November 10, 2009

Americans happier with lives than with jobs

56% are happy or totally happy with their lives in general.
35% are happy or totally happy with their jobs.
--American Pulse Survey by BIGresearch in Sept. 2009 (6,976 people interviewed)

It’s Pursuit of Happiness Week, the second week in November
A company’s biggest asset walks out the doors each evening or at the end of each shift. How much do employees contribute if they are neutral about how happy they are with their jobs (36%) or unhappy (13%) or totally unhappy (17%)?

Employee happiness benefits the company
Workers who are happy with their jobs increase production, pass along happiness to customers, are absent from work less, communicate honestly and effectively and are more committed to their company because they feel they are an integral component.

Managers, directors and CEOs should take notice
If more than 60% of the American workforce is not very enthused about going to work each day, shouldn’t someone take notice?

Most people have annual performance reviews. What if employers added an annual performance review by the workers of their work unit and their company? It could be as simple as an online survey with a text box or two to write in comments.

Employee satisfaction surveys would improve communication. They should provide some ideas on how to improve the workplace. Civility in the workplace includes good communication and respecting all people. If a company’s largest asset isn’t happy in the workplace, that’s an opportunity to make changes to benefit both the company and the workers. It could be downright enlightening to hear what the workers think and suggestions they would make.

Related post
The seven key needs of employees

October 27, 2009

Work processes and culture reveal organization’s values

Software reflects an organization’s values. That was the title of a presentation last week by Jason Young from North Carolina State University and IT systems manager for eXtension. He said computer software comes with a code that establishes the rules you have to live by.

Think about software a bit. Who has permission to change code? Who has permission to edit the copy on a Web page? How difficult is it to get permission to do those things? The software and the answers to these questions tell you a great deal about an organization’s values. It may be controlling and hierarchal or it may be collaborative and open.

eXtension uses MediaWiki, the software of Wikipedia. That means anyone within a work group can edit. Everyone can see the history log of who made changes and when. eXtension staff meeting notes are posted on the wiki. Anyone in the Cooperative Extension System nationwide can read the notes. What is the culture? What are the values? It’s collaborative, open and honest communication.

Two value examples from
1. If you value integrity and you experience a quality problem in your manufacturing process, you honestly inform your customer of the exact nature of the problem. You discuss your actions to eliminate the problem, and the anticipated delivery time the customer can expect. If integrity is not a fundamental value, you may make excuses and mislead the customer.

2. If you value equality and a sense of family, you will wipe out the physical trappings of power, status, and inequality such as executive parking places and offices that grow larger by a foot with every promotion.

More about values
Traditional 20th-Century Organization: A Machine-Like Entity vs. The Values-Based Organization: A Living, Breathing Community

Proof of values
Anyone can say they have specific values in their organization, but the proof is in the processes and the culture. That’s integrity—stating what you believe, telling others that is what you believe and acting it out.

Do you have examples of values displayed in work processes and cultures?

October 15, 2009

Rethink two work practices to respect the earth

Type in italics is from reports of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
1. Marketing
Those of us in marketing are the wonderful folks who send calendars and address return labels to your mail box, stuff display racks with brochures and give away premium items.

Within an organization, it is important to identify the departments or functions that will act as change initiators, implementers, and resistors. Survey respondents identify accounting, finance, and marketing as often less supportive of program implementation than other departments.

The things we print—If we need to print messages and information, can we edit the copy, reduce the graphics and color to use less paper and altogether convey a more socially responsible message? As more people have Internet access, they search for information on the Web. What ranks high in search? Well written content. People are impatient so they don’t want to struggle through pdfs and graphics. They want the information in the first several paragraphs.

The premiums we give away—Just last week I handed out pens, magnetic clips and pads of sticky notes. Recently I’ve read we should be using ink refills rather than so many plastic pens. Distributing one of those three premiums would have been a step toward being socially responsible.

2. Telecommuting
We try to compartmentalize our lives into 8+ hours in the office as work time and the rest is personal time.

In ‘Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World’ (2009), Bob Johansen writes about the skill of dilemma flipping: ability to turn dilemmas—which, unlike problems, cannot be solved—into advantages and opportunities. “..a dilemma: the balance of work and private life is impossible to achieve, at least in my experience. This is not a problem that can be solved. Rather, the intersection of the two is a territory that can only be navigated with assistance and intelligent choices.”

In the opening pages of ‘Work Naked: Eight Essential Principles for Peak Performance in the Virtual Workplace’ (2001) Cynthia Froggatt writes, “We’ve never fully made the transition from manual labor to knowledge-based working….we have created a complex system of visual cues to signify that (or give the impression that) someone is working. ‘The office’ is a stage where people ‘perform their work’ for others to SEE.”

Buildings account for 40 percent of global energy demand and nearly 37 percent of total CO2 emissions.

We start up our cars and drive through terrible weather to get to the office when we could get just as much work done (and often more) at home. We persist in assigning devoted space in office buildings to workers and demand they be at their desks 8 to 5.

Salient points
While the specific impetus for each company varies, three overarching drivers emerged from the survey: cost savings, social responsibility, and reputation. These drivers are linked by a common desire to ensure the long-term success of the organization. It should be noted, though, that as a company fulfills its goals in these areas and gains knowledge of the issue, the motivations then shift toward leveraging climate-related market changes for competitive advantage.

In sum, climate considerations are already altering the business environment in ways that are real and yet still fluid. The rules of the game are changing and companies ignore these changes at their peril.

Sustainable climate strategies cannot be an add-on to business as usual; they must be integrated with a company’s core business activities.

Pew Center reports
Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Getting Ahead of the Curve: Corporate Strategies That Address Climate Change, October 2006
Adapting to Climate Change: A Business Approach, April 2008

October 01, 2009

Meshing knowledge power and organizational power

Knowledge power
The computer engineer who is steeped in the latest technology possesses knowledge power. The receptionist who knows the questions clients most frequently ask possesses knowledge power.

Organizational power
The people who shuffle resources and set budgets possess organizational power.

In ‘Only the Paranoid Survive,’ Andrew Grove of Intel writes about how hard his company worked to break down the walls between those with knowledge power and those with organizational power. He says promoting constant collaboration between people with the two powers creates the best solutions in the interest of both.

In a time of crisis
Whether it’s new competition, rapid growth or deterioration, this meshing of knowledge and organizational power is important for survival. You are trying to define what the organization will be and what the organization will not be. You need to let chaos reign to explore alternatives.

That’s respect and civility from both sides—those with deep knowledge but narrow focus and those with a larger organizational perspective who can set a context.

An organization that has a culture that can deal with these two phases—debate (chaos reigns) and a determined march (chaos reigned in)—is a powerful, adaptive organization.

