Stuff That Really Matters

“And I felt a change
Time meant nothing
Never would again.”

From “Time Warp”, by Richard O’Brien

I saw a picture of my friend Kathleen today. Kathleen is the Executive Director, Chief Pooba and heart and soul of the Cleveland Restoration Society. If memory serves me correctly, we entered the world 24 days apart, so we are the same age….just youngsters, by my count!

Kath’s photo was taken during Cleveland’s 2015 Community Luncheon. She looks outstanding, with cool glasses, great hair and passion simply emanating from her being. I was so proud of her!

Kathleen, the President!

Kathleen, the President!

Then I looked at a few other pictures of folks attending this luncheon. Boy, there were lots of grey haired people, and folks who looked their age, if you know what I mean. Not my Kath, though. She looked younger and cooler than anyone else I could see in the photos.

Was she? I mean, given the demographic of the group who were made up of representatives of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, perhaps she was. Or was it what I saw when I looked at her? Did I see Ms. Crowther, power professional from Shaker Heights, Ohio? Or did I see Kathy Hackman, who biked across southern Ontario with me one summer (from youth hostel to pub, etc), and then the next summer, hiked Assateague and Chinctoteague Islands with me (waking up to the wild ponies at the door of our tent in the morning!).

These guys would show up near the tent in the morning!

These guys would poke their noses near the tent in the morning!

When I look at her now, I see etched in her face those memories of the times we laughed so hard we cried, danced to Time Warp a zillion times, sang Emmy Lou Harris songs while drinking Rolling Rock from the can…you get the drift. I suppose I don’t see the 58 year old professional who singlehandedly defines the urban gentrification of downtown Cleveland. Nope, I see a young woman lying on a bunk bed outside of Stratford, Ontario, trying to convince herself to get up and on her bike after a very long night at the pub!

Shared experiences bring richness and a unique perspective to our vision. We peel away those things that are apparent at first glance, like laugh lines or a new hair colour, and see what the individual really represents to us. It can be a gift or a curse, depending on the nature of those experiences. I look into the faces of those I love or respect, and I see beauty, ability and potential. In others, I often see something very different, just what is on the surface.

Can you recognize and use this phenomenon in your working life? When I consider the change management activities that I help shape, I realize that sharing positive experiences between and among change agents, leaders and all impacted by the change makes a huge difference to success. When we are undergoing change, if we can “see” the people who help us with the change in a positive light (much like how I “see” Kathleen), perhaps we can create more successful outcomes during the actual change process.

There are about 23 gazillion change management continuums/processes/activities, give or take a few, that you can find online.

Just some of the "change" literature

Just some of the “change” literature.

But thinking about how I see Kathleen reminds me that those real life, positive experiences MUST be a central part of helping people through change. I must build in the opportunity for those actual experiences into my plans. Sure, I can create briefing notes, build slide decks, host senior management information meetings, town halls and deliver internal videos till the cows come home. But until all people affected by that change share experiences that allows them to really see the good side of the change…and of each other…the change will be in name only. It won’t be anchored in your organization. Or your heart.

Change impacts us all. And the spectre of change, the fear of change, can loam large. But managing change means figuring out how to navigate those fears, recognize the obstacles and move forward with a light heart. It means recognizing a multitude of positive shared experiences that includes everything from grabbing a cup of coffee to dancing to the Time Warp, again, that will allow you to see past the grey hair and the uncertainties, and find the stuff that really matters.

NOthing like a good distance shot so you can't see the grey in my hair1

Nothing like a good distance shot so you can’t see the grey in my hair! (photo by R. Rodden)

 

Failure and its teachings

Failure has its place in the career of a consultant. I learn a lot from failure, even if it doesn’t feel good at the time. Responding to “Request for Proposals” often means putting my heart and soul into something, waiting for a response, and then crashing down because I come second. Again.

The past 3 weeks have seen me on the receiving end of three failed projects. I can handle one or two with aplomb, but three is a bit much. It is time to do some serious thinking about the why and how of what happened, and find the good in these rather difficult experiences.

Janey "failing" to actually grab one of her beverages. So sad.

Janey “failing” to actually grab one of her beverages. So sad.

