Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

My “Best Of…” Album

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

As 2012 comes to an end I thought I’d look back on some of my blog posts from the past few years and create a list of my best ones. Hey, it’s possible that I have some that qualify for a Best Of album. They don’t need to be great… just my best!

In no particular order or for no apparent reason (other than these being that ones that I’ve gotten the most feedback on), here are the ones I like the most:

Okay, I didn’t say it was a short list. And it may have to be a double-album, since I’ve been writing these since February of 2008. But these are the blog posts that have generated the most comments, questions, emails and phones calls from people. So if you’re sitting around with nothing to do and need something to help you sleep, click through and read a few these. 🙂

Enjoy! And Happy New Year!

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How’s Your Inner Photoshop?

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

While I was clicking a few photos the other day, taking in the amazing view of a rainbow over the ocean stretched out in front of me, I thought about how we can instantly “photoshop out” things we don’t want in our picture. In this case, just off to my right were some manmade structures – telephone poles with a large power transformer on it – which took away from the natural beauty in front of me. But it wasn’t until I actually looked at the scene in the camera’s digital display that I realized that they were even there.

As humans we’re able to ignore things in our view as if they’re not there, whereas a camera just reports the facts, no matter what’s there. It’s just one of the many differences between our minds and mechanical instruments. Anyone who’s spent any time with a camera knows how true this is, especially after thinking you’ve just taken an award-winning photo only to discover some distracting object in it that you hadn’t noticed while shooting it.

I think this human ability is both a good thing and a bad thing. And since we’re stuck with it as humans, I’ll admit there’s not much use in thinking it’s a bad thing! But it may cause problems if we’re not aware that we’re constantly doing this.

So here’s my point: How often do we “photoshop out” things we don’t want to see in our business and personal life? By mentally deleting them from our view, are we missing important information?

Being able to see a situation or a person and focusing on all the good is a valuable ability; if all we ever did was see the ugly parts we couldn’t enjoy the beauty. But if all we do is see the good stuff, and we ignore the bad, we may miss what’s critical.

Since I had the minor revelation (okay, I’m easily reveled!) about how we “photoshop out” what we don’t want to see, I’ve tried to be more aware. Not just looking for the bad, but simply being aware of it. For once I was aware that the manmade structures were in my photo, I adjusted the focus of the camera just slightly and ended up with a much nicer shot. Perhaps with a minor adjustment to how I look at a situation or person I can end up with a much nicer picture, too.

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Don’t Grow Up

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

As you read this, are you wishing you’d have grown up quicker, gotten to the age you’re at now sooner? Or do you wish you’d been able to spend more time at a younger age?

So why do we tell kids to “Grow up”? Why are we in such a hurry to get kids to act like adults? You know, the adults that we often don’t want to be ourselves, the ones stressed out, overworked, lacking the creativity of children, fearing failure, and generally lacking the physical energy we once had?

Ask a group of adults to draw something and most will say, “I can’t draw!”; ask a group of 5-year-olds, and they’ll jump into it. No fear of failure, no lack of creativity. Take kids to a park and they almost immediately run, jump and climb; take adults to a park and the first thing they do is look for a bench to sit on. Have you noticed bookstores are bursting at the seams with self-help books for adults, but you never see one aimed at kids.

As adults we often think that we can no longer do or learn something completely new, that the time to do that has long gone. But if you read some of the latest research about neuroplasticity – the ability of our brains to adapt and form new neuro-pathways – it’s easy to see that we can continue to grow, learn, adapt, change and improve until the day we die. Sometimes it’s a matter of having the right approach or strategy for learning, but there’s no doubt that you have all the ability you’ve ever had to take on something new.

Everyone should read the book, The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge. It encapsulates much of the research about neuroplasticity and can’t help but make you feel hopeful, no matter what your age and condition.

The next time you have the urge to tell a kid to grow up and be more mature, think again. Instead, tell yourself to grow down. Take chances. Make mistakes – in fact, embrace them as learning-takes. Do what you don’t think you’re good at. Know that your brain is constantly adapting, evolving and improving, so take advantage of that.

Go to a park and run just for the pure joy of it, if only for a few minutes. Just appreciate the fact you can do it. Learn to do something that you think you’re no good at – drawing, playing a musical instrument, playing a sport, cooking – just to prove that your brain can still learn (and it can!) and for the thrill of doing something you’re uncomfortable with. Look for opportunities to look fear of failure in the eye and say, “Screw you – I’m doing this despite what you think!” Make time to just play, doing whatever you want to do, not worrying about what others think.

