Tuesday Jul 12, 2016

8 Ways to Better Learning

In today's world, we are faced with an abundance of information (many times too much information), and we are expected to be experts before we even know what the final picture looks like.

So how do you learn in this kind of environment?  How do you take information and make it meaningful for what you're doing?  

In my own work, research I've done and just experimenting, I've come across a variety of practices that are useful to me when trying to both learn something and apply that learning, so I thought I would share a few ideas with you:

Write down your Questions.  What are you trying to learn?  Why is this important to you?  What questions do you already have about the content you want to learn and its importance to you?  Write these questions down so you can recognize potential answers when you come across them.

Find Existing Content.  I like to use Google and Wikipedia.  When it comes to Google, I look for links to reputable sources.  Obviously, these sources will be different based upon the information you are seeking.  I know some people dislike Wikipedia, but I often find it's a great source for getting a broad picture and jumping into additional sites and concepts.  I also use industry and professional sites (ask colleagues for recommendations).

Keep a Learning Journal.  If you've read any of my posts, this should not be a surprise to you.  When you are reading through new material or thinking about a problem, write down the questions you have, the thoughts going through your mind, and the larger pictures that you see.  This solidifies both your ideas and your questions and provides additional focus points for exploration.

Find Like Minded Individuals. Visit every social platform you are on (this includes OSN for Oracle folks) - read comments to see how others think; click on links that others recommend; look for opposing views to test your own theories.  Continue writing down your questions, ideas, and new things to explore.

Hit the Coffee Shop.  Invite someone who has more knowledge than you to coffee.  Pick their brain; ask how they learned about the topic; have them recommend additional resources.  You may want to go into the conversation with a couple of questions, but allow for a bit of serendipity in the conversation.  (You can read more in my post on informational interviews).

Use Available Technology.  I often cannot read everything I come across at the time I find it.  But then I found this cool little app called Pocket - this lets me save online article to read later, even if I'm not connected to the internet.  My only "gotcha" is that I have to remember to sync between my computer and my iPad.  Think about the tools you already use and how they might help organize your learning and ask others for new ideas.

Popcorn and Movie, Anyone?  Google your topic, and then click "Videos" at the top.  This will give you a list of tons of videos you can watch - many of them by experts in their field.  Again, I tend to look at sources (like TED) that are pretty reputable.  I've also found that looking at the number of hits on YouTube and reading a few of the comments can give you an idea of whether or not something is worth your time.  

Take a Break.  In the course of everything you learn, you need to take time to reflect and think.  Are you still on track for what you want to learn?  Are you limiting your knowledge in some way?  Does what you've learned help build a big picture for you?  If you're questioning the validity of this, google <importance of reflection> for more data!

These are the immediate things that come to mind when someone asks how I learn about a new topic.  What about you - What are the things you do or the tools you use to learn?

Tuesday Jun 07, 2016

Four Leadership Lessons From Disneyland

Is Disneyland really the happiest place on Earth? My (unscientific) research would indicate that, yes, it is. My family spent this past week at Disneyland and another well-known theme park, and I have to say that there was a marked difference between the two. My research consisted of talking to park employees to determine what makes their park, their job, and their company special.

At Disneyland, we came across employees who shared their four keys of safety, courtesy, show and efficiency. We saw employees smiling all the time and asking how they could make your day perfect. I talked with employees who said they loved working for Disney – one worked there through college and then returned after getting her Masters degree; one employee was in his 47th year at Disney. And I talked with employees who said they never get tired of working at Disney because any daily assignment is a 30 minute rotation, and longer term employees have the opportunity to move throughout the park.

In contrast, at our second theme park, we saw a lot fewer smiles from employees, and I didn’t see anyone who looked like they had been there 47 years. When I asked about training, I was told that “they have certain things we can and can’t say.” When I asked for directions, the employee pointed and said “I think it’s that way.” The best observation was from my 11-year old when we walked past an attraction late in the day, and she said “He doesn’t look as fresh as he did this morning.”

Overall, our experience made me think about the leadership of each park and how their actions can be a lesson to all leaders. The four leadership lessons that I learned from Disneyland include:

  1. Set clear expectations. Employees at Disneyland said their job was to make every park guest’s visit memorable and perfect. This expectation was set from the top level down, through all of the training that employees received. At our second park, nobody talked about the expectations of their job, and you could see the difference in performance.
  2. Keep jobs fresh. At Disneyland, one employee said he never got tired of what he did because they had 30 minute rotations in their area. By contrast, at our second park, the employee who didn’t look “fresh” at 5:30pm was at the same location when we started our day at 9:00am. If you keep jobs fresh – rotate assignments, provide new projects, and give new opportunities – your employees are more likely to stay engaged with their work
  3. Have fun. Nobody wants to work in dreariness. Find ways to make work fun for you employees – create contests out of certain activities, celebrate birthdays, host online holiday parties. When people are having fun, others can see that…including your customers.  My kids easily saw that the Disneyland employees had fun at their jobs – that’s why they’ve been there for 40-plus years!
  4. Provide excellent training. Disney employees had one job – to make every guest’s day perfect. To accomplish this, they had training in all aspects of the park that contributed to that. If you expect certain behaviors or actions from your employees, it is your responsibility to ensure they have the right training to meet those expectations.

One of my final questions at Disneyland was “Do you ever have really bad employees?” The cast member chuckled and told me that employees who don’t meet Disney ideals don’t last long and typically choose to leave before they’re even in front of park guests. As another point for leaders, it’s crucial to remember that not everyone is fit for the goals of your team. You can fight that, or you can accept it and help them find the right roles.

Overall, I saw many employees at Disneyland meeting corporate expectations and making park guests happy. I’m not sure that Disneyland would be everyone’s idea of the Happiest Place on Earth, but if you employ some of the same ideas as Disney leaders, you might have the Happiest Teams at Your Company!

