Asking the Right Questions

In some ways, a recent board meeting at eXp World Holdings, Inc. was like many other board meetings I have “attended” with different companies over the years … first small talk among those early arrivers, including informal conversations between board members and management before the formal agenda follows with discussions of operations and strategy. But this meeting was being held in the cloud.

I sat at my laptop and lent my voice to the avatar I’d created to approximate my appearance … or a close facsimile thereof. My avatar sat in the executive boardroom on our virtual campus environment along with fellow board members ranging from Calgary to Boston to Austin. We actively worked with the avatars of our CEO in Seattle, our CFO in Reno, Nevada, our COO in Scottsdale, Arizona, and our CTO in Albany, New York. Our objective was sustainable growth for our publicly traded company.

Founded in 2009 by visionary CEO, Chairman and Founder Glenn Sanford, eXp Realty is a real estate company like no other. With virtually no brick and mortar, the company has attracted an amazing number of professionals who help people looking for the brick and mortar of their dreams. The growth of this industry upstart has been mind-blowing. Since its first year in operations as a public company in 2013 with $10.7M in revenue, eXp Realty actually has seen its growth rate accelerate—to $13.4M in 2014 (up 25% year-over-year), to $22.9M in 2015 (up 71% year-over-year), to $54.2M in 2016 (up 137% year-over-year), and to $156.1M in 2017 (up 188% year-over-year). Results to date in 2018 continue to be strong.

And, yes, this is a company that operates in the cloud with state-of-the-art avatar technology where individuals meet in virtual offices and hundreds gather together in the company’s auditorium to conduct company business.

I’ve always been drawn to companies pushing the envelope on how people can be more productive. In the 1990s, I was recruited by AT&T and served as President, Global Services. Harvard Business Review wrote about our innovative use of the virtual office design. In the 2000s, Ari Horowitz recruited me to serve as president at startup OPUS360, a company that enabled the project-based labor market with FreeAgent.

But neither of these companies can hold a candle to the new vision of work at eXp Realty.

“eXp Realty is transforming the real estate experience. Our virtual office environment compared to the traditional real estate office allows agents to collaborate and learn together—no matter where they might be located,” said Glenn Sanford, CEO, chairman and founder of eXp World Holdings. “Our agents can interact, share best practices and learn from industry experts and other top professionals at any time or any place—in real time.”

Specifically, at eXp Realty, I have seen the following commitments to excellence that raise the bar as we push ourselves by asking important questions:

  • Diversify: We need people with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives working together to deliver the most value. Can we be more diverse?
  • Balance: Gender balance increases the chances that we will produce optimal decisions. How can we improve the balance in our organization?
  • Recruit: How do we improve our process AND know when to hire and when to use project-based labor?
  • Decentralize: Empowering teams that are closer to the issues to actually make decisions will increase our success. How can we be clearer about who can make what decisions in our organization?
  • Engage: How do we build a better plan for our employees to buy into holacratic practices and accountabilities?
  • Organize: Establishing clear objectives with adequate time for thoughtful input from all participants will produce the best results. Do all participants have time to give input?
  • Educate: Making sure new employees and extended team members (customers, vendors, strategic partners) understand our expectations makes us more effective. Do we make it as easy as possible for newcomers to fit in?
  • Communicate: Acknowledging that a transfer of knowledge requires active participation from both the speaker and the listeners. Does everyone both listen and speak in our organization?
  • Accommodate: Group chats alone may inhibit great input from introverts. Do we get one-on-one input from introverted team members?
  • Integrate: Assimilating different perspectives to find common ground can move a group forward in their work together. Are we skilled at integrating?
  • Mediate: Recognizing when tensions arise and deal with them directly. Do tensions ever get ignored among our team members?
  • Document: Capturing and distributing action items and agreements from meetings to ensure accuracy. How well do we capture and document our plans and intentions?
  • Recognize: Bring attention to, and show appreciation for, individuals who go above and beyond in their support for and contribution to the team is critical. Who do we recognize, why do we recognize them, and how?
  • Evaluate: Regularly assessing what we each do and how we do it is critical. How will we evaluate our employees?

I am proud to be part of this organization in my role as an independent board member working with Glenn and the rest of the team. I am excited about the future and believe we will continue to push the envelope in support of our people and sustainable growth by asking the right questions.

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These 5 Elements Measure Your Real Power as a Business Leader

Rick Miller featured on The CEO Magazine website:

How does a small business owner increase his or her power? If you believe as some do that power is all about title, position, authority, control, and supremacy, you’ll be hard-pressed for an answer.

Leaders in small businesses can give themselves any title or position they want. They have complete authority to do whatever they want, whenever they want, and they have ultimate control. They are the supreme ruler and answer to no one.

Ask any successful small business leader how much time they spend thinking about this type of power, and they will laugh. It’s a non-issue.

