Showing posts from April, 2012

Why Organizations Lie To Themselves (& What To Do About It)

Photo by Scott Hamlin via Flickr

When you stand on the scale you get the truth about your weight.

For most of us that number isn't a pretty sight and we don't get the answer we want. So we tell ourselves:
"Weight doesn't count - you have to go by the BMI.""Maybe I'm retaining water.""It doesn't count if you weigh yourself at night.""I was wearing shoes.""That scale is old. I'm going to wait for my checkup."Or my favorite one of all:
"It's what's inside that counts." Why do we lie to ourselves, when the truth is right in front of us? And it matters?

Here's the paradox:
Logically it would be easy to simply live a lie (i.e. ignore the scale).But humans persistently seek out truth so as to physically survive - not knowing puts us at risk.At the same time we experience emotional discomfort from being confronted by the truth.Therefore we will do virtually anything to lie to ourselves and to keep truth…

My Latest SlideShare Upload: "Job of the Future: 'Human Glue'"

A reflection on enterprise collaboration software in context. Enjoy!Job Of The Future: Human Glue by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.

Also see a whole megilla I started on this subject on GovLoop. A couple of downloadable files there.

Note: No endorsement is expressed or implied. Opinions my own. Welcome any feedback.

When Leaders Can't Distinguish Their Employees From Themselves

Photo by Nathan Goddard via Flickr

This morning my mother reminded me of a story I would rather forget.

"Do you remember when you wore Bubbie's bathrobe to shul (synagogue) thinking it was a dress?"

Oh G-d Mom just bring up all the dirty laundry why don't you!

"And how mad she got?"

Yes, yes.

My Bubbie had such beautiful clothes. To my childlike eyes I couldn't tell the difference.

(Though kids are wearing pajamas to school nowadays, so...)

Since her clothes were all fancy, from a certain perspective you could take the mis-wearing of the robe as a compliment.

But Bubbie didn't see it that way. In her world, children were an extension of parents. Grandchildren an extension of grandparents.

Everyone reflected everyone else.

I know why my Bubbie thought that way. For the culture to survive, true members of the Hasidic sect we belonged to had to be marked. And each family had its own reputation to protect. Its image. Its brand.

Nevermind that I had nothing to do wi…

What We Can't Talk About, Will Cost Us

Photo by David Robertson via Flickr 

Rage. Anger. Envy. Terror. Fear. Grief. Sadness. Depression. Stress.

Is it normal to:
Feel these things? Yes.Encounter them in others? Of course.Discuss them openly at a staff meeting? That would be no.Devote an entire workplace training curriculum to managing them? Not normally.Require that students pass an emotional fitness test before graduating? Unheard of!  How pervasive is negative emotion in American society? How costly? Look around you:
At any given moment, 1 out of any 10 people are clinically depressed.In elementary school, 9 out of 10 children have been bullied by their peers.At work, more than 1 out of 3 Americans have been bullied."Work-related stress accounts for 1/3 of all new incidents of illnesses." Post-traumatic stress disorder (from abuse, assault, war, illness, and more) is suffered from by 4% of the general population, 12-13% of Iraq war veterans, and in one study, up to 25% of former foster children and is associated w…

Communication - Not Branding

If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and looks like a duck, it's a duck.

Just like a tree has to be green and leafy and grow tall, even among a stale parking lot full of cars.

The branding profession is about image. That's fine, but that's as far as it goes. Those who claim to do more - such as changing the employee culture - are not brand ducks.

They are either practicing organizational development under another name (unlikely and probably uncertified), or practicing image-building and calling it "internal branding for employee evangelist brand ambassadors" (a.k.a., B.S.)

Over the years I have sometimes found that people got annoyed at my blunt and direct manner. In the end that's how I learned that I don't really do branding. Because brand ducks are adept not only at building your image, but at projecting an image of themselves.

Rather I was (am) a communicator. In a profession composed of image manipulators. "All marketers are liars," as Se…

When Faith Turns Deadly: Bill Maher's "Religulous"

by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.

Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda: "You know, if I discover that I was Satan in person, I would do a good job, too."

