What This Blog is About

A long time mentor and friend, Cicely Berry, often says: "all we do comes from our need to survive".

Cis is the Voice Director of The Royal Shakespeare Company. Her profound work and deep appreciation of the human spirit has affected diverse communities all over the world.

Will take you to my current work.

This blog is dedicated to the belief that the overall health of a community or organization is a clear reflection of their ability to communicate.

"Cada cabeza es un mundo" - Cuban proverb

"Every head is a world"

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Now & Then

"Our Industrial Credo was the precursor to what is known today as the Johnson & Johnson Credo. Written by General Robert Wood Johnson in 1943, the year in which the Company announced its intention to become publicly traded, Our Industrial Credo was based on Johnson's first documented statement of a company's social responsibilities, Try Reality" - J&J, Our Credo History http://www.jnj.com/our_company/our_credo_history/index.htm
I find it fascinating, that in1935, in a pamphlet titled TRY REALITY, Johnson asked his contemporary industrialists to accept what he called "a new industrial philosophy". He believed this "to be a corporation's responsibility to customers, employees, the community and stockholders".

What Do You Suppose That Pamphlet Might Suggest for Today's Reality?

In today's dynamic and often virtual workplace, how do we assure people what the original Credo required and intended for employees in our contemporary workplace?

And, who would be the "industrialists" that Johnson would speak to now?

A 1948 version of the Credo promised workers that:

"They must have a sense of security in their jobs. Wages must be fair and adequate, management just, hours reasonable, and working conditions clean and orderly. Employees should have an organized system for suggestions and complaints. Supervisors and department heads must be qualified and fair minded. There must be opportunity for advancement — for those qualified and each person must be considered an individual standing on his own dignity and merit".

I am writing this at 2 AM. Where's the Credo when I need it?


Thursday, February 22, 2007

How Do We Maintain The Workplace?

"28B going to colleges ...

Prosperous alumni helped make 2006 a record fund-raising year for colleges and universities, which hauled in an all-time high of $28 billion - a 9.4% jump from the year before.

Stanford's $911 million was the most ever collected by a single university. It was followed by Harvard, which raised $595 million, then Yale ($433 million) and the University of Pennsylvania ($409 million).

Last year, the top 10 fund-raising universities collected 16.3% of all gifts, or $7.2 billion, compared to 14.7% in '05. The top 20 institutions accounted for more than a quarter of all fund-raising." - New York Daily News, February 21, 2007

Recently, I spoke with a person important in my life, whom I had not seen for a while.

She told me that she is currently teaching in a middle school in Brooklyn NY, that is dedicated to students whose education has been disrupted by illness, war or poverty. I was amazed how much this school is accomplishing with the limited resources they are able to pull together.

What do you think invigorates and drives the future of our workplace?


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Can We Re engineer The Workplace for Today's World?

Job Corps Plans Makeover for a Changed Economy - NY Times, February 20, 2007


“Once you could go into the Job Corps and get a G.E.D. and go out and make a living,” said Esther R. Johnson, a career executive in the Labor Department with a doctorate in education who took over the corps last March. “You can’t do that anymore.”

This article actually has some hopeful insights, as well as some harsh realities about today's environment for young people who are not easily included in the general offering of opportunity in the U.S.

It set me thinking about how acceptable the concept of re engineering is for corporations. Yet, the idea of re working the workplace, to meet today's realities, seems less of a possibility somehow.

Recent thinking about re engineering unions for example, or looking at public education from individual needs as opposed to a "commodity" approach, seem to echo lessons learned from large organizations.

A number of well known companies nearly lost their identity and existence before understanding that they had really lost their ability to reach the customer before re configuring their efforts.

Starting simple, while building understanding works well. Focusing on something achievable where people will learn together, what they could not learn alone, is fundamental.

This effort to makeover the Job Corps and contemporize the potential of that long standing (and successful in many ways) initiative seems very interesting.

"Dr. Johnson wants the Job Corps to aim higher, helping graduates into careers with a bigger paycheck.

To do that she plans to lengthen the average stay for many graduates beyond the current 11.4 months, improving their reading, math and vocational skills. She also wants trade courses to connect more closely with college programs and emerging industries, and she thinks the corps must double the number of graduates, now just 10 percent, who go on to higher education".

My guess is that even more may be achieved if this is really set in motion.

Do you have examples of complex issues where focusing on simple, but meaningful objectives would help jump start a significant effort?

Look forward to hearing from you.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

What Makes Work Valid?

