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Standing At The Gates Of Janus

I really try not to do this…yet, it’s inevitable, isn’t it? I try to convince myself that the calendar is just an artificial construct and that I can do this exercise at any point in time. I don’t need the little clock sitting at the bottom left on my computer’s taskbar to read 12/31 in order to prod me toward a heightened state of reflection. I don’t want to feel a slave to the chaps who conjured up our Gregorian calendar. But then…who am I kidding? This time of year just cries out for a rearview/frontview perspective. So here I pay my debt to Janus and seek his help to bring the current state of Bailey WorkPlay into focus.

Defining Influences of 2007
Losing two grandfathers. While intensely personal, both losses have impacted my professional focus in different ways. Papop Starr’s life was one of art, charity, love, family…I could really go on. He will live forever through his legacy and its an inspiration that I hold dear. Grandpa Bailey’s life was one of hard work, education, faith, family…again I could go on. His gift to me is a reminder that this life is a gift and the time we have here on this earth is precious. It’s not to be forsaken or taken for granted. In their death, I find my love for life.

Working life in the corporate world. Yep, it’s still quite an influence. This was my first full year playing in the laboratory of the corporate world. It’s different from the nonprofit world and yet not that different at all. The same organizational, communication, leadership, and management challenges exist regardless of the tax status. This year provided all the proof I need that there’s a place for my work with Bailey WorkPlay. Look for more details on new services in the coming weeks.

Helping my wife through a career crisis. Watching someone you dearly love go through a career crisis truly defines your own sense of what work can be (and what it should never be). There’s nothing quite so miserable as feeling trapped in a hopeless spot that just isn’t going to get better no matter how hard you try. Her experience is a cautionary tale about the need to follow your intuition and truly listen to your inner voice. It also clarified my passion for helping folks create work they love and helping organizations build strong cultures that emphasize humanity while still making a profit.

Deciding to crank things up professionally. Each of these items (and a smattering of other minor influences) have provided me with the appropriate degree of fuel needed to move from the sidelines back into the big game. I’ve been gunshy about putting myself out there. I keep asking what if I fall on my ass? But you know what…that’s just crap that I tell myself to keep me safe. Yeah, safe and unfulfilled. Now it’s time to risk again, fall on my ass if necessary, but pick myself up and dust myself off. Simple, but not easy. But then again, what’s really worth doing that’s easy? The growth is in the challenges.

Aspirations for 2008
Cranking things up means envisioning some really bold aspirations for this new year. And by putting them out here in the open for all to see, I’m making a commitment to each of them.

I will be putting greater distinctions on Bailey WorkPlay and The Alchemy of Soulful Work. Up to now it’s been somewhat confusing. Is Bailey WorkPlay the name of the blog? What exactly is The Alchemy of Soulful Work, then? It’s okay…I’ve been confused, too. Early in 2008, you’ll start to see a better delineation between the two concepts. Bailey WorkPlay is the name of my service organization focused on coaching, consulting, and facilitation. I’ll be working with individuals who are unfulfilled with their J-O-B and want to align their purpose with their work. I’ll also be working with organizations – primarily nonprofits and small businesses – who are tired of struggling with stagnant work cultures and want to improve their people systems. The Alchemy of Soulful Work is the title of my blog and online laboratory for ideas, reflections, and practical advice.

I will accelerate the growth of the Alchemy of Soulful Work. I will take my current subscriber base (somewhere around 100 folks) and increase it to 1000 subscribers by the end of 2008. And because I believe that comments are absolutely important to creating a healthy blog community, the Alchemy of Soulful Work will have 1000 comments by the end of the year, too. As soon as I find some good widgets to track these metrics, I’ll insert them on this site so everyone can track progress and participate in the success.

Oh, and by the way…I finally registered www.alchemyofsoulfulwork.com. So, there are two ways to get to Bailey WorkPlay and Alchemy of Soulful Work.

I will be far more visible. When I think about visibility, I think about activities in addition to blogging and my online site. So, what better way to get visible than to speak and write? This year, I will secure at least two speaking gigs and publish an article for a print magazine or newspaper. I will also continue to contribute to Career Hub and guest blog at other spots.