Be a kid. Grow down.


What We Can Learn From Crooks

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

The other day I was meeting with a couple of business colleagues and the conversation led to talk about the politics behind a couple of different groups. As one colleague told us about what was going on behind the scenes I couldn’t help but wonder what could be achieved if people put as much time and energy into productive work as they did into non-productive work.

Here were two very good, well-intentioned groups who, if they worked together, would make things so much better for so many people. But instead, there were people in both groups that were fighting over their turf, protecting egos, and looking after themselves. And because of that, neither was as productive as they could be, and the team as a whole was definitely suffering.

If only people would put as much time and energy into productive work as they do into non-productive, we’d all be further ahead.

This reminded me of the crook who spends months planning to steal something. What if he’d put that much energy into something worthwhile?

Or, the sports leagues splintering and then coming back together, but the sport never being as strong as it once was.

Or, the political parties… But I’m not going there!

Rather than nodding your head in agreement and thinking that others shouldn’t be so silly, stop and ask yourself if you’ve ever contributed to this kind of non-productive behavior. Are you doing that now?

And while I’m on this topic, check out the RSA Animation of Dan Ariely’s talk, The Truth About Dishonesty.

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What Can I Do About A Toxic Culture?

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Have you been a part of group of people where the atmosphere was just fantastic? It could have been a sports team, at work, a group of volunteers or a hobby group, but it was just great the way people worked together, everyone performed well, and it was fun.

Have you been part of a group that was the opposite? You know, one of those situations where the word “toxic” comes to mind?

We’re talking workplace culture here, right? I like to think of a group culture as being what people say about it behind its back – how they would define what it was like to be part of the group if asked by someone not connected to it.

The worst part of being in a toxic culture is the feeling that you can’t do anything about it. But can you do something? What if…

Here’s an idea: Start by getting those around you to open up to the possibility of change, and getting a mental image of what it would be like if the culture changed for the better. Start by asking, “What would it be like if we didn’t work in such a toxic environment? Can you imagine what it would be like if this was a fun and productive workplace? Let’s talk about what that would be like.” Then do that. Talk about a non-toxic workplace culture, getting a clear mental picture of what that would look like, what it would feel like, how people would act. Ensure that it’s not all focused on others, but also on how you and the person you’re talking to would change and behave.

Have that conversation with every one who’s a part of your team until everyone sees what could be. This may take some time, for changing people’s mindsets can take time. But help them get the vision of a better workplace culture.

Begin modeling the behavior that will lead to the desired culture, and encourage others to do the same by giving confirming feedback to anyone who behaves the way you want, reinforcing the desired actions. People will repeat what they’ve been rewarded for, even if that reward is a simple bit of confirming feedback. And the more they repeat that behavior, the more others will follow, until one day you’ll realize that the culture has changed.

It’s easy to be a victim, and resign yourself to a miserable working environment, but you don’t need to. It’s easy to expect that the culture must be driven from the top down, and that you’ll have to wait until your bosses do something about it. But you, no matter what your position within a group, can have an impact on it. And what do you think would happen once people realized that the workplace culture had changed, and you were a major contributor to making that happen?

If you have any questions about how you can change a workplace culture, let me know. I’d love to help.

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The Recency Effect & Your Career

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

How do you want to be remembered when you move onto your next role, position or career? No matter whether you’re a CEO moving on to become the chairman or retiring entirely, a sales manager moving to a new company, or a doctor changing careers, what people will recall most about you is your last few interactions and actions.

Something called the “recency effect” is in play here. No matter what the situation, people tend to remember the most recent information. In educational settings, people remember the last thing taught or talked about. In political campaigns, voters remember what was said and done closest to election day.

Of course, if you only behave the way you want to be remembered in the final moment of your role or career, most people will see through that phoniness.

What if you acted, behaved, performed as if every day were your last in your current role? Would you do anything different? Would you want to be remembered the way you behaved or performed today? Especially in today’s business climate, you just never know whether today is your last day or not. As unpleasant a thought as that is, it’s reality. So, why not behave and perform everyday the way you want to be remembered?

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High-Performer or High-Potential?

