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.

source

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The Power of Transparency

They sure didn’t have classes like this when I was in college. Sociology 119 is the most popular class at Penn State, and Professor Sam Richards is the reason why. When Sam asked me to co-create a ruse on his class, I learned what a master does to create conditions where learning flourishes.

The topic was income inequality—specifically, who’s to blame. Sam wanted the class to see beyond the prevailing media reporting. Our goal was to craft a powerful lesson through unexpected transparency, and I was the ploy.

Sam began the scam weeks before I arrived, with lectures focusing on the impacts of inequality. He dwelled on questions like how the class felt about the top 1% having almost 40% of the country’s wealth. He purposely riled them up each time.

Just before I entered the classroom, he read my selectively edited “elitist” bio:

“Rick Miller grew up outside Boston, Massachusetts. In high school he played three sports, was President of the National Honor Society, and graduated third in his class. At Bentley University, he played soccer, was selected for the Hall of Fame, and again graduated third in his class.

Rick began his career as a sales trainee in tech firm Sperry Corporation where he climbed the corporate ladder. He was sent to a company-sponsored MBA program at Columbia University. After graduation, he was promoted several more times, rising to Vice President and General Manager.

Later, he held positions as President of Global Services at AT&T, President and Chief Operating Officer at internet startup Opus360, Chief Sales Officer at Lucent Technologies, and as President at Lucent’s Government subsidiary.

Rick served as a board member at the Joslin Diabetes Center, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School and is currently CEO at his own consulting company, Being Chief, LLC.

Class, meet a member of the one percent.”

As I walked into the room, the class applauded politely and I remember thinking, “I’m glad they don’t have anything to throw at me.” The animosity was palpable.

Sam started the session by asking me questions that reinforced the attitudes already held by many in the room.

“How many people have you laid off in your career? Did your Ivy League degree give you any advantages? Do you ever feel guilty because of all the advantages you’ve had in your career and life?” Ouch!

After 20 minutes, Sam told the class I had to leave because “my helicopter was waiting.” After I left the class, Sam conducted a real-time survey. Each class member responded to three questions on their smartphones.

Rick Miller is like everybody else in the “one percent.”

  1. Agree
  2. I’m not sure
  3. Disagree

When you think about the impact of inequality and power on ordinary people’s lives, Rick Miller “gets it.”

  1. Agree
  2. I’m not sure
  3. Disagree

Rick Miller cares about people other than himself.

  1. Agree
  2. I’m not sure
  3. Disagree

The class overwhelming concluded that I was like everyone else in the 1%, I don’t “get it,” and I only care about myself.

Then Sam flipped the switch and let the class in on the game. He shared that I hadn’t really left, there was no helicopter, and I was coming back in. But first he wanted to reintroduce me with information you won’t find on my LinkedIn bio.

“Rick grew up in a lower middle-class family, the eldest son of three boys, raised in effect by a single parent since his mother was in and out of mental hospitals for much of his youth.

Rick’s family moved numerous times as his father was laid off several times. Always the new kid, Rick was regularly beaten up by neighborhood bullies. All the while, he took responsibility for keeping things running at home and worked very hard in school.

Rick chose Bentley to be close to home so he could support his Dad when needed. He covered room and board costs by working as a Resident Assistant but he left Bentley with a large five-figure debt. During his junior year Rick contracted type-one diabetes. Doctors believe the trigger was stress that occurred during finals, after Rick’s mother attempted suicide, his grandfather died suddenly, and a close friend who was gay killed himself shortly after Rick made it clear that friendship was all Rick could offer.

After graduating, Rick took a commission-based sales job even though it scared him that his paychecks wouldn’t be guaranteed. Growing up with no money, he was afraid of any job that did not offer predictable pay. Rick lived at home after graduation. He saved money for an entire year from a meager $25-per-day meal allowance that he received during training at Sperry, eating hotdogs for lunch and dinner in order to purchase his wife’s engagement ring. They married a month after she graduated, although she didn’t attend her graduation because her parents could not afford to attend both the graduation and the wedding.

At Sperry, Rick was unconventional from the start. When he got to his first management job, he not only hired the first female sales rep in the office, but since there were no female role models for her to learn from, he also convinced senior management to pay $10,000 for a customized training program to help her succeed.

Rick’s unconventional approach caught the attention of a top executive at AT&T and soon he was the first outsider in 100 years to be hired as a line Vice President at that company.