Wednesday Jan 28, 2015

4 Leadership Challenges for 2015

With the start of a new year, there are predictions all over the place about what 2015 will bring. So what makes my predictions any different? They’re mine…and you have to wait 12 months to tell me that I was wrong!! These predictions are based solely on my own research and trends that I’m seeing in the industry. So, with that, here’s what I think will be happening with leadership in 2015:

  • Leaders will become marketeers to a new workforce. The global workforce will drastically change as more employees approach retirement age but still want to work reduced hours and younger employees choose work that really matters to them. We will see a rise in micro-consulting – short bursts of project-based work that is still very important to the business (check out platforms like Maven, Guru and Elance). Leaders will have to develop marketing skills that continue to ‘sell’ the organization and projects to these ‘sometime’ employees, especially if they want the employee to come back for more projects. Further, the ability to quickly and effectively coalesce a team will be required as the ‘sometimes’ employees and full-time employees will need to work together to achieve project outcomes. The leader’s ability to manage this diverse knowledge community will be crucial in meeting the needs of an organization and its customers
  • A leader’s new career tool will be the Learning Portfolio. The world is constantly changing; information continues to increase at exponential rates; knowledge is doubling every 12 months, with the rate expected to increase to every 12 hours with the build out of the “internet of things;” and leaders will be expected to stay ahead of the curve. Now, more than ever, learning agility is a key to leader success. Organizations will start looking at how a leader has learned throughout his or her career to determine if they are capable of creating and driving new ideas. Rather than a resume, this proof will instead come in the form of a Learning Portfolio that documents everything learned – degrees, MOOCs, mentoring, formal and informal learning – how it’s learned, and learning plans that show a leader’s growth and indicate what they plan to learn in the future. And the best jobs will go to those who can prove that they are continually learning.
  • Accountability will be the battle cry. We have more leadership advice available than ever before, and more people are unhappy with their managers and leaders than ever before – a Forbes article even indicated that 65% of Americans would prefer a new boss over a raise. I think this has to do with the trust that employees have in their managers and their companies. We are told to focus on we and us rather than me or I – and that allows us to shift responsibility from me to the unknown them. Accountability means taking ownership of your actions and decisions – not passing them off as group-think and -actions. Leaders who hold themselves accountable for their actions and decisions build trust in their organizations, and that trust allows for greater accomplishment. As we see leaders hold themselves to a higher level of accountability, we’ll see their teams and employees being held to a higher standard as well. If you’re wondering what accountability looks like, check out Michael Hyatt’s article “How Real Leaders Demonstrate Accountability.”
  • The Re-emergence of Systems Thinking. Systems thinking is basically understanding how individual things influence one another within a whole. In today’s business environment, we need to be able to make connections like never before – connections between multiple projects, company strategies, competitor strategies, world economies, business trends, geographical differences, remote teams, our social networks, and so on. The complexity that we live in increases every day, month, year. Successful leaders will need to look at their business with a systems mindset – they need to influence across multiple differences; they need to recognize recurring patterns and behaviors within the system; they need to address cause/effect and unintended consequences resulting from their (and their teams’) decisions; they must project potential risk and accelerate decisions within an increasingly complex business environment; and they need to help their people (and themselves) deal effectively with the ongoing complexity. By having this broad understanding of their system, leaders will be able to have an increasingly positive impact on their organizations’ performance.

Are there other things that leaders will have to concern themselves with in 2015? Yes. Things like employees as stakeholders, leaders becoming career coaches, mass customization of learning, cloud based learning, and so on. But, those are fodder for another post!

So, what do you think? Will these four things become big issues for leaders? What do YOU think will be the biggest leadership challenges this year?

Tuesday Jan 20, 2015

Your Mom Loves You, But She Doesn't Work Here

You’ve probably heard the stories about helicopter parents – those moms and dads who show up to their kids’ job interviews and don’t hesitate to call the hiring manager to find out why little Johnny didn’t get the big grown-up job.

Now picture this kind of parent “helping” you at work. He or she makes an appointment with your manager (and maybe you in the room) to ask why you don’t have a career path mapped out in order to be CEO by the time you’re 32? Your manager turns to you and says “Because you didn’t make one. And you didn’t tell me anything you wanted to do. Nor did you ever tell me you wanted to be CEO. Further, I’m not a freaking mind-reader.”

No good manager is seriously going to be that blunt (probably), but he or she will get the same point across through many 1-on-1 conversations with you about your development and your career. The point of the scenario above is that you – and only you – own your own career and development. You have to put in the thought to figure out what you want to be, what goals you want to achieve, when you want to do it, and what you need to know to get there. You are also responsible for coming up with the steps you’re going to take to obtain that knowledge.

So, what does a manager need to do? Think of your manager as a tour guide. They are there to guide you, to open doors, help define possibilities, fine-tune your development or career plan so that it works with the goals of the business (this assumes that you’re not wanting to change careers from a programmer to a children’s book artist or something like that). They do this by having conversations with you where you share what it is you want and how you think you might achieve it.

What does your manager not do? The things you would expect a helicopter parent to do. Your manager does not decide what your career path looks like. Your manager does not assume that you want to achieve a specific role unless you tell them. Your manager does not question your level of achievement by a certain age. And you manager definitely doesn’t read your mind to know exactly what you want.

Now, you might read this and think it’s all good and well, but then you say “But my manager doesn’t have development conversations with me.” My response is going to be “Take the initiative.” Send an email to your manager requesting 30 minutes to talk about your career. Tell him or her you would like their advice on how your aspirations can help build the department or contribute to the company. Any good manager will welcome a conversation like this. It’s called managing.

