Monday, June 30, 2008

On Leverage – 2

There’s a difference between (1) matching skills together, leveraging work efforts toward successful completion of a task, and (2) that other experience where women expect “someone” to help them in the home or in their business affairs.

The first situation involves leverage where two come together to make it easier to accomplish an objective. The second situation, in a home or in a relationship, is where the goal is dependency, co-dependency or “do this for me to make my life easier, to make me happy or to make the world a better place.”

In the Grameen Bank microfinance model, leverage is brought down to the individual and personal level. Each woman who is a member of a financing circle shares responsibility. It’s not simply the bonding or networking of the women villagers. It is also the mental and emotional leverage applied. The women in the circle expect all of the women to carry their share: each woman must come up with a realistic business model to improve her own financial self-sufficiency. If each woman does not come up with her own option, the others will not do it for her. The others in the group also will not support a lame-brain idea for a loan. They will not co-sign to show support unless she herself demonstrates an ability to repay the loan from her viable business idea.

Men are better at building effective leveraged teams, today, only because they’ve been practicing it much longer than women. Team building is a learnable skill. But, learn it we must.

Business cases teach the benefits of team building to leverage diverse skills in the creation of complex infrastructures, networks and solutions to difficult problems. Men still choose to go to business schools at twice the rate of enrollment as women: men represent 67% of current business class enrollment, women represent 33%. Once there, women have a relatively small inventory of business cases about women in key leadership roles.

Women represent barely 25% of the total tenured faculty at business schools, and only a few of these women teach women how to leverage business skills into successful teams.

Women too often overlook the skills, resources and competencies already available to them in the marketplace.

A recent Stanford University Business School newsletter mentioned that a handful of women students decided to “write their own” business cases. We wonder how many of those graduates had even examined the body of knowledge already available to them at the host of 200 plus business case studies on women in business at Harvard Business School. (Over 50 of them were written by Dr. Myra M. Hart, alone.)

Women too often simply relocate the dependencies they learned in the home setting to another form of dependency in the business setting. “Help me clean; help me cook; help me do the laundry, raise the children, do the finances” becomes “mentor me, teach me, promote me, make it easy for me” in the workplace.

When women bring the drudgery part of home or life into the workplace, they infect it with dependency that even women cannot abide at the extreme. Women “opt out” when work begins to look like the boring parts of their lives at home. They return home and make that the place to party: the spa, the gym or the Martha Steward-picture perfect dining room doll house.

Bringing unique skills together to create a new solution to a complex problem through leveraging efforts is much more interesting and exciting than “all the work that must be done.” It requires, first, that we respect the skills of those with whom we would do labor. The skills and capabilities of our colleagues must be seen as worthy, useful and valued.
It requires also that we share a willingness to bring our talents together in unknown and unpredictable ways – the “proper” way to accomplish many workplace tasks may not yet have been discovered. That may be part of the collaboration process: learning what we have to do and how best to do it.

Women have to be willing to let others succeed and to let themselves fail, and thereby learn.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On Leverage

When you see a workman building something alone, often you see a struggle. The wood is longer than his arms. The support beams are taller than his reach. You observe him and tell yourself, “He needs someone to help him: someone with complementary skills; someone able to hold up an equal share of the task.”

My friend Brad is a really smart carpenter. He was replacing the fifteen or so 2 by 8 inch beams that covered the patio outside the apartment below my office. The beams were rotted with age and weather, so he had no problem taking them down. Putting new ones back up would be a different challenge altogether.

Brad is well over 6 feet tall, but the beams would have to be nailed to end supports that were 9 feet tall. Somehow, he’d have to hold a huge 15 foot beam above his head, balance it in place and then secure it with nails pounded into the ends. He propped the left side of the beam up at the 9 foot height using two of the other beams as the diagonal support. He nailed the other side of the beam into place with one nail, then secured the other end while the first dangled from the other side. Ingenious. But then he showed how smart he really is.

Brad went and brought in another great carpenter, as tall as he, and together they hoisted and held the beams in place and each one secured his end while the other held his end in place. Where Brad had struggled before with the weight of the 15 foot span, the two of them together were able to make it appear as if the beam were a toothpick. Team work, leverage, making a tough job easy, distributing the burden between two people so that each felt he was hoisting much less weight.