The kind of happy money can't buy - my amazing friend Marj and her Bobbie.

The kind of happy money can’t buy – my amazing friend Marj and her Bobbie.

Each “failure”, if you allow me to call them that, was unique:

  • I was invited to let my name stand to be a member of a Board of Directors.
  • Bart and I partnered on a proposal for facilitation activities related to First Nations and the provincial Growth Plan.
  • Nicole, Lisa and I bid on a HUGE contract with a national not for profit organization. (We wanted this one. Big Time.)

You know the end of the story for each of these already. I didn’t get the position on the Board, we didn’t get the provincial contract and we didn’t win the huge contract. That’s the life of a consultant, and the risk we take. So what’s to learn?

It’s all in the details, I often remind myself. I need to reflect on my personal and professional priorities, look closely and learn from the experiences. And determine why I don’t feel quite so bad about losing these contracts.

Member of the Board? I wanted the position because I would be paid to sit on the Board! How cool is that! That’s a big upside. Downside? I wasn’t passionate about the organization. I was in it for the money. In fact, during my member interview, I asked them what they really needed in a Board Member. They told me someone with financial expertise. I said don’t select me.

They took my advice.

Small provincial contract? We worked hard on the proposal. BUT (is there always a but?) neither of us was enamored with working with the particular client team assigned to the project. We had worked with them previously, and the personalities were more challenging than satisfying. When I found out we didn’t win the contract, my reaction was “Oh well”.

The huge contract? The three of us really wanted this one. We made it to the short list and landed an interview. I drove to Toronto with my formal consulting clothes on (read: real shoes, not my usual Blundstones, hair brushed, and the casual suit that even makes me look professional). Despite knowing ahead of time, the interview team had not prepared for a conference call, so I had to connect Nicole and Lisa with the 4 of us in the boardroom myself. I had that niggling feeling that the clients were not impressed that I was the only one there “in person” and it became evident that no matter what we said, we were not going to wow and amaze them.

I choose to work with people I like...like Bart!

I choose to work with people I like…like Bart!

I left the interview feeling like I didn’t really want to work with those folks.

And I won’t be.

Learning opportunities? I can always find them, no matter how distant or impossible they may be. Let’s explore each scenario.

The first one is clear – I need to be passionate about what I do. Whether it is fishing, running, or working – without being passionate about something, I get little joy from it. Being a Board member would have brought money, but without being passionate about their purpose, that was not enough for me. So I am not upset about not getting the Board position

The small provincial contract? Bart and I were both passionate about the project. But we had a previous experience with the clients and it wasn’t great one. Had we landed this contract, we would have done a great job and gotten well paid, but been unhappy. Money isn’t worth that amount of stress.

And finally, the huge contract that we wanted so much? Sometimes you just have to trust your instincts. The clients weren’t interested in preparing for a conference call, and my instincts told me that they had made their minds up about us before we had even started.

You know all those websites on the Internet that tell you how to empower yourself to be the best; to recognize and manifest the laws of attraction; to be the fountainhead of information? This isn’t any of that stuff! This is simply me, an independent consultant, telling you what works for me:

  • Find your passion, and do things that relate to your passion. You may not make as much money as others, but you will be richer by far.
  • Work with people you like, and you will help to guarantee that you will be happy!
  • Trust your instincts. Challenge them, yes, but be informed by them.

I had a really great meeting today, with two people who work for an organization that does great environmental work that I am passionate about. I liked meeting with them, talking to them, and my instincts tell me that there might be some future opportunities working with them. Wish me luck!

Some of my passions...my children, nieces and nephews!

Some of my passions…my children, niece and nephews!

One moment, one person = Gratitude

I was driving home from the hospital after visiting my mother in law the other night. I was weary, traffic was brutal, and all I could find were nasty cover versions of Christmas songs on the radio. As I pulled up to a set of lights, I saw a bus next to me in the right lane. I glanced over, and the young driver was wearing a Santa hat and a smile. He waved, and mouthed “Hello and Merry Christmas!”. Then he pretended to reach out and shake my hand.

I started to laugh out loud, and I did the same. We “shook” hands and grinned.