Rick’s unconventional approach worked again at AT&T, and he was later promoted to President. Unfortunately, Rick got a new boss whose values did not align with his own values of truth and honesty. Rick made a tough decision and decided to leave the company.

Rick was recruited to work for the internet startup Opus360. However, the NASDAQ crashed just one month after he started. Rick got an apartment in NYC and saw even less of his wife and children, ages 9 and 7 at the time. He left Opus360 after a merger.

During Rick’s first break from work in 20 years, he volunteered at a rehab center working with therapists helping kids with cerebral palsy, coached kids with diabetes at summer camps, and founded a nonprofit to help other nonprofits be more effective.

Rick was later recruited by Lucent Technologies where he stayed for five years. He finally left corporate life when his children entered high school so he could finally spend more time with his family.

Class, here’s Rick Miller once again.”

This time the class applauded much more enthusiastically when I re-entered the room. Having shed my suit and tie, I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans. And the mood had shifted.

Sam’s questions shifted too. “What tips would you have for anyone trying to balance the demands of work, health, and family? What do you wish you knew when you were a college student that you know now?” After 30 minutes of great interaction, Sam announced it was indeed time for me to leave. There was an audible sigh from the class. They didn’t want me to go!

Sam then repeated the survey questions, but the results differed. The class overwhelmingly shared I was not like everyone else in the 1%, I do “get it,” and I care about a lot more than myself. Thirty minutes changed the view of over 800 intelligent college students.

If you’d like to increase your impact on others, be more transparent. If you’d like to get a gauge more broadly on how powerful you are take a short survey to find out.

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What Are SDGs and Why Should We Care?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been around for over a half century. Generally, CSR has come to include six types of corporate social initiatives:

  • Corporate philanthropy – company donations to charity
  • Community volunteering – company-organized volunteer activities
  • Cause promotions – company-funded advocacy campaigns
  • Cause-related marketing – donations to charity based on product sales
  • Corporate social marketing – company-funded behavior-change campaigns
  • Socially-responsible business practices – ethically produced products and services

With the exception of the few companies truly engaging in the last initiative (socially-responsible business practices), until recently most companies have administered their CSR program from the staff side of things in human resources or public relations departments. It simply hasn’t been central to line operations in most organizations.

Oh my, how the world has changed.

Today, constituencies including customers, employees, shareowners, and the community at large take great interest in CSR. And for the last several years a fast-growing number of companies have stepped up to an even higher bar—Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

SDG > CSR 

The Sustainable Development Goals, set by the United Nations in 2015, are 17 bold, broad-based goals that cover social and economic development issues.

Here are the SDGs:

  • No poverty
  • Zero hunger
  • Good health and well-being
  • Quality education
  • Gender equality
  • Clean water and sanitation
  • Affordable and clean energy
  • Decent work and economic growth
  • Industry, innovation, and infrastructure
  • Reduced inequalities
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Responsible consumption, and production
  • Climate action
  • Life below water
  • Life on land
  • Peace, justice, and strong institutions
  • Partnerships for the goals

There are 169 specific targets that, if reached, accomplish all 17 goals. While somewhat overlapping, the SDGs are gaining momentum and attention.

Employees, customers, shareowners, and the community at large increasingly care about these issues. As a result, companies are increasingly caring too.

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Powering Through Friendly Fire

Challenges from inside your own company can require you to be powerful.

When Mike Armstrong joined AT&T as CEO years ago, change accelerated at the company. He had inherited an organization that was ill equipped to deal with the competitive threats. Mike began an acquisition phase to add the people and other assets he needed to compete on all fronts. As part of the change, Mike also shifted several executives into new jobs.

When it was my time to meet with Mike, he opened the meeting with news that made me want to shout out loud. “Rick, you’ve done a great job and I think you can do more to help the company. I’d like you to become Global Services President.” I was tasked to lead a 10,000-person organization that generated close to $12 billion in worldwide revenue. I was happy and stunned at the same time.

I knew that leading a Global unit was going to be a challenge, but I had a secret weapon. I had a compass. I knew the key to success was to build a team of Chiefs, but there were many things I could not know.

From outside the company, I couldn’t know that our primary competitor, MCI/Worldcom, was engaged in illegal activities, giving them unfair advantages in the market that would result in their CEO going to jail. From inside the company, I couldn’t know that my biggest challenge would come from my own boss. This is when I learned that my compass would help me deal with “friendly fire.”