Defining where you want to be in 5-10 years helps you determine the steps that you need to take and the help that you need to ask for to get there. However, the key is that you need to be the one defining the end goal. After all, you want to be happy in your career – not in someone else’s.

Monday Dec 15, 2014

5 Easy Ways to Make Your Employees Leave You

A boss asked his employee to do some research on salaries for like positions around the country, and when the employee came back with the information, the boss said “If you want to make that much money, you should be looking for a different job.”

And then there was the boss who shared confidential information and, when found out, said “I’ve worked too hard to get to where I am, and I’ll be damned if I’m going down for this.”

And finally, there was the boss who asked for an estimate of what could be accomplished for a given cost…and at an All-Hands meeting announced that one employee was going to achieve the full plan…at zero cost.

We’ve all had bad bosses, but the one great thing about a bad boss is that he or she helps you realize what you would never do as a leader. From my own experiences (the three above as examples) and from watching leaders in other companies where I’ve consulted, I can tell you some common themes that can cause your employees to start looking for a new position.

  1. You make everything an emergency. Yes, we know that there really are emergencies, but someone a level up from you asking a question does not mean that we need to pull an all-nighter to write a white paper on the subject. Use Covey’s time management matrix to determine if a request is both urgent and important before calling “all hands on deck.”

  2. You don’t give any recognition. Everyone likes to know that they’re contributing to the team and that their work has an impact. A simple “You did a great job on X” can be all the encouragement someone needs to continue doing that great job and feel a part of the team. You can find additional ways to motivate and recognize employees here and here.

  3. You don’t provide feedback. How often does a coach tell a soccer team “We’re going to practice every day, play about 20 games or so, and I’ll tell you how you did at the end of the season?” Common sense tells us this is ridiculous, and yet, some managers will not provide any feedback to their employees and then whack ‘em with a surprise at year-end reviews. You should be having enough conversations throughout the year that nothing is a surprise at performance reviews. MindTools has a great article on Giving Feedback.

  4. You take all the credit. As an employee, my job is to make my manager and my team look good. However, when you refuse to acknowledge the contributions of your team members, it makes us cranky. Let people know when your team does great work, and you’ll be admired as well for being such a great leader.

  5. You fail to articulate goals. If you let us know where we’re going, chances are good we all have some great ideas on how to get there. However, if you can’t tell us what our goals are, you are not allowed to get upset with us for not achieving them. Read this short article for tips on articulating a vision.

Research tells us that people leave managers – not positions. If you can avoid these five ways of making your employees crazy, chances are pretty good that they’ll stick around.

Tuesday Nov 11, 2014

God, Demi-God, Monster, or Mere Mortal - What's Your Leadership Style?

My kids are enamored with fantasy fiction, so we spend a lot of time in the car and at bedtime reading such books. Our current book is “Percy Jackson, Lightning Thief.” In the story, 12-year-old Percy has to complete a quest to basically save the world. He’s challenged along the way by both monsters and the Greek gods, befriended by satyrs and demi-gods – and we’re anxiously waiting to find out if he succeeds in his quest.

As I was reading the book to my kids the other night, I realized that the sets of characters in the book are all leaders in some way, but they all have extremely different leadership styles. The four main groups of characters are:

Gods. The Greek gods are an interesting lot. They rule the world (and the underworld), are temperamental, and they have fits if things don’t go their way. I liken this to the unenlightened leader who believes that being a leader is akin to holding power over others. These characters (in the book and in life) might have great experiences that we could learn from, but they have to lose the ego if they want us to pay attention.

Demi-Gods. The demi-gods are half god/half mortals who struggle throughout the book – they’re basically trying to find their way, but they’re not getting a lot of help. In the business world, this is similar to the person who gets tossed into a leadership role and provided the advice “sink or swim.” While it’s nice to know that people believe in you, it would be better if you actually had a plan of some sort to help you be more effective.

Monsters. The monsters like to cause problems – a three headed beast that attacks from all sides, hellhounds that dish out punishment, minotaurs who kill, Medusa who turns people into stone. In the business world, these are the leaders who drop in, drop a bomb and then exit quickly, leaving the rest of us to pick up the mess. Although we’re glad when they’re gone, it would be nice if these leaders would think through the mess they’re about to create (and maybe restrain themselves from creating such mess).

Mere Mortal. The mere mortal doesn’t have a lot of power other than the ability to not see a lot of the ugly things happening around them. The mortal concentrates on their own life and has little to do with the gods and their world. This is similar to the leader who chooses to move forward without regard to events around him. Many of us may feel that we fall into this category as other people/gods “do things” to us, and we have no power to change anything. The mere mortal can benefit, however, from exploring the context of his or her world and understanding how he or she can work in that environment.

You might never have a quest where the fate of the world depends on your actions. However, it might be worth a few minutes to think about where you fall on the god/mortal styles of leadership as the fate of your people and your teams definitely do depend on you.

Monday Oct 20, 2014

No Raise? No Development? No Way!

The other day, I was asked why we should be concerned about development if we're not getting raises or bonuses.  I asked the person if they were getting a ‘performance review’ or a ‘salary review.’ After chuckling, the person responded "Yea, but really, what's the point?"

What’s the point? Let me start with a story.

When I was in grade school, I told my mom that I thought I should get an allowance. After all, my friends did. Mom and I negotiated, and I walked away with $3 per week. At the end of the first week, I asked my mom for my allowance, and she gave me $3 with an extra piece of paper. When I opened the paper, it was a bill…for $5.

Mom explained that this was my charge for room and board – after all, I was earning money, so it was only fair that I contributed to household expenses. When I complained that the bill was more than I earned, she simply said “You’ve got a problem, then.” She explained that when you are part of anything – family, team, or organization – you do certain things because they are expected of you as part of your role.

