Greensilkmuse's Blog


Transformation – Stage 1

Posted in Discovery,Problem solving by greensilkmuse on March 12, 2010

I walked into her office and, while she was smiling and welcoming, what was really going on for her was this:  

Help

What am I going to do?

A new CEO had recently come on board.  His expectations of her function were very different from that of his predecessor. She needed to quickly understand his perspective and expectations and figure out how to provide new and different services.

She was fairly new at the company and to this industry and, while she was hired for her experience and expertise, that decision was based on a different set of needs.  She was just starting to hit her stride when this happened and it was destabilizing.  It wasn’t just a matter of figuring out what this new CEO needed and expected, it was also a matter of figuring out whether she had the resources needed to deliver. She knew the capabilities and limitations of her team and there where were definitely weaknesses in her group that needed to be addressed. 

For the most part, she inherited the staff working for her.  There were some members who she kept on, against her better judgement,  at the advice of other senior managers in the organization.  They presented a challenge to her leadership and could make things even more difficult for her with the new CEO.  She knew that her current management team might not be part of the team she needed, but she had to work with them to define a new direction for her group and then figure out how get there.  She was really anxious about it.  She knew she was going to have to bring in new leadership, but she had to first see whether the people she had could step up or not.   This was a chance to see whether team members could build a new and cutting edge function. At a minimum, she needed them to keep things running while she worked on redefining the function’s remit.

What she didn’t have, was time.  The new CEO was not going to be patient and she needed to demonstrate to him that she could deliver what he needed.  Step 1:  “Breathe”

Team deliberations

We set about the task of rethinking the function.  Through working sessions, the management team created a picture of the future organization and defined the capabilities that were needed. This included figuring out what they didn’t know and reaching out to key stakeholders to get the information they needed to ensure that they were on the right track.  They took a hard look at the group’s current capabilities to decide what to retain, what to eliminate, and to identify gaps to fill.   Step 2:  “Listen”

That was the easy part.  Stay tuned for part 2.

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My Story

Posted in Discovery by greensilkmuse on March 5, 2010

Like so many people I know, I sort of fell into what I’m doing.  When I graduated from college, I had no idea this kind of work existed.  After jumping around to different jobs in small-to-medium sized companies, I took an administrative job at a consulting firm — a job that I could do 9 to 5 while I completed my Master’s Degree.   I figured that once I had my MA, I would look for work in my field.

As it happens, the consulting firm specialized in the areas I had studied in college.  I quickly moved from an administrative role to a consulting position.  I found that not only did I have the academic background for it, I actually really enjoyed the work!  I loved working on a variety of projects in different areas, with different companies and across a range of industries.  I liked giving business managers the tools and information that helped them get things done — ones that they could not obtain on their own. 

After a few years, it was clear that in order to advance I needed to sit in the shoes of the client, so I embarked on a journey within large, multinational organizations — first with a specialized agency of the UN and then with a storied investment bank.   I got to know, first hand, what it takes to get things done inside large, complex organizations.

In my experience, both inside these organizations and as an outside counsultant, I’ve witnessed people expending a great deal of time and energy trying to figure out how to get things done and getting completely frustrated.  For many it is like trying to get through molasses.  They become stuck either because they are too much “in” the situation to see their way out or because unseen factors are working against them. 

The value I bring is that I am a methodical problem solver.  I work with people to get at the root cause of issues, find solutions, gain acceptance and support for needed changes, and then put in place real and lasting improvements. 

That’s my brand, in a nutshell.  Thanks to Christopher Penn for his take on personal brands:  www.christopherpenn.com/2010/02/26/the-reason-why-your-personal-brand-sucks/

Next time..a story of change.

Yes, and…

Posted in Learning by greensilkmuse on February 22, 2010

Yes, and…

I’ve signed up for several workshops to get exposure to a range of techniques for connecting with others.  I attended the first session of “Creativity and the Entrepreneur” this week.  This workshop uses techniques from theater – principally improv — to help you listen better, tell interesting stories, and engage others.

I took Improv classes over the last couple of years to work on being more present/in the moment.  The idea was to bring more flexibility to group facilitation — to set aside the agenda when the group needed to take a detour.  I realize how important it is to continue practicing.   It’s easy to fall back into old behavior if you don’t work those new muscles.  It was good to get a referesher and practice with other professionals this week. 

The thing about taking Improv classes is most people aren’t doing it to develop as executive.  Typically, you’ll get people who are trying to launch their careers as stand-up comics or actors.  So they are trying to be funny.   Improv can be funny, but when people use it to promote themselves, you lose the team spirit. 

What Improv is really about is observing, listening, taking the offers others give you and building the story.  It’s not about you, it’s about the group.