I will step further outside my front door. I plan to travel more outside the city limits of Austin, TX. It’s been easy to keep close to home but now it’s time to venture beyond my borders again. I have several reasons to visit areas in the US Northeast, Washington DC, Chicago IL, Atlanta GA, and Southern California. Hopefully, this will give me a chance to meet more of you for the first time or have a chance to see you again. While there’s much that can be shared through email, phone, and blogging, there’s even more that can be gained by sitting with a cup of coffee and chatting.

I will rededicate myself to reading. I read surprisingly few books in 2007 and I think this was one reason why my blogging was a little less dynamic this past year (or at least it’s what my vocal internal critic points out to me). I aim to read at least 15 books this year, which for a slow reader like me is quite a bit. I’ll continue to keep up with my blogreading through Google Reader and maintain my subscription to Harvard Business Review.

Whew! Looks like I’m going to have a busy, productive, and fulfilling 2008. What about you? Even if you don’t get wrapped up in the whole New Year’s resolution game, I hope you take a few moments to reflect on what this past year has meant to you. What events influenced who you are right now? And what do you aspire to be in this next year?

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Roadtrip Aborted Or Just Another Bailey Christmas Tradition

We had it all planned out. We plotted our course from Austin to Akron, OH. We serviced the Sienna. We found overnight lodging in Tennessee that was Calvin and Lily friendly and found a sitter for our girls’ guinea pig. We found lots of books, DVDs, and road games to keep us occupied for the 20 hours of driving. We packed all our clothes for two weeks.

Ahhh…but what we didn’t plan for was a fast-moving, vicious little stomach virus that tore through our happy little foursome like vikings on a pillaging expedition. Well, at least three of us since Katie has yet to show signs of succumbing to the invasion. Perhaps the ancient Celtic within her blood will be enough to avert the onslaught.

For those of you who have been long-time readers, you might recall that this has happened before. Around this time two years ago, I wrote that It’s Good To Get Sick Sometimes. So, here’s what our growing list of Christmas traditions look like:

Setting up the Christmas tree while drinking hot chocolate and eating freshly made cookies…check
Reading daily from the Advent book…check
Reading the story of Jesus’s birth from the Gospel of Luke on Christmas eve…check
Spending time at the porcelain throne with Mr. Tummybug…check

Maybe this is our penance for never managing to send Christmas cards to friends and loved ones. If that’s the case, I’ll immediately write each person an individualized note and even hand-deliver it. I’ll even happily accept being haunted by ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future. So, dear Santa, why don’t we just nix this whole Christmas time stomach mischief, okay?

Now, rather than a road trip to visit family and friends on the East Coast, the Texas regiment of the Bailey-Starr clan will be hanging out at home. It’s called being flexible with your plans because we’re not always in control of these things. There are just some times you have to accept what’s given and find the goodness in it. We’re still going to have a bang-up Christmas here and probably take a little roadtrip down to Galveston for a couple of days to see the sights. We’ll have a blast! And here’s hoping that these last few days of 2007 are a blast for you, as well.

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My Think Different Challenge…Or Confessions Of A Perfectionist

I’ve been tagged for the Think Differently Challenge meme by Jamie Notter and it’s one that I’ve been giving some of my best mental energy. It’s a good challenge. Like Jamie, I fully believe that “if you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got.” So if you’re intent on learning and evolving, you have to be prepared to see things in new ways.

First, I have to be honest…it took me a while to uncover a topic worthy enough for this particular challenge. A no-brainer might have been patience (such as having patience with my fellow motorists no matter how crazy their driving or having patience with people doing idiotic things like taking up two parking spaces…hmmm…it appears I have some vehicular issues to resolve, huh?). But my issues around patience lack flair and imagination. No…if I’m going for a challenge, let’s make it something interesting, something provocative, something that’s going to push me in a new direction.

So what is my Think Different Challenge to myself? I’m challenging myself to be less of a perfectionist. Would you like to know how much of a perfectionist I am? I started this particular post three weeks ago and haven’t been able to publish it because I wanted it to be absolutely perfect. Quite honestly, this is one of my major hang-ups when it comes to blogging and creating content for the Alchemy of Soulful Work. I have around two dozen posts in various states of completeness, but they’re still stuck in the draft folder awaiting their own state of perfection.

