Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Reflections on, and in Glass Ceilings

“There is no glass ceiling if you start at the top.”

I read that line this morning in an article praising the glory of entrepreneurship and I thought, that really describes my life now. I mean, no one ever would have promoted me to CEO. I wouldn’t even have been considered a good ‘diversity candidate’. (A diversity candidate, I’ve been told, is one who makes it slightly easier to tell the rest of the finalists apart.) And in addition to that pesky second X chromosome that I carry around, the typical CEO is in the neighborhood of a foot taller than me.

All things considered, it was just easier to start a company and give myself the title, although I have to admit that at the time, no one else wanted it.

On a more serious note, even self-made women CEOs experience well-documented challenges. Try googling “women founders getting venture capital”, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s just a fact that many of the places where you’re expected to ‘pay your dues’ have a sign hanging on the door that says ‘No girls allowed’. (Not literally, of course, but savvy women have no trouble reading between the lines.)
After mulling these things over for a while, the whole line of thinking began to bother me. Like I normally do when I need a reality check, or just someone to bounce my ideas off of, I went to Mark, my Vision Former.

Let me take a moment aside to explain that term. My company created Teamability®, a completely new technology that analyzes and organizes teams based on each person’s innate affinity for serving a specific organizational need. In the language of Teamability, the name of each capital-R ‘Role’ in a team suggests the organizational influence the person will most effectively exert. For example, if you have a grand vision, and have even started a company and gotten it off the ground, you are probably a Founder or a Vision Mover…or perhaps both. If so, you haven’t lived till you’ve worked with a top flight Vision Former, who is your perfect complement and counterbalance.

Now back to the story. I said to Mark, ‘Maybe I just have never paid my dues like people think they have to, and maybe it’s the dues-paying which is why women are frustrated in typical organizations.’ And he disagreed.

One good thing about having someone whose Role complements yours is that you not only expect the occasional disagreement, you welcome it. It means that by the time you work it out (which you always do) you will both truly and lastingly agree on what makes the most sense.

“Really,” he said, “there’s been plenty of dues-paying for both of us.” He went on to say that the ‘no glass ceiling’ phrase – while catchy – isn’t entirely true, and that there’s a glass ceiling for everyone who isn’t a winner in the ‘lucky sperm club’, i.e., born into money and/or power. (And of course we know that those dues are sometimes extracted in other, even less desirable, ways.)
The Vision Former continued: “There’s no quick or easy fix for women (or men) who are frustrated and want to move up in typical organizations. Entrepreneurship can be an escape route, but (using our startup experience an example) look at how crazy you have be in order to take it! Also, the fascination with entrepreneurship plays into the fantasy that life is better and all will be wonderful at the top. It inherently supports an economically hierarchical model of happiness that really doesn’t work for everyone.”

Role-fit is the first step to happiness on the job, because a sense of meaningful contribution becomes intrinsic to one’s activity. After that, happiness is increased when an organization (including one that you own) understands and facilitates Team-fit and Role-pairings. Further down the road, building a team (or a town, or a society) where each person understands and practices Role-respect will open the door to group happiness. All along the way, Coherence gains in strength and influence, and Teaming comes into full bloom.
According to, 44% of new businesses fail within 3 years, and in 76% of the cases, the top reason is incompetence (45%), followed by unbalanced experience and lack of management expertise (30%).

“It’s the people,” said the VF, “not the business.”

Encouraging people to be entrepreneurial when they don’t have the ‘equipment’ for the task (or any way to know whether or not they have it, or where to get it) is not so different from a football coach moving a quarterback to the D-line. It makes no sense, and the outcome is liable to be ugly.

There can be a big advantage in starting and/or being in an entrepreneurial company. It is the opportunity (maybe) to discover who you are and what you really like to do, and it comes from having to serve the organization as chief-cook-and-bottle-washer for a while. People on the big corporate ladder rarely have that much diversity of experience. There is a way to discover who you are, and how you ‘team’ most effectively and happily, without risking the security of your family or future.

Your response to discovering your own Teamability could just as easily be “Now I know I would hate (or love) having my own business,” as “Now I know why I hate my job – I quit,” or “Now I know why I LOVE my job; no thanks, I’d rather not go into management.”

