A week of running last minute errands to make our family holidays bright reminds me the never ending list that is mothering. And a set of recent losses reminds me the power that mothering played in my adolescent years. Sadly the second half of this year marked deaths of some parents my highschool classmates. As I sat through an Irish wake and Catholic mass and only weeks later stood quietly during the Greek Orthodox Trisagion I was caught by the threads of faith and ethnic identity that had shaped these parents, and their children, that lived so large in my youth. I write a column on diversity and offer services through my firm focused on inclusion and conflict resolution.
Growing up in a white state with little ethnic diversity it is easy to presume my friends were mainstream white Americans. Yet when I think about the kitchens I spent my time visiting, the backyards I played in, and the basement parties I went to I note that moms who opened their doors were religiously and ethnically rooted and it was these roots that allowed them to be a solid source of community for their children and their friends.
It makes me appreciate even more keenly the diversity of mothers. Whether it be ethnic, racial, or professional diversity. As I surveyed the classroom of my first grader and heard some children exclaim sadly that their mom or dad was not able to come to help with the holiday party, I certainly felt lucky to have the flexibility to make it. But I also recognized how important it was that my children had access to moms who worked, who stay home, who run home businesses, and who devote themselves to the community building that doesn't come with a paycheck. It means that there is always someone they can reach to for information and for supervision even when my schedule makes that hard.
If the diversity of mothers within a community can have such an impact on adolescents, consider what that means for workplace projects. All the energy and talent of women workers looks a lot of ways, but when you create an environment where their whole self is prized and celebrated, the community that is created is engaging, purposeful, and welcoming. These qualities make for a resilient and inclusive workforce, one that is far more welcoming and attractive than if these qualities are ignored and only the worker skill set is focused on.
As I prepare to celebrate the holidays with my family I write a note to honor the families that opened their doors to a teenage me and taught me their traditions. From how to make enchiladas (thanks Edna) to homemade hummus and tabbouleh (thanks Cora) from how to live and laugh loudly (thanks Maria) to how to tell a story that teaches and questions (thank you Veronica) I remember these traditions and hope my own door remains as open to my children and their friends as you were able to make yours. Some of you are gone, some of you remain, but each of you impacted the lives you encountered just by celebrating your past.
This season as you celebrate, take a moment to thank the moms, past and present, whose diverse experiences provide joy and color for your festivities. And if that job rests on your shoulders this year, I raise a glass in solidarity. The moment is brief but you weave a cord stronger than you know today.
Now that fall is really underway with cool evenings, apple cider, and pumpkin everything feeling nostalgic about summer feels allowed. As I shuffle photos for end of year family gifts I come across this cute shot from a trip to New Hampshire's Story Land. Have you been? A lovely, right-sized family friendly amusement park that works for children from "2-102" as they say on little signs throughout the park. What might be easy to overlook is that this "little park" pulls in over $20 million a year in revenue and employ hundreds of workers each season. Workers come from nearby Conway but they also come from Turkey, Poland, Ukraine, Tokyo and New York (hey, it's northern New Hampshire, it's all pretty exotic up here!). How can a seasonal place be so successful in cultivating a workplace culture where staff are friendly and engaged with customers, in all weather, even when the tasks they engage with are monotonous and routine? I noticed 8 things that Story Land does right.
1) Start Small and be Authentic
When you line up to ride the "old fashioned cars" (which you will, don't try to be too cool!) you will notice the large maps hung on the wall which depict the park from various eras. It's a great trick to keep you from noticing your wait in line, and a lovely way at the end of the day to reminisce with grandpa about the first trip he made to the park. But there is a lesson here about growth: the park did not start with 5 major rides, 5 central themes, and 6 dining areas. Instead, it started with a small playground type area with only a few rides. Over time attractions were added and the crowds returned. And what was added was always with the goal to appeal to family fun, not single rider fun. This commitment to authentic fun pays off.