Bill Maher: "As Satan?"

Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda:"Because I would be faithful to my calling." 

- Memorable Quotes from "Religious" via
Just happened to run across "Religulous" on Netflix. Spent nearly 2 hours unable to peel self from screen. Alternately laughing and sort of crying inside. At how much people want to believe; at how willing we are to deceive each other in G-d's name; at how easily we deceive ourselves.

And then punish other people who refuse not to think.

The body of the movie consists of Maher interviewing assorted representatives of various religions and religious sects, including Christianity (mainstream, evangelical, Catholicism), Islam, Judaism, and Mormonism.

Every interview, with the exception of the interview of the Catholic astronomer and the maverick Catholic …

No-Propaganda Government Communication: Is It Possible?

Thirty years ago it was almost unheard of to pay a public relations firm to communicate on behalf of the federal government: we spent just $2 million over the course of 12 years, from 1980-1992. By 2003 that figure had soared to $161 million (see graphic).

In addition to spending on public relations, the government spends money on advertising. It is estimated that federal ad spending in fiscal year 2002 was more than $400 million, peaked in 2004 and 2009 at $1.2 billion or more, and settled back down at about $750 million in 2011 (see graphic).
Government PR versus Advertising: Why The Distinction? What's The Difference?
The Congressional Research Service notes that the figures for ad spending can only be taken as estimates because the line between "public relations" and "advertising" is not clearly drawn by federal agencies. Therefore, they may classify the exact same services as either one or the other in the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS): …

My Blog Has A New Name

by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.

I don't do branding anymore - over time it's become communications and process improvement, with organizational development thrown into the mix.

While I haven't lost interest in branding at all, it has become clearer and clearer to me that branding is only the outcome of a much more complicated, difficult and interesting process to sustain: successful organizational development.

I have realized over time that focusing on your external image is sort of beside the point, especially nowadays when the innards of organizations are more and more transparent.

What matters more - what matters most - is culture, because it gives birth to stable processes that in turn engender performance, learning, innovation, and growth.

It is culture that lives at the bedrock of the organization. When you have it working well, the right image emerges naturally, without strain and without the artificial look and feel that can actually be a turnoff to the stakeholder.

O, The Exquisite Agony That Is Workflow (In Government Or Anywhere)

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr

So lately I've been thinking about the exquisite pain that is document generation, collaboration and final approval in the typical organization. 
(While I work for the government I now, I cut my teeth on this problem in the private sector, so it is not only a "Beltway bureaucracy" thing.) 
To continue the dental metaphor, one wonders why we put ourselves through the equivalent of root canal every single day. 
When you hear that a new policy has to be generated, or sent around for approval, do you not groan? Of course you do. You do!
Consider that, unless you have a very small organization or a very good collaboration system (or both), you are doing things the old-fashioned way. Which means the process looks something like this: Identify the collaborating parties. Schedule a kickoff meeting by email. Negotiate the competing schedules by email and/or phone. Book a room.Arrange for dial-in. Have the meeting.Experience telephone problems eith…

Scandal: "Dysfunctional Culture" or "Isolated Incident"?

Photo by Staindrop via Flickr

The news is always dominated by scandal and the news this morning is no different. Ugly reports of ugly behavior.

Army: In Afghanistan, photographs of soldiers smiling "thumbs up" alongside dead bodies and across the military there is a pattern of female service members raped or sexually assaulted then discharged for a "personality disorder."Secret Service: In Colombia, a prostitution scandal and we learn the motto, "Wheels up, rings off"GSA: In Las Vegas, a conference overseen by an official who wrote, "I know I'm bad, but why not enjoy it while we can?"If these are just isolated incidents it's easier to deal with them: Punish the offender and you're done. Oh how tempting it is to "apologize" or put someone in jail and call it a day.
But when a scandal involves things like: Pre-planning the misbehaviorRepeated incidentsJoking mottoesTimes and places where the misbehavior normalizedExplicit or impl…

Election 2012: "Boring" vs. "Daring"

Photo by Roland Tanglao via Flickr

In a gym full of Feds watching the TV monitors. It's evening news time.

