Marching to your own drummer

Great article in yesterday’s Globe and Mail Careers section on mavericks at work.

"Organizations love them and hire them because they are self-starting, creative, innovative, entrepreneurial, productive and passionate. Organizations also hate them and fire them because they get restless or don’t toe the line."

Sound familiar?

Career mavericks are typically rule-breakers, free spirits and are only happy doing work that interests them or fits with their personal goals. Job descriptions are a starting point. And when the work no longer fits, mavericks are quick to move on to new opportunities.

Key piece of advice — don’t lose sleep over HR types who will look at your resume and see someone who can’t hold a job. Do what excites you and the opportunities will always be there.

Motivation is a DIY

I’m in the persuasion / engagement business and I hear this over and over again.

We need to get people motivated. Fired up. On side and on board. Rowing in the same direction. Singing from the same song sheet.

Well, you can’t motivate other people. Not going to happen. Not with carrots. Not with sticks. Forget rational arguments or emotional appeals.

Folks motivate themselves to start, stop or continue doing whatever you need done. Create the right conditions and people will pursue what’s in their own best interests. Which hopefully is also in your best interests. Shared interests.

Same holds true with communications. People just aren’t getting it, you say. The message isn’t getting through. We need to turn up the volume.

Well, odds are good that folks are getting the message. Maybe they just don’t like what you’re saying. And maybe you’re not listening.

Book review: Fun at Work

Fun Works. Creating Places Where People Love to Work

By Leslie Yerkes

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc

$23.95

A stranger stops me in the frozen food aisle.

"You know who you look like," says the stranger. "That golfer Phil Mickelson."

I hear that a lot. And some folks ask if I’m really Phil, apparently taking a break from the PGA Tour to buy milk and diapers in Hamilton. Yes, I’ve been tempted to play along. Have my photo taken. Sign autographs. Ink endorsement deals and maybe talk my way into a free lunch. But that would be illegal and get me in trouble with the real Phil and his legal team.

Other times, I’m stopped and told I look like the guy who writes book reviews for the newspaper. That’s me, I say. So far no one’s been interested in photos, autographs, endorsement deals or comped lunches. Although I can always count on meeting that stranger who’s just self-published a business book featuring an eclectic cast of fictional characters who meet at a coffee shop and discover the 12 secrets of power selling courtesy of a wise old waitress who has a hugely successful direct mail business on the side.

The first question I get asked is always, "So how can you read all those books?" Which is a polite way of asking, how could anyone in their right mind read so many boring books week after week and year after year? Do you have a life?

The short answer? Because it’s fun. Reading and reviewing business books is a great gig. You get a mountain of free books, a steady diet of big ideas and a cool way to prevent the creative juices from congealing like day-old KFC gravy. Not once has reviewing books seemed remotely like work. And not once have I complained, which to my patient and long-suffering wife qualifies as a miracle equal to seeing the image of the Virgin Mary on a burnt piece of toast. While I’ve had very good jobs the past eight years, nothing’s yet compared to the fun of reviewing business books.

So how much fun are you having with your work? Life is short and most of us spend it at the office. You owe it to yourself and your family to have a good time, says author and consultant Leslie Yerkes. Somehow we’ve managed to pry apart work and fun. If we’re lucky, we get to sit through the decidedly fun-free nanosecond of celebration routine at management and all-staff meetings.

Which is too bad because fusing work and fun has proven bottom-line benefits. "When fun is integrated with work instead of segmented from work, the resultant fusion creates energy, it cements relationships between co-workers and between workers and the company," says Yerkes. "When fun is integrated into work, it fosters creativity and results in improved performance."

Yerkes has come up with 11 principles for achieving that elusive fun/work fusion.

* Give your staff permission to perform by following guidelines rather than consulting the hierarchy before taking any action.

* Challenge your Type A biases, especially the "when the work gets done is when we’ll have some fun" belief.

* Capitalize on the spontaneous because fun doesn’t happen on schedule, by management decree or committee.

* Switch from a task orientation that’s all about control to a process orientation that’s built on trust.

* Value a diversity of fun styles and realize that not everyone is going to laugh at your jokes.

* Expand the boundaries to let in more fun.

* Be authentic.

* Be choiceful and give yourself permission to be your full fun self.

* Hire good people and then get out of the way.

* Embrace expansive thinking and risk-taking.

* And finally, celebrate. Nothing is more fun than celebrating a success or shared win and nothing spins off more energy.