There is the glass ceiling of reality, and a glass box of our own doing. The important question: is yours opaque or transparent?

This post originally appeared on Switch & Shift.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

With a Little Help From My Friends

The wonderful thing about the social web is how easy it is to make new acquaintances into friends. Often, all it takes is just helping each other. So that's how this guest blog happened. I met Erin Osterhaus in the usual online manner. She had a need for opinions, and I'm never short of them. In this case she was asking for predictions, which I was only too happy to offer. And here she is, returning the favor with a guest blog:

The HR Department of 2020: 3 Bold Predictions

The human resources department will disappear in a matter of years. All HR functions will be taken over by software or outsourced. At least that’s what some are saying.

They’re wrong.

Yes, software is changing how HR operates. But instead of spelling the the demise of the human resources function, experts predict these changes will allow HR professionals to grow. Software Advice interviewed industry analysts and HR practitioners to better understand what will change and why, as well as find out how HR professionals can prepare.

Prediction 1: In-house HR will downsize while outsourcing will increase.
While this prediction may seem somewhat, well, predictable, the reasons experts give for the change might surprise you.

Brian Sommer, an industry analyst and the founder of TechVentive, explains that new technologies--many of which allow for employees to participate directly in HR processes through self-service systems--will drive the shift to leaner in-house HR departments. As he says, “Many businesses are going to get a lot of capability done by better technology, more self-service and the employee doing a lot on their own.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Janice Presser, CEO of The Gabriel Institute, predicts many transaction-heavy HR jobs will be outsourced entirely to agencies or specialists, saying, “Entry-level HR jobs, as they currently exist, will all but disappear as transactional tasks are consigned to outsourced services.”

However, despite these trends the internal HR function will survive. Chip Luman, the COO of HireVue, explains that, “Given the ongoing regulatory environment, the need to pay, provide benefits, manage employee relations issues, and process information will go on.”

Prediction 2: Strategic thinking will become in-house HR’s new core competence.
The HR department that remains will need to reposition itself as a strategic partner within the business. In fact, SHRM’s 2002 report, The Future of the HR Profession predicted the trend toward leaner, strategy-focused HR departments 11 years ago.

More recently, an Economist Intelligence Unit report highlighted the need for C-level management to partner with HR departments as a prerequisite to drive growth. The experts agree, and most emphasized HR’s need to increase its strategic value to the business--or else. Dr. Presser says, “This includes the ability to make accurate projections based on understanding the goals of the business and using metrics that describe more than lagging indicators, such as how long it takes to fill a job or the per-employee training spend.”

This strategy role cannot be outsourced. As Dr. Presser says, “Strategic planning requires in-house expertise.”

Prediction 3: Managing a remote workforce will be the new norm.
Companies like Yahoo and Best Buy recently ended their remote work programs. These companies are the exception, not the norm. Undoubtedly, HR will have to tackle the challenge of managing a growing remote workforce. Luman points out that companies will need “to leverage employees where and when they are most productive and impactful”--even if that means they’re halfway around the world.

But managing employees from afar isn’t a skill you can pick up on the fly. Dr. Presser cautions that, “The trend toward remote workers is a growing challenge to managers who are not effective in managing people at a distance.”

To help HR departments and line managers adjust, automation will play a large part in successful remote management. Wim de Smet, CEO of Exaserv, predicts that “New technologies will be used to analyze the work production instead of the working time. Results will become more important and business will expect HR to be producing more result-driven performance analysis.”

Preparing for 2020
With so many changes on the horizon, what can current HR professionals begin doing now to prepare? The experts endorse three key tactics: keep learning, be active in your field, and take risks.

“Get ahead of the curve,” Dr. Presser advises. “Realize that many of today’s ‘best practices’ evolved under very different business conditions, and may well become obsolete within this decade. Learn everything you can about your industry, your competitors, and pending legislation that affects your business operations. Most of all, define yourself as a businessperson and act accordingly.”

Finally, Luman encourages HR professionals to find their own voice and be active. As he says, “Network inside and outside of your field. Blog, communicate, read and help others achieve success. If you are not outside of your comfort zone, you are stagnating.”

Erin Osterhaus is the Managing Editor for Software Advice’s HR blog, The New Talent Times. She focuses on the HR market, offering advice to industry professionals on the best recruiting, talent management, and leadership techniques. For the full article, click here.

