Building The Bridge As You Walk On It

QuinnI just finished reading the book Building The Bridge As You Walk On It by Robert E. Quinn for a class on change. Like most of the other books assigned by this professor, I walked away with new insights on an idea I had previously felt well-informed. There were so many revelatory ideas in the book, at least to me, that I found it difficult to limit myself to just describing a few. Below are the top concepts that came to mind, but I recommend checking out the book for yourself to find what speaks to you.

  • Fundamental State of Leadership: One of the main elements of the book is the idea of the fundamental state of leadership; the state of mind where individuals “enter into a creative personal state that gives rise to a creative collective state.” In order to enter this state, we much change the way we approach situations.
  • Change ourselves before others: The main theme of the book comes down to this simple idea; we must take charge in first changing ourselves before we can hope to change anyone or anything else. I view this idea in several lights; being that we have to show others we are willing to take the necessary steps and being seen as genuine in our efforts. When reading the book, I look back and see that I was truly only able to make change when I had allowed myself to put purpose as the priority and not myself.
  • Increased integrity: Something Quinn mentions is that integrity is the “alpha and omega of leadership.” I feel this is a powerful statement as I agree that integrity is a process, not a destination. In order to address and lead change, we must confront our own gaps in integrity; what we say we do vs what we actually do. We have to monitor our own integrity and address our own hypocrisy. This self-reflection allows us to focus on purpose, rather than ourselves. This allows change and Quinn describes his 8 leading change characteristics converge on integrity.
  • Addressing our own hypocrisy: An idea that really struck me was this idea of hypocrisy; first having to address the biggest hypocrite – the one we see in the mirror. We often go into situations and don’t like what we see, but try to change everyone else, but not ourselves. A major example of this idea is of a CEO going into an organization and telling everyone below them to change, without willing to change themselves first.
  • Group discussion: A specific idea that I have been involved with and hope to continue to refine is the idea of using a group of individuals to share ideas and provide feedback. Working with entrepreneurs, I see this a lot, but would like to see it more with groups of managers, owners, etc. In a closed environment, trust can be built, and real solutions and advice can be shared. Quinn refers to these groups as being in a “sacred place.”
  • Real-time learning: Change is not a matter of applying past actions to a present situation. It is about being able to learn in real-time and create the solutions that are needed for those particular set of circumstances. For me, this helped me to redefine how I approach situations requiring change. It is not about applying traits or actions, but adjusting to ask the right question(s).
  • Not being present for the initiation of change: The last element I will discuss here is the idea that change agents must accept that they are likely not going to be present for the change they work to implement. Most organizations and leaders are comfortable where they are and proposed change is fought against. Change agents are often fired for attempting to alter the status quo, but the lingering questions and seeds planted from their attempt remains. This requires leaders of change to be more centered on purpose than themselves.

These are just a few of the great ideas I took away from Quinn. I would encourage anyone looking to help enact personal or organizational change to read the book. It is just as important to read the words, as it is to reflect on your own past actions to come up with plans to improve your processes for the future.

Check the book out by clicking here.

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Make Their Day – FISH! Philosophy

make their day2Of the four elements of the FISH! Philosophy, I saved this topic to write about last – make their day. The reason is because it took me the most amount of time to truly wrap my head around the concept in terms of applying it to my everyday work life. As part of my personality, I tend to help others and take time to create a positive work environment. The concept of making their day, however, can come very close to working against a leader if they overdo it with the need for affiliation with coworkers (McClelland’s Need Theory). What I have found is that there is a happy medium.

Below are the things I try to do for those around me. These are not necessary over-the-top actions, but I find that it is often the smallest actions that have the greatest impact.

  • Take time to say hello to everyone in the morning and stop to ask how they are doing.
  • Reference an earlier conversation on an important subject to them.
  • Offer to help with tasks that are not my normal responsibilities.
  • Ask follow-up questions when someone is obviously having a noticeably good or bad day.
  • Noticing something new or different, such as a haircut.
  • Share positive feedback with them in front of the team.

What I have found is that making someone’s day has to be part of who and what you are. People have to understand that you are doing something nice with no expectation of a return. When that is not the case, people question the motives and usually will not accept the action as intended.

