"horizontal mentorship"

Fri 28 February 2020
One common piece of advice I hear is that “you should work towards finding a calling”. The advice makes sense. I mean of you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization is at the top and it is easy to assume that finding a calling is consistent with achieving self-actualization.

But what if it’s not? What if we have it wrong?

I work in the space of implementing employee mentor programs for companies and I have studied extensively the correlation between aligned Work Orientation and the likelihood of successful mentor relationships. I have also studied correlations between different Work Orientations and levels of engagement at work.

Work Orientation is how one view’s their work. Some people view their work as a job (motivated by work/life balance), some people view their work as a career (motivated by professional growth), and some people view their work as a calling (motivated by personal/professional mission alignment).

My team and I learned that Work Orientation is fluid, meaning that it can change throughout one’s life. We also learned that when people don’t share a similar Work Orientation and are matched together for a mentoring relationship, that the likelihood that relationship lasts for 6 months and is considered both productive and quality diminishes significantly. 

But is there a correlation between one type of Work Orientation and being more engaged at work?

Our current research indicates no.

Our current research does break workplace engagement into 4 separate categories: emotional attachment to the work, energy received from doing the work, social connection with those whom doing the work with, and level of fulfillment from the work itself.

Our current research indicates that there is no one Work Orientation that is more engaged at work than another, but that some Work Orientations are more engaged in certain types of engagement than others.

People that are job oriented gain more workplace engagement from social connection with those whom they are doing the work than people that are career or calling oriented.

People that are career oriented gain more workplace engagement from the energy received doing the work than people that are job or calling oriented.

People that are calling oriented gain more workplace engagement from the level of fulfillment from the work itself than people that are career or job oriented.

The point is that maybe not everybody needs a calling. Everybody runs in their own lane and lives their own life and can achieve happiness and self-actualization in their own way. Assuming that everyone needs a calling may put people in uncomfortable situations and make them feel a way that they aren’t. And just because somebody doesn’t view their work as a calling right now doesn’t mean that they never will.

To adequately share the data and the other side of this point, our research also indicates that people that are career and calling oriented are more receptive to participating in employee mentor programs. Since employee mentorship - done successfully - leads to increased workplace engagement, greater collaboration across teams, and improved productivity, you could also make a counterargument.

Mon 30 March 2020
Horizontal mentorship is a mentoring relationship between employees across or within departments free from the influence of the workplace hierarchy.

Horizontal mentorship is the premier way to implement an employee mentor program.

This article serves to show the benefits of horizontal mentorship and the issues with traditional vertical mentorship.

In theory, the idea of vertical mentorship makes sense. A more experienced/knowledgeable person providing wisdom to a less experienced/knowledgeable person.

But, what vertical mentorship alone doesn’t account for is the personal drivers of each person in the relationship and its impact on the longevity and quality of that relationship over time.

Vertical mentorship opens the door for ego and ego is the biggest deterrent to successful mentoring relationships.

To show this point, let’s discuss the story of Shawn. Shawn is the CFO of a major company. He loves the idea of mentorship and believes that he has a lot of wisdom to share with somebody else. But, because Shawn is an executive, he doesn’t necessarily see the relationship being mutual. He’s fine with only providing his wisdom without any expectation of anything in return.

On the surface, this seems altruistic of Shawn…but in reality, Shawn is a nightmare for the other person he is in a mentoring relationship with.

The issue is that Shawn sees himself as an altruistic provider of information. What Shawn doesn’t realize is that his lack of willingness to listen and learn from the other person he is in a mentoring relationship with cripples the relationship. The person Shawn is in a relationship with cannot feel fully connected to Shawn because all Shawn does is spout advice. Shawn doesn’t come prepared with questions to meetings because Shawn perceives himself as a “reactive mentor” meaning that he can excuse himself from preparing for mentor meetings because his reactions to the other person’s questions should be enough to make the relationship valuable.

The result, the relationship fades away because the other person is frustrated with Shawn not being open to learning something from him while Shawn has no idea why the relationship ended and perceives the other person as being ungrateful for not taking full advantage of his wisdom.

The point is that vertical mentorship exaggerates workplace hierarchies and dehumanizes the mentoring relationship.

As opposed to the mentoring relationship being mutual where two people can give to and take from the relationship, it creates an awkward relationship where one person feels belittled and the other person feels disrespected. Vertical mentorship feels more like a transaction and less like a mutually beneficial relationship.

Horizontal mentorship leverages the inherent drives and values people have at work (Work Orientation) and matches them based on those drives.  

No matter the matches’ age, years of experience, or area of expertise, when people are matched together in horizontal mentorship, they are on a level playing field.

This means that both participants come prepared to each mentor meeting with questions for each other and stories to share. 

This means that both participants are willing to be open-minded enough to learn from somebody else regardless of their age or experience, willing to ask questions, and willing to share past mistakes.

Horizontal mentorship removes the transactional nature of vertical mentorship.

Horizontal mentorship breaks through communication barriers and creates empathy between employees at work. 

For building an employee mentor program, horizontal mentorship is the way to go. 

Even if the goal is for a junior employee to learn a skill from a senior employee, if the perception is vertical mentorship, the senior employee is going to perceive the relationship as a hassle while the junior employee is going to feel belittled. If the perception is that this type of mentor relationship is horizontal, it empowers the junior employee and gives the senior employee motivation to engage in the relationship because he now stands to gain something from the relationship.

Mon 6 April 2020
As remote work grows in popularity, the need for keeping individuals in-tune and engaged in the company culture increases substantially.

Remote work removes many of the inconveniences associated with going into work like commutes and distractions, but it takes away a key component to what makes company culture…connection!

This article serves to show a key way companies can go about maintaining and even improving the level of connectivity between employees as their work location becomes remote.

Before jumping into suggestions on maintaining and growing connectivity of employees as their work location becomes remote, let’s observe how employees connect in an office environment.

In our research on facilitating horizontal mentoring relationships for employees, we have learned that 68% of engaged employees that don’t work remotely believe that there are communication barriers between them and other employees. This is a critical statistic because this shows that even engaged employees feel that they are silo’d off from other employees, even if they work in the same office. 

Reframing this point, most people don’t know what their counterparts in other departments do for their work and the conversations they do have are typically superficial (e.g. sports, weather, fashion, family).

As more people begin to work remotely, this is going to get worse because employees are going to lose the little interaction they do have with each other. All communication is going to be work related and the emotional identity employees have of being a member of the company will soon fade.

Just to be clear, the emotional identity employees have of being a member of the company is the company’s culture! Once that is gone, there is no more culture!

One key to keeping remote employees engaged in the culture of the company is to set aside time for employees to have intentional conversations with each other.

These conversations are not superficial while also not completely about work. These conversations are free from the workplace hierarchy (e.g. title has nothing to do with what is and isn’t shared in these conversations). These conversations provide a platform for employees to share what they are working on with another employee, learn obstacles the other person is facing, ask clarifying questions that they don’t normally ask or get asked, and identify ways to find breakthroughs at work – emotionally, operationally, mentally, or physically.

These relationships create empathy between employees. These relationships breakthrough communication barriers between employees. These relationships build a greater sense of identity employees have with the company. 

This is called horizontal mentorship.

Optimal horizontal mentorship means:

·        Pairing employees together based on shared Work Orientation – or their shared workplace value system.
·        Providing meeting agendas to drive the conversations towards building rapport and being vulnerable.
·        Collecting feedback and learning what tangible outcomes were created every few months from meeting.
·        Switching mentor pairings every 6-12 months to continually build a web of connection between employees.
·        Everyone participating is willing to be open-minded enough to learn from somebody else regardless of their age or experience, willing to ask questions, and willing to share past mistakes.

