Why Our Kids’ Video Games May Prepare Them For Career Learning Tomorrow!

This weekend I’ve been writing a paper about various types of learning that have evolved and become break through in the past decade or so.  The most fascinating by far has been the partnership of virtual reality in the realm of training and development.  Believe it or not, some major names are using this! Did you know that Cisco Systems has something called the AMLE, or Account Manager Learning Environment?  This is a virtual learning experience designed to help account managers learn best practices in driving up sales and revenue, speed and cost reductions (Noe, 2013, pg. 360).  Another example of virtual reality meeting training is Motorola and their use of a virtual reality training opportunity to teach employees to assemble products in the Pager Robotic Assembly Facility (Noe, 2013, p. 342).  Don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a virtual injury than a real one.  Manufacturing can be dangerous if a worker is not well trained.  How brilliant an idea to teach them virtually.

Last but not least, a pretty serious example.  Our soldiers today are being trained in large scale virtual training facilities.  An example of this is Camp Atterbury in Indiana.  Here, soldiers learn how to respond to realistic battle scenarios in what is called a Dismounted Soldier Training System.  Essentially, using simulation equipment and virtual technology, the solider can actual rehearse a battle scene. This type of training can mean the difference between life and death in the real battle.

So, to the title of this blog.  Maybe all the whining and nagging I’ve done about my tween son’s hours of labor in front of the gaming screen has been in vain.  Will the future of learning when he is entering for workforce in ten years be filled with these virtual learning environments?  I think perhaps so.  I chuckle as I write this.  I’m envisioning a virtual reality video game of employee relations and corrective action hypothetical scenarios.  Boy those DOL regulations would have been seared into my brain with greater intensity had I had the chance to virtually interact with a real lawsuit via a virtual reality video game!

I typically don’t think of myself as old until I observe the evolving face of technology.  It fascinates me.  I believe our children of today will be learning in a far different world in the future than anything I might have ever imagined.  We are already getting degrees online at rapid fire pace.  Imagine the classrooms of tomorrow.  Perhaps your child will be sitting virtually alongside other students from ten different countries.  The possibilties are endless!

RESOURCES:

AMLE: http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/le31/l59/learning_credits_manage.html

Camp Atterbury: http://www.campatterbury.in.ng.mil/Mobilization/tabid/692/Default.aspx

Noe, Raymond. (2013). Employee Training and Development. New York,

NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

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Do You Want Compliance, Or Brilliance?

fish market
A few years ago I had the pleasure of working at a company that changed me forever. It was a company where we actually had FUN as a value we sought to live out. Never had I heard of such a thing prior to working here and, frankly, this small town, hard working, no nonsense Midwestern girl was a bit skeptical at first. Fun, whatcha talking about? This is work man and I’ve been working my behind off since I was providing for myself at age 19! The place where you sweat and toil for that check to buy the American Dream! That’s not supposed to be fun. That’s supposed to be hard!

I must confess that after a little time of daily inhaling this new culture, I was wooed by this FUN suitor and my hard little no nonsense shell was cracked. And before you know it I was doing crazy things like rolling out the red carpet for new hires (no joking I purchased a red carpet and marched all new hires down it in front of the rest of the staff). And creating limerick contests for staff members to write little ditties to win a game. And playing with Legos and drawing pictures at teambuilding and training events I led. And acting out skits with much humor imbedded to drive home HR lessons in what would otherwise be boring compliance training I led. Heck I even dressed up for new hire orientations. Reality is I got steam rolled by the fun wagon and I have never been the same again.

Over the years I’ve studied the virtue of this value of fun on a more intellectual level. Captured above in my photo is a visit to a fish market in Seattle. Some of you may have heard of it. It’s called the “Pike Place Fish Market” and they have become famous for the enjoyable and engaging environment they create for both employees and patrons. From their flying fish http://www.pikeplacefish.com/about/flying-fish-presentations/, to the more serious and empowering virtues they teach about helping people be themselves and be engaged, they just simply get it in my opinion. If you haven’t heard about this group, I would encourage you to study them. They also sell videos and materials for those in the training profession who want to learn about this methodology.

