Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Quality is a subjective measure. What is “good enough” for one may not be so for another. I am a much higher quality facilitator now than I was twenty-five years ago when I first facilitated. At the same time, my definition of “facilitation” has grown and evolved through that time. We need to periodically revisit what is quality.
"Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution. It represents the wise choice of many alternatives." - John Ruskin
This quote tells the story. We create quality, it is not spontaneous. Quality is the outcome of the “wise choice of many alternatives.” A big part of producing quality is being very clear on the front end what quality means in the specific situation. Then when you reach a juncture you have something against which to carefully evaluate each option.
Before Computer Aided Drafting, engineers and draftsmen provided appropriate information on working drawings, sometimes on vellum with lead pencils. Two drawings could have virtually identical information, yet one be of consistent line quality, clean and neat, precisely lettered, and definitely be of higher quality.
Quality is never an accident. I believe the process of producing quality must start with agreement on what is the desired outcome.
The next time you are involved in a project at work, ask the group to help you define quality in the product. Take a short while to brainstorm among all participants what constitutes a complete definition of quality, then write it down and ensure everyone knows their part in producing that outcome.
Guest Post: Carl DeVilbiss is a long time friend and mentor. He helps businesses, teams and individuals improve their performance. Carl taps into 30 years of training, experience and skills to gain alignment and cooperation with groups. He brings a special level of communications, introspection and collaboration that generates results.
FYI - The lead image was taken by me while in China at the Forbidden City. This was a small door hinge, that was in a place almost no one would see. Quality was demanded in all aspects of the building of the Forbidden City.


