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Sit Back And Appreciate The Show

Tammy Lenski’s writing a series on dialogue jump-starts as guest blogger at Notes on Design. Jump-start #3 is called Go to the Movies. In this post, she offers a fantastic analogy for stepping back and understanding (or at least trying to understand) another person’s perspective.

She presents some clear ideas for getting into someone’s movie:

Listening carefully, just like at the movies. You don’t repeatedly talk out loud there, right?

Getting into their movie isn’t about agreeing with them or suspending your disagreement for good. It’s about creating genuine space for the other’s perspective to reach you and be considered by you before you react, respond, reply.

Getting into someone’s movie is an act of appreciation. It’s appreciating that our own ideas are not universal truths, that our own perceptions are limited, and that our own potential to deeply connect with others is bounded only by our willingness to be open.

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Three Years Of Blogging And What I’ve Learned Along The Way

Lorelle laid out another post in her series of blogging challenges that happens to coincide with my upcoming three year anniversary of blogging. Her writing challenge is: Blog about the path your blog took to get to now. Here’s the possibly boring and predictable chronology, but I’ll follow it up with some lessons I’ve learned about not only blogging but myself over the past three years.

Timeline
September 2004:
The beginning…I started blogging because I just took the plunge to become a full-time career and leadership coach (back when this blog used to be called imaginactive musings and hosted through Blogger). I wanted a blog as a way to publish ideas as well as use it as a virtual business card and marketing vehicle.
Key post: It’s All Invented…So Have Fun With It

January 2005: When I started drowning after this plunge (the failure to build a viable coaching business is a whole other topic of learning) the blog typically took the form of someone writing about their often painful experiences trying to find work. Sort of blogging as self-therapy. This was about the time I first used The Alchemy of Soulful Work as my blog title.
Key post: The Career Change Blues (And Other Colors): The Beginning

March 2005: It didn’t take long for me to tire of Blogger’s inherent limitations. The blog transitioned to TypePad. Sadly, I lost all my comments from Blogger in the transition. Still trying to find work, though.
Key posts: Hello Typepad… and I Will Be Complacent No Longer

June 2005: I found a job and started to write more about my management and leadership experiences in the non-profit setting. I also started to write about some of the headaches and frustrations with my particular organization which would later get me in a bit of hot water. Oh the things you learn the hard way.
Key posts: Superabsorbant New Director and More On The First Month Of A New Job

June-October 2005: I also attempted to write a companion blog focused on the customer and non-profit association member experience and coined a rather idiotic term custo/member (though, I still can’t figure out a better way to describe these two different groups in the same word…Ben, any help?). I eventually dumped the second blog and integrated it into Alchemy. I now know more about the challenges of keeping more than one blog going.
Key post: The Focus On The Custo/Member

March 2006: With my annual TypePad service coming to a close, I decided to move to a self-hosted solution. I experimented with Joomla and Drupal before choosing WordPress as my blogging platform and baileyworkplay.com as my domain. The whole point was to stake out this online home so that whenever I decide to get my act together and hop back into the coaching/consulting world again I’m fairly well set up to do it.
Key post: A New (New) Beginning With Some More Changes

July-October 2006: I took a hiatus which was necessary due the the big “quickly move everything from Virginia to Texas” decision, but it was extremely hard to rediscover my blogging groove. There were times during this period when I almost closed the door on blogging…thankfully I didn’t.
Key posts: Giddyup Cowboy…We’re Moving To Texas and An Extended Hiatus

April 2007: For some silly reason, I decided to part ways with the blog title The Alchemy of Soulful Work and settled only on Bailey WorkPlay. I’ve recently returned to my senses and reverted back so that Alchemy again is the title of the blog and Bailey WorkPlay is the name of my sidework gig.

July-Today 2007: I think it’s only been in the past couple of months that I’ve gotten playfully serious about my online presence. I’ve challenged myself to be more outwardly focused rather than introspective in my approach to blogging and networking. So far, so good.

Learning
Lesson #1: Be prepared to take the long road
Blogging is not a “If I build it, they will come” type of thing. When I started, it took roughly three months to get my first comment (I’m still very appreciative, Curt). It came just when I needed to hear it and was just the type of encouragement that told me that I was on the right track. Then along came Rosa and an introduction to her growing Ho’ohana Community a couple of months after that. What would have happened if I ditched the whole thing after a couple of months of no comments and practically no readers? Even now, I go through stretches where comments are on the thin side. Fact is that blogging is a journey with several waypoints rather than one final destination.