So, why the fun? What’s the point? Let me explain the title of today’s blog. It’s in the form of a question. The question is: Do you want compliance, or do you want brilliance? Here’s my point. One can get compliance through many tactics. I once worked in an environment where the almighty handbook was the management team’s end all be all. We could quote line and verse and point out that on the tenth day of the fifth month thou hast broken the attendance command for the third time and as such landed thyself on a final warning. We were hounds about this. And dang it we were good at this stuff, if the measuring stick of good is understanding every rule and crafting write ups to excellence. However, we were good at little more than this. You see, of course rules count and need to be applied and respected. However, if it’s just about rules you are in trouble. One can get lip service and checking off the list with a little fear and intimidation style management. Fire a few people, enforce those rules, get tough and you’ll get a reaction. And frankly given the human condition and some souls in the world who enjoy flagrant defiance of rules, the handbook is a must. But back to my original question. Do you merely want compliance, or do you want brilliance? Compliance is easy. It’s a shortcut. It’s old fashioned. It gets lip service. But if you stay there and there alone you are in trouble because you engage the lips but no more. And this typically leads to high turnover and high disengagement.

You see, GREAT companies advance further than compliance. They decide that lip service ain’t enough. They want heart service. They want to tap into the human spirit and unleash something special. They want brilliance. And you go there, to brilliance, by engaging the heart AND mind in a person. You go there by daring to put a little spirit into things. By daring to care. By drawing people into work by getting to know them and getting to lead them in a way that shows you care.

To get to this place a leader needs to let down his guard and bare a little soul. Reach out to your employees as fellow human beings. Laugh a little. Love a lot. Throw fish. Write limericks. Roll out the red carpet for people because every person is worth it. Work hard, but be sure to play hard too. Ask them how you can be better, and then listen. Don’t pretend you’re here if you have never asked them. I guarantee you you are not here if you don’t have the guts to ask your employees honestly about the way you’re leading, listen, and be open to personal change.

If you want some solid models of companies that get this you might peruse the WorldBlu most Democratic places to work list. I was blessed to work at one of these companies in my career. I was very changed and for the better because of it. http://www.worldblu.com/awardee-profiles/2012.php

Culture Cues – Teach Them To Survive!

My theory is that we as people can be trained in a very similar fashion to cats. In fact a joke I’ve shared with folks when I enter a new team is that I need to have a spray bottle of water on my desk for learning opportunities. Each time I open my mouth to share something that is out of place in the new abode, squirt! Each time I attempt to live out my prior company culture, forgetting I’m somewhere new, squirt! Each time I commit any kind of company cultural faux pas, squirt!

All joking aside, the reality is that cultures vary and probably the most critical component to the corporate success formula other than being smart is getting the culture. The reality is that we as people are quirky, varied, imperfect and gosh darn it we are not robots and we can be moody. I suppose that is why I chose HR – because I am a student of the human condition and oddly I really enjoy working with the idiosyncrasies of folks. When there’s a tough nut to crack (eg a super difficult person who I can’t reach), I kinda enjoy the opportunity to try to win even a connection with them. You see the reality is that people are all different. I may like vanilla ice cream. You may prefer pistaccio. Who is to say one is better than the other? Nobody is to say. However, I best be eating pistachio ice cream and not vanilla if I choose to join a pistachio loving culture.

Point being, as companies are full of people, and people are unique, there comes to be a unique and specific culture at each company. As a case in point, here are just a few things that I have experienced in different cultures. Each one if transferred to another culture may be means for serious political fallout and very possibly even formal discipline.