2) Add value
In a day and age when income generated from family amusements comes largely from concessions, upgrades, and add ons Story Land's approach is refreshing: charge a reasonable entry fee and allow families to bring items they prefer. The result: families willing to make multiple trips, indulging in treats and extras, and lots of little painted faces which adds to the fun. By keeping their full costs upfront for families they gain loyalty and increase revenue AND goodwill.
As you pass through gates onto rides you notice name tags on worker shirts which say their names and where they are from along with information about how long they have worked at Story Land. Countries, cities, little towns. Men, women, age and ethnic diversity is on display. The result is a wonderful combination of youthful enthusiasm, careful attentiveness, helpful graciousness. Add in conversations in line about trips and places visited and the atmosphere is one that feels inclusive and benefits from the cross section of people and talents they have hired.
4)Brand is your culture
Story Land means family and fun, natural beauty, clean environment, and valuing leisure time. This culture results returning workers, happy customers, and an atmosphere of trust and fun. These are not accidental elements, each are attended to in order to promote the experience that keeps families returning.
5) Pipeline is local, recruitment is global.
As diverse as the staff are within Story Land, it might be easy to think there is an externally focused strategy in place. While this is likely true, it is also obvious that there is attention to cultivating local relationships as well; workers from the surrounding region return again and again because the opportunities are there and structured to encourage return. And they don't think of pipeline as only about converting non-worker into new worker; they have techniques that convert new worker to returning worker and returning worker to recruiter. Attention to the reputation they have in the region as an employer pays off with a significant percentage of staff that are returning or legacy hires. And the blend of this with new international workers lends itself to responsiveness.
6) Train and Crosstrain in Advance
Workers and tasks are efficiently aligned, but a sick day or malfunctioning ride can require a shuffle that can disrupt operations. Solution; introduce skills as modules, rotate trainees through, and give everyone ownership over the customer experience even if they don't touch all parts. In your organization you can benefit from creating or encouraging cross functional teams, job share days, and rotating leadership opportunities.
7) Turn a disadvantage into an advantage
How does a family amusement center attract and retain a talented set of regional and international workers year after year? They are located over an hour from international airports, over an hour from any major metropolitan city, and their hours of operation are 9:30-5pm so youthful workers have plenty of downtime and few urban-style outlets. Rather than this being a challenge, Story Land has turned this into an advantage, highlighting the natural beauty of the area and offering a lifestyle that translates as active and an escape from the chaos of urban life. What can you reframe to attract talent?
8) Be part of an ecosystem
A stop at the gift shop shows a variety of souvenirs, which you have enough money to buy since you packed a picnic. Grabbing the iconic Humpty Dumpty doll and reading the tag reveals that he was created right there in New Hampshire, at a manufacturer in Hudson in the southern region of the state. This may seem inconsequential, but for an item easily outsourced and able to be brought into the shop for pennies this is a big statement. Story Land makes a commitment to being a part of a statewide ecosystem even while making national and international purchases. But what customers leave with, and that lives on with them, is a cute little guy that reminds them of a NH connection. Your role in an ecosystem has many advantages and can boost a brand and culture greatly. Think about the various touchpoints you have with staff or customers and consider a local partner that can enhance that point.
Story Land is open for one more weekend before closing for the season but these lessons will help them ramp up for next year and help your company enjoy multigenerational success.
The American Comedy Awards recently honored Bill Cosby with the Johnny Carson Lifetime Achievement Award. He shared a story describing his early efforts to make it into comedy (you can watch his speech here. As he described struggling to set aside his own uncertainty and to convince others of his comedy skills (despite several less-than-stellar performances) I got a glimpse into the path that is Collaborative Law.
Growing a practice in this arena isn't for the faint of heart!
Maybe this is unique to developing a market share here in NH where the practice is still in the "early adopter" phase; but Dr. Cosby's points about sticking through the hard times to honor one's skill and to "keep showing up" resonate well when I think about the current state of collaborative practice.
Here are some of the lessons we can draw from Dr. Cosby's example.
1) Start working where you can work. It might not be the fancy club with the $5,000 per night booking, but it will get you audience and experience. Any chance to practice the craft of collaborative is a worthwhile one. Trainings, practice group meetings, Rotary club presentations; these all make for time to build connections with future team members and to develop comfort and trust with those you will later need to rely upon.