When horizontal mentorship is implemented optimally, all employees, especially remote employees, feel a greater level of connectivity and identity with their company.
Mon 27 April 2020
When a company implements a new employee-to-employee horizontal mentorship program, this can feel like a big first step towards progress! However, impactful mentorship is not Field of Dreams; just because you built it, it doesn’t mean that employees will see ‘magical’ changes overnight. It takes more than a basic mentorship program to develop engaged employees and achieve the desired goals you have for the mentor program and the company as a whole. 


This article offers my perspective on the importance of semi-structured meeting agendas as a driving force for effective, impactful mentorship, regardless of the personalities of the people participating.


Our conventional wisdom tells us that “if two people are extroverted, they are naturally going to hit it off. Structured meetings will just get in the way of natural conversation!”


This conventional wisdom is wrong.


Extroverts get their energy from being around other people. We expect two extroverted people to have an easy path to conversation, but this doesn’t account for a key issue: how productive is what they are discussing? Is their discussion casual, like sports, weather, or family? Or, is their discussion about the obstacles they are facing at work and having a dialogue about how to make their work more productive and personally fulfilling?


People may be able to gain value from any conversation, true. But, more likely than not, these casual conversations are superficial and not particularly substantive. The reason for this is because people feel comfortable discussing things that they either see on a daily basis or that they don’t have control over but are generally interested in. We are used to these conversation topics. When anyone ever asks, “how are you doing?” it is typically followed by these superficial talking points. 


Casual conversations are low risk, low reward. Few people have revelations when discussing whether the Lakers will make the playoffs. These conversations are comforting and valuable, but they are simply no substitute for challenging discussions and self-reflection. 


On the flip side, deep conversations are rarer for a reason. Talking about work obstacles and challenging your fears about what’s possible in your professional career is uncomfortable! We are forced to be vulnerable. These conversations do drive profound outcomes, but without an agenda keeping people on track, we can unintentionally deviate back to those comfortable, superficial topics.  


Falling back to comfortable conversation isn’t just a risk for extroverted people; introverts can face their own challenges during a mentorship program. One might assume “if two people are introverted, they can figure out a mentor meeting without an agenda. They are professionals and their introversion will make them more comfortable.”


Again, this conventional wisdom falls flat. Ask introverts if they would feel comfortable with this and most will say no. This is typically the assumption extroverted people have about introverted people.


The issue is that the people that are most interested in starting company-wide mentor programs are typically extroverts. Introverts just typically don’t share that same type of self-sustaining drive for more social interaction; they recharge their ‘mental energy’ in different ways. 


But, this doesn’t mean that introverts are disinterested in mentorship!


Instead, when an introvert participates in a mentor program, they might be more likely to have some anxiety or skepticism about meeting somebody they (typically) have minimal interaction with. They need to feel confident and come to the meeting with a plan: How long is the meeting? What are the topics for discussion? How can they be sure that this meeting will be impactful to them? 


Meeting agendas accomplish this goal. Meeting agendas give introverted people the safety net of a plan of action. They know that the discussion will be meaningful, that the conversation won’t be open-ended without a set end time, and that the other person (their mentor) shares this plan.


Implementing a mentor program is a huge first step towards building a stronger, more positive company culture and breaking through communication barriers.


But just having a mentor program doesn’t mean that the company is accomplishing their goals. Improvement takes active effort; the communication barriers and dysfunctional turnover are not going to magically disappear overnight. Employee engagement and positive company culture doesn’t appear by flipping a switch.


Unfortunately, many companies start (and end) these efforts with the idea of “let’s start a mentor program!” and simply call it a day. They might ‘match’ employees, but randomly. They might give suggested topics, but not meeting agendas. Instead of creating an impactful mentorship program for their company, they simply checked another box for their year-end review and assumed the benefits had already materialized. 


Providing mentor meeting agendas is one very important piece of building a strong, thriving employee horizontal mentorship program that connects with every employee, regardless of personality. 



Mon 4 May 2020
Steph Curry has mentors that help him with his shot. Can you believe that? The best basketball shooter on the planet has mentors to help him shoot better!? You would think he should be mentoring other people, right? 


Steph has coaches too. And he plays on a team, meets with other players from around the NBA to discuss basketball and life. But he also has mentors.


If you are an executive reading this article, compare yourself, as a leader in your company, to Steph Curry leading his team.


You may have a coach. And you may have an executive team that advises you on company matters, and you may participate in an executive advisory group. But do you have mentors?


This is not meant to offend, but chances are that you aren’t as good of an executive as Steph Curry is a shooter. And even if you were, you should be taking every advantage you can if you want to be the best at your game. So if 2-time MVP, 3-time NBA champion, 6-time All-NBA team Steph Curry thinks he needs a mentor to achieve greatness, then you could probably use one too. 


So, what is a mentor?


A standard definition would say a mentor is simply an experienced and trusted advisor.


But there is clearly more to mentorship than that.


Does being experienced mean they must be older than you?


Does trusted mean that you have worked with them for many years?


Our research indicates that those assumptions about “experienced” and “trusted” are incorrect.


The best mentoring relationships are horizontal. Horizontal mentorships are mentoring relationships where two people are open to learning from each other and being constantly curious, giving their insight to the relationship, and approaching the personal/professional relationship as equals. In this mentorship paradigm, experience and trust are measured in more than just “years”. 


Great horizontal mentorship is built on a mutual perspective on the relationship between work and life. We call this work orientation. Some people view their work as a job (meaning their focus is on work/life balance), career (meaning their focus is on professional growth) or calling (meaning their focus is on personal/professional mission alignment). There is not a right or wrong work orientation and it is fluid, meaning it can change throughout your life.


Work orientation is an important factor in building great mentor relationships. When potential mentors are matched strictly on age, years of experience, status, or area of expertise, the likelihood that the relationship will last for 6 months and be considered productive and quality is 18%. These factors simply aren’t enough.


What if, instead of using superficial features, we matched people based on a deeper connection? When mentors are matched with aligning Work Orientations, the likelihood that the relationship will last for 6 months and be considered productive and quality jumps to 72%.


These relationships become even more successful when work orientation is combined with horizontal mentorship, particularly for company leaders and executives. Horizontal mentorship between executives is a powerful tool for improving yourself and your company. You can relate to similar decisions faced and strategies to consider – even if you are in completely different industries. You can emotionally relate to the stressors of the work and can take a smarter approach when challenging you to grow professionally. Their outside, yet equal perspective provides something that an individual executive’s team or coaches won’t (because that executive controls their pay and job status).


Why should executives have mentors?


1. Have somebody else to help balance the mental load of what an executive is normally carrying.


As an executive, you are faced with a lot of decisions and plans. Even if you are the most organized and well-planned person, your team is spending their full-time working with you in the office, and your only guidance is from your team. It’s difficult for someone to bring a new perspective to you when they are seeing the same things you see – even if they feel comfortable challenging you. Also, you have probably split your team into departments and you or a combination of you and your executives orchestrate the entire operation. Not everyone can relate and help you prioritize what is most important. Someone with a shared work orientation and has similar responsibilities in a different company/industry can help you ease the mental load of what you are facing.


2. Look at challenges from a different lens from somebody completely outside of your industry.


Success leaves clues. But it’s up to you to find them. What was successful in one industry might work in another. If you are an executive and your network is insulated and rarely expanding, you will only surround yourself with the same thinking. Finding new mentors and continuing to build relationships with current mentors will help you expand your problem-solving abilities.


3. Be able to emotionally attach and disengage.


A mentor is not a spouse. A mentor is close enough to you that they can understand and empathize but distant enough from you that you can make mistakes with what you say or how you phrase something without it backlashing. You can technically fire your spouse, but that’s a relationship that you probably don’t want to fire if you don’t have to. It is okay for you to have a mentor relationship with somebody for 6 months and then if you decide you don’t like their advice anymore begin to grow distant. You can always pick that relationship back up again if you would like. 


