Friday, July 30, 2010

The fish rots from the head down.

My grandfather died when I was very young, yet I remember a handful of comments he made to me. I remember one in particular, as we left a store where a manager had been rude to us.

I must have said something about it because my grandfather's plain spoken response was: Son, the fish rots from the head down.

It sounded funny to me, so I remembered it. But now I understand what he meant: the quality of an organization's leadership is reflected in the actions and attitudes of its individual employees.

Ever walk into a store or office and immediate get a bad feeling, a bad vibe or whiff that something or several things just don't seem right? It could be a general sense of unease, an inability for employees to act with confidence, bad attitudes or a lack of attention to detail.

Whatever the symptom, that stinky smell means something is dead or dying at the top. No real passion for the business. No real commitment to employees. No respect for customers, beyond their ability to make leaders richer. Regardless, don't take it out on the employees, start by evaluating opportunities to re-engage, re-ignite and re-focus leadership.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Leading Change

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

— Theodore Roosevelt, "Citizenship in a Republic," Paris, April 23, 1910

A truly authentic leader is going to stir things up by waving a flag in the face of mediocrity. She is not going to protect the status quo - that's the definition of a manager. He is going to be a catalyst that spurs people to action around a central vision - not just maintenance of a dusty concept. He will help his people proudly answer "why" they work and "why" their work matters. She will continuously plant the flag a little further along the trail than the day before...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

4 Common LMS Implementation Challenges:
(I've learned a few lessons - the hard way - from implementing multiple LMS solutions...)

Issue #1: Failing to visualize, plan and document for leadership the expected ROI, Operations Impact Success Metrics
with all constituent groups.
  • Recommendation: Collaborate with business units to define requirements and desired outcomes, first. Map the implementation process as well as a plan that includes agreed metrics and milestones for measuring success (Day One, Month One, Year One, etc) for each business unit. Communicate this plan to the LMS vendor as well.

Issue #2: Most internal team members have other duties to perform, and organizations usually underestimate the amount of resources and time required for a successful IT launch, including people dedicated to: Project Management, LMS Management, IT Support, Communication, Visual Design and User Support before, during and after enrollment.
  • Recommendation: Make sure the project has an executive champion, a person that has communicated a vision for learning within each unit. Identify additional resources beyond the internal team that can handle the planned - as well as any unplanned - duties and activities that may arise during implementation.

Issue #3: The LMS will require changes in behavior, tasks, and job requirements.
  • Recommendation: Budget time to work closely with all traditional instructors, instructional designers and support team members so they are comfortable with all aspects of the system and how they can best use it. Make sure the plan anticipates and includes organizational responses to push-back and a plan for change management, including updated job descriptions for everyone who will rely on the system for information or work.

Issue #4: There is often a desire to deliver the system everywhere to every employee, at once. The resulting support load becomes exponential and is often unmanageable with limited resources.
  • Recommendation: Use a department-by-department implementation starting where the system will most most welcome and successful. Let successful users spread the word and invite them to act as mentors. Share successes through internal communications and allow space to address any concerns or misunderstanding.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Who is my city?
(with a nod to Richard Florida)

I have been working with leaders from my city, posing the same question during my conversations: how do we define this city? Personally, I'd like to think I live in the Creative Capital of Florida–a city characterized by working artists and creative industries–but that has yet to be determined.

On a recent trip to Scotland, my partner and I enjoyed a couple weeks in Edinburgh. A historic and ancient city, it also happens to be the capital of Scotland. The new parliament building sits at the foot of the Royal Mile, just steps from Holyrood Palace. So, one naturally concludes, this city is defined by it's role as capital of Scotland. Wrong.

Upon entering the city, you are greeted by official signs proclaiming "Edinburgh: The City of Festivals". Interesting, intriguing, compelling, right?

This city defines itself through its culture offerings to the world; it's a place where millions travel every year to enjoy festivals that celebrate reading, theatre, opera, music, comedy... I think by defining their city as such, Edinburgh plants a flag that continuously challenges residents and leaders to take actions that sustain, nurture and develop those festivals. Otherwise, it's just another old city with a collection of old buildings. But the people are what make it special, and those people throw one hell of a party (several, actually).

So, who are you, St. Petersburg?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How to hit "send" on your customer's button

During a visit to my local Publix, I counted 6 employees texting as they walked around the store, like zombies searching for brains online. Unbelievable. I came back with more than lettuce and bread. I brought home a lesson I learned from Disney, and other service giants.

Dear Publix: rows of neatly stacked containers do not make "shopping a pleasure", your people do that - or don't.