1. We had a couch and video games in the main entry space of the office for employees’ fun and enjoyment (message: fun is a serious value here and we appeal to the Gen Y culture we often hire based on the field we’re in)
2. I was required to don a hat and sword for employee orientations (message: this is a charismatic place so get on board and show your drama if you are a leader here)
3. Calling a boss without going through the EA was major taboo; and meetings occurred no more than 1-2x monthly (message: be self sufficient and don’t bug the boss with any minor stuff)
4. Neglecting to run even the most minute detail past a boss could result in significant negative repercussion (message: leadership is a bit tighter, centralized decision making is preferred)
5. Failing to hug someone or pat someone on the back at work at least once a week was frowned upon (message: we are an affectionate workplace and it is expected that you show you care… I am sure the HR folks reading this are cringing right now)
6. Hugging someone at work or even a pat on the back might result in a hostile work environment claim (message: we are a business professional environment and take HR protocol seriously)
7. Walking the floor frequently to chit chat with employees is expected of leaders (message: engagement and friendly environment matter to us)
8. Walking the floor frequently to chit chat with employees is frowned upon (message: we are a high performance, no nonsense place and should not have too much levity at work)
9. Upon meeting with a boss during weekly meetings one must update a task list and personal learning plan to show growth in personal skills (message: we are a learning culture)
10. Working at home is encouraged and common and there is no firm absence policy (message: we want to be progressive and see balance)
11. Working at home is seen as irresponsible and unnecessary (message: we are more conservative and traditional with work style)
12. Specific food venues and sequence of events is expected at employee gatherings (message: formality matters and if you are not on board you won’t fit in)

The list could go on, but the above are all examples of varying expectations that I have encountered in my seventeen years of working. These expectations all held by very successful companies that happened to operate differently. I guarantee you however that nobody gave me a rule book on video games, pats on the back, level of detail one must share with a boss or not share with a boss, expectations of proceedings at gatherings, and so forth on day one. I will tell you that it took about a dozen or so verbal squirts to get it when transitioning from one extreme to another.

All to say, one of the absolutely most critical things we can be doing to develop new employees is to tell them the unspoken stuff. Just like a mother teaches her small child not to pick his nose in public or chew with her mouth open, we too need to lead people to learn the ways of the workplace. Nobody wants to be stuck in the middle of a meeting with an I’m clueless sign on his back. So love your people enough to go there.

One little practical way of doing this is by providing a buddy for the early months. This buddy should not be a boss or person of authority. If it is, the buddy code is essentially broken. The whole idea of a buddy is that someone at the same level, comfortable and approachable be there to help guide the newcomer. A buddy will share the subtle behaviors in a non threatening way. When choosing a buddy, make sure it is a person with strong verbal skills, patience and a people-oriented personality.

Happy culture learning! If you teach them, they can adapt!

The Power of Understanding Working Styles in Developing a Team

gnos

One of the critical building blocks of developing teams is forming an authentic and deep bond with them. This can also be defined as engagement. There are so very many ingredients in this recipe of engagement, some which I’ve blogged about in recent weeks and many which could fill up pages and books. At the core of engagement is the need to be willing to meet people where they are at, and figure them out so that you can motivate them. Doing this requires many tools. One of these is understanding and accepting the unique working style that a person brings into a working relationship.

I’ve participated in a variety of tools to figure out a person’s working style. One of my all time favorite books that simply yet effectively speaks to using this knowledge for effective relationship building is a book by Julie Straw called “The Four Dimensional Manager.” I’ve drawn wisdom from this book when leading training series on motivation and communication at two companies now. It all started when I was with a company that used personality assessments to evaluate individuals (and teams as whole) for team building and communication refining purposes. I stumbled across the Julie Straw book when trying to find a great way to deliver the message of the purchased assessments. The whole notion of going from one dimensional (the view of the world I possess) to four dimensional (able to put on the glasses of others once educated as to their world view prescription) is really the heart of this message.

I’ve seen the principles of this stuff work in my own management journey. I myself am a highly dominant and interpersonal person. That means I like to bulldoze through things and build relationships along the way. So I’m a bit of a personality mutt you might say and based on my two types perhaps a bit conflicted at first glance! Due to this I typically bond well with similar souls (and in some cases need to understand how to respect those who are equal in dominance to me). What I naturally, in uneducated state, do not do well is bond effectively with the more detail oriented and soft-spoken/timid souls. However, in an educated and intentional state, basing my relational interactions on the knowledge of a person’s working style, I can make clear personal behavior choices so that all types that are not like me can still relate to me.