2) Enter the room certain of your contribution. Whether you are headlining a 5 city tour or facilitating a 5 way team meeting, clarity of purpose, outcome, and directive goes a long way to success. Collaborative clients already juggle their own emotions and responses to the process. Getting through to settlement is no easy feat so the professionals involved must convey confidence in themselves and the process to assist the parties productively.
3) Play off your partner. Dr. Cosby describes asking to be introduced as "one of the fastest up and coming comics...". When the club MC did not use this intro Dr. Cosby called him on it. To which he replied "Hey, I saw the first show.". Ouch! Despite the slam, the back-and-forth ended up becoming part of his act that night, and the attention to the obvious, that he was under-performing, was the motivation he needed to step outside of his fear. Collaborative practice can be a terrifying prospect; engaging your client in the process, working with the other attorney or team member; trusting the skill and roles of each team member are all scary but necessary steps in adopting collaborative practice. Getting to the next level even requires being open to feedback about your performance, feedback that may not be tender but that can improve your skill if you allow it.
4) As Dr. Cosby signed off he left the dais with a message to "keep showing up". In collaborative practice the process of working as part of the team is a long one. The process only happens by building relationships with other team members, mastering the mechanics of the process, and working in teams. Experienced professionals and relative newcomers working and learning from each other give even the newest professional a chance at success. As Dr. Cosby's example reveals, working the process alone isn't as much fun as working with others to create something that last longer than individual efforts allow.
A year ago I returned from a trip abroad. I returned knowing my business was about to shift, that I felt called to focus on the hot button issues impacting businesses and teams, and that I had something to offer that could make a difference. Within 3 months I heard of businesses impacted by employee suicide, deaths from faulty equipment, murder suicide in a workplace, and mass injury events. All of these incidents were unexpected, all were hugely impactful, and all shared a common factor: each business had to learn in the moment how to respond to the events. It has been nearly a year for some of these events and in that time I have seen businesses impacted respond by decreasing staff, changing services, leaving the market, and some by holding steady. None of the businesses that experienced these events have grown in services or revenue 6-12 months following the event. While I don't think this is the only metric that matters, I do think it is a telling metric. And while some tragedies can be avoided or prevented, the perception that these are "rare" events in a business life-cycle is clearly mistaken. Most businesses will experience crisis events. What makes the difference in their success following it is their planning before. We know this, and are committed to equipping leaders before and supporting businesses after an event. Crisis Response Planning involves mapping out post-event how your team will prepare, respond, and recover to operational capacity while allowing and facilitating review and correction. We are hosting 1 day crisis response planning in the NH area this August.
So, what will one day of crisis planning entail?
Crisis preparation involves four steps. 1) pre-event assessment for risk (probable, likely, and possible) 2) Identifying and preparing a crisis response team and set of spokespersons. 3) Assembling a crisis portfolio allowing for shared knowledge from prior events and a crisis communication system plan. 4) Designing a post-event review system.
One day of time from key players is a small investment that might make a huge difference in setting your business up well to endure and thrive despite crisis. If you are ready to plan, you can register here for our August 12 event.
Clarity in Chaos.
It is a central focus of our service offerings. When we established a firm devoted to crisis response planning, culture, inclusion, and conflict management we knew we were the partner companies needed to handle the hot button issues that detract from mission. What we didn't know was how varied and consistent the efforts would be. Our services are designed for high growth companies and non-profits; organizations that have a growing demand but limited resources to respond. These are the perfect environments to see innovation and creative problem solving. They are also the perfect storm for unintended offense, massive missteps, and sometimes outright mistreatment. What we have known all along is that little missteps during the growth phase are set ups for problems in the adapting phase. When reputation, relationship, and results are most essential is not just before a big service launch or public offering; they matter when the room size starts to double from 6 to 12, from 12 to 24, and especially from 48 to 96. We have known this and helped our partners see that too. Yesterday the NY Times shared some recent management data that support our claims (you can find their post here).