But ask these successful business people about the importance of energy, clarity, confidence, impact, and influence in growing a small business, and you’ll get a very different response. These leaders know their success is almost totally dependent on this definition of power.

In my work with many great small business leaders, we focus on how they can be powerful by increasing their:

  • Clarity with simple choices around discipline.
  • Influence with simple choices around supporting.
  • Impact with simple choices around creativity.
  • Energy with simple choices around self-understanding and insight.
  • Confidence with simple choices around values.

Discipline is an orderly pattern of behavior that increases both clarity as well as the likelihood of a desired outcome. Small business owners must certainly master discipline for their business to be successful, but the clarity it brings is where the real value is found.

Support is the act or process of promoting the interests or causes of another that increase influence. A small business owner who supports his staff, customers, vendors, and community will have influence that persists. He takes the request, “How can I help you?” seriously.

Insight is the power or act of seeing intuitively that comes with self-understanding, and it increases energy in a positive way. This form of energy is deliberate, concentrated, and effective.

Values are the foundation of relationships and of confidence. With a set of values unique to your business you’ll develop the trust needed to create confidence in every work-related relationship (and personal, for that matter) you encounter.

Creativity is the ability to bring into existence. Alignment of creative choices amplifies power and increases impact. In what ways are you bringing your vision to life?

Successful small business owners are optimizers. They don’t have time to waste.

Think about how you define the term power. Look at the choices you make that build real power, and those that don’t. In what areas can you be more disciplined? How can you support others on a regular basis? Are you tapping your own self-understanding to get the insight needed to navigate the fluctuations of your day-to-day decisions? What about the insights of your team? Does your business follow a set of values, no matter what? And last, how are you creating the future of your business every day?

If you need help, take my free Power Compass Survey. There you’ll be able to actually measure your real power and make choices about how powerful you want to be. You’ll start to answer the questions above when you understand what power really means, and how it can transform you and your business.

Small business leaders don’t have the benefit of cadres of help—yet. They need to be as powerful as possible.

Sound like you? I challenge you to be more powerful, in the best way possible.

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The CEOs Challenge with Change

Rick Miller featured on The CEO Magazine website:

Those who occupy the corner office know that expectations and opinions about WHAT should be done and HOW it should be done come from all directions. And while there is a wide variance in the “what’s” of CEO decision making, the “how’s” are delivered with surprising uniformity by CEOs across almost every industry. In particular, everyone expects those at the top to be confident, clear, concise, compelling, and consistent (the 5 C’s).

The challenge is to deliver on those expectations as well as creating a culture that excels while embracing the ever-present sixth C—which can disrupt all other C’s if you let it—change.

In my work supporting Chiefs, here are some best practices that will bring about the change you seek to make.

Be confident about people.

Over time as products/services and markets shift, it will be your employees who’ll navigate your ship. Jim Collins was right with his first rule of success in Good to Great: It’s Who First. Expressing confidence in people will fuel their motivation and productivity more than you know. The best CEOs I’ve worked with understand that optimizing the return on their human capital is every bit as important as their focus on financial capital.

Be clear about intentions.

Clarity is an undervalued attribute. CEOs are well served when they explain the motivation and rationale behind their decisions. When Satya Nadella took over as CEO at Microsoft, one of his goals was to simplify what leadership meant at his company. After months of study, Microsoft announced that leadership consists of three attributes: clarity, excellence, and results.

Be concise about priorities.

Companies struggle with retention. When I served as AT&T’s President of Global Services, we introduced a simple symbol to remind our workforce what was important. We printed “R3” on pens and hats and used it to set agendas for our meetings. Our simple priority was to drive results for three important groups of people (customers, employees, shareowners) with a focus on three attributes (teamwork, innovation, and speed). This simple reminder helped reinforce our mission. 

Be compelling about the mission.

Simon Sinek’s breakthrough TED talk in 2009 on the importance of “why” has been seen by over 37 million people. Not every CEO can deliver on stage like Simon, but we can all learn from him. CEOs are well served when they speak from their heart about their company’s “why.” It can serve as the North Star when things get crazy.

Be consistent about values.

CEOs are faced with the reality that over time everything will change, including people. Even above mission, a company’s values can serve as the foundation for constant evolution. An organization’s “how” is based in their values. Those values can’t be over-emphasized in an environment when everything else seems to shift. Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” My view is that consistency with values is the hallmark of those with clear vision.

Using the 5 C’s above, any CEO can navigate change in any organization. Are you up for the challenge?

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What Is Power, Really?

Rick Miller published on Forbes.com:

Many assume power comes from “outside-in.” They believe power is granted to a person by someone else. They see power as a position or title, which comes with authority and control, and a belief in the form of supremacy over others.