One moment in time was all it took to move me from close to tears to delight. One moment and one person. That’s it.

In our personal lives, and our business lives, it often only takes one moment or one person to make a substantive difference. When my workload seems overwhelming, I just have to hear Bart’s voice or Rochelle’s laugh, and I am back on track. When I am worried about my mother in law’s health (she pulled through the heart surgery brilliantly, by the way), the world is better when I hear my cell phone make the ringtone of my son, or get a voice mail that makes me laugh.

I am one of the lucky ones who can find immense joy in the most inconsequential things: a Santa hat and a smile. I have learned that it takes a bit of effort to become that way, and thinking and planning about it sometimes helps shape the spontaneity of future events. As I was reading the Globe and Mail business section on the weekend, I came across an article entitled “What will your personal theme be for 2015?” It recognizes that in the rush of the busy-ness of this season, it is easy to get swept away, and lose track of those little things. The author poses some questions that can help focus thinking and perhaps help each of us to recognize and celebrate all those inconsequential things that 2014 held, and that 2015 will bring. Here are a few of my answers. Please share yours with me…the more we share the positive things, the more positive there is to go around!

What went well?

  • Duh! I had a great bike tour with Rory, Sigrid and Bill. Just look at us here!

    Post ride selfies!

    Post ride selfies!

  • My NRCan change management training workshops were OUTSTANDING!
  • A new business relationship with my friend
    Janey and I at the Dancing Goat!

    Janey and me at the Dancing Goat!

    Barton

What changed for the better?

  • My relationship with my mother in law!
  • My Information Management (IM) understanding (I had NONE before I started working with NRCan)
  • My level of patience

What were the gifts of 2014? (this one is hard because every day is a gift…but if I had to choose…)

  • The positive participation of the Rep Prep participants in the change management workshops…each interaction with those folks was a gift of joy and learning.
  • My annual fly fishing adventure made even more wonderful by being with people I love.
  • Working with Bart and Gerarda in creating our new company, SHiFT.

What and whom are your most grateful for right now?

  • My new house – I LOVE IT!
  • My business partner(s) – Nicole, Barton, Guy, Gail, Tony…the list goes on!
  • My personal partner(s) – you know who you are.
  • My children – they continue to amaze me

What is your theme for the year ahead?

  • Gratitude – for so many little and so many big things.

It’s Christmas Eve Day, and a new year is just around the corner. I know that in Seeley’s Bay, Whitehorse, Bragg Creek, Palgrave, Pictou, and other places far and wide, there is someone thinking about me, and I am grateful for that. I know that a bus driver in Mississauga is most likely remembering a happy interaction he had with some crazy lady a few days ago, and I am grateful for that. If you are still at work, or if you are already happily eating shortbread cookies and defrosting a turkey, please be grateful.

Over the next few days, I will be on the look out for all those moments and all those people who make a difference in my life. I hope you do the same.IMG_3477
IMG_3588

Shaw’s Creek Smile

A road...not Shaw's Creek!

A road…not Shaw’s Creek, cause it has bagpipers on it But just pretend!

She was driving south on Shaw’s Creek Road in an old beat-up Toyota. Lucy and I were running north, and I could see her coming from for a long way. She was hunched over the steering wheel, clutching it and seemingly willing herself forward. Her face appeared pinched and sad, her hat pulled down low and her eyes almost hidden. Perhaps it was a bad day for her, for who knows what reason. But to a side-of-the-road-runner, she seemed to be preoccupied and I was cautious about not taking my eyes off of her.

Now, allow me to digress with a story about my teeth. Yes, you heard me. My teeth. When my mother was pregnant, she apparently took a lot of medication. That was in a time when the dangers of such things were not well understood or communicated. Suffice it to say that when my baby teeth started coming in, they entered in directions that teeth aren’t supposed to be in, and their colour was something very different than white. As a consequence, the dentist removed them. Then, as my permanent teeth erupted, they too formed angles that teeth aren’t supposed to form. My parents decided that money spent on my horrendous teeth would be money well spent. And spend a lot, they did. My teeth are the most expensive thing I own! To honour my parents expenditures, I’ve done my best to care for them. They are large, straight, very white and hard to miss when I smile. And if you know me, I smile a lot. My teeth get a lot of face time.

