Saturday, June 18, 2011

The New Era of Business Meetings

I have been in Amsterdam this week for international management meetings and it has been a wonderful experience.  I have met so many colleagues from the UK, France, the Netherlands, Chile, Brazil, Poland, Belgium...and on and on....  I must say that 99% of them are simply wonderful, inspiring, warm, intelligent, thought-provoking, and interesting people.  Of course it cannot be perfect.  There are always those that are not in perfect alignment with you...but that is to be expected.

This year's meeting (my first) was, according to all participants, significantly different from others.  It was modeled on the famous TED conference which presents a series of keynote level speakers in 18 minute profile formats to inspire thought and ideas in the meeting participants. was not 100% successful, but it was well into the 90% range. 

What did I learn today?
  1. Our industry is becoming commodotized and we must find ways to battle that condition.
  2. Our core business - water consulting - continues to inspire me with the incredible things we accomplish for our clients and our communities.
  3. Our logo is not just our is a constant reminder that we must thoughtfully evolve or else we may regret the demise of what is instead of celebrating what we can be.
  4. "Digging deeper" is something we should always do when asked by a client or colleague to support them...have we gone the extra steps to ensure success for all?
  5. We must imagine the unimaginable - like arctic deserts from renowned artist Ap Verheggen.
  6. You must balance sacrifice with reward and make decisions for our business and ourselves with that in mind.
  7. We don't need to create a global business in a vacuum...our clients will take us there and will shape it if we allow them to.  We just have to be ready to move!
  8. How to balance (and how fragile balance can be) and how to apply concentration to a goal from renowned artist Madir Eugster.
  9. We must "pay the meter" as we grow our global business by giving back to society in sustainable ways.
  10. Open my eyes to how fast the world of technology is moving by Alexander Klopping - a 24 year old internet prodigy with unbelievable ideas and a grasp of the future possibilities of our world. You can find him on YouTube...but only in Dutch.  I assure you, in person, he translates well into English!
  11. The world can become smaller and the opportunities bigger if we use our own company programs to foster exchanges of staff between our offices and teams.
  12. When something is developed for one purpose, you must review it with an open may actually have an entirely different and better purpose - from musician Fay Lovsky who played the theremin.... really, go look that one up on Google.
  13. Organizations can take shape from our own viewpoint...and we need not heavily engineer it...if we will only let it evolve naturally.
  14. Entering new markets can be fraught with peril....or rich with reward...enter smartly.
  15. Teams are the key to quality, innovation, and efficiency - use them.
Can you ask much more of a the first day of a one day meeting?  You can...stay tuned for more.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Artistic Balance

This is the name of my husband's business and blog...but it is also a description of one of the highlights of my business meetings in Amsterdam. 

One of our corporate values is balance.  Balance of human and ecology, balance of work and life, balance of land and water, balance of business and sustainable green behaviors.... So to emphasize this value, our company brought in renowned artist Madir Eugster to demonstrate balance in a unique way.

While the video below shows him in a theater with plenty of space, just imagine him perfoming this exact same routine for us in a cramped ballroom in the Amsterdam Marriott.  Note: the video is 8 minutes long, but beautiful and well worth the time. 

Enjoy.  And I hope it makes you think about balance in your own life.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Exhilarating Exhaustion

When is the last time you can say you attended a 2 day meeting and came away with no voice and sore cheeks from laughing so hard, a feeling of euphoria and relief, and a real desire to get out there and KICK SOME SERIOUS ASS???  For me, it was approximately 1 hour and 35 minutes ago.

Wow....what a team.  We've actually managed to keep the cream of the crop (except Amybow....who I'd take back in a heartbeat, but she's a stubborn wench). In fact, we're now actively hiring up to three if you are a marketing/communications/PR professional in commuting distance to Highlands Ranch CO or White Plains NY and want to come and KICK SOME SERIOUS ASS with us.... I can come to you in the interview with a straight face and say, we have the soon to be realized potential to be one hell of an awesome team.  Yeah we do.

We packed about a week's worth of stuff into 2 days of team building meetings.  And let me just say...the facilitator and the "graphics reporter" totally earned their fees.  They were a stabilizing and creative force within the room, but even more so, they were a collaborative partner before and after the event.  They built an agenda with us, not for us - really listening to our concerns, our needs, our desire for both the warm and fuzzy stuff as well as some concrete business outcomes, and they provided the ever so elusive element of perspective.

And they also brought this cool thing into our world......

...graphic recording.  Read more about that here.  Really go their video...go ahead...I'll wait.


For a creative team like ours, it was a fabulous way to watch the words coming from our mouths be instanty recorded as visual cues.  We have several large boards of this as outputs from the meeting...(which they will also provide digitally) which will help us remember our takeaways and commitments.  Love it...really innovative and old school at the same time.