Others believe that real power comes from “inside-out.” They maintain that power is an opportunity for each individual to cultivate by themselves. Real power is increased within a person simply by the choices they make, the actions they take, and the thoughts they create.

I am an inside-out guy. I don’t believe it matters what the organizational chart says. Power is available to everyone, no matter their position or title. But what is power, really?

Real power is influence, and it increases as we offer more support to others. Being powerful is more about giving support than getting support. Contrary to what you may have thought about power, service is the highest form of leadership. Serving others is a key to sustainable growth. And it creates the kind of influence that truly powerful people wield—the kind that resonates and uplifts.

Real power is clarity, and it gets stronger with discipline. Having power is more about creating an environment that encourages every individual to engage in their own form of self-discipline. That’s not to say discipline never comes from above, but by empowering each member of an organization to be accountable, discipline from above will not be required as frequently. Discipline brings clarity to any situation, increasing an individual’s power.

Real power is energy, and it intensifies from inside as our insight and self-understanding grow. Insight is an integral element of being powerful. A person with real power does not influence the world around him or her without consideration of the bigger picture that begins inside. From my experience with this vantage point, true growth—both personal and professional—is far more likely. Insightful individuals are able to tap into an internal energy that is felt by others as power.

Real power is impact, and it grows as we focus on our creativity. Creating the future is not about waving a magic wand. It is a concrete practice that serves the purpose of being powerful with a purpose. Creative solutions make an impact—on people, organizations, and societies. Real power sometimes comes from the unlikeliest of places.

Real power is confidence, and it rises as we better understand and live our values. What do you stand for? When you speak about your values and act accordingly, you increase your power because you are confident in your assertions. The power is palpable—and effective.

Real power is what happens when people connect what they do to who they are. [click to tweet]

Power Is Contagious

Once anyone in a group chooses to become more powerful, everyone around that person becomes more powerful. Research supports this view. Scientists have found that positive emotions spread from person to person in a work environment. An individual’s or group’s emotion plays a strong role in the behavior of an organization.

Studies show that positive mood or emotion enhances creative problem solving, cooperation, decision quality, overall performance, the search for creative solutions, and confidence in being able to achieve positive outcomes. One study by Wharton’s Sigal Barsade, PhD, found that a spread of positive emotion is associated with improved cooperation, decreased conflict, and increased task performance in the workplace. They call it “the ripple effect.”

I’ve experienced this cascading effect again and again throughout my career. I call it viral engagement.

How To Increase Organizational Power

When an organization builds effective, integrated strategies in six areas—customer, competition, financial capital, cost, community, and climate—they establish the conditions for creating real power. When the organization deploys plans in the following areas, a truly powerful organization is created:

Measure and improve employee engagement; ensure diversity and gender-balanced leadership; consistently assess, improve, and expand employee “hard and soft” skillsets; add new skillsets when necessary; align team members around a values-based vision for the future; and build a change-adaptive culture to meet accelerating changes in market needs tied to management’s strategic decisions.

What could happen if your organization recognized where true power comes from?

 

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The Power in Vulnerability

Rick Miller published on Great Leadership site:

“Never let them see you sweat.” Like many baby-boomers, I heard this and many other similar phrases growing up. The message was clear. Don’t show weakness because it will be exploited.

Fast forward to today and you see the opposite is true.

This shift may have started in 2010 when Brené Brown, a sociological research professor, published The Gifts of Imperfection, and perhaps took off with her next book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead in 2012. Both were widely acclaimed and New York Times bestsellers.

I learned about the power of vulnerability years earlier.

When I took over as president of a $12 billion unit at AT&T—overseeing 10,000 employees and a huge budget—I thought I had all the power I needed to succeed. I was wrong.

One of my first challenges was to engage with employees to learn about the business and what they thought was holding us back. I quickly found those same employees viewed people like me (AT&T corporate officers) as part of the problem, if not the problem. I did find a number of workers who stepped up to lead, however. I call these people Chiefs. But most needed a little coaxing to embrace change and become fully engaged in charting a different future for our unit.

To break down those barriers, I held a number of town hall meetings as forums for frank and open discussion. It was at one such meeting in New York City where I learned about the power of vulnerability.

During a Q&A session an employee asked if, as a corporate officer, I truly understood the impact of losing health care benefits while a family member was battling cancer. The person was evaluating an early retirement program and was concerned about health care coverage options. From the question, I inferred that most of those in my audience assumed officers—like me—were somehow insulated from the impacts of voluntary retirement programs. The question provided an opportunity to share a personal vulnerability to illustrate that all AT&T employees—including leaders like me—shared many of their concerns and anxieties.

