2014 Was a Dot Year

Timeline_of_My_Life-596x300This illustration is of someone’s life timeline (not mine). Have you ever been asked to draw one? This exercise allows you to share a quick overview of your life with a zigzagging line. Dots are labeled with a year (or age) at key points where the line bends to a new direction, where key changes occurred: moves and marriages, births and tragedies

2014 was a dot year for us.

There have been other dot years for me: ‘55, ‘64, ‘72, ‘78, ‘82, ‘85, ‘89, ‘90 and ‘97. Some of these represent changes in geography (‘55, ‘78, ‘85, ‘90), others show key changes in family relationships (‘64, ‘72, ‘82, ‘89) and in careers (‘78 and ‘97). Each of these numbers has a story to tell, though not here. Available on request. 🙂

All three of these kinds of change—geography, family and career—occurred last year. We moved to SLO, had engagements and a wedding, and I left Intel to begin consulting and teaching. Somehow it is fitting that the next course I teach at Cal Poly’s College of Business is “Managing Change.” To my list of instructor qualifications I will simply add: “2014.”

In business we love clean, crisp, quick changes. We prefer changes that are compactly described and efficiently implemented. And yet the human adjustments to these changes—the “transitions” we might call them—are often overlooked. These are the messy HR issues, the complicating and (we think) unnecessary distractions to corporate change. “We’re doing this, here’s why. Get over it.”

And yet these transitions are precisely the area where change management efforts often fail. Productivity lags in the wake of many changes. Costs increase to backfill for increased employee turnover and to provide remedial training. To overlook human transitions in a corporate change initiative is to make the change into a cure that is worse than the disease.

Good companies will manage human transitions. They will help employees understand what stays the same (i.e. what is not lost) and what is different (what is gained). They will help employees regain control, refresh their competencies in new settings, and understand the rationale for the change.

So now to take some of my own advice. What is continuous with the past and will never change? And what will I need to celebrate as past, to remember sweetly and to which I bid good-bye? What new shapes will my competencies take and in what new contexts will these old skills find new expression? And what is the narrative that makes sense of this all (why did we do this?)

The deep things at the center cannot change, and do not change. These include: Relationships with God and family, friendships built on affection, service and shared history, and my vocation/purpose as a facilitator for thriving people and teams. I cannot control how any of these change because of others’ decisions, but from my standpoint these are the wire strands at the center of the cable, the ones that do not break.

Yet much around these things is changing. We will worship in a new place; we have a new son-in-law, and very soon will gain another; we will build new family traditions, new geo centers and new memories (Christmas in Roseville has became Christmas on the Central Coast for 2014).

My brothers, cousins, in-laws and all the kin in radiating ancestry boxes linked by marriages and births, these are forever yet also changing. Like form-shifting specters, there’s a different shape at each glance, but the center holds. We still share love and prayers with friends from the years, and then also we meet new neighbors around the corner from our unfinished house in Serra Meadows.

Everything is the same. And different. And that’s OK. The narrative / rationale is that we are closer to kids and in an area where we seek to apply our old selves in new ways. But really, still, how much has changed? The center holds.

What will be the angle of the line that leaps into the future from the 2014 dot? We will get a bit of 2015 under our belt and then let you know.

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Error Is For the Little People

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This saying is often true, which makes it both funny, and not.

We laugh at first because it changes the second part of Alexander Pope’s famous quote from 1711. We expected “To err is human, to forgive divine” and instead we got a revised and snarky saying about less-than-divine managers. This is humor based on surprise and biting commentary. We love to take the powerful down a peg and ascribe a manager’s success to politics and low virtue.

Corporate leaders and managers might allow some self-deprecating laughter at this, but it does not last long. If you care about organizational culture, this is a truth that hurts. Dishonest dodging of blame for error becomes an unintended consequence in environments where evaluating performance is mostly about punishment and fear.

