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Workplace culture, the elephant in the room

posted 2017-08-23 by Donna

I was sitting in an airport pub last week during a four hour stopover. At a table beside me, a group of colleagues collected, soon to be catching a charter flight to a resort. They were clearly technical, bright, skilled at their work. Their discussions were candid and covered many topics, primarily about their work. In the case of all but one discussion, a person presented a problem or challenge they were facing and the others asked questions and provided ideas for different solutions. It was an organic community of practice in action, and each walked away with some gifts, solutions to try, put together by the collective intelligence at the table.

There was one topic that did not follow this pattern. One person in his early 30's, commented on the culture at one of the workplaces, finishing his comments with ‘...and, well, you know how that work environment is’. The nodding heads confirmed they were all familiar with it. However, to this challenge, no solution was proposed nor discussed. Yes, nodding heads, yes, agreement that there was a problem. A big problem, from the facial expressions. Yet, silence. Eventually the conversation moved on, but I was left wondering why so often there is powerlessness around workplace culture.

Powerlessness, acceptance of something clearly below par. An acceptance of the status quo. A toxic culture is like a black hole, absorbing the light. It impacts all aspects of a business. It increases employee stress and illness. It causes good people to leave and those who stay behind often grind their way through each day at 50 percent capacity. It reduces the quality of customer interactions as well as the likelihood of retaining customers. Workplace culture issues are a constant leak of talent and productivity.

By contrast, a positive work culture is a beacon of light that radiates outward. Your business purpose is realized, over and over again, by a group of employees who are all in, working toward a common goal. Trust exists. Employee relationships are strong. Communication is effective. Retention is high.

Do you have an honest, recent assessment of the state of your workplace culture? If those were your employees sitting around that table in the airport, how would they be describing the culture of your offices?

Leveraging the value from learning opportunities

posted 2017-07-29 by Donna

Your team is currently snowed under with a project and you know that everyone is stretched a bit thin. This morning, an employee brought to your attention an upcoming learning opportunity on team dynamics. You anticipate he will benefit so you approved him to go. He is a star employee and you are satisfied you made the right decision. However, given the current workload on the team, have you thought about whether there is a way to leverage this learning experience beyond only him?

Setting an expectation that someone attending a learning opportunity brings something back of value to their team has multiple benefits:

  • An employee who is aware beforehand that he is going to need to explain something learned to others changes the experience of the learning. He will listen differently, experience the exercises differently and more directly apply the information as he learns it to his own work team.
  • The adage that you don’t really understand something until you can explain it to someone is accurate. If your employee is able to articulate a concept to the others on his team in a way that they really get it, his own understanding is deepened, as is the likelihood that he will apply it in his work.
  • The transfer of knowledge creates a new leverage point for the whole team. This can occur formally as with the point above, or more organically (“hey, I learned last week that if we make this one change in how we approach this problem, we will be more effective. How about we try this?”)

One caution: the best way to capitalize on the opportunity is not to ask for a presentation or lecture to the team. Instead, ask the person to answer two or three carefully structured questions. Some examples: What was one thing you learned that unsettled you? What are two things you learned that you think would help our team the most? What is something we do right now that you think we should stop doing, based on what you learned?

Making agreements with employees attending workshops to bring their learning back to their teams will help them to achieve deeper learning while simultaneously leveraging the value for the whole team.

Hiring your next rockstar employee

posted 2017-07-18 by Donna

The search for employees who are a great fit for your company can be exhausting. Sometimes you wonder if you’ll ever find the right person, or you find someone who isn’t quite right, although you can’t quite put your finger on why and they look great on paper so you hire them. Your sixth sense proves to be accurate later when the person requires a disproportionate amount of management time and resources, or you invest heavily in them to make things work better only to have them quit six months later. The hiring process also takes you away from what you want to, and need to, focus on.

Suppose you’ve taken the time to write a clear and compelling job posting that should attract top talent. You have honed your interview process to select for people with the right set of skills, knowledge and experience to do the work well. Yet still something isn’t working, the last couple of hires don’t seem to be a good fit. Is there something else you could be doing?

Let me ask this: are you really clear about your company identity: what it stands for, what its values are, what it it is up to in the world? Because if you haven’t got that clearly articulated, then selecting employees who by default are aligned with your values is a bit of a shot in the dark.

Your interview questions might be designed to assess some values, but unless you have already done the work it’s likely an indirect and incomplete overlap. A far better approach is to have your company vision, mission and values clearly articulated before you hire, and then your assessment of your applicants can be much easier.

