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What Do We Do With All That Anger?

Once when I was eight my dad came home and mom was angry. I mean really angry. Steamed.

He said, "Where is the grape juice?"

To which she replied, "You want the grape juice? HERE's the grape juice!"

And with that she brought a huge bottle of Kedem brand kosher grape juice down onto the glass-topped table. Shattering the glass. Shards flew all over the dining room.

As an adult someone once told me that their boss used to throw things at them - on alternate days. Literally, one day it was books thrown at the head and another day it was a gift card to Starbucks.

It ended when they said, "Next time I won't duck. I will call 9-1-1."

Most of us associate workplace anger with negative things:
  • Outburst 
  • Termination
  • Reassignment
  • Lawsuit
  • Depression
  • Heart attack or other physical ailment
  • Workplace shooter
However there are some more positive methods of handling it:
  • Conversation
  • Communication
  • Apology
  • Training 
  • Mediation
  • Employee assistance program
If only we would stop avoiding the reality of anger at work. Why not recognize:
  • Relationships and feelings are not a distraction - they are integral to productivity.
  • Conflict is a normal and sometimes even positive part of work because it points out problems as well as employee engagement, even in a negative way.
  • Conflict management is a form of cost avoidance.
Maybe it is true that what we need to know we learned in kindergarten. Sometimes all it takes is "circle time," to talk about the problem and what's happening in the group. To do this we have to take feelings seriously though, and be willing to solve the problem. 

When the organization is ready to do that - to save the cost of the inevitable problems down the road - that's not just smart thinking but a way to avoid the costs of absenteeism, turnover, low morale and even (G-d forbid) violence and litigation.

The Solution Is Big Data

"Spin" means intentionally misleading the audience so as to persuade them (propaganda). This is NOT OK for government to do - unless you're in the military doing psychological operations overseas as part of war.
In all my years in the federal government, I have never - not once - had someone tell me to lie or mislead. EVER. If that were to happen I would report it and you should too. I have read about such occurrences though. Normally they leak into social media, and then into regular media if there's overwhelming credibility to the story. That said:
--My experiences is that agencies are responsive rather than proactive. They wait for the question. They are not hanging around waiting to air what they perceive as dirty laundry. It is often frustrating to me personally as a communicator that we don't get more in line with the private sector, where there is a pretty good understanding that when you share bad news very early on, it loses impact. (Best example is David Letterman who rebounded right away from his PR crisis by simply acknowledging his personal mistakes.)
--It is standard practice to answer the question you were asked. Not more, not less. We are working in a legal environment where words have tremendous impact. Washington is not a TV talk show. Words are chosen carefully not spontaneously and they are done in conformity with numerous legal requirements - including Plain Language.
--I have heard SMEs (subject matter experts) say to writers, "Put your spin on this." However, what they usually mean is - "Here are the facts. I know I can't write. Make them sound better." It is a way of acknowledging their limitations. Sometimes it's a way of acknowledging that the data sounds bad. But keep in mind that government words are cleared through various officials so it would be very hard to simply "spin something" without a huge team of people on board. Normally those people are pointing out how the content could be more accurate, more clear.
All of that said--
The problem with narrative is narrative itself. Every agency and every company has to describe in a narrative fashion what they are doing. And as nobody and no organization is perfect there will always be delicate subjects. Nobody is going to run around saying, "Look how we screwed up today! Woo-hoo!" That would be ridiculous and a waste of time - just as phony feelgood stories are. Not all of it is high value.
This is why the emphasis on narrative is misplaced.
The best way out of the "messaging" trap is BIG DATA.
Simply make high-value data sets available in an accessible manner. Let the relevant facts speak for themselves. Officials can offer their comments, but the data is the most important thing.
* All opinions my own.