For Christmas this year I read for fun The Martian by Andy Weir. As I read the book, it really drew me in. I started to imagine the idea of really being stranded, what sets apart those that survive, even thrive and go onto tell the tale another day. The book was a fun read, made me think of the classic movies like Robinson Crusoe on Mars or the more recent Mars moves.
What was fun about this read was being in the head of the stranded astronaut, Mark Watney. Part biologist farmer, part mechanical engineer his view of life alone on the red planet was inspiring. As I came to the end of the book I realized there were a few business mindset lessons that could apply.
How You Look At The Situation – When Watney becomes stranded and realizes no one even knows he is alive he still moves forward thinking of how he will survive. Yes he has moments of self pity and doubt, but he never gives up. Instead he fines the challenge in doing, of planning, of thinking all towards the idea of living, of getting off Mars. Mark stays positive – makes fun of things and himself.
We have all been in difficult business meetings, projects, careers and the difference between success and failure all starts with the attitude you bring to the event/challenge. Anyone in a problem can see the negative, the immediate pain and help add fuel to the fire(misery loves company). It is a leader, an individual with true grit to see these moments as a puzzle to solve.
Years ago when I was in a situation with over 300 sales and marketing people in my team that I faced an immediate shut down of a public company. In the middle of this storm I lived by a few simple rules;
1. Stay calm, be engaged, stay in front of the issue;
2. Remember the people and treat them fairly and openly – no running and hiding;
3. Don't wait – take action immediately no time to wait;
4. Fine the humor where and when you can.
As we were in the throws of this bad situation (lay offs, mad clients, legal stuff) I found a card taped to my door. The cover showed a ship in a storm, tossed by the seas. It said "anyone can sail a ship in sunshine and calm waters, a true leader comes forward in the roughest of times… thanks for staying on deck and showing us a way forward…" 20 years later I still think of those words.
Every time I read another "true survival" story or book time and time again they say "the difference is how you look at the situation and you stay positive and you want to survive" the same can be said about business calamities too!
Things Can Be Used For More Than What They Were Intended – In the book Mark the stranded astronaut has challenges of food, water, air, energy and so on. He realizes he will need to travel farther than ever planned or done before on Mars (thousands of miles). He sets about to retro fit the Mars buggies he has access to, to both long distance and as a lifeboat in a way. He does so by understanding what he has and how he can change its original purpose to the more current need and focus. Even the potatoes brought on the journey originally for a simple test to see if they will sprout on Mars, becomes part of a bigger plan to convert the habitat he is surviving in to a potato farm (even his bodily waste is being applied to the project).
Many times we look past things that have worked or are situated for one project and do not think "can I use this again, but in a different way?" Over the years when dealing with technical products and systems development I have found that there is almost a built in desire to build new vs reworking old. When developing the first prepaid cards on the planet there was a combined team from Boatmen's Bank, MasterCard and Maritz working on all the necessary systems.
As we listed out and then process mapped the different stages of the transaction processing for a prepaid transaction in real time at the Point of Sale (POS), having the transaction take place in less than 13 seconds, we had a few simple development guidelines: 1. We did not want to change the POS experience for both the cardholder or the checkout clerk (unlike smart cards, I actually called it a neanderthal smart card) 2. We wanted to get the product operational as soon as we could, meaning tapping into or using existing systems that may have been built for one thing, now using it in the prepaid, stored-value transaction was a good idea. We ended up tapping into the MasterCard bank to bank debit platform, tied with a savings account system at the bank and a checking account statement function all gatewaying through a new card processing system (that we built a filter in for all our transactions.) In the end we were able to launch a whole new form of global payment in less than 8 months vs a 3 to 5 year window.
Understanding what you have available, giving you team the freedom to explore and change (or as we would say "bolt on, bolt off" ) and the willingness to try new ways with old/ existing systems lead to success.
Any And All Communications – In the book the stranded astronaut Mark realizes that no one knows he is still alive, they all believe he is dead on Mars. While he knows he has to find a way to communicate with NASA on Earth he sets his priorities on surviving first. Once he accomplish this he starts a creative process of figuring out how to get word back to Earth he is alive, and he hopes their help. All his obvious communications are gone or not functioning. Again he pulls from his creative thinking and starts a plan. At about the same time NASA, while utilizing satellite images from Mars, figures out Watney is alive – we (the reader and NASA) both grasp what he is doing.
He is trying to get to one of the early Mars rovers and brings it back to his base to connect with NASA. Once he has it back at base he is able to do base level communications and realizes that he can send morse code via rocks and the satellites even if the Rover link up doesn't last. He realizes that communications to Earth comforts him and makes him feel like he is not alone, yes it can be frustrating to have NASA in the mix but communications is key to him getting off the planet.
In business this has happen to me. I felt alone and without communications to others on my team, in my industry or even my family. The fact was it was not a true reality. There was more available to me and people to reach out to as long as I worked at communicating more often and in different ways. While working at Centennial we were launching and developing a wide variety of tools to help people better sell, market and manage accounts. At the start I would send out an email every month to the whole company listing all the new tools, press clippings/ links etc. In time I came to realize that while I felt good after I clicked the "send" button the fact was very few people were reading my email. At first I was frustrated. Then I thought, everybody listens, receives and adsorbs communications in different ways.
So we build a "brand store" on the .com website that had all our outward focused brand standards along with an area with white papers, another with links to articles, etc. Next we created an orange binder that we sent to every office with samples of all the communications tools. Plus we did webnairs, information in the company newsletter, presented at company leadership and training meetings, went to regional team meetings and yes still did the emails. At trade shows too we communicated to clients, to future possible clients AND to our team as well. Even then I think I was reaching only 30% of the team. In time, with consistent and collaborative efforts over time the cumulative effort lead to others also helping get the word out. The key point was, we never stopped looking or trying to communicate in new and different ways.
The book, The Martian by Andy Weir was a fun read, at the same time it remind me that when I felt the most stranded in business, at a point of no return I still had life in me. The chance to focus and move forward was in my hands. By staying positive, looking at things creatively and communicating more not less I was able to create new possibilities.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

What I Learned At Brookings

And how it can help your association (or business)!

A few years back, I helped launch an industry association by turning it from a subcommittee group at Arizona State University into its own national association. Many of the members of this new stand-alone association, The Center For Job Order Contracting, support federal and state construction contracts. At the same time I was driving marketing and business development for a national contractor trying to grow both federal and state construction opportunities. It became obvious that I needed to better understand how my government works. Even people that had either worked in the federal government or spent years supporting federal clients couldn’t explain how it all fits together.