Dear Publix Service Employees, please:
  1. Be fully aware of the people around you
  2. Smile (at least try)
  3. Always turn and face your guests
  4. Extend an offer to help them
  5. Ask their name, offer yours
  6. Listen attentively, pay attention
  7. Take immediate action on their requests
  8. Thank them sincerely for their business
and... (an update even Walt could not have anticipated) please turn off your phone when you're serving customers, unless you're calling 911.


Why are some people and organizations more innovative than others? Why do some command greater loyalty from customers and employees? Even among the successful, why are so few able to repeat their successes, over and over?

Any organization can explain what it does; some can explain how they do it; but very few can clearly articulate why. Why is not money or profit-- those are always results. Why helps you define the reason you do everything you do, your mission and your vision.

WHY does your organization exist?
WHY does it do the things it does?
WHY do customers really buy from your company or another?
WHY are employees loyal to some leaders, but not others?

From "Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action", by Simon Sinek

12 Coolest New Inventions

From a car without a gas pedal to a light powered by a water bottle to, yes, the best mousetrap ever, view the latest, brilliant, best-designed products in the world
as chosen by the Industrial Designers Society of America.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Unvarnished Truth?

Now there are sites where you can rate the people you know, rather than organizations, products or corporate brands.

The concept is not new (,, but Unvarnished has integrated tightly with Facebook to attract the largest pool of reviewers possible. This lets people who, supposedly, have worked with someone, post reviews about that individual.

From the site:

“Unvarnished lets reviewers share their true, nuanced opinions without fear of repercussions… Profile owners can manage and build their reputation, by receiving notifications of new reviews, requesting reviews from trusted colleagues, adding resume details, and responding to reviews.”

What do you think?
  • Does this type of site encourage leadership or popularity?
  • Will it require people to constantly manage their reputation? (or hire people to do so...)
  • Could it evolve into a useful professional adjunct like LinkedIn?
  • Or, will it devolve into a schoolyard filled with bullies and cynical reviews?

Friday, July 16, 2010


The solution to your next, big challenge might not be found within your organization, but within your community.

That's where we learn how a mother creates a healthy menu on limited funds, or a farmer makes more efficient use of solar cells, or a teenager designs a better shoe...

Our challenge? Finding those people. Defining the actions that make them different. Sharing the learning. Measuring the impact.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The end of publishing?
( learning?... or other concern for next generation here:_____ )

Thanks for sharing this nifty palindrome, Will.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Leadership Lessons: Tips to remember when things go wrong
some thoughts on lessons I have learned, prompted by an article from
  1. Relax, you can't control other people’s actions. Your job is to define a vision and expectations and provide the resources to help people achieve goals. Great leaders understand the rule of equifinality (multiple paths - including small failures - can lead to the desired outcome).
  2. Empathize without blaming everyone involved: show empathy for those who got things wrong, those who suffered as a result, and for yourself; that’s a leadership quality.
  3. Learn from the experience; share the lessons you learn from your failures. Solicit team input on what could have done to prevent it. Record the lessons: adjust policies, processes and procedures to reflect the learning.
  4. Inspire confidence in your team by allowing these opportunities for them to succeed or fail on their own, and then help get them back on course. Re-energizing the team is your next step.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More tips on social learning through collaboration

...from a white paper released today. Although written at an enterprise level, the tips can be extrapolated for learning and talent development.

Here are some highlights and factoids I took away (and will begin to digest) and some you may find useful:

Roughly 53% of the 79 million adult women in the United States who use the Internet participate in social media

According to Forrester Research, social media ad spending will grow from $716 million this year to more than $3.1 billion in 2014

Organizations should view social media activity as a powerful enabler that provides opportunities for developing new relationships and gaining competitive advantage

Get all stakeholders (SMEs, customers, not just trainers) involved in blogging or participating on the corporate social networks, according to their specific passions

Partner with highly active customers to create and contribute to better learning and services (Microsoft has similar forums where the most active participants who help the most people become “MVPs” and earn trips to Redmond for recognition and rewards)

Use ad hoc conferences to connect directly and immediately on an issue of mutual interest (best practices, etc.) or share any "positive deviance" that might help the group.

Tie Webinars to real-time research, seeking answers from participants that address meaningful challenges, “Eight Successful Strategies for Retaining Business Travel Clients"

Get customers involved in the online discussion through a special event (one that is educational, motivational, and entertaining)

Friday, July 09, 2010

Warren Buffett: on the best advice he ever received

"The power of unconditional love. I mean, there is no power on earth like unconditional love. And I think that if you offered that to your child, I mean, you’re 90 percent of the way home. There may be days when you don’t feel like it — it’s not uncritical love; that’s a different animal — but to know you can always come back, that is huge in life. 

