VOLUME TWO, ISSUE 9
It's September and
kids are heading back to school. I was in Staples last week, surrounded by kids
and their moms, shopping for back to school supplies. I was one of those geeky
kids who loved school and spent the first week making covers for all of my books.
I only had one teacher I didn't like, probably because he had an annoying habit
of chucking a football at your head if he thought you weren't paying attention...not
that I was ever "not paying attention," but he had lousy aim. I had three
teachers that I absolutely adored.|
Mrs. Stockton was
my third grade teacher and used to take us on her version of a fishing trip. We
made rods from sticks and string and "fished" for words in a kid's wading pool
she brought to class. She jump started my love for words. Mrs. Griffero was my
sixth grade teacher of Italian descent. I'm ashamed to admit that I told a joke
in class one day that turned out to contain a negative reference to her
ethnicity...it was one of those words that kids use sometimes when they have no
idea what the word means although I remember at least some of the boys got it.
I was mortified but she turned the incident into a teaching moment that ended
up with the class creating a detailed map of Italy.
My favorite teacher
by far was Dr. Stuart Chenoweth. He was one of my advisors when I was in grad
school and he also taught theatre history from 500 B.C. to 1642. That's a lot
of territory to cover, not all of it interesting. But Dr. Chenoweth made
theatre history come alive and gave us opportunities to transport ourselves
back through time. We made masks for Greek comedies and experimented with
makeup from the Noh theatre and dressed up like medieval mummers...we experienced
those moments in theatrical history, which enriched our engagement with the
subject and helped us retain what we learned.
Each one of those
teachers provided me with an experiential learning experience. And that kind of
experiential learning translates to the workplace...providing we make the link
between the experience and everyday work. In this issue, Janice takes a look at
experiential learning and the critical things we need to do to make it
relevant. We're also introducing a new segment in this month's newsletter - a
look at "sacred cows". The term "sacred cow" first appeared in English in the
mid 19th century and is an allusion to the Hindu's reverence for
cows. "Sacred cow" refers to something so highly regarded that it's either
immune to or not open for criticism. We'll see about that.
We've chosen our
own term for these "hands off" subjects - "sacred squirrels". After all, you can find squirrels almost everywhere, they're nearly impossible to get rid of and they gobble up seed (resources) meant for the birds. If you've got a
"sacred squirrel" you'd like to examine, let us know.
Senior Partner, Challenge It Now
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FITOctober 19th and 20thHuntington Beach, CA
"How Weird are You?" by Jennie Ayers
|(750 words - estimated reading time: 3 minutes)
Zappo's is one of
the hippest companies in the country. It started off selling shoes online and
now sells a whole lot of stuff to the tune of more than a billion dollars a
year. Based in Las Vegas,
it's not unusual for the company to ask potential employees, "How weird are
you?" And when asked what skill he would most like to improve, Tony Hsieh,
Zappo's young CEO, says, "Humor." Which might explain why his commercials
feature odd little puppets instead of odd little actors.
But does humor
belong in the workplace?
According to some
researchers, it does. In their study, "The Case for Developing New Research on
Humor and Culture in Organizations: Toward a Higher Grade of Manure" (what's
with these long titles?), researchers analyzed theories on humor, emotion and
mood from several hundred studies in the fields of psychology, sociology,
anthropology, philosophy and communications. (Okay, I'm tired just reading
about the research...and they had to do it.)
Here's what they
discovered....drum roll please. Humor is serious business.
"The ability to
appreciate humor, the ability to laugh and make other people laugh has
physiological effects on the body that cause people to become more bonded,"
says study contributor Chris Robert. Humor
also enhances creativity, team cohesiveness and overall workplace performance. "The
ability to make things funny is associated with intelligence and creativity,
both highly valued in the workplace," Robert notes. (My nephew makes things
funny at family gatherings when he belches "Green Day" tunes. Creative?
Sure...but I'm reserving judgment on "intelligence".)