Such an organization has two attributes:
1. It tolerates and even encourages debate. These debates are vigorous, devoted to exploring issues, indifferent to rank and includes individuals of varied backgrounds.
2. It is capable of making and accepting clear decisions with the entire organization then supporting the decision.

September 17, 2009

Need your ideas: How has the recession changed the workplace and civility in the workplace?

I agreed to talk at an October conference for Iowa State University Extension office assistants. I think the workplace has changed dramatically since I agreed to talk about phone etiquette, use of cell phones and other civility topics.

What are the pressing topics of civility in the workplace this fall?
These are some thoughts to get you in the mood.
1. Are you more or less informed than before the recession?
2. Has trust increased or decreased?
3. Are you required to be more or less accountable about your schedule or what you’ve produced?
4. Can you be creative and innovative?
5. Are we all in this together or is this a time when people promote themselves?
6. Do you feel like you’re on your organization’s critical path? (Staying on the critical path)
7. Do you view your job differently?
8. Has your job changed and do you understand your responsibilities?
9. Is workplace harassment a byproduct of the recession?

I need your ideas for topics about civility in the workplace … fall 2009 pertinent. Please send reactions and suggestions.

September 09, 2009

End of garden season invokes comparison to civility

Monday morning I went to my community garden plot to cut herbs to dry. I drove back home thinking---I need to write notes for next year. My thinking transitioned to—do I/we do that at work?

Are we candid about what worked and what didn’t? Do we take time to evaluate? Do we listen to what others say?
The oregano wasn’t pungent. A 4-H gardening judge always told my children: stress the Mediterranean herbs to get strong flavors. I had horse manure tilled into my plot this year. The growing conditions were too fertile.

Are the growing conditions right at work? Do we get the training, equipment and information we need?

Do we pay attention to those who need help?
The marjoram wasn’t where my plan said it was supposed to be. There was no marjoram anywhere.

The English thyme, basil and flat-leaf parsley were terrific.

All herbs don’t flourish in a one-condition environment. People don’t either.
In ‘Work Naked: Eight Essential Principles for Peak Performance in the Virtual Workplace,’ author Cynthia Froggatt stresses that one size does not fit all for peak performance. It's a book that makes me think about my assumptions. (I'll post more about the book another time.)

Froggatt stresses knowledge workers often reach out of the current setting to think about problems or suggest solutions. Do you compare disparate things or get inspiration for work from hobbies, events, family and friends?

August 25, 2009

Building a sense of community

A spirit of buy-in and enthusiasm. ..A spirit of trust…We foster ownership…Our strength is in the diversity of opinion.
Those were the director’s assessments of the group dynamics at the close of the two day eXtension staff retreat last week.

Those values were achieved in part by the role of the eight moderators leading the sessions and the guidelines. They were given to staff before we got to the retreat. They set expectations. I’ve edited them a little. Consider adapting, adopting them for meetings, retreats or other events.

Moderator's Role
1. Frame the conversation at the start of the session.
2. Provide guidance to keep the conversation on topic.
3. Contribute to the conversation, but don’t dominate it. Bring out the thoughts of others.
4. If topics are introduced that take the conversation off topic, interject and move the new topic to the parking lot for later discussion. Bring the conversation back to the topic.
5. In cooperation with the recorder, summarize the conversation with action items when there are 10 to 15 minutes left in the time slot.

We agree, uphold and follow these guidelines in our work together.
1. Be supportive, constructive and genuinely helpful with each other.
2. Have the meeting in the meeting. Express your thoughts openly, honestly and constructively at the very moment.
3. Strictly avoid circling back off-line and trying to change what we've spent important time agreeing to as a group.
4. Be perfectly clear and avoid subtlety. Avoid forcing others to "read between the lines."
5. Be substantive and dig into the task at hand.
6. Disagree with people's ideas as opposed to attacking the individual person.
7. Avoid the urge to immediately criticize other people's ideas, even when they sound unlikely. Instead seek to understand how something might benefit us. View disagreements as opportunities to learn how others see things differently.
8. Support the decisions we make together (whether you agreed or not).
9. Be open to and curious about new and potentially foreign or threatening ideas. Seek to learn and understand the unvarnished truth.
Adopted from Russ Roberts, LTD; 2008.

They're really rules for civility, for getting along and being heard in the work community.

August 18, 2009

Inclusive preparation for a staff retreat

I’m at an eXtension staff retreat that begins this morning. Weeks ago, I could tell it would not be like any staff retreat I’ve attended or helped organize.

The timeline went something like this –
Months in advance staff was given the travel and meeting dates and the hotel link to book a room.

About a month in advance a wiki page was opened for staff to write what each thought important to discuss. The opening post was a recommendation from the director: review the eXtension Strategic Road Map to discuss current activities, make sure we are on task and discuss activities and priorities for the next 6-12 months.

Staff members added 10 entries during the next week or so. Some were collective thoughts from people who work together. Some were individual ideas because not everyone on staff has a workgroup. Then some would pick up an idea and tie to it or add a note to an existing entry.

Several weeks in advance, some of the leadership team created the agenda, selecting points from the idea page. We were alerted that the agenda was posted so we knew who would moderate each of the eight sessions and who would be the recorder; that tapped 16 people because no one is a moderator or recorder more than once. Ground rules for the two-day retreat were posted. We had reading homework.

It’s time to look forward
I am excited because of the democracy and inclusiveness. I anticipate we’ll accomplish a great deal because we’re mentally prepared.

eXtension,, is an Internet-based collaboration where land-grant university content experts provide objective, research-based knowledge to solve challenges. eXtension connects knowledge consumers with knowledge providers. Faculty and staff from more than 70 universities make up the eXtension community.

Staff scheduled to be at the retreat: 21 people from California, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.

August 06, 2009

Check your ego at the door to lead in assists

That’s how Robert E. Kelley describes ‘followership’ in How to be a Star at Work. It is one of his nine strategies.

Two primary factors distinguish a star follower from an average one:
• independent critical thinking and
• active participation in the destiny of the organization.

Stars bring enthusiasm, intelligence and self-reliance into implementing organizational goals. They cooperative with a leader even when there are personality or workplace differences. Kelley estimates 90 percent of the company’s success is coming from people who implement the directives.

Five styles of followership
Two are negative—sheep followers and yes followers.
Alienated followers are critical thinkers who don’t like the leaders or their work situation.
Pragmatist followers use their independence for political gain.

Star followers can disagree constructively. They are self-starters and creative problem solvers, using their talents to help the organization even “when confronted with bureaucratic inanities or nonproducing colleagues … They add as much value to the organization as anyone in upper management. Star followers are often purposefully committed to something—a cause, a product, an organization, an idea, a person—in addition to their own lives and careers.”