I had the privilege and adventure to have worked with Lee Bruer, a true innovator, writer and director. One night, Lee said to me:

"I love working with amateurs and I love working with professionals. It's the people who are in between that drive me crazy".

Who Decides What's Work and What's Just Curiosity at Play?

Often, I encounter conversations with people who have valuable contributions but little belief that their contributions are "legitimate" because they are not part of a recognized workplace.

The article referenced below on crowdsourcing begins to put an interesting picture on how different industries search for a diversity of thinking and lower cost product development and product availability. While companies may use crowdsourcing for their purposes, I like to think about this to help realize that no one owns our ability to work. To think. To innovate. - Sal

From the article:

  • Technological advances in everything from product design software to digital video cameras are breaking down the cost barriers that once separated amateurs from professionals. Hobbyists, part-timers, and dabblers suddenly have a market for their efforts, as smart companies in industries as disparate as pharmaceuticals and television discover ways to tap the latent talent of the crowd. The labor isn’t always free, but it costs a lot less than paying traditional employees. It’s not outsourcing; it’s crowdsourcing.

  • Pharmaceutical maker Eli Lilly funded InnoCentive’s launch in 2001 as a way to connect with brainpower outside the company – people who could help develop drugs and speed them to market. From the outset, InnoCentive threw open the doors to other firms eager to access the network’s trove of ad hoc experts. Companies like Boeing, DuPont, and Procter & Gamble now post their most ornery scientific problems on InnoCentive’s Web site; anyone on InnoCentive’s network can take a shot at cracking them.

The Rise of Crowdsourcing - WIRED Magazine, Issue 14.06 - June 2006
By Jeff Howe http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.06/crowds.html?pg=3&topic=crowds&topic_set=

Do you have examples of work that you believe in but just don't consider "legitimate" unless it's defined by an organization? - Sal

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Loss of a Fine Actor

Last week, I read that Ian Richardson had died.

I first met Ian when I was a young man, working at the Brooklyn Academy of Music or BAM, as it is called. I got the job resulting from a challenge by a teacher, Jane Ward, in a grad course on repertory theater. She was annoyed that I would spend so much time talking about "experimental" theater when she said I had no real knowledge of the "legitimate" theater.

In her frustration, she offered to hire me as her assistant for two weeks at BAM, where she was the Production Stage Manager. An extraordinary woman, Jane has influenced the creation of a number of America's arts institutions. I took the two week job and remained working there for nine years. It was that compelling a workplace.

Like many workplaces, I spent more time there than I did with my own family. It was at BAM, that I would first learn about working across and beyond the traditional boundaries I was conditioned to expect.

Because of this experience, I find many current conversations about "world-wide work teams" to be missing a fundamental understanding of what it means to work together and learn as you go. To build something from nothing and accept that things will change as you build.

When it came to staging a performance at BAM, everything was about collaboration or nothing got done. Leadership often moved to where expertise resided and where it was needed. Not from the hierarchy alone.

New relationships started with an empty stage. Some productions with a year of planning and others with only a week or two.

All the relationships were accelerated with the arrival of actors or dancers, and technicians from all over the world to begin set up. And, this also included local communities who found a home for their original cultures to showcase their traditions. Some of these relationships would last a lifetime.

I will never forget those inevitable Monday mornings, when a visiting company had just moved out on Sunday. The next day, the resulting rows of empty dressing rooms always created a very real feeling of loss that cannot easily be described.

Ian Richardson was one of the Royal Shakespeare Company's lead actors when BAM brought the first full scale RSC productions from the UK to Brooklyn.

This was at a time when the venerable old Brooklyn theater had just survived being demolished and turned into a parking lot.

It was also a time of the strong political dis ease of the Viet Nam war as we were painfully adding new words like AIDS, to our culture.

Many of the performances were important reflections of that time. Theater was providing a significant voice and this profound workplace was a living microcosm of what we were all experiencing.

With visionary leadership, much courage and a shared drive across functions, BAM remains today, one of the world's great performing arts centers.

Skilled stagehands and wardrobe crew worked endlessly as office staff, ushers and artists all understood we were building something together.

Long before phrases like "On Demand" were invented, centuries of stagecraft traditions acknowledged fundamental audience realities. There was no way to avoid the expectations of a waiting audience in a theater rich with the history of fine performers and meaningful performances.

As part of the team to bring the first RSC productions from Stratford-upon -Avon to Brooklyn, I got to meet Ian Richardson and others, who would help shape my work expectations for a very long time.

