Random Thoughts on Life and Work

November 18, 2015

Care About Your Impact

Filed under: Non-Profit,Strategy,Work — Darren Mullenix @ 8:52 am
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Seth Godin’s blog post for today was too good to not share.

I have worked with organizations that fall on both sides of the spectrum described in his post. And from what I have seen, those organizations that get it – the organizations that value the work their people do over the adherence to a set of prescribed actions – have a far more engaged and healthier team.

While some of the responsibility is on us to choose our tribe wisely, it is also a principle that organizations can use to impact their culture and drive the end result. As a leader, which set of instructions do you give to your team? Individually, what set of instructions do we tend to gravitate towards? One comes with continuing challenges. The other becomes rote.

I don’t need to say much more. Check it out here. Think about it.

April 22, 2015

Soccer and The Game of Work

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 12:18 pm
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SoccerTeamLegs

I have the joy (okay, some might not consider it that) of being a soccer referee for youth club games and high school games. I grew up playing soccer and had some great experiences playing through my college days. My oldest daughter plays at the college level and will soon be wrapping up her playing career. So, you can see I’ve been around the game a long time. I’ve noticed how the game of soccer provides a picture against which our work can be compared.

  1. Soccer is boring. Okay, by nature and experience I disagree with this but many people say they find it to be less than exciting. (Frankly I find baseball far more boring.) How close does this description come to your work? Do you find it boring, tedious, or monotonous? I heard a TV personality say the other day that soccer was a game of boredom interspersed with brief moments of excitement. Maybe this is you at work? I would contend that soccer, and work, is what you want to make of it. If you aren’t being fulfilled because the rules are too restrictive, find a new spot where you can thrive.
  2. Soccer is about teamwork within designated roles. If you can’t develop a working relationship with your teammates, you won’t last long and the team doesn’t function at its optimum. Same with work. It is often difficult for the new staff member to slide into the new position. It is up to the manager/leader to ensure that happens as fast and as smoothly as possible. Witness teams who add new players at the professional level. There is often a period of time before that new team member is integrated into the starting 11 and contributing well. If they don’t integrate well, they are released to a different team.
  3. In soccer, there is an ebb and flow to the strategic importance of each role. At times the player in the center of the field will be key while at other times it will be an outside wing player. Top players will move about the field to adapt to conditions and the team needs at the time. If your work team has developed this kind of fluidity and recognition, I would hazard a guess that your team is working at a high level of efficiency and effectiveness. If not, maybe it is time to consider some alternatives to your structure and processes.
  4. In soccer, players have opportunities to take the lead with the ball and then pass it off to a teammate in a better position to move the ball strategically. In work, we have the opportunity to move the project forward, accomplish our role and then pass it on to the next person to accomplish their piece. At the same time, we take responsibility for the continued success of the project by moving into a supporting role, ready to be called on again to engage with the play.
  5. In soccer, when the team loses the ball, the focus shifts to defense and getting the ball back. But it is a team effort, not a solo effort on the part of the player who lost the ball. At work, if we lose the account, miss a deadline, or fail to accomplish the task in some way, how does the team respond? Is it an opportSoccerTeamunity to learn a new process or an opportunity to immediately blame an individual member? Focusing on the means to recovery keeps the team together and builds a morale that is hard to beat.

There are any number of additional examples that can be added to this list. Working hard to develop a cohesive team plays dividends both on and off the field. Feel free to comment and add any ideas you might have.

March 11, 2015

The Value of Systems Planning

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 11:35 am
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When you hear the word “system” what do you think of? Computer networks? A methodology of completing a task? reflectionSome kind of mathematical formula?

All of these in a way are correct but maybe incomplete. I’d like to posit a different perspective.

Systems planning is the act of analyzing various structures and processes, efficiently integrating them together as part of a larger picture, to achieve the mission of the organization. To be effective, systems must have a feedback mechanism to inform when variation occurs and to provide necessary adjustments.

For an understanding of this, take the dynamic of the human body. Our physical selves consist of a network of systems – muscular, skeletal, nervous, circulatory, etc. Each one of these systems is designed to work efficiently to produce a desired outcome within itself. However, each system cannot, and does not, work alone. Each system interacts with, and depends on, the other systems of the body. Feedback (e.g. pain, exhaustion, out of breath) tells us when something is out of adjustment.

In our non-profit organizations, we have various systems – financial, human resource, information, marketing/communications, development, programs, social, etc. Each one of these is designed (intentionally or otherwise) to support the mission of the organization through efficiently working on its own processes. But pull one out and try to have it stand on its own and it fails. There is no mission. There is no support.

All too often, with charismatic leaders and entrepreneur types, there is a quick development of a goal or desired outcome without giving thought to the supporting systems necessary to complete said goal. The end result can be frustrated and burned-out staff or complete failure to reach the target. I believe that when a strategic plan does not meet its desired outcome, a large part of the blame rests on the failure to deal with the systems and structure issues.

Allowing the various systems (IT, Finance, Development, etc) to develop and function independently of each other leads to the creation of the proverbial silo. The resulting internal conflict and competition over resources leads to inertia, poor internal communication, and higher turnover.

We need to move beyond the linear design of processes and recognize that interrelationships come into play in our complex organizational world. Successfully dealing with systems development and integration will lead to healthier work environment, a smoother operation, and a stronger, more adaptable organization with greater capacity to meet the demands of the change.