Suppose one of your core company values is innovation. Your company needs employees who frequently look at things a little differently, who challenge the status quo, who generate new ideas on bar napkins every time there’s a social get together. They just can’t help themselves. How well would it work if you hire someone who has the right set of experience, skills and knowledge for the job, but has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future every time a new process or approach is introduced?

A great proportion of your time at work is spent in the day to day interactions, meetings, discussions and decisions. The energy expended cajoling or supervising employees who are not a good fit with your values could be better spent elsewhere. It’s well worth carving out the time to be clear on what your company is about, and then find the people who are naturally aligned.

Photo by Shwetha Shankar on Unsplash

Leveraging intelligence through teams

posted 2017-07-11 by Donna

One of the attributes believed to set us humans apart as a distinct species, and indeed is thought to be fundamental to our success, is our ability to share learnings and perspectives with others and utilize the collective intelligence of many to solve problems, innovate, or move forward.

Are you making the most of this critical attribute in your business?

Sometimes, it might be tempting to believe that a particular employee ‘works best on his own’. I would argue that is not the best use of any one of your employees. If you want to attain the full benefit of that person’s perspective, intelligence, abilities, strengths and experience, you would be advised to find ways to include him within a team.

I frequently work with managers who want their employees to work more, or better, together (I am never asked to help employees to spend more time working on their own!) We all know instinctively at some level that a team of people can produce more and better outcomes than a sum of individual efforts. 1 + 1 + 1 really is greater than 3 when talking about work performance. Yet we struggle to set up a work environment that enables that, without being sucked into the black hole of managing interpersonal conflicts and issues for hours of our own time. I understand that the path of least resistance might seem to be to direct your employees to work on their own to avoid the interpersonal issues and challenges that come up.

As with all things, if you put the time and effort up front into the design, you reap the benefit of achieving the outcomes you want. Setting your teams up for success by creating some space and time for them to form, reform and optimize will serve you and your business well. Time that is well spent includes: setting up opportunities for them to learn and develop awareness of their own and others’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as how they will leverage individual strengths in their performance; enabling them to develop a collective vision and a set of commitments to one another, and; ensuring they establish processes for making decisions, communicating and handling conflicts.

Effective teams will end up taking less of your time, not more, if you make the time to set them up well.

What are your employees saying about your company?

posted 2017-07-07 by Donna

Everyone talks about their work, or at least their experience of their work. Picture a summer backyard barbecue. Kids are running around chasing a ball. One of your employees is sitting in a deck chair, beer in hand. His friend, the host of the backyard party, asks him “Hey, how’s work going?”

What does your employee say?

What does it matter?

It matters because every single interaction matters when it comes to the reputation of your company. You don’t know who is listening. Maybe the young man sitting beside your employee, another guest at the barbeque, happens to be the son of the CEO of the company you are in the midst of negotiating a sales deal with.

What kind of control do you have over this situation? I would argue, a lot. As the head, you influence the entire culture of the company.

If there is something wrong, it is up to you to fix it, or see that it is fixed. If you don’t fix it, it reflects badly on you as a leader. A recent project I led involved working with a team of about 20 employees. Most of them were engaged, positive, optimistic, open to sharing. One of this team was toxic, looking for any opportunity to point out that the high workload was resulting in unacceptable personal stress. His comments would bring the energy level of every team discussion down by at least 20 points.

The other team members put up with it, with an apparent tolerance of ‘that’s just him, you know how he is’. But was it affecting their performance? Of course. Whose responsibility was it to stop this behaviour? His boss. By not dealing with the behaviour, the boss was allowing this person to impact the performance of every individual on that team, and the team as a whole suffered.

When the team’s performance is suffering, your business is suffering.

a purposeful past

posted 2015-01-05 by Donna

What kind of perspective do you have on your past mistakes?

My former self used to spend a fair bit of time lamenting past actions with regret. I knew that the time we spend in this state and the impact on our sense of self is not helpful to continued growth and development. Your own perspective on who you are can play a big role in holding you back from contributing what you are best at in life and work.

Luckily, as with all things to do with your thinking, it is possible to make a change. All there is to do is to notice your thinking, and then choose a different point of view. Whenever you catch yourself dwelling on a past action with regret, turn your mind to what you learned from the action or situation, and how the learning could be applied as you move forward. If you find writing helpful, you can write down your thoughts about what you have learned and how it will be helpful for you now and in the future.