Error is the gap between performance and expectations, and is all too human. Both the original saying and the altered one agree on this, but then they differ, one telling us something about the Deity the other about corporate leadership. It’s like the Deity to remedy the error, but it is like a manager to find someone to blame for it. The former is to personally own and repair the gap, the latter to distance oneself from it.

This sets up the managers’ choice: You can own it or blame it.

Blaming can masquerade as a kind of messianic bravery. It looks quite active and tough—it looks like you are fixing things—but your kick-butt-take-names swagger breeds fear and lying. Employees can sniff out your avoidance of responsibility for the gap. And based on your example, they are not likely to own the issues any more than you are.

When you own the gap, something different happens. You work the problem and regard your performance as part of the analysis, including your prior decisions, communications, and your commitment to develop others. You are on the hook for this as leader, both in terms of where it went wrong as well as where to go from here. Your sentences cease to begin with “you” and start with “we.”

Never has my estimation of a CEO been higher than when my leader owned up to missing an opportunity that would have put our product in millions of devices around the world. The resultant corporate new trajectory, now bearing fruit in the marketplace, was engaged with enthusiasm because the CEO was bold enough to be honest about his own role in the error.

Consider this: If something needs to be fixed, that something might be you. And now, since you are trying to build a culture of honesty in your organization, you get to lead by example. Your personal identification with the error, your leadership in repairing the gap, can build a trickle-down trust for your org.

So manager, take heart. When I first saw the funny sign, I also laughed because I knew the situations where the joke was painfully true. Yet I also knew that this does not apply to all managers. I’ve worked for several who owned the key issues in the workplace, and who were with me in growth, improvement and ambition.

It can be done. If you pull it off, people will still laugh at this saying, but they will not have you in mind as an illustration of it. Even better, they may think of your legacy as an example that refutes it.

The Flexibility of Hope

Could I have seen 2014 from 1961? Heck, can I even see it now?

Could I have seen 2014 from 1961? Heck, can I even see it now?

I may have been way too certain that my vocational next step was the Employee and Org Development Manager position at Cal Poly. It happens when you get excited about an opportunity, and then you invest in research and prep for it. We even had what appeared to be Divine clues when quirky circumstances pointed us to this job.

The interpretation of this rejection is still being formed in me. I was deflated, I say in my letter (reprinted below), and the perceived impact of that is larger because of how protracted the hiring process was.

My hope is undeterred, but hope must also be adaptable. In fact, to overly proscribe one’s future is to limit the wonderful variety of ways that this future can arrive. In the end, A claim to know the best and narrow path is a conceit, and can lead to missing an even better future than first imagined.

Here is a note I sent out yesterday, briefly telling the results and then processing its meaning for us. If you and I are email correspondents, you might already have seen it.

___________________________

Hi there,

Well, I’ll get right to it: I did not get the job as Employee and Org Development Manager at Cal Poly. The hiring manager told me it was a difficult decision and caused quite a bit of back-and-forth among the hiring team members. My candidacy was strong and impressive, she said. In the end, the job went to a person who has had years of experience doing OD in higher education, most recently for the US Department of Education.

It was deflating news, but I’m glad finally to know. Now it’s on to other things.

I much appreciate the support of family and friends who prayed, asked about status, and supported us through this time.

Cal and Nancy

Here are some postscripts that provide some further reflections, and a look ahead.

My response to the process: You might agree with me that a hiring process that begins in October and ends in April is a test of patience and resilience. It’s some consolation to have been a finalist, but for those few who get that far, and then not get the prize, it feels nearly abusive to drag it out that long. Oh, that’s dramatic, I know. I am not accusing anyone of doing that intentionally, but it is a system thing. And it is how I experienced the process as a participant in it.

Given their deliberate and moribund processes, it’s a bit of a catch-22. They might make it long, but over the entire span of time I am full-bore enthused, anticipating a great life change, and approaching each step with singularity of mind.