What are common objections from executives for why not to have mentors?


1. I don’t have the time for mentors.


Are you working in the business or on the business? Executive mentors can help you work on the business. As a leader, you need to be thinking ahead and willing to do the work now so that your job will be easier later. If your job is to cut down trees, going at it day after day with a dull axe isn’t working hard, it’s working poorly. Mentorship helps you sharpen your metaphorical axe; neglecting your toolkit means you are neglecting your work, even if you think you can’t make the time.


2. I already have mentors.


How did you find your mentors? From the circles you actively connect with and run in? If you all hear the same things, are given similar advice, and trying the same strategies, are your mentors giving you anything new? Or are they just confirming what you already know? Finding executive mentors outside of your circle will make you see your blind spots. 


3. I don’t need mentors.


This sort of response typically comes from a place of ego. Anyone who says this is conveying that they have learned everything and there is no room for them to grow. Which, paradoxically, is proof that they in fact still have plenty more to learn. The knowledge and experience gained from an executive mentor is simply irreplaceable. As I stated at the opening of this blog: chances are, you are no Steph Curry (in your field). The best of the best are that way for a reason. Success leaves clues and this one isn’t buried that deep.      


Every executive will benefit by cultivating a group of strong, diverse mentor relationships, especially ones outside of their industry and normal sphere of influence. The diversity of thought that comes from these types of relationships lead executives to make massive breakthroughs in their businesses, and within themselves mentally and emotionally. What’s your excuse?
Mon 11 May 2020
Engagement has become a popular metric for measuring satisfaction of employees, productivity, and, to an extent, the health of a company’s culture.
But is engagement a truly accurate metric for measuring satisfaction of employees, productivity, and company culture?
Engagement has clearly shown a correlation to greater productivity and workplace happiness, but how accurate is our method for measuring workplace engagement? Are their leading indicators that might serve as a better metric for how engagement will change?
This article outlines some of the issues with solely measuring engagement and identifies some additional metrics that may provide stronger evidence for when engagement is volatile or calm.
The three issues with only measuring engagement are as follows:
1.Engagement can change in an instant
When an engaged employee becomes disengaged, it is often instigated by one event rather than by some extended sequence of events over time. Most people enter a company excited to get to work and get started, thus are highly engaged. But as they spend more time with the company, they get to know more people and become more accustomed to the workplace. They formulate ideas and expectations about who their coworkers and bosses are and how they are expected to act, and these expectations are compared and contrasted with their own internal compass for how the workplace is expected to operate. 
But, when this new and engaged employee is confronted by someone strongly deviating from the expectations in a negative way, this negative event can muddle their expectations and disengage the employee. 
This is more than simple conjecture; I’ve heard this same story again and again. For example, a friend of mine works at a company where 1 employee (Director) became frustrated at another employee (Accountant) because the accountant consistently asked the director to redo his expense reports. The director’s frustrations stemmed from the fact that it took him 15 minutes to redo the expense reports. In all fairness, there were mistakes, but the director thought that they were immaterial and insignificant.
So, the director goes to other people in his department to share what a pain in the butt it is to redo the expense reports. He subtly inserts his frustrations into conversations to see if anyone else can relate. If somebody bites, they enter a conversation and begin venting their frustrations about the accountant.
The issue is that word travels fast. The accountant learns about these conversations and doesn’t feel comfortable approaching the director with his thoughts or feelings. He is then posed with the question, “does he do his job properly or not because he knows the director is going to complain?”
The accountant learns about his treatment and switches from engaged to disengaged in an afternoon.
2. Work status changes can temporarily impact engagement away from the average
Similarly to starting a new relationship, there is usually a brief ‘honeymoon’ period when taking up a new role or position. Whether it’s a promotion or a new job altogether, taking over new responsibilities feels awesome at first. We feel eager to learn new things, jump on tasks that need to get done, and are open-minded to the feedback we receive.
Within the first 3 months of starting this role, our engagement is artificially elevated because we are “drinking from the firehose”. There are so many amazing opportunities and interesting new responsibilities that it would be difficult to not be engaged.
If a company measures engagement every 6 months or once per year and their survey includes people within those first 3 months of starting a new role, the results are likely skewed positively. If leadership is relying on this information to make informed decisions about how to best manage their team, they are going to be relying on falsely inflated engagement scores which diminishes the need to positively develop the company. Why provide new activities for their employees when engagement is already high when instead, you could double-down on quotas and operational goals and try to squeeze some extra productivity from their “highly engaged” workforce? 
If the engagement numbers are skewed, this type of scenario could put engagement and workplace morale into a tailspin. These artificially engaged employees might become overworked. And when they leave the honeymoon stage and revert back to the mean, their dwindling engagement could reach a critical threshold because leadership pushed when they needed to support. 
3. Daily engagement measures lead to survey fatigue
Some companies may claim they eradicate the first two issues because they measure engagement daily.
However, this approach brings a new problem: survey fatigue. If employees are asked the same questions every single day, they are going to grow accustomed to consistently responding a certain way, regardless of the underlying truth. Instead of capturing their engagement, we are simply building a pointless ritual into every employee’s day: the daily survey that only truly measures how quickly they click the “moderately engaged” button.  
In this case, gathering more data does not mean necessarily gathering better data. The previous two issues, 1) engagement can change in an instant and 2) that work status changes can artificially inflate engagement are very much still a concern. In fact, daily measurements might be worse than 3 or 6 month measurements because the daily habitual answers could override honesty right up until that event that “flips” the engagement switch. 
However, there isn’t all bad news about measuring workplace engagement. As mentioned earlier in this article, there is a direct correlation to productivity and work satisfaction when engagement is high.
There are leading indicators that can help companies better understand whether or not engagement is susceptible to change.
The leading indicators our team has identified are 1) Communication Barriers between employees and 2) Dysfunctional Turnover.
We define communication barriers between employees as the lack of understanding for the obstacles another employee faces, and we define dysfunctional turnover as turnover from employees that do great work and are engaged but are susceptible to leaving because of something going on in the company (e.g. not due to personal events).
Our team has identified that 68% of engaged employees believe that there are communication barriers between themselves and other employees at work. This is critical to understand because it means that people are forming assumptions about others’ work, but only rarely get chances to find out if these assumptions are based in fact. When employees don’t understand the obstacles faced by their coworkers, they form assumptions about what other employees do. These assumptions can create a lack of empathy, and this lack of empathy creates a high susceptibility for them to become disgruntled and disengaged by someone else’s actions in coordination with their assumptions.
If you can understand how many of your employees experience communication barriers at work, you can begin to gauge how quickly engagement might change.
Dysfunctional turnover also involves communication, but as opposed to the focus being on what other people are doing outside of an employee’s control, it involves the communication an employee receives for their specific job function. When employees feel like they are not getting adequate feedback or communication from their boss, they are susceptible to becoming disengaged. Employees are also susceptible to becoming disengaged when they don’t perceive that their colleagues respect the work they do.
Measuring dysfunctional turnover is not the same as measuring the TIS (Turnover Intention Scale) as the TIS asks for feedback on pretty black and white statements like “I don’t envision myself working for this company much longer.” We measure dysfunctional turnover via factors like communication quality with colleagues and bosses during multi-person tasks and their perception of the respect they receive for the work they do.
In essence, engagement metrics do have a lot of value, but measuring engagement only shows where engagement is at now, not where it will be. Measuring leading indicators like communication barriers between employees and dysfunctional turnover can provide a lens into where engagement is going.
 

Mon 18 May 2020
I recently wrote an article about the importance of mentorship for executives, and I wanted to write another article specifically about why HR executives should have mentors.