-One screen has a commentator talking about Mitt Romney, the word "robotic" flashing behind him.

-Another has coverage of the GSA scandal. It is unflattering.

-A third flashes the words "Secret Service" and then something like "20 prostitutes!"

-Fourth there is the President with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Images of oil barrels, of people at the gas pump.

-Fifth and finally there is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I feel sheer admiration.

(Disclaimer: not speaking for any organization or agency here. Not a political endorsement or non-endorsement. Etc.)

I am a fed standing among all these other feds, of different agencies. I feel shame at the government scandals. This isn't how I am, I remind myself, it isn't how most of my colleagues are. I wonder how we got here, that the people one should trust seem so out of control.

It occurs to m…

The 5 "Departments of Productivity" Most Organizations Miss

Photo of "Healthy Me Bicycling" by Donghyeon Lee via Korean Resource Center, Flickr

In a work organization, the only thing that matters is productivity.

Mathematically speaking the goal is to put forth X amount of work for the sake of returning X* return (the * being whatever multiple or exponent can realistically occur.)

Productivity has gone through historical stages. Roughly:
In the past, work was mainly physical and took place on the farm or in a factory: To produce things, you had to be physically strong and able to not-think for long periods of time.With the advent of technology, the new product was knowledge and to deliver it you had to know technical subject matter sufficiently to generate insight out of data.Now with advanced technology + the connective power of the Internet, it is not sufficient to master knowledge but to master new knowledge quickly and also to work well with other people to deliver a joint result.Our organizations have not kept pace. They have not ins…

Gov 2.0: "Footloose" Edition

Screenshot via: A ChucksConnection Film Review: Footloose
After high school hoodlums throw a brick through the window, narrowly missing his little cousins "Ren's" (Kevin Bacon's) uncle verbally attacks him for stirring up trouble in Bomont. It's a trivial cause at best (and "sacreligious" at worst), the right to a high school prom.
Ren finds out that his uncle is losing business and his mom has just gotten fired from her job over his cause. He doesn't seem to care. When his mother asks him why he persists, he answers as below.
As I watched Ren say this on screen, I realized why I watch this movie every time it airs and why I sometimes cry when I see it. Why I write blogs that nobody pays me for and that often, relatively few people read. Why I find it important to say something.
From Ren's monologue: “When Dad first threatened to leave, I thought it was because of me. I thought it was something that I wasn't doing right. And I figured there was s…

Jennifer Lawrence, Repair Feminism's Brand. Please. (Hilary Rosen)

Screen shot: Entertainment Weekly cover feat. Jennifer Lawrence, February 29, 2012 issue
"His wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She's never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing."
- Democratic political strategist Hilary Rosen, referring to Ann Romney, wife of Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, via Fox News
By now everybody has seen Ms. Rosen say this on the news. Undoubtedly they've thrown shoes, when they heard this obnoxious statement. 
It brought me back to the anger I felt as a young mother, entrepreneur, and doctoral student as people observed me with the kids and asked, finally, "Do you work?" 
Yes, actually, I used to think, enraged at the kind of mindset that produced such condescension. Do you?
I was able to let it go pretty quickly though because the point she was trying to make was clear to me. It was her communication strategy that failed, though the essenc…

50% Of Your Salary To Write Emails: Are You Worth It?

Photo by Ally Aubry via Flickr

Private-sector survey research published in 2011 by Inc. Magazine found that employees of small to medium-size businesses spend about 50% of their time on email. (Here's the press release.)

(It's not actually fully 50% if you read the survey results carefully - because there is an element of phone messaging involved - but let's just take that as a ballpark figure for discussion.)

I would also take as a ballpark figure the findings of the research sponsor, which (unsurprisingly) has a "unified communications" product to sell that supposedly eliminates the inefficiency caused by relying so much on email. So they make big claims like:
"Efficiencies created by Unified Communications on a typical firm with 50 Knowledge Workers (sic) with salaries ranging from $40,000 to $110,000....(are) valued at approximately $950,000 annually." Yet despite the inevitable bias and hype, their findings resonate with my own experience. Email is…