Lesson #2: Don’t be a blogging shut-in…get out of your own house
Simply put, find like-minded souls and introduce yourself. Write meaningful comments that speak to what the fellow blogger actually has written. Send a personal email if you feel that’s appropriate. Join a multi-writer blog. Get hooked up in one or several of the many social networks out there like Facebook, LinkedIn, Shelfari, Twitter, etc. The important thing that I’m learning is that, while it does take some courage, don’t let shyness get in the way of connecting with others and building some dynamic relationships. I’ve come to realize that blogging is not so much an individual activity, it’s a community activity. Great blogging is knowing how to build relationships with fellow bloggers and readers.

Lesson #3: Know why you’re blogging right now
The times when I’ve struggled most are when I lost sight of my purpose for blogging. For me purpose and passion are intricately linked. I’m like an actor constantly asking the director, “So what’s my motivation?” My purpose can change, but it doesn’t happen that often or dramatically. I blog because I feel I have something unique to add to this world, a different way of viewing work and organizational life. So when you blog, what’s your purpose and motivation? Write it down and keep it in a cozy safe place so that when you get to a place where you lose sight of why you put yourself out there for all the world to see you can have a reminder.

Lesson #4: Don’t force the muse to appear, coax her out patiently
Blogging burn-out is unavoidable. Even if you love writing, there will be times in your life when it bumps against other things. For a three month period in 2006, I pretty much put this blog on ice while I settled into my new home in Texas. When I tried to come back after the hiatus, it was hell to get back into the swing of writing. It was as if I forgot how to put together words and sentences in a sensible way. It was almost painful at times. It was only when I consciously decided to be gentle on myself and not go back to blogging full force that I was able to ease myself out of the come-back funk.

Lesson #5: Mind the gaps
This is partly based on an assumption, but I’m finding that the more posts I write the more readers I get. Here’s the reason why: Have you ever found a blog through another link or Google search which looked promising but found the posting frequency to be infrequent? Or the last post was written a couple of months ago? What did you do? Did you subscribe or did you pass? If you’re like me, you tend to pass on since there’s little sense in tracking a blog that may not be maintained. What I’m trying to do now is not be such a damned perfectionist and simply write. Some of my posts I recognize as instant gold while some are merely okay. I’m not suggesting that you aim for quantity over quality…just be more comfortable with not aiming for perfection with each blog post.

Lesson #6: Evolve
This final lesson is be open to new ideas, techniques, and tools. Be open to learning something new. Even though I’ve been blogging for three years (which most people say is rather long in the blogging world), I’m by no means an expert at this. There are experts out there who haven’t even started blogging. If you’re one of these folks, think about what you might add to the world through your writing. If you feel you’re not a great writer, try your hand at podcasting. The beauty of this time in history is that there’s always something new around the next corner. Just keep your eyes, mind, and soul open to the possibilities that are always in front of you.

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Being Transparent Or Inviting Your Customers Into The Kitchen

There’s some spirited debate brewing within my company around the idea of transparency and its benefits to customer service. Is it best to let the customer be ‘blissfully unaware’ of the company’s processes (essentially how it works)? Or is it better to allow them into the kitchen to see how everything is cooked? I argue strongly for the latter. When you share how your organization works on a big picture level, you welcome customers into a deeper relationship. This openness fosters trust and trust creates a solid foundation for long-lasting partnership. Okay, so those are pretty lofty ideals. What are the more down-to-earth benefits of being transparent?

The Argument
The argument for letting customers be ‘blissfully unaware’ isn’t a bad one. Some customers simply don’t care to know how a company is going to solve a problem or execute on a request. They just want to know that they are being taken care of by the organization. The argument only becomes misguided when you assume that all customers don’t care to know about how things are getting done. Instead, let’s err on the side of giving each customer an invitation to step out of the dining room and into the kitchen. We’re not demanding, we’re allowing them to decide for themselves just how much or how little they care to see and understand. Here’s my hunch: that number of customers who do want to know will be far more than you expect.

The other, older argument has been that if you offer a transparent process to the client you’ll be taking the mystique away from the business. If that has been your unique selling point and competitive advantage, then it’s time to overhaul your service philosophy. The age of instant and voluminous information has disrupted and demolished that model. Like it or not, customers want to know what you are doing to help them solve their problems and add value to their experience. And if we want to continue to think of our relations with customers as partnerships and do it in good faith, then openness is no longer an option, but a necessity.

Benefits to Your Customers
Among the benefits of being transparent with your company’s processes and ways of getting things done is that it creates more knowledgeable customers. In the June issue of the Harvard Business Review, Simon Bell and Andreas Eisingerich report on their research connecting client education to client satisfaction and overall client success in the financial services sector. They recommend creating a more “porous organizational boundary” and give client-facing employees the time and autonomy to explain how the firm does business, gain insight into clients’ own knowledge base, and then help clients acquire firm-specific expertise.