Thanks, Erin!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Power of Parallax

A week or so ago, I shared a rather dense article about sub-nuclear physics with Jack (TGI’s co-founder, Dr. Jack Gerber), and then we connected on Skype. I said, you know, this is what we were talking about fifteen years ago. He agreed, saying he’d always meant to write it up. (We work that way. He’s a Curator of the most brilliant sort, and he knows how to pull information together in exactly the right way. Then I inject the vision and launch it into the future.

The following day, via email, he mentioned new thoughts on the subject, and wanted to speak with me before he started writing. (This is a great thing about having such a seasoned Curator on the team. He can access huge amounts of knowledge, so he checks to be sure that he is delivering the specific bits you asked for.) I was really eager to hear him because I’d had a few new thoughts myself.

We often speak by phone as I’m walking home at the end of the office day (or the beginning of my ‘night shift’ – take your choice.) This time, Jack jumped on the topic so suddenly that I was momentarily confused. I had been expecting a ‘next step’ in our prior conversation, but he seemed to be on completely unrelated path. Or was I just not thinking straight?

Nothing is quite as scary as thinking you’re not thinking straight. But never one to panic, I stopped making judgments and just listened a little harder. Soon I realized that although we were still on the subject of the article, we had each come away from it with a totally different ‘take’ on why it was important and relevant to our work!

There are three ways that people respond to this sort of disjoint. First, they may become annoyed, or even angry. Second, they may get curious and just ask. Third, they may get connected at a higher level. It isn’t that one way is inherently better or worse. They’re just different – and here’s what can learn from this:

If you get annoyed, that’s just evidence that you don’t like your vision tampered with. The upside is you hold your own in a disagreement. The downside might be that you miss a lot of value coming from your ‘opponent.’

If you get curious and wonder where the other person is coming from, make sure that after you ask the question you wait around for their answer. You can benefit a lot that way, even if what you get isn’t what you thought you wanted to know.

While it sounds like getting connected should be the right answer, it isn’t always. If you are ‘going along to get along’, it deprives you of having your voice, and also deprives the other person of hearing it. Connecting in parallax is much more effective.

Here’s what I mean by connecting in parallax. A person’s two eyes work together in seeing the world from slightly different points of view, and this enables the brain to perceive depth by putting the two views together. Depth perception doesn’t exist before the two views merge into the third collective view.

So how do you apply this to your work?

First, remember to simply listen. And to listen simply. That means listening without the distractions of your environment, your electronics, and your own thoughts.

Then try to give your colleague total respect by closing your own ‘eye’ and viewing the interaction completely and solely through theirs. The value of this exercise can be enhanced when you understand their Role and how to respect it. With some practice and care, you will be able to ‘become them’ for a time.

Finally, take time to appreciate their contribution before modifying it with your own. It will help you remember why you listened to them in the first place.

If you are curious about what happened next with Jack and me, I’ll tell you. We discovered that he had made one discovery, and I had made another. But most importantly, through the power of parallax, both of them became ours.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Three Rules for Change Management

It doesn’t matter whether you’re driving an innovation through a multinational company, or just trying to lose ten pounds. I learned them well, after many missteps. Rules are rules. Here they are:
  1. It doesn’t have to all be done at once. There is a writing standard I followed a long time ago (when almost all I did was write books) of doing five new pages a day. What I learned was that doesn’t add up to 35 pages a week or even 25 so you may as well be realistic and double your overly optimistic time schedule. (This particularly applies to losing weight.) There are good reasons for not rushing things.
  2. It will go better if you don’t try to control it. A book, like many other projects, needs to develop a personality of its own. It has your voice, but it’s an individual. Actually, this need it will have to ‘breathe’ is going to be responsible for some of that extra time you’ll need (from the first rule). If the change involves other people, especially employees, your kids, your spouse or friends, this goes double. And what makes you think it would be better if you did control everything?
  3. The more people involved, as long as they are truly invested in the outcome, the better the results. My current book is, of course, a team effort. My earlier books were too, but the team was formed to get the book out, not before. Investment takes time – and trust, respect and faith. If you have that, whatever the change you are trying to make, it will be more likely to succeed.