When I first started working on this change in thinking for myself, it was difficult and took a lot of effort. Now, however, I find that I am able to shift my thinking fairly easily.

Because we are human, we all still have our moments – when the mistake seems to be a particularly bad one, or if you are already feeling a bit low. But every time you are able to shift your thinking about a mistake, it helps make the next one easier to shift. And makes it easier to move forward with a clear mind and intention to keep the learning and discard the regret.

the new year

posted 2014-12-31 by Donna

What do you do when one year is ending, and a new one about to begin?

Many of us have a custom we like to follow at New Year's. Perhaps, it’s a reflection on the past year, or setting some goals or resolutions for the year ahead.

As the old year draws to a close, I like to reflect a bit on what it has held for me. What did I learn? What was the hardest part of the year, and how did I respond? What was the best part of the year?

I also like to think ahead about what my new year will hold for me. Usually, this is in the form of words: thoughts, key words, and a bit of writing. This year, though, I am inspired to do something more visual. Later today, I am going to curl up with some old magazines and a glass of wine in front of the fire, and make myself a collage that represents my new year. I want to include things that inspire me, things that I want to make happen, experiences I want to have, people I want to share things with. This might become my new ritual.

As we head into 2015, I wish for you a remarkable year: one filled with love, laughter, learning, adventure…whatever it is that will light you up as you enter your new year.

goal setting through

posted 2014-12-04 by Donna

Have you ever worked long and hard at something, had it come together successfully, and then fallen flat afterwards?

What happens?

Forward momentum is as a result of goals. We move towards what we think about, whether we realize we are setting goals or not. Being more deliberate about the process results in more clearly defined goals, and a higher likelihood of getting what we really want.

When defining a goal, it seems to be human nature to stop at the goal. We rarely think beyond the big event: running the race, holding the conference, delivering the baby.

And so, the source of the flattening after the goal occurs. We got there. We made it happen. Now what? Often, 'now what' is a period of deflation and lack of focus, until you realize what is going on (or not) and set new goals.

Consider trying a different approach. Next time you set a goal for yourself, think beyond the big event to what comes next. And define the next goal before you close in on the first one.

transforming meetings

posted 2014-12-01 by Donna

How is it our concept of a ‘meeting’ is so negative? We rarely speak of meetings with enthusiasm. For most of us they are seen as something to be endured, time mostly wasted that gets in the way of getting ‘real work’ done. I even looked for a quote about meetings for this article and couldn’t find a single positive one.
It is possible to transform meetings. What would it be like if people came to know you as someone who called and held productive meetings that were a good use of everyone’s time?

I googled the word ‘meeting’ and came up with this great graphic from the site, There is no connotation of ‘waste of time’.

Being responsible for great meetings is an art as well as a science. The first clue is in the phrase ‘being responsible’. The person who calls the meeting IS responsible: for the time to be well spent. That means responsibility for many things, such as:

  • being clear about what the intentions are of the meeting (a way to harness collective intelligence? Brainstorming? A key decision needs to be made?);
  • being mindful and respectful of the cost (if you invite 5 people making $50 an hour; a two hour meeting just cost your organization $500);
  • ensuring the right people are invited and able to attend (how many meetings have you been to where a key player wasn’t in the room, thus requiring another meeting?);
  • ensuring you have only invited the people who need to be there, and limit the information to what is relevant for the people who are there;
  • ensuring that the objectives are communicated ahead of time to the participants. Send out a clear agenda (people need to know how to prepare, and those with a preference for introversion may need time to think about the material beforehand);
  • if you want to be able to participate yourself, have someone else facilitate the meeting;
  • start when you said you would. Don’t waste the time of the people who honoured you by arriving on time to wait for those who are late; and
  • follow up with whatever commitments you make in the meeting (notes, action lists).

Taking responsibility for that one or two hour meeting means some prep beforehand and may mean some follow up afterwards. But these few suggestions could make your meetings be seen as more valuable by the people who work with you.

giving up should

posted 2014-11-24 by Donna

I have a challenge for you to take on. Are you interested?

Give up using the word SHOULD for a week.

The meaning of the word is to do something out of obligation or duty. Doing something for these reasons is not powerful. None of us like having to do something. It is much more pleasant and frankly inspiring to have choice in anything that we do.

As well, anytime we use the word should for ourselves or for others, we are referring to something that isn't being done. The word contains guilt or shame, sometimes regret. It can also leave you feeling victimized by your circumstances. Overall, not very inspiring. In fact, downright flattening.