So let’s go back to development – why should you care? There’s no immediate financial reward (unless you count your paycheck). You’re not getting a diploma. You’re not having a party thrown in your honor for completing a class. So why should you care?

Because development is something expected of you as part of your role – your role on your team, in your organization, in your community and in society.

Dictionary.com defines “development” as the act or process of developing; growth; progress. If we chose not to grow, adults would still act like 2-year olds (okay, some still do, but that’s another post); technology would be irrelevant; and we’d still be rubbing sticks together to make fire.

Since I like the idea of growth and progress rather than stagnation and uselessness, here are some reasons why I bother with my own development (and why you might want to bother, too):

  • Preparation for the Future: Learning new things, studying emerging trends and exploring possibilities prepare me for changes that will happen in the future. I can’t predict what will happen, but if I have knowledge of the possibilities, I can predict what I might do in different circumstances. (Shell Oil refers to this as ‘scenario planning’ and uses it extensively in developing Shell Scenarios to aid their business strategies).
  • Career Advancement: I’m not aiming for a C-level position (I’m sure Mark and Safra are relieved), but I know that if I am continually improving my skill set and my capabilities, I’ll be ready if/when an opportunity comes up. And I also know, based upon what I’m learning about myself and my skills, what kind of opportunity I’m actually willing to take on.
  • It Keeps My Brain Happy. I have to admit, I’m one of those people who does not do well stamping loan papers “Paid in Full” and calling it a day (that was actually one of my summer jobs in college). With every new thing learned, I end up asking more questions…and learning more new things…and coming up with more new ideas.  All of these new ideas form new connections for me and keep my brain engaged in my work.
  • My Manager Cares About It. Listen up, leaders! If you care about development (including your own), your people will care about it too. My manager pushes information to me, she asks about my interest in different conferences, she asks about new things I’m learning. And she shares new things that she’s learned, information from conferences, etc. She takes an interest in what I know and how my knowledge applies to what we’re trying to do, and having a manager who cares can be a great motivator!
  • The World Is Changing. Knowledge doubles about every 12 months. What you know now is probably not what you will have to know in three years. If you keep abreast of new developments, you will be able to incorporate these things into your work and show that you are future-minded. Need an example? Twelve years ago, you didn’t know about wikis, LinkedIn (both 10 years old) or Twitter (8 years old)
  • My Network Needs It. Every time I learn something new, I have the potential to interact with other people learning the same thing. I might interact with people who have the potential to mentor me. I might interact with people to whom I can teach this new thing. All of these provide the opportunity to expand my professional network and build relationships that might not have existed if I wasn’t willing to learn something new.
  • Collaboration Rules. As our business environment moves more toward collaboration, it will be increasingly important that we’re able to work together and share knowledge (check out the HBR Insight Center Making Collaboration Work). However, if you are unwilling to learn anything new, you won’t have much to contribute in a social and collaborative world.

Development doesn't have to be taking a class (see my post on 45 Ways to Check the Development Plan Box). Rather, pick something that you’re passionate about and determine how that passion ties into your business role.

Maybe you’re excited about developing a new application that customers are going to love – do a 30-minute presentation to a Sales team to show off those new features. You’re fine-tuning presentation skills; learning more about customer needs (because Sales folks will tell you what will/will not work); expanding your network (because now you and the people in your presentation know of each other); teaching others (and improving your own knowledge); and preparing for the day when you get asked to present at OpenWorld (but you don’t know that’s coming yet).

You might notice that none of the reasons on my list are associated with salary or bonuses. Instead, they’re all about preparing yourself for future opportunities. The future might hold opportunities you would love that don’t exist and haven’t even been imagined yet; but you have to be ready for those opportunities...and that is why you should care about your development.

Tuesday Aug 26, 2014

What Have You Done For Your Company Today?

Some time ago, my office was located in the same section of the building as an entire management team. Whenever I asked one of them – I’ll call him Paul – how he was doing, his answer was always the same: “Glad to be here, proud to serve.” I chalked it up to his military service until I got to know Paul and found out that he was just that type of person.

As we got to know each other, I realized that Paul was kind of the ‘dad’ of the office. And one day, at the end of a really long day, he asked one of those dad types of questions: What have you done for your company today?

What? That simple question made me stop and think. What DID I do for my company that day? Did I contribute anything to the bottom line? Increase customer satisfaction? Improve process efficiency? Help someone improve? Since this was the first time in my career that I wasn’t billable to a client, answering what I did for my company that day required some thought on my part.

This simple question also made me realize that every one of us should be able to answer this question on a daily basis. Too often, we gripe and moan about how our company doesn’t do _____ (fill in the blank) for us. I’m betting very few of us consider the reverse. If we all approached work with the attitude of “what am I going to do for my company today,” my guess is that we might remain a bit more positive throughout the day – even on those grueling days when nothing seems to be going right.

Paul passed away a few years ago in an accident, so I can’t tell him what this question meant to me. But, I can share his question with you and ask that, at the end of each day, you answer for yourself “What have you done for your company today?”

Wednesday Jul 16, 2014

45 Ways to Check the Development Plan Box

It's that time of year again...when employees cringe at the thought of creating a development plan, and managers can't wait to check it off the list until next year.  But think about this - I read a blog this week that stated employers have no obligation to be concerned about your development.  You're hired to do a job, and as long as your employer provides the tools and resources to perform that job, they've met their obligation.

Rather than think of the development plan as a box to check off a list, perhaps we should look at the opportunity to create a development plan as a...well, a gift.  If your company is asking you to create a development plan, it's giving you time to think about your career and encouraging your ongoing learning and growth so that you can move your career forward.