Bell and Eisingerich also note that more knowledgeable clients are more prepared for meetings and other interactions. With a more detailed and nuanced understanding of the firm’s workings, the client is more capable of connecting his or her needs to how it can get done. Again, it cultivates a partnership between client and service provider…one where the relationship is more important than the process itself. If your company works with non-profits, I can’t overemphasize the importance of developing a trusting relationship with the client.

Benefits to Your Internal Staff
Those a couple of the benefits connecting organization to customer. However, these cannot happen until the company’s own internal operations are clarified and ready to be made fully transparent. How many executives quake in their bruno magli wingtips at the thought of having their processes opened to the light of day and client scrutiny? All the reason to do it. If you’re scared silly about exposing how you do business, ask where that fear comes from. Do you have good process or is it a disconnected shambles that manages to hide its ugliness through a mask of ‘just get it done’? Unless you have great process that’s the industry standard, opening your operations to the outside is just the impetus to clarify, streamline, and document it.

Sounds great, but how will employees take to having clients in the kitchen? It’s likely to make them nervous if they’re not accustomed to this way of doing business. However, consider the more recent trend in restaurants of bringing the kitchen out into the dining area (or maybe not so recent…Benihana has been doing it for a while). When I was sketching this idea out in my head last week, I happened to eat at a local Carrabba’s Italian Grill. There the majority of the cooking and grilling is done in an area that’s easily viewable by restaurant patrons. Want to watch them grill your Chicken Marsala? You’re welcome to do it…or not. They leave that choice to you. But by bringing the kitchen to the customer, each chef is now accountable to each other and to their patrons. Can’t get away with dropping a steak on the floor and then putting it back on the grill. Again, here’s my hunch: the number of employees who want to have better processes and more accountability are more than you think.

Check, Please…
It’s time to shed the notion that the organization’s processes, systems, and overall operations can be kept in a black box. Transparency isn’t just a buzzword to impress clients, investors, and employees. It’s something that when committed to doing and doing well, will raise your business to another level. With so many other companies out there who choose to maintain their ways of doing business under the cloak of “proprietary knowledge,” being open might just be your unique competitive advantage. In the end, even if others in your industry follow suit and open their own kitchens to the outside, it’s just a better way of doing business.

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More Things About Me – Texas-Style Edition

Irish blogger and friend, Annette Clancy, went and tagged me last week. I don’t always play infotag because I feel like I tapped so much in my original 100+ things. But it’s been a while since I put that together (way back in 2004 and it’s age shows) so…why don’t we add to it and call it the 2007 Texas-style Collection. Yeehaw!

  1. I’ve never seen a live armadillo in the wild. Seen plenty of dead ones. I’m still hopeful.
  2. I haven’t seen a tarantula, scorpion, or rattlesnake in the wild, either. Friends who live further out in the country tell me they’re around.
  3. Yes, I’m a bit weird for wanting to see crawly creatures. I get by with the lizards and frogs that inhabit our backyard.
  4. After living in Texas, I honestly don’t think I can ever live on the east coast again. There’s just a slower vibe here that agrees with me.
  5. I’ve always wanted a truck and am hoping to buy a black Honda Ridgeline in the next year or so. I might just buy a fishing boat to go with it within the next five years.
  6. I enjoy bowling (even have my own ball) and love the fact that it’s still alive and well here. There are times on the weekends when you have to wait 30 minutes for a lane to open. Great family fun.
  7. I never had eaten a kolache before arriving in Texas. Now, I can’t get enough of them.
  8. And breakfast tacos…now those are tasty eats! There’s nothing quite like eggs, tomatoes, and avocado wrapped in a tortilla first thing in the morning.
  9. Our family has a season pass to Sea World in San Antonio and it’s a pretty fun place to visit with the kids. The dolphin and orca shows are well done, there’s a neat play area that’s even adult friendly, and you can feed the seals and sea lions. Oh and did I mention they have roller coasters?
  10. Places in Texas that I really want to visit: Galveston, Fort Worth and the Cowboy Hall of Fame, and Big Bend National Park.

Now this is where I tend to get a bit shy. I hate openly asking folks for their eight things so here’s what I’m going to do. I know there are probably readers who haven’t commented (or others who haven’t commented in a while). So, here’s my request: post 1 thing that’s new about you this year. It could be something new you’ve learned, a new food you tried, a new place you visited, or anything else you’d like to share. Go ahead…run with it.

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