Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mommy's Love

 I carried you within and brought you forth and watched you grow.  It has been a few decades and together in all these years, together we laughed, cried, traveled, ate, slept and bonded.  If I knew love, I knew it through you and when I discovered what it meant to love deeply and eternally, it was when I watched your little presence become a large part of my life.

Many have written what it is to be a mom, what it is to love a child and about that love you feel deep in the pit of your belly as the events of life unfold – good and not so good.  And today, as I write these lines, my story is not a fabric of the imagination but a fabric of real life.

I have always loved you and wished you always smiled, always found happiness and always loved others and I never imagined I would have to see you in pain as I did.  In your moments of pain, the pit in my belly overflowed with even more love and my earnest desire was to take your pain and fold it into my being. But you were strong, so ladylike and brave and you forged ahead as we tried to find the reason for your pain and when we did, I wondered why you.  Why at this age.  But it was better to have known and find the cure so you can smile again.  It is what mothers do. 

And you are smiling again.  I know love and I know the anguish of a mother watching her child in pain.  I will be there, I will always be there because I am your mommy!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Stretch Assignment - A Powerful Growth Opportunity

What is a stretch assignment and what does it really mean?  Put very simply, a stretch assignment could be seen as taking a risk… taking a chance to fill a chair long before you are really ready and equipped to do so.  Is it a risk worth taking?  Absolutely!  And do you have to fear failure or think you will have to perform at that level all on your own?  Absolutely not!

In career management, a stretch assignment can be the experience that gives you the opportunity to underscore your pinnacles and readily identify your foothills. It is the fastest way to realizing your passion, strengths, tolerance for stress and ambiguity and very importantly, areas for development. It helps you to create greater self-awareness.

Career development usually follows a track – moving from one level to the next upwardly or laterally.  Most often, we tend to move up and on few occasion take a lateral move to gain broader knowledge in another area.  Either way, learning is to be had once we are exposed to new and more challenging tasks. Or sometimes, just simply working under or with different leadership and mindset generates new thought processes of our own.

Recently, I survived an acquisition and had two offers – both of which were stretch assignments for me.  One involved relocation while the other kept me where I wanted to be.  It was a tough decision but I settled for the position that did not necessitate a move.  So, my challenge was not only taking on an assignment beyond my current experience but it was also managing through shades of grey, adapting to new management, learning the processes and culture of the new company and getting up to speed with the new business area on a global scale.  In a global operations role, I realized that I didn’t necessarily have to know everything but I needed to build strong networks, create great working relationships and be able to leverage people, processes and time to deliver against very demanding deadlines and to gather data I needed. And through all of this I would build new global business knowledge, critical analytical and leadership skills.  While I had some exposure to operations, this was at a much higher level and the supporting organizational structure was not like I was accustomed to having – for example, dedicated HR and finance business partners.  This time it was more of a shared services model and therefore operations had to do much more.

It has been a year since and as I reflect back on my pinnacles and foothills, I have no regrets.  In fact, if there is any fast way to develop professionally, it is through a stretch assignment.  Today, I can clearly see who I am, what I love to do, the kind of leadership I like supporting and the important factors or values in a job, such as autonomy, flexible work arrangements, creativity  and the opportunity to innovate even if it means failing because failure is an important step in our learning process.  As we say within the organization, a winning culture allows room for innovation and tolerance for failure in the discovery process because it is from failure that we also learn. Understanding why and where one failed leads to more innovation.  Telling someone there is no tolerance for failure is like telling a scientist that every compound must produce a success. 
Innovative medicines are a result of many experiments involving failures and disappointments but using new knowledge from the process to keep the experiments going until success is achieved.