I’ve often admired how men work together effectively and how they come up with powerful tools to lesson the burden of the task at hand. One example that comes to mind was some city street workers chartered with the task of checking under the street manhole covers. Manhole covers weigh between 100 and 150 pounds to keep them in place when car wheels hit them. Can you imagine lifting hundreds of those tiddly-winks each week as a normal part of your work?

The city workers brought out a metal crowbar with one strong forward prong and another pivot leg that extended at a 45 degree angle away from the primary bar. The forward prong fit perfectly into the 1 inch square hole of the manhole cover, and the pivot touched the ground. By pushing down on the long handle of the bar, the edge of the cover was lifted away from its position just enough for another worker to use a hook to slide and drag the cover away, revealing the open manhole. Leverage: using the power of the crowbar with its unique design to lift the hefty metal disks vertically just enough for his partner to apply leverage again horizontally. Ingenious.

It’s smart because together they found a solution to the challenge. It’s smart because they used two sets of hands to truly make light work of an onerous task. It’s smart because they designed a solution in the form of an instrument which – when they worked together -– accomplished a task neither could perform independently.

Think about it. Think about all of the onerous tasks any given family faces in a household. Laundry, shopping, cleaning, cooking, tending the children (in sickness, in school and in all of their events), and the host of other burdens that constitute the sum total of the imbalance between “work-family balance.” I’ve read again and again about how women complain and nag their spouses to contribute labor and time to these and hundreds of other household tasks. And I’ve also read again and again about how many women have so unsuccessfully achieved their performance goal of attaining anything even close to “balance.” How is it that men can be so creative and innovative in solving problems outside the household, but so resistant to problem solving “opportunities” inside the household?

Perhaps the team is not coming together to perform the task as a real team. Perhaps women, with a strategy of complaining and nagging, are failing to tap the powerful mental and physical resources available to them and which have demonstrated an ingenious ability to solve complex problems in other circumstances.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery once wrote, “If you want to build a ship, don't gather your people and ask them to provide wood, prepare tools, assign tasks. Call them together and raise in their minds the longing for the endless sea.”

The same is true in our own mundane world: inspiration is more powerful a tool than intimidation. Men can and will provide very creative solutions if given the opportunity to search and find a way that works for them. When women carp and harp, they are insisting that there is only way to solve this problem: “HER Way.” Women can consider themselves as peers in the process of finding leverage -- ways that both of them can work together to lighten the workload for each of them, not just “HER burden.”

Friday, June 20, 2008

Motivating Ethical Behavior

The authors of the book Influencer state that complex problems will not yield to simplistic solutions. Only by addressing all of a listener’s possible motivators and abilities can the influencer expect to have a positive impact on outcomes.

The authors give special attention to the consequences of a failure to persuade people to act morally and ethically. How do influencers persuade individuals to take the moral high road rather than pursue the far easier path of moral disengagement, moral justification, displacing responsibility and other dehumanizing and minimizing behaviors?

They suggest that influencers connect behavior to moral values so the listener can see the consequences and connections which otherwise might remain hidden from view. Everyone must challenge everyone.

A recent public service announcement, on the dangers of reckless driving among teenagers, shows a “Spokesperson” popping out of nowhere to warn the teen driver about the risks of speeding and driving recklessly. The catch-line is that there is no such thing as a “Spokesman” -– that each person must be prepared to speak up on his or her own behalf. Otherwise, there will be no voice for driving sanely.

Story-tellers can spot human consequences of immoral actions and help the listener reconnect his/her actions with the likely and inevitable human costs. Stories can create dimension and scale of possible impacts of risky behavior.

Complex problems are complex because they have deep intertwined levels: personal, social and structural levels of possible action or inaction. The authors demonstrate how motivation and ability to influence or changes varies at each level.

Another example of how complex problems are difficult to address is how advocates on behalf of increasing the number of women on boards focus only on the structural level: building “the business case” for women directors as part of a worthy corporate governance strategy. The arguing that “corporations must change” or “corporate leadership must change.” Ironically, the structural levels are most entrenched and thus the least likely to change.