Our homework for this week is to make a small change in our lives — perform something differently than usual.  Actually, I’ve been working on that for a few months now.  Trying to be lighter, fill with air and light (open the heart, as the yogis keeping telling us), smile a lot more.  I saw a product at the drug store called Frownies.  You put them on your face at night and they are supposed to relax the muscles that you tend to tighten during the day — it’s like training your face muscles to de-stress (kinda like braces — execpt for the face instead of the teeth).  I considered this, but decided I might end up with a very scary expression and, afterall, it seems like cheating — kinda defeats the purpose if you are smiling on the outside and rather than having it emerge from inside.

We’re also supposed to do something pointless.  That’s a hard one for me, since I tend to fill my days with a lot of purpose.  Of course some of what I set out to do ends up being pointless, but I don’t start out that way.  

Fortunately, the opportunity presented itself to me.   I gave my business card to woman who collects them.  That’s it.  She doesn’t use them, refer to them, make a collage from them… she just collects them.  She said she wants to get a case with pockets she can slip each card into.  Right now they are just in one big pile.   (I have a pile or two of cards as well,  just waiting for me to get around to filing them or tossing them.  Guess that’s a bit pointless too.)

We also need to practice “yes, and”.  This is probably the number one fundamental rule of Improv.  Listening to what others have to say and, rather than thinking about what you’ll say next or how you’ll make your point, acknowledging and then building on from what’s been said  — “their offers”.  It’s about listenting and going with what you’ve been given.  It’s not about you, it’s not about your agenda, it’s about “us” and what we make together.

The last bit of homework is to write down the story we want to start telling.  It could be how we want to introduce ourselves, our  history, a pitch for our business, whatever we want to say.  The idea is to color it and make it interesting.  So it starts, builds to reveal some conflict, and then there’s a twist – some sort of revelation or resolution.

Check back next week for my story.

Diggin’ Out

Posted in General Musing by greensilkmuse on February 12, 2010

February 9, 2010

 

There was a team of them working together, shovelling the snow from the sidewalks.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that before here.   Sometimes there’s a snow plow; other times just one sole person shovelling.   But here they were — five or six of them — clearing the snow together.  They moved with what seemed like choreographed fluidity.  I almost expected them to drop their shovels together and break out into a hip hop dance.

The snow plows were out in force on the streets as well.  Not the sole snow plow straining to push the heavy mounds aside, but a coordinated team of plows clearing the full stretch of avenue — with some bringing up the rear, clearing what remained.  We all benefit when someone has our back.

I’m interviewing managers as part of a project to understand how they manage the performance of their teams.  So many of them have talked about the importance of teamwork in order to run efficiently.  They want their people to have each other’s back and work together collaboratively — no personal agendas, no one-upmanship, no jealousies.  Just like the maintenance guys shovelling the sidewalks and the plows clearing the streets — collaboration gets results … better and faster.

I’ve noticed quite a bit changing around the neighborhood lately.  Empty stores once inhabited by boutiques turning over to chain stores — a Chipolte here, another Duane Reade there. 

But it isn’t just the corporate chains moving in.  The boutique holding a close out sale isn’t going out of business.  They are moving to new space down the street a couple of blocks.  Actually, quite a few small businesses have moved one or two storefronts over or one or two blocks over to new space.

I’ve also seen remodelling in spaces long empty —  a harbinger of the next new restaurant.   Even the perenially jinxed corner (where no restaurant has ever lasted) appears to have a new tenant.

I believe all these little signs are ones of hope and opportunity.  Things just might be getting better.  Could there be teamwork behind this?  Collaboration?  Trust?  Credit?   All the bailouts and stimulus might finally be trickling down to us — in a real and tangible way.

Maybe this time, if we work together, if we have each other’s back, we can all dig out.

It’s not for everyone

Posted in Feedback by greensilkmuse on February 4, 2010

Had dinner with a former colleague and friend the other night.  We talked about our styles and how we’ve had to learn hard lessons to get to where we want to be — learning to adapt our styles when the situation calls for it.

Sometimes clients decide they just don’t want to work with you.  It’s not that they don’t like you as a person….because they do.  It’s just that they need a different touch… something that engages them in a different way so that they really own the plan and spur themselves to action.  Sometimes, they decide that they didn’t get what they needed from you.  It’s hard when someone  just doesn’t feel the fit is right.  But it’s OK.  In the end, its important that they get what they need and that you deliver your best to those who need what you have to offer.

Sensing what is right for you and for your client can be tricky.  An opportunity to take that next assignment, do interesting work, make that next sale is very seductive.  Knowing when to go for it ( because you can do it well and have positive impact) and when to let it go (because it really isn’t in your sweet spot) is a real art.   It is part of what makes this work so challenging.  Some might think you’re being picky about the work you do.  Hopefully being selective shows good judgment and gives clients a sense of comfort that you wouldn’t disappoint them when you do commit to a project. 

My friend observed,  “this is really hard work.  It’s not for everyone.”  You put yourself  “out there” – it’s your thinking and approach.  While you may do really good work, there are those times when your style doesn’t fit with what people want and you have to accept that it’s OK — better they work with someone they feel comfortable with. 