Good look at my teeth...see, they are large!

Good look at my teeth…see, they are large!

Back to the road….

She looked almost forlorn. And the day was brilliant, one of those fall days in Ontario where it’s just a wee bit cool, the sun is shining and the leaves are just turning crimson and gold. It smells fresh and clean, and wild. I was happy in my heart, and when I saw the driver, I did what comes naturally. I smiled.

Okay, I grinned. Beamed, more like it. My face exploded in a smile and the poor woman was given the full force of my parents’ investment in my teeth.

She couldn’t help herself. My teeth took over. She smiled. Then she grinned, and threw her head back and slowed down, then sped up. I swear she was laughing. And she just kept smiling.

The power of a smile is incredible. It can change a mood, change a heart, change the flow of traffic. It works while you are running, when you’re in a store, when you are simply doing what you do. It takes such a little effort, and the results are so intense.

Now, what does this have to do with anything? In my current work project with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, I’m spending a lot of time sitting at my computer and on the phone. I don’t smile a lot when I’m typing (who does), but I often do when I’m on the phone. I was talking to a gentleman north of Thunder Bay today, and we both started laughing about something I had done. He said to me “You sound like you have a big smile”. So I told him about my teeth. And we both smiled. Well, I did, and I am pretty sure he couldn’t laugh like he did without smiling. And our potentially touchy business conversation (about aboriginal treaty rights and the duty to consult with First Nation’s people) turned into one about how we often forget to smile when we’re working, and how good it feels to do it.

Today’s story, then, is about nothing that is truly of business value, like effective ways to use social media or strategic planning 101. It is about smiling.

But then again, how many more things bring success to your business or personal life than smiling? Try it. See how it works for you. I promise I’ll write about strategic planning later. But I’ll do it with a smile on my face!!!

A final driving smile. This is what my lady on Shaw's Creek looked like after I grinned at her.

A final driving smile. This is what my lady on Shaw’s Creek looked like after I grinned at her.

Estimates of Expectations

I am a scientist. Let me qualify that…the letters behind my name herald the fact that I studied science in university. Biology. As my pal Kathy MacDonald is quick to point out, biologists are different from other scientists…we estimate.

Kath, estimating how much single malt is in the glass...another skill set of biologists!

Kath, estimating how much single malt is in the glass…another skill set of biologists!

I’ve been a runner for almost 40 years, and though I don’t keep detailed records of my runs[1], I have a general idea of how many miles I’ve covered in my lifetime…TONS!!! I run next to cars, trucks, tractors, combines and all sorts of vehicles as they pass me coming and going. I have learned to run on the edge of the shoulder so that I’m not a) splashed b)veered at or c)pushed off the road. Last year, in a personal running “research project”, I estimated (because that’s what biologists do) that:

  • approximately 70% of drivers do not slow down near runners (Imagine!)
  • the remaining 30%, drivers slow down and often wave or smile (especially if I make eye contact and smile at them).

(Needless to say, I made it my goal to get as many people driving near me to smile…and consequently slow down. Happier people, and definitely happier and safer Susan.)SusanCheerMarathon-1

I’ve recently moved to bustling community of Belfountain, home of the Salamander Festival, Lobsterfest and a lot of traffic! Upon moving here, I based my expectations about safety and running on my previous scholarly estimations – so I had to be über careful because more traffic meant no one was going to slow down or move over in this fast-paced community.

WRONGO!!!!

The first time I noticed something different was shortly after I moved in. I was running on a busy road, and there were 2 cars coming towards me. Lucy, my constant running buddy, and I moved close to the ditch, just in case. But to my surprise, the first car pulled over into the next lane, away from me. The second car slowed and then did the same thing.

Well now.

How unusual.

The next day, I was out on another road. An old BMW comes rumbling up behind me, slows down and then waves as it passes me by.[2]

This morning, I was on Main Street during rush hour (or Belfountain’s version of rush hour…more like rush moment). Not one, not two, but four separate vehicles pulled into the other lane to give me lots of room. By the time the last car passed by, I was grinning like a fool. And the passenger in that last car grinned right back and waved.