If star followers “sense that a leader has so much ego that it conflicts with their mutual goal attainment, or if the leader starts to swerve away from the goal, they will strive to get the leader back on track. If they cannot, then they will end the working relationship with that leader, even if it means undermining the leader or leaving the organization.”

I think you’ve caught the civility angle in this post. Typically large egos don’t provide benefits to organizations, particularly if those with large egos are dismissive about what others can contribute. I’m not sure where large egos do work well. Mostly I see the situation as sad because puffed-up egos often are a tactic to cover inadequacies. The solution is easy -- let the workers help define the way.

July 30, 2009

Civility in organizations in tough times

We haven’t been through tough economic times like these for a very long time. It’s tough for leaders, for employees. No one can say with much certainty how best to deal with the challenges.

A current article in the Harvard Business Review compares the situation to a heart attack. First one must deal with the emergency phase. Then the patient needs to learn how to adapt.

The authors list two roads for the adaptive phase—hunker down or press ‘reset’
Hunker down involves short-term fixes such as tightened controls, across-the-board cuts and restructuring plans. “An organization that depends solely on its senior managers to deal with the challenges risks failure.”

Reset includes using the turbulence to build on and bring closure to the past. Change the key rules of the game, reshape parts of the organization and redefine the work people do.

Civility is derived from the Latin civitas, meaning ‘city’ especially in the sense of civic community.

This is a time for community.

I’ve heard of hastily called meetings after restructuring announcements. The nay sayers say, but they have no answers to the questions and therefore nothing to meet about. I believe it’s a gathering of the community to grieve before it moves on to adapting. The fears and frustrations are voiced in the community rather than shuttled off to speculation around the water cooler.

It sets the stage for later brainstorming and filtering suggestions. Staff knows their feelings and ideas are welcome. Because, and I think this is the point of the quote about risking failure if senior managers act alone, the creative suggestions for the future are going to come from the community sharing ideas and knowledge. As people play their ideas off one another, some creative suggestions are going to emerge because the group will outlast the ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude and work for the organization’s life. This may be a life or death situation for the organization.

July 23, 2009

Public servants could try living by their wits

The July/August issue of Fast Company has a two-page spread that’s an edited transcript of four advertising agency men talking about creating their own products rather than promoting others’ products. They’re doing this…why else? Because business is slow.

In the process of creating products, they’ve learned lots about package design, distribution, finances and all those things entrepreneurs deal with.

Here are the two quotes that spurred this post:
You have to embrace collaboration. We did some package design that we thought was really cool, but our partner fancied a different scheme. We said, “Yeah, right, we’ll nail this; let’s book the research and wait for the glow.” We were so wrong it was unreal. Their stuff won by the greatest gap I’ve ever seen. We were so humbled.

… it’s your own money on the table. When it’s literally off the bottom line, the best idea must win. You have to be open to people being more expert than you, and that’s an alien concept to a lot of folks.

Note the civility---collaboration, humbled, open to people being more expert than you.

Not too long ago I heard an administrator refer to those who work on grant money as people who live by their wits. Wouldn’t it be interesting to let public servants run their work groups as if they were on grants? What research can you pull together to show what the public wants or values today? What is worth doing? How are you going to pay your salaries and provide value to the public? Define the service or product as you would need to do in a grant. For the next six months (duration of grant), you have this income from citizens.

You’d have to do research. You'd have to collaborate and communicate. Some new products or services would be winners; some wouldn’t but the workers would learn and be energized to show their value because their jobs depend on it. I think the production level would be far more than the structure of today produces. The workers would be happier because they’d be taking on new challenges and invested in what they create. It’s a whole lot of respect for one another and that’s civility in a nutshell.

Fast Company: More Creative Shops Are Commercializing Their Own Product Lines

July 16, 2009

Secrets Not Worth Keeping

Isn’t that a great headline?

It was the title of an op-ed article in the Washington Post in Feb. 1989. The author of the editorial concluded that was the lesson of the Pentagon Papers experience. In her autobiography Personal History, Katherine Graham writes the Nixon administration’s reaction was one of paranoia and obsession with secrecy. She writes about a show of arrogance based on fear. Her position as publisher of the newspaper was the staff was trying to get information to citizens that they deserved to know.

Another companion line in her book is…. often the things you don’t do are as important as the things you do.

You can think about this statement today in economic hard times. If a family decides to reduce money spent for an activity, you probably talked about it and discussed how to cut expenses. There was a decision to not do something, you asked others for ideas and you shared that decision with those affected.

That thinking seems to be lost in some workplaces today. We know we need to cut budgets and there’s some superficial asking for ideas. I have been amazed at the stories from different departments on campus, from colleagues at other universities and from those working in business and industry. The mindset seems to be to keep the discussions and decision-making behind closed doors. Maybe it’s not behind closed doors; maybe it is simply a lack of communication. Maybe it is arrogance based on fear.

Regardless, it’s what is not being done---communication, open discussions—that is as important as the resulting actions. Workers don’t feel they’ve been treated with respect, with civility. Trust and commitment nosedive. We’re back to secrets not worth keeping.

June 30, 2009

Agile, quick and maneuverable, flexible

I like the word ‘agile’ so when it showed up in an email, I was interested. As I read about the people who believe in Agile software development, I still liked what I was reading. It is civility in the workplace.

These are some points from the manifesto for Agile software development and the principles behind their work.
We value
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

We follow these principles
1. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
2. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
3. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
4. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
5. Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount of work not done--is essential.
6. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
7. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

This is from the group’s history
“…we all felt privileged to work with a group of people who held a set of compatible values, a set of values based on trust and respect for each other and promoting organizational models based on people, collaboration, and building the types of organizational communities in which we would want to work. At the core, I believe Agile Methodologists are really about "mushy" stuff; about delivering good products to customers by operating in an environment that does more than talk about "people as our most important asset" but actually "acts" as if people were the most important, and lose the word "asset". So in the final analysis, the meteoric rise of interest in -- and sometimes tremendous criticism of --Agile Methodologies is about the mushy stuff of values and culture.”

Manifesto for Agile Software Development,

June 18, 2009

8 rules for leadership and management of virtual teams

Today’s interactive, social and communication tools make it easier for work teams to exist outside the traditional office environment. Coworkers can be virtual or in different physical offices in the same city, on opposite coasts or in different countries.