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

This week we have a guest blog by Kyle Lagunas, HR Analyst at Software Advice. Enjoy!

In a time when the workforce is increasingly transient, your ability to identify high-performing and high-potential employees—and that of your managers—is critical. And yet, many struggle to distinguish one from the other, negatively impacting their ability to develop and retain top talent. In many organizations, performance is the primary measure of an employee’s value in the organization. Star performers are promoted and rewarded, while diamonds in the rough become disengaged and move on.

Don’t get me wrong–you should definitely value performance. But if your end goal is to build a more robust talent pipeline (and it should be), performance can’t be the only point of entry. To that end, there are strategies that any manager can apply to develop high-potentials and high-performers effectively.

Step One: Identify

High-performers stand out in any organization. They consistently exceed expectations, and are management’s go-to for difficult projects. They take pride in their accomplishments, but may not have the potential (or the desire) to succeed in a higher-level role.

High potentials can be more difficult to identify, especially for line managers. That’s because most valuable attributes (e.g. stress management, adaptability, business sense) aren’t catalytic in entry-to-mid-level roles. Potential is subjective to what a company values, of course, but there are innate attributes that distinguish them from high-performers.

Line managers’ observations are often limited to the most obvious traits (time management, communication skills, attention to detail). By working with leadership, however, managers can profile the skills that ensure success in key roles—and be on the lookout for examples of both high performers and high potentials from day one.

Step Two: Assess

An established standard of the attributes and competencies of model employees is also an essential part of objective assessment. And though there’s a distinct difference between potential and performance, experts agree that employees should be assessed on competency in both.

Each category requires a different development strategy. With a clearer picture of who falls where, managers can make more informed decisions in how to effectively develop them. For example: High Po/ Low Per employees may need to improve their ability to perform consistently, or may be moved into roles better aligned with their natural abilities. And High Per/Low Po employees would be ideal candidates for soft skill development–or for roles that require more technical skill.

Step Three: Engage and Develop

The important thing about development and engagement strategies (especially for high-potential vs. high-performance employees) is to tailor your efforts to drive the results you want. Typical engagement strategies could look something like this:

Recognition is key for High Per/Low Po employees. They need constant encouragement and challenging assignments. Rather than promoting them to roles they don’t want (or aren’t ready for), give them the independence and engage them with projects that they can take full ownership of.

Alternately, while High Po/Low Per employees are hungry for more high-impact work, they need seasoning. On the job training is a great way to accomplish this, especially when pairing them with high performers. As they develop a stronger understanding of the organization and their role in it, give them projects to manage, new hires to train, and offer cross-training opportunities.

Set Your Line Managers Up for Success

Your line managers are the gatekeepers to your talent pipeline, and they’ve got their work cut out for them. While most will have some natural ability in identifying, assessing, and engaging performers and potentials, few will be adept at all three. If you want to improve your ability to retain top talent, it starts with your line managers. Set them up for success, and invest in their development.


About the Author: Kyle Lagunas is the HR Analyst at Software Advice—an online resource for HR software comparisions. He reports on trends, technology, and best practices in talent management, with work featured on Forbes, Business Insider, Information Weekly, and the NY Times.


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How To Compete Against the Big Boys for Tech Employees?

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

I read a lot of blogs, newsletters, books and articles, and every now and then I come across a really great one. What makes one great is not always some mind-blowing new idea or concept, but just the simplicity and relevance of the message – like the one I got this week in PMSI’s (Personnel Management Systems, Inc.) newsletter. PMSI is a great HR outsourcing company that I’ve personally had experience of working with. Thanks to them for letting me reprint the following:

You have probably heard the news. For tech employers there is a labor shortage. And to make it worse, the Big Boys (Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc.) are hiring – seriously hiring.

What is a small company to do?

Don’t panic. The good news is not everyone wants to work for giant companies. In fact, just the opposite – many people prefer to work for smaller companies. The trick is how do you position your organization so that you can attract and retain these highly sought-after employees?

Here are some ideas. Not all will work for every organization but give each of them some thought. Perhaps a tweak or two and you might end up with an idea that no one has yet thought of.