Our insight wasn't based soley on gut instinct; we had read the results of studies produced by Stamford's Emerging Company division (their site outlines a recent history of findings, and links to some full text for the wonks among you). We know quite a bit about teams, leadership, and accountability mechanisms. We know how marginalized people (read as "anyone who is different in a group of sameness") are treated within homogeneous settings. Our insight and services were positioned after witnessing multiple start-up cultures, both non-profit and high tech, burgeon and then flounder when opportunity and growth collided.
When we offer a course like "Manager's Tool Kit" it's because we know scaling well means avoiding crushed toes. When we participate in a panel discussing how women in non-traditional settings can be supported we know we are there to celebrate and inform those who work with women in all fields.
Our work with clients has taught us some valuable tips that any company facing hypergrowth would do well to learn:
"What is the ROI on that?"
"Can you give me some easy to implement suggestions?"
"It might be something we can roll out, but I am not sure I know how to message it, any tips?"
The past few months I have been lucky to land some great lunch meetings with some key contacts. It gets ideas flowing, opportunities for further collaboration are revealed, and a great deal of good will gets fostered. I make a habit of annual check ins with key contacts, not always back loaded to the end of the year, in order to celebrate the work we acheived together that year and to listen for areas that can be improved. The innovation that so energizes an organization rarely appears wrapped on your door, rather it slinks in one chat at a time and suddenly appears fully formed only because so many minds have already contributed to the vision. I love being in the position I am to observe and facilitate this process. I often get to do this in organizations seeking to be more inclusive and conscious of ways individual and cultural differences can be leveraged and supported within a system. With newer contacts I am often confronted with a set of questions that boil down to one common request:
"Can you bullet point exactly what will work so I can copy that in my company? And combine that with dollar by dollar analysis of exactly what economic benefit will occur for the effort? I prefer to look at projects only limited to the next 2 quarters please. Thanks!"
The rationale and intent of the request is certainly understandable: when you need to sell an idea up the chain you want to empower yourself with the kind of information you know holds currency. But when I hear this question it tells me the inclusion effort isn't ready to be launched. Rather, there is more planning work needed to ready the system for the tasks that will actually lead to greater effectiveness.
My business card says "Translating Results". It's a tagline I used when my consulting firm first launched back in 2007. At the time I was positioning my services to be a within-reach option for Kahneman/Gladwell/Arielly type feedback. If you don't know what I am referring to you, you now have some idea the challenges I encountered those first years! I keep the reference because it accurately reflects my method of consultation. I don't know everything, but I know how to locate, vet, and apply many things that will have impact in your organization. I see my role not as building something new for you, but as helping you locate resources and talents that exist within your systems and that can be strengthened by some tested best practices.
The approach doesn't always translate well into a three step plan, but the chance to connect an idea with direction is well worth the conversation. Looking forward to our next chance to connect.
It was such a charming version of my everyday. Jet setting, scouting locations, long chunks of time simply waiting for the real work to begin. My favorite might have been the fancy dinners on another company's dime or the lack of roots required to do good work. When I read the recent "what a consultant does all day" article that circulated late last week I had to laugh. I knew it was describing the details of a young entry level employee of a high level consulting firm, and that of course the founder of said firm wasn't necessarily carving their time in the same way. Even so, while it made me laugh I also felt some degree of frustration that this was the version of consulting that was presented to those who many not appreciate what the work actually entails; particularly if done well. So, in case my clients, future and current, wonder how different the story looks I figured I would lay out my everyday.
After getting up to a house full of children and negotiating morning routine duties with my partner I get to my office and begin working my customer relationship pipeline. I make note of events within the industries we serve, edit some content for this blog, a column I co-write, or material for my monthly Insider newsletter and social media streams. I respond to requests for proposals, answer questions about training logistics, and at least three times per week serve on a variety committees related to my professional interests. I usually spend at least 1-3 hours a week managing material for various collaborative practice groups that I participate in or organize. I spend some amount of time each week learning skills relevant for my business and I spend some time each month teaching others something that will help them grow their business.