1. Establish team objectives
2. Remind each person that he or she is a part of the team working on a specific project
a. Each person knows his/her role and responsibilities
b. Anyone can ask a question; it’s open collaboration
3. Establish ground rules which are a code of conduct and help manage expectations
4. Agree on the right technology, obtain it and use it
5. Look for opportunities to socialize virtually but have face to face meetings to establish trust
6. Communicate clearly and often; if people aren’t contributing to the team, communicate more with them
7. Motivate team members
a. Short assignments of several weeks keep the team moving forward
b. Recognize those who are doing good work
8. Be considerate of one another
a. People are in different time zones
b. Cultural differences may be expressed in something as simple as preferred method of communication (telephone, chat, email)

Notes from June 8 presentation by Craig Wood, eXtension content director, and Henrietta Ritchie-Holbrook, eXtension multimedia design leader, at the ACE/NETC conference in Des Moines. ACE and NETC are two professional organizations of primarily communications and information technology workers in land-grant universities.

eXtension,, provides objective and research-based information and learning opportunities that help people improve their lives. eXtension is an educational partnership of 74 universities in the United States. It operates by virtual teams.

Sources Craig and Henrietta used
10 tips for managing virtual teams
The Five C’s Of Managing Virtual Teams

I’m struck by how similar this is to today’s teams with members working in the same building or same city. It’s civility in the workplace.

June 11, 2009

An expert in servant leadership lives in Des Moines

And I go hear him talk every chance I get. This week was another of those occasions. Jim Autry is an author, poet, consultant and retired president of the magazine group of the Meredith Corporation.

Long ago I read his bestseller Love and Profit: The Art of Caring Leadership. I kept notes from that book in my planner for years because I thought his ideas made so much sense. I’ve now started The Servant Leader: How to Build a Creative Team, Develop Great Morale, and Improve Bottom-Line Performance because this seems to be a time that kind of thinking is desperately needed.

Autry talked about being a servant leader Monday at a conference for communicators and IT professionals. After his speech, I heard many comment that they don’t see that kind of leadership today in their organizations.

Here’s what Autry writes in his introduction to The Servant Leader:
Leadership in service of others requires a great deal of courage. It was far easier to be the old top-down kind of boss..Just as business, or organizational life of any sort, is not about what’s efficient, it’s also not about what’s easy. It’s about what’s most effective. And what we’ve learned is that over the long-term, the old top-down, command-control ways don’t work as well as some managers would like to think. They dispirit and frustrate people; they suppress creativity; and they rob organizations of people’s best efforts.”

The essence of a servant leader
A servant leader has these characteristics: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of others and building community.

The Wikipedia entry on servant leadership concludes with this:
“Unlike leadership approaches with a top-down hierarchical style, Servant Leadership instead emphasizes collaboration, trust, empathy, and the ethical use of power. At heart, the individual is a servant first, making the conscious decision to lead in order to better serve others, not to increase their own power. The objective is to enhance the growth of individuals in the organization and increase teamwork and personal involvement.”

A challenge to my readers
This summer, take some time to read. I’d recommend these two books by Autry. I believe anyone can be a leader and a servant leader is the best kind. I’ll write more about Autry’s thinking in later posts but it would be fun to have you reading along with me. Book club discussions always broaden our thinking as we listen to what others emphasize and their personal stories that relate to the book. Maybe you won’t post comments but you can compare what you thought vs. what I highlight. I’ll do some interlude posts to give you folks time to find the books and start reading.

June 02, 2009

It’s a tough time for trustworthiness

In uncertain times, it’s difficult to decide which individuals, businesses or organizations you can trust.

TrustedAdvisor Associates,, says you can determine your trust quotient by four factors:
Credibility is about what you say, and how believable it is to others.
Reliability is about your actions, and how dependable you appear.
Intimacy is about how safe people feel sharing with you.
Self-orientation refers to who you’re focused on—yourself, or others.

The first three build trustworthiness
Self-orientation lowers it. So you add the first three and divide by self-orientation to find your trustworthiness.

The understated factors in this equation are communications and civility
The lack of communication or poorly written and spoken communication, reduces your trustworthiness. This is why you hear people talking about transparency. I wrote about this in November, in part… Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard, spoke about leadership and power. She talked about business leaders needing to agree to transparency, of being accountable to not only shareholders but customers, employees and suppliers…..(I added) People will put their heart and soul into projects when they understand how their work fits into overall goals, when they feel their opinions are valued, when they are part of the building process, when they know what others are doing. That is transparency.

Civility shows in your sensitivity to others, trying to think how others will interpret your words and actions. That’s what I’d emphasize more in this equation.

What is your trust quotient?
The site offers a 20 question quiz you can take and provides suggestions for improvement. I took it and was struck by how I’d rate myself vs. how others would rate me. Give it a try and see what you think.

The trust quiz is at

February 13, 2009

What’s there to love in the workplace?

I’ll start and then you chime in. That is something I would love.

1. Collaboration, involvement, engagement.
2. Equipment and processes to work with efficiency.
3. Stimulation in the form of new challenges, new ideas.
4. Meaningful and civil discussions whether in person or via phone, email.
5. A learning environment in which people are eager to learn.
6. Humble people who ask, What do you think?
7. Communication.
8. Humor.
9. Respect for one another.
10. ________________
11. ________________
12. ________________
13. ________________
14. ________________

Humor me. Add some comments. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and this is my love angle.

February 10, 2009

Grass roots excitement, energy and commitment

At the end of an hour and a half workshop Sunday, these were the one-word reactions from the participants:

We are in a transition time, a time of change in this organization
We’re not doing a top-down transition but a bottom up one. Why? So anyone who wants to participate has a voice. We offered this workshop three times to accommodate people’s schedules; 68 people have participated. They’ve ranged in age from 8th grade to 80+ years old. In two weeks, they will go on to a visioning in another workshop. It won’t be any one person’s perfect vision but it will be a collaborative vision that we’ll use to define goals and action steps.

In this workshop, people were challenged to open their minds, to listen to the concerns of their fellows, to think about what they value. And most important---there was buy-in. Just look at the comments. The people leaving the workshop were genuinely excited.

We could have used the top echelon of this organization to work on values, visions, goals and action steps. But I know how I react to those. I have no buy-in. I’m not excited. I don’t even care because I had no input.

The grass roots effort is collaboration. It is actually a short cut in time because people are informed and committed to something they helped create. It is civility, engaging and respecting all people.

I believe those who truly care about their workplace or organization go to the grass roots in times of change and times of economic upheaval because that’s where the energy lies.

January 27, 2009

How to work from contentious to collaborative

You need
Clear written goals
Defined roles and responsibilities
Great access and communication

1. Look for openings where you can encourage collaboration. Mine came when I was assigned to do some project management work. What is project management? “Project management activity is leading the team in figuring out what the project is, shepherding the project through design and development work and driving the project through to completion.” –Scott Berkun, “The Art of Project Management”

2. Know your baseline perceptions and get buy-in. What did people think of project management, what could it do, what was their experience? I needed to know their perceptions rather than create a solo vision. I conducted informal interviews and focus groups. When people understand they are helping shape goals and mapping a work plan, you’re on your way to getting buy-in. I had my supervisor’s endorsement because I kept talking to her.

