Archive for July, 2011

Because We’ve Always Done It That Way…

A friend recently shared a story with me. It’s one some of you have probably heard before but it resonates so well with so many of my experiences that I thought it was worth sharing again.  It goes like this:

A young girl was learning how to cook and, on this particular day, watched her mother prepare a roast. Her mother seasoned the meat, trimmed the fat, cut off a slice on both ends of the roast, placed it into the roasting pan, and then put the roast into the oven to cook.

The girl asked her mother, “Mommy, why do you cut off slices of the roast before you cook it?” Her mother answered, “I don’t know, honey…that’s the way your grandmother prepared roasts.” The next time the girl saw her grandmother, she asked her about the roast preparation. “I don’t know”, said the grandmother, “that’s the way I learned from my mother.” At Christmas that year, when the girl’s great-grandmother (now 95 years old and still kind, smiling and gentle) was celebrating with the family, the girl asked her why she cuts a slice off each end of the roast before cooking it. “Well, said the great-grandmother, “when I was just starting to cook, I didn’t have a pan big enough for the roasts. So I cut off part of the roast so it would fit in the pan. So, I guess we’ve always done it that way!”

We’ve always done it that way.

How often have we heard those words? What possibilities have been missed because we’ve leaned into our previously “proven”, old and well-practiced ways?

I sometimes hear “we’ve always done it that way” from my clients. Often there are very good reasons for it; after all, many of the things we do over and over again we do because they work well and continue to add value. But once in a while it’s a good idea to challenge that assumption, and when I do, they can’t always explain why things are “done that way.” When invited to explore alternatives or new thinking, though, we can discover alternate ways to achieve what they set out to do – even beyond a well-practiced way.

Perhaps the great-grandmother had only that one pan to use way back then. And, perhaps over the years, the “cut-off-the-ends” procedure for preparing roasts served the family well and provided them with exactly what they set out to achieve – a roast for dinner. Perhaps we have well-developed, well-practiced procedures and processes that serve us well in our work, those that should be preserved over time.

What are we missing though? If a bigger pan was available, how different would the family’s roasting experience be? If we look beyond, “we’ve always done it that way”, what creative, new thinking and possibility might be available to us?

A friend recently shared a story with me. It’s one some of you have probably heard before but it resonates so well with so many of my experiences that I thought it was worth sharing again.  It goes like this:

A young girl was learning how to cook and, on this particular day, watched her mother prepare a roast. Her mother seasoned the meat, trimmed the fat, cut off a slice on both ends of the roast, placed it into the roasting pan, and then put the roast into the oven to cook.

The girl asked her mother, “Mommy, why do you cut off slices of the roast before you cook it?” Her mother answered, “I don’t know, honey…that’s the way your grandmother prepared roasts.” The next time the girl saw her grandmother, she asked her about the roast preparation. “I don’t know”, said the grandmother, “that’s the way I learned from my mother.” At Christmas that year, when the girl’s great-grandmother (now 95 years old and still kind, smiling and gentle) was celebrating with the family, the girl asked her why she cuts a slice off each end of the roast before cooking it. “Well, said the great-grandmother, “when I was just starting to cook, I didn’t have a pan big enough for the roasts. So I cut off part of the roast so it would fit in the pan. So, I guess we’ve always done it that way!”

We’ve always done it that way.

How often have we heard those words? What possibilities have been missed because we’ve leaned into our previously “proven”, old and well-practiced ways?

I sometimes hear “we’ve always done it that way” from my clients. Often there are very good reasons for it; after all, many of the things we do over and over again we do because they work well and continue to add value. But once in a while it’s a good idea to challenge that assumption, and when I do, they can’t explain why things are “done that way.” When invited to explore alternatives or new thinking, though, we can discover alternate ways to achieve what they set out to do – even beyond a well-practiced way.

Perhaps the great-grandmother had only that one pan to use way back then. And, perhaps over the years, the “cut-off-the-ends” procedure for preparing roasts served the family well and provided them with exactly what they set out to achieve – a roast for dinner. Perhaps we have well-developed, well-practiced procedures and processes that serve us well in our work, those that should be preserved over time.

What are we missing though? If a bigger pan was available, how different would the family’s roasting experience be? If we look beyond, “we’ve always done it that way”, what creative, new thinking and possibility might be available to us?

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(Re)Fresh Perspectives

I’ve just begun a new endeavor.

Recently I received an invitation to join HR Communicator as a regular contributor.  HR Communicator, for those who don’t know, is a fantastic online resource for top stories and “must read” articles in our community.  Published by Ragan Communications and staffed by thoughtful experts from a variety of HR disciplines, it acts as a uniquely focused and readable resource for all of us and I am honored and proud to be part of it.  I strongly recommend that you explore what it can offer you at www.hrcommunicator.com.

What I did not at first realize, though, is how this opportunity provides a new and fresh perspective for me. Here’s why:

1.    I’m exploring and writing more frequently about issues and topics that are real and newsworthy for those within my client base — Sr. HR Leaders.