David Abramis at
Cal State Long Beach has studied humor at work for many years. His take? People
who have fun and laugh at work are more productive, better decision-makers, get
along better with co-workers and have fewer absentee, late and sick days than
people who aren't laughing at work. Not to mention they also have a better shot
at getting their own reality show.
More fodder for
fun...98 percent of CEO's polled prefer candidates with a sense of humor. And 84
percent of executives think that employees with a sense of humor do a better
job than those without one. The remaining 16% work on Wall Street and they're
still mad that they have to be regulated like everybody else.
Shoot, even our
federal government understands the importance of humor in the workplace. Just
last year, the Bureau of Public Debt was looking for an expert to deliver a
workshop on the subject. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Public Debt was in so
much debt that it canceled the workshop.
The reality is...most
companies discourage humor in the workplace. And the perception too many managers
have when they see employees laughing is that they're simply "goofing off" and
don't take their jobs "seriously". What a buzz kill.
Why the disconnect?
biggest reason humor's not encouraged in the workplace is that it can go so
wrong and be so unfunny - and downright offensive - when it crosses the line.
(Dying is easy, comedy is hard.) It's especially challenging in really diverse
organizations. Robert says, "Some people have suggested that you just avoid
humor all together - don't be funny, don't try to make jokes. We reject that." Good...we
need to remember that humor's the medium, not the message.
suggests finding common ground that carries jokes across cultures. "People find
things funny when you take two things and you connect them in an unexpected
way. The very work you're doing provides common expectations you can build on -
customers, clients, yourself, suppliers...and there are general human experiences
that anyone can share, like funny things kids say. (My little cousin says
people are only allowed to get married once and it's called monotony.) Where
people get into trouble is stepping on expectations like religion, ethnicity or
other values." And sarcasm also has no business in the workplace. It's easy to
take shots but sarcasm's only "value" is to make someone feel small. If that's
where you go with humor, save it for the Chuckle Hut, not the weekly staff
The truth is...not
everybody thinks "funny". But most of us have the capacity to think "sideways"
and most of us can appreciate someone else's "funny". And that's really all it
takes to celebrate humor - in the workplace or in life.
By the way, every
time you have a good hearty laugh, you burn 3.5 calories. Twenty good belly
guffaws and you can have yourself an Oreo cookie, no guilt.
Now back to the
original question - "How weird are you?"
|"Skilled Facilitators Up the ROI" by Janice Criddle|
|(635 words - estimated reading time: less than 3 minutes)
Some years ago, I attended my first Ropes class as part of my development as a first time manager. I remember it vividly. It was in the dead of winter in Boulder, Colorado. When the instructor asked if anyone had any physical limitations, I explained that I was in the first trimester of my first pregnancy and was concerned. He polled the group; would they mind moving indoors? In Boulder? In the dead of winter? They unanimously agreed. I suspect the fact that the instructor had a cold also helped my case.
Doing the Ropes course indoors was still fun, for which I was grateful. I didn't want my fellow participants to feel like they had missed out on anything. But I was also pleasantly surprised when the facilitator took us through a variety of experiences that led to many "aha" moments.
I know this particular program stands out in my memory because it was a first on so many levels. I also believe it stands out because the facilitator was so impressive. This approach to training and development, firmly grounded in Experiential Learning, utilizes adventurous educational experiences to bring about positive changes in individuals, groups and organizations. Experiential learning programs can be amazingly effective. But be forewarned: they are only as good as the facilitator.
My Boulder facilitator had exceptional skills.
- He was flexible. I'm sure I wasn't the first participant with a physical limitation and it was clear to me that he was prepared for a variety of worst-case scenarios.
- He was knowledgeable. He explained concepts succinctly, provided relevant examples and shared a wealth of information regarding best practices. Throughout our 3 days, he consistently connected the dots between what we were doing and how the activity related to our everyday work experience.
- He kept it fun. By providing concrete experiences that were task oriented (just like work) and intriguing, everyone wanted to "play". Even though we had moved indoors, the activities were invigorating and provided opportunities to experiment with new behaviors and skills in a safe environment.