If anybody has ever seen the American version of The Office, they may associate HR with Toby. If you haven’t seen The Office, Toby is a well-intentioned HR professional but is hated by Michael Scott, the branch manager. Their acrimonious relationship is because Michael perceives Toby as the “killer of fun” or put another way, the killer of innovation and new ideas.


We watch the show from Michael’s perspective because he is the boss and the main character, but let’s take a second to put ourselves in Toby’s shoes.


Toby is an HR team of 1 where he has to manage all of the HR functions of the entire branch. If Michael comes up with an inappropriate, or even illegal, idea and Toby doesn’t step in to stop it, the company could get sued and Toby is at fault. For comedic relief, we laugh at the antics and the angst between Michael and Toby. 


But if we put ourselves in Toby’s shoes, I think the dilemma becomes clear. How do we handle novel HR scenarios and issues without having the experience and information necessary to be sure we are choosing the right action? 


After interviewing over 50 HR executives in the past 3 months, I have learned that most companies have more HR projects that their HR team can possibly handle. Their work turns into a process of constantly taking care of what is most pressing right now while deferring an ever-growing list of lower-priority tasks for a later date “when things calm down”.


HR executives must understand what’s going on within their own company while also monitoring other companies to assess how they are doing to see if they are falling behind in any way. 


HR teams can end up isolated from other the broader HR professional network, save for the occasional SHRM conference or HR networking event. This lack of professional connection can be an obstacle to handling all of the work thrown at HR executives. An experienced network of like-minded colleagues can greatly improve your work and can help you avoid the emotional toll of not having somebody you relate and connect that can console you on how to balance the load of everything being thrown at HR executives.


So, why should HR executives have mentors?


1. Learn about what other HR executives are doing


If you are getting your guidance on what innovations you should consider pursuing at your annual SHRM conference or planning organizational changes and innovations years in advance, you are probably reacting to old advice. For example, let’s say you find a promising new Learning Management System at a conference in August. It seems valuable so you bring it up to your HR team in September, and you focus on ironing out all of the kinks in the plan before presenting the idea to the other company leaders. Now it’s December. But, budgets are approved for January in November/December meaning that now you are waiting until the following January for implementation. Now, your innovative idea from 18 months ago is finally being implemented and it’s already a bit out of date. 


With a strong network, a fellow HR executive mentor could have informed you about the Learning Management System back in March. You could have brought the idea up to your team and ironed out the kinks in preparation for the conference in August and been ready to implement it by the initial January. You’ve just cut your time-to-implementation time by half from 18 months to 9. 


2. Expand your network to other HR executives who can relate


When people don’t know each other that well, they have a tendency to only share the good things in their world – e.g. “My company was listed in the top 100 places to work”, or “we have made 30 new hires in the past month and are growing exponentially.” These conversations are pervasive at conferences or networking events. Brag fests and casual banter are fun pleasantries, but no one should mistake these for the deep, meaningful conversations that drive innovation and professional development. 


A fellow HR executive mentor from outside of one’s own company allows you to open up, share, and relate to another executive that shares your mindset, but has their own experiences. These connections, and the vulnerable conversations that occur in these mentorships, make HR executives not only better at their jobs, but most importantly, happier at work. 


3. Get advice on how to handle unfamiliar scenarios


The world changes all of the time. People are not antique toys that can be put in plastic boxes and held in place until they retire. There are actions and reactions that HR executives cannot control, and when uncertain situations strike, you have decisions to make. Here’s the most important decision: do you keep it to yourself and try to handle it alone for fear that asking for advice will make you seem ineffective at your job? 


A fellow HR executive mentor might have faced that type of situation before. At a minimum, they can ask relevant questions and share their thoughts based on what they have experienced before. And at best, they can share their wisdom and help you find the key to solving the problem. 


As an HR executive, you are whom your company turns to when they have an HR question, regardless of whether you know the answer. Mentorship provides HR executives with their own team of informal advisors, and a fellow HR executive mentor makes life easier because they provide balance, insight, and perspective that you cannot find from your current network. 

Mon 25 May 2020
One of the biggest reasons people join professional associations is for the opportunity to network and educate themselves on the most up-to-date topics in their field. Most professional associations go about delivering this value via conferences and local meet-ups by individual chapters of the association.

With COVID-19, most conferences have been canceled or postponed for a TBD date. This poses a major threat to association managers because if they aren’t able to provide networking or educational opportunities to its members, why should their members keep paying their annual dues? 

After speaking with a handful of association managers and board members, I have learned that many professional associations are losing membership because of the coronavirus and its subsequent impact.

The truth is, you can only get so much engagement through digital educational sessions and panel discussions with guest speakers on Zoom or YouTube. These activities simply can’t replicate the personal nature of having intimate, vulnerable, one-on-one conversations among colleagues. Large, digital meetings rarely lead to honest discussions about areas they want to improve and the opportunities they would like to pursue. 

One great way to keep association members engaged in educational and networking opportunities is horizontal mentorship. Horizontal mentorship means connecting two professionals together for a mutually beneficial mentoring relationship where both professionals learn from each other while sharing their personal insight.  

Traditional (or vertical) mentorship is predicated on an imbalanced mentor-to-mentee relationship which exacerbates power imbalances. Traditional mentorship embeds unequal roles into the relationship and this has negative consequences: after 6 months, only 18% of vertical mentoring relationships are considered productive and high quality by participants. Horizontal mentorship focuses on building relationships based on shared alignment of Work Orientation. This ensures that the two professionals’ value systems and reasons for working are aligned. Mentor relationships built this way are 4 times more likely to last 6 months and be rated as productive and high-quality by the participants, compared to traditional mentorship. 

This article offers 3 reasons why professional associations should engage their members virtually through a horizontal mentorship program.

  1. Horizontal mentorship develop close-ties and a localized community from a global, national, or even state-wide membership base that is relying on digital interaction

Previously, these far-flung members might not have been able to easily connect for meaningful conversations. Through horizontal mentorship, previously-distant members that might not have ever interacted one-on-one can now build strong, deep-rooted social bonds, further increasing the value they gain from their association. While these types of connections are always plausible, horizontal mentorship provides the framework for consistently building durable, valuable relationships among members. 

2. Horizontal mentorship provides a new level for members to engage with the association 

The commitment of jumping from one’s role as a general member to volunteering for the association can be significant and not every member is prepared to make that leap. Horizontal mentorship provides an opportunity for association members to deeply engage on a new level that works with their personal schedule and professional aspirations.

3. Horizontal mentorship helps members learn from each other and share experience

Providing educational content and connecting the right members together is not easy. Some educational sessions at conferences are more relevant to some people versus others. Rather than “fishing with dynamite”, horizontal mentorship creates personalized opportunities for members to learn from each other, ask questions specific to their own circumstances, and network with other members with similar perspectives on their approach to work (i.e. work orientation).

Now more than ever, associations must strive to find new, effective ways to connect members and increase engagement. Horizontal mentorship provides the opportunity for association members to engage with other members on an intimate level that works for their availability in a meaningful, virtual way. 
Mon 1 June 2020
Employee engagement is an extremely valuable metric for understanding your team. Engagement is strongly correlated with productivity, so if you are not measuring your team’s engagement, now is a good time to start. This data can tell you how your team feels about their work, offer potential insight on what you can do to make them more happy and productive, and give you some idea of whether or not your employees are likely to leave the job in the near future.


But, the issue with measuring engagement is that it is a lagging metric. By the time you identify that a certain department or team in your company is becoming disengaged, it is likely far too late. Re-engagement is very difficult; they may already be working on their way out and are unlikely to be willing to give management the benefit of the doubt by putting aside their frustrations. 


The first step towards avoiding fully disengaged employees is determining when they are most susceptible to becoming disengaged.  