BONUS! I feel like I not only got a great resource out of this, but a budding friendship. Our facilitator was so great that I've invited her to join me in a new women's network I've been asked to attend in Manhattan. It will be fertile ground for her consulting business, and I'll be able to walk into the room with a colleague I respect and enjoy but who is not another employee of my company.

My exhilaration is dropping fast, and the exhaustion is setting I'm quitting for tonight....will likely put in a few hours this weekend before flying here...

A  M  S  T  E  R  D  A  M

... on Sunday for my next work adventure.

Stay tuned for fun stories and pictures from that trip!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Time to Build the Team

It's finally time.  After nearly two years of working in parallel, but not in tandem, our team of 19 professionals is coming together for a 2-day teambuilding meeting.  It starts at 8:30AM Thursday and it is looking promising.  I met with our meeting facilitator tonight to prep.

As an aside...this is  pretty good gig if you can keep your overhead low...meeting facilitation I mean.  We are paying a nice sum of money AND they are charging us direct expenses right down to an itemized shopping list from Staples for flip charts, markers, masking tape, and colored stickers. 

I was encouraged to learn every member of our team submitted the on-line survey and completed their advance team assignments of creating a custom presentation on services and challenges.  Everyone seems engaged and ready to go...and I think we've got a strong and positive team.  One of my fellow managers said, "I looked at the presentations and I felt like a proud mama they were so good!"  A good way to begin, I'd say.

We are down five people from where we started, and while we sure could use the manpower, we don't miss the negativity, performance issues, or just simple mis-fit of skills to organizational needs that each represented.

So here we go....the roller coaster ride begins.

Monday, June 6, 2011

One is Silver, the other Gold

I've had the line of  a song haunting my thoughts's from a song I learned as a Campfire Girl.  Here are a couple of the verses....

Make new friends,
but keep the old.
One is silver,
the other is gold.

....You help me,
and I'll help you
and together
we will see it through.

Why is it haunting me right now?  It's the MERGER. 

Did you ever have a moment when you were growing up and you joined a new club that your old friends weren't in...or maybe a fraternity or sorority?  Or you changed schools or graduated and promised that you wouldn't change and you would stay in touch with those friends who had been with you for the past years?  How often did that work out as planned?

I've been working at the same company for 21 years...since I was 23 years old....and I'm not alone.  Many of us have been a part of this community for 20, 30, or even 40+ years.  There was something special about this company, something that even with 1500 employees, still felt like a small family business.  And it was successful, whether you measure that by bottom line, client satisfaction, or employee had all three.  But market pressures were being felt and we saw the writing on the wall.  We had tried to grow organically.  And we had tried to grow through small acquisitions, but in the end, it looked as though we would need to do something radical - getting bigger or smaller - to find our niche.  I still remember the day I knew things were going to change.  That was the day one board member said to me, "Look, we can stay exactly as we are now.  That would be perfectly all right.  Just tell the last person out the door to turn out the lights."  

So along came our MERGER.  And then two years (coming this July) of pure HELL of integration.  Most of us survived, but our culture has not....our culture has taken a beating.  After all this time, and after all the griping and moaning we have all done about THEM vs. US, in the end, it's all about accepting that there is a new company and WE are now THEM and THEM is now US.

So now it's all about who will accept and thrive in the new MERGER company and who will fight against it or fade away.  And for those who accept and thrive....will their friendships of old stand the test of time and the trials of change?  Will they be seen as traitors to our old world?  Or will they be the heros of the new one? 

About halfway through our integration timeframe, I began to realize the truth was, no matter what, the old place was gone.  Whether I stayed or moved on, I would be working in a new place, with new rules, new roles, and new people.  I guess, despite times when getting out seemed the prudent thing to do, I was reluctant to jump from the frying pan into the fire, and I stuck it out to see what this new MERGER place was really all about. 

By luck or hard work, I am one of the survivors. I have been named as a member of the management team and have found myself engaged in meetings with our U.S. CEO and COO and shaping our group strategy. I'm working with my colleagues this coming week on our teambuilding session, bringing our group made up of almost a perfect 50-50 split makeup of old and new staff coming together as one team. I've been invited to meetings in Amsterdam this month as part of a select group of managers from our international operating companies.  It's heady stuff....and I'm trying to keep my feet on the ground and a healthy dose of skepticism with neither negativity nor ego clouding it. 

At the same time as I am engaging with these new teams, I realize I'm losing touch with some of my old colleagues - they are moved into other divisions, or perhaps been sidelined with other managers taking the leadership roles. They are no longer on my meeting schedule, on my call sheet, at my lunch table.  I've found myself defending the new normal.  I've been extracting myself from the coffee room bitch sessions.  I don't want to be disloyal to my friends, but I also recognize at a certain point you've got to recognize the new Sherriff in town...or get out of Dodge already.