For many years I considered myself a “nice guy,” but that didn’t really evoke the right feeling. I now like to describe myself as a good person. That is what allows me to show kindness and make people’s day because they trust who I am and what I am about.

There are wonderful payoffs when making someone’s day. While that is not the objective, it can certainly be an outcome. Last November, I was walking to class and stopped to help a student who was having trouble carrying some boxes. We were headed in the same direction and struck up a conversation. It ended up that she was an intern in the office I was applying for a job (my current position). While she was not in a position to help get me the job, it was a coincidence that helped buy me credibility before I even started.

You never know who or what is around the corner, so it is always a good idea to be kind and choose to make their day.

What is the best example from your own professional career of someone making your day? Please share in a comment below.

Related Posts:

FISH! – Be Present

FISH! – Play

FISH! – Choose Your Attitude

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AAR – After Action Report

AARI recently read a case study about Army General Rebecca Halstead, who became accustomed to writing a short after action report following almost everything that happened throughout her day. This idea really got me thinking about how this process could help me account for and improve my own work. While I believe that I reflect heavily on my responsibilities, I don’t take the next step and truly analyze and record what happened efficiently; what went well, what didn’t work and what I learned. So, I thought I would use a blog post to help hone in on an idea for my own After Action Report (AAR). Below are the 5 steps I have developed for my own AAR.

  1. Initial Objectives: Start by listing the initial objectives of the project as early as possible. Discuss these items with all of the relevant stakeholders and compile a comprehensive list. Make this a living document that is updated throughout the process to keep it accurate. However, an original draft should be kept for later comparison.
  2. Final Objectives: Save a final draft of the objectives and analyze what items changed, or were added, and why.
  3. Failures: What did not go as planned and why? Are those elements likely to repeat?
  4. Success: What went well and why? Are those items likely to repeat in the future?
  5. Knowledge Gained: What was learned from the process? What are elements that should be carried into the next project? What should be alleviated? (Note: All alleviated processes should be recorded and saved.)

Thinking about implementing this process immediately makes me stop and think – how am I going to make this relevant over the long-term? Meaning, how will I avoid this being started and then slowly forgotten. In order to keep this as a “front-burner” item, I will add this to my project listing Excel file that I created to track all of my work. My original goal was to be able to recall what I did last for someone who I haven’t spoken to in some time, but this is a logical addition that provides real value. I can add in those 5 steps and update them as work progresses. Additionally, I will create a new document to compile all the information I have learned and processes that have not worked; this will help develop best practices. Now, it is just a matter of implementation.

Do you have your own after action process? If so, please share it in a comment below.

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Purpose: The Foundation for an Organization

pillars-purposeOver the last decade, I have been surrounded by the idea of using a vision, mission, values and purpose to define an organization. I read and heard about what each element represented and the reason it existed. However, it wasn’t until a class last semester that the idea of using them all together really sunk in for me. It was definitely an “ah, ha” moment that helped to clarify how to better use them as a whole.

  • Vision: The vision of an organization should clearly define where that organization is going. This is subject to change over time as realities change with the organization and its surrounding.
  • Mission: The mission is the who, when and how for getting to where the vision has set out. These are similarly subject to change over time and as the direction of the organization shifts.
  • Values: The values of an organization are the “rules of engagement” or norms of behavior. While these can change with time, they should be more steadfast than the mission and vision.
  • Purpose: Purpose is the “why” for the organization; why they do what they do. Unlike the other elements, purpose should never change. The purpose should be the single pillar to guide decisions when conflicts arise. If a newly developed mission doesn’t fit within the purpose, then the mission should change.

In the past, I have looked at each of these elements as individual pieces, not a single flow of items to help guide an organization’s direction and employee behavior. The several posts I have made about Vision and Mission still hold true, but should be looked at within a greater context. The purpose of the organization is the baseline in which everything else should be generated.

For an organization to be truly successful, especially in the startup phase, there must be a shared purpose. A great example of purpose that was used in my class is from the University of TexasTo transform lives for the benefit of society. This purpose clearly describes the basis for everything that goes on at UT and should guide the behavior of those charged with fulfilling it.