While millions of audience members will remember Ian from the stage, screen and television as always perfectly voiced, dignified and handsome, I will have the lasting influence of several quite talks with him about work.

I was twenty-one years old when we met and full of arrogance and passion for what I believed, and still believe -- theater has always been a way of society talking to itself about itself.

I had no inhibition to giving my theories to this accomplished actor. A man who could rivet an audience with a selected moment of extended pause as strongly as he could with a beautifully articulated monologue.

We had two conversations that I remember quite clearly. One was about sleep. Another , about working to experiment.

Sleep was difficult for him, he told me. People I am sure, did not easily see in his perfect demeanor and voice, the hours of rehearsal, learning and commitment to his craft that someone working at his level, carries with them everyday. He was afterall, an actor.

During the other conversation, he gave his kind encouragement to a kid who perhaps, talked a bit too much about experimental theater work, as I drove him to a CBS Sunday Morning television interview, on a day when Ian had very little time to himself.

This is how I remember his words. And if I am mis quoting him, I am not sure, that he would mind.

"Keep doing your experimentation, it's too difficult in our world (referring to the arena of a large world renowned theater company) to easily try new things, and it's important to all of us".

It was not until I read the sad news last week, that something made me realize that here was a man whose entire carrier was predicated on collaborating with others. Whose craft was based on making work visible and whose workplace was a stage that extended to others. Yet, he always appeared somewhat singular. Individual.

In Some Way, I have Missed Somethig Fundamental

That Ian, when he was exhausted and talked to me about sleep, was also saying, that we are all part of our workplace, in a way that we should appreciate and care for more deeply than we take time to.

Another Lesson I Keep Missing

We team for strengths and weaknesses and that is appropriate.

Maybe that's why people in organizations have to work so hard to reach collaborative behaviors? Because, it's in the collaboration that we reveal our individuality. And perhaps, our vulnerability. Our humanity.

It is amazing to me when I recall all the effort, collaboration and excitement it took to have that audience in Brooklyn walk into the Opera House and see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform. And, to understand that this was a relevant and meaningful representation of theater in a current world, much the way Shakespeare used history to reflect on what his real world political and societal conditions imposed on his time.

It was powerful to see Ian Richardson on that stage, perfectly positioned in his workplace, in a neighborhood he had never seen before. Playing the role of Richard, a King, at a time when the very neighborhood BAM occupies was and still is, placed in the continuing struggle between the powerful and those in need.

Well, the memories may be mine, but the connections belong to all of us.

I remember, a fine actor who was kind to me.

I trust that I have not used his good name too much for my own purpose and that there will be benefit in posting this story.


Making Work Visible

"The whole company prizes visibility"...

The ‘Toyota Way’ Is Translated for a New Generation of Foreign Managers - NY Times, February 15, 2007

“For Americans and anyone, it can be a shock to the system to be actually expected to make problems visible,” said Ms. Newton, a 38-year-old Indiana native who joined Toyota after college 15 years ago and now works at the North American headquarters in Erlanger, Ky. “Other corporate environments tend to hide problems from bosses.”

This Part is From Me (Sal)

In The 21st Century Intranet, Jennifer Stone Gonzalez wrote in 1999, that the singular most important communication issue we faced was "to make work visible".

Today, many Intranets still carry a tone of an electronic magazine with a paternalistic sense of command and control communication. And, it goes beyond Intranets, to really creating collaborative ways to communicate. But it's not really about technology. It's about our intentions and what we expect the technology to enable.

Intranets that are used, move decision making faster than traditional management roles allow. In addition, true collaborative frameworks put executives into the mix instead of outside the mix, simply reviewing and approving. Customers simply don't have time for that anymore. And that switch in the mix becomes a change management element that's real, not theorized.

Old models, where work is not visible and collaboration is not supported, tend to keep the management and continuous development as separate entities, as if the customer world is subject to the company's analysis.

But Toyota sounds different in the above referenced article and aware that different audiences see and hear the same messages differently.

“There is a sense of danger,” said Koki Konishi, a Toyota general manager who heads the (Toyota) institute. “We must prevent the Toyota Way from getting more and more diluted as Toyota grows overseas.”

Communication and Implementation - What's the Difference Sometimes?

This is part of our contemporary issue of concurrent communication and implementation. Speed of information is often speed to customer. And, that's not easy to grasp from either a cultural or operational point of view. It is easy however, to relate to if you are on the other side, as a customer or partner with expectations.

How visible is your work? How acceptable is it to have work made visible in your workplace?

And please understand, this is not just about big organizations.

We are all in this together.