Mike needed lots of cash to pay for the acquisitions he wanted to make in the consumer segment of the market. He turned to the business segment for that cash—and our new benchmark for success was Worldcom.

To my boss’s credit, he pushed back on Mike and asked for more reasonable targets and accurately carried the message that Worldcom’s aggressive pricing seemed inconsistent with their quarterly reports of improving revenues and margins. Unfortunately, nobody was listening, and my job in Global was about to get a lot harder.

My first blow came when the business segment was burdened with irrational growth targets and expense cuts that needed to be distributed among the business sub-segments. For reasons known only to my boss, he chose to place a disproportionately high level of the expense cut load—a 50 percent headcount reduction—on Global Services just one month into my new assignment.

Blow number two came shortly after when I learned the company had decided to move some of Global’s largest accounts into a new international joint venture with partner British Telecom. We now needed to convince a number of my Global Service customers, and the employees who served them, that joining this new entity would be preferable to remaining with AT&T.

Blow number three came with a decision to transition account control from Global Services to the separate AT&T Solutions unit for all outsourcing contracts, and I felt like my head was spinning. This new direction would have a major negative impact on my team’s earnings.

Finally, when my boss chose to move smaller Global Service accounts to yet another unit, I felt like a knockout had been delivered. In this case, customers would need to adjust to a reduced level of service and build new relationships with a new group of AT&T leaders, creating a great opportunity for a competitor to step in.

Any one of these adjustments would have been challenging for a unit to absorb. Together, they signaled to the entire organization that Global Services was being taken apart. It did not take long for rumors to start circulating that my boss was behind the effort to dismantle the organization. Everyone was nervous.

How could we succeed and build a team of Chiefs when everyone thought the organization was being taken apart? In Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title I describe what we did to drive record levels of employee engagement in spite of this dire situation, but it was every bit as important for me personally to “keep my head.” And my compass was the key.

Looking back now, the influence and impact I needed to have with my team could only be generated from inside me. Help wasn’t coming from anywhere else. It was the support I provided for my team that kept my influence strong, just as it was the internal and external creativity I demonstrated daily that preserved my ability to have an impact on my team.

To keep me strong, I focused in three areas. To keep my energy high I focused on staying present, increased my daily meditation routine, and worked to accept the situation as it was. To keep my clarity I focused on the vision I had for Global and on the strategy and tactical plans that I could control to realize that strategy. And to keep my confidence, I reminded myself regularly about the values I stood for and took great comfort that I was living them.

At the end of the year, Global Services was indeed split apart, and we did miss the growth targets that had been established for us based on the misinformation of our primary competitor. We did have a large number of our team members select the voluntary force reduction plan and many more follow their clients to units outside of Global.

But employees who remained with Global sent a clear message to senior management by responding to the employee engagement survey that year with the highest engagement and confidence in unit management scores in AT&T history.

And with energy, influence, clarity, confidence, and impact I remained true to myself. I’m grateful for the experience.

How powerful are you?

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Be All-In! Here’s How

Ever since my first blog on the topic of All-In Leadership in 2011, the concept has led readers to ask for more. I obliged with blogs on All-In Women Leaders, 10 Reasons to Be All-In at Work, 12 Ways All-In Leadership Increases the Value of Any Team Meeting, and All-In Leadership—NOW!

The All-In concept advocates that we all have leadership potential, but too many of us are looking to others to lead. We need to stop looking “up” when we all should be looking in. All-In Leadership is a term I use to remind all of us about our individual choice to lead and how we can best approach this opportunity to be more powerful today.

But your feedback has been consistent: Rick, can you make it easier for me to see my All-In choices? Well at long last I can say YES!

I’ve just added a simple tool to my website that can provide you with a super-quick way to assess how All-In (powerful) you are today, and to decide what you might change to be more All-In tomorrow.

All-In Power

I believe that All-In power comes when we connect what we do to who we are. All-In power is comprised of five elements that can be found in every one of us:

  • 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 when we go All-In it affects those around us.

All-In Power Spreads

Research supports my view that once anyone in a group goes All-In, the chance that others will too increases.

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 better task performance at work.

I’ll close this blog with the same paragraph that closed my first All-In blog 7 years ago: “All-In Leadership also requires courage. The serious challenges we face individually and collectively can feel daunting if they fall to only a few to solve. We need leadership from senior executives, group managers, and individual contributors. Together, our combined leadership capabilities and skills can make the difference. Why not start today?