3. Create an action plan based on needs and perceptions; seek advice. My assessment of the staff opinions was we had to move cautiously into collaboration and project management (PM). The comments ranged from PM would solve all problems to it was an exercise in futility. I needed a framework that I had not devised (I didn’t want to own the process), was inexpensive and ready to use, was intuitive (didn’t require extensive training) and was accessible anywhere anytime. I asked IT staff for suggestions. We are using the mid-grade version of Basecamp to test how it will work for us. It’s labeled PM software but more than that, it’s collaboration software.

4. Give open access to the work. Everyone in the ISU Extension communications unit has permission to view, add to, modify and comment on the big extension-wide projects...from inception. Clients can have the same access.

5. The goals are listed on the homepage of the project. How can collaboration succeed if you don’t have direction and vision? Goals are a constant reminder of what we’re trying to accomplish. The goals sometimes come from a group discussion, sometimes they’re handed to me and sometimes I ask others to help define them.

6. Define roles and responsibilities. What work needs to get done, who will do it, what is the makeup of the team responsible? What is each person’s role? It’s efficient and civil to take the time for the project group to define roles and responsibilities which then saves production time. It’s contentious and inefficient to have several people inadvertently doing the same work or unclear about their role and responsibilities.

7. Hold one another accountable to get the work done. When there is trust in the group and transparent information, team members will hold one another accountable to get work done on time.

Continued from Jan. 15, From contentious to collaborative

January 15, 2009

From contentious to collaborative

Have you ever worked in
a freewheeling and competent team
of dedicated individuals
where trust is taken for granted,
roles are fluid yet well understood,
and authority is delegated according to ability?

Rodney Napier from a management consulting firm specializing in change management says few people have experienced that kind of teamwork. He says you’re lucky if you’ve had that experience.

I count myself lucky.
I work part time for eXtension, a collaboration of 74 land-grant universities. I offer suggestions, get involved in debates, volunteer to do extra tasks and have become an evangelist. Everyone’s ideas are valued. Goals are set and available to all, as are meeting notes and works in progress. Everyone has information. The energy and enthusiasm buzz because we see many working across the country. We are more creative than one person or a small management team. By combining knowledge and resources, we can get work done at a very fast pace. We are never afraid to borrow ideas and resources from other organizations and companies. I’ve seen no competition among people, no inflated egos but rather people who acknowledge they don’t have all the answers. People listen to one another …….. a lot.

More of how collaboration looks
The communication is rampant—via conference calls, email, chat, Web conferencing, wikis and once in a while, in person. The people I work most closely with are in California, North Carolina and Nebraska so there’s no magic created because we’re in close physical proximity.
The ongoing work is on wikis that people can read, edit and comment on. The work is out in the open. It’s group think.
Napier writes, “Talented knowledge workers challenge the most skilled leaders.
The potential is huge for providing creativity, support, motivation, skilled inquiry and problem solving.
The group, when well trained, can stimulate, challenge, and synthesize beyond the capability of the most highly trained and intelligent individual.”

Academe is not the easiest environment to work like this
Napier writes, “While collaboration is sometimes encouraged, independence and secrecy permeate many scientific and academic communities. While the concept of collegiality is intellectually valued, individuals, project teams or departments seldom seek to collaborate. Even within a department, the isolation of the laboratory or computer terminal only reinforces the isolation of individuals and the lack of interdependence. Many technical environments are predicated on a premise of individuality, selfless dedication to original thinking, and competition. They provide environments that are quite often antithetical to team thinking and functioning.”

To be continued in the next post: tips to move to collaboration

Resource for this post:
High Performance, High Courage Teams

January 13, 2009

Big time transparency, empowerment…collaboration

Cisco Systems is the leading supplier of networking equipment and network management for the Internet. It is a multinational corporation with more than 66,000 employees and annual revenue of $39 billion. John Chambers is the CEO. These excerpts are from the current issue of Fast Company magazine.

Power to the people; it motivates them
Cisco CEO John Chambers believes his company “is the best possible model for how a large global business can operate: as a distributed idea engine where leadership emerges organically, unfettered by a central command.”

The Cisco culture was inspired in part by management guru Gary Hamel’s ideas about the need to democratize strategy and distribute leadership to stimulate innovation. Supporters inside the company argue that the global marketplace and the ubiquity of Web 2.0 tools demand a workforce empowered to generate ideas, solve problems and contribute to the greater good without micromanagement. A vice president at Cisco said, “I think that culture is really a reflection of the CEO personality.” Collaboration works, “but only if it is what the CEO believes.”

Trust and openness are words you hear a lot in the endlessly optimistic world of Web 2.0, but at Cisco, it seems to be more than a PowerPoint mantra.…”We want a culture where it is unacceptable not to share what you know.” The open-source nature of the culture has yielded a litany of surprising results. Chambers says the ratio of distributed innovation to traditional decision making is about 70-30.

“I now compensate our leadership team based on how well they do on collaboration and the longer-term picture,” Chambers says. “If we take the focus off of how they did today, this week, this quarter, it will work.” Playing well with others is also an increasingly important part of rank-and-file employees’ performance reviews.

Read what I read to get information on this look into civility in the workplace, How Cisco's CEO John Chambers is Turning the Tech Giant Socialist
Fast Company magazine, Dec.2008/Jan. 2009

And don’t miss the voices of staff and the CEO in the Cisco blogs at

December 16, 2008

The spirit of giving in the workplace

The organizations and companies who believe they should contribute to the well being of society fulfill a need of the organization and the individual workers.

This year in my workplace, we searched for a holiday service project. We settled on donations of money and food for two food pantries because we have coworkers who donate time in these pantries. It's a great project because there are connections. We are learning about the organizations where our coworkers volunteer as well as feeling good about contributing to people with real needs. It complements our building potluck and the accompanying activities.

Volunteering together during work hours
I volunteered during the United Way kickoff this fall. What a great way to get to know others in your organization or office. When you're shoveling sand, cutting out children'™s books, painting or cleaning up the landscape, some conversations float back to work but they'™re very open and organic. Not only are you doing some good for your community, but the conversations provide a bond to coworkers that you don'™t get in the office.

Giving in the workplace helps others
It also helps us because we benefit in work relationships and in feeling good about what we've done. This may be a year we need to think more about (and not just at holiday time) we can give our work time and donations to local agencies? Will those efforts lead to better relationships and understanding in our workplaces?

The roots of civility
Civility derives from the Latin civitas, which means "city" in the sense of civic community. P.M. Forni, cofounder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, writes in his book 'Choosing Civility': "The age-old assumption behind civility is that life in the city has a civilizing effect. The city is where we enlighten our intellect and refine our social skills. And as we are shaped by the city, we learn to give of ourselves for the sake of the city. ...Etymology reminds us that we are supposed to be good citizens and good neighbors."