We call this measure Engagement Volatility, and we use this to understand when employees are likely to be most significantly affected by a negative event at work.   


Many employees fully support and enjoy the company culture and really do enjoy their jobs. For these employees, it takes a lot to shake their confidence in the company.


There are also other people who may respond favorably to an engagement assessment today, but their beliefs in their work or company aren’t nearly as firm.


High-volatility employees can become disengaged in an instant. Whether from reading an email that seems passive-aggressive, realizing the bonus structure or compensation plan seems unfair or being forced to switch their work project or style, employees with high volatility can quickly become disenchanted with their company when dealing with frustrating events at work. 


My team and I at Ambition In Motion identified two key metrics for determining engagement volatility: communication barriers and dysfunctional turnover intentions.


Communication Barriers


Communication barriers represent the lack of understanding among employees about what other employees do for their work. For example, let’s say that John in accounting frequently must interact with Jane in sales to handle some customer accounts. How well does John actually understand what Jane does? If these two employees don’t understand each other’s work, there are communication barriers that can impact their work relationship, productivity, and engagement volatility.  


Communication barriers don’t necessarily tell us that the two people don’t like each other. It just means that they don’t understand what the other person does for their work and the obstacles they face.


How does this lead to engagement volatility?


Communication barriers force people to formulate assumptions about what other people do. These assumptions then lead to a lack of empathy and understanding, especially during frustrating work events. When a small miscommunication about some work task blows up, this creates an opening for people to become disengaged. It creates an opportunity to feel like they are getting taken advantage of or that the grass could be greener on the other side.


For example, let’s go back to John (accounting) and Jane (sales). John sees that Jane spent $200 on a lunch with a client and thinks to himself, “who spends $200 on a lunch?!?!” He is certain that he could have made that same sale and only spent $100 on lunch, but instead, he has to adjust budgets to fit this extra expense and his frustration grows. By discounting all of the work and skills necessary to be a great salesperson, he begins to assume (likely incorrectly) that he could do her job. This subtle frustration can grow, leading John to bring up Jane’s work ethic in casual conversations with people at the office to learn their thoughts. Once he finds somebody that happens to agree with him, it confirms his belief that he could do her job, and now he feels frustrated that she is getting bonuses and commissions on sales he is certain could have easily made. When Jane, unknowing of John’s frustrations with her, emails John, he responds passive-aggressively. He assumes that Jane knows he is frustrated and considers her lazy and inefficient. Meanwhile, Jane has no clue why his emails have become so strange, and her frustration with her work environment begin to simmer.


And the domino effect goes on and on from there…


Our team identified that 68% of engaged employees still feel communication barriers between themselves and other employees at work (e.g. they feel they don’t understand what other people do for their work). Even engaged, productive employees encounter these frustrating events, and these can lead directly to high engagement volatility. 


Dysfunctional Turnover Intentions


There are 4 types of turnover for employees at work: variable, invariable, functional and dysfunctional. Variable, invariable, and functional turnover are types of uncontrollable turnover. They are based on factors outside of a company’s control – e.g. a spouse getting a job in a different city and the employee moving with their spouse, the employee being bad at their job and getting fired, or an employee receiving an offer for significantly more money from another company and the current employer being unwilling or unable to match the salary. 


Dysfunctional turnover is the type of turnover a company can control. Dysfunctional turnover is based on two key factors: the clarity of their job responsibilities and purpose within the company, and their perceived respect level from their colleagues and supervisor(s).


When employees are unclear about what they are doing or why they are doing it, they are highly susceptible to becoming disengaged because the work becomes purposeless. They have no idea if what they are doing is correct, and they have no idea about how their work plays into the larger picture of the company. Lack of purpose and value at work drags down engagement and productivity.


70% of employees avoid difficult conversations (like asking for clarity on their role or task) with their boss, colleagues, or direct reports, according to a Bravely study. Essentially, people fear or feel uncomfortable asking for clarity. This contributes to their engagement volatility and if the “what” and “why” of their work isn’t clarified quickly, they could become disengaged.


The perception of respect is the other critical factor to dysfunctional turnover intentions. When employees don’t feel respected by their colleagues or supervisor, they will have high engagement volatility. 


The perception of respect is the key. 


To be clear, respect is important, but the effects are not directly based on whether or not colleagues or supervisors actually respect the employee’s work. It is based on whether the employee perceives that their work is respected. If they don’t feel like they are appreciated for their contribution or that the feedback they receive is sincere, they quickly become disengaged.


Solution


One way to better understand your team’s engagement volatility is by sending your team Ambition In Motion Engagement Volatility Assessment. It takes roughly 5 minutes to complete and can provide great insight into your team’s likelihood of becoming disengaged. You can break it down by department so you can better understand if there are some departments that have higher/lower engagement volatility than others.


Once you understand your team’s engagement volatility, you can work towards identifying what steps you should take to ease your team’s volatility and stabilize your employee engagement.


One great way to accomplish this is by implementing a Horizontal Mentorship Program. Horizontal mentorship helps your team break through employee communication barriers, improve clarity of your employees’ roles and responsibilities, and build empathy and respect across your team.

Wed 8 July 2020
Successful companies hold candid conversations, explore areas of innovation, and refine strategy on a regular cadence. Why not you?

In the last month, have you asked yourself: Who you are and what you have? What you do? Who do you help? How you help? How they know you and how you deliver? How you interact? Who helps you? What you get? And what you give? If yes, that is great! If not, it is a great time to start!

Let’s focus on: Who you are? This core area encompasses three topics: interests, personality, and personal skills and abilities. 

Your engagement and overall satisfaction, whether at home or at work, is directly linked to your interest in the things you do. This is slightly different than one’s passion as it is focused more on a micro level. 

Your personality is undoubtedly the staple of: Who you are? However, this is far greater than the typical responses of: I’m an introvert. I enjoy being around others. Your personality in essence is a combination of DNA + life experiences. It represents your strengths, your weakness, your blind spots, your preferred work and life environments, and your competencies.

Your skills and abilities are shaped by life (or learned) experiences. Further, this area is the most flexible of the three (3) areas. Skills can be learned, lost, or refined. Abilities, on the other hand, are less elastic. Think about numerical reasoning or critical reading and writing. Certainly one can improve in those areas but those themes, and others, are often embedded intrinsically. 

You will notice that: Who you are and what you have? is the first in a series of important questions to fully understand yourself and provides a trajectory towards personal optimization. 

It is critical to start this journey with a sound, valued partner – a mentor or one who can hold the mirror and ask targeted questions as you reflect. Mentors come in all different ‘sizes and shapes.’ Colleagues. Family members. Book authors. Business partners. Ambition In Motion's Horizontal Mentoring program offers a new, fresh approach to the mentor-mentee relationship. Rather than the traditional top-down approach, Ambition In Motion’s methodology is based on the science of work orientation allowing for deep, horizontal relationships to form. Think about an engineer paired with a marketing manager or a customer service representative matched with an IT analyst. Imagine how these interesting combinations could jolt your insight not only within your organization but within yourself. 
Tue 30 June 2020
Although I was very excited to begin this program, I can say that there was a certain degree of skepticism and apprehension when it came to meeting my Peer-Mentor for our first 1-on-1 session.   Not only are we from two different organizations, and two different work environments, but honestly from two different fields.  My career has largely been focused on Training/Development, with a strong tie to the HR field, while my Peer-Mentor has had a long career in HR Management.

To say that our initial meeting/work session was a success would be an understatement.  We were able to connect on multiple topics and the communication was very fluid and relaxed.  I truly believe that we will both value significantly from this networking opportunity and I look forward to our next few sessions.
Mon 20 July 2020
Change in your business is inevitable.