Although I never hid the fact that I was a type one diabetic, I had never publicly shared that I was also a cancer survivor. Years ago, while working at Sperry Corp, my doctor discovered a malignant tumor and recommended immediate surgery. At Sperry and later career stops, I had kept my cancer battle under wraps because I feared it would hold back my career advancement. Other than my boss and assistant, no one in my professional circles knew… impact until that fateful AT&T town hall meeting.

After I addressed the specific question (transition healthcare insurance would continue to cover his family), I took a risk. You could have heard a pin drop when I revealed, “I am a cancer survivor and know how important health insurance is.”

I deliberately put myself in a vulnerable position as a way to connect with my team. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, by exposing my vulnerability, I was actually being more courageous than muscling through my professional life without opening up about my bout with cancer.

The benefit of openly acknowledging the link between our personal and professional lives is huge. After my “aha moment,” more and more employees began to engage me in conversation. It was clear that the initial animosity I faced as an AT&T officer had eroded. As a result, more of my team members stepped up as leaders in the transformation.

From this experience, I was again reminded that title, position, and authority don’t automatically translate into power and influence. Rather, my vulnerability had made me more powerful and able to effect change. In turn, it boosted the impact and power of my team.

What choices can you make to become more powerful? What could you do to increase your impact and influence?

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5 Ways A Leader Can Learn More About Themselves

Rick Miller published on Skip Prichard’s Leadership Insights:

Being Chief requires us to develop insight. It is as much about being as it is about being Chief. Insight is a key to increasing your confidence, effectiveness, and, since your power increases as you connect what you do to who you are, deepening your self-understanding through insight will deepen your power. Insight can come from the simplest experiences and from the places you least expect it. Always be on the lookout for gems of insight that can guide your path in life.

There are five ways a leader can learn more about themselves. Specifically, Chiefs choose to be:

  • Present

  • Still

  • Accepting

  • Generous

  • Grateful

Be Present: When you become totally aware and conscious, you can use all of your senses to learn everything possible in the current moment. Specifically, when you give 100 percent of your attention to the people you spend time with, you will find that your relationships become much more fulfilling.

Be Still: Contrary to many Western cultural norms, perhaps our most important choice is to develop the deeper understanding and truth that comes with being still. To maintain inner balance, choose the tranquility and peace of stillness. In that peaceful state, you will develop the ability to trust and have confidence in your own voice.

Be Accepting: When you choose to accept people and circumstances for who and what they are, you can escape the frustration of trying to change them. Try to take a nonjudgmental approach to people to open yourself to the potential of clarity and deeper relationships.

When you accept the past and remain receptive to circumstances and people, you can open yourself to the possibilities of learning from all situations and from every individual. When you accept your current reality with a certain degree of detachment, you will find that things come to you with a fraction of the effort otherwise required.

Be Generous: When you choose to be charitable with your possessions, your money, and your time, you will experience inner satisfaction despite “having less.” When you are kind, helpful, encouraging, and gentle with others, you may even feel aligned with a higher purpose. Try to balance giving with receiving to eliminate much of the possibility of arrogance; this way you can remain genuinely and truly humble.

Be Grateful: It is easy to be grateful when things are going well. It takes inner strength and composure to remain grateful when facing life’s inevitable difficult periods. The grace required to face tough times and remain thankful is a blessing. Try to remain appreciative of the opportunity to learn lessons from the challenges you face.

Insight is an integral element of being a powerful Chief and enabling a team of Chiefs. A real Chief does not abrasively influence the world around him or her but, rather, considers a wider perspective that begins on the inside. By taking the time and effort to be present, still, accepting, generous, and grateful, the more difficult aspects of being Chief will suddenly take on new meaning. From this vantage point, true growth—both personal and professional—is far more likely.

Your Turn

Please take some time to reflect on your own experience with listening to yourself and developing insight. How can you develop insight to learn more about yourself and to build a team of Chiefs? Consider the following questions:

  • What can I do to stay present and live in the current moment?
  • How can I quiet my mind to listen to the voice inside me?
  • Do I accept people and circumstances as they are in the moment?
  • How can I be more generous with my time and possessions?
  • Am I grateful for life’s gifts?

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What Does It Really Mean to Be Chief?

Rick Miller published on Forbes.com:

The coveted Chief title—Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operations Officer, etc.—can be found today in all reaches of business as a way to identify who is in charge. As companies named endless vice presidents in times past, lately Chief titles are taking over. And this practice isn’t limited to business. You’ll find Chiefs, Senior Chiefs, Deputy Chiefs, Administrative Chiefs, and Assistant Chiefs throughout government. With so many Chief titles out there, what does it really mean to be Chief?

Chiefs are powerful, but in my view not for the reasons most believe. Real Chiefs don’t owe their influence to a title or a position given to them by others.

It’s a Matter of Choice, Not a Title

Growing up, my dad would come home from work and tell us stories about what it really took to be Chief. He never used the word Chief, but his actions were clear.