November 18, 2008

Transparency: Let it be real, not the next buzzword

The word ‘transparency’ as it is emerging today came to me via Kevin Gamble, national eXtension’s information technology leader. It is not a buzzword to Kevin. He believes in open source software, in putting the thinking of the eXtension organization out for people to view. I’ve heard Kevin talk about how difficult it is to convince extension folks across the country to share their work—to put it out in the open, to be transparent. The image I have is a small child clutching a stuffed animal to his chest and saying, “It’s mine, all mine.”

I’ve been thinking about transparency and advocating it. Actually I don’t feel I’m making many inroads in my workplace with that. There’s my alternate life in church work and I thought I was doing a pretty good job communicating to members far more than others who’d held my position, distributing responsibility widely, seeking out and listening to opinions, pushing for teenagers in important positions. And then one member said we don’t communicate across the six boards enough; we don’t know what others are doing. That says to me—those who should be sharing information are not doing it well. I need to explain and encourage communication flow. I need to seek new ways to be more transparent.

Last night Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard, spoke at the Memorial Union. In the middle of her speech on leadership and power, she talked about business leaders needing to agree to transparency, of being accountable to not only shareholders but customers, employees and suppliers.

That’s when it struck me.
This is going to be a new buzzword. I so want it to be real even if it’s not in our nature, even if it’s not easy.

People will put their heart and soul into projects when they understand how their work fits into overall goals, when they feel their opinions are valued, when they are part of the building process, when they know what others are doing. That is transparency. It is civility.

Do not speak of transparency
unless you are willing to let go of that stuffed animal.

Kevin Gamble’s Oct. 5 post, Defining the freerange enterprise, in which he lists not just transparency but radical transparency.

October 14, 2008

Freedom and happiness

Freedom causes happiness---That’s a conclusion of Arthur Brooks in his book ‘Gross National Happiness’.

You may be surprised at the forms freedom can take. Brooks cites a 1976 study in a nursing home. On one floor, residents could decide which night was movie night and could choose to care for plants. The residents on that floor began to show greater alertness, more activity and better moods than residents on the control floor that were not given the same choice and responsibility.

“To the extent that work gives people a sense that they are in charge of their lives, it will bring them joy. If work strips people of control it will bring misery.”

Each person perceives and enjoys success at his or her personal level. Workers need to believe their work is meaningful and define what earned success means to them.

Brooks writes, “Indeed, people who feel they do not have control over their own successes are generally miserable. In 2001, people who said they did not feel responsible for their own successes—whether they enjoyed successes or not, mind you—spent about 25 percent more time feeling sad than those who said they did feel responsible for their own successes.”

Civility, respect for each individual, is at play here. If workers are involved and empowered to the extent they individually wish to be, they’ll be more creative and productive in the workplace because they are happier.

October 02, 2008

Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)

Management by Wandering Around came to public notice when Tom Peters and Bob Waterman wrote ‘In Search of Excellence’ in 1982. The strength of MBWA lies in informal communications and getting out of your office or cubicle.

It is the opposite of drive-by decisions and drive-by management.

You get to know those you work with, what their passions are, what they think about a project. You get to know the clients, what they want, their fears and aspirations.

‘Stay intimately in touch’
That’s how Peters described MBWA in a 2004 post on his blog, He wrote about scrapping a speech to retailers after he’d spent two hours wandering in and out of shops and had a much more real vision of retail than he had from talking to experts and searching the Web.

He is emphatic that email does not count. You must wander.

Management by Wandering Around is one of my all-time favorite ways to stay in tune with coworkers and clients. When you display sincerity, civility and genuine interest in what others think, when you listen without judgment, you’ll find their core values and passion. People will come to you with comments, ideas and all kinds of helpful information. There’s a dedication and enthusiasm in working together in your workplace or on a volunteer effort. I don’t believe ‘management’ in MBWA is reserved for those with management titles. It is caring about each person, what drives them and managing expectations and information.

In their book ‘In Search of Excellence’, the authors write about excellent companies taking advantage of MBWA and organizational fluidity. “The nature and uses of communication in the excellent companies are remarkably different from those of their nonexcellent peers. The excellent companies are a vast network of informal, open communications….The intensity of communications is unmistakable in the excellent companies. It usually starts with an insistence on informality.”

Finally they write about MBWA as the ability to talk, and I would add ‘listen’, to anyone, anywhere.
It works. I’m a believer.

July 03, 2008

What does a democratic workplace look like..and who benefits?

The workplace has meaningful work, conversations, decentralized networks, strategy, leadership, personal relationships, principles and more. See the chart at

Characteristics of a democratic organization
(These are really good.)
• You're paid for the value you bring to the organization, not your job title.
• Everyone knows to whom and for what they're accountable.
• The employee manual can be summed up in one sentence: "Use common sense!"
• You look forward to meetings where you can collaborate and share ideas.
• There's a spirit of ownership in every project in which you're involved.
• Communication is ever present, informative and responsible.
More at

The benefits
Workers are empowered, involved, passionate, creative and productive. Not only do the workers benefit but obviously so does the company.

All inspired by WorldBlu, which I found while writing about fair trade coffee from Equal Exchange, one of 25 organizations on the WorldBlu List of Most Democratic Workplaces™ 2008.

Command and control workplaces are left over from the industrial age.
Think about this not only in your workplace but in the organizations where you volunteer. Advocate and push for democratic work environments because they equal civility.

Happy Independence Day.

June 12, 2008

Social responsibility in an organization

In the business world, it’s known as a double bottom line. The traditional bottom line shows a financial profit or loss.

The social bottom line
• improves the professional lives of employees
• provides a product or service that adds value for the customers
• contributes to the community
• helps or at least does not harm the environment

Those who favor social responsibility feel businesses and organizations benefit from society and, therefore, have an obligation to improve it.

Businesses and organizations serious about social responsibility make it a core value.

They demonstrate their commitment to social responsibility internally as well as externally. They
• value employees, supporting a structure open to fresh ideas
• help their community’s charities and governments
• review products and services to gauge the value to society
• seek to decrease the use of energy and materials and reliance upon the Earth’s natural resources

The Association for Communication Excellence social responsibility group
The group asked all attending the conference to bring used books to Traverse City, Mich. The books are being donated to the Grand Traverse Area Literacy Council to help others build their literacy skills. Because we are communicators including writers and editors, this was a natural tie for us and something easy for us to do for our host community. We decided we would do a similar book drive for next year’s conference in Des Moines.

ViNSiGN, a full service Internet solutions provider in Labuan, Malaysia, has several educational social responsibility articles as part of its contribution to the community. The Importance of Social Responsibility,
Organizations should give due consideration to the design of work organization and job satisfaction. A number of leading companies have taken steps to develop more ethical cultures and systems by involving individual employees in corporate affairs. Good internal communication avoids misunderstanding. Workers enjoy their work and work efficiently. The quality of goods and services of the organization therefore increases. Social responsibility is important in the internal environment.

