Collaboration

Recently I gave a brief talk to InterCom, the regional group for communications professionals. The topic was collaborative organizations, using our Midwest Consulting Group as a model. We believe MCG is the oldest virtual corporation in Michigan, and probably one of the oldest in the U.S. Building business through collaboration is what we have been about since 1990. The bright, diverse, neat-to-hang-out-with people who make up MCG are involved in both individual and collective projects and collaborating has become part and parcel of how we operate. Clients and projects may differ considerably, but working, thinking, planning together has become part of our hardwiring. The common denominator is helping organizations, individual professionals, and teams get great at what they do.

Whether it’s helping a nonprofit agency to create a strategic plan, guiding a university faculty member through the process of publishing in an academic journal, helping create a brand identity for a business or nonprofit, coaching executives and professionals, teaching and training people to be better supervisors, managers, and leaders or creating a comprehensive management development program  . . . the commitment to collaborate, cooperate, and help each other grow our businesses is in everything we do.

Who are you collaborating with? And what have you achieved through collaboration? Would be an interesting discussion, I think.

Exciting Times

Organizations in all parts of the economy, at least those that made it through the Great Recession, are running pretty lean at this point. During the Recession organizations tightened their belts, reduced or eliminated  discretionary spending, and concentrated on survival. Positions were eliminated, projects scaled back or postponed, and in many cases headcount reduced. The organizations that survived are now leaner, more thoughtfully focused on core products and services, and have a changed workload distributed across a smaller number of heads, hands, and hearts. Whether you think the result is positive or not, it represents reality. The question now is, “How can we be successful over time in a rapidly changing world? ”

We see changing roles, expectations and challenges for supervisors, managers, and professionals all around us. Responsibilities and assignments change frequently, priorites are moving targets, and everyone is required to grow and adapt all the time. The increased pace and changing demands requires an adaptive and flexible approach at all organizational levels, and that means life-long, continuous learning.

Knowing what is needed for the future is only possible through knowing where you are right now. That’s where 360-degree assessments like the Management-Leadership Practices Inventory come in. They provide a baseline of valid, reliable feedback to serve as the foundation for an individual, team, or organization development plan. Click here for more information on the assessment tools we use; we know they work.

In addition to the ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy, we are currently completing a 360-degree management and leadership assessment process for two large teams. In both cases the organizations recognized that the need to invest in professional development was long overdue. Helping our clients to adapt and change – and being part of the individual and team growth that results – is exciting, rewarding and just plain cool!

What is your organization doing to develop the skills, attitudes, and behaviors needed today and tomorrow?

Colleagues

What is a “colleague”? In the broadest sense it’s a term we use for someone we work with and value. Still, it has come to mean much more than that to me. When I think of my own colleagues, I see people with whom I work, sure. But more importantly, I see friends. Individuals with their own interests, yet we share interests in some areas. Over the years we become more than people who “work together” – we become friends. We look for ways to collaborate (another lovely word) with each other, to support and encourage each other, to be there when things don’t go quite the way we had hoped or intended. And occasionally to provide that poke, prod, nudge in the direction of our true purpose when we get a little off-track.

I am blessed with superb colleagues and friends within the virtual organization we call Midwest Consulting Group, Inc. And over the years I’ve also developed a wonderful network of colleagues across the country. The times we spend together are among the best of times.

To all my colleagues and friends, I wish the very best for all of us in 2012. And Thank You for being part of my life.

How about your colleagues? When was the last time you thanked them for being among that special group we call . . . colleagues.

Building Nonprofit Capacity

This past week marked the final session of a 5-session course based on The 8 Essential Skills and delivered for ONEplace@KPL, a nonprofit resource center based in Kalamazoo, MI. With 40 supervisors, managers, and nonprofit executive directors participating, the course was lively and interesting. The work that Bobbe Luce and Monica Priest do in assisting area nonprofits is outstanding, remarkable, and a pleasure to watch. ONEplace@KPL provides one-stop resources, assistance, and advice for nonprofits of all kinds and sizes. From one individual with a new idea to long-established NPOs with a hundred employees or more, ONEplace@KPL has rapidly become the go-to place for nonprofit managers, executives, and boards of directors. ONEplace is funded by local foundations and provides its services free of charge to the nonprofit community and is housed in the outstanding Kalamazoo Public Library. Given the increased service demands and funding challenges faced by nonprofits in this economy, ONEplace is just a really great idea! If your community doesn’t have a resource like this, maybe it’s time to start one.