My Dad was a mid-level personnel manager (human resources) working at the only non-union machine tool shop in central Massachusetts. Dad would tell me and my brothers about grievances, pay and benefit issues, and his challenge of connecting the managers at Heald Machine to the workers so the company could grow. In twenty-seven years at Heald, there was never even a single union vote. Why? Because my Dad treated everyone with respect and led without any positional authority.

[ctt template="1" link="H3e3K" via="no" ]Dad taught me that being Chief had more to do with choice than title or level.[/ctt]

I have benefited greatly throughout my career from the foundational lessons my Dad taught me. In the first phase of my career, I worked in one organization at a time. Over thirty years, I served in many roles in five organizations in five different industries. Early on I found myself consistently thrust into turnaround situations. Later, I sought them out. Success in each was due in large part to a specific roadmap that I used to enable Chiefs at all levels to unlock their potential. It’s an entirely new way to think about power, and where power really comes from.

As I worked my way up through these assignments, and I had the privilege of working with many strong individuals at all levels who possessed a power and influence that had nothing to do with their title or position, I came to understand that real Chiefs are people who connect what they do to who they are. Their power and influence come from inside.

Ten years ago, I made a personal decision to change my life-work balance. The nature of my turnaround assignments in phase one had taken a toll on the time I was able to spend with my family. I founded my own company, now Being Chief, LLC, as part of phase two. Now I work as a Chief supporting a limited number of Chiefs in different organizations. It is rewarding to serve others who can use my roadmap and guidance to help them grow as their organizations grow.

Anyone Can Be Chief

Conventional wisdom about Chiefs is all wrong. It says Chiefs are special. Chiefs are chosen. Chiefs have titles. And only those with the power and influence at the top can truly be Chief. In my humble opinion, another executive position in the already crowded C-suite is the last thing companies need.

I am less interested in your title than in the choices you make in life and business, and how those choices align with who you are. And I’m less interested in a company’s organizational chart than I am in its values and how it uses support, insight, discipline and creativity to engage its employees, shareholders, and community.

A real Chief doesn’t need a title, although she may have one. But it’s her actions, her words, her thoughts, and her values that show everyone around her that she’s Chief—and that enable others to also be Chief. What you and your organization do, rather than what you say you do, speaks volumes.

What we do need is more focus on the practices, skills, and tools required to enable all workers to be more agile in already top-heavy companies. And we need more investment in training, communication, and enabling technology that allows for broad decentralization, self-directed teams, and sustainable growth.

More Chiefs do drive better results, and we need many more of them. Just not in executive row. What are you doing to step up and be Chief?

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The Power Inside Each of Us

Rick Miller published on ThinDifference.com:

People are always fascinated by, and have many questions about, power. Who has it? How much of it do they have? How did they get it? How can I get it?

But maybe the biggest question is, what is power?

The answer to that last question depends on who you ask, and the answer generally falls into one of two distinct categories. Some assume power comes from “outside-in.” Those with this view often define power in terms of a title or position that is granted to an individual by someone else. Along with that status comes authority or control. In this case, the power of influence and the ability to have an impact come from a belief in the form of supremacy over others.

Others maintain that real power comes from “inside-out.” These people hold that power is not bequeathed by another but rather is the ability of each individual to cultivate by themselves. This group defines power very differently. You might start to notice these divergent sources of power in your own life.

I’ve experienced both types of power in my career. I’ve held titles including CEO, COO, and President in many companies and led organizations as large as 10,000. In service to you, I offer answers to the following questions:

What Is Power?

I believe that real power comes from the inside-out and is comprised of five elements that can be found in each of us. Here are my definitions:

  • Clarity – the quality of being certain or definite in a process or course of direction.
  • Influence – the capacity to have an effect on the development or behavior of someone or something.
  • Energy – the drive and vitality to live and engage fully.
  • Confidence – the feeling of self-assurance that comes from an understanding of one’s own priorities, abilities, and qualities.
  • Impact – the strong and/or immediate sway on someone or something.

I believe strongly in equality and that these opportunities can be available to everyone. I also believe we are all connected and that our power affects those around us.

Power Spreads

Research supports my view that once anyone in a group chooses to become more powerful everyone around that person becomes more powerful.

Specifically, research has found that positive emotions spread from person to person in a work environment. An individual’s or group’s emotion plays a strong role in the behavior of an organization. Studies show that positive mood or emotion enhances creative problem solving, cooperation, decision quality, overall performance, the search for creative solutions, and confidence in being able to achieve positive outcomes. One study by Yale researcher Sigal Barsade, PhD, found that a spread of positive emotion is associated with improved cooperation, decreased conflict, and increased task performance in the workplace.

How Do I Get More Power?