In the world of consulting, the barrier to entry is low.  I hear almost every day about another person who is out on their own, doing consulting projects.  Some of them will make it work over the long haul, but far more will move on to something else.  It takes a tough skin, self-awareness, and a lot of persistance and continuous improvement to keep it going. 

So, we take the feedback with appreciation.  Great when someone really feels supported by what you are doing. That reinforces you and helps you put in that next effort.  When someone needs something different from what you have to offer– that’s OK too.  While I’m not suggesting you try to be someone you aren’t, you can still learn new tricks and get a little bit better.

Breathe, Listen, Smile

Posted in Resilience by greensilkmuse on January 26, 2010
Tags: ,

I meant to start this post days ago. But you know the drill … other things came up, never got the time, and then the unexpected happened and completely derailed my plans. 

Behold the unexpected:

No, this isn't the moon...

I know, those aren’t craters, they’re buldges.   We had torrential rainfall yesterday causing flash floods — in my case, on my roof.  And the roof failed — leaking water down into my ceiling.  The water broke through in some places — so stuff got soaked.  I stayed clear of the room for the rest of the day for fear of the ceiling collapsing under the weight of the water. While some papers were ruined — they ended up being unimportant documents that I needed to throw out anyway (I am a pack rat).  

Life is full of set-backs and road blocks; however, each time I run into one, I learn something important.   In this case, I knew that it was raining so hard that there was a chance the water would pour through the ceiling.  (Not the first time this ceiling has leaked.)  So I covered as much area as possible with plastic sheeting before heading out for the day.   The really important stuff was well covered and undamaged.  So, while the whole thing is a nuisance, the damage was limited.   The roof will get fixed, the ceiling repaired.   Sure it’s drag but, heah, I’m resilient.  You need to learn from set backs and move on. 

I find though, that the setbacks that arise because of something I did or did not do are the hardest to bounce back from. I really try to reflect on them and learn.   Of course sometimes you don’t follow through completely on what you’ve learned.  Like when you know to move somthing out of the way so you don’t knock it over but you convince yourself you’ve got it under control (and you don’t).  Or you do move it but not far enough.  Or those times when your gut tells you something and you choose to either ignore it or defy it.  

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, he explains that gut reactions are the result of things you’ve experienced over and over again so that it becomes inate knowledge.  You don’t even reason through it consciously. Getting in touch with that gut feeling and really listening to it — that’s the challenge that continues to allude me.   How do you differentiate between the gut feeling that is knowledge you should adhere to and the gut feeling that comes from uneasiness because you are taking a risk and moving outside your comfort zone?

Whether it is really getting in tune with my inner voice or with the unspoken messages of those around me, I remind myself every day to  breathe (experience what is happening in the moment), listen (really hear what is being presented — the unspoken and the spoken), and smile (to engage, appreciate,  and be open to understanding).  This ill be my daily learning ritual.

Musing Out Loud

Posted in General Musing by greensilkmuse on January 7, 2010

Thoughts, reflections, ruminations, and inspirations.  Personal?  Yes. But definitely the sorts of things others can relate to and share.  This blog is about learning and growing — personally and professionally.  While the reflections may be personal, the learning is, hopefully, communal.

I had one of those epiphanies this year — you know the kind, the ones that stop you in your tracks and make you really take stock of what the hell you are doing.  I realized that I needed to do some work on myself and that this was no longer a nice to do, but a need to do – for survival.

Like many others during this economy, I am back at the bottom of Maslow’s need hierarchy — ensuring the basic needs are met – food, housing, and clothing.  In order to do that, I need to work at the top of the pyramid — on self-actualization.   What do I mean?  This says it better than I could do: 

About Self-actualization

If you were hiring a consultant, isn’t this what you’d want that person to be?  Sure, you’d want someone with the expertise and experience that you don’t have yourself in order to get the job done.  But who wants to work with someone who isn’t growing and giving you the benefit of that growth?   To be that someone means taking risks, pushing the envelope, reflecting, drawing insights, and continually learning. 

The kind of work I do is intellectually challenging.  I analyze information, research, plan, design, and facilitate.  Those are great qualities.  However, it takes more than that to be successful in business development, coaching, group interactions, and….parenting.   (I am also a divorced mom of two teenagers.) 

It takes relationships.   I used to think that “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” was a very political, manipulative perspective on life.  I thought that it meant that substance didn’t matter.  I’ve learned that I had a narrow interpretation of this phrase and that this interpretation did not serve me well at all.  I have since come to understand that your relationships with others are essential for success in life.  They are what determine whether others will let you in to work with them, to give them advice, and to learn from them.  In the business environment, under stress, with deadlines and deliverables, this very important human element can be overlooked.  

So, I’m working to hold back that drive towards results a bit, and really see the unspoken in others and in myself– the fear, the distrust, the confusion, the resistance, and to acknowledge its presence and address it.  I am working on directing less and engaging more.  And that takes a willingness to try different ways of being and lots of practice.  Knowing what to do is a start. But actually doing – thinking differently and behaving differently is a journey.  Writing about it helps to process the experience. You’re invited  to come along for the ride.

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