What if you could give up the word and the feeling that goes with it, and have something powerful instead?

The next time a thought comes up about something you think you 'should' be doing, stop and think about it. Why do you think you should be doing it? Is it because someone else thinks so? Is it what you think society expects you to do? How committed are you, yourself, to it?

It's your level of commitment that matters. If you really want to be doing it, then replace should with want. Or, even better, replace should with the most powerful word of all, choose.

It might seem that the only thing that will have changed for you is your language around what you are doing. But this change can have a huge impact on your attitude toward it. A shift from victim of your circumstances to being powerfully in the driver's seat of your life.

stereotypes and communicating

posted 2014-11-19 by Donna

We communicate because we have something to say. We want to be heard by others. The outcome that we want varies. Sometimes we are just sharing our own perspective, our own experience. Sometimes, we want the other person to be influenced by what we have to say. Sometimes, we actually want them to do what we are telling them.

The language we choose affects our message. An example of this is making generalizations about others, or using stereotypes. When we are interested in communicating to others, stereotypes often get in the way. There is a much higher likelihood if you use stereotypes that you will offend someone, that someone will have a reaction to what you are saying.

If you have something to say, you want people to listen to you, to really hear you. If you generalize or stereotype about something, and they react to it, they can't hear you and your message is lost.

An example is this TED talk by Arianna Huffington. It's about sleep deprivation, and how important it is to make sure you get enough sleep in order to be performing at your best. The messaging is good. The TED organizers asked her to speak, so they thought that she had something important to say. However, her speech contains generalizations about the sexes, and as a result (and this is apparent from the comments on the site) the message is lost, at least to some. In fact, the opposite of what she likely intended happened for some folks; they have discounted her premise as a result of how she communicated it.

Something, perhaps, to think about the next time you want others to hear your message.

what's your point of view?

posted 2014-10-28 by Donna

I was reminded this week of a fable told to me several years ago. I'd like to share it with you. It goes something like this.

A gas station attendant is working at a full service gas station in a small town. A family pulls up in their car and asks for gas. He fills their tank. As they are paying for the gas, they say to him, "We have been thinking about moving. We like your town and are wondering what it would be like to live here. Can you tell us, what are the people like?" He pauses, and then says, "Well, that's a great question. What are the people like where you come from?"

They respond. "Well, the people where we live are really friendly. They say hi to one another on the street. They look after you if you need something. We really like it there. We don't want to move here if the people are not going to be as friendly as where we are now, because we like them so much."

He thinks for a moment. Then he responds with 'Well, I think you will find that the people here are very much like that."

The family thanks him and drives away.

About half an hour later, another family drives up in their car, looking for gas. He fills their tank. As they are paying for their gas, they say to him, "We have been thinking about moving. We like your town and are wondering what it would be like to live here. Can you tell us, what are the people like?"

He pauses, and then he says, "Well, that's a great question. What are the people like where you come from?"

They respond. "Well, where we come from, the people aren't very friendly. They are rude, and they wouldn't lift a finger if you needed help. We don't like them at all. We would like to move away."

He thinks for a moment. Then he responds with, 'Well, I think you will find that the people here are very much like that."

The family thanks him and drives away.

I really like this fable. It is an excellent reminder that point of view - and attitude - affects everything. Which is great news, because that is something we have total control over over. We get to choose it.


posted 2014-10-24 by Donna

I am aware that my life is complicated. To be more accurate, I have made my life complicated. I would actually like it to be simpler. A lot simpler. And once something has been made to be complicated, it isn’t so easy to simplify. It takes a fair effort. It takes a lot of energy to maintain a complicated life. It often happens subtly, over a long period of time. You don’t realize how much it costs you – in energy, effort, time and peace - to keep it all going.

Having too many choices is a form of complexity. Research shows that when people are in a store to make a purchase, and are presented with too many options, they tend to leave without buying anything. Too much complexity overwhelms us.

Take this awareness and turn the lens to where you work. How complicated are the processes and systems that keep your business working? How much of that complexity really needs to be there? What is it costing?

This applies to pretty much anything…project management systems, computer systems, filing systems, business processes. Things should be only as complex as they absolutely need to be, and starting from simplest is usually best. More complex is rarely better. It costs more to build and maintain. And it leaves a legacy of extra time and money to keep it going. Einstein had it right.