A specific example of this was when I had an employee on my team who was a true analyst by nature. He will probably be a book author some day, and absolutely loves some good data, hours alone and a chance to prepare a near thesis statement to accompany each work project. I knew that having this guy on my team could (and did) do wonders in driving up the bar of excellence in the department as he helped me dissect things, draw critical conclusions, blow up old broken processes and build new processes that drove performance upwards. However, I had to learn to curtail my natural energy and working/meeting style in order to tap into this and build a powerful team synergy. Naturally I am an impromptu and open door/talkative person. I am in the clouds and getting excited about new vision stuff about every hour. However, I had to learn to carve out time, space, structure and a calmer method of management and communication with this individual on my team. I had to create intentionally planned meetings that were structured, and let him talk and share and essentially make myself step back, be quiet and let him shine when it was his time. It would have been impossible to develop and grow him by forcing my style on him. Rather, I was able to draw the best of him out by respecting how he ticked.

In the end, the truth is that the strongest teams are the most rounded teams. Just like in sports, every player has a unique position. In isolation they cannot win the game. In tandem, victory is attainable. We need the drivers to keep us marching onward. We need the strategists to cast visions for us and motivate us with speeches. We need the energy bombs to jazz things up and keep it fun and get the sales in the door. We need the analysts and number crunches to keep us compliant and make process improvements and tell us when to budget and spend wisely. We need the sensitive souls and negotiators to help us come together. The wise leader will step back from him or herself and see this, respect the power of the group and diminish the role of “I” or self. The leader who plays the role of coach, and does this, will be able to drive break through performance.

SOURCES:
Straw, Julie. (2002). The Four Dimensional Manager: DiSC Strategies for Managing Different People in the Best Ways. Inscape Publishing. San Francisco, CA.

If You Challenge Them, They Just May Rock Your Performance Numbers!

My mother tells me that when I was a small infant she would have to frequently check on me during naps for fear that I would die of asphyxiation . You see I had a peculiar habit of getting so frustrated even at the age of some odd months, that I would clench my little baby fists and work myself into a silent, red faced, sweaty fit. She feared that in my fit I’d stop breathing.

This lovely trait has luckily since subsided into a more adult and manageable temperament . This being said, one of my inner fears is that if one were to ask folks that have worked with me to compare me to a creature of some kind that they might choose a cockroach due to its stubborn ability to live on things like small bits of postage stamp glue for periods on end. I resent this trait I was born with quite often (well, I can’t personally live on postage glue but my ability to hold out stubbornly is perhaps a bit analogous to that). You see, I fight it because I also happen to believe that I am called to a life of humility and self deprecation based on many of my personal faith tenets. So, in my personal inner war, I temper my own temper continually. However, where I can utilize my innate strong will for something good, I upon occasion am thankful for the red faced and tight fisted little infant.

The purpose of today’s blog entry, though I am going about it in a long winded fashion, is to speak to the importance of tenacity and fierce determination in the workplace. Specifically, it is to speak to how we can and should be developing our employees and leaders of tomorrow to possess this trait. It’s my fervent belief that deep down people are motivated by a challenge, if properly challenged and motivated. I remember seeing this in action a few years ago when I and a fellow developing leader got the news of our soon to be new boss. Now in this story let me say that my fellow developing leader was way smarter than me and ten times more tenacious (and as such achieved VP status at a record young age). I suspect he would in the world of analogies be the cockroach who lives a record breaking two years on a postage stamp. But, I digress. In any event I remember distinctly when our fun and lively boss who was leaving the company gave us our departing pep talk. She was preparing us for the feared horror of reporting into the new leader who possessed two Ivy League degrees and who few leaders, even of VP caliber, were able to please. We were shaking in our boots you might say as the “little guys” getting ready to get thrown to hungry sharks. But I’ll never forget what my boss who was leaving said to me, and what powerful emotion it evoked. She said to me, “You two will be just fine, because you both enjoy a challenge.” As I entered this new reporting relationship with my new boss who lived up to all the stories I had heard (though I have to admit I grew to deeply admire him), I kept myself motivated by that simple statement about enjoying a challenge. It stuck with me just like the glue on the postage stamp. It kept me motivated and whenever I was about to give up I’d remember, no, wait, I am a person who enjoys a good challenge and who doesn’t let it beat her.