To back up her principles, Yerkes profiles profitable and growing businesses that integrate fun into their day-to-day operations. You’ll find yourself wanting to work at each and every company or at least do business with them.

"No longer is success determined simply by our ability to be smart and strategic," says Yerkes. "We need to create environments which resonate with the workforce, places that are fun to work, situations that fuel deep relationships. To me, the answer is simple: fun works. And it works over and over again."

Jay Robb, a Hamilton freelance writer who’s now having fun blogging, can be reached at jayrobb.typepad.com.

Disney’s MVPs

I was comparing notes with a colleague on our family vacations to the Magic Kingdom (two thumbs up). We then started talking about the Disney Institute. At one of Institute’s stop-overs in Toronto, a Disney HR type asked the crowd to guess who was Disney’s most important employee.

The brave souls who played Mickey and Minney got most of the votes.

The company’s MVPs are actually the cleaning staff. Not only do they keep the parks litter free (try finding a wad of gum on any road or sidewalk). Cleaning staff help visitors find their way and answer endless questions. And they’re Disney’s eyes and ears on the frontlines. So the company invests heavily in training and does a good job treating their cleaning staff with respect.

How valued are the cleaning staff in your organization? Chances are, they were outsourced years ago and they’re pretty much invisible. Yet these are the folks who may well have the greatest impact on  face-to-face customer service.

So the next time you’re walking down the hall, don’t ignore them. Stop and say thanks for being an MVP.

Kicking the tires

Got the chance to be on a six-member selection committee last week.

We interviewed six candidates in four-a-half hours. 10-minute presentations and a lightning round of Q and As.

Great learning experience. Biggest lesson learned?  If you’ve landed on the shortlist for interviews, your prospective future employer is really doing one thing and one thing only. They’re testing for fit.

Can they see you fitting in? With the organization? With your team? With the folks you’d work with and report to? Will you be a no-risk, low-maintenance hire? Will the organizaton be a better place with you as an employee?

So, along with getting all the background info on the organization and the folks you’d be reporting to (God bless Google), get a handle on the organization’s culture and values. And make sure there’s a genuine match between you and Those Who Could Sign Your Paycheque.

You might be able to fake a good fit in the interview (yes, I’m very much a details-oriented, analytical process person). It’ll be tough to sustain for a month, much less a couple of years.

Book review: Make that speech brief, and give it passion

Public speaking is one of those skills that can make or break a career — so keep it simple

The Elements of Great Public Speaking. How to be Calm, Confident and Compelling

By J. Lyman MacInnis

Ten Speed Press, $14.95

I wrote the worst speech I ever heard.

I penned the remarks for the incoming president of a provincial association. The president was giving his inaugural address to 500 well-fed and watered members at the association’s annual general meeting.

The speech itself wasn’t too badly written. It was about what you’d expect from a freshly minted university grad eager to impress with his first stab at speech writing.

The disaster came in the delivery. The president butchered the first and last sentences and everything in between. He skipped over verbs. Forgot nouns. Combined sentences in creative ways. Ignored entire paragraphs. Made up new words. And may well have spoken in tongues once all hope of salvaging the speech was lost.

It wasn’t long before the banquet hall was buzzing and everyone was staring intently at their desserts. Some folks wondered if their fearless leader was potted and sotted. Others were genuinely concerned about a stroke or brain aneurysm. In hindsight, it’s possible the president was dyslexic or functionally illiterate. Or maybe he just had a crippling case of stage fright. Whatever the reason, five minutes of floundering was not the first impression the president wanted to make. Which was too bad because he was actually a stand-up guy who was engaging and reasonably coherent one-on-one.

Public speaking is one of those skills that can help, hurt or haunt your career. "Communicate well and do well," says Toronto Star columnist and public speaker J. Lyman MacInnis. "Communicate best and flourish."

Anyone who’s watched American Idol knows Paula, Randy and Simon go on and on and on about the importance of song selection. The same holds true with effective public speaking. It’s all about picking the right topic. About a century ago, Dale Carnegie set out three criteria for successful speaking engagements. Have significant knowledge about the topic. Sincerely care. And have a strong desire to share that knowledge and passion with your audience.

"Think back to every really effective speech you’ve ever heard and you’ll discover that all the speakers knew their topics inside out, they all felt strongly about what they were talking about, and they all clearly wanted to get their messages across," says MacInnis.

"If you meet all three of the formula’s criteria, success is guaranteed."

Still overcome with fear and trepidation?