When thinking about where you work or your own company, is there a concrete purpose? If you have trouble finding or thinking of one, try to develop one. If you want to take it a step further, if it is where you work, bring it up to your boss for discussion. If you are the boss, then discuss with those you work with to see if a shared purpose can be developed.

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Being Wrong: And Being Able to Admit It

Wrong-SignI was reading an article that talked about someone being wrong and it got me thinking. This is quite possibly one of the most difficult subjects for me to write about. My own goal in this blog is to help self-identify areas I need to work on when each of those situations arise. For me, being wrong comes in several different forms and the results vary based on the situation.  Hopefully this post can also help you in your own efforts for constant self-improvement.

  • Learning through putting yourself out there: I know that one of the best ways for me to learn in the classroom is to be part of the discussion. Historically, I have always been someone who speaks up and gives an answer. This past semester was more of the same and I spoke up a lot in class. What I said was not always the correct answer and I have learned that is ok; though that was not an easy belief to accept. While I really don’t like being wrong (I have a fear that everyone will think I am less intelligent as a result), it does keep me focused on critical thinking. Whenever I get something wrong, I think about it and then make sure I understand why and move on; hopefully not to make the same mistake again.
  • Being wrong in a conversation: Another method of learning, which can also lead to being incorrect, is through one-on-one conversations. I have these all the time; ones specifically for the purpose of clarifying my own thoughts and to gain new information. I will often talk to one of colleagues at the NSBDC in this fashion. We each have our own areas of interest and knowledge, and are able to use each other to increase our own understanding. This gives me a chance to voice my thoughts and then get new perspective from someone well versed in that area; sometimes that means I am wrong. I use this time to dig deep, understand where I went wrong and truly grasp the new-found knowledge.
  • Being on the wrong side of an argument: For me, this is the worst kind of being wrong. There are certainly times when I am in a discussion and come to believe that my viewpoint is incorrect or not what I had intended. Swallowing my pride and accepting that I am wrong has taken time to become comfortable with. That is not to say it is easy; far from it. However, I have learned that I shouldn’t waste time being committed to something to simply save face. (This is most important when speaking to my fiancé.)

Accepting being wrong is a skill that I will always have to continue to develop. I have certainly come a long way over the past decade, but it is a constant struggle to be able to make course corrections and it will always a learning process.

Think about the last time you were wrong. Now, think about how you would handle that same type of situation differently in the future. Hopefully thinking about it now will make it easy to accept and move on from next time.

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Put a Little “Play” in the Office – FISH! Philosophy

FISH!-PlayI recently wrote a post about the FISH! Philosophy and choosing your attitude at work. That got me thinking about the other ideas in the book and, specifically, the idea of play. This came up in my office just the other day and I have been thinking about its impact ever since. I began a good bit of self-reflection about what play means to me.

To me, play is all about adding smiles to the office. This comes in many shapes and forms, but I feel it is about making people happy to the point where they show it on their face. Below are a few examples of what has stood out to me from my own experiences.

  • Trivia: Something that many people do for fun after work was started a few months ago by an intern at my office. Each day he writes a new question up on the board and most everyone gathers around in the intern room to offer up a guess. Gradually, everyone has gotten into it and there is real competition against those who are in the lead.
  • Donuts: While it doesn’t have to actually be donuts themselves, when someone brings in a treat (on all levels of the healthiness scale), there is commotion in the office. The discussion that comes about from people bringing in treats gives everyone a reason to come out of their office and socialize; that typically leads to jokes and laughter. Even those who gripe about having the temptation of eating sweets end up cracking a smile.
  • Retreats: These can range from an hour spent outside together doing some team-building exercises to a weekend at a wilderness retreat with a ropes course. Both can be really impactful and provide many benefits for the office, but should also be a lot of fun. If you don’t come back from a retreat filled with purpose and fully engaged, then something wasn’t done correctly.
  • Culture: To me, this is the most important part of play. Everyone needs to be involved. The Man can’t be walking around wanting to stop all of the fun being had. This also means that it can’t be forced – assuming that celebrating a birthday is going to get everyone having a good time. Creating a culture is a much larger issue, but one that must be in place to truly get the most out of play.