That takes you a long, long way. And I would say that every parent out there that can extend that to their child at an early age, it’s going to make for a better human being."

Buffett is in the process of donating 99 percent of his wealth to charity, and recently gave away about $2 billion. He has joined forces with Bill and Melinda Gates on an initiative to persuade the world's billionaires to donate half their fortunes to charity. (from an interview with Yahoo! News)

A $5 success story

Food for thought... Why isn't every great idea that generates positive change an immediate success? What does it take for others to adopt a new behavior? When we see a successful project or person, do we appreciate the string of failures (or rejection) leading up to it?

In 2004, Stuart Frankel owned two small sandwich shops at a hospital. He came up with an idea to sell his sandwiches for $5 during off hours - $1 below corporate recommended pricing. Sales rose by double digits.

Frankel ceaselessly championed the idea to Subway's corporate leadership amid widespread skepticism and rejection (this wasn't created by corporate leaders…). The franchise board also rejected the idea (Too risky! Labor costs will explode! Profit margins will erode!)

But a few other franchise owners picked up on Frankel's idea and tried it for themselves in locations ranging from Washington to Chicago. The idea yielded positive results. Finally, three years later, the Subway board voted to support the idea.

Subway brought in its ad agency. A national campaign was launched on March 23, 2008. Sales shot up 25% on average. Within weeks, 3,600 videos of people performing the ad's jingle appeared on YouTube. Here's a short sample...

Copycat offers ultimately emerged. Boston Market offers 11 meals for $5. Domino's sells sandwiches for $4.99. KFC has $5 combo meals. T.G.I. Friday's now has $5 sandwiches. It's a $5 value menu explosion.

Meanwhile, back at Subway, the campaign represents $4 billion in additional sales. All this, from a frequently rejected idea created and championed ceaselessly by one man.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Moments with McDade

Thought of the Day: When you're in a hotel trying to get your coffee ready and catch a cab at the same time... never open the tab on that little creamer when it's facing your suit. Ditto yogurt lids.

Debi McDade is a performance consultant for a Fortune 500 company. She is a guest contributor and shares her experiences from the lighter side of the road we all travel together.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Social Learning: the human experience

I ran across this online and it immediately resonated with me: "An important facet of learning within a social context is social proof. Simply stated, when someone just like me does something, I’m more likely to try it myself."

The first person to deviate from the norm is a leader: someone doing something risky (yet positive) that eventually attracts another risk taker, then another, until ultimately many join in to create truly meaningful solutions or memorable experiences.

This You Tube clip illustrates the point. Watch what happens, and think about this in terms of a social learning process. Be patient. Reward your positive deviants. Some will follow right away, others will wait. Many will be inspired. Change happens.

Attention Deficit Nation?

One more study that seems to suggest we have shifted from an experience economy (one that requires a certain degree of engagement to appreciate) to an attention economy (one that relies of increasing efforts to capture consumer attention for every engagement/experience).

Social learning (with leaders and followers) requires a significant amount of energy expended in an "attention attraction" function.

In this environment, there is growing evidence that workers do not actually manage the surplus of information (distractors). Instead of multi-tasking, they are responding to tasks with a focus deficit, or an increasing inability to focus on detailed topics or lengthy processes.

What does this mean for...Communication? Learning? Work? Relationships? There are certain to be pros/cons to all this. Here's the meat of this particular study. I'll keep chewing on this bone for a while.

According to a new study from Iowa State University, viewing television and playing video games each are associated with increased subsequent attention problems in childhood.

The study, published this week in the medical journal Pediatrics, examined 1,323 kids in "middle childhood" over a 13-month period.

Moments with McDade!

My name is Debi McDade, and I travel the world - waaayyy too much. But, that makes for great experiences, and lots of stories to tell.

I meet many people everyday, from airport agents to harried hotel clerks to small children with no locks on their lips. Some people I like are hot-roasted nuts (especially the kids). Others are just plain nuts. ("Will you be my friend?" mmmm, can I take a pass on that?) The same goes for places, cities and businesses. In fact, some of my best stories are random encounters I have along the way.

Russ asked me to share my travels with you. Besides, he tends to write about work all the time, and I want to write about the silly stuff that happens in between, mostly when I least expect it.

My job: take the seriousity down a notch. Or twenty.