As a runner, I am delighted that I’ve found a place where people are considerate. As a simple human, I am once more struck with the knowledge that what I expected was not what happened. My assumptions, no matter how strongly grounded in science they were (or weren’t!), were not at all accurate.

Traffic struggles in Belfountain!

Traffic struggles in Belfountain!

I’m sure there are countless reasons why these drivers seem nicer than others. Perhaps they are used to runners. Perhaps the town just has nicer, kinder drivers! Then again, when I head out again, someone might aim at me while I’m running and blow my theories all to smithereens.

Despite assumptions and expectations, I have found, yet again, to expect the unexpected. In this world where we are deluged by stories about the horrors of Ebola, the tragedies in the Gaza, about the alarming unrest in the Ukraine…there are simple joys that manifest themselves all around us, if we are willing to take look for them; indeed, expect them. A driver pulling over for a runner isn’t really momentous occasion. But the frequency of its occurrence has made me happy. Which makes me smile. And if I smile when I run, people smile back and are happy. Which, in the bigger scheme of the world, Ebola and everything else not withstanding, is something we should all strive for and expect.

_______________________________________________________________________

[1] Unlike my friend Eleanor’s brother George Aitkin, who was recently featured in the July/August Canadian Running Magazine with all his journals of accurately measured distances!

[2] No, it wasn’t a LOLWBH (little old lady with blue hair); it was a young guy wearing a Jays cap and “wife beater” t shirt!

Arianna and Norm

It was just a small photograph online; a group of young women in bridesmaid’s dresses. They were all lovely – their hair and makeup done elegantly, smiles all over their faces, and energy radiating from the screen. But one of the girls was clearly more radiant and attractive than the others. She was my friend’s daughter, Arianna[1]. As I looked at the picture, I was confident that everyone else who saw this picture would feel the same way.

It was a cowboy boot kind of wedding!

It was a cowboy boot kind of wedding!

Then I went for a run. Running always clears my head. I sometimes use my run time to focus on something that is challenging me. Or I might use that time to be creative and dream about “what ifs”. But often, I run and let my mind take me where it wants to go. And what entered my mind was this: “Of course Arianna is more beautiful than the other  girls! You know her. That’s who your eye is attracted to when you look at the photo.”

As I kept running, I considered the phenomenon of “knowing” someone. I have shared memories and experiences with this young woman. I remember sitting in the living room, having tea and laughing out loud about something ridiculous. There is context for her in my life. The other women were just faces and smiles, with nothing else attached to them. They were less important to me than the wonderful person with whom I had shared something.

So why is this remotely important? It reminds me to consider each person I encounter in my crazy, busy life as an individual, and to try to find or create a context for them.

I conducted a small and entirely unscientific experiment on myself the other night. I went with my friend Eleanor to hear the band “The Outside Track” http://www.theoutsidetrack.com/ at Hugh’s Room. (If you’ve never heard them, you must!).

The Outside Track drivin' 'er!

The Outside Track drivin’ ‘er!

Our waiter was busy and a bit harried, and when I asked him his name, he was taken by surprise. But he said his name was “Norm”, and off he went. Each time he came to the table, I thanked him and said his name, to cement his value and personality into my mind, to create a context. Later in the evening, I turned and surveyed all the tables. The room was a-bustle of activity, with many wait staff hurrying to get tables cleared before the band started. As I scanned the room, amidst all the activity, Norm stood out in my view, and I noticed him wherever he went. I knew there were other waiters, but my eyes were drawn to Norm.

Unscientific and elementary, but still interesting to me: the one individual with whom I had a connection and a context was the one I continually noticed. Norm and I didn’t go way back in our relationship…it was built on a polite repartee´ between a client and a waiter. But we had something, and like Arianna, that connection brought him to my attention more than any others wandering around that evening.

So what? In my personal life, I am always making connections. But this served as a reminder to me of its value in my professional life. Reflect on the last meeting you were at, where introductions were made. Most people will announce their name and job title. This provides the listener with absolutely no connection to the speaker. You don’t learn what floor of the building someone works on, let alone whether or not they play the fiddle, fly fish or have burning love of peanut butter toast. Context is not made.

