie, what prop would it be?
  11. What would it take (financially or otherwise) to get you to spend the night in a remote mansion that is supposedly haunted? 
  12. If you could have served on the jury of any trial in history, which would you choose?
  13. On a scale of 1-10 (1: you can't stand it, 10: you love it), how well do you like your given first name?
  14. More than any other, what professional skill do you wish you were better at?
  15. What is one thing you have never done to celebrate your birthday that you would really love to do on your special day?

There's more where those came from! Special thanks to Maria McQuaid. 

Consulting services:

This fall, I will have a couple of open coaching slots, so please reach out if you're interested.

Coaching, Retreats and Facilitation, Competency Mapping, The Right Physical Work Environment, Mission/Vision Development, Leadership Circle Profile Assessment, and more strategic people practices for an innovation culture:

With the phenomenal IBIS Consulting, I also conduct diversity work, from assessments to e-learning programs, on topics such as diversity and unconscious bias.

Happy End-of-Summer!