Whether impetus for change is internal like a new business insight that causes you to move in a new direction, or external like a global pandemic that forces you to rethink the way you do business, change always happens.

As a leader for your business, you may find that adapting to change seems easier for you than it is for your people. This could be due to you having a higher risk tolerance than your staff or that you were part of the decision for the change while your people are asked to follow along after hearing about it from you or somebody else second-hand.

Regardless, the key point is that change happens and some people will handle it better than others. While this process can be tough, what is important is that the people that are able to change with you, will also be able to grow with you.

According to ClearRock Inc, 70% of change initiatives fail to achieve their basic goals. 

However, if you can get the right people around you, people that are willing and able to change with you and be happy about it, you are significantly more likely to successfully navigate this change.

This article sheds light on an effective way to enact change in your company while maintaining culture.

In 2003, Evan Williams sold blogger.com to Google. Blogger was one of the first dedicated websites for what we know as the blog today.

By 2004, Evan was already cooking up new plans and finding ways to change the game. He asked, “What if we could implement blogs, but with audio?” and began working. He called this new company Odeo. 

This was a brand new medium for media consumption and Evan thought he had another big opportunity on his hands. But in 2005, something big happened that would change his world forever.

In 2005, Apple decided that they were going to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into a new form of media that was strikingly similar to audio blogs. This surprised Evan Williams because at this moment, these “audio blogs” as Evan referred to them barely had any traction.

Apple called this component of their business “podcasts”. 

While Odeo started garnering some traction, it was definitely not a market leader and when Apple flooded the market with podcasts, Odeo was left to fend for the scraps.

Suddenly time was running out for Evan. He was backed into a corner, hemorrhaging funds and rapidly approaching a decision he was loath to consider: closing the company. That’s when he made the bold decision to do something interesting.

Evan decided to be vulnerable.

As opposed to telling his team that everything would be okay and to keep pushing in the direction he knew was a losing battle, Evan was open and honest.

As opposed to just him and his executive team determining what to do next, he involved his entire team to be a part of the solution. 

Their initial idea was to have a hackathon where all of their employees could work individually or in small groups to come up with ideas about how they could pivot and transition. The hackathon was a success and they were able to scrape some good ideas from the event (alongside some team-building for good measure). 

Two of Evan’s employees, Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey, came up with this idea leveraging their prior experience with Evan at Blogger. As opposed to long, free-form blogs meant for longer reads, what about a blogging site built around short text snippets that people could skim? 

As they began testing the idea, it took off in popularity. They were able to get famous celebrities on the site by providing a way for these celebrities to get their message out to a wide audience without the barriers of traditional media. 

This hackathon idea became what we know today as Twitter.

Evan Williams was able to transition the majority of his Odeo team to fully focus on Twitter. He successfully accomplished this because he was vulnerable with his team and allowed them to be a part of the decision-making process, thus ensuring that every member of his team had buy-in for the tough work ahead. 

To recap: 

·        Change is inevitable
·        Effectively implementing change is hard
·        Some people handle change better than others
·        To maintain your culture through the change, be vulnerable with your team
·        And include your people in the decision-making process

Coming to this conclusion isn’t easy. As a leader, it requires admitting that you may have made a mistake and that you may not know the best path forward. Having a fellow executive mentor can help unlock your vulnerability and improve your performance as a leader. Executive Mentorship isn’t a group of executives meeting afterhours to discuss work and it’s not coaching either. An executive mentoring relationship is a 1-on-1 relationship with another executive who can relate to your situation, help you understand your weaknesses, and provide a safe space for you to be vulnerable.

Wed 15 July 2020
How does one define leadership? In many ways it is a concept that is difficult to define. Difficult to understand. Difficult to execute. And difficult to replicate. Consider how many books, articles, seminars, and case studies have been offered over the decades – not to mention the ability to earn a PhD in Leadership! As such, leadership comes in many models often formed by personal experiences and successes and failures of others.

At the fundamental level, at least in business, leadership can be defined as simply making better decisions than your competition. How does one develop this capability? An executive noted, “Make a lot of bad decisions that don’t kill you.” It is true that one’s experience is, in many cases, a result of trial and error and observation of others. Unfortunately, experience alone is no panacea; thus, a leader must be aware of their blind spots and recognition – or lack thereof – becomes more critical as one moves up the corporate ladder.

Blind spots represent an unrecognized weakness or hazard that has the potential to undercut a leader’s success. Blind spots can be found on numerous levels: how you view yourself and your impact on others, the strengths and weaknesses of your team and organization, and the forces operating in the markets in which you compete. Fortunately, blind spots can be identified and managed if one looks for them. Given such, carefully select valued sounding boards who push you, question you, and assist you in recognizing the areas that may undermine your success and that of your organization. 

Programs such as those offered by Ambition In Motion can illuminate leadership blind spots. This is vital as blind spots are not just cases of failing to see ourselves or our actions accurately. They are evident in the way we view our teams, organizations, and markets. 

Executives and senior leaders, get started today: https://rb.gy/5luuqj 



Wed 22 July 2020
In my discussion with my mentor this month, we talked about challenging ourselves and setting tangible goals. It’s common knowledge that the best way to succeed at anything is to set goals and objectives and measure yourself against them. It’s not always so easy to actually do it, or even remember that you should. It is very easy to get lost in the business of daily life and work and forget to set goals for yourself. It’s also easy to make excuses that allow you to put them off. 

For me personally, there’s a level of fear in setting goals as well. If I go through the process of setting a goal, then that means I could fail. If I don’t set any goals, I can never technically fail. That’s not really a useful way to accomplish anything though, which is why having a mentor is so helpful. Among many other things, a mentor can be an accountability partner. This partnership is a powerful tool for both creating and reaching goals, which is exactly what we talked about in our last meeting. 

My mentor and I helped each other create some goals for the next few months. My goals were created as a result of my most recent peer review. My self-ratings were pretty well in-line with those of my peers, however my own scores were slightly lower than my peers’. With some insight from Garrett Mintz of Ambition in Motion, we figured out that this means I’m likely able to ask a little more from my colleagues. My mentor and I took that idea and created a goal from it. My goal is to make at least three asks per week that I normally wouldn’t. This may seem simple, but it’s a confidence building exercise. It’s a stepping stone on my way to larger, greater goals as well. My mentor has his own goals too, and we’ll be checking in with each other weekly to see if we’ve followed through, that’s where the accountability comes in. I’m excited to get started and see where we go next!


Wed 29 July 2020
My latest executive peer mentoring session examined each of our core values and why we do what we do. Some of the questions posed were: What is your core focus for why you work? Why do you exist? What impact do you want to have? What is your strategy for getting others to help you achieve this impact? We were encouraged to brainstorm what that impact will that look like in 10 years... 3 years… How about in one year?
 
These are facilitated by Ambition In Motion (https://ambition-in-motion.com).
 
I usually look for one or two Big Ideas to take away (sometimes I come up with more, believe me!). Two that really stood from our time last week are:
 
  1. The power of impact
I routinely coach clients to look at the IMPACT they have. What is a pattern of results that they have accomplished, over time? What do they do consistently, repeatedly, naturally? This represents the impact they have on their surroundings – and it can take a variety of forms. For a salesperson, it can be consistently overachieving their quota/revenue objectives. For a manager, it might be achieving unit/department/area results – and how many people they have helped to develop or mentor along the way. It may be areas or processes they have helped to improve.
 
Most often, the impact we have usually flows from our exercising the core strengths we have, consistent with working and living out our own core values. It’s an outgrowth of who we are.
 
Want to see an illustration? Think of someone you know pretty well - pull up their LinkedIn profile. Scroll down to any Recommendations that others have written about them. The chances are that you’ll see this at work.
 