There are five key enablers that can increase your power when even small shifts are made:

  • Discipline is an orderly pattern of behavior that increases both clarity as well as the likelihood of a desired outcome.
  • Support is the act or process of promoting the interests or causes of another that increases influence.
  • Insight is the power or act of seeing intuitively that comes with self-understanding and increases energy.
  • Values are the foundation of relationships and of confidence.
  • Creativity is the ability to bring into existence. Alignment of creative choices amplifies power and increases impact.

Not only can you get more power, but you can measure it, too.

You can take a free short survey to get a baseline of how your current choices create your power and then assess what you might want to change to increase your power and the power of those around you.

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Neurodiversity and the ROI of Hiring Those Who Think Differently

By Jeff and Rick Miller

Articles and studies advocating diversity and inclusion programs in the workplace often cite the benefits of such initiatives on other business objectives. A 2016 Economist article noted that “Companies may starve themselves of talent” if they ignore diversity, while a recent piece in Forbes found that 85% of executives with diversity initiatives view those programs as “crucial for innovation.” A 2015 McKinsey study discovered that companies in the top quartile for diversity hiring were 35% more likely to outperform their competitors financially.

We can all agree that filling key roles successfully, improving innovation, and strengthening the bottom line are results any business would love to have. But while most large companies have pushed to be more inclusive in terms of race and gender, some pioneering firms are expanding their definition of diversity further—and enjoying impressive results.

Companies like SAP Software Solutions, Hewlett Packard (HP), and Ernst & Young (E&Y) are targeting individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as part of new “neurodiversity” recruitment programs. Individuals with ASD process information in ways that their neurotypical peers to not. They think differently. So do some of the companies that now employ them.

The results for these pioneering organizations have generally been very positive, and sometimes surprising. They include lower turnover as well as higher productivity and better overall employee engagement. HP has also had success with ASD employees in roles as diverse as product management and customer support, dispelling previously held notions about the social limitations of some ASD individuals. E&Y notes that they have seen their managers improve in their ability to get the most out of all employees by viewing individual differences as potential strengths. SAP has had such success that they have committed to the goal to make 1% of their workforce neurodiverse by 2020.

The neurodiversity programs themselves take time and expertise to construct. There have been some challenges and false starts for both employers and applicants. Interviewing and onboarding processes may need to be adjusted. Supervisor training and some amount of ongoing support are also critical. But organizations are springing up with the expertise to help companies who see these benefits and want to share in them.

This shift comes at a critical time. While overall unemployment is under 4%, ASD unemployment for college educated individuals is a staggering 80%. 50,000 new applicants with ASD attempt to enter the workforce each year. While misconceptions about this community persist, the data show that companies can benefit from broadening their inclusion programs if they adjust some of their current practices. Forward-thinking organizations have found they are well served to tap into this underrepresented source of talent. It’s good for the applicants and for the bottom line.

Could it be good for yours?

Jeff Miller is CEO and Founder of Potentia (potentiaworkforce.org), a social enterprise focused on matching top employers with talented applicants on the autism spectrum.

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Why Is Sammy’s House So Special?

Conventional wisdom tells us to look toward the most accomplished among us for inspiration, motivation, and life lessons. We are seemingly obsessed by those who have “made it” and what they had to do to get “there.” How did they get to that “level”? How did they make so much money? Or more recently, how did they get so many “likes”?

It is also common practice for many to be influenced by the most physically attractive among us. We give a lot of attention to those who haven’t done anything other than simply be born with attributes that our culture finds appealing.

And as a result of conventional thinking and common practice, many of us are missing something really important. We are missing the opportunity to learn from some of the most special teachers on the planet. I was missing it too until I met Melissa.

I’ve told the story before in a prior article and in a TED talk, but when I met this amazing six-year old girl with cerebral palsy I didn’t know the impact this teacher would have on the rest of my life. She opened my eyes to something I hadn’t seen before. This little girl in a wheelchair was more powerful than most people I’d ever met.

Perhaps the world’s most special teachers are those who have had to face the biggest challenges and those who don’t get the societal benefits of looking like professional models as they do it.

When I first learned about Sammy’s House is Austin, Texas, I was struck by their mission to serve and support families of the most challenged kids in the special needs community. From care for infants and preschoolers, to grade school summer classes, to continuing education and support for parents whose divorce rate skyrockets due the unique stresses of a special needs child, founder Isabel Huerta and her amazing team work miracles every day.

When visiting Sammy’s House, I learned that the staff designed each class such that 75% of the kids have two and three levels of major challenges and 25% of the kids are typically developing peers. Why? Because the staff has learned that the 75% will actually push themselves harder to get closer to the performance of the 25% with a “reverse inclusion” model, while the 25% benefit from an optimized learning environment. Amazing. And while all the kids learn from Sammy’s outstanding staff, the staff was clearly learning from all the kids as well. It aligned with everything that Melissa had taught me.