I decided to learn the inner workings of the US Federal government, how it makes decisions and how it applies resources, budgets, etc.. This led me to the Brookings Institute, a think-tank that supports the development and training of federal employees. It also brings together many parts of the government along with industry and other NGO’s. My decision to work on a Certificate in Policy Strategy was one of the best decisions I have made on career development and helping my clients’, my business and my self. 

A few points to think about as an association or as a business:

1. Don’t Fear The Government – People in the association and the business world fear approaching or working with the federal government. This is completely understandable. It’s big; it’s complicated and in many ways can seem impersonal. The fact is, it’s YOUR government. Brooking taught me that as someone in industry I could understand and interact with the government in different ways.

Now I am not talking about lobbying or trying to get a bill before Congress – rather, as a leader of an association or a business growing into the Federal space it’s important to understand how all the branches of the government work and how things move from an idea, to a bill, to a law and then to policy and budgeting cycles. While we all remember School House Rock. there is a lot more to the whole big picture and how your association can work with the government – from Congress to the White House and different departments.

Possible Action: Research if your industry has a direct link to a department for example, the Department Of Education, if you are deal with education efforts.  Also see if Congress has a special committees  dedicated to your industry (again, in education there are a few special committees focused on education). Drill down and find out who is in these departments or on these committees. 

Be creative when searching the web. Think beyond the obvious – an example for me was the fact that the Department of the Army within the Department of Defense (DoD) has the single largest budget for Cancer research and treatment. I went to a budget hearing exploring the spending on facilities renovation at the DoD and learned this fact. It was great to see the different Cancer associations and charities sitting together and putting forth their ideas and needs as a unified cause.  Start a target list of those organizations within the government that you should know and understand as a leader of your organization.

2. People Make The Difference – At first, exploring the way policy takes shape and impacts our world  was a little overwhelming. “How the heck does anything get done? Or move forward?” With each class it became obvious that there are processes, regulations, laws and visible steps to managing the US government. But, there are people doing the thinking and communicating, and they push ideas into reality or into the dustbin. People make up these organizations and they want to work with people. It is key to have your thinking clear and if you but anything in writing make it easy to understand and easy to read. 

The relationships gained in the classes were so valuable – because in the end all these areas of the Government are made up of people. As an example, tt was so comforting meeting within Congress the people that review one area of the Federal budget and very specific to military hardware and realizing they had backgrounds that allow them to make solid decisions on where and how to spend our Tax dollars. That there is continuity and long view with these people, and that it was less about political thinking helping shape the results and more about what is best for the country. 

Possible Action: Once you assemble your target lists, go and meet the people. Spend time in Congress meeting with those in the House and the Senate on the committees that impact your association or business (even better if you can meet with those that are most impacted by your membership geographically as well). Put together a simple “industry update and overview” to share when you meet (again well written and easy to get the top key points). Do the same with the appropriate departments. I’d even go a bit further and target a few of the think tanks and NGOs in the DC area. The individuals you meet will appreciate meeting someone that understands that what they do matters and impacts others while learning about your efforts and mission. 

The passion, care and integrity of those I sat with at Brookings was outstanding. Building those bonds and contacts is so important. The people make the difference – bringing policy to life and keeping the government moving forward. With my recent graduation in the policy program, while at Affinity Center International, it was both a happy and sad event. Happy due to all I have learned (I now know how the budgetary process works) and sad for no longer having the chance to build new relationships during class time.

One last strong recommendation: If you are leading an organization or association or a business working with the Federal government and you don’t have the time or resources to go after one of the degrees or certificates Brookings offers, you should look at attending the one or both sessions: Inside Congress  and/or Inside The Executive Branch . It’s worth the investment of time and resources to better understand how your organization’ mission fits within the federal government.

Even simply going to the Brookings website and signing up for their free email updates/ newsletters  is a great first step.  

The goal for all of us is to become more educated on how we are impacted by the government and the people within the different branches – realizing we can build a positive, personal, one-on-one relationship with our government. Not only will your association and/or business benefit – so will you as an American.