So, as the song reminds me...I'm at that point.  Making new friends and struggling to keep the old.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Little Southern Family Angst

What do you like to read for escape?  Murder and mayhem?  International intrigue?  Romance and travel?  All good choices.  My long-time favorite is family drama - and especially southern family drama of the Pat Conroy model.  I'm sure some literary purist will tell me William Faulkner did it first and best, but y'all, there ain't nothing like that lo'country boy Pat Conroy.

Prince of Tides, Beach Music, The Water is Wide, the Great Santini, and the Lords of Discipline...journeys through the psyche of twisted priorities, racial divides, and love/hate relationships all within the backdrop of the beautiful south carolina shores.  Conroy's special talent is to create maternal characters so flawed and over the top cruel, and yet so broken, sad, and so loved by the children they target with their poison darts.  The novels are about survival, both physical and psychological, in the aftermath of  devastating emotional warfare.  But what I love beyond even the gripping character development, is the beauty of the language he uses - as rich and varied as the flora and fauna of the Carolina coast. 

Quite simply, I find his books to be chapter after chapter of pure poetry.

So right now, I'm reading South of Broad, Conroy's latest novel.  And I'm glorying in passages relaying the beauty and particular pace of Charleston, South Carolina...

"I carry the delicate porcelain beauty of Charleston like the hinged shell of some soft-tissued mollusk.  My soul is peninsula-shaped and sun-hardened and river-swollen.  The high tides of the city flood my consciousness each day, subject to the whims and harmonies of full moons rising out of the Atlantic...."

...or the author's favorite twisted fatalistic tone....

"But fate comes at you cat-footed, unavoidable, and bloodthirsty.  The moment you are born your death is foretold by your newly minted cells as your mother holds you up, then hands you to your father, who gently tickles the stomach where the cancer will one day form, studies the eyes where melanoma's dark signature is already written along the optic nerve, touches the back where the liver will one day house the cirrhosis, feels the bloodstream that will sweeten itself into diabetes, admires the shape of the head where the brain will fall to the ax-handle of stroke, or listens to your heart, which, exhausted by the fearful ways and humiliations and indecencies of life, will explode in your chest like a light going out in the world.  Death lives in each one of us and begins its countdown on our birthdays and makes its rough entrance at the last hour and the perfect time."

...or his particular love of strong, beautiful, and broken females...

"It opened and I got my first rapturous glance at Sheba Poe, who became the most beautiful woman in Charleston the moment she crossed the county line.  Everyone I met, male or female, remembers the exact place where they first caught sight of this spellbinding, improbable blond beauty.   It was not that we lacked experience in the presence of beautiful women; Charleston was famous for the comeliness of its well-bred and papered women.  But as Sheba stood tall in her doorway, her presence suggested a carnality that took me to the borderline of cardinal sin just because of what I thought as I gaped at her.  To me, it felt like no appreciation of mere loveliness, but some corruption of covetousness or gluttony. Her green eyes drank me in, and I noted flecks of gold."

My oh my....I feel the need for a southern belle's embroidered fan to cool myself just reading these pages full of passionate prose.  If only I could write like that.....until then, I'll just read, and re-read, underlining favorite passages, and gasping with admiration at the play of vocabulary that not only tells a tale, but paints a picture rich and radiant and three-dimensional.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Green Grass Observations

New York has burst right through a rainy Spring and taken on Summertime with a vengeance in the past week.  The last few days I've been really re-connecting with my little Nissan I despaired of over the long, cold, and very snowy winter, and am loving my sunroof, my cranking sound system, and my comfy leather seats.  But what I truly love about the last few days is the constant smell of freshly mowed grass. 

Since I am of the lucky group NOT to have allergies at this time of year, I feel I can take a deep sniff and just savor all the many memories that come to mind with that fresh and unique scent.

I flash back to all the times I mowed the grass as a teenager in my bathing suit and cut-offs, practically running up and down the yard, until the last row was done and I could peel off layers and dive with joy and abandon into that sweet pool of blue water.  I can feel the change from sweat dripping between my shoulder blades, to the crisp cool rush of clean water.  I can smell the grass in the background, combining with the tang of my sweat, and the chemical smell of chlorine. 

I can see my day stretched out before me, my major work done in less than an hour, and my only obligation to continue my swim and eventually clean and store the mower away.  I can hear the neighborhood kids playing outside and eventually showing up in our yard for their own swim and some games of badminton or Frisbee.  

I hear the familiar chime of the ice cream truck and the dig for change to get a nutty buddy cone or a bomb pop.  And I think about the hours and hours spent in our garage-(aka summer screen room) with a group of friends playing a summer-length game of monopoly with popcorn, soda, and tunes filling the room.

The olfactory senses are definitely more powerful to me than any others.  Sound, sights, or even touch, pale in comparison to what a strong and wonderful scent can unlock in my memories.  Tonight I can't wait to drive home again, turning off the canned air conditioning, opening the sunroof and windows and take deep deep inhaling breaths of the sweet mowed grass.