Wednesday, November 23, 2005

My Wife

My wife is a physician. Today she received an email from a patient. She forwarded it to me because I've asked her to so I can keep a record of nice things that her patients say and do for her after she has treated them. What can I say? I am proud husband. This is part of that email:

"Mary - before I board a plane... to spend Thanksgiving with my family, I couldn't pass up this opportunity to thank you. Without your skilled hands, brilliant mind and compassionate care, I wouldn't be able to spend this time with my family - being soooooooooooo thankful. As you can imagine, I am even more thankful that ever before - we don't realize how precious life is until it is threatened. I will never forget how wonderful you were to me and my family! Hugs to you and your family and may your holiday be peaceful and joyous!"

I am thankful that I get to spend my life with somebody who truly makes a difference in this world. She is a great physician, wife and mother.

What's Your Filter?

Some people just don’t get it. Everyone thinks they do, so how do you filter them out? I mean, really? Do you want to waste your time with someone who just doesn’t get “it”? I don’t.

So I developed a filter to weed out the people I don’t need to spend time talking to, working with, playing with or just plain hanging out with. I developed this filter when I put together my first resume. I’ve since streamlined it, but it’s still essentially the same – maybe even more to the point now.

When I interviewed for the job with Oscar Mayer I decided not to hold back. Ever since the Wienermobile Program was revived back in 1988 thousands of graduating college students have applied for the coveted job of Hotdogger. When I, and eleven other prospective Hotdoggers, arrived in Madison, Wisconsin for the final round of interviews at the corporate office we were told over a thousand people had applied that year. Only twelve were going to get the call. I wanted to be one of the twelve and nothing would stop me.

So, I went all out. I laid it on the line. As Horton the Elephant often repeated “ I said what I meant and I meant what I said”. What I said was this:

“Let’s be frank, I would relish the opportunity to become an Oscar Mayer Hotdogger, travel the U.S.A, meet new people, have fun and get paid for it.”

Pretty straight forward? You bet. And it worked. That honest, upfront approach, along with a hearty does of puns helped me land the coveted job of a Hotdogger for Oscar Mayer. It was a blast. I traveled all over the country, met tons of great people (including my lovely bride), had fun and got paid for it.

From that point on I decided that this would be my career objective: To have fun and get paid for it.

It is a philosophy that has worked well for me. After all who really wants to have a career objective as boring as this one:

“To find employment with a forward looking company, which offers a transitional flexibility while facilitating development of relative matrix approaches, compatible management paradigm shifts and is ready to use third-generation programming to offer synchronised incremental processing for their clients.”

How could anyone actually be happy waking up each day to do that? Okay, so I made that up, but haven’t you read an objective on a resume that sounded similar? One that was chalk full of all sorts of marketing/management gobbledygook?

You may think that my objective is useless because it doesn’t get specific to my desired job role or function. You may think it lacks a focus. It may even be an incomplete sentence, but you know what? It works for me.

It works for me as a filter. With “To have fun and get paid for it” I am instantly able to filter out the companies or individuals that I do not want to work with or for. They don’t get it. They either don’t call me in or they ask me to resubmit my resume with a new, clearer objective that they understand – which I won’t do. They don’t get it.

The people who do get it, generally respond by saying “right on”, “exactly” or “man I wish I had that on my resume” or “I like that, can we set up a time so we can talk about that? I like your approach. You’ve kept it simple and to the point and I want to find out what “fun” means to you”. Now we’re talking!

It is a philosophy that I take to my clients. Keep it simple. What do you REALLY want or need? If you keep it simple you can achieve it. It’s all about managing expectations by drilling down to the simple human truth that guides your decision. What do you want to do and why?

Does anyone care about organizational culture?

Organizational culture. What is it? Why is it important? What is happening to yours right now?

These are big questions to ponder. If you don't understand the culture of your own organization and recognize the signs of what it is then you increase the risk of failing. Understanding an organizations' culture and using it as a guide is necessary to developing an appropriate plan for implementing desired changes. Those changes are happening all the time. They may big as an agency wide reorganization or as small as new seating arrangements. They are happening and how you implement them can either enhance the organization or cause harm.

If you don't know the true nature of your own organizational culture you may risk alienating partners, struggle with poor implementation of desired changes and even end up damaging the relationships, products or services that you deliver to your clients.

I've heard senior management at several organizations pay lip service to understanding their own organizational culture. They either believe that the espoused values in their own literature are absolutely true, don't care because they suffer from severe case of hubris and ego or haven't taken the time to understand what they have built around them. This is dangerous, especially if your espoused values are all about providing an environment that cares about its' employees. Often times a candidate for a job is interviewing a company as much as the company is interviewing them for fit. A lack of understanding of your organizational culture will prevent you from properly managing expectations for new employees.

So what can you do?

There are three basic ways to start understanding the culture of your organization:

1. Espoused Values - what is the organization saying about itself? Check out all literature, press releases, books, videos and websites where the organization makes statements about what it is, what it values, why it exists and whom it serves.