I decided through that experience that there must be something inside people that rises up when a person challenges them while also believing in them. I’m not saying that there aren’t things that can break us. I’ve had a few situations in my life that teetered on the brink of breaking me, some of them very recent and so I make my statements very humbly. But I am saying that we need to respect and guide that innate sense of need to rise up and accomplish in those that work for us, and in everyone on our teams.

I’ve seen the power of this belief in action with folks that have worked for me. Like the recruiter who worked for me a few years ago and started with just a little recruiting for our $70 million division. I challenged her and pushed her to split time to fill in half as we were growing. I told her she, we, could do it. Today she is a respected leadership recruiter for a large territory of a multi billion dollar organization, and I’m sure there is a fair chance she out earns me. Or, I think of another associate on another one of my teams who was at the brink of being terminated by an executive in the company. In this case our whole team stepped up, learned together, partnered together and I coached and challenged this associate to step up and lean into the resources available. This associate later went on to have book studies and a great professional relationship with the very executive who was at first a fear factor. Finally, I also think of each time I watch my 6th grade son out there on the basketball court. The boys on his team work so hard and it’s very common for tears to be shed and heads to be hung low with exacerbated facial expressions when they are losing. But then I watch the coaches step up and given them a tough love talk, believe in them, and send them out there again to pick up the pace, fight for it, and win. What I’m saying is that even though we work in tidy, sterile and perhaps at times mundane little office environments, we all possess the heart and spirit of a fighter inside. If you dig deep enough, if you believe hard enough, if you challenge those who work for you to step up, if you are a passionate coach and tenacious champion, you just may find that work suddenly gets a little more exciting. You may find that performance outcomes suddenly rock your little business world because when you tap into this potential and spirit in people things get kinda exciting. And, more important than all the success and dollars stuff (‘cuz that stuff after all isn’t what makes us happy or what folks remember when we die), you’ll find that your life is a little more meaningful because you suddenly make work about relationships and building human spirits up. Relational management is so worth it. It’s okay to shed a few fears. It’s okay to love a little. It’s really okay to care about your people and believe in them.

So, thanks to my boss with the Harvard and University of Pennsylvania IQ who challenged me. Thanks to the folks I was blessed to lead who inspired me by accomplishing something awesome when faced with a challenge. Like the sayings goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!

If You Can’t Beat ’em, Hire ’em

I have hired a lot of people in my life. I stopped counting after I got to three hundred. But the hardest hiring decision of my career, without a doubt, was the time I was faced with the opportunity to hire the runner up for the job I held. I worked really hard to interview for this job I got. The CEO who hired me tells me he got 500 applications. It came down to me and one other guy. I barely got the job, and let me emphasize barely. Well, some months into employment here I opened up a new role on my team and this candidate applied. We decided that given the amount of HR issues we needed to turnaround that two leaders were better than one. So, when my boss asked me to consider if I’d hire my competition to work for me I have to say that this was excruciating. After lots of conversations with the angel and the demon on my shoulder I told myself I needed to practice what I preach. No fear. Hire people as good or better than you because that’s how you drive a business forward. Well, I confess I was far short of the no fear part, but this wimp decided to cross over the fear line by 1/2 inch and I’m better for it. I’m convinced I preserved my health and my sanity through that move. I deeply respect this individual I hired and together we knocked out some mega things. He’s honestly smarter than me with a leg up on experience in the niche industry I was in at the time, and a step ahead degree wise with a masters degree from a better school than the one I’m attending now. When I moved on to a new opportunity he of course stepped into my role and I was pretty excited for him. I keep up to follow the really cool things he continues to do at that company to this day.

Here’s the deal. The big secret about leadership is that it is really about managing and developing people. It has absolutely, positively, totally nothing to do with you. As a senior officer of a multi billion dollar company I once worked at said at one of our leadership meetings, people will cut you a lot of slack if you are a listening and humble person (that’s my summary of a brilliant speech he gave). It’s true. Great leaders are vested in the success of their people even before they sit back and think about the big I am. They are at the front lines cheering their people on. They care. Heck, they even love them. They sometimes shed tears over the wins and the losses of their people. And something magnificent happens when you experience this more tranparent side of leadership. Irony presents itself. You see, what is so ironic is that when you stop being in the game for the big “me” it suddenly means that you succeed on the level that transcends money, and you also move the needle on productivity and profits to boot. This is because you engage a very special part of your people and they start showing up to work to really give their all. Not just lip service. Not just for the bucks. They show up because they like working for you and they really want to shine for the team. You see, it is the coaches and the poets of the world that change the world and spur the masses on to achieve at higher levels than even imagined. As Henry Miller put it, “The real leader has no need to lead – he is content to point the way.” I hope that I can be content to point the way. I always ask the people who work for me to tell me the truth, to correct me when I’m wrong, and to celebrate when THEY have wins.

