Change from the Middle

change-1076220_1280A topic that has been on my mind for the last year is the idea of change coming from the middle; people like myself who have about ten years of experience, but don’t have a title with the authority to make change without approval. There were several case studies I read in my Organizational Behavior class and a few experiences from my own career that have kept it consistently on my mind. With a course about change coming up in the final semester of my MBA program, I wanted to write my thoughts about the subject now and then reevaluate in several months.

With millennials now over 50% of the US workforce, I am in a category of individuals who desire to make positive change, but are up against an older generation with different perspectives on many issues. In this situation, change can come slowly, if at all. So, how does one go about making change then? These are my thoughts.

  • Become a leader: This doesn’t have to come with a title or position, rather the feeling of those around you. Take on added responsibilities and/or volunteer for projects, don’t take shortcuts, do what is right and not what it easy. These are the practices that others see and understand the value of positioning themselves alongside.
  • Be the change: As is stated in my favorite quote from Gandhi, we have to be the change we want to see. What this means to me is that if I want something to be different, I have to put myself out there and set the example and take the risk. An example of this is challenging an established culture and choosing to blaze your own trail, such as working hard because that is what should be done, as opposed to doing the minimum because no one is looking over your shoulder.
  • Define the change: Even though those from a different generation may hold a different perspective, it does not mean they will not understand and consider a change. I think it is a matter of sharing in terms they will be able to understand. An example from a conversation I had with a client not too long ago comes to mind. He didn’t understand how spending time and money on being environmentally responsible would also be profitable. I explained that by being environmentally responsible, a different group of customers would be attracted to his business, which would increase revenue. A bit simplistic, but an example nonetheless.
  • Data: When all else fails, take the time to run the numbers and show what change can mean to the bottom line. This can result in more motivated employees, a more efficient sales force, better ways to reach potential customers and so on. Put together projections and reports using relevant data and let the numbers speak for themselves.

These are the best methods I have found and used to create change in my own environment. Now, I just have to see what new tools can get added to my “change” tool-belt this semester. I have big expectations from my professor, Dr. Bret Simmons, whom I have had for two other courses.

What other methods of positive change have you tried? Please add what has worked for you in a comment below.

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The Business of a Nonprofit

InnovationMy favorite class from the fall semester was Social Entrepreneurship. It brought great perspective and clarity to many topics of interest to me. The one I want to delve into here is regarding the viewpoint of nonprofits; what they are and how they operate. Several different speakers highlighted one simple idea – nonprofits should use their status to their own advantage, but still look at themselves as a business. I see this through the lens of innovation and using creativity to find or increase success.

The first idea that was brought up is that of using the “fee-for-service” model. This option can take on several different forms. Boys and Girls Clubs of America offer a fee-for-service in providing an after school option, but at a highly subsidized rate. The Executive Director for the Truckee Meadows clubs discussed how this income helps to offset some of the organizational costs incurred through operations. While this idea wasn’t new, it really stuck a nerve about providing regular income to the organization.

Another aspect of fee-for-service is reimbursement, which I feel adds to the ability to become sustainable. Life Change Center, located in Reno, NV, provides recovery services for addiction and is reimbursed for those services. The executive director spoke about the center’s success rate as a result of running the organization as a business; investing in experienced professionals and further investing in keeping them engaged in their work. Their website shows their success rate of 72%, as compared to a national average of 55%, which has been partially attributed to their business mindset. A key difference the executive director pointed out was that the profits are being reinvested into the organization, rather than being distributed to investors, stockholders or other owners.

The third speaker who really hit this point home was a co-founder of Zawadisha, a nonprofit focused on providing microfinance to women in Kenya. These loans are for acquiring household items that are safer, healthier and increase available time throughout the day to focus on other aspects of life, including small businesses. One of the ways Zawadisha has been able to find success is by creating an efficient and effective supply chain. The co-founder who came to speak with us also sent me this article on the subject of nonprofits and business, which I felt was also interesting.

In each of these cases, the organization has used its nonprofit status to their advantage while operating with a mindset that they are still seeking profitability. The point where I would like to go deeper into this topic is finding ways to apply this to existing organizations, as well as helping new organizations better plan using this business mindset. That, however, will be a post for another time.

What are your ideas for implementing business solutions to nonprofit organizations? Please post in the comment section below.