Take the survey to get started!

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Are You as Powerful as Melissa?

In my recent blog about Be Chief’s charity partner, Sammy’s House, I referenced a six-year-old wheelchair-bound girl, “Melissa,” who taught me what a true power looks like. After several requests from readers to learn a little more about her, I thought I’d share her story here—and challenge you to see how powerful you are.

Years ago, I volunteered at a rehabilitation facility in Morristown, NJ, working with a gifted physical therapist in a 100-degree heated pool. I assisted as the therapist used the warm water to stretch the muscles of children challenged with cerebral palsy and other muscular disorders.

We’d already worked with several kids on the day I first met Melissa. I remember her waiting patiently for her turn in the pool. Her calm demeanor and watchful eyes caught my attention. She seemed to be quietly taking everything in. When we got her in the pool, her smile lit up the room.

When we started the session, she was as focused on her task as anyone I had ever seen. She had one goal—she wanted to extend both arms together to enable her hands to grasp a small sponge basketball toy, drop it in a floating net, and score two points. At first, both of her hands were rigidly held close to her shoulders. During her first session, we were able to get just one arm to relax—and it moved just a few inches. Melissa gave it 100%, but this was going to be a long process.

I remember being struck by how each member of the rehab staff was affected by Melissa. I remember how Melissa entered the water with that same enthusiasm and focus every time, and after each session she made a point to say thank you to both her therapist and me.

It took Melissa nearly six months of weekly sessions to meet her goal. When she finally succeeded she let out a cry of joy that I can still hear to this day, as staff members in the area applauded.

She was confident. She was clear about her goal. Her energy was contagious. She influenced each of us and has made an impact to this day. She served others as a role model in so many ways. She sure served me, even when I started out with the belief that I was there to serve her.

And she reminded me that those with disabilities have amazing abilities to share with those of us whose challenges aren’t as visible. She is what I refer to as a Chief.

Your Power

How powerful are you? Do you give 100% like Melissa? Did you know you can actually measure your power and find ways to increase it? I created a brief survey to help you do just that.

The power you will measure has nothing to do with your title or position. It’s focused on influence, clarity, energy, confidence, and impact—the measures of real power.

Take the survey.

And no, Melissa never took the survey. Good thing too, because nobody would beat her score!

Melissa taught me to give 100%, so I’m giving 100% of the author proceeds from Be Chief sales to Sammy’s House.

Sammy’s House is a nonprofit agency that provides services for children with and without special needs. The organization operates a child development center, a respite care program, a summer camp, as well as family support services to fill the gaps in services for children and their families. Sammy’s House believes that all children have the ability to learn and to contribute to the community. The organization is particularly focused on children who are medically fragile and/or developmentally delayed. Children at Sammy’s House learn the values of acceptance and compassion, and the art of caring for one another. And like Melissa, these special kids each have a lot to teach the rest of us.

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Do You Know When to Quit?

“Never give up.” “Persistence alone is omnipotent.” “When the going gets tough . . . ” and on and on. Our culture is awash in historical reminders to keep our “nose to the grindstone” until the job gets done. We’ve gotten good at the hustle. But the truth is that our culture doesn’t know when to quit, literally.

What if the best decision is to give up? In his book, The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit, Seth Godin reminds us of the strategies that can help us stop working in a dead-end job or project. There are times when it’s best to cut your losses.

The business world understands how the law of diminishing returns works; at some point additional investments of time, money, and resources are not justified by the return. The best strategy in many cases is simply to stop.

But how will you know when to quit?  The answer is to focus on two costs, and ignore a third.

Opportunity Costs

In The Dip, Godin suggests it is time for “strategic quitting” when the opportunity costs are greater than the benefits of continuing on your current path. An opportunity cost is a big deal. But what is it?

An opportunity cost is the value of what you’d lose by not pursuing a better alternative. As I shared in my recent TED talk, I decided to quit my job as President of Global Services at AT&T when it became clear that the benefit of staying wasn’t as high as the benefit of doing something else. The result of leaving in fact became the opportunity to run an internet startup that gave me a very different set of skills and experience that are critical to my current role today.

Figuring out what you could do at any point isn’t easy, but it’s crucial.

Personal Costs

Sometimes, we wrap too much of our own ego into a project to be able to step back and say with conviction, “It’s time to quit.” But, according to research from Northwestern University cited in a recent New York Times article, “. . . when we discard unrealistic goals and switch to alternate goals we’re happier, physically healthier, and less stressed.”