And it’s not just blogging…other areas of my life tend to suffer from an ingrained desire for achieving perfection. Even as a self-proclaimed recovering perfectionist, I continue to set an incredibly high bar for myself in my work, as well as a father and husband. Regardless of how far I’ve come, I still have plenty of work to do…so here’s my plan:

Questions, questions, questions…for me, thinking differently starts with asking questions. Here are a few that I can stash in my back pocket:

  • Is the extra attention and detail I’m putting into this ultimately worth it?
  • What am I giving up in order to keep doing this?
  • Am I willing to forgive myself if I screw up?
  • Am I willing to let go of the need to always be the “star student”?
  • What am I trying to avoid by pursuing perfection?

So here’s my post which is not – nor will it ever be – perfect. For perfectionists, this is rather like stripping down to our underwear and running down the street. But then again, nothing I do is ever perfect so donning only my skivvies on a daily basis shouldn’t be anything new, right?

Per the rules of the game, I now get to see if five others are willing to play along. You probably know the rules – they’re similar to most other memes. In this case, write a new blog post in which you “think different.” State that the post is a part of the Think Different Challenge and include a link and/ or trackback to this post so that readers know the rules of the challenge (see Jamie’s post for more info).

Annette Clancy at Interactions – Creative Strategies for Business

Arnie Herz at Legal Sanity

Debbie Call at Spirit in Gear

Patti Digh at 37 Days

Tammy Lenski at Strategic Conversations

And if I didn’t tag you here and want to play along – maybe as a part of an upcoming New Year reflection – jump on in.

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Building Our Own Personal Services Business

I haven’t read Steve Pavlina in a while because his posts used to stretch well beyond my blogreading attention span. However, if his latest work is any indicator, he’s no longer writing small tomes disguised as blogposts. So now he’s back in my Google Reader, which is good because I’ve always liked his perspective on learning and personal growth.

A few weeks ago, Steve reminded us that we are all truly self-employed. I was self-employed for a little while and I can say that being employed by a company is a far different proposition. The most notable differences are drawing regular paychecks and receiving benefits. The problem is that such stability can easily foster a sense of complacency and often undeserved submission to the company. All too often, we give up too much of what we are in order to hold tight to financial and professional stability.

Imagine a business saying to its biggest customer, “We’re going to drop all our other customers and serve only you.  Just tell us what you want done, and we’ll do it.  Pay us whatever you think is a fair price.  Invest in our growth however you see fit.  Tell us when we can go on vacation.  You command; we obey.”  While it wouldn’t be impossible to run a business this way, it would certainly be very risky and unstable compared to the alternatives.  Yet this is how many people choose to run their personal services businesses.  If I were an investor, I’d think twice about investing in such a business — I’d be more likely to invest in their competitors.

Instead, Steve asks us to try a different perspective. It calls up an entrepreneurial notion of professional independence. For those of us who may sometimes feel trapped, undervalued, underutilized, [fill in the blank] within our present organization, this perspective can be liberating. He calls this perspective our own personal services business and offers some reflective questions to help us understand the health of our business:

What investments are you making to improve your business?  Are you investing in training?  Morale improvements?  Productivity upgrades?

Are you charging a fair price for a quality product or service, or are you bilking your customers and hoping they won’t notice?

Are you doing a good job of marketing your business?  Do new potential customers seek you out, eager to do business with you?  Are you getting plenty of referrals and enjoying viral marketing?  Or does your business wallow in relative obscurity?

If your own personal services business has been languishing and suffering from a singular focus on one customer (think your present employer), ask what it might take to open your business to a wider customer base. It might just be the spark you need to reignite your professional fire.

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Organizational Loyalty Is A Two Way Street

Here’s an interesting perspective on work and career management from the design world. Carl Alviani at Coroflot writes:

The punchline is that many other professions are starting to resemble ours. Increasingly service-oriented, globalized economies are bringing this type of transience to once rock-solid professions, to the point where analysts and middle managers are building portfolios too, or at least viewing their skill set as a portable thing, to be optimized for their own benefit rather than their employer’s. When this trend is discussed by those new to it, the reaction is often one of fear and outrage: how could the corporate world betray us so? For those of us who’ve already become accustomed to it, we get to shrug and smile, tell them to get over it and go grab another beer.

Most organizations talk about loyalty and engagement as if they are immutable characteristics shared by each hired employee. But that’s servitude, not a relationship…and that’s not going to work so well with today’s generation of professionals.