When I am not managing my CRM, I am planning and delivering learning material for my clients. I spend a few hours per week reading recent behavioral science research and mapping skills training to match relevant results that might help a client achieve their aims more effectively or efficiently. When I am not planning such learning opportunities I am delivering them to companies and agencies that are equipping their teams with skills to manage change, respond to conflict, or engage diversity within their system.
It isn't all reading and writing. My favorite aspect is when I can work even more closely with an organization to support leadership and staff engaged in big picture events. As a sounding board and strategist I listen for strengths and challenges that can be opened to provide options that may not have been obvious to those within the system. My goal isn't to develop a winning idea, it's to bring the space out that will allow the system to see the great idea that already exists within.
Most nights I end up back where it all started, and instead of dishing out advice I dish out something worthy of a young eater's complaints before baths, homework, stories, and last minute scrambles consume the evening. While my evening does occasionally involve dinner out with a client, it most usually has to do with some marquis event that I attend to celebrate their achievements. If there is a dinner, it's usually chicken, and since many are also fundraisers, I can't really say they happen on the company dime. I can say that I wouldn't change my version of a consultant "typical day" for the version the hot-shot recent college grad shared. I spend most of my time doing for clients, and that is what makes me keep showing up each and every day.
I don't typically link to a blog written by another, but this topic touches on so many aspects of what we at BDS Insight offer that I felt it was an important link to share. We all know what it is like to deal with a person who seems unable to NOT be rude and aggressive with others. Some individuals seem prone to behaving badly, and the rest of us (what, you don't think I will count myself as someone who could behave badly, do you?!) are sidelined trying to figure out how to get out of the line of fire. A growing body of research is revealing that for some people there is a combination of factors that increase their sensitivity to threat, increase their mental engagement with threat, and decrease their inhibitory systems. Translation? They see more threat, are consumed and concerned by threat to a far greater degree than others (their brains are literally using more energy to deal with rejection and aggression than others) and are more likely to respond negatively once such threats are perceived. The fix?
Seems silly, but early research is showing two factors that make a difference for a specific subset of people: sugar (glucose) and training. Now, before you smack your forehead think about this for one minute. The training they offered was simply engaging the non-dominant hand in routine tasks for 2 weeks. The amount of sugar was only 40-50g. And the effect was clear: for a specific group of people with these factors retaliatory behavior when tested in a lab setting lessened to a significant degree. There are so many additional nuances and details in this series of studies I thought I would share the link for you to dig a bit deeper. I am looking forward to designing trainings around these insights. And you preschool teachers will nod in silent agreement; we all know that a using building blocks and having a lollipop sure are helpful in controlling tantrums! Time to see more fun in the center of our conference tables!
Self Care, Stalling, or Stonewalling? How to work with pauses while avoiding passivity in your collaborative process.
A big draw of the collaborative process in divorce and non-divorce matters has to do with the ability of the parties themselves, rather than courts or other entities, to drive the pace and outcome of the resolution that is reached. The attorneys seek to assist their clients in being transparent, goal directed, and solution focused as the other neutrals serve to inform and contain the data and emotion that can interfere with resolution. For some parties, the pace feels perfect, where the deadlock and impasse from trying to resolve matters independently gives way to small but meaningful decisions that move resolution forward. As a professional seeking to support parties in their efforts to resolve conflict I have observed a pattern of pausing that often frustrates and befuddles both the disputing party and the other professionals working with or on behalf of a client. It can seem difficult to discern whether the delay in decision, information, or meeting scheduling has to do with honest efforts to regroup or whether it represents something less "collaborative". Here are some tips for what distinguishes each of these 3 patterns, and some strategies that are useful for professionals supporting parties involved in a collaborative process.