These are just a few of the elements that I have seen that make an impact on play in the workplace. Creating smiles and improving happiness has a dramatic effect on performance. With that being the case, there is no reason that everyone in a company or business should not get on-board with play.

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Time Management: The Almighty Checklist

desk-computer-iphoneOne of the most important elements of being a leader is keeping track of information and time. As I have progressed from simply being led, to also leading, there are many practices that I have picked up along the way that have helped to keep me on track. This has come about as the result of trial and error, as well as taking from the practices of others. It is important to remember that everyone must find their own style and practices that work for them.

Checklists, for me, are one of the most important aspects of my time management process. Keeping track of what I need to accomplish has been a fluid process over the last few years. One of the practices that I established early in my career was to centralize my action item lists. The first iteration was my email inbox. Those who emailed me would automatically be on the list because their message was kept in my inbox. As soon as it was taken care of, I would file it away. For the other items I needed to accomplish, I would simply email myself.

Email has two positive features as my checklist. First, it is easy to access as it is on my computer, as well as my phone. And the second, if I accidentally delete something, I can go back to my sent folder and retrieve it. Next, I added in calendar reminders, which have their own characteristics that are beneficial and each is emailed right to my inbox.

My calendar is where I put appointments in red to ensure they stand out, and everything else is in blue (as an Arizona Wildcat, those are the only two colors I know how to use). I set calendar reminders to accomplish certain tasks on a regular basis, such as submitting timesheets, but it is also makes it easy to push things back when needed. Something I learned, early on, with the calendar as a checklist, is that care must be taken to prevent it from getting out of hand. By setting a calendar reminder to come up when items need to be accomplished, it leaves less clutter on my email checklist. I have found the email and calendar checklist system to be very effective, and it has long been a part of my life.

The most recent element added to my checklist process is a desktop sticky note. Sitting on the right side of my screen, I track my major work, school and personal items. It is always there and, again, very easy to update. This has only been for around for three weeks, so it is still in the experimental phase, but it has been working so far.

Finally, while at work, I also use written sticky notes (my only non-digital reminder) to keep track of urgent and important items. These are generally for phone calls, emails and meetings that must be taken care of within 24 hours. I write them down and put them in front on my keyboard so they cannot be missed. When accomplished, I simply throw them away.

My current process has only come about after traveling on a long road. While the system I have used has changed over the years, it has done so usually as I become more involved and have more responsibilities; needing something to keep me on track. These have been excellent methods that keep me about 99% focused on what needs to be accomplished and when. It isn’t perfect, but that is why it is a journey.

What is your best method to keep track of your information and to do list? Please leave your ideas in a comment below.

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Being a Catalyst: Fresh Ideas and Positive Change

Catalyst_ImageOver the years, many people have described me as a catalyst; I spark ideas, promote action and encourage change. This is, in my opinion, my greatest asset and strength. After someone brought it up to me earlier in the week, I wrote down a few ideas about what elements go into being a catalyst. These are the items I felt contribute to my own process.


I believe creativity comes from two approaches – systematic thinking and organic development. It does not have to be something an individual is born with, but I feel having it from a young age makes the process easier. The skill can certainly be developed with understanding how to specifically focus one’s thought process. The essence of creativity, in my opinion, comes from the ability to open your thoughts to multiple categories of information at once; meaning you can draw information from everything you have learned in different areas at one time. When needing to be creative on the fly, I will usually try to merge past experience and the current context to create an idea. When there is additional time to really think and develop, I focus in on different topics and projects I have worked on; systematically going through relevant and non-relevant comparisons. This allows you to connect elements in your mind that spark creation. It is the ability to be creative and generate ideas that is the first element to being a catalyst as it can prompt desired change.


The secret element for creativity is collaboration, in my opinion, because it uses crowdsourcing to bounce ideas off others in the group, rather than placing the requirement on a single individual. Sitting around a room with others and sharing ideas is when the real magic happens. I think back to my first engineering class in college when I was introduced to the idea of the “deep-dive,” which came from IDEO and has since been sold to Deloitte. My favorite story was the birth of the ATM. It went something like this: bank leaders were sitting around a table and one says, in frustration, “I wish we could just put a box of money in front of the bank with paper and a pen to leave a note.” While that idea wouldn’t work out well, the comment prompted someone else to think about taking the idea one step further. Poof! The birth of the modern ATM. Now, I am not sure if that story is true, but I love it. Someone taking an infeasible idea from another and making it applicable, that is what collaboration does; it provides a venue and opportunity to bring about new ideas. This is an extension of how creativity can prompt desired change.