As we all progress up the career ladder, we are constant experimenters.  We will have those pinnacle moments that set us apart and make us to feel great and we will also have set backs in the foothills.  But that is part of the growth process, the discovery that will produce professional growth and greater self-awareness – giving us sense of how far up we want to aim and help us to become more agile learners. And, agile learners have great success ahead of them!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Discovering through Dance

The old adage that one never stops learning is so true.  Every day we all learn something new or discover something that was there  – be it a personality trait, a skill or some other potential. And these discoveries can happen in the places we least expect them to.  And, it is such a discovery that leads me to write this blog.
Ever since I was a young teenager, I loved to dance.  I loved drama classes and I was never shy to take the stage.  While I had acting and dancing abilities, I had not even a 1% ability to sing. So I never pursued singing.  I always firmly believed that to be successful, it is better for an individual to tap into their strengths rather than try very hard to improve the weaknesses. And so, since I loved dancing and always admired those that danced so exquisitely, I decided to take Ballroom dance classes.

When it comes to ballroom dances, I knew only the waltz – the name that is … I could not do a proper waltz! That was nine months ago.  Today, I can actually tango and believe it or not, I learnt that there is the Argentine Tango and the American Tango.  I learnt the latter which allows the dancers to maintain some distance as opposed to the former where dancers have very close body contact throughout the dance. Both styles of the Tango have beautiful deliberate moves, great posture with strong, sharp movements of the legs, hands and head. It is a theatrical performance of a couple in a fight – the ebb and flow of emotions.

After nine months of dance lessons, I can waltz, foxtrot, swing, cha cha, rhumba and even do the hustle! But it was nine months of discovery and learning. It was learning to dance and discovering how passionate I was about being perfect and eager to do things well;  to take every task seriously.  What exactly did I discover?  Well, I will tell you!  In the field of dance, the female is always the follower – the man leads and as a follower, your steps follow those of the leader – he moves you, sways you, turns you, pulls you close and lets you go! As a female, if you have the innate ability of a leader and you love to lead projects and take the initiative to get things done, then as a beginner dancer, you will get very frustrated and your frustration will mount if your dance partner, the gentleman, is also learning.  The point is, as the dance instructor pointed out, men take a bit longer than women to learn dance but once they start to improve, their dance skills improve much faster than the women. So that was my first discovery – I was never a good follower … I always wanted to lead and waiting to be led while I was ahead on the dance curve caused numerous fights between my husband and I.

I discovered my impatience and, my desire to always lead. And, I also discovered the perfectionist that I am … when I could not get the steps perfectly, I was angry at myself ; I pushed myself to practice harder and concentrate more.  And, instead of having fun in the dance classes, I was angry, serious and impatient – how horrible!  I thought if I did not take it seriously, then I would never improve and my husband would remind me that this was not my job – he was right but this is how dance allows you to discover who you really are … your personality traits.  You come face to face with them as if looking in a mirror.

Today, both my husband I are better dancers and since I truly understand that the beauty of dance can only be with a leader and a follower, I now have settled into the follower’s role on the dance floor.  I relax more and have fun; but the next challenge now is that with the knowledge of over five dances, a guy must remember which steps and positions belong to which dance and how to smoothly transition from one position to the next.  This now is our new challenge and when as the follower you love a certain style and move and your dance partner does not give  you the pleasure of dancing those moves, you unfortunately cannot lead the dance so you stick with what the poor guy remembers to do … until he becomes an expert!  Then you are delighted to be his dance partner!

I invite you to dance and discover!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Observing Beauty

A few days ago I left the office earlier than usual.  Darkness had not yet descended and as I was driving home, I realized that there was a spectacular sunset ahead of me.  And while driving, it seemed I was driving into the sunset - the most lovely sight my vision could behold.

Then I started thinking of the sunset in La Jolla, California. Back in November 2009, I was vacationing with my daughter and we spent a wonderful time by the sea in La Jolla, where a spectacular sunset accompanied us until she faded away into the night. Then I realized that  nature's beauty surrounds us all the time and there are spectacular sunsets everywhere if only we can take the time to see them.