Leading Change – A Lynchpin for Company Success

The field of change management has been a wide scale topic of interest in the business industry for close to three decades now. The heightened awareness in more recent years is certainly tied to the fact that technology and product development demands are ever changing and evolving at a pace and scale not seen in decades past. Just look at changing automobile designs, medical technological developments or the rapid evolution of PCs and smartphones. In order to keep up with the rapid pace of business environments that demand better and faster all the time, successful businesses need strong leaders who are trained and talented in the area of change management.

A critical piece of leading and developing the workforce is teaching them to manage change appropriately. As the adage goes, the one constant is change. What is frightening, however, is how often management teams fail to apply a disciplined approach to change. Perhaps this why John Kotter, one of the most renowned leaders in the study of change, points out that 70% of change initiatives fail in organizations (http://newdirectionsconsulting.com/4639/blog/why-70-of-change-initiatives-fail-2/).

So what qualifies as change? I’ve experienced the large and obvious, such as leading a company through a workforce change across multiple states. Or, rolling out a widescale new IT system in over half the country. But how about the smaller changes? Did you know that humans experience the same emotions with both positive and negative changes? Did you know that every time we get a new team member, and certainly a new leader, we go through a cycle of team chaos and eventually forming and getting normal? Did you know that this change continuum mimicks the symptoms of dealing with death and dying? The reality is that change is part of our human experience, and dealing with it part of our human fiber. Emotions are normal and we cannot keep them from being provoked when change presents itself. As such, critcal to any corporation’s success is learning to teach employees to manage through change and to manage through these emotions in a healthy way.

As a matter of regular daily management I tend to apply what I call a blueprint for winning in my activities and projects. Sometimes I map it out on a real paper blueprint. Sometimes I just keep this in my mind. It goes something like this. Whenever setting out to accomplish a significant task with critical outcomes, I enter into an exercise whereby I list out the present state and then list out the future desire state. Then, I map out the various obstacles that are likely to crop up in the journey towards the desired future state. From here very intentional planning needs to take place. And this very intentional planning needs to be realistic. For example, last year I set out to roll out a new LMS system to 270 employees. We knew that a huge portion of the employees had little to no PC experience. So there were a bunch of things that were going to be obstacles. For example, simple fear of technology. Anticipating this we campaigned in advance and sold the many benefits of the new technology. This included learning skills to prepare for electronic medical records (something mandated by PPACA and planned for rollout to all healthcare practitioners). This also included becoming more agile in skills which can be a benefit personally. This also included a more efficient learning process to save time, and a great way to tracks CEUs. And so forth. These selling points were preached in meetings and newsletters and other communication mediums. Sell though we may, of course we had many who were struggling more intensely. We created a culture of acceptance in terms of understanding the struggle. On many, many occasions we set up 1:1 in depth training with employees to help them grasp the new systems and just to talk through how they were feeling. The point is, this simple thing, which involved having associates take a variety of simple online classes each year, was not so simple. Had we not planned the obstacles in the path of desired future LMS state (fear, IT trouble, etc), the expenses poured into a new training facility / PCs / LMS platform / training leader salary / etc, may have been a business waste.

The reality is that leaders need to be thoroughly trained in the knowledge of change management. Without leaders bought in and sensitive to the human impact of change, failure is imminent. The most dangerous force in a change continuum is an impatient leader who judges and does not lead wisely. There are outside seminars and courses that can equip your leaders to proper diagnose change need, sell the change to teams, lead change and sustain change. Only leaders who see themselves as constant change agents engaging in this process can be good leaders. This is because change is a constant, and therefore strong change agents are a constant need for the successful business.