I am especially hoping to hear from people who teach, work at home, engage in research or partner in our diverse workplace.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Risk & Relevance

“Markets are giving way to networks. In a networked economy, ideas, concepts, and images are the items of real value – you know, marketing. Demand creation and demand fulfillment.” – Steven J. Hayer, COO Coca-Cola Company, keynote remarks: Advertising Age, Madison + Vine Conference, 2003


What inhibits us from recommending the actions we would like to offer to clients, business partners and one another?

Meeting business objectives today is not only different than it was five years ago; it can be different than it was five months ago. We now find ourselves in a wired world where communication and implementation often occur simultaneously.

Technology has moved us forward, but old behaviors often persist in organized workplaces, not having been moved where these technologies and common practices were intended to take us.

In a fascinating way, where the early stages of re engineering were intended to destroy siloed behaviors, the very demands for speed and concurrent information may now be reinforcing old-world protective attitudes, imposing almost actuarial behaviors as opposed to encouraging collaborative and innovative cultures.

This phenomenon is echoed in our crowded merger and acquisition environment where people are naturally concerned about their jobs during what’s known as the “quiet time” when little information is publicized about the acquisition activities. Another contributing factor is the notion of “vulnerability” as referenced by Stephane Garelli, author of The World Competitiveness Yearbook, when he added that measurement category to his book several years ago. He suggested that an organization is only as strong as the smallest or any link in its alliance or value chain. In reality, influences such as these can bear down heavily on people’s everyday work decisions and risk-taking abilities.

These pressures become pervasive and subtle at the same time. They put us all in the position of wanting to do something differently to achieve different or better results but stopping just short of taking the risk.

Risk Relevance and Opportunity

Where does the important risk really reside? How many times have we heard or said, “sure, this is really relevant, but it’s just not in the area we deal with…”?

The critical issue is lost opportunity.

The risk must be weighed against the relevance, because the driver is in the latter.

Relevance can be determined by identifying what truly inhibits a team's ability to understand the fundamental issues that block reaching objectives and why less meaningful or seemingly apparent inhibitors are allowed to obscure a true picture of the situation at hand.

Too often, what seems to be inhibiting progress is simply not the real hold up. More often than not, the hang up will relate to a communication issue, generated either by intention or by mistake.

The true risk is not in upsetting traditional roles; the true risk is missing the relevant opportunity to:
  • Create a vital and relevant cross-functional discussion connected to a business objective
  • Provide a more inclusive knowledge-sharing experience that can produce faster and more effective results
  • Engage and activate networks that provide ongoing personal, professional and organizational development

    In simple terms, these networks exist, probably untapped and unrecognized for the knowledge and innovation they can contribute. Deciding what is relevant and measuring risk to work effeciently need these network connectors.

    In favor of risk-taking, consider that a more formidable risk exists that one day a client, a partner, or even senior management will not applaud you for being cautious but do just the opposite and say, “Why didn’t you push us?”

    We see this every day. It is in this unfortunate way that brilliant IT organizations are still thought of as help-desk entities; HR teams are not understood as true integrators of technology and human abilities; and a host of people with skills to share remain on the periphery of our concurrent and critical communication/implementation world. Time-sensitive opportunities for professional and business development are wasted.

    What is the real issue as opposed to the apparent issue?

    The real issue is that we don’t have time to explore the onrushing culture change as it happens.

For example:

  • “Appreciating culture change by activating the social networks” is not a soft phrase – but one that takes time to understand and appreciate how it relates to ROI

  • Realizing what inhibits knowledge flow and knowledge exchange in an organization is neither mysterious nor complicated – but it takes expertise to demystify and simplify
  • Understanding the internal, social networks that drive innovation is vital: it can enable us to appreciate how we actually communicate as organizations and how much everyone has the potential to contribute – but it requires an inclusive communications commitment

    Let’s think of Demand Creation as what people need and what people are asking for and Demand Fulfillment as what is delivered in terms of shared knowledge and information exchange.

Taking it from there will help refine our ability to understand Risk and Relevance.

Can you add the moments or stories where hesitation took over and the risk was not taken?


Monday, February 5, 2007

Who is Talking and Why?

I was looking through the NY Times recently and spotted this article called It's 'Squawk Box Meets Saturday Night Live' - An Upstart Video Site Mixes financial News and Pop Culture, Feb. 2, 2007.

This story in The NY Times is about two people meeting on a blog and creating Wallstrip, "a Web site that mixes stock news and pop culture".