Working with clients in developing them in their career, I routinely ask them a lot of questions to pull this out. I strongly encourage them to articulate their impact in the first half-page of their resume, and in the Summary of their LinkedIn profile.

2. The power of reflection
My mentor Geoff shared one of John Maxwell’s practices. He is a consummate journal-maker, taking notes of actions, reactions, and results daily. He takes a few days at the end of each year to re-read his diary and reflect. Geoff challenged the two of us to independently plan a couple of days at the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021, to re-read notes, recap goals, and savor accomplishments. And, how about reflecting on key actions and causes behind the accomplishments? How about those goals or actions that were inadvertently “left behind”?
 
I make monthly goals, then weekly goals. I don’t journal in notebooks hardcopy much, certainly not like I used to. But I do keep track of those goals and have them available. Note to self: Block out 1-2 days in December for intentional reflection.
 
We just passed mid-year in the midst of a pandemic, forcing us to spend more time by ourselves. Maye now is a good time to reflect. Or, look ahead and intentionally plan for that.
 
How about you - What’s YOUR impact?
 
Mon 3 August 2020
As a business, you must be constantly setting new goals and working towards accomplishing your current goals. The goals you aim for need to be big enough to ensure consistent growth while remaining tangible, realistic, and achievable.  

But goals also need to be flexible. Managing how your team goes about accomplishing those goals requires you to be open to suggestions and improvements or else risk falling behind the pack. 

Oftentimes, there will be an aspirational quantifiable goal that your team is working towards accomplishing. For example, reaching $1 million in annual revenue. While there are many different ways you can accomplish this goal, the conventional wisdom is usually to follow the same methods that lead you here and keep progressing along the same path towards that goal.

Sometimes, the plans that got you here are not the plans that will lead you to your ultimate goal. Let’s continue with the quantity goal of achieving $1 million in revenue. Now let’s say you are collecting monthly payments on your product or service, and your sales team is growing sales at 10% month-over-month: it looks like you are well on your way! But you might be missing crucial factors. You might not notice until it’s too late that your product isn’t high enough quality to retain those clients and now you are losing 20% of clients after three months. Now you are stuck in a situation that is essentially just pouring water to a leaky bucket.

The cost to make the quality adjustments might be really expensive…but the cost of consistently losing business is usually going to be worse. If there aren’t quality controls in place, it’s going to make achieving your $1 million in revenue goal harder and make the next important milestone even more difficult to achieve if you don’t change your things up. 

Word spreads quickly and first impressions are incredibly important! If word spreads that your quality is inconsistent, you will saturate the market with a negative reputation and eventually find it very difficult to garner new customers.

Essentially, the cost of consistently putting out a bad product becomes more and more expensive as word spreads. This cost to reputation quickly grows to be significantly greater than the cost of doing nothing.

A story that does a great job of conveying this is the story of Pixar Animation Studios and the story of Toy Story 2. In the 1980’s, Steve Jobs (after getting let go by the board of Apple) bought Pixar from Lucas Film, and in the early 1990’s the Walt Disney Company hired Pixar to make 1 full-length, completely computer-animated movie.

At the time, there had never been a full-length completely computer animated movie. It had never been done. Pixar had done shorts before (and actually won an Oscar in 1988 for Tin Toy), but they had never made a full-length movie before. The agreement was that the Walt Disney Company would pay for the entire cost of producing the film but would receive 100% of the royalties. 

Steve Jobs and the Pixar management team knew that this was not necessarily the greatest deal for them. They knew that if the movie was a hit and Disney kept all of the royalties, they would have Pixar hamstrung and forced into this type of deal for the future because their profit on this deal was minimal.

Therefore, right before Pixar’s first movie with Disney went live to theaters, they made a bold move. They decided to have an Initial Public Offering (IPO). This was risky because if their first movie flopped, the company would be out of business. But, if it was a success, they knew Disney would come back to them to make more films and the additional funds from IPO would allow them to cover their half of the production cost and take a half of the royalties. 

Their first movie: Toy Story. 

What else needs to be said? But just in case you need a refresher: Toy Story was a smash success and won an Oscar in 1995.

The Walt Disney Company agreed to a deal to cover half of the production cost for two more movies and split the royalties with Pixar. This was still a relatively risky spot for Pixar because if any of these movies flopped, they would be on the hook for it. 

Pixar’s next movie was A Bug’s Life. Not only was it another great box office success and instant classic, but the production of the film went off without a hitch. 

Their second movie was Toy Story 2, and the production of the much-anticipated sequel was not nearly as smooth as A Bug’s Life or even the original Toy Story. In fact, Toy Story 2 almost ended up never being released…twice! 

Because Pixar was a young and quickly growing company, they hadn’t really established the type of quality protocol and procedures necessary when making films. Like most startups, they were flying by the seat of their pants. 

Since they were making A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2 at the same time, they had to split their teams to focus on each respective movie and hired an outside film director to direct Toy Story 2. 

The Pixar team was so focused on releasing A Bug’s Life that they gave essentially free reign to this new director to direct Toy Story 2. By the time Toy Story 2 was “ready” for a final review, Pixar encountered a huge problem: the movie just wasn’t very good. It simply wasn’t emotionally gripping or well-put together. 

The Pixar team had to make a choice: keep this sub-par film that they invested millions of dollars into, or scrap the entire film and start over (and risk upsetting everyone that worked on the original Toy Story 2).

The short-term risk was losing the millions of dollars they spent producing the film. The long-term risk was losing the Walt Disney Company as a financial and commercial partner, leaving them having to go off on their own and figure out distribution channels, promotion, and everything else that Disney brought to the table that made their involvement so valuable.

So, Pixar decided to pivot. They scrapped the entire first draft of the movie (losing millions of dollars) and started over. 

Production was going well: great story, great characters, great emotion. But, right before Toy Story 2 (the second version) was ready to be released, something happened. The developers at Pixar were working on improving some small visual features and that involved writing over the code in some folder. But, they used the wrong command: ask a programmer and they will let you know that this is easy to do! So, when they went to delete and replace the folder, the command instead started deleting every file it encountered. And…a developer accidentally entered that command. After a moment, they started seeing files disappearing and realized what was happening.

Everything was deleted. Woody, Buzz, Mr. Potatohead, everything! They scrapped millions of dollars on the first movie and then accidentally deleted the entire second go-around of this movie. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue. Everyone knows to backup important work, right? Except the backups were untested, and failed when they tried to retrieve their work. All seemed lost. 

However, they had a lifeline. One of their employees who was pregnant was granted the opportunity to work from home (back when working from home wasn’t the norm). Every week, she would back up the entire movie on her home hard drive. After they realized this, they dashed to her house to find out whether or not their entire project was truly gone. 

The Pixar team drove to her house, picked up her hard drive and…it was all there! 

The movie released and was a total success and laid the groundwork for Pixar to create: Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, and so many other movies that became instant classics.

Pixar had an original goal: to make 2 movies with Disney. They could have stuck to the original version of Toy Story 2, but that could have led to lost business and opportunities down the line (the equivalent of a leaky bucket). 

Pixar chose to pivot in the face of adversity for the opportunity to set themselves up in the long-term.

They created the Brain Trust which is a quality control team that meets with directors weekly to ensure that the movies they are directing are on track and quality.

They also implemented technical systems that prevented employees from losing everything in their system, and ensuring that their work is backed up, that their backups are backed up, and that those are backed up too! 

Technically, Pixar didn’t need to make either of those pivots to make 2 movies. But to make 2 high quality movies that would sustain the success of their business for years to come, these pivots were absolutely necessary.

The point: having goals is a great first step. But to maintain your success, you are going to need to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge that what you are doing now isn’t perfect and will be improved. There are some activities that may not directly drive your outcome in the short-term, but will absolutely lead you to success over the long term. Knowing when, how, and just being open to pivoting is critical to your success as a leader and as a company.