Retreating to the Front

This summer has provided several opportunities to leave work behind for several days at a time. Some time to myself to relax and reflect. Some time with colleagues thinking, planning, and collaborating together. The experience reinforced for me the wisdom of stepping backward to go forward. The opportunity to gain some perspective on the past year, look ahead to the next 12-18 months, and give some thought to the longer term future helped me to celebrate accomplishments, clarify values and priorities, set goals, and do some planning for myself and our business. It was a great experience.

How many of us set aside time to really step back to gain perspective on a regular basis? We all know the value of reflection and but it is often hard to “get away” from the daily rush and workload. We suggest an annual multi-day retreat such as I did a few weeks ago; it works wonders. But . . . you have to get it on your schedule and then actually do it!

When will you invest in yourself, your relationships, your business, and your future? Is it time for you to Retreat to the Front?

The Final Piece of Hardwiring – Talents & Strengths

 I have long been fascinated by the concept of “talents” – those innate “gifts” that people have. I used to think that talent was mostly a creative, artistic ability as in playing an instrument well and seemingly effortlessly. Van Cliburn, Yo Yo Ma, Oscar Petersen, or Ella Fitzgerald for example. Or, think of world-class athletes such as Michael Jordon, Venus and Serena Williams , Phil Mickelson, or Derek Jeter. Although we know such skill is the product of lots of hard work, there also is the element of natural talent at work in each of these examples.

It turns out that we all have talents; things that we do that produce consistent near-perfect performance in a few key areas of our life. Decades of research by the Gallup Organization revealed that each of us have these innate gifts and that turning our talents into “strengths” is possible as we acquire knowledge and experience.

The Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment has become the gold standard for determining individual talents and we have made extensive use of it in working with our clients. Recent projects with teams as diverse as a group of physicans in a family medicine residency program, a team of dedicated individuals in a state government human services agency, and a staff of electronics engineers in a large truck component manufacturer have shown the value of looking at individual and team “strengths.”

The best current “take” on talents and strengths seems to be in Tom Rath’s book StrengthsFinder 2.0. Each copy of Rath’s book contains a one-time computer code for taking the assessment on the Gallup Organization’s web site. If you haven’t explored your own talents, pick up a copy from your local bookstore or order from our friends at Amazon.com. Might be a great opportunity to order a copy of my new book too!

To order “The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers” visit Amazon.com.

What are your particular Talents?

Next Time: Skill 2 – Communicating for Results

My Hardwiring – A Case Study – Part 3

Our three major ways of receiving information from the world around us – our sense of hearing, of seeing, and our kinesthetic sense – have a major bearing on how we absorb and understand that information. And while our senses are always “on” when we’re awake, they are not equally effective at processing the information that comes our way. “Wait a minute,” you might say, “my hearing is fine, my vision is 20-20, and I easily take in information about my immediate environment.” That may all be true. But that doesn’t mean all three of those senses are equally effective. Here’s why:

Early in your brain’s growth your nervous system developed a dominant pattern for processing information, using your three primary senses. One sense is the best-developed – your “conscious” sense. One is not as well developed, but helps to support your strongest sense; let’s call that your “subconscious” sense. The third sense is significantly weaker; we call that your “unconscious” sense. While you do use all three senses to take in and process information, your dominant or conscious sense is simply more effective.

So, what does this mean for you? For me? My weakest sense is Auditory – information that is only “told” to me simply doesn’t seem to get processed effectively in my brain. What I see and experience, however, seems to make more sense and create more lasting impressions for me. Like many who are primarily Visual and Kinesthetic, seeing/reading information and writing/drawing/notetaking seems to “lock in” the information. I often take notes during meetings and the physical (kinesthetic) act of writing the note plus the visual act of seeing the information on paper tends to make the information “stick” much better, even if I don’t look at my notes ever again.