Social initiatives taken by organizations tend to promote goodwill, public favor and corporate trust, and these may contribute to the long-run success.

The measurement of social investment deals with the degree to which the organization is investing both money and human resources to solve community social problems.

April 17, 2008

Civility in job titles

Ever think an organization or company is top-heavy? What does that mean? Generally too many managers, too many executives. Too heavy at the top for the base below.

Several years ago I edited a document about my department. Being a journalist concerned with accuracy, I checked titles. And ended up in several heated debates. I didn’t realize then that it was fairly common to use titles other than those assigned by the human resources office. I was told it’s a common practice in private companies. I see it more and more at Iowa State. People use creative titles or bump themselves up to manager or director. It’s even done in the announcements for jobs.

Public perception
If you’re an Iowa citizen and correspond with Iowa State staff, are you impressed that an email was sent by a manager? Or do you begin to wonder how many managers Iowa State has and wonder if the organization is top-heavy?

If you are reading about a company or organization, do you check how many executives are listed? What do you think when you find a person in an organizational chart with one title and that person uses a different title in correspondence?

In the editing of the document two years ago, one person truly believed her title was manager and was surprised when I pointed out it wasn’t. The job posting she had filled had used both the point-counted title of coordinator and the ‘working’ title of manager. Conversely, anther person was offended that he was listed as a manager. He said his title was coordinator and I’d better use that title.

What’s the civility angle in this?
Honesty, ethics, self-discipline, humility? Others?
I’ve adhered to writing style guides and checked facts too long to label myself anything other than my point-counted job title. My work and attitude count for far more than a job title.

Wall Street Journal, Dec. 27, 2007
Princess Paysalot and Other Creative Job Titles

You can read for a really long time and be wildly entertained if you check the links and comments from this April 4, 2007 post on Marketing Profs Daily Fix: Job Titles 2.0,

March 04, 2008

The engaged university

We should never quit learning and asking questions. The more knowledge we gain, the more we realize how little we know.

True leaders understand this.
They surround themselves with people who are smarter in different fields than they are. True leaders ask questions, listen and learn.

The workers who encourage give and take of conversations, instead of trying to monopolize the conversation, get this.

The university extension service that asks questions and listens to its citizens to learn about the problems firsthand, understands this.
Engaged extension folks practice information and knowledge sharing from the university to the people and from the people back to the university. The extension service understands university research and teaching need to focus on the right problems.

Here’s an annual news release out of northern Mississippi that always impresses me in how well this extension service plans engagement, how well extension listens. It’s the ultimate respect, the ultimate civility. It’s working for the public good.
Ag producers meet to tell research, education needs,

February 19, 2008

Looking for honesty in the workplace

"I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an ‘honest man.’ Your honesty influences others to be honest."
George Washington, Commander in Chief of the colonial armies in the American Revolution (1775-83) and President (1789-97)

Honesty and integrity build trust which is essential for cooperation and growth
Steven Gaffney has written two books about honest communication. Gaffney says honesty in the workplace equates to simple, straightforward communication between co-workers and on every organizational level. That, he contends, is in short supply which means employees waste time dealing with internal problems.

The lack of straightforward communication costs businesses and organizations billions of dollars because it contributes to
• poor decisions,
• internal conflict and
• lost productivity.

One of the most prevalent issues that Gaffney sees in working with corporate clients is what he calls "the lies of withholding."

"When someone avoids a festering issue with a co-worker, tells a supervisor only the good news, remains silent when he or she disagrees with a proposed initiative, becomes a 'yes-man' with superiors to curry favor or complains to someone other than the person he or she has an issue with, the worker is being dishonest," Gaffney said.

The costs of poor, ineffective communication
The average employee loses seven weeks of productivity every year because of troublesome and unresolved communication. Lack of open, honest communication is at the root of 80 percent of problems at work.

Honesty belongs in the workplace but employ civility
• Be clear about whether you have time to listen now or not.
• Seek honest answers.
• React positively to feedback. If you ask for comments and then sulk or become defensive, no one is going to give you honest feedback.
Focus on facts, not opinions. Focus on achieving a solution. Blunt questions, accusations and assumptions force people into defensive modes. Instead of asking, "Why isn’t this project done?” ask "What do you need to finish this project?"

A July 31, 2006 interview (5 minutes) with Steven Gaffney,

Honestly…these Gaffney notes are from a press release and a television interview. I’ve not read his books, ‘Just Be Honest’ and ‘Honesty Works!’, but they’ve gone on my wish list.

Ask questions that begin with what and how, not why, who and when
June 4, 2007 post, The right questions (what and how) for personal accountability
Use the word ‘because’
June 18, 2007 post, Because, because, because….because……….

February 05, 2008

Hire civil and passionate (great) people

Hiring new staff impacts your organization for a very long time. Will this person care about the organization or himself? Will she be inclusive or exclusive? Responsive or be convinced he knows all? Have leadership talent, knowledge and skills?

Guy Kawasaki in ‘The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything’ says ignore the irrelevant and that can include education and work experience. Passion is far more important in hiring new employees.

There is no ‘perfect’ candidate
Prioritize your wish list and look at the big picture. Is the candidate a problem-solver, a critical-thinker, a good fit for the company culture and enthusiastic about the job? Look for listening skills, problem-solving ability, a sense of fairness and someone who is trustworthy. All these attributes are very much in the civility camp.

Businesses and industries hire students on cooperative assignments and internships. They get to see the real person at work and judge whether students would be good permanent hires. And if students don’t fit, they’re gone after the internship. That luxury often doesn’t exist in hiring full-time employees.

Hiring great people is serious business
Savvy businesses don’t leave interviewing to a search committee. They ask many to be a part of the interviewing process. Potential coworkers, supervisors and people who would answer to the new hire share in interviewing candidates and have a say in the hire. A hire that doesn’t fit is a problem for the organization for a long time.

Organizations have long used networking to get information on candidates. Today companies are seriously seeking out alternate references because there are enough untruthful people and bullies out there that organizations want to ensure they don’t hire one.

Hiring is not a process to rush through or to take lightly
Not if you want a hire that embraces civility and can bring real passion to your workplace. Those are the qualities that spread through a workplace and infect it to bring about innovation and progress.

More reading
The Google hiring process

Businesses may be trying to find people who have real dirt on you, The Indianapolis Star

December 07, 2007

“…academe is often plagued by inexcusably rude and uncollegial behavior…

"One serious consequence of incivility is that you can permanently damage your reputation in an institution after only a few incidents of hotheadedness....