- He was a wizard at debriefing. This is THE critical skill necessary to insure effectiveness of experiential learning. Skilled facilitators make sure to guide the discussion, not lead it. This is the time when participants have the opportunity to reflect on what they've learned. Skilled facilitators ask open ended questions that allow participants to explore their feelings. They make sure everyone speaks up. Our facilitator made sure each of us was able to articulate the purpose of each exercise and its significance to our workplace and to our role as a manager.
In an effort to bring some "woohoo" into everyday training experiences, organizations are turning more often to experiential learning. That's a good thing. According to the National Training Laboratory, the average person retains 75% when they practice by doing. This is in sharp contrast to other ways of training:
- 5% Lecture
- 20% Audio-Visual
- 50% Discussion Group
75% Practice by Doing
- 90% Teaching Others
While all training programs should provide a variety of methods in order to accommodate the full spectrum of learning styles, it's clear that Experiential Learning provides one of the best opportunities to ensure that participants retain what they learn. But without an effective debrief - without linking experiential learning activities to everyday work life - the method loses its power.
Here at CIN, when we design and deliver programs for our clients, Experiential Learning is a key component. Each program is delivered with a rigorous debrief to ensure that activities connect in a meaningful way to our clients' everyday work worlds. I'll be forever grateful to that first Ropes class. Not just for what I learned as a developing manager, but for being a stellar example of what it takes to make it work!
|"Are Sacred Squirrels Really Sacred?" by Rebecca Ripley|
|(407 words - estimated reading time: less than 2 minutes)|
As Jennie mentioned
in her opening letter, we are launching a new column in this issue of e-Musing
Challenges. We're all about challenging
habitual ways of thinking and doing, so we want to challenge our readers to surface
the "Sacred Squirrels". We define a Sacred Squirrel as a practice, policy, eccentricity, pet project, obsolete procedure or
function that has historically been widely recognized as protected by a person
of influence and therefore immune to criticism - even when most people admit
this "Squirrel" is counter to logic, intelligence, productivity, rational business
sense and progress.
Sacred Squirrels take
resources away from worthwhile endeavors that may die on the vine before
they're given the opportunity to compete for attention. Something as simple as a standard meeting
that takes hours of planning and presence but adds no value may be a "Squirrel" in
sheep's clothing. The unwritten, yet
widely understood message is "Don't mess with this one. It would be a CLM (career limiting move)."
In our BoldWork
™ Creativity workshops, we
invite participants to ask those "What if..." questions that might help to
surface silent "squirrels." Most people
agree that the best candidates to raise questions are those new to the
organization. We give newcomers a grace
period of about three months to ask so-called "dumb questions." After that window of time closes, we give
them "the look
" that says, "Come on, you've been here long enough to know we
can't do that." We offer leaders an
alternative. Add a 10-minute "dumb
question" agenda item to every staff meeting so that Sacred Squirrels can be
surfaced. To be effective, leaders then
have to be willing to genuinely explore the question.
What would happen
if you raised a Sacred Squirrel in your organization? Is the Sacred Squirrel really set in stone, or is
this a Squirrel whose time for extinction has come? Maybe the person who was protecting this "Squirrel" is long gone - or perhaps
s/he is now receptive to seeing that the numbers and logic just don't make
(email@example.com) about Sacred Squirrels in your organization (current or past) that stymied progress. We'll talk about these in future columns -
without attribution, if you prefer. For
example, performance reviews are as widely criticized
as they are celebrated
today's organizations. Is the process a Sacred
Squirrel, being held onto by HR leaders across the country, or does it add
significant value? We look forward to
your feedback and to squelching Sacred Squirrels that squander sacred resources.
Challenge It Now focuses its energies on a common goal - through consultation, coaching and facilitation, we help professionals in business organizations create and sustain a workplace climate where the positive experience of work is optimized, engagement is enriched and performance potential is maximized.
Please take a moment and visit our website at www.challengeitnow.com
to find out more about us and what we have to offer. Or contact us for additional information at: 818.585.9553 or 818.429.0077 or 443.838.4327.