*Picture attribution: aman_geld CC2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/centralasian/4173210620/in/photostream/

August 22, 2013

Failure Is An Option

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 1:38 pm
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We often hear the statement, “Failure is not an option!” – usually said in movies by the hero who is facing a big challenge. Unfortunately, there are organizations who adopt the mantra and try to live that way as well.

I once met an organization that was afraid of failure – afraid of making a mistake. So afraid that all decisions were made at the highest levels of the organization through one individual. Most of the staff were subject to endless review of all ideas, promotional pieces, hiring decisions and even office space decoration. It went so far that even a stool which was going to be used in a back room by a technician had to be approved by the executive office.

While control systems can be a good thing, there is a balance between maintaining a high degree of excellence (which often requires frequent review) and trusting your teams to use their God given skills to accomplish the organizational mission. Each organization has to wrestle with that issue and decide where that line is for them.

Here are some thought conditioners:

  • Is speed at issue?
  • What is the cost of a potential mistake?
  • If a mistake is made, do you look more or less “human” to your public?
  • What does your control system cost in terms of moral, initiative, and retention?

There’s a time and place for both control and freedom (and dare I say encouragement to explore). Finding that sweet spot of balance is the key to amazing results.

August 8, 2013

Avocado Leadership

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 12:55 pm
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A friend and former colleague, Gary Foster, had a profound paragraph in his newsletter this week. I quote it here:

Avocados are extremely easy to bruise. So farmers used to try to carefully arrange them in the box after picking. However, they still experienced costly bruising. Over time, they noticed if avocados were simply set in the box, they would settle themselves in just the right formation as the farmer simply left them alone and walked on. It’s the same with leadership. There’s a time to plan and to act strategically. There’s also a time to just let things settle in as we walk on. Sometimes we bruise things in our efforts fit things in rather than letting them fit.

I have found this to be true in organizations that are struggling with defining structure and processes. It is amazing how many leaders and managers will try to force a solution onto a group that is wrestling with a process. Often the leader is directing a solution through their own filters rather than allowing the group to wrestle with the challenge on their own.

Question – are you forcing a structure or letting your team develop into a working unit naturally?

August 24, 2012

It’s Not Just A Calling – It’s A Job

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 9:30 am
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For some reason, there are non-profit leaders who believe that the cause they serve is the reason you should work there. And because of the cause, the staff are there to serve, no matter what the conditions. Why? Shouldn’t the job itself be enjoyable? Is there a need to be a jerk and make working conditions difficult?

Why can’t you have your cake and eat it too? Be a leader that treats people right, manages with integrity, and recognizes personal shortcomings and you will have staff that will go to the ends of the earth for the cause – and for you. And along the way you might find your organization runs more efficiently and with less staff turnover.

Just a thought.

February 20, 2012

The New Center

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 8:25 am
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Seth Godin posted a great short thought provoker this morning. In it he talks about how the age of the internet has spread influence and opportunity away from the center.

I’d like to take that a bit further and think about it in terms of organizational dynamics. In many organizations there is still this urge to think that unless someone is at the core of the business or center of the leadership team they don’t have anything to offer. This thinking is a result of the old “executive dining room” mentality. If you were not part of the club, you just did what you were told. No need to think strategically. Don’t offer up visions of new opportunity. That’s for the core.

Guess what – it doesn’t work that way anymore. The organization that continues to look only at the members of the “dining room club” for new initiatives will eventually implode. The organization that cannot recognize and reward talent that exists on the periphery will not only lose the talent, it will grow stale and inflexible.

If you are in leadership, provide your team with the opportunity to spread their wings. Treat them with respect and watch what happens. You stand to benefit.

If you are on the periphery, push the idea/project/opportunity. As Seth concludes in his post – “The center is a state of mind.” You are the new center.

February 9, 2012

The Power of the Introvert

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 10:32 am
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I happen to be one. I like to think I have special powers but I don’t talk about them. That would be wrong.

In a recent FastCompany article, Susan Cain is interviewed about her recent book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. I think I am going to have to get the book.  Two things in particular resonated with me.

The first had to do with meetings. I hate them and avoid them when I can. Especially if they are unstructured or “agendaless”. Responding to a question about the term “groupthink” Susan states:

Studies tell us that the most verbal, assertive, and dominant person’s ideas are going to be paid more attention to. However, those same studies also indicate zero correlation between the effectiveness with which an idea is advanced and its usefulness. Any time people come together in a meeting, we’re not necessarily getting the best ideas; we’re just getting the ideas of the best talkers.

I have seen this frequently and it is particularly prevalent in corporate cultures where individual creativity and initiative are not valued. Cultures that require incessant review and approval of projects stifle the creativity of introverts as they just don’t have the personality to “fight” their way through all the talking.

The second part that grabbed me had to do with the charismatic leader syndrome. We tend to forget that leadership is case specific.

We presume you need to be bold and charismatic to be a manager, but Adam Grant at Wharton found that if a company is dominated by proactive employees you often get better outcomes with an introverted leader. That’s because an introverted leader is more likely to actually let employees run with their ideas and implement them. Extroverts, however, are often unwittingly trying to put their stamp on things and since they’re more dominant, their employees’ suggestions may never even rise to the surface. 

I tend to lean to the hands-off approach of management and try to let my staff soar, supporting them when needed. I have found in cases that it works well, with staff that can live within that. However, I have also found it to fail when certain staff require constant attention and affirmation. Maybe I just manage fellow introverts better than extroverts.

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