And it became a no-brainer for me to donate 100% of all author proceeds from my book Be Chief, in honor of Melissa, to such a special place that supports such special people.

I also encourage you to consider three choices:

  1. Buy a bunch of books to help your network become more powerful as you help Sammy’s House.
  2. Make a personal donation to Sammy’s House to support their important work.
  3. Hold a local fundraiser to raise money and visibility for Sammy’s House.

Wouldn’t it be great if we followed Isabel Huerta’s dream as many followed Danny Thomas’ dream that started years ago at St. Jude’s? Who knew then that St. Jude’s would grow into an iconic institution supporting kids with cancer, and their families, with fundraisers across the country. Why not Sammy’s House, too?

In any event, I hope you consider rejecting conventional wisdom and common practice and perhaps thinking differently about those with special challenges and what they have to teach the rest of us.

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Time to Set Another Goal

The Tuesday after Labor Day (today) in the United States always feels like New Year’s Day to me. The slower days of summer vacations are behind us, and the pace of work (and for many, school) jumps into high gear. And like on January 1st, many people use the turn of the calendar to set new goals.

If you’re like me, you wake up this Tuesday morning feeling like the energy all around you is up a notch. Everywhere you look people seem to be in a bigger hurry to get where they are going. And many of us are re-assessing where we are going and how to get there.

They may not be called resolutions like they are after the ball drops in Times Square in four months, but action-item lists will be on the rise just like gym memberships.

For me, this particular day after Labor Day is really significant because it’s the publish date of my new book Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title. I’ve written before about the 10-year journey that started with an article in O, The Oprah Magazine, and blogged about the amazing people this project brought into my life, like the amazing Spencer Johnson, author of Who Moved My Cheese and so many other great books.

So as I reach a long-time goal I’m feeling the need to set another. And as I do, I’d like to share my simple wish for all of us who are setting new goals and objectives.

Let’s set the goal to do better connecting what we do to who we are. Let’s set goals that “fit” us better.

There is no lack of voices around each of us, ready at a moment’s notice to tell us what we could or should do or be. There’s no doubt that spinning class or that kickboxing gym might get you to meet new people and get you in better shape. But if spinning and kickboxing aren’t your thing, go find something else that is your thing. And stop feeling guilty about it. (BTW, I do enjoy kickboxing training with a former MMA fighter!)

As for me, here’s my goal: I’m going to be more me.

Good luck with yours.

Or, good luck being more you.

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The Importance of Being

When I recently saw a post by Richard Branson titled How to Be Happy, I smiled while reading about his focus on being. I was reminded of a conversation I’d had years earlier with gifted creative Michael Black on the importance of the concept of being. Michael had taken upon himself to offer a new brand for my message and my company. After investing considerable time learning about who I was, what I did, and how I did it … he nailed it. And ever since my company has served others under the name of Being Chief.

It’s been interesting to note in subsequent years how many more people have commented on the word Chief, as opposed to the word Being. Perhaps it’s because Being is the more challenging of the two.

Our culture sends us lots of positive messaging around taking action. Everyone is always telling others to “get going,” often independent of a well-thought-out sense of direction. As a result, we confuse activity with progress. It’s a common problem and the main priority of the Being Chief philosophy.

Being Chief is about connecting your doing to your being. More specifically, it’s about developing your own compass to help you determine the direction you want to go.

At the center of your compass are your chosen values. Those values are rooted in your choices to be your unique self. But there aren’t as many people who will suggest you slow down to learn who you are as there are telling you to speed up.

So, I will.

If you’d like to stop confusing activity with progress, make choices to strengthen your being. Here are five:

  1. Be Present. When you choose to be present, you can use all of your senses to learn everything possible about the current moment. Specifically, when you give 100 percent of your attention to the people you spend time with, you’ll find that your relationships become much more fulfilling. Don’t think about your next meeting or get distracted by your phone. Keep your attention on what’s in front of you.
  2. Be Still. Contrary to many Western cultural norms, perhaps our most important choice is to develop the deeper understanding and truth that comes with being still. To maintain inner balance, choose the tranquility and peace of stillness. In that peaceful state, you will develop the ability to trust and have confidence in your own leadership and voice.
  3. Be Accepting. When you choose to accept people and circumstances for who and what they are, you can escape the frustration of trying to change them. When you take a nonjudgmental approach, you open yourself up to learning from all situations and every individual. When you accept your current reality with a certain degree of detachment, you will find that solutions come to you with a fraction of the effort otherwise required.
  4. Be Generous. When you choose to be charitable with your possessions, money, and time, you will experience inner satisfaction despite “having less.” When you are kind, helpful, encouraging, and gentle with others, the team around you will align. You may even feel aligned with a higher purpose. Try to balance giving with receiving to eliminate much of the possibility of arrogance; this way you can remain genuinely humble.
  5. Be Grateful. It is easy to be grateful when things are going well. It takes inner strength and composure to remain grateful when facing life’s inevitable difficult periods, especially when pressures from colleagues or board members mount. Try to remain appreciative of the opportunity to learn lessons from the challenges you face. As a leader, these challenges will only make you stronger.