I also think there are two considerations in any decision about whether to buy something, or to implement a system or a process. The first is how simple or inexpensive it is to put in place (or to purchase) in the first place. The second is how simple or inexpensive is it to keep it going or maintain. Next time you have a decision to make, you could consider the answers to both of these questions.

setting yourself apart

posted 2014-10-21 by Donna

I am a frequent customer at four different coffee shops.

I always order the same thing. An americano. At three of the shops, I need to give the order every time. At the fourth, the employees remember what my beverage of choice is.

What's the impact? As a customer, I feel important. Valued. I want to visit that fourth shop whenever I can. The coffee, the atmosphere, the wi-fi, the comfy chairs and the music are excellent at all. The only difference, the only thing that sets the one shop apart from the rest, is that the employees make the effort to remember my order.

There is a lot of competition for business. Having a great product or service is essential. You can't compete otherwise. Lots of businesses have great products or services. Setting your business apart takes something special. The extra effort you make in serving your customers can be the thing that sets you apart.

Being on par in terms of price and quality only gets you into the game. Service wins the game. Tony Alessandra.

how to refer someone

posted 2014-10-17 by Donna

We often have opportunities to refer someone we know to someone else.

During a conversation, we realize that we know an individual who could be of assistance to our colleague or to their organization.

In that moment, we have a chance to create that individual for our colleague. What we say will form their first impression of the individual. It's a powerful position to be in. When you are in that situation, what do you do?

One approach is for you to tell your colleague everything that you know about the individual. Their strengths and their weaknesses. From your experience, and your point of view.

Another approach is to focus on the person's strengths. You are, after all, referring that person because you believe that they have value to offer. Otherwise, why refer them? By describing their attributes in terms of strengths, you leave your colleague with the opportunity to form their own perspective and impression of the individual.

As people, we tend to see whatever it is that we are looking for. If we are told someone is 'outspoken', we will see evidence for that. It will take extra effort for us to view that characteristic differently. However, if we are told someone is 'willing to be direct with you, and say what she thinks', instead, then that is what we will see.

The next time you are in a conversation and have an opportunity to refer another, see if you are following this approach. The other great thing about it? It feels better to build people up, than to tear them down.

on bad days

posted 2014-10-13 by Donna

We all have bad days. Days when we feel low, ineffective, perhaps unappreciated.

There are a few things to remember on such days.

First, be nice to yourself. There's nothing wrong with having a bad day. You can use it to remember later that your life is pretty good most of the time.

Being nice to yourself means surrounding yourself with the things in your life that tend to bring you up, rather than down. Schedule meetings with people whose ideas you find stimulating, and save the challenging folks for another day. Have lunch with a supportive colleague or friend. Listen to music that lifts your mood (a link to my favourite 'bad day' song - a video - here.) Read something that inspires you, and save the newspapers and articles focusing on what's wrong with the world for another time when you feel a little more resilient.

Being nice to yourself includes giving yourself permission to wallow in suffering for awhile. Just telling yourself that you have nothing to complain about doesn't actually make a difference. How you are feeling is how you are feeling. Remember the adage 'what you resist, persists'. If you are really successful at wallowing, you might even be able to see the glint of humour in the drama you are creating about your life. Humour goes a long way towards moving through the low feelings.

Something else useful to remember is that no matter how bad things seem, this isn't how your life is. It is just how you are feeling now. When you have moved through it, you will likely have forgotten how you felt, as well as what took you there in the first place.

Lastly, you can remember that you get to choose the point of view you have, the one that has a large bearing on your mood. If you decide to focus on what's wrong, that is likely what will show up for you. If you instead choose to focus on the things that are going well, you will see more and more of those things in your life. And that perspective tends to feed on itself.

the real value of development plans

posted 2014-10-10 by Donna

I believe in goals.

People we would describe as successful are frequently quoted speaking about goals. One clear statement, attributed to one of the pioneers of the self-development movement, Earl Nightingale, is that "people with goals succeed because they know where they are going. It's as simple as that."

Over and over again, my personal experience provides evidence to support this premise. It is an easy equation. When I have goals, I work towards them. When I don't have goals, I drift and feel lost.

To create goals, to stay present to them, to regularly assess progress, and to achieve them, requires some sort of structure. Many personal development and business success books and programs provide just this: a structure to help us achieve our goals. If you follow the approach, you will achieve what they promise. Each of us has own our style of approach that works best for us.

Organizations have forms of personal development plans. These plans are also intended to provide this structure. Although such plans can be useful for employers to evaluate performance, they are also rooted in the basic premise that human beings are happiest and most fulfilled when they are working towards something.