Your two greatest weapons are preparation and practice. Focus on what you want to say and how you’re going to say it. Rehearse your speech as often as you can. Say it while driving to work. Walking at night. While having a shower. And pay extra attention to your opening. If you’re flawless in the first minute or two of your speech, you’ll quickly calm down and hit your stride.

"Most people’s concerns about giving a speech stem from their own expectations, not those of the audience," says MacInnis. "The audience’s expectations are usually a lot lower than your own. Learning anything well takes time and effort. No one would expect to play like Oscar Peterson the first time they sit down at a piano, yet many people think they should be able to speak like Winston Churchill the first time they stand up in front of an audience."

And one final piece of advice. Be brief.

The Gettysburg Address is all of 268 words. The author once heard a speech by actor John Wayne that lasted less than two minutes. "The impact of the Gettysburg Address is still being felt today, and I doubt that any of the 2,000 people who heard John Wayne that day have forgotten his message." Always leave your audience wanting more.

Jay Robb is a Hamilton freelance writer who’s learned to enjoy public speaking.

Book review: Hot Spots at work

Hot Spots: why some teams, workplaces and organizations buzz with energy — and others don’t

By Lynda Gratton

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

$31.95

Consider yourself warned.

Slam the Hamilton Roundtable on Poverty Reduction and I’m going to pull a Bob.

Yes, I will throw my pen at all cynics and critics. And I have better aim than our repentant city councillor.

As a parent and someone who’s proud to call Hamilton home, making our community the best place to raise a child gets two thumbs up. Every kid matters. All children deserve the same chance to shine. All parents want a bright and better future for their kids. And I’m not so keen on raising my family in a city where a scary number of impoverished kids grow up to be resentful teens and desperate adults.

I’m also a fan because the Roundtable is turning Hamilton into one giant Hot Spot. And Hot Spots are where you go to hang out with really cool people.

"You always know when you are in a Hot Spot," says author Lynda Gratton, one of the world’s top management thinkers. "You feel energized and vibrantly alive. Your brain is buzzing with ideas and the people around you share your joy and excitement. The energy is palpable, bright, shining. These are times when what you and others have always known becomes clearer, when adding value becomes more possible."

Gratton says Hot Spots are the dynamic combination of a co-operative mindset, boundary spanning, an igniting purpose and productive capacity to tackle seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Which pretty much describes the Roundtable. Folks are getting together from the private, public and non-profit sectors to think, talk and act in new ways. They’re willing and able to collaborate and share lessons learned.

"The capacity to work co-operatively is at the core of Hot Spots," says Gratton. "In a real sense, the value from Hot Spots arises in the space between people."

As for an igniting purpose, making Hamilton the best place to raise a child fits the bill. And bringing hope to every kid who goes to bed hungry, goes to school without clean clothes or a lunch and who deals with adult-sized worries certainly qualifies as an Everest-sized challenge.

Hot Spots make the impossible possible by generating off-the-chart levels of energy, enthusiasm and excitement. This in turn drives creativity and innovation.

Most important, the Roundtable is getting the whole community engaged in a conversation that matters. Grappling with big questions that don’t offer easy, obvious or immediate answers provides the sparks that set off a Hot Spot.

"Conversations that ignite a Hot Spot are rarely about simply sharing knowledge. They are more often about novel associations, connections or hunches.

"These conversations rarely go from boss to subordinate; they are more likely to be peer-to-peer, colleague-to-colleague, friend-to-friend."

One other essential Hot Spot ingredient is what Gratton calls signature processes. These are unique ways of doing business and getting work done that reflect the culture and values of an organization.

Embed these signature processes into a Hot Spot and you stand a better chance of sustaining momentum. In Hamilton, our signature process may well be our spirit of volunteerism and our willingness to pitch in and help each other out.

While you can’t mandate a Hot Spot, leaders play a key role in keeping them alive. Leaders need to continue asking big questions. Setting tough yet inspiring challenges. Calling on other leaders and organizations to step up to the plate. Expanding their network of friendships to get more people involved. Encouraging boundary-spanning within and between organizations. And leading by example when it comes to co-operation instead of competition.

"Every moment of every day, in every country of the world, Hot Spots are springing up," says Gratton. "Fuelled by connections and high-quality relationships, these Hot Spots are capable of generating enormous value through the power of new combinations."

This is great news for the one in four kids in our community who live in poverty and who are counting on the rest us to make Hamilton the best place to raise a child.

Jay Robb is a Hamilton freelance writer who can be reached at robbclairmont@aol.com.