I've written two past blogs on ideas for development plans that are not "attend a class" - the last being in 2011 - and I've taken the liberty of updating the list again for 2014 based upon additional inputs, ideas and changes in learning technologies.  Check out the list below and see if there's something in which you might be interested:

  1. Attend a local, regional or national conference. Be sure to bring your findings back to your team. MANAGERS: Make sure you provide the opportunity for your employee to share with the team.
  2. Present at a local, regional or national conference. Ask your manager, peers or mentor about opportunities that exist. Don’t forget about the possibility of presenting at virtual conferences.
  3. Submit ideas to be a guest blogger on a blog that you read and like.
  4. Interview key stakeholders or customers to find out what they like or don't like about your product or service.  Understand their business goals and brainstorm with your team how you can help and how you can build the relationships.
  5. If your company has an internal conference (user groups, engineering conference, etc), apply to present at that.  Actually present if accepted.
  6. Complete a course at your local university or at an online university. Make sure the university is accredited if you’re planning to use your company’s tuition reimbursement program.
  7. If you want to “dip your toes” into virtual learning, Google free online course <insert topic> to see if anything is offered.
  8. Explore Khan Academy to see if there’s an online course that will work for your goals.
  9. Check out iTunes U for a course or podcast that you can listen to while you’re communiting, working out, etc.  You can see a preview of Business topics here.
  10. Finish your undergraduate or Master’s degree.
  11. Write an article for a professional publication or organization.  Be sure to check the submission requirements for the publication!
  12. Join a professional organization and attend a local chapter meeting or seminar. If possible, serve in a leadership position at the local level.
  13. Attend a seminar or workshop offered outside of your company. These are often advertised through professional organizations. Oracle sponsors the Professional Business Womens Conference, and their webinars are free to Oracle employees as advertised in “In the Know.”
  14. Teach a TOI (transfer of information), Lunch & Learn or something similar for your team or another team in your organization.
  15. Create a video on a topic of your expertise and post it to your internal platform (Oracle employees can use OTube upon release).
  16. Review 2-3 journals or magazines every month to monitor industry trends.  You can access many journals through EBSCOHost - commonly available in public libraries with your library card. Oracle employees can access EBSCOHost here).
  17. Read Harvard Business Review or California Management Review to understand business trends.  Both of these can be accessed through EBSCO Host as well.
  18. Pick out a top business book - read it and discuss it with your manager.  This would be a great opportunity to take your manager out for a cup of coffee to get his or her undivided attention.
  19. MANAGERS: Provide a copy of your favorite business book to each member of your team. Use 15 minutes of your staff meeting to discuss a chapter, idea or something else about the book.
  20. Select a technical book to review.  Discuss it with your team, your manager, or your mentor.
  21. Mentor another person.
  22. Ask someone to be your mentor.  Know what you want to get out a mentoring relationship before asking someone.  You may also want to talk with your manager about possible mentors.
  23. Pair up with an Accountability Partner. Different from a mentor, this is a person that you meet with to provide each other with suggestions, feedback and encouragement about your goals and objectives.
  24. Conduct Informational Interviews (about 30 minutes in length) to learn more about different people and lines of business in the company
  25. Volunteer on the board or on a committee of a professional organization.
  26. Google free webinar <insert topic> and see if there's a free webinar that interests you.  Attend and share what you learned with your team.
  27. Start a blog to share your thoughts with others.
  28. Participate in an online community - respond to a blog, start a group on LinkedIn or Facebook, etc.
  29. Join a TwitterChat for a topic area of interest…and participate. You can view the Twitter Chat schedule to see what’s out there. Some topics of interest include Blogging, Business, Career, Communications, Customer Service, Human Resources, Information Technology, Marketing, Social Media, and Technology
  30. For Oracle employees, participate in the Mission Red Innovation Engine.  This is a new tool out of EMEA, designed to turn good ideas into great innovations.
  31. Attend a web-based class offered through your company.
  32. Engage with local colleges to be a guest speaker or host a workshop on campus.
  33. Look for volunteer opportunities with state and local government agencies to provide IT help (if you’re an IT type of person). Many agencies need help in all sorts of areas outside of IT, so if you’re interested, ask if they need help in your area.
  34. Plan a technology fair, science fair or something similar for your company.  Recruit people to present and share ideas.
  35. Join an open source project and get involved in the product development, forums, or aliases.
  36. Lead a group of volunteers for community or charity work to build your leadership skills.
  37. Join the board of a non-profit.  This will give you the ability to assess an entire organization and work on cross-business initiatives, all while doing something good.
  38. If you have a Masters degree, check with a local university or college about becoming an adjunct professor (sometimes called a contract or network instructor).
  39. Volunteer to teach computer skills (or your area of expertise) at a Senior Citizens Center.
  40. Ask your local school districts if they offer any kind of special event around kids and technology.  Volunteer at that event.
  41. Coordinate an internal conference where best practices can be shared for a team within your company - a sales conference for sales people; an IT conference for your technical team, etc.
  42. Volunteer to teach a class at a local Recreation Center or Community Center.
  43. Apply to teach classes for a continuing education program (typically offered through local universities or community colleges). These programs sometimes don’t have the same instructor requirements as becoming an adjunct professor.
  44. Start keeping a reflective journal. Simply record your thoughts about what is happening in your development process and use those reflective thoughts in career conversations with your manager.
  45. Attend a MOOC (massive, open, online courseware).  MOOCs provide access to world-class content on a variety of topics for free.  You just need to have the desire to attend.  Current providers include edX, Coursera and Udacity.

A word of warning about this list: this is just a list. It requires human input to determine how to effectively incorporate one of these ideas into a personal development plan. If one of these options looks intriguing, a manager and employee should work together to determine what, exactly, is expected from the activity and how, exactly, an employee will grow as a result of an activity. Any of the ideas on this list should be used simply as a seed to start a manager/employee discussion.