If you are required to have an employee development plan for the organization you work for, consider looking at it from this perspective. It is a structure intended to help you achieve your goals. Not as something you have to do, but as something you choose to do because it makes your life work better.

allowing room for failure

posted 2014-10-08 by Donna

When you are good at something, others pay attention. You are asked to do more of it. Others learn that you are good at it, and they expect you to do it well.

Not only do others expect you to do it well, but you expect yourself to do it well too.

As you do the thing more often, the bar creeps higher. Every time you do it. Eventually, it might occur to you that failure is not an option.

If you believe there is no room for failure, you are less inclined to push the envelope. To try something different, something new. To completely reinvent the thing that you are so good at. It is far easier - and safer - to stay with the tried and true. Even if the tried and true produces good results and reinventing it could produce extraordinary results.

Innovation thrives in an environment where failure is an acceptable outcome. A mindset of 'there is no room for failure' can kill innovation.

Do you allow yourself room for failing?

Seeking feedback to improve

posted 2014-10-05 by Donna

Feedback is essential to getting better at anything.

When you are first developing competence at something, a balance of both positive and critical feedback is helpful. Positive feedback, being coached forward, is a necessary ingredient to motivate you to keep working on it.

However, what do you do when you get to a place where you have a high level of competence at something?

You know you are good at it. You hear from others you are good at it. How do you get even better? What can help you close the gap with true mastery?

What you need to seek out is critical feedback. From experts, people you admire and respect, those who have achieved mastery themselves in that area or those who are pursuing it.

To quote Jim Rohn "Don't join an easy crowd. You won't grow. Go where the expectations and the demands to perform are high". Find the people who are really, really good at what you want. Ask them what isn't working with what you are doing, and to tell you what you can do better. And keep track of their feedback, so you can keep working on those areas.

As you become better and better at something, you will need to seek out people with higher levels of competence to give you feedback. It is simpler - and easier on your ego - to not do so. But necessary, if you want to be truly extraordinary at something.

Clearing the slate of regret

posted 2014-10-02 by Donna

The emotion regret doesn't serve us well.

It is possible to look back on an action you have taken with a lens of 'well, I wish I had done that differently'. You can take the point of view that hindsight sometimes shows opportunities for having done something better, but you did the best you could at the time. You can move forward with lessons learned and without any regret.

Sometimes, though, the feeling of regret takes over. Perhaps the action you took had a significant impact, and the outcome was far removed from what you wanted. Maybe people or things you cared about were impacted. Perhaps an opportunity was lost.

Regret can drag you down. It eats away at the energy and drive you need to keep moving forward with the best you have to offer. That in itself is a compelling reason for clearing it away when you become aware of it.

How can you be at peace so you can move on and not be dragged down? Here are three things that I find helpful: Choose an attitude about the situation that works for you. Such as, 'I meant well, but I made a mistake. I won't do it again.' You could focus on what you learned from it. If someone was impacted by your actions, you can choose to communicate with them about it. You could let them know that you understand your actions affected them, apologize, and commit to something for the future. Write down some thoughts, such as what you learned from the situation. To quote the Dalai Lama: 'When you lose, don't lose the lesson'. Much learning comes from things that you would do differently with hindsight. Be grateful for the opportunity you had to learn. Each of us has our own way of clearing the slate for ourselves. What are the things that you do to move forward?

Making use of tools

posted 2014-09-30 by Donna

When the next-door neighbours at my previous house were building their new house, they gave us rounds of wood from the Douglas-fir and birch trees they had cut down to make room. We lugged the heavy rounds over the fence and across the yard, and they sat piled in a corner for quite awhile, waiting for someone to take on the momentous task of splitting them. Most of them were full of knots from heavy branches.

Eventually, we rented a log splitter and transformed the massive chunks into firewood. It took about 2.5 hours to turn nearly 100 rounds into about a cord and a half of fir and birch firewood for the woodstove.

I was shocked at how easy the work was with the splitter. I didn't even know that splitters existed until recently. The same work would have taken days or weeks to do by hand.

It made me think about where else this shows up in life. What tools are out there that could make your work easier or faster? Are you using them? Each of us has a finite number of hours in our day. It is good to think about the most effective way to spend our time.

It is also useful to think about what's out there that you may not yet know about. Others have likely developed tools or approaches that could help you to get the work done more efficiently. Finding ways to plug ourselves into the collective intelligence of us all just makes sense.