Self Care: This form of pause often follows emotional or high stakes decisions. Clients engaged in self care pauses probably showed strong emotion (in the form of tears, relief, anger, or fatigue) prior to their withdrawl. They may be proactive in their self-care efforts ("I'm away with rejuvenating with friends for the weekend but I promise I will get back to you by the end of next week") or they may be less clear with you (and themselves) for why they are finding it difficult to find the information that is needed for next steps ("I know I need to contact my benefits administrator about that but every time I sit down to write the email I just feel wiped out"). You can test the waters for whether the pause is related to a need for self care by naming what you see "Have you thought about doing something special to celebrate the hard work you are doing so far?" It may seem silly, but clients can benefit from hearing validation for the work they do to reach agreement and can benefit from being encouraged to celebrate their work even as things remain unresolved. Providing this permission can help shorten some of the delays that can arise when people unconsciously feel entitled to control without being able to articulate their own need for validation.
Stalling: Pauses in the process can unfold for a variety of reasons, but a very common one has to do with feeling paralyzed in a decision making process. Clients who are stalling are usually looking for a signal that will help them feel comfortable with a potential outcome. No one wants to make a bad decision, and so often in the collaborative process one decision has multiple implications. Some clients pause because they do need to see where their quarter is going to end up, but if you have excluded a delay as being tied to specific time related information, there is a high chance that your client is simply having a hard time sticking to a decision. This is where work with a coach familiar with decision making strategies can be useful. Even less sophisticated "pro & con" lists can be useful in this effort. The one I most enjoy with clients are decisional balance sheets which walk the client through how making a change and not making a change are equally momentous in their outcomes.
Stonewalling: While the collaborative process is a self-selected approach, this doesn't mean all parties are equally open to the approach as they may initially believe. Occasionally delays are explicit attempts to manipulate the outcome, punish an opposing party, or retaliate against a professional in the process (I couldn't stand that doctor so I was not about to trust his opinion and let her win with a settlement). For professionals in the process Stonewalling will feel pretty obvious, especially after the 5th unreturned call or wrong tax statement. When it is clear, to you, your client, and the team, it is best to name what you see and allow as honest a conversation as possible to be aired. There are times when all it takes is for some vented emotion to be shared, and other times when side mediation or coaching can resolve the hangup. When this isn't possible all parties are better served by ending or pausing a collaborative process rather than attempting to force conclusion when parties are not invested in settlement.
There is no crystal ball that will always tell you what the inner life of a client or party really is, but there are usually some context clues that can be useful in organizing the best response possible. Validating hard work, encouraging celebrations of small steps, guiding decision making, and naming outright resistance can all go a long way to improving the pace of collaborative processes.
Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP
Collaborative Coach Facilitator, Psychologist
In the space of a week I celebrated the amazing courage of new recruits and the hard work of veteran law enforcement officers and tonight I am offering words of encouragement after some of those very same officers responded to the scene of a 9 year old shot dead by his ultimately suicidal father during a supervised visitation at a local YWCA.
The intersection of my work; crisis, conflict management, and diversity education have sadly coalesced in this case. As my community rebuilds and reflects on the implications of this tragedy there is also an opportunity to offer tips to support workers affected by similar events.
The event was witnessed by a visitation monitor who survived without physical injuries. This individual will be the most attended to member of the staff, as he or she should be, but there will be people surrounding this individual who will also need support. Individuals in his or her supervision group who will likely have less professional experience and possibly less life experience will need support. Individuals who supervise other workers will need some guidance on how to tune in to how they themselves are feeling, and how to disconnect and plug in with the other parts of their world. Mostly everyone will need permission to pay attention to the parts of their lives that bring them joy and renewal. This isn't being callous or dismissive of the tragedy; this is filling your tank for the long battle that is recovery.
Community resources can be brought in to attend to immediate emotional needs, but just as important are plans to assist the organization in addressing the small details that often get lost in these events. There are many conversations ahead. There is a need to review policy and advocate for change. But this work can only be done if those who are most directly involved in the day to day work of the organization are prepared for the work of not only processing this tragedy, but of connecting to silly, absurd, irrelevant parts of their lives as well. If your organization needs help fostering resilience or planning recovery from sudden traumatic events support is available.
Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor, Entrepreneur, and Diversity Columnist.
All entries posted and archived on this blog are subject to all rights reserved,
Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP, 2011-2014