Telephone companies have huge infrastructure investments in place from years of building out their telecommunications connections and are resistant to writing those sunk costs off to make room for new, probably faster and more efficient, systems. So too, our corporate hierarchies and ways of doing business have huge sunk investments made in their organizational skeletons which they are unlikely to change, absent major catastrophic motivations.

The second tier, societal change, is only slightly less rigid. Mainstream media fixates on a view of women as merchandise, consumer or as a cultural stereotype of motherhood, homemaker and comforter; rather than intelligent, educated, strategic decision-makers or investors looking to maximize economic returns. Entertainment, reflecting social and cultural mores, perpetuates these views of women as highly-influence-able discretionary consumers.

It is only at the last level, that of personal choice, where we might find opportunities to persuade individual women to pursue board-careers by story-telling that brings forth for their consideration the experiences of other successful, accomplished and satisfied women directors.

Story-telling, example-setting and lesson-learning is what we do in the male dominated professional environment. We teach men in law using the legal case method: they must read and analyze legal cases and present their findings before their peers and professors; they must present their own judgment and interpretation before others and face the prospect of being challenged in a very public forum. We teach men in business school using the business case study method: they, too, must use the best and worse practices of other’s experiences to understand how and why they succeeded or failed.

How well do we use the case study method to teach women to think, analyze and interpret? How well do we foster the use of practical case study tools to help women to understand and challenge, in a public forum, and to debate the merits of actions or inaction by other women in leadership? And, more importantly, how open and receptive are women to reading and learning from the experience of other successful women in leadership?

Story-telling can include the case study method, individuals reading about the lives and careers of other exemplary individuals and the media’s presentation of everyday efforts and success of contemporary role models. Story-telling is an intimately personal experience. That is how we motivate ethical behavior. That is also how we might motivate more women to consider board-worthy careers.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Book Review - Influencer: The Power to Change Anything

Influencer: The Power to Change Anything seems to be written by a committee: Kerry Peterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler.
(288 pages, McGraw-Hill; (September 13, 2007). The book’s message is clear, crisp and poignant.

The authors say that to influence, one must stop arguing with resistant minds and instead search out “vital behaviors” that promise to have high leverage in teaching others from best practices. Studying the best, focusing on even moderately good performance, is better than banging your head against the verbal brick wall, trying to persuade people to do what they cannot comprehend without seeing top performers perform.

How do the best succeed? The authors encourage us to “search for positive deviance” –- dive into the stew of experience and research, discover and study situations in which we would expect “the problem” should exist, but in fact it does not. “The problem” is absent when some members of the group succeed, overcome “the problem,” prevail and succeed. How do they do it? Why do their behaviors produce different results? What is different about these members compared to the rest of the group. Answer those questions, and we can understand how best performers achieve best performances.

What do the best do differently from the rest of the group? They rapidly alternate between teaching and questioning or testing. When required, the best make immediate corrections, alter their path away from what doesn’t work. The authors encourage us to look for those “recovery behaviors.” When do the best step up to a challenge or a conversation that frightened their peers into inaction? When do the best confront those who do not carry their weight? How do the best hold “crucial conversations” with senior management about policies or practices that they believe impede progress and prevent improvement?

Equally important is the author’s mandate to change your persuasion strategy: don’t try to change minds. Resistant minds will not be argued into agreement, so the authors suggest instead that we provide vicarious experiences: tell stories that expose the resistant mind to the experience of other people as they demonstrate successful behaviors. By observing the success described in stories, the resistant mind has to at least ponder why the other people are succeeding and not failing.

The resistant mind will ask “Is it worthwhile to change my behavior?” and “Am I capable of behaving differently?” The stories must demonstrate both the desirability and the feasibility in terms the resistant mind can absorb.

Attempts at direct verbal persuasion will not influence anyone to change their mind. The story-telling helps people experience the world as others experience it. The best stories create innovative, profound and vicarious experiences. They are entertaining and educational parables that enable people to change their view the world. Good story tellers use vibrant and credible tales. The gold standard of story telling is based on real-world experiences.