If organizations want to get loyalty and engagement from their folks, execs and leaders need to step up and be prepared to give what they want to get.

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Tools Of The Devil – Employee Surveys

I’m starting a new series called Tools of the Devil.  Here’s where we’ll take a look at some of the more idiotic things that organizations do usually without thinking how idiotic they really are. The series kick-off is focused on the ridiculous exercise of employee surveys. 

Employee satisfaction surveys are a waste of time and energy but nearly all organizations continue to do them. Why? Undoubtedly, it’s the feel-good factor of crossing something off the list of things you’re supposed to do. And of all the things you’re supposed to do as an HR manager, the employee survey is right there at the top. You’re supposed to ask your employees if they are satisfied. You’re supposed to ask your employees if they know their jobs. You’re supposed to ask your employees about their managers. You’re supposed to ask a lot of things…

Here’s the problem: a survey is a craptacular tool for determining any of this in a meaningful way. What these survey questions aim to understand, on a surface level, is satisfaction, but on a deeper level the purpose is to understand the relationships between an employee and his or her work…which, if you think about it, is rather absurd. Would you send your spouse a survey to measure their satisfaction with your relationship? How about your kids…they’d love that, right? So why the hell do most organizations continue with this shallow and increasingly pointless exercise?

Organizations are – and always have been – fixated on benchmarks and quantitative measures. Notice how many organizations survey their folks and then quickly go to compare their results with other organizations? It’s like when my daughter brings home a 95% on a test but then quickly states that her friend only got 90%. What does that mean? Absolutely nothing. What I’m more interested in is whether she actually retains enough of the learning, not whether she could pass the damn test again. Again, it’s the relationship…in this case the relationship that my daughter has to the learning.

I can practically hear the response now, “But Chris, how can we be sure that we’re making progress on our goals if we don’t have some type of measurement?” My response is, “How can you be so sure that your precious survey is an honest assessment of whatever it is that you’re trying to measure?” What a typical employee survey does is try to ask very general, shallow questions in an attempt to get a broad, baseline understanding of the company’s human resources. If you think you can understand the relationship between individual and organization through such an instrument, I have some land that I’d like to sell to you.

A survey allows for anonymous feedback which will be more honest. The notion that ‘anonymous = honest’ is a myth. Let’s step back and ask why someone might want to conduct an employee survey. Worst case scenario is that it’s done just to cross something off a managerial to-do list. Not too far behind this rationale is that it’s done because other organizations do it. But somewhere edging toward a more noble reason is because you want to learn about your employees. Yet, just because it’s noble still doesn’t make it the best option.

Here’s a fairly typical scenario for thinking about honesty through anonymity. You send an employee survey out asking for frank and honest feedback. Employees, in an attempt to maintain their anonymity, will try to keep their remarks general so their comments can’t be traced back to them. The remarks tend to also be shallow, never really getting to the root of the issue because the survey asks for feedback out of context to the situation. Then, at some point in the process, the manager receives the feedback. What do they do with it? Let’s say its negative feedback. Because it’s anonymous, the manager questions the validity since no one is openly responsible for the comments. Or perhaps the manager wants to learn more about an employee’s opinion, but can’t because he or she has to keep up the facade of anonymity. Which all begs a question…do anonymous employee surveys diminish instead of build the kind of organizational trust needed to put the feedback into action?

If you really want to know what your employees think about their work, their managers, their colleagues, and most importantly, their relationship to the organization, step out from behind your desk and start asking questions face-to-face. Stop relying on surveys  and making ritual sacrifices to the gods of quantitative measurement. I won’t lie. If this is a new practice in your organization, it’s going to take time and effort to cultivate an open dialogue. Conversations about work and meaning and individual purpose are hard, but the fruit of these conversations will be a hell of a lot better than yet another spiral bound survey analysis report gather dust on the corporate bookshelf.

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Sunday Silliness: How To Fail A Job Interview

Sometimes you just know a job isn’t the right fit even before you meet for an interview. Why take chances that they’ll actually make you an offer? This video clip gives some helpful tips to ensure that there won’t be a second interview.