2.    I’m gaining more opportunity to learn from other HR Communicator contributors whose work and interests coincide with mine.

3.    I like new things so it’s given me a jolt, energizing me with a new perspective on what I do.

This got me thinking about my clients and how they frequently look for ways to energize their staffs. Sometimes day-to-day tasks and work can become mundane and stale. How might leaders jolt some energy into those days? Perhaps providing opportunities for brand new perspectives could be the key.

My good friend from Montana once gave me a dishtowel that was embroidered with a hiking boot and these words, “Change your shoes; Change your perspective.” Here are some “new shoes” to consider for a change in your employees’ perspectives:

1.    Have associates switch roles or tasks for a day or even an hour! What did they notice, learn, or appreciate about it?

2.    Provide opportunities for your employees to learn from other experts in their field — an industry association meeting or a visit to another company can open up new ways of thinking.

3.    Ask them! What would provide a jolt in their day, and make it different and new?

I’d be very interested in hearing what others think:  What energizes your day? How do you give yourself that “jolt” to refresh your own perspective?

And do visit the HR Communicator site. It’s a great resource for great ideas!

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Planting Growth

I’m planning a reorg.

It doesn’t have anything to do with my consulting customers or coaching clients and, while my husband might have a moment’s pause, I’m not planning on changing his job, either.  It’s the landscaping in the front yard that has gotten out of control.

About five years ago we decided to update the greenery and walkway at the front of the house.  When we bought the place there were a few large bushes and slate stepping stones that rose up a moderate rise to the front door.  We decided to put in a brick-and-stone walkway and add flowering plants.  Working with a local landscaper, we laid out what we wanted and just a few weeks later it was done.

It appeared a bit sad at first: we had put in quite a few plants (including peonies, sedums, hostas and tiger lilies), but they were quite small and it looked scrubby, with more empty mulched areas than I had envisioned.

Fast-forward five years and the only thing missing from the front jungle is Tarzan swinging on a vine.

So we looked around, both at what the front had become and where the rest of the property might do with a little sprucing up.  Those two enormous whatever-they-are’s?  Let’s move them across the driveway to the knoll.  The peonies, now looking like Atlas would have difficulty holding them aloft, should all go further down the driveway in that bare patch.  We can move this sedum over there, that azalea over there, and each will have more room to grow next summer.

When it came to my front yard, I did not lead well.  I gave too many opportunities, allowed too many choices and the result was a bit of chaos.  Each individual plant did very well but they had started to get in each other’s way while, off to one side, there were bare areas that needed more.  I realized that individual success doesn’t always equal team success; as a landscaping “leader” I had learned that lesson the hard way.  My plants needed to be in the right places, with the right amount of room around them, in order for the whole landscaping “team” to emerge the way I wanted it to.

What are some of the ways that you provide space for your team to grow?

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Going to the Sun

Every summer at about this time I take a trip to visit my good friend, June, at her home in Montana.  It’s a ritual always filled with great food, great friendship and great conversation (along with a bit of hiking to work off the great food)! It’s my annual “clear the cobwebs” trip and I plan for it months in advance.

This year our plans shuffled a bit.  Normally we take a beautiful trek along the “Going to the Sun” road and head through the Flathead Valley through Logan Pass.  But this year there’s no getting through. Despite the fact that it’s early July and the weather is a glorious 80 degrees, the National Park snow removers are still fighting fifty foot snow drifts and blocked roads. They plow a certain distance, reach a wall of snow and turn around just in time to avoid another avalanche unerringly targeted at dismantling their previous efforts. It’s like a mountain-sized cat and mouse game; all the while vacationers and their families wait anxiously at the road’s starting gate wanting to get on with their vacation plans, drive up to the visitor’s center, take photos, buy their postcards and share a most beautiful part of our great land with those back home.

A story of best-laid plans, for sure.

I recently blogged about hearing Michael J. Fox speak at the annual SHRM conference as he described his personal journey with Parkinson’s.  His core message (as he described his experience and what lessons it offered for his acting and, ultimately his whole life) was “Don’t play the results. Live in the moment. Consider the possibilities life has to offer.”

As my friend and I awake each morning, sip our coffee on her patio, gaze at the Glacier mountain range and plan our day, we realize that we still don’t know if those plans will mean anything.  We may have to shift to alternate routes, driven by the stubborn snow. We consider possibilities, realize that we don’t need to “play the result” and we come up with an idea that offers a new view of the park – driving completely around it. A longer path, and one that will be a new experience for me.

This got me thinking about the way we often lead, how once a strategy is set we as leaders hold fast to that strategy and bristle at considering a different path, one that is new and possibly more interesting than the original. It is often in these alternate paths that new creativity, new ideas and new growth emerge.  Encouraging such paths is part of being a leader, and I work with my clients to explore as much as they can of these new and different ways.  How often do we offer our teams the opportunity to create a new and different journey rather than just “playing the result?”

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