As you can see, there are many more options for "development" than just attending a class.  If you have other ideas that should be added to this list, please leave a comment in order to share with everyone else.  Hey, then you can add #25 to your plan!

Happy planning!

Friday Jul 11, 2014

What Does Your Personal Learning Environment Look Like?

As we were finishing a conversation this week about blogging and communicating, my colleague asked, “What’s your motivation for writing?”

After thinking for a minute, I realized that I write because it allows me to synthesize all the information that I’m receiving about a particular topic. As I write, I can recognize common threads, define questions for myself, come up with possible answers and make sense of all the content that comes my way. Blogging is, quite simply, one tool that I use to learn about and organize information.

This realization made me think about the concept of personal learning environments (PLEs). I first heard of PLEs last summer when we were at my neighbor’s house for a backyard fire. My neighbors are teachers, as were a large number of other guests, and they were all talking about their PLEs. As a learning person, my ears perked up.

I found out that a PLE is basically a flexible structure – identifying digital and non-digital resources that help people organize the influx of information that is a part of their learning. All of the applications, tools and resources in a PLE are selected by the user, thereby the ‘personal’ part of the equation. The “E” is a visual representation of everything.

Because it seemed like a fun thing to do, I mapped out my own PLE, and it looks like this:

My PLE shows my ‘gathering’ activities on the left and my ‘action’ stuff on the right. I’m a big gatherer of information – I love to read, search and explore, and I do this with a wide variety of tools and resources. Once I have this information, I move to the right side of the page – I need to act on it. For me, ‘action’ might mean aggregating like ideas, writing a blog or tweet to share some kind of insight, sharing the information with my colleagues, or putting something out on Beehive for later use.

Yesterday, I felt like my brain is just always busy. Today, my PLE gives structure to how I gather and process information. Educators argue that mapping this PLE and understanding how we deal with the huge influx of information gives us the opportunity to reflect and build our capabilities around any given topic. This is a key feature in what educators call Information Fluencya triad of domain knowledge, critical thinking and presentation & participation – a state of competency in any subject.

The University of Alaska, Fairbanks has mapped out some common activities that occur as part of the Information Fluency triad:

Although this concept is used in the education world, I think it has a great deal of significance in the business world as well. Think about it like this: You have a person supporting a new product (I’m going to use ‘his’ just for ease of writing). That person needs to increase his knowledge about the product and does so by talking with others, reading user guides, observing other support people (domain knowledge). As knowledge increases, he can start analyzing issues, explaining problems, etc. (critical thinking). As he becomes an expert, he might blog about the product, speak at OpenWorld, or serve as a mentor to new people (presentation & participation).

The Information Fluency triad provides the model for defining competency; the Personal Learning Environment identifies the tools and resources used to achieve that competency. Understanding these two components might make us better at helping our people learn the things they need to be successful in their roles.

Overall, I think mapping your Personal Learning Environment is an interesting exercise as it gives you the opportunity to:

  • See how you access information and what you do with that information
  • Identify areas of strengths
  • Identify areas for improving knowledge and/or productivity
  • Use it as a discussion point with your manager
  • Use it to define opportunities for your development plan
  • Reflect on how you learn and how you are motivated

So, my challenge to you is this: map out your personal learning environment.

If you’re concerned about what it should look like, don’t be. Google ‘personal learning environment’ and click “Images.” You will see that a PLE is as unique as any one individual. Start small and take your time – PLEs are meant to be dynamic and will change and adapt to your learning needs and goals.

Those teachers talked about a lot of other things around the fire that night, but I’ll save those for another post!

Monday Mar 10, 2014

Why Leadership Development Programs Fail...and What a Leader Can Do About It

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been seeing headlines about leadership development programs – unfortunately, the headlines are not that great:

  • The #1 Reason Leadership Development Fails
  • 10 Reasons Leadership Development Programs Fail
  • Why Leadership Development Programs Fail
  • 5 Reasons Leadership Development Programs Fail
  • Why So Many Leadership Programs Fail
  • Why Leadership Development Efforts Fail

I’m sure you get the picture (fail). Leadership development is hard (fail). It’s tough being a leader (fail). My favorite was an article that gave me the #1 reason why leadership development fails and then gave me 20 things to focus on to ensure success. I kind of thought if I focused on the #1 reason I might be okay.

I have to admit, these articles made me frustrated. I felt like there was a lot of blame being placed on the fact that development was just plain hard, but also a lot of blame placed at the feet of people like myself who create different kinds of development programs. As I looked through the list of reasons for failure, however, I realized something. If a leadership development program fails, it might have something to do with the participants as well! WHAT??

Let me explain. We could build the best leadership development program in the world – the exact skills needed as discovered through a needs analysis; skills tied to business objectives; a perfect implementation plan; metrics that truly measure the bottom line impact of the program – you get the picture. BUT, there is still something missing in this perfect program.

You…and maybe your manager.