  1. Make a difference.  Many people want to “make a difference” and be a part of an organization that really improves people’s lives.  Many “mission driven” non-profits have this advantage over the private sector.
  2. Make it fun.  People want to work in organizations that are fun.  And, I don’t mean, go out and buy a foosball table.  Instead, create an engaging, interesting work environment where people embrace humor and enjoy being around one another.  If you think your work environment can’t be fun, read Fish! by Stephen Lundin.
  3. Work Life Balance.  The truth is many people don’t want to work 12 hour days.  They want to be home for dinner and spend time with friends and family.
  4. Work Environment.  Look around.  Do people look comfortable?  Are your break rooms and restrooms clean and well stocked?  Is it too loud, too cold, too crowded?
  5. Technology.  Has your organization embraced the newest technology?  Tech workers want access to the latest software and equipment.
  6. Quality of Management. It is a buyer’s market. Tech workers have choices and oftentimes will leave a job because of bad management.
  7. Open communication and collaboration.  We have been in business for almost 30 years.  In that time period we have surveyed thousands of employees.  Lack of communication is always one of the top complaints.  Employees expect a high level of communication and collaboration between themselves and management.
  8. Continuous Learning.  Tech workers want to be in an environment where continuous learning is part of the culture.  This could mean a strong mentor program, in-house speakers and reimbursement for course work and certifications.
  9. Pay and Benefits.  Yes, pay and benefits are important but that doesn’t mean as a small company you have to pay more than the Big Boys.  You just have to be competitive and “fair” to at least neutralize this issue.  Some tech workers will chase pay, and you may just have to accept this and let them go.  Others will look at the whole package.  This is how you can compete and win!

If you want to attract and retain your tech workers, then pay competitively, turn the job into something fun and meaningful and provide the best tools and work environment that you can afford.  Have a management team in place that truly understands the value of communication and understands and respects people’s desire to have balance in their lives.

Me again (Ross, that is): I think these tips apply to more than just tech employees…

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Gold Medal Learnings: What The Olympics Taught Us

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

In the days and weeks following the Olympics the media is full of highlights, lowlights and “moments” from the games. And the London Olympics certainly had it’s share:

  • Usain Bolt’s dominating performances.
  • Michael Phelps… what can one say?
  • Andy Murray’s gold-medal performance over perhaps the best tennis player ever.
  • Gabby Douglas’ gymnastics performance.
  • Mo Farah’s double gold-medal runs.
  • Missy Franklin’s performance in the pool.
  • Eric Idle singing Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life in the closing ceremonies!

Definitely one of my favorite highlights was 15-year-old Katie Ledecky’s 800-meter gold-medal performance. And I absolutely loved what she had to say in this interview afterward: She talks about being in the moment, about there being no expectations or pressure, about enjoying herself, and just having fun.

In fact, my big take-away from this year’s Olympics is what so many of the U.S. athletes said before and after their events. It was obvious to me that someone has been “working” with these athletes, because I’ve never heard so many talk about “being here to have fun,” and “I just want to enjoy this experience” before. When athletes are having fun, they perform better.

There’s also a pretty good video that captures some of the highlights at Enjoy!

In fact, just have fun!

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Talk Your Way to Clarity

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

I love talking to people who are successful in business. I particularly enjoy hearing their perspectives on what it takes to be successful. It doesn’t matter how successful – or even unsuccessful – they are, there’s something to be learned from all of them.

What often happens in these discussions is after asking a number of questions the direction of the conversation changes and it’s my turn to share some thoughts. And while I don’t claim to have all the answers – far from it – it’s fun to talk about what I believe works. It’s fun to talk about what I’ve seen work, both from the perspective of a businessperson and from a coach’s viewpoint.

What’s most fun about these discussions is what I learn from them. By the time I’ve talked through some of my approaches and philosophies, I’ve gotten much more clarity. Of course, this is why I write. The act of writing, or talking through a theory or strategy enables me to see it much more clearly.

Try it. Sit down with a friend or co-worker and explain the theory and practice of how you do what it is you do. Pretend you’re being interviewed by someone who is writing a book, and you’re the expert on the topic. Just start talking. Explain your philosophy, your approach to how you do what you do. If you’re a manager, talk about what you think are the keys to successfully managing people and systems. If you’re a leader, tell your friend/interviewer what it means to lead. If you’re a software code writer, explain the process you go through to work through a project. If you’re a teacher, talk about what you think makes a great teacher.

Go for it. Take your knowledge to the next level by talking through what it is you do. I’ll bet your performance improves without you even being aware of it by doing this. Have fun!

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