Accomplishment and success

posted 2014-09-25 by Donna

Have you had the experience of not feeling very satisfied about a significant success?

I have. A significant result was reached in something I had been involved in. Along with others, I had expended considerable effort towards the project. I was congratulated for my contribution towards the result.

I didn't experience joy, or excitement, or a sense of accomplishment. Why was that?

Because I hadn't set the end result as a goal. It was something that I supported, fully believed in, and contributed effort towards. But I had never taken the time to set any conscious goals around it. So I cheated myself out of the sense of accomplishment that I might otherwise have had.

How important is a sense of accomplishment? It is important. Success feeds on itself. Everything that you accomplish through your work acts as a foundation for what's next. Setting things up so that you have the opportunity to experience the accomplishment is an important part of contributing your best work.

Maybe say yes

posted 2014-09-23 by Donna

Time passes at a reasonable speed. Life is full.

When busy, which seems to be always, there isn't enough time to fit in all of the responsibilities. How can one possibly find time for anything more? The default is saying no to anything extra, those spontaneous opportunities that pop up, unplanned. No, I have to work. No, I have to clean the bathroom. No, I have to pay the bills. No, I am too tired.

Sometimes, those spontaneous opportunities are where the juiciest experiences are. The things you will remember when you look back on your year. A friend from out of town calling with a two hour window for a visit. A child inviting you to watch a movie. A beam of sunshine beckoning you to the garden for a peek at what is springing up with the spring. A dog wistfully eyeing you for a walk.

Are you finding the time to fit in those experiences? The next time something pops up, unplanned, pause before that word 'no' is spoken, and maybe replace it with a 'yes'. And see what happens.

The Things We Make Up

posted 2014-09-18 by Herb

I was wandering in a mall yesterday. I was by myself so I was silent, and that gave me the opportunity to hear what was going on around me. Snippets of conversations as I walked.

With few exceptions, the conversations were about relationships. Accounts of interactions between people. Person A telling person B about something that happened with person C.

This in itself did not strike me as unusual. Our relationships in all areas - work, friendships, family - are critically important to our experience of life. It makes sense that we spend a great deal of time thinking or talking about them. What did strike me was the degree to which we make things up. The discussions were about different human interactions, someone recounting a story about who said what to who, or who did what to who. And, about what they must have meant when they said it or did it. We assign meaning to everything in our lives. Then we spend a great deal of time thinking about what we've made up. Not just thinking about it but believing it, and then we make decisions based on it.

What would it be like if the next time someone does or says something to you that you have a reaction to, you stopped for a moment, and took a breath. Then, before you make up what you think they meant, you just checked in with them. Maybe said...'I am assuming that you meant this when you said that. Did I get that right, or did you mean something different?'

What would that be like?


posted 2014-09-15 by Donna

When I first learned to distinguish one type of species of tree from another, my world was altered. It was no longer possible to see a tree and think 'oh, there's a nice tree'. Instead, my thought was 'oh, there's a nice western red cedar'.

I can't unlearn tree identification. My brain assembles the information and out pops the thought.

Where does this show up in your life? It might not be trees for you, but something else. How has your knowledge shaped how you see the world?

How Do You Tell Your Stories?

posted 2014-09-12 by Donna

Our lives are full of events, every day. People we see, news we hear, things we experience. Sometimes it might seem that the day has been uneventful, with nothing to tell. Most days, though, contain a couple of events that we turn into stories to share with friends and family.

How do you decide which events to share with others? What language do you use to describe those events?

It is interesting to pay attention how you typically frame your stories. It is possible to get a lot of mileage from talking about how challenging a co-worker was, or about how terrible a driver was on a commute to work. However, what is the impact of those stories on your listener? Think about your own experience.

When people share positive stories with us, we usually leave the conversation uplifted, inspired. The opposite is usually true of negative stories, although we might not fully be aware of the impact. We might just feel a little more tired or disillusioned than usual, without attributing it to the conversations we have had.

If your listener is someone important to you, you likely prefer to leave them more uplifted and positive after talking to you than before. What would it be like if you shifted your lens and told your story from another perspective? If at the end of the day, instead of a story complaining about your cranky coworker, you had a story of how you helped them to finish an overdue project, relieving their burden and stress?