I believe that you have to take ownership of any development opportunity in which you partake. What does it mean to take ownership? Glad you asked! To me, ownership looks like this:

  • You take responsibility for your development. Remember making a Christmas list when you were a kid. Santa didn’t know what you wanted unless you wrote it down and mailed it to the North Pole. Your manager is Santa – you have to write down what you want and let your manager know. They can help provide the toys tools, but it’s up to you to determine which tools you need and what you will do with them.
  • You ‘personalize’ your development. Your development plan is uniquely yours, and any program you attend should align with that plan. When attending a development program, you should spend some time prior to the program thinking about your expectations and what you want to learn. During the program, compare what you’re learning to your expectations to make sure they align. Work with your manage before and after a program to reinforce what you learned. By focusing on your plan, you can make sure that your needs are met.
  • You have to be humble. You sign up for a development program because you want to learn something. That means there is something you don’t already know. Everyone in the room is in the same position, so there’s no need to prove that you’re the smartest person there.
  • You have to have a “right” mindset. A development program is not a five-day, expense-paid vacation away from the office – it is your company’s investment in you and the skills you bring to the company and your team. Your job is to be present at the program by turning off your devices and concentrating on your investment. Use your breaks to check email or take calls.
  • You should expect the support you ask for. Have a conversation with your manager to discuss the support that you might need before, during and after a program. Maybe you want to discuss expectations about a development opportunity. Maybe you need your manager to not call you or email you ten times in an hour while you’re in class. Maybe you want an opinion of how you’re changing your behavior three weeks after the program. All of these are valid needs, and, if you’re willing to have that conversation with your manager, you should be able to expect that support. After all, improving your leadership skills also helps your manager.

So there you have it – five things you can do to make a leadership development program (or any development program) more successful.

As a leadership development consultant, my job is to create the best possible program that gives you the core knowledge and skills you need to do your job; as a program participant, your job is to spend the time and energy needed to plan your development and apply the knowledge and skills of any program to your individual plan.

As Humphrey Bogart said in Casablanca, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Tuesday Nov 12, 2013

Do Great Work

Have you ever attended an online conference and actually had a desire to attend all of it??

Yesterday I attended the first day of the Great Work MBA program, sponsored by Box of Crayons and hosted by Michael Bungay Stanier. The topic of the day was “Grounding Yourself,” and the day featured five speakers on five different topics.

I have to admit that I started the first session with kind of a “blech” feeling that I didn’t really want to participate, but for some reason I did. So I listened to the first session, and I was hooked. I ended up listening to all of the sessions for the day, and I had some great take-aways from the sessions – my highlights included:

  • The opposite of bravery isn’t fear, it’s settling. In essence, you need to be brave in order to accomplish anything. If you’re settling, you’re not being brave, and your accomplishments will likely be lackluster.
  • Bravery requires confidence and permission. You need to work at being brave by taking small wins, build them up and then take slightly larger risks. Additionally, you need to “claim your own crown.” Nobody in the business world is going to give you permission to be a guru in X – you need to give yourself permission to become a guru in X and then do it.
  • Fall in love with obstacles. Everyone is going to face some form of failure. One way to deal with this is to fall in love with solving the puzzle of obstacles. You don’t have to hit it if you can go around it.
  • Understanding purpose brings out the best in people and the best people. As a leader, drawing in people who are passionate and highly motivated about their work creates velocity for your organization. Being clear about purpose is the first step in doing this.
  • You must own your own story. Everything about you creates a “unique you” that is distinct from everyone else. As you take ownership of this, it becomes part of your strength. It’s not a strength if you’re running away from it.
  • Focus on what’s right. Be aware of your tendency to interpret a situation a certain way and differentiate between helpful and unhelpful interpretations.
  • Three questions for how to think differently: 1) Why? 2) Who says so? 3) What would happen if? These three questions can help you build alternative perspectives and options that can increase resiliency.

Even though this first day was focused on “Grounding Yourself,” I see plenty of application in the corporate environment for both individuals and leaders of teams. To apply these highlights to my work environment, I would do the following:

  1. Understand the purpose – of my company, of my team and of my role on the team. If I know the purpose, I know what I need to bring to the table to make me, my team and my company successful.
  2. Declare your goals…your BEHAGS (big, hairy, audacious goals).Have the confidence to declare what you and/or your team is going to accomplish.Sure, you might have to re-state those goals down the line, but you can learn from that as well.
  3. Get creative about achieving your goals.Break down your obstacles by asking yourself what is going to stop you from achieving your goals and then, for each obstacles, ask those three questions:Why?Who says so? What would happen if?
  4. Focus on what’s right.I had a manager who asked us to write status reports every week.“Status” consisted of 1) What did I accomplish; 2) What will I accomplish next week; 3) How can my manager help me.The focus on our status report was always “what’s right”(“what’s wrong” was always a conversation at the point in time it was needed).

I’m normally a skeptic of online webcasts/conferences, and I normally expect to take away maybe one or two ideas. I’m really glad, however, that I took the time to listen to all of the sessions yesterday, and I hope that my take-aways inspire you to think about how you might do great work also.

Thursday Aug 08, 2013

Scenario Planning for Your Career

Why would you “scenario plan” your career? Scenario Planning is used to chart uncertain futures and possibilities. And let’s face it – careers seem to be on an ever-changing path of uncertainty, so why not plan for those possibilities?

I’ve been intrigued with the concept of scenario planning since about 1995 when I was asked to participate on a small team to create scenarios for our business and help define our "move-forward" strategy. Shell Oil has been creating scenarios since the 1970s and is probably one of the best known companies in this area.  Using these scenarios have helped Shell predict future possibilities and move nimbly to address them.  Shell believes so much in scenario planning, that they've even published "Scenarios: An Explorer's Guide" for people who want to expand their scenario-thinking capabilities.

If you’re unfamiliar with scenario planning, the gist of it is this: you identify a problem and two major forces likely to bear on that problem. Lay these two forces on a grid (x and y axis) and come up with “stories” for each quadrant of the grid. The stories outline what the future looks like and how you got there. Then devise a strategy for surviving each of the scenarios.

Wired magazine wrote a “Guide to Personal Scenario Planning” using the example of an aero-space engineer and possible career scenarios. This is a great step-by-step guide to get you thinking about different possibilities for your career.