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Find Our Own Adventure Playground

Continuing my thought process from yesterday, how’s this for adventure? WebUrbanist tips Lia Sutton and the concept of the Adventure Playground:

In short, adventure playgrounds are places where children can create and modify their own environments, rather than relying on rigid equipment that only serves a limit set of programmed purposes: “In a sense, you and I have always played in ‘adventure playgrounds.’ We created a fort in the kitchen cabinets, jumped from couch to couch across oceans; we snuck out through a hole in the fence to a new world. We climbed trees and hid in bushes. We played in the mud and the rain. We chased each other, made secret worlds …”

Yeah, the concept here applies to kids, but it’s also a rich source of ideas for us adults, too. How often do we just accept our surroundings as fixed, non-transformable environments? What if we altered our everyday areas to match our moods, needs, you name it?

If you’ll excuse me…I’m off to turn my cubicle into a fort.

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Creating Our Own Great Adventures – It May Be Easier Than You Think

Some of us run with folks like Jory Des Jardins and some of us can only (for now) aspire to their adventures. Guess I sort of fall into that latter category. Perhaps I’m still basking in the afterglow of the big adventure that brought me and my family to Texas, but I’ve been less than daring in taking in new life experiences lately.

This morning, though, I find myself reinvigorated and ready to seek out some new adventures. My inspiration comes from Jory’s latest post where she talks about some of her own internal conflicts with seeking out real life adventure. But then she launches into her past month and reveals that – a trip to glamorous Monaco notwithstanding – her everyday life is actually rather adventurous.

There are two types of adventure we can seek out in our lives. The first is the grand version, which is what we usually equate to adventure. This is the bold backpacking trip through Costa Rica, sailing the Greek Isles, rafting the Gauley River in West Virginia, or just packing the car and setting off for a yet-unknown destination. These are experiences out of the normal flow of life. And for many of us who actually have responsibilities like jobs and children, these grand adventures are few and far between. That doesn’t mean they’re out of reach, they just may not happen as often as we’d like.

The second type of adventure can be found in the everyday. These experiences are accessible to each of us, it just requires more imagination and a willingness to think differently about what adventure really is. For me, adventure is about seeking out something new with some element of risk involved. It should get my heart pounding and evoke feelings of excitement and yes…a little fear. The everyday experience may then be chatting with a stranger (I’m kinda shy so this does get my heart racing a bit), volunteering for a meals-on-wheels drive (something I’ve never done before), or submitting an article I’ve been working on for magazine publication (I have no idea if my stuff is good enough). Those are a few of my examples…what about you?

Thanks Jory for the inspiration. And for you…what adventure can you get yourself into in the next 30 days? Any adventures – both grand and everyday – which have had a meaningful impact on your own life lately?

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Getting Back To Tough-Minded Optimism

Here’s another post in my semi-official series titled, I screw up so you don’t have to…

There are times when I struggle to balance my idealism and realism. Over the past few years, I’ve edged more toward the side of realism, focusing on foreseeing any problems or complications with an idea. Hell, I’ve even made a cardinal sin by poking holes in ideas and talking about all the reasons why they won’t work.

I don’t think it used to be this way. It’s likely the soft erosion of optimism that occurs when realism just feels so much more comfortable. And safe. But it’s not too late to bring back tough-minded optimism. For instance, Bob Sutton provides just the encouraging kick in the pants that I need with his post called Realists vs. Idealists: Thoughts about Creativity and Innovation.

He writes:

…One of the most powerful and persistent findings in the behavioral sciences is the self-fulfilling prophecy: Simply believing that something will happen, and convincing others that it will be so, increases the odds that it will, indeed, come true. Realists often do a fantastic job of convincing others why good ideas will fail; while idealists push on and inspire others to join them against the odds. Now, I am not against realists. We need real evidence and we need to know the risks of what we are doing, but the irony is that the odds of failure may be objectively lower for idealists then realists (and pessimists); so the prophecies of each group may be fulfilled. Moreover, when the odds are against you or your idea, oddly enough, one of the few methods that have been shown to increase the odds of success is convince yourself and others that – if everyone just persists – the odds of success are high. This paradox has always intrigued me and I write about it a lot in Weird Ideas That Work. And does have a very practical, and evidence-based, implication: All other things being equal, you should bet on optimists rather pessimists.

Just what I needed to read.

But the bonus of the article is the cartoon that Bob procured from the New Yorker which shows the real score between realists and idealists. If it seems like the realists are winning every inning, just remember that they’re likely not winning the game. Go check out Bob’s post for the cartoon to see what I mean.

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