Freeing Yourself Up From Regrets

posted 2014-09-09 by Donna

Are there events in your past for which you feel a sense of regret? defines regret as 'a feeling of sorrow or remorse for a fault, act, loss, disappointment, etc.' I would define tweak this definition slightly, to be more about a sense of unhappiness with an event, action or experience in the past. The emotion is attached to our own role in it.

Regrets are often identifiable by the language you use to describe them. Words such as 'I wish I had...', 'I should have...' are indicators of regret.

It is useful to take a look at our emotions around something when those phrases crop up and come to peace with however we behaved or whatever we did in that circumstance. If one doesn't come to peace with past actions, the collection of regrets can accumulate. No one would describe the feeling of regret as a positive emotion; it leaves you feeling sad and powerless.

What if you were kind to yourself? Put yourself in the shoes of that past you, and give yourself a break. Undoubtedly, you did the best you could with what you had or what you knew at the time. Or, you made an honest mistake, not realizing the impact of your actions. You have influence over your attitude towards that past event, and you can reframe it so you are at peace with the outcome.

Going through a process of forgiving yourself, and giving that past you a heartfelt hug, can free you up immensely. It can give you courage to continue to try again and again, without fear of failure. We all do things that in hindsight we wish we had done differently. It is part of being human. Being forgiving is a gift that you likely offer to others, so why not to yourself?

Can you be counted on?

posted 2014-09-05 by Donna

Our own integrity is something that we may not spend much time consciously thinking about. It is, however, something that has a tremendous impact on how others experience us. Paying attention to it is something that can have a significant positive impact on our work and personal relationships.

Integrity can be simplified to the foundational concept of being your word, and doing what you said you would do. If you said you would be at a meeting at 1pm, can people count on you to be there at 1pm? If you said you would contact someone to discuss something, did you contact them?

Over time, people have an expectation of you based on their past experiences with you. So, if you typically are late to meetings or appointments, then people expect you to be late. If you typically say you are going to make a phone call and then don't, people have an expectation that you won't have done it.

If you are a person who hasn't typically done what you said you would do, people learn to not count on you for much. Alternatively, they spend a great deal of time managing you...checking in to see if you have done the thing you promised, or just taking over and doing it themselves, or not even asking you to do in the first place because they know you won't do it and they will have to wait a long time, nag, and then do it themselves after all.

This time of year is often a good time to reflect. Is there anything that you want to change about how others experience you? And, if you think you haven't behaved as well as you would like in this area in the past, you can begin right away to change it. Just do one small thing that you said you would do, each day. In a short time, you will demonstrate to the others in your life that you can be counted on.

As the quote goes, any passing moment is a chance to turn it all around.

Nourishing Self

posted 2014-09-03 by Donna

For each of us, there are always good reasons to not do the things that feed your mind, feed your spirit. Think about yourself for a moment. Are you finding time for those things or does the busy-ness of life get in the way most of the time?

Making time for those things for yourself is a choice that requires deliberate action. Choosing to do what will charge up your inner battery instead of one of the urgent priorities that plucks at your sleeve every day.

If you are able to develop a habit of making time for these things for yourself, you can also have an influence on the people in your life that you care about. Encourage them to take some time each day, or week, to do something that nourishes their inner spirit.

Taking Responsibility

posted 2014-08-26 by Donna

Taking responsibility for a mistake seems as if it should be such an easy thing to do. And yet often we struggle with this task.

The tendency begins when we are small. Were there times when you stayed silent and allowed another person to be blamed for something that you did? Did you ever lie about something you were supposed to do but didn’t? What in the end was harder: the consequence that you might have received had you taken responsibility for your action, or the guilt that you still feel even though it was years ago? And what was the impact of your silence on your relationship with the person you allowed to be blamed or the person affected by your mistake?

This human frailty can show up in the work environment. Mistakes - some small with seemingly insignificant consequences, others large and far-reaching in their impact - happen often. More often than one might expect, few employees step up immediately to say ‘It was me. I apologize. I made an assumption about how that should be done and I was wrong. It won’t happen again’.

What would it be like if we existed in a world where we could count on one another to behave like that? Imagine if you worked with people who took responsibility immediately and made that kind of statement. Far from viewing such people as idiots or incompetent, you would view them as honourable. They would be the ones you would want to have working for you or have on your team for a project.

When you can honour your word and take responsibility for your actions, it frees you up to move forward. You can make a commitment to do better the next time and move on.

If you are a manager, think about the kind of work environment you create for your employees. Think about whether you are modelling the behaviour, whether you admit your mistakes when they happen. And think about how you respond to an employee who admits they made a mistake.