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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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Work/Life/School Balance

Blue-Sky-CloudsAs I sit here writing this blog post, I look outside to see a beautiful Sunday afternoon, with a few perfectly formed white clouds in the sky and a temperature of 86 degrees. Why am I inside? Because I am attempting to balance a job, school, and life. Now, I will first say that I am not slaving away without a moment for myself. Not too long ago, I stopped to watch John Oliver discuss sports stadiums in the United States. However, working on these three items, simultaneously, comes with its own set of unique challenges.

On the work side, I am very fortunate to have a tremendous amount of autonomy that allows me to mostly work when I want and where I want. Just this morning I revised a future newspaper article and sent it off for approval; all from the comfort of my desk at home. Starting tomorrow, and going through Thursday, I will get to the office a little early in order to take Friday off. As I mentioned in a previous post about working remotely, this puts me in a position to be successful because I am not boxed into parameters that limit my productivity.

For school, the setup is also quite nice. All of my classes are in the evening, so there are generally no conflicts with work commitments. While there are social events I occasionally miss, I make the time to spend with family and friends. However, going to class isn’t as much of the difficulty as the work required once off-campus. While I absolutely love my program, there seems to be an endless amount of knowledge to absorb that can take up all of my time – if I allow it to.

Now, the issue arises with balance between the three because of the very things that make work and school great; autonomy and loving my program. For work, I am constantly thinking about what else I can do to help a client, coworker or my office; there is always more work that can be done. That also comes into play with school. Because I like what I am doing so much, I find there is always more information to look at, read about and analyze. That has put a damper on my ability to truly relax. It has come to the point where I often feel bad for taking a few moments to myself; feeling like it is wasted time. And, I have found this only to be an issue when school is in session. None of this is overwhelming, but definitely creates an imbalance in the system.

Traditionally, going to the movies has been my escape. Off-hand, I would say that I have seen fewer movies in the last year than I have since I was not able to drive on my own. The reason for not going to the movies is not necessarily that I can’t make the time, but because I feel bad for going when I know there is work waiting to be finished. To rebalance my mental system, I have to find a way to allow myself to understand that by taking the few hours to go see a movie, I am putting myself in a better position to be efficient for the time I have my eyes on the computer screen looking at business plans or in a book reading about leadership.

Movies are my mental escape to refresh the batteries, but what are yours? Please post in a comment below.

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Be Present – FISH! Philosophy

Fish-Philosophy-Be-ThereThe third concept I will discuss from FISH! Philosophy is “be present.” It goes beyond the idea of physically being present when talking to a friend, customer, coworker, etc. It is about giving your full, undivided, attention – actively listening. This seems so simple, but I have found it takes a great deal of effort to do it – every time. When thinking about this blog post I came up with a list of situations I have found where being present is most important.

  • Teleconference calls: This can perhaps be the toughest situation to be present because you are not physically in the room with other people. It is all too easy to surf the web or check your email as other people talk. I have done it and found that I don’t actually take anything away from the that conversation had while I wasn’t present. This has taught me to just close my eyes and take in the entire conversation, only stopping to write down notes.
  • Business meetings: Sitting in a room full of people I have found two ways to not be present; daydreaming and using my computer. I write all of my notes via computer, so it is easy to switch over to check my email. That one moment takes me out of the room and then it takes more time to get back into the conversation. Daydreaming is tough because, honestly, many meetings are irrelevant. However, it is important to be present because you never know when someone will ask you a question or reference a conversation from the meeting.
  • Customer conversations: Perhaps the most important time to be present is when you are talking to a customer. It doesn’t matter if it is on the phone or in person, being present in these situations can be directly connected to revenue. It is easy to tell when someone is present during conversation and when they are not. I start with making sure to say the other person’s name and then try to reference something said, both so they know I was engaged and for me to better understand and remember the conversation.

I have clear memories of times where I was not present and it caught up with me. Those moments are embarrassing because it truly is so easy to just be present and pay attention. I, like everyone else, am very busy and have my attention constantly being pulled in different directions. This is why being present is even more important because hearing something the first time and being able to take action, as well as creating and continuing positive relationships, is a clear path to success.

The next time you are talking to someone and find yourself not being present, refocus and find your own system for keeping your mind on what is at hand.

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Related Posts:

Play – FISH! Philosophy

Choose Your Attitude – FISH! Philosophy

Born to Blog

BornToBlogAs a new blogger, I am constantly looking for ways to make improvements and reach a larger audience. I have reviewed a number of resources and my goal is to take away at least one new element from each. I recently read Born to Blog, by Mark W. Schaefer and Stanford A. Smith. Written for those who are just getting started, this book provides excellent information to help newcomers find success. My greatest takeaways are laid out below.