That means separating failure from your sense of self-worth and viewing it as a needed stepping stone to success. Such a perspective can help you calculate personal costs you’ve already invested into a project.

Sunk Costs

While opportunity and personal costs are often difficult to quantify, it’s a third set of costs—sunk costs—that are the easiest to quantify and, as a result, often become the biggest problems.

As people get overly invested in the decisions they’ve made in the past, sunk costs from the past loom larger than they should as we look forward. The best advice I can offer regarding sunk costs is, ignore them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Translation: Know when to cut your losses and go build something better.

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Meditate at Work

“Don’t Meditate at Work.” When I read that headline in the print version of last Sunday’s New York Times I was stunned. The online version of the article’s title went even farther by asserting, “Hey Boss, You Don’t Want Your Employees to Meditate.”

“Mindfulness meditation, a Buddhism-inspired practice in which you focus your mind entirely on the current moment, has been widely embraced for its instrumental benefits—especially in the business world,” write authors Kathleen Vohs and Andrew Hafenbrack.

“A central technique of mindfulness meditation . . . is to accept things as they are [emphasis mine]. And the very notion of motivation—striving to obtain a more desirable future—implies some degree of discontent with the present, which seems at odds with a psychological exercise that instills equanimity and a sense of calm.”

To support their view, the authors share that they conducted five studies to see whether there was “a tension between mindfulness and motivation.” They report in a forthcoming article in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes that they found strong evidence that “meditation is demotivating.”

But as a mindfulness meditation advocate and business turnaround specialist, I simply could not disagree more with that generalization. Here’s why:

Apple, Google, Nike, and other leading companies encourage brief meditations during the day to increase mindfulness. The authors do acknowledge that fact. They also acknowledge “the practical payoff of mindfulness is backed by dozens of studies linking it to job satisfaction, rational thinking and emotional resilience.” These factors all increase the important factor of employee engagement. They have also been proven to reduce health care costs.

Additionally, along with all of these proven benefits, the author’s studies conclude that meditation had no impact on performance.

The study participants were less motivated simply because they weren’t concerned with the future or the past. They were engaged in the moment. In fact, the study “showed that mindfulness enabled people to detach from stressors, which improved task focus.”

Essentially, the study participants still got their work done, and under a state of calm and serenity.

The crux of the issue seems to come from differing views on the word acceptance.

In the view of many mindfulness experts, acceptance of “what is” allows individuals to channel their energy toward the change that they are committed to creating, as opposed to wasting energy on the needless frustration of whatever led to the current reality or what might result from it.

In my experience, with mindfulness people can both accept the reality of any situation and at the same time be totally motivated toward action to change the future.

My counsel: Don’t be misled by a headline. Mindfulness and meditation are both great tools that can lead to better health and greater productivity. While the scientists figure out exactly how and why mindfulness works (and the media continue to misconstrue those results), just know that it does work and is worth the effort.

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What Power Really Means to an Entrepreneur

How does an entrepreneur increase their power? If you believe, as some do, that power is all about title, position, authority, control, and supremacy, you’ll find it a challenge.

Entrepreneurs 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.

Ask any successful entrepreneur how much time they spend thinking about this type of power and they will laugh. Because the answer is zero.

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

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

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

Successful entrepreneurs are optimizers. They don’t have time to waste.

Entrepreneurs starting out don’t have the benefit of cadres of help. They need to be as powerful as possible.

How about you?

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Do We Need Another Executive Row Chief? No!

Should the C-suite make room for another Chief? According to Luis Gallardo, a global brand and marketing leader and author of the just-published book Brands and Rousers, companies should add a Chief Reason Officer (CRO) to executive row. I thought I had seen every Chief title possible, but I was wrong.

Luis makes his case in a recent Forbes article, where writer Bruce Rogers asks why companies need a CRO. Gallardo asserts, “[Companies] need to develop new executive positions like this in order to stay focused on their purpose and culture as progress occurs.”

While I’m one of the biggest advocates for added focus on purpose and culture, this is the craziest idea I’ve heard in a while. In my humble opinion, another executive position in the already crowded C-suite is the last thing companies need.

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.

I’ve worked with teams that have consistently TRIPLED the growth rate of million- and billion-dollar organizations with just this approach.

More Chiefs do drive better results, and we need many more of them. Just not in executive row.

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