"Ten Commandments" For Change Agents

Below are 10 distilled pieces of advice I've received over the past year or so. I'm sharing these with you in case they might be helpful. What they all boil down to is - do the basics well first, earn trust, and then do more. Let it be their way to begin with, so that eventually you can contribute to real, lasting, positive forward movement.
1. Do what is asked, meeting formal and informal requirements, staying flexible.
FIRST do what you have been asked to do, NOT what you think needs to be done.
2. When asking for action, give concise and complete background information.
NOT a dissertation's worth of paper - you are more passionate than most people, get over yourself - and NOT simply forwarding the most recent email - no they do not want to read the entire trail. 
3. Begin any communication with a "headline" - what is the purpose?
Your boss has about fifty million people breathing down his or her neck. If you interrupt them - you have three seconds to convince them not to shoo you away and get back to email. Avoid open-ended conversations! Avoid! Executives do not have those with regular people - do not annoy!
4. Everyone is overworked - minimize engagement to when action is required.
The rules differ from place to place. Find out how your boss defines "heads up" and only provide that. Definitely communicate if something is going wrong - crises multiply when you try to shove them under the rug.
5. Weekly update - work activities, progress, outcomes, notes. Calendar updates.
The update is verbal - you read it off your list during a meeting. A one-page handout is fine as a leave-behind. Day-to-day, try to get ten minutes on the phone in the morning to get on the same page. Avoid back-and-forth emails at all costs.
6. Quality = consistent, efficient, timely, standardized, meets requirements.
Give them the main meal first. That is NOT creativity, innovation, brainstorming, out-of-the-box. That is fun. That is for retreats - not regular day-to-day work.
7. Stay with the team. Maintain relationships, they're as important as the task.
Do not go off on your own. Even if you are right. Think in terms of moving incrementally toward a goal that all of you can see. The more you separate from the group and are an "outlier," the more of a distraction you become - and even counterproductive. Because instead of working together to make things better, the focus is on whether YOU as the self-designated change agent are correct, accurate, visionary, right, wrong or indifferent. Take the focus off of you.
8. Prioritize. Do the most important things first.
There is too much work. Do a quality job on the most important stuff. Don't try to do a crappy job of everything. Even though you may technically do more things, from the boss's perspective you are sloppy and can't be trusted with even the simplest of them.
9. Maintain work/life balance. Balance crunch time with down time. Avoid burnout.
Change agents work hard. Too hard. They tend to think that others can see it. They can't - they don't - they would rather you pace yourself and kept your good humor and relaxed attitude. When you get nervous and spun up, you make everybody else feel that way too. No good! Especially when everyone is under pressure anyway.
10. Keep the vision in mind, but build from the bottom up. Walk before you run.
Big-picture thinkers tend to want to start with the strategic plan and then implement. In government it's the opposite - you actually have to start with a bit at a time, and then fill in the pieces of the puzzle. Keep a list of the things you will do when the opportunity presents itself - your wish list - your dreams. But do not confuse them with a work plan.
Got any advice to add to this list? Let's hear it!

You Are Entitled To Your Journey

When I was a little girl I took an I.Q. test. They pushed me from kindergarten into first grade.
Later on they pushed me from 5th grade into 6th, to manage an out-of-control rabbi (e.g. rather than fire the rabbi, who wound up getting fired anyway for smacking a student to the floor in front of the entire class).
I was always two years ahead of my peers. Intellectually, that was fine. Socially it caused problems. You can't grill people into adulthood like a steak. No. People need slow-simmering, like a good winter stew.
It got in my head that life was all about rushing. Degree - another degree - family - kids - job - sequentially and simultaneously.
I imparted this ethic to my kids: "Hurry up, get it done, don't waste time." Etc.
Time has passed and I've started to wonder.
Sometimes it feels like rushing has become the point of life. Instead of the means to an end, where we get to stop rushing all the time.
My mom called me yesterday before Passover.
"Your sister is upset." 
"Someone they know, a cantor, young. Just dropped dead out of the blue."
It's always hard to look inside so I think about comments I make to my marketing students. In comments to them on discussion posts.
What I'm always saying: "Slow down. Have you even read your work?"
Their generic response: "I have a full-time job. I'm doing the best I can. I need to pass."
For school to teach you anything, though, you have to stop enough to learn. The degree is not worth the paper it is printed on anymore - everybody has one. You're better off with the skill of thinking critically. Of being a reflective person.
The Kindle has not helped matters at all. Books used to be in print, on paper. When you read one, you really stopped to read. You had to think. 
Now you just flip through them.
Social events took place in person and they weren't Facebook opportunities. You sat at the Sabbath table and you argued. You went to the barbecue and kicked back with friends. You attended the game and rooted for your kids. Stuck your head through the twisted iron fence. You watched their expression as they tried to score a point or two.
Now the event's end is determined by that moment you got a good photo and posted it online.
The other day I saw these two girls on the Metro. One of them was taking a picture of her own face. She smooched at the screen until she was satisfied and then snapped it. 
Were they spending time together or alone? Each in their own world, waiting for an eventual "Like" on a status.
What I want to say to whoever reads this, is that you are entitled to your personal journey, as am I. As is everyone. Stop rushing from one experience to the next, one accomplishment to another, grasping at the high of this endpoint and that. Let your life be messy, and slow, and unfinished every once in a while.
Before you die, let yourself really live.

10 Success Tips From My Manager Pat

(Well, it could have been Pat or any of them.)

Experienced managers generally will tell you stuff like this:

1. Learn the business. If you don't understand the subject matter nobody will take you seriously.

2. Do things our way first, then we'll trust you enough to change things.

3. Only tell us things when we need to know. We are already bombarded with useless information.

4. We notice typos. They matter.

5. Let it be the other person's idea.

6. Don't be like a bull in a china shop. It's threatening.

7. Standardization beats innovation every time.

8. Did you save us money? That gets you extra points.

9. There is a very fine line between creative and crazy.

10. Heart, humor and genuine team spirit all matter more than brains.

7 Lessons From A Tree

Image via

You can't blossom without roots.

Even in chaos there is always a path.

Know how to listen without talking back.

Seeing the big picture helps you deal with the little things.

Branching out makes you stronger inside.

If you want company you have to reach out.

The more you stand together the more beautiful the scenery.