  • Blogs are a noninvasive, trust-building, relationship booster: This stood out to me because, when done right, I have seen how powerful a blog can be.
  • There are five elements to writing a successful post: 1. Create a captivating headline. 2. Give a unique personal viewpoint. 3. Take a personal risk. 4. Create an entertaining spin. 5. Use words that sing.
  • Blogs offer the most potential value for businesses. The benefits include brand awareness, direct and indirect sales, sales support, R&D, PR, crisis management and expanding search engine traffic.
  • There are specific traits of a successful blogger; tenacity, focus on passion, flexibility, consistency and courage.
    • Tenacity in blogging comes down to working for years to start to build something; there is almost never instant success.
    • Without passion, failure is likely just a short time away. The true passion has to shine through in each post. It can’t be “all business.” People want to find out what you have to say.
    • Consistency in blogging means new posts at least once a month; there are many reasons for this and daily can become even easier over time. Every post doesn’t have to be profound, but does have to give some value.
    • Courage is likely the single most important element; sometimes just to hit the publish button.
  • There are three areas where blogging goes wrong; the wrong purpose, the wrong content and the wrong people.
    • Blogging must be done to tell you or your company’s story and share the core values.
    • The content must be real and connected to what you or your company are all about.
    • The people must be authentic and likely working for the company itself; not outsiders.
  • There are eight ways listed to develop readership for your blog. 1. Give away your best. 2. Add your blog to your current marketing efforts. 3. Contribute to other publications. 4. Get active on your reader’s social channels. 5. Use savvy, simple SEO; research keywords, optimize blog titles and post content. 6. Use guest bloggers. 7. Join and sponsor conversations, such as Twitter chats and discussion forums. 8. Reward your readers.
  • Bloggers for a company should come from every level, ranging from entry to C-suite, and training and support should be given to ensure quality and consistency.

These few items are just a portion of the pages of notes I wrote down, but were the ones I felt most applied to what I am doing with my own blog.

If you are looking to start blogging or would like to get a fresh perspective to improve your current blog, I would encourage you to check out the book.

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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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Family, Faith and Work: Prioritizing the Work/Life Balance

balanceThis is going to be a particularly busy week for me. I have three summer courses running simultaneously, several work projects are coming together at once, my fiancé is graduating from her residency program, one of my best friends is getting married and I am traveling 4 out of 8 days. However, this is what I live for. Nothing makes me happier than being busy and having so many wonderful things going on at the same time. The only way I am able to find a perfect balance is through a well-developed set of priorities.

Over the course of my life, I have been taught, and learned on my own, what elements are most important. Some people share these same items, and in the same order, but there are also many who do not. In ranked order, from most important, I value family, faith and work. That has come to mean some very specific things as I have continued through my career. I have also learned it is much easier to say this than implement it.

Family, as well as friends, is what drives me to succeed more than anything else. While I want to help as many people as possible, the motivation to do so is based upon the energy generated through my interactions with those who I love. For the most part, it is not about giving anything up to put family first, but about making shifts to what will allow for both to happen. The only instances when one is above another is when opportunities come along where only one event can be put in one slot of time. That is the test of the prioritization. And, it should be noted that it is not about what happens when as the outcome, but that first moment when you realize there is an issue.

Faith comes next, but also includes my personal values. This, too, is what drives me to do what I do and gives me the strength to push on and find success. I am extremely proud of the moments when I made the tough choice to stand up for something I believe in, not compromising my values, and put my faith first, however, there have also been lessons learned when that was not the case. My goal is always to use those moments where I fell short as a learning experience as it is a feeling I do not wish to have again.

Finally, there is work, which is one of the most time-intensive and important elements of my life. The opportunities I have had in my career have only served to help me define my prioritizes, learn and develop as an individual, and create value that impacts my personal life. My current position with the NSBDC is an excellent example of being able to develop a great passion for what I am doing. Doing this only pushes me closer to my first two prioritizes.

There are so many wonderful things going on in life and I can barely stop to think about it all at the same time. This next week is going to be very exciting and I can’t wait to learn from what transpires, continue to push to become the best version of myself and help as many people as possible along the way.

Think about your own priorities and how you make decisions. Then, think about the ones that went well and those that didn’t. Finally, think about what you learned and how to push yourself to be the best version of yourself.

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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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