One of the most important, and sometimes the most important, elements of being a catalyst is courage. Change can be one of the largest hurdles to overcome, especially if you are not the decision maker. The difficultly comes from individuals not understanding that change is needed, don’t want change or if suggesting change comes with negative consequences. Simply sharing an idea that is outside of the norm can be stressful because there is no knowing how others will react.

However, sharing ideas can be one of the best decisions when it is done consistently. It shows others that you are using your intelligence and are working to help make improvements, but also shows leaders that you have courage to be vulnerable. Courage is the final step that allows a catalyst to share their creativity. It takes extreme courage the go against the status quo. If there are current policies, practices or events that go against the purpose or values of a company, then courage is the element that will allow for positive change. It doesn’t come easy, but this is the most important element of a catalyst.

~             ~             ~

Being told that I am a catalyst is one of the best compliments I have ever received. It comes down to two situations where being a catalyst comes into play; when a fresh idea is needed or a reminder to take actions in line with one’s values. There have certainly been times where I have fallen short on the courage, but I get genuinely excited about positive change and using my creativity to fuel that process. Anyone can be a catalyst when they focus their actions and develop their own process.

Push yourself to improve your own creativity, work in a team to generate ideas and practice sharing to develop your courage. That is how change will happen.

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Elements of a Top-Notch Culture

Startup Stock PhotosAs I was writing about how cultures can be established, I began to think about the cultures I have experienced throughout my career. Thankfully, I have been a part of many very positive cultures, which is what I will discuss here. However, negative cultures exist in many companies, but I will save my thoughts on that subject for another post. I look back at what I have experienced in order to build a framework for any future company a work for or build myself. Below are the ideas and practices that I feel make the largest impact on a company’s culture (in no particular order).

Unlimited Days Off: A practice from a former employer that meant a lot to me was not having a set number of days off for the year. This was an incredible amount of trust placed on individual employees and allowed for an excellent level of work/life balance. Studies have shown that these policies end up yielding fewer days off taken, on average, per year compared to individuals with a set number, but the job satisfaction in those with no limit is higher. I believe the reason for this is the comfort of knowing those days are always there if you need them. For me, I ended up taking about 15-20 days off over a six-year period. That’s not to say I didn’t take a lot of half days, but I was also highly productive and never worried about the time I spent working or taking off. I found a great article that lays out reasons this can and cannot work with different companies.

Autonomy: Trust is a major factor when it comes to job satisfaction. One of the aspects that has allowed me to be the most engaged is autonomy to completely control the work that I am responsible for. This really does take an incredible amount of trust, especially for a new employee. It comes down to making sure your hiring process is excellent. However, the results prove, at least to me, that the effects of autonomy allow for higher-level results. That is not to say that mistakes are never made, because I have certainly made them, however it is about the learning experience that comes as a result. By having to find solutions myself, I am put into a position where I will continue to grow and enhance my skills. Daniel Pink discusses autonomy and how it relates to intrinsic motivation in an excellent Ted Talk.

Setting, Knowing and Living Your Values: At the heart of what builds a culture are the values a company is built upon. It isn’t enough to simply have them, but they have to be established as the fundamentals upon which all decisions are based. The way this is done is by living those values. In a previous job, my employer paid special attention to holding regular discussions on the topic of values, as well as discussing how we made decisions based on them. This had a tremendous impact on me regarding what we did and, more importantly, why we did it. This is probably the most important aspect of creating a culture that I would want in every employer I work for.

Creating a Team: Working to ensure everyone in the company (or everyone in some work unit depending on the size of the company) is integrated and understands they are part of a singular unit with a common purpose is vitally important. Unless there is a negative culture built-in, I will choose to be part of a team, rather than work alone, 100% of the time.