What about your information processing preferences? Which senses seem to work best for you? Which sense seems to be the least effective way to gather information?

Next Time: The final piece of hardwiring – Talents & Strengths

To order “The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers” visit Amazon.com.

My Hardwiring – A Case Study – Part 1

The easiest way I can think of to illustrate the way our hardwiring influences and steers us in certain directions is to use my own hardwiring as an example. At the risk of telling you more about me than you might care to know, here goes:

Personality Preferences – I’m an Extravert – outgoing, highly verbal, and get energized by being around other people. I’m more interested in action than I am sitting and thinking deeply about events or issues. I’m interested in the “big picture” – the “why” of things a lot more than I am interested in the “how” or details of things. I pay attention to the mission, need to craft or see the vision of what we are trying to accomplish, and use my gut-feel or intuition to help me make decisions. When making those decisions I consider the impact on others, my internal value system as well as analyzing the logic and bottom-line effects. What’s best for people is going to get my nod most of the time. I prefer to plan my work and work my plan most of the time when it comes to my professional life; schedules and deadlines are helpful, and having an organized, neat environment feels comfortable. That’s not quite so important in my personal life and that seems to be increasing as I get older. From a Myers-Briggs standpoint, that makes me an Extravert, iNtuitive, Feeler, Judger (ENFJ) with some well-developed Perceiver tendencies.

For more information on the Myers-Briggs, see the website at Midwest Consulting Group.

What about your personality preferences? Care to share?

Next Time – My Hardwiring – A Case Study – Part 2

To order The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers” visit Amazon.com.

What’s Your Hardwiring?

We all have our individual “hardwiring” – those aspects of who we are that are the product of our genetic makeup and early nurturing. In some ways we are driven to behave, react, communicate, and think as we do. Often subconsciously, and sometimes in spite of our conscious desire otherwise. Over the years some particularly valuable and practical tools have helped us better understand  ourselves. As a result, we come to understand other people better.

A combination of factors make up our hardwiring:

  • Personality  – our preferences – those in-born ways of looking at the world, what energizes us, how we make decision, and what we pay attention to. We use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to help understand Personality.
  • Hemisphere – while we use both right and left hemispheres of our brain all the time, but most of us utilize one hemisphere more than the other. Whether we are Left Brain or Right Brain dominant has a major affect on how we learn new information and skills.
  • Information Processing – our three major senses (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic) provide us with most of the information we use in life. Information we acquire through our dominent sense seems clearer and is more easily absorbed.
  • Talents & Strengths – our innate individual “gifts” – those aspects of who we are when we’re at our best. We use the Clifton StrengthFinder assessment to help people understand their talents and those of others.

Understanding yourself is an essential part of Skill 1 – Managing Yourself. What’s your hardwiring like?

Next time – My Hardwiring – a case study – Part 1

Why Skill 1 is “Managing Yourself”

Some would claim that Communication is the most important skill. Others would argue that being good at Solving Problems and Making Decisions is the most important. Still others will assert that Building Successful Relationships is more important than anything else. I believe Managing Yourself is Skill 1 – the most important and critical initial skill. And, of course, I’m about to tell you why.

The ability to effectively manage your own life is, to me, the foundational skill – all the other skills flow from this ability. Learning, developing, and practicing good self-management puts you in the position of being able to acquire the rest of the 8 Essential Skills And the opposite is also true; the supervisor or manager who is poor at managing themself is going to have a difficult time acquiring the rest of the skillset. The result is a rather ineffective, probably unsuccessful manager.

We’re not talking just about managing yourself at work. What I really mean is learning how to handle the pace and density of our modern life. Life is a combination of professional and personal tasks, projects, relationships, plans, information, and challenges. The sheer volume of information, ideas, communications, commitments, projects, and tasks tends to grow all the time. The mix changes constantly, as do priorities. And as our careers advance and our personal life progresses, the more complex the mix seems to become. Managing Yourself involves learning a set of skills, but more importantly, it involves knowing who you are, what you stand for, and what drives you as a person.

Managing Yourself starts with knowing yourself.

Next Time: What’s Your Hardwiring?