My career is in corporate education, specifically leadership and professional development. When I apply scenario planning to this, two major factors that might impact me are “free agent” employment where people bid on jobs they want and the need for “just-in-time” (JIT) content. My grid, then, looked like this:

Once I had this grid, I was able to create the “stories” for each quadrant:

 And from there, I was able to create the implications of each scenario and possible actions I should take to prepare for each possibility:

Scenario planning takes some thinking - especially when you're first creating your list of uncertainties that will become your x and y axis.  I also found that while extracting the implications from the stories wasn't that difficult, defining possible actions to take required some more thought.  I tended to view actions from the "corporate organization" perspective rather than from the "me" perspective - possibly due to the fact that I've used this process in organizations, and that's what I'm used to.

Scenario planning isn't going to solve every career problem for you, but as you think about a career conversation with your manager, it might provide some ideas and possibilities that you've never considered.  Yes, it's a powerful tool for business strategy, but it can be just as powerful for your career strategy!

Monday Feb 18, 2013

What is the Return on You?

In the corporate learning industry, there’s a lot of talk about who is responsible for employee development. If you’ve read any of my posts, I’m pretty sure that you can tell I think each individual is responsible for his or her development. The resources offered in one’s work environment (managers, classes, mentors, etc.) are simply tools to help you achieve your goals. With that in mind, I’d like to challenge whoever is reading this to think about the Return on You (ROY).

I was first introduced to ROY about eight years ago when I read Fred Nickols’ article “Forget the ROI of Training: What’s the Return on You (ROY)? ROY started me thinking about how I approach work. Is work just a job where I’m entitled to certain things, or is work my contract with my employer about what we will provide to one another? Your answer to this question, I think, determines your approach to work and your satisfaction with what you do.

So, what is ROY? ROY is defined as “the return on your company’s investment in you.” Simply put, ROY is the benefit you provide your company after subtracting your wages and benefits. What is your economic value to your company? Are you a good investment for your company? Do you provide a net worth, or are you an expense? Kind of scary to think about, isn’t it?

In my last post, I questioned who your CEO was. I’ll give you a hint, your CEO is reading this right now. So, if you are the CEO of yourself, what does that make you when you’re at work? I think that it makes you an independent consultant. Whoa!! An independent consultant, you say? But that means I have to be really serious about my work. Umm…yea. You do.

Think about it. We grumble because our manger/VP/company (you pick) doesn’t provide us the opportunities that we think we need. What if, instead, we approached our work like a consultant and our employer like our customer? You still need to work, but now you need to figure out what your end goal is. You now need to figure out how your work meets the goals of your client and the goals you’ve set for yourself. You need to figure out where your skills are lacking and how you’re going to meet those gaps in order to meet your client’s needs.

If you’re not scared yet, take a look at Nickols’ work on ROY – at the end of the paper, you’ll find a worksheet on calculating the Return on You. Take out your learning notebook, because here’s your assignment: after reviewing the ROY worksheet, identify the value(s) that you bring to your company. Step two: think about your current job role and document the benefits that you think your company expects from you and the benefits/growth you would like to receive from this job role.

No relationship should be one-sided. Hopefully by thinking about the benefits you and your company provide to each other, you feel that you have a little more ownership in the relationship between you and your company

Tuesday Jan 15, 2013

Who's Your CEO?

I love the start of a new year simply because it offers a clean slate. Most often, I have this feeling in September when school starts, but I’ll take it in January as well. Because the start of the year is a great time to start something new, I’m going to start something new with my blog. Besides writing more regularly (that’s on my list of resolutions), I want to write about topics that will provide you an opportunity to hopefully grow in your role, regardless of where you are on the org chart.

A while back, I wrote a blog called Developing You 2.0 where I outlined the top ten competencies that I think you’ll need to survive in a 2.0 world. I think those competencies still apply, and I’m planning to expand on those in future posts. Today, though, I want to focus on something else – your CEO. I’m not talking about Larry Ellison (for any Oracle employee) – I’m talking about the CEO of you. If you were your own CEO, what would you tell yourself?

Some time ago, I read a blog post by Kent Healy titled Why you should run your life like a start-up company. In this post, Kent talks about the concepts of business – asset management, capital, resourcefulness – and how they relate to managing one’s own life. I’m going to take this a step further.

I read and hear a lot of talk about people’s managers not letting them do certain things; or executive management at a company keeping people oppressed and unhappy in their jobs; or managers being responsible for <fill in the blank>. What I don’t hear a lot of is “I’m responsible for me.”

Your manager doesn’t know that you want to do a particular job or have a particular skill or want to learn a new skill if you don’t speak up. If you are your own CEO, you need to promote your company, and the only way to do that is to speak up about yourself. That is your responsibility. Laying the mantle of “professional development” at your manager’s feet does absolutely no good if you’re not willing to have conversations about what you’re good at and what you’d like to learn.

In case it wasn’t clear…YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE for your professional growth, your development at work, yourself. Your manager is only a tool that can help you achieve what YOU want to achieve, but you need to have development conversations with your manager so he or she knows what it is you want to achieve.

If you’re willing to jump into a learning adventure, grab a notebook and answer these questions: If you are the CEO of you, what would you identify as your top 3-5 assets? What are 2 or 3 things you do to nurture those assets? What are 1 or 2 things that you currently do that do not benefit your company? And finally, what is your biggest corporate goal this year? Remember, when answering these questions, you are the company.

I’m not sure where all of this will lead this year, but I’ve got a ton of ideas about personal learning environments, learning networks, you as a consultant, ROY (return on you), motivation and engagement, creating your brand, and building You 2.0. I can’t promise an assignment every time I post something, but keep that notebook handy!


My blog is a look inside my head on ideas about learning, organizational & personal improvement and other stuff. I manage Oracle's Managing at Oracle team, but all thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely my own!


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