That day I discovered that we occupy our time getting so much done that we never stop to see the sunsets.  And that is why when we go on vacation, the sunsets and the sunrises and all of nature seems to be the most beautiful things even though they are always beautiful but we never slow down to enjoy them on a normal day.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Stepping out of the Shell

The commentary that follows is merely my reflection on change specifically change in career.

I titled this blog entry "Stepping out of the Shell" because it  is something we should all do - getting out of the comfort zone,  away from familiar people, processes and culture surely makes one reflect, think, appreciate differences and most importantly, discover a lot about oneself.

And until we step out of our bubble we will never know how different the world is or what greater opportunity awaits. While we are comfortable, we tend to think that the people and the things around us are perhaps the best we can have.

But as E.M. Forster said, "How do I know what I think until I see what I say." How can you know you have the best unless you have what to compare it to and that has been my experience lately. Today, in our careers, we must not only be ambitious but we must be willing to face challenges and see them as opportunities.

Much as I thought I had a great career opportunity, deep inside I longed for something bigger - more challenging - I was ready to move on but all along I also talked myself into thinking I was in the perfect happy bubble. But the realization of this false self talk came to be when the bubble burst and work as I knew it evaporated into thin air.  My position ceased to be once the company was acquired and I figured it was time to step out of the shell - to understand my own thinking and to see what I was saying, discover what I was feeling.

This change taught me two very important lessons: Follow your heart and inner feeling always and never allow one manager's perception of your ability and readiness to slow down your growth.  Career growth can only be nurtured by us - we need to have a plan, build a valuable network and get feedback from others out of our inner circle.

And so I discovered that a manager who sincerely sees the potential and desire in an employee begins to open the opportunities for that employee.  They identify growth positions and set you free to discover, learn and grow.  Career growth is like seeing a child wanting to learn how to ride a bike and never telling that child that he or she is not ready yet.  But rather giving them the support, showing them the how and letting them go. Low and behold they start on a tricycle and very quickly they are riding a bicycle.

It is also important to know that when you are within an area for too long, you risk your potential to be underestimated and your abilities not really seen for their worth. Once you step outside the shell, you will find others see you differently and you are better able to get the bigger opportunity you longed for.

I am happy my old bubble burst and I came upon new people and faced new scenarios.  I was seen for what I was worth and I found higher grounds.  Change is good!  Build your network and put it to work,

Monday, November 16, 2009

Beyond the Logo and Mission Statement

I am inspired to write this blog as I was responding to an expertise request on the possibility of building a corporate identity – is there such a thing as a real corporate identity or is all of this just a make believe created through messages and logos?

While I am sure that is a lot written on the subject, I am putting forward my personal convictions based on over fifteen years of working in both large and small corporations and having seen firsthand how identity can build trust, dedication and success, not only at corporate level but on project levels as well.

Firstly, we must define what we mean by corporate identity. Let’s think of ourselves for a moment.  We are all consumers and as consumers our favorite food, clothing or cosmetics are brand driven most if not all of the time and very often when we talk about these things we identify them by their brands.  We are loyal to the brands that work for us.  Well, that’s how we must begin to think about corporate identity.  A corporate identity that goes beyond the logo and tag line is what is needed to ensure corporate culture.

Many of us can recognize our company’s logo and the mission statement but sadly, there is not much personal identification with those two things and this is predominantly why there fails to be a corporate culture.  Building corporate culture is simple and really does not need the fancy models and high consulting fees.  Any smart organization with great internal communicators and strong leadership with a desire to truly engage its people and build corporate identity hand in hand with a winning operating culture can be the architects of their company’s culture.

Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on the following questions – what has more meaning to you: is it that system you constructed after meeting with its users and getting all their input or a system handed to you with the expectation that you learn to use it and adapt to its quirks? I would imagine your answer is the former as there is personal gratification as well knowing that the users are happy because it fits all their needs and they identify with its values.  The other system will take a long time to create user identification while generating discontent and distance – association with becomes an uphill battle.  The same is how we can think of corporate identity and corporate culture.