When I facilitate a meeting, I spend an inordinate amount of time getting people to introduce themselves. I’ve been chastised for this in the past, because it does take precious time. But I tend to ignore that admonishment, because in the long run, it saves time. When people are connected to one another, with a shared context, story or experience, they communicate in a more personal and compelling way. And that’s when the real work gets done.

Jaime, being more "individual" than most!

Jaime, being more “individual” than most!

So I ask you to think about Arianna. And about Norm. In work, and in your personal life, take the time to make connections. Friedrich Nietzsche told us that invisible threads are the strongest ties. Don’t forget to lay out those invisible threads. You will be grateful that you did.

[1] That’s not her name, of course!

More than the obvious

I recently ran a Change Management Workshop. There were 15 participants, remarkably eager and interested in learning about how to help people adapt to a changing environment – in this case, a new information and records management software program. At the end of the workshop, one of the participants said: “Taking a change management workshop with Susan is like taking a ‘workation’… if every day was that enjoyable, I could do another 25 years in the public service!”

A biologist,  between two fisheries officers spells trouble!

A biologist, between two fisheries officers spells trouble!

What a wonderful compliment! But I’m a biologist, for heaven’s sakes, with a Master’s degree in educational policy analysis focusing on environmental science. What am I doing facilitating change management workshops? How did I ever get here?

Image

I have musical skills as well…though I don’t think anyone would pay me to use them!

Well, I finally realized that we are more than the sum of the letters behind our name, or more than our obvious work experience or expertise. Often people my generation believe we start out as a (fill in your own blank here) “biologist”, so we can only work and advance in the field of “biology”. But we limit ourselves when we only recognize our JOB and not our SKILLS. The job is the obvious. Our skills, and what make us good at our jobs, may be something more vital and unique. And may lead us to a future we hadn’t planned on.

My ah ha moment? My buddy Lorne asked me to help facilitate a workshop for the International Joint Commission (IJC) on environmental database integration. No biggie, because it was all related to environmental agencies, and I was confident that I was going to be working with the Canadian organizations.

I was wrong. The morning of the session, I discovered that I was not only going to be facilitating the American agencies’ discussions (and I was not remotely prepared to do that), but also that I would have half of the participants in the room with me, and the other half on the phone, calling in from all over the US. I was unfamiliar with their data, with their information, with their accents, with pretty much everything I needed to know! But I was very familiar with facilitation techniques, virtual meetings and working with disparate groups of people (translation: people who want to thump one another right there in the meeting room), and I knew I could get this group to come to a strategic consensus on next steps for database sharing.

My brain had had to work at warp speed to keep up with terminology of which I was not familiar; I had to keep the representatives from Michigan at arm’s length from the Ohioans; I had to try to remember to integrate the phone participants with those in the room; I had to juggle, dance, moderate, intercede, laugh and learn.

Gail and I facilitating with two of our favourite support staff!

Gail and I facilitating with two of our favourite support staff!

But you know what? I’m good at that. Really good. And I love doing it. Just love it.

I realized I have limited myself in thinking that, because I have a particular title or set of qualifications, I should be or do a particular thing. If I consider what my skills sets are, and what I really love doing, that opens up a whole new set of unexplored and previously unconsidered opportunities. Yes, my job is that of an environmental consultant. But my skill sets make me a proficient facilitator, and that allows me to pursue facilitation opportunities both in and outside the environmental field.

My message is one we’ve all heard before, but we can stand to be mindful of and listen to yet again: Don’t limit yourself. Don’t believe you are only a biologist/teacher/supervisor/whatever! Take some time and consider what you love about your work, what skill sets you love to use, and what you do really, really well. What is holding you back from finding opportunities where you can do what you really enjoy, do it really, really well, and continue to grow?

Stay tuned. Gesner & Associates Environmental Learning is taking a shift in perspective; I am listening to myself. With two associates, I’m going to explore what we love and do well, and find/create/take advantage of those opportunities. We are going to find more than the obvious about ourselves. Why don’t you do the same???