This set me thinking. It's interesting how and where we mock, imitate, adore and even demonise pop culture in organized work places.

Pop culture is mildly accepted but not really allowed in the workplace. Conformity comes first and true individuality is usually questioned. Kinda like MUZAK.

How does this really affect the whole Reward and Recognition process in organizations? In fact, how does this view of imitation vs. individuality affect the investment and building of organized workplaces?

I have always wondered for example, why it is irresistible for executives to parody pop culture videos, movies and TV shows when they leave their podiums and Power Points to address their audiences at "off site" business or sales recognition meetings? Is it the release of "being away on business" that drives them into these states of costume and acceptable custom? They spend a great deal of money on that stuff.

Ever hear of "peer to peer awards"? It's as if equality and inclusion are unusual concepts or specialty items that need to be allowed and suggested to people in order to exist. "Go ahead, name somebody that you feel is an equal and say they have done a good job".

If Wallstrip brings us to a way of connecting peoples' decisions for investment with our entertainment inclinations, what does this really suggest about how our world-wide workplace takes it's shape? How are investments really influenced?

What is it about the way in which we reward and recognize peoples' achievements that helps shape expectations and disappointments for individuals and companies?

Who really does the talking when we hear "great job" but we don't really know where it came from and why?

Sure, results are fundamental, but who can always be certain that their metrics are current and that they are actually measuring the right things?

Enlightened organizations are ready to question what they measure and do so.

  • How do company rewards get efficiently and logically budgeted? And, how does all this connect to "investment" and how companies grow?
  • What "perks" the interest of decision makers who then provide the "perks" to engage "peak performers"?

In a world where many people have to work more and more just to survive and others have to struggle to find enough work to maintain, who and what focuses our attention on defining achievement?

What's your experience?


Thursday, February 1, 2007

Surviving With and Without Information at Work

Surviving With and Without Information at Work


Two Stories:

A Mechanic’s Laptop Makes Manuals All but Obsolete

It does add to the mechanics’ overhead. Mike Brewster, owner of Gil’s Garage in Burnt Hills, N.Y., pays subscription fees for independent services like Alldata, Mitchell’s and Identifix; such services typically cost $150 a month. Mr. Brewster will buy 24-hour access to a manufacturer’s site only as needed.

“It’s just a part of the cost of doing business,” Mr. Brewster said. “But having current information available is such a pleasure.”
Published: January 28, 2007

It's interesting who will value and invest in sharing information in organizations. This second story is from me.

What You Can Learn During an Oil Change

I used to lease a car from a dealer that offered a great customer service edge. Two shifts. Mechanics were available from 8 AM to Midnight.

I eventually figured out that there was only one guy who took the time to learn the ever changing repair manual software. Both shifts were dependent upon him since so many of the repairs were now based on software downloads. If he had the flu, the basic extra value added customer service hours were really nullified.

For some reason, this reminded me that the auto repair and auto parts business is far better networked than our health care information and data exchange. It’s much easier to get a bumper for a 1957 Morris Minor than sending my chest x-ray from a pneumonia incident while I had been traveling to my primary care physician. Privacy issues are of course, a major consideration. But it's the ease of knowledge sharing that often gets inhibited for less than important reasons.

This is not news about medical information and greater minds than mine have written extensively on the subject. But the point hits home every time an elderly person works to arrange an important doctor appointment and upon arrival discovers that some piece of the puzzle is missing to make the visit with the doctor completely effective.

Now what does this have to do with work and survival?

  • Ask your doctor's office manager how much time is spent on records exchange that is still manually handled because one office can't easily exchange with another
  • Ask your Service Advisor when you get your car checked about parts inventory vs. the repair of the "technology option" in the car. Which one is really a problem?

The parts search is connected to a complicated Integrated Supply Chain and Customer Relationship Management process world but will probably be solved quickly. The new technology malfunction however, will most likely be dependent on the one or two people that have the knowledge to respond. Hopefully, they will not be on vacation.

But most of all think about how many times you have heard or said in your workplace:

  • "That would be great, but it's not in our job description to change it”
  • "They probably would like that but they would never think that should come from us"

Survival in terms of economy is like the way the ancient Greeks looked at the meaning of the economist or head of the household. To Sustain The Life of Something for As Long As Possible.

Your home, your job, your work, your health.

Innovation is not simply about an astounding idea. It is also about clearing away what confuses us. It's about what people are able to do together to bring clarity and vision to moving things along.

That one mechanic who helped the others and was willing to share -- he understood survival & the workplace.

Hope to hear from you,