A well-told narrative provides concrete and vivid detail; it presents a pleasurable, touching and memorable flow of cause to effect. An effective story alters listener’s view of the consequences of their actions and beliefs.

As important as the story is the story teller. The teller must be credible, a source of trust. The listener must have confidence in the expertise of the person attempting to influence through story-telling. The narrator’s motive must be clear and worthy.

Stories help individuals transport themselves away from the role of critic, where the resistant mind rigorously applies the rules of logic, analysis, criticism, doubt, rumor, myth, and other tools of intransigence. The story allows the individual to become a participant in the tale.

The story must help the individual actually care about changing their belief, if the desired action is to be induced. Stories generate genuine emotion, grasp the mind of the listener through feeling (not thinking). The story teller must show a clear link between the current behavior and existing negative results.

To tell the story effectively, the teller must involve the audience in the story; involve the listener in the experience as if it were his/her own. The story must offer credible and vivid solutions so that the listener can visualize positive replacement behaviors that yield better results than the former beliefs.

Influencers honor the fact that individuals have choice. By winning their hearts, influencers help people figure out for themselves what is right behavior, skillfully using open and indirect questions. Influencers immerse people in the right behaviors to create intrinsic satisfaction from that exposure and at the same time experience the displeasure associated with wrong behaviors.

The most powerful motivators are people’s own intrinsic accountability to themselves and their inherent desire to do good.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Karen Sobel-Lojeski on the Virtual Workforce

Karen Sobel-Lojeski, doing some very interesting work in the field of organizational dymanics. She recently wrote and published a new book called Uniting the Virtual Workforce: Transforming Leadership and Innovation in the Globally Integrated Enterprise (Wiley: April 2008). See her web site at: www.virtualdistance.

Her next book will be on leadership of Virtual Workforces, a topic which will have relevance in the field of corporate board performance assessments, among other organizational applications.

Dr. Sobel-Lojeski is Chief Executive Officer of Virtual Distance International (VDI), a firm she established to help companies with innovation, leadership, and virtual workforce management. Virtual Distance International provides advisory, training, and consulting services to organizations around the world.

  • Virtual DistanceTM is the perceived distance between two or more individuals when their primary method of communication and coordination is not face to face. Virtual Distance can exist regardless of whether people are separated by millimeters, miles or continental masses.

  • Virtual DistanceTM is measured using the Virtual Distance IndexTM developed by Virtual Distance International - It was developed to quantitatively measure Virtual Distance and associate it with team & organizational performance

  • Extensive studies have shown that the impact of high of Virtual DistanceTM can significantly hamper organizational financial performance, efficiency, innovation and effectiveness.

    Prior to launching VDI, Dr. Sobel-Lojeski spent 18 years in corporate America on Wall Street. She held management positions at Stratus Computer, Inc., Chase Manhattan Bank N.A., and Mercer Consulting Group. She was Chief Operating Officer for Prolifics, a JYACC company, and Vice President of North America for Xansa. She is the former Research Director for the Institute for Innovation and Information Productivity.

    She holds undergraduate degrees in Computer Science and Applied Mathematics and recently completed her Ph.D. at Stevens Institute of Technology where her dissertation, "Virtual Distance: A New Model for the Study of Virtual Work", won the award for Best Dissertation of 2006.

    Dr. Sobel-Lojeski also is a columnist and contributing editor for CIOInsight Magazine where she writes on the subject of management and leadership in the changing world of work in the Digital Age. Uniting the Virtual Workforce and her groundbreaking work in innovation and productivity has been featured in a number of major business publications including Business Week, The New York Times, Entrepreneur Magazine and others.

    Her research and practical guidance were featured in a segment of ABC's 20/20 which aired on May 4, 2008. She is also the Chairwoman for a new, annual conference called "Managing Virtual Distance: Driving Business Transformation Through Distributed Work". The inaugural event was held on November 14-16th, 2007 in Anaheim, California and was sponsored by IIR.


    Karen Sobel-Lojeski, Ph.D.
    Chief Executive Officer
    Virtual Distance International
    (212) 742-8794 /
    Executive Assistant: Brenda Cooper
    (707) 995-5236 /