“I am not suggesting that we refrain from speaking out strongly, defending a position, or opposing a policy when necessary. Adversaries need to be opposed, bullies put in their place, abhorrent policies overturned, new policies championed. That is part of the daily work of academe.

“And, yes, malevolent people do exist, as do conspiracies. But assuming the worst of people independent of corroborating evidence is, at best, counterproductive and, at worst, part of the problem.

“Maybe you don't believe that academe should serve as a model of civility for the larger society. So consider it an issue of self-interest -- civility and collegiality are key to helping you get your way in academe.”

--Gary A. Olson, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Illinois State University
The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 4, 2007

It's well worth the time to read the entire column.

September 11, 2007

The characteristics of a civil leader

Blog Action Day is more than a month away which gives me time to mull over what environmental action I’ll promote. I’m on alert for ideas.

The back page of the fall issue of Garden Talk from the Chicago Botanic Garden has an article ‘Conservation Starts Here’. The publication displays the certification symbol of the Forest Stewardship Council. Every part of the manufacturing process of producing that publication meets the standards for responsible forestry.

I looked for information about the Forest Stewardship Council. Their Web site,, has a job announcement for a new president. This is one section of that announcement.

Successful Characteristics
a. Contagious drive and leadership skills with evidence of the ability to delegate, motivate others to action, and complete tasks
b. Strong interpersonal skills and ability to relate to individuals representing various sectors, interests, and points of view
c. Articulate ”salesperson” with ability to clearly and persuasively communicate with diverse audiences including industry and businesses, media, environment, natural resource and social NGOs, foundations, individuals of high net worth
d. "Quick Study"
e. Politically astute, diplomatic, and charismatic
f. Keen awareness of self and others
g. Consensus-based and democratic leadership style; ability to work in a “servant leadership” style with the Board and stakeholders
h. Ability to network, cultivate and manage strong relationships, and function well within networks across many boundaries
i. Communications and listening skills with an ability to identify the relative importance of various ideas in FSC’s vision and put them into action.

Stamp civility across that description.

Want to learn more about civility? Subscribe to this blog's feed,

June 11, 2007

Valuing the people closest to the action, an Energizer tale

Scene: Eveready Energizer plant, Maryville, Missouri
Background: The machines that put labels on batteries have three gears working side by side. Originally two gears were made of fiber and one of metal. The teeth on the fiber gears wore out and had to be replaced fairly often.

The labeling machines had been looked at by several people over time. One person had switched the fiber gears to nylon gears. Then the keyhole in the gears tore. Someone added a second keyhole to balance the tension.

Assignment: Redesign the assembly line label machines from three gears to two gears to increase run time

Action: The mechanical engineering coop student who had been given the assignment called the mechanic to set up a time to talk. The two looked at the machines when a line was down for maintenance. The mechanic thought the problem had been solved with the fixes already made. Others on the floor echoed his assessment.

Calculation: The parts and labor to change labeling machines would cost about $8,000. The four production lines would be shut down four days. A calculation was made of how many million batteries wouldn’t get labeled if the lines were shut down to change the labeling machines. And finally, a calculation could be done of how long it would take to recoup the costs incurred for a problem that apparently was no longer a problem.

Recommendation: Do not change the gears on the labeling machines.

“How did you know all this?” I asked the engineering coop student given the task. I wondered what course at Iowa State had taught him this.
“Mom, it’s just common sense”, he said.

It is common sense
Common sense based on communication. Based on involving the people affected. Based on a company culture that is collaborative and respectful.

How often does someone sit in an office in isolation designing when there’s no need to design? Or designs something needed but doesn’t involve those who will be affected? Or doesn’t ask the most civil questions, What are the problems you see? What should our next project be?
And then those designers wonder why there is no commitment, no passion, no buy-in.

May we all work towards the common sense culture of Eveready. I don’t know that culture statements get any better than this.
Our Culture
• Team culture of colleagues who communicate well, problem solve together and respect each other
• Participatory culture where decisions are made by colleagues closest to the action. Management will provide direction, resources, training and honest feedback
• Ethical culture that is open, honest, and respects the laws and regulations of the societies we operate within
• Passionate cultures that cares deeply about winning in the marketplace

(This post was reviewed by appropriate folks at the Energizer plant. I was asked to not include the number of batteries that wouldn’t get labeled in four days. It’s a competitive market.)

February 13, 2007

Values to love

Many Yahoo! values were put into practice by two guys (David Filo and Jerry Yang) in a trailer some time ago (1994). Today Yahoo! has 11,000 employees worldwide.
Excerpts from Yahoo! We Value…
Excellence: We are committed to winning with integrity.
Customer Fixation: We respect our customers above all else and never forget that they come to us by choice.
Teamwork: We treat one another with respect and communicate openly.
Fun: We believe humor is essential to success. We applaud irreverence and don’t take ourselves too seriously. We celebrate achievement. We yodel.
What we don’t value…
Bureaucracy, broken links, decaf, arrogance, shoes worn at all times, micromanaging, bad grammar, ALL CAPS, one size fits all, typos…
© 2004 Yahoo! Inc.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google in 1998. The company has more than 10,500 employees worldwide.
Excerpts from Google Code of Conduct
Our informal corporate motto is “Don’t be evil.”
The core message is simple: Being Googlers means striving toward the highest possible standard of ethical business conduct. …our most important asset by far is our reputation as a company that warrants our users’ faith and trust. …every Googler is expected to do his or her utmost to promote a respectful workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and discrimination of any kind.
Our Dog Policy
Google’s respect and affection for our canine friends is an integral facet of our corporate culture. We have nothing against cats, per se, but we’re a dog company, so as a general rule we feel cats visiting our campus would be fairly stressed out.
©2007 Google

Of course, anyone can write wonderful value statements, and they do.
Yahoo! and Google have multitudes of people who want to work for them. Google's hiring process is grueling and extensive. Newsweek Dec. 2, 2005: "Virtually every person who interviews at Google talks to at least half-a-dozen interviewers, drawn from both management and potential colleagues. Everyone's opinion counts.."
(Very interesting article. I recommend you read it.)

Their workforces expect civility. Their values and codes are written in the language of the people, easily accessible. Google's code is more than nine screens long. "Employees who are found to have violated this Code are subject to discipline up to and including immediate discharge."

You can google...and find people who were not impressed with the hiring process, people who think they'd not want to work at Google.

I am impressed that they value people who work well with others to learn, to solve problems for the good of the company. There's some humility. There's democracy. Definitely esprit de corps. Isn't this a circle? People want to work for them because it's a good company. It's a good company because only people who live the values are hired and survive.

“Obviously everyone wants to be successful, but I want to be looked back on as being very innovative, very trusted and ethical and ultimately making a big difference in the world.”
-- Sergey Brin, cofounder of Google (1973- )

Blogs by Google employees,
Yahoo! Blogs,