How could it be otherwise? I entered to win: Application materials in November, a Skype interview in December, prep of portfolio of work in January, the finalist all-day campus interview in February, a phone call from them to discuss salary and another to request permission to contact my references. The hiring manager confirmed today that I was not wrong to sense that I was near the finish line in March.

When they ultimately did not contact my references, I thought something was up, and it was. The field had expanded to contain another interview. As I said, in the end they selected the OD professional with the higher ed background.

What now? With upheaval at Intel, the continued lack of commitment there to OD services, and then an attractive option to retire I moved to this better place in which I now stand. But there is more for me to do, and this afternoon I begin to sense some freedom and hope.

Even some freedom, I say, from this whole process with Cal Poly. Much as I thought that role was perfect, and that I would make a difference there, I now sense some liberation from the whole process. As I think back over the last few weeks, I was starting to think whether I even really want to work there. One of my interviewers in February said that one of their workforce strategy barriers is their lengthy hiring process. No duh.

Hope, I say, yes. There is a path ahead to that better place—consulting, teaching, writing. God knows, and it’s going to be fun to see what it is. Oh, and we still want to move to San Luis Obispo.

Retire from Intel? What does that mean?

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Does this guy look like he’s ready to retire?

Retirement, as a word, carries a different meaning for me than any of those found in a dictionary or thesaurus: to give up work, go to bed, step down, be pensioned off or be put out to pasture.  These are classic, but not one works as a definition of my retirement.

There is nothing wrong with taking a classic retirement and leading a full life in post-employment. But for me, for this moment, retirement is simply the technical term for a program at Intel. It is the name of the doorway through which I pass, though it does not describe my life on the other side.

Life on the other side of the door is about having a purpose and applying that in service to a cause. I cannot retire from that. And it is yet uncertain what that cause will be, though there are some wonderful possibilities for my employment. But it will be meaningful, to a purpose, and it will add value.

When that takes shape and is realized, I will let you know what it is.

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Applying team learning in a hands-on simulation / challenge. And the contraption worked! (in Arizona, 2006)

By saying these things I do not infer that Intel could not continue to provide a setting for passionate value-based work. Intel is a wonderful employer, a corporation that wants to connect the world. And the several jobs I had over my 16-½ year career had clear objectives that could be described meaningfully.

It was just time.

I have worked on 8 teams with 14 different managers. I have had the wonderful satisfactions of leading in org re-design, creating and deploying development programs, managing change and transition, supporting, leading teams, teaching and consulting.

With our Guadalajara team after a day's work (2013)

With our Guadalajara team after a day’s work (2013)

With yet another season for Intel to sort, sift and adjust—and with many of the remaining org development practitioners (including me) now scanning the landscape for new gigs, I chose to find the next one outside this time.

This intends no negative critique of Intel’s restlessness. It is an exciting and dynamic business, morphing and refusing to rut itself, running hard in a marketplace with products that become obsolete

2010 Instructor of the Year. Folsom site; V Gould conferring the honor.

2010 Instructor of the Year. Folsom site; V Gould conferring the honor.

every 18 months. If we blinked for even half a heartbeat, a competitor lunged ahead in an attempt to dominate a market. We all needed to hang on, ride the waves, and persist in adding value wherever we worked.

It is exciting, actually. But I had a restless spirit last fall, and my eyes began to scan the horizon for a new setting in which to bring value, to apply a mission of developing thriving individuals and organizations. I had an option to retire and took it, and will use it to enter on a new passion.

Maybe I should coin the term refirement. Does that work?

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A day off during a trip to our UK (swindon) site; here at Bath (2007)

Dinner transpo in Malaysia

Dinner transpo in Malaysia

Blowing off steam after class, Dublin.

Blowing off steam after class, Dublin.

Shanghai

Shanghai

Lunch with HR team, Malaysia

Lunch with HR team, Malaysia

Leading a session, Malaysia

Leading a session, Malaysia

Leading a session in Folsom

Leading a session in Folsom

Tour day after a week in Tel Aviv

Tour day after a week in Tel Aviv