So my simple recommendation for really igniting your employees into fueling the fire of your corporate culture is make them part of the process of creating the corporate values.  Having a logo – that image that represents who you are without words and that mission statement that qualifies what you stand for is the beginning of building your culture. With those two things in place, gather your employees depending on the size of your company; you can have groups based on area of work if the numbers are manageable or you can use your intranet if the company is a large one. Build strategic questions and discussions around what your employees would like their company’s culture to be.  What would make them feel associated with the company’s service or product? You may find those in the manufacturing area talking about quality; those in packaging talking about speed;  those at customer service talking about attention and fast response; those in administration may talk about efficiency and impeccable execution.  Use the flip camera and go around campus, get them on video talking about why or what makes them feel part of the company.  Get your internal and external communicators involved – let them moderate the sessions, gather the info and you will soon be on the road to creating your company’s culture with your employees’ input. Once you roll out the final values – be them five or seven, they will represent what your employees identified with – how they see the value of the company.

After the exercise above, I will ask you to take the company values one step further into embedding it into the culture.  Incorporate them into your biannual or annual appraisal reviews.  Have employees cite an example of how they accomplished “impeccable execution” and so on based on your final list values. Place posters of the values in strategic locations where people gather. Create internal promotional pieces with your messages of your values.

Take caution to ensure that your new employees also have a way of becoming identified with your company’s values.  Excited employees will be your best ambassadors at telling the stories and getting others on board.  Build your reward system based on the company values as well. And, remember your communicators must constantly look for the avenues to consistently deliver messages around the company’s culture.

Communicators must ensure that senior management is seen and heard living and talking about the values as well.  Encourage townhalls, breakfast with the leaders – be creative – make your people feel like it’s their own business.

The end result of all this is simply one thing: success!  Dedicated and passionate employees who feel that they are part of what the company stands for do no harm but only generate great service, quality work and they will take pride in what they do.  That’s good for the bottom line and future growth!

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Motivation Factor

My last feature talked about rewards and its impact and ended on the note of making recognition programs impactful through how it is done rather than what is done. Today, I read McKinsey's Motivating people: getting beyond money which featured three "non-cash motivators" that are more effective than monetary rewards in creating employee satisfaction, engagement and commitment.  This article only reinforces the message of my last blog, which is - making people feel you care - having that face to face connection and making recognition more warm and visible among peers.  Bottom line:  people like to know that someone is interested in who they are, what they do, thier accomplsihments and what drives them. 

Mckinsey's three non-cash motivators as revealed through their survey are: praise from immediate managers, leadership attention (having one on one with senior leaders) and being given the opportunity to lead projects. They have found that these three factors in no way is less motivating than cash and in some instances produce greater motivational forces.  Comparing these findings to my post-reward surveys, I also found that, as mentioned in my last blog, the rewardees rated the personal attention, the small group meeting with senior leaders and the ability to interact and ask probing questions of thier leaders are big motivational factors that pushed them to work harder each year to get a second chance for those up close moments and attention.  It was not about the cash as much.

So in today's economic downturn and the fact that it is no longer the business as usual model, should HR managers and business leaders be paying attention to what really makes their employees wake up with passion and commitment to the job?  Yes! 

A company is its people; a company's success comes through the dedication and enthusiasm of its people when they are given a chance to do what they do best and to rise to bigger challenges through senior leaders endorsement and recognition.  I have discovered that public recognition can often create higher degrees of motivation over a slient cash reward.

So, let's take a look not only at what drives our high potentials, but what can also push the enthusiasm buttom on those that are one step behind the high potentials.  Conversations can take us a long way in understanding our people; communciation especially face to face have great merits - it is a two way channel that can lead to many undiscovered elements towards driving employee engagement.  Instead of paper surveys, how about townhalls, or group breakfast with leaders - listen to what engages people through conversations.  I am sure you will find two things: attention will always be welcomed and public recognition will always be unforgettable!