Transparency: Knowing what is going on and how your work is contributing to that of the success of the entire company helps to create a real connection between the employee and the company.  Free flowing information about how things are going and where work needs to be focused has made me a more engaged part of the team. While this doesn’t have to mean that every detail is announced to everyone, knowing the big picture creates an atmosphere of trust. However, this does not need to go as far as sending all emails to the “all staff” email group.

In every aspect of work I have experienced, the items above are the ones that have stood out the most as having contributed to creating a positive culture. It is the culmination of these experiences that has guided me in how I have and will choose to manage and lead in the future. Culture has become one of the most important leadership and management responsibilities that I have learned during my career and I will continue to absorb as many ideas as possible.

To read about establishing a culture, click over to my previous blog post – Company Culture: Setting the Tone.

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A World Gone Social: Six Months Later

AWGS2Immediately after I finished reading the book A World Gone Social, I was very fortunate to be able to have one of the co-authors, Mark Babbitt, come speak to my personal branding class. Mark knew the entire class had just read the book, so he discussed what he, and co-author Ted Coiné, had learned since the book was published in September of 2014. If you have not read the book, click over to my takeaways to get a brief review of the major points (but make sure to put it on your reading list).

There were several direct follow-ups on the book that stood out to me.

  • A World Gone Went Social: It is here. While the Social Age is still in the first ten years of existence, it has taken hold and many are beginning to fully adopt the practices and ideas. Phase I for companies was setting up social media accounts and just blasting out information. Phase II has been more social, less media; understanding value vs. noise.
  • Blue Unicorn: The leader who has fully embraced social media was described in the book as a rarity, but there were several great examples. Following publication, many business leaders and CEOs who Mark or Ted didn’t know began to tweet at them about being a blue unicorn. They are out there and more than first thought.
  • Social is the mindset now, not just Twitter and Facebook: With so many different platforms, companies are no longer just thinking about Facebook advertising or one specific platform to create an account, but thinking about their entire social media presence.
  • After seeing more examples of different hierarchy styles, Mark prefers a holacracy system over a flat system.
  • OPEN (Ordinary People, Extraordinary Network): Starbucks no longer has a research and development arm as they started their own crowdsourcing platform to have customers give ideas. They are now a leader in crowdsourcing with over 150,000 ideas being generated a month; including the nifty green sticks that prevent coffee splashing around in the car. This puts “the right people, in the right room at that right time” by going digital and putting it on a central location. Crowdsourcing is used to find those ideas and the community itself monitors the idea box.

Mark mentioned recent examples of Social Age situations that have been organic and gone well, and forced situations that have not gone well:

  • A young man walked into a Target looking for a clip-on tie. The store had none, but an employee taught him how to tie a real tie. Before the young man left the store, the photo taken of the interaction had already gone viral and Target was inundated with great press.
  • For a Super Bowl commercial, McDonald’s asked customers to do something nice instead of paying for their meals with money. The commercial that aired showed some excellent customer responses. However, several cell phone videos showed what happened when things didn’t go well and accounted for some awkward situations.

There were also some really great quotes I really liked:

  • What we say about us is marketing, what others say is our brand.
  • We are in a testimonial economy and it is all on social media.
  • Be a relentless giver. Share your knowledge as a gift. Make those around you stronger. There is power in building a community. Enable others on purpose.
  • Employees first, customer second. Create an OPEN culture worthy of top talent. Let attrition tame trolls and ask-holes. (Trolls are always on social and being counterproductive. Ask-holes connect on social media only to ask for stuff.)
  • Beware the “social lynch mob.”
  • There are hiring mistakes. We have learned that in the last six months. Even the people who have been there 20 years. If they are not willing to change, then they have to go.
  • Hire really good people and trust them. Give them a voice and make them happy. Those employees are thing going to treat customers well.
  • Mark mentioned a situation he found on social media that was thought-provoking: CFO asks CEO, “What happens if we invest in developing our people and they leave us?” The CEO responds, “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”

The biggest lesson I learned from Mark’s comments was that the world truly has already moved into the Social Age. Now, it is only a matter of getting bigger and more efficient. If you haven’t already, check out my biggest takeaways from the book by clicking here.

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