2. Visible Artifacts - What can you see around the organization? Artifacts are some of the most visible expressions of the culture. These may be in the architecture and office decor, organizational charts, seating arrangements, personal appearance standards, the organizational processes and structures, and the rituals, symbols and celebrations. Other artifacts of culture are found in logos, brochures, company slogans, and titles. All of these artifacts communicate and reinforce the culture embraced by an organization.

3. Shared Tacit Understanding - Understanding this level requires getting at the heart of what the organizations' history, values, beliefs and assumptions really are. Not just what is espoused, but what is. These are beliefs and values that gradually tend to become shared and taken for granted. What are people really saying about the organization? Check out employee blogs, message boards, talk to individuals in the trenches, read between the lines. There is a truth about the organization that is not written in any literature. Here are few questions to ask yourself to start understanding the shared tacit beliefs of your organization:

* What 10 words would you use to describe your company?
* Around here what is really important?
* Who gets promoted?
* What behaviors get rewarded?
* Who fits in and who doesn't?

As you are going through these steps you may find distinct sub-cultures within your organization. This is not unusual for organizations that are large in size or have multiple offices and disciplines. Having separate and distinct cultures within your organization is not necessarily a bad thing. It may in fact be what makes your organization great. The key is to find out where you stand and pay attention to these signs and symbols as you grow, move or change over time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Feeling Flushed

It's amazing how we can miss the obvious just because we fail to ask the right questions. Sometimes our preconceived notions and perceptions of other cultures blind us to the obvious.

When Mary and I were dating, we planned to go backpacking throughout Europe as soon as I was done with my tour of duty with the Wienermobile. In the summer of '95 we spent eight weeks backpacking around Europe. As part of our planning efforts we read up on our destinations with the aid of several tour books. One that proved particularly helpful was Rick Steve's Europe Through The Backdoor. This book was filled with great cultural insight and cheap suggestions on meals, tours and accommodations.

I remember reading a section on the various bathroom options available throughout Europe and found some very humorous and others downright amazing. The book included photos of toilets from different countries with explanations on how to use them. Some required money to use while others stood out because they had different ways to flush. One that struck me as particularly odd was a photo of a hole in the floor with two raised areas for your feet to rest on. There was nothing to sit on at all. I laughed out loud when I saw this, but soon realized that this was good information and would help me be prepared in case I ever encountered such a situation.

About four weeks into our travels we visited the Italian hillside town of Perugia. At this point I had already seen several examples of the toilets described in Mr. Steve’s book. At the train station in Nice, France I even encountered the one with the raised foot areas and hole in the floor. I passed on using it.

Well, nature called as soon as we arrived at our youth hostel in Perugia. The bathroom seemed ordinary at first. This one in particular had private stalls with doors and a bowl which closely resembled the type of toilet we would normally encoutner back in the states. The difference was that this appeared to be a slightly different version with no flip up lid. And no, this was not a bidet, it was a toilet.

I really needed to use the toilet and did not have too much time to ponder my situation. I needed to go quickly. If I were at home in the U.S. I would have approached this task sitting down. Seeing as there was no seat and remembering the various toilets I had read about in the book, I thought that I had encountered a new variety of European toilet. I figured that I was about to have a new potty experience.

So I did what I had to do. (to be continued...)

Feeling Flushed (Part Deux)

Continued from previous post...

So I did what I had to do. I pressed both hands against the sides of the stall, stood half hunched over while doing what could not wait and needed to be done. After what seemed an eternity I finished my business. I was dripping with sweat and my hands and arms were trembling with exhaustion. How in the world do these people wipe themselves?!?!?! I almost fell over when I had one hand on the stall wall and the other fumbling with the toilet paper roll. This was, without a doubt, the most awkward, physical feat I had ever encountered.

After washing up I proceeded to head back to the dormitory room. But before I actually left the bathroom my curiosity got the better of me. I don't know why but I decided to take a look at one of the other stalls. I suppose I just wanted to make sure that I had no option with going through the ordeal that I had just been experienced. But somehow, somewhere in the back of my mind up crept an idea that this really couldn't be the way that Perugian's go potty. No way. Nuh uh. All the toilets had to be like that one... the same - without seats.

To my great dismay I discovered that the other toilets did have seats. I used one that was broken. I am an American Idiot.

The lesson I learned? I now know what it is like to be blinded by preconceived notions and miss the obvious. Had I not read up on European toilets before my trip I may have asked myself "what is wrong here?" and realized that the toilet seat had been removed.

Moral of the story? Don't stress yourself out over what you don't understand. Take a step back and ask yourself what really makes sense. And choose another stall.


You are probably asking yourself "was this really a day, time, or experience that made Dan feel the most special?” No. Not really. What this day does remind me of is all the experiences that I have had that make me laugh and help me learn more about myself. I find joy in the journey. It is the lessons learned from the events and experiences in my life that make them special. They are special experiences to me if they help me grow in my understanding of who I am. That is what I enjoy.

That plus I enjoy bathroom humor.