Wed 5 August 2020
This week I had my second meeting with my Peer Mentor and it was another good one.   Each time we meet Garrett has a recommended agenda that ensures each meeting will be productive and avoids the “So, what do you want to talk about today” condition that can be stifling.  However, he always gives us permission to deviate from “the script” and go wherever the moment takes us. The topic was “Collaboration” and this time we stuck to the agenda.  We were asked to share the biggest challenge facing us currently, but that wasn’t all.  We were supposed to ask our mentor to assist us with the challenge – not just give advice on how to deal with it.  

When I first read that I thought, “Since my biggest challenge is something I need to do at/for work and Mike can’t work on that, I better pick some other challenge that he can help with.”   Then, when I shared this thought with Garrett he pushed back.  “Why limit Mike and possibly miss a great opportunity for him to collaborate with you?”   That’s when I realized that this sort of pre-qualifying others for their help is something that I do a lot.   How many times at work, at home, at church, or elsewhere have I faced a situation that I could use some help but I tell myself, “(that person) can’t help you with that”, so I never ask.   Even when that person is there to help!   

I don’t know if this is function of pride (I don’t really need the help), or trying to save the other person from having to say, “Sorry, I can’t help with that”, or being afraid that they may reject me and refuse to help.   Whatever it is, I’m sure that it has cost me many many hours and dollars trying to struggle on my own.  Further, how many people have I denied the opportunity to be helpful to me.  When I do that it is truly lose-lose. 

After this session, I’ve decided that I would be more open with those around me who may have abilities that I’m unaware of that would be perfect for my present challenge.   Who is in your circle that would be happy to help you in ways that you didn’t even know they could?

Wed 12 August 2020
Over the course of my career, there has been an increasing focus on making work “easier”.  This initiative has taken many forms over the years, ranging from process improvements and documentation, to streamlining meetings, to improved electronic platforms, etc.  As I began to get involved with the Ambition in Motion program, my personal workload began to increase as well, and more than ever the need for an “easy” application was essential.

 I can comfortably say that this program is very easy, with a clearly defined structure, easy to follow instructions, and continued touchpoints and follow-up from the program administrators.  In addition to the regular Mentorship sessions, there as many other opportunities for personal growth.  I can honestly say that the most difficult portion of this program is personally finding the time to take full advantage of what is offered.  I am very excited to see how this continues to grow and evolve.



Mon 17 August 2020
I am in a mentoring relationship with another CEO who has been having some people issues at this company. The focus of our most recent conversation was how to handle these types of situations without harming company culture and morale.

The issue he is focused on right now is with his controller (or lead accountant). His controller is a really nice guy, everybody loves him, and from a company culture perspective, he brings positivity to the workplace. But, he just isn’t getting his work done on time, and he is often a bottle-neck for the entire company. 

My CEO mentor recognizes this and doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t want to fire him because people genuinely like him and he has positive attributes that make the work environment rewarding. But he can’t let the whole company be hamstrung because of one person’s delayed work.

3 weeks earlier, this CEO mentor of mine had a similar issue with a couple of his salespeople. They were nice employees and people liked them, but they also weren’t getting the job done. In that situation, the CEO essentially gave his salespeople an ultimatum: “If you don’t increase your performance, we are going to have to move in a different direction.”

The result…both salespeople took his suggestion, moved in a different direction, and left with a sour taste in their mouth of their working experience.

It didn’t stop there either. Additional costs for the company and my CEO mentor were significant because he now needed to recruit, hire, and train 2 new salespeople, all the while losing out on the sales from the 2 former employees. This all set him back on accomplishing other business goals that he set his company.

The CEO decided that he wanted a different outcome with his controller. My mentor realized that the ideal outcome would be to transition him to a different role without the employee taking this as a personal affront.

Neither he nor I knew if that could be possible, but my CEO mentor knew there had to be a different, and better, strategy than the “my way or the highway” approach.

One thing that he brought up to me in our conversation was Marshall Rosenberg’s idea of Nonviolent Communication.

Nonviolent Communication is a series of steps that help de-escalate a potentially contentious situation by stating the facts, removing emotional generalizations (e.g. because I hate when you do that, or because it wasn’t fair for me), and provides a clear, tangible next step that is ideally reasonable and accepted.

The steps to nonviolent communication are: observation, feeling, need, and request.

Observation is an unequivocal fact that can’t be disagreed with. When conveying the observation, there shouldn’t be a positive or negative tone in the voice of the person stating the observation. It is merely a statement of fact.

Feeling is the feeling that the person initiating Nonviolent Communication is feeling. This is ONLY THE FEELING. Anything else that comes with the feeling is irrelevant. Feelings include: mad, sad, angry, frustrated, and anxious. Avoid insults and anything that starts with “I think”. Also, it can be easy to fall into the trap of mistaking insults for feelings (e.g., “You do this on purpose to be a jerk”). 

Need is a need that everyone can agree to. A need is not “I need you to do xyz things”. A need is a higher level notion that is aspirational and is something that EVERYONE can work towards. It holds the person conveying Nonviolent Communication, the person receiving it, and anyone else involved accountable to this need. An example could include “my need is a work environment where people are respected, they get their work done, and they can find joy in the workplace.” Most people can agree that they would consider this a need for their work environment. 

Request is a specific, tangible, ideally measurable request that is reasonably achievable. If it is vague, it will be difficult to know if it was achieved and if it is unreasonable, it will create resentment. A bad example of a request would be “my request is that you never interrupt me again.” This is a bad example because it requests for somebody to change actions instantaneously and without margin for error. An employee might develop some minor habit of inadvertently interrupting you but not realize it frustrates you so much. So, when you finally decide to bring it up to them and ask (order!) them to never do it again, you are presenting an unrealistic request and not seeking to understand the person. A better request would be:

“My request is that when we have a conversation, you try practicing reflective listening, meaning that when we have a conversation, you take a pause after I am done speaking to reflect on what I just said before jumping in with what you are going to say. I recognize that this might take time to practice and implement, but my request is that you give it a chance and are intentional about practicing it in conversations.”

You could potentially add in a specific number of times that would be acceptable for that person to interrupt you to be measurable, but that may sound condescending for this situation. The key difference is that the request is much more likely to be adopted than the original bad example. By practicing Nonviolent Communication and working with the person, you are working together to find the best solution for all parties.

So, my CEO mentor decided to apply Nonviolent Communication to his situation with his controller to see if it might be able to achieve his desired goal of getting him to work on a different task while showing him respect and maintaining his dignity.

His observation: The accounting work that was due on June 20th came in on July 1st. This has happened each of the past 3 months, and we have had several conversations about the importance of timely accounting work over the past 3 months.

His feelings: He feels frustrated and anxious. 

His need: A work environment where people are respected, they get their work done, and they can find joy in the workplace.

His request: “Would you be open to helping onboard a new controller over the next 3 weeks, and then transitioning your work to the marketing department afterwards?”

The result…his controller was open to it! The CEO mentor of mine may not have perfectly implemented the keys to Nonviolent Communication, but he did them well enough to achieve his desired goal. This part is important: you won’t get it perfect on your first try. But practice makes perfect, and even imperfect execution can help you solve your people problems. 

His controller, now marketing assistant, helped onboard the new controller, and because he was so well-liked by others at the company, his transition to marketing was smooth. So far, he is getting his work done on time and finding a greater passion for his work in marketing compared to accounting.

As business leaders, we may scoff at the idea of showing emotion at work and sharing our feelings. And if we do, they may come out as massive generalizations that can be hurtful and negative to culture. In this example, this CEO mentor of mine showed emotion, vulnerability, and subsequently leadership and was able to accomplish his goals and his company goals. 

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