Before you take your next action, consider how you will be as you take that action. The choice is yours to make a greater impact simply by being.

 

If you’re reading this blog soon after it posted, and you haven’t yet checked out my book, Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title, now is a great time to order. It comes out next week!

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What Does Sustainable Growth Really Mean?

Rick Miller published on Forbes.com:

People are often confused by the term sustainable growth. While most believe it a worthy objective, its definition is less clear. Does it mean “green growth?” Is it part of the “triple bottom line”? Does it have to do with the corporate social responsibility (CSR) framework, which suggests that an entity has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large? And what about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations?

When I attended Bentley University as an undergraduate in 1976, I learned how to grow a business and understood that true success was reached when you could sustain that growth. At the time, sustainable simply meant repeatable. During my freshman year, Bentley opened its Center for Business Ethics and taught students that sustainable meant repeatable and ethical. More recently, customers and employees are speaking up, expecting companies to be more socially and environmentally aware, accountable and responsible for the impact they have, and can have, in society.  

Today, sustainable growth means growth that is repeatable, ethical and responsible to, and for, current and future communities. And it’s key to the long-term success of any business.

To achieve this worthy objective, it has been my experience that diverse groups of leaders at all levels in companies need to regularly come together and hold themselves accountable to this higher bar. Success starts by asking the right questions.

Repeatable Growth

When I was growing up in Massachusetts my Dad taught me to be a sports fan. We followed the Red Sox, the Bruins, and the Patriots. But Dad’s favorite team (and mine) was the Celtics. Dad taught me that real success was building a team that could win repeat championships. By the time I was 11, the Celtics had won 10 of them. Building businesses that could perform like the Celtics did isn’t easy. But there is a formula.

My formula for repeatable growth integrates focused excellence across six areas including customers, competitors, costs, capital, communities and culture. There are lots of questions across these areas, including:

What will my current customers’ needs be tomorrow, and where might a competitor today be an ally tomorrow to face a new competitor? How can I build strategies to reduce both expenses and improve margins as I ensure adequate capital and offer better-than-average returns for my investors? How can I build a reputation as a great corporate citizen and create a change-adaptive culture at the same time?

Ethical Growth

When I took over as President of Global Services at AT&T, I knew one of our strengths at AT&T was our strong set of five company values known as the Common Bond. Our entire organization was steeped in teamwork, innovation, respect, customer focus and integrity. I also knew our team had a tough task. According to our main competitor, MCI/Worldcom, the market was growing at greater than 10% annually, yet our unit was only growing at 4%. We set our growth targets based on that information, and while we doubled our growth rate, we fell short of our goals. But they were lying. On March 15, 2005 it was confirmed they were falsely reporting revenue growth numbers, when CEO Bernie Ebbers was convicted of securities fraud, conspiracy and filing false documents with regulators.

Thankfully, unethical practices are by far the exception in the broader marketplace. But a key question remains. Specifically, are we doing all we can to reinforce our stated values in the day-to-day decision making in our company? How can we take our values statements off the walls and put them on our agenda?

Responsible Growth

Twelve years ago, Andrew Savitz added his perspective on the term sustainable growth when he published The Triple Bottom Line, which advocates for a balanced focus on profit, people and the planet. Around the same time, I heard former competitor and IBM CEO Sam Palmisano promoting his focus on sustainable growth. I loved that Sam made his points with four questions:

Why would someone work for you? Why would someone invest his or her money with you? Why would someone spend their money with you—what is unique about you? And why would society allow you to operate in their region? The first three questions were in line with what I had learned about sustainable as repeatable. But the fourth question was new to me. There was now a higher bar.

Today, there are many views on the expanding scope of corporate social responsibility. In 2015, the United Nations offered a view that sustainability includes a focus on areas as diverse as poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, environment and social justice. And as CSR expands and moves beyond the marketplace and the workplace to the environment and into the community, there are lots of new questions.

How can we move quickly at first to determine our impact on the environment? How much water are we using? What’s our carbon footprint? How can we get to a position of “do no harm” and then beyond to opportunities that allow us to actually enhance the environment? What is our obligation to extend our company values to those in the greater community? Should we use our corporate voice to advocate for public policy change? How should we serve?

Progress toward any worthy objective is enhanced when diverse groups of people work together to create solutions. Sustainable growth that is repeatable, ethical and responsible is one such worthy objective. And it all starts with asking the right questions.

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