He might have created a monster, because I can think of three great moments to share with you right now...


Debi McDade is a performance consultant for a Fortune 500 company. She will be a guest contributor, sharing her experiences from the road with us here.

Here's an interesting heads-up on future employment demographics (note: training impact) from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics - Employment Projections: 2008-2018 Summary
  • The number of persons age 55 years + in the labor force is expected to increase by 12.0 million, or 43.0 percent, during the 2008-2018 period
  • The labor force in 2018 will be more diverse (Asian workers +29.8%, Hispanics +33.1%)
  • Service-providing industries will add 14.6 million jobs, or 96 percent of the increase in total employment
  • Occupations that require a post-secondary degree are expected to account for nearly half of all new jobs
  • Short and moderate-term on-the-job training are the most significant sources of post-secondary education for 17 of the 30 occupations projected to have the largest employment growth
What does this mean for...
  • corporate talent recruiting & development efforts?
  • efforts to make work spaces welcoming for a diverse talent force? 
  • support for emerging leaders?
  • internal talent development and learning programs?

The 63rd Annual Roasterium

Why? Because it's hot out there!

Date: Thursday, July 8
Time: 6:30PM
Where: The Globe Coffee Lounge, downtown St. Pete
Food and Drinks: special menu items, plus $3 specials on beer and wine
Cost: Free and open to everybody
donations to benefit the Literacy Council of St. Petersburg

The original Roasterium was a gathering of 500 outdoor writers on July 8, 1947. Attendees feasted on " roast 'possum, cracklin' bread and swamp cabbage." I ran across a report of the event during research for a book and was struck by the wild name, wilder menu and the schedule of activities that yelled "Floridana". I proposed the idea of resurrecting the event (in name only) to our little writing group, affectionately known as the Prose Posse.

The 63rd Annual Roasterium may not have any charm school graduates, but we will try to give it our own funky spin, while providing an opportunity for local writers to network with each other, swap stories and promote their work. We are inviting writers and readers of all genres to join us and celebrate the art of writing.

Besides, "Roasterium" is like Laundamat and Dine-a-rama; it's faux Latin and pop culture, quirky and strangely appealing all at the same time.

Ya'll join us, okay?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Here's a great case for why we need new thinking and business leadership with vision, by Yves Smith (Naked Capitalism) and Rob Parenteau, the head of a global financial advisory firm and the editor of The Richeb├Ącher Letter.

IMHO, simply selling all the apples on the table while neglecting the tree is a recipe for disaster, not a better pie. Here is an excerpt of their case:

"Over the past decade and a half, corporations have been saving more and investing less in their own businesses..."

"...public companies have become obsessed with quarterly earnings. To show short-term profits, they avoid investing in future growth. To develop new products, buy new equipment or expand geographically, an enterprise has to spend money — on marketing research, product design, prototype development, legal expenses associated with patents, lining up contractors and so on.

Rather than incur such expenses, companies increasingly prefer to pay their executives exorbitant bonuses, or issue special dividends to shareholders, or engage in purely financial speculation. But this means they also short-circuit a major driver of [long-term] economic growth."

The Federal Government can't save the economy, businesses must do this. We need thinkers with a long-term design POV who will Invest in organizational development, withhold a portion of savings for reinvestment, explore new technologies and apply employees to R&D: activity that will pay future dividends beyond any item sold today.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

My Experience Scorecard
Here are three simple questions to pinpoint learning / leadership opportunities, with a focus on the customer experience:

1. Where is the best customer experience to be found in this organization?
(learning, leadership, sales, service, or some other operational area)

2. What seems to be the source of these unexpectedly great experiences?
(one individual, a particular team, a leader, a process, a tool/technology)

3. How could this type of experience be created in other areas/departments?
(better learning, better process, better leadership, better communication, better tool, other)

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Authentic, Action Oriented and Accountable

William D. Green, CEO of Anderson Consulting, states the organization’s role succinctly when he tells his clients their focus should be less on an emerging leaders’ litany of accomplishments and more on the employee’s character, the way they respond to experiences and if they approach these opportunities with a confident work ethic.

Anderson measures a leader’s character and their work ethic with three “C”s: comprehension, commitment, compassion.

If you find yourself in a company that cares more about process than the 3 “C”s, your best recourse is to seek authentic leaders, people who understand their words and actions cause consequences, and that these consequences either help or hinder a team’s ability to create positive outcomes (profit) for both customers and the organization.

Here’s a $1.2 billion company and the leader that got the equation correct: putting people first creates better profits (