Joy at Work(er) Blog

Do you need a coach or a mentor?

leadership Jan 19, 2020

Written by Ed Cook

The words coach and mentor are often used interchangeably making distinctions between them murky.  This is unfortunate because the value of each can be tremendous for a person’s career, but where and how that value shows up is significant.  Furthering the confusion, people call themselves a coach or a mentor without even defining what they mean. Some clarity is needed here.

   “A good coach can change a game. A great coach can change a life.”  --John Wooden

As the coach of UCLA’s incredibly successful basketball team, John Wooden certainly knew something about coaching.  But is his coaching the same kind of coaching that we would want to see in business? The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.  Coaches honor the client as the...

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Change and the Elusive "B"

change Jan 12, 2020

Written by Roxanne Brown

Early in my change career, my boss, my colleagues, and I were learning the art and science of change work by absorbing everything we could get our hands on. We poured over books together to see what we could glean that was relevant to our current business problems and applied the concepts right away. We were learning like crazy. It was energizing because we knew we had to get it right. Our reputations depended on it. A lot of people were depending on us.
At the time, most of the advice we were taking in was about getting from current state to future state, point A to point B. The goal was to have a clear articulation of both, examine the difference, then dive in to close the gap. All great concepts, but we quickly ran into a brick wall. 
My boss was spending a huge amount of energy and time to get our senior leaders to articulate "B". It was exasperating for her. Over and over again, she'd come back to the team feeling like...

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3 questions that tell you when to lead (instead of manage)

leadership Jan 12, 2020

Written by Ed Cook

The words leader and manager are often used interchangeably and with that, their individual meaning is lost.   Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis are often quoted as saying:

“Management is doing the things right and Leadership is doing the right thing.”   

It’s pithy and points to deeper insights.  Management is about making things happen. It is literally about manipulation.  The words management and manipulation both come from the Latin word manus meaning hand.  If done well, there are efficiencies gained and improvements made in every aspect of what the managers’ organization is doing but that success is circumscribed.  Great managers are still working inside the confines of constraints that have been given to them. They can be awesome but only with what is given to them. Leadership is about seeing beyond the confines and setting a vision for something better.  The origin of the word is very...

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The People Part of M&A

management Dec 27, 2019

Written by Ed Cook

The amount of research on why Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) succeed or fail is voluminous but not particularly clear. M&A is often not successful. Early research focused on strategy and structural factors, but the results were mixed.  More recently cultural factors are the focus, but this opens up significant complexity onto the study of M&A.  Still, the work is revealing.  

Intriguingly, some scholars have found a positive effect between cultural differences and the success level of M&A.  

This finding seems to be explained by the core strategic idea that merging two different sets of capabilities can produce a better performing combined company.  With more skills and a broader knowledge base, the new combined company can more readily succeed. The key activity is capability transfer so that the abilities of the two organizations are combined into the new one.  To get fantastic success means that the...

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Conducting Joy

leadership Dec 08, 2019

Written by Ed Cook

While watching a symphony or orchestra or choir, I’ve often wondered what the value of a conductor is to the other musicians. Afterall other music groups seem to do fine without one. Rock bands, jazz groups, a cappella ensembles, all manage without a conductor. I got an interesting glimpse into just what a conductor does after viewing this smile-inducing clip. A professional ensemble sets up on a city street with a sign that invites passersby to “conduct us.” We are then treated to a series of would-be conductors who produce...what? The ensemble does not need them to create music. Yet each of these conductors brings something!

As the first conductor steps forward, the glee on the faces of the musicians is striking. They are truly ready to take on whatever the conductor can provide. As each new conductor steps forward, we see some take on a persona of a conductor, some test the limits of their powers by spotlighting a particular...

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Competency Fallacy

management Oct 18, 2019

Written by Ed Cook

In corporations around the globe, managers are engaging in a process to develop their associates. At least they are trying to do it. These well-meaning attempts typically include some sort of a model of competencies. The manager is supposed to “ground” an assessment of the employee’s competencies with behavioral examples when they exhibited higher or lower levels of these competencies, then finally give the employee a score against each competency. There are a few core questions to examine in this system of thought. 

First, what is a competency? So many companies talk about these. Rate their people on these. Determine promotions, bonuses, and raises on these. Companies define competencies like “strategic thinking” and “builds relationships.” These certainly seem useful. Who wouldn’t want an employee to be great at these two competencies and others? Typically, competencies are the more intangible traits that a...

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What is your context?

joy at work leadership Sep 10, 2019

Written by Roxanne Brown

In work, I often feel pressure to offer others an insight or something else that may be valuable within just one conversation. That means giving something without attachment to whether or not it’s received as I intend. I recognize the limitations of that because I can’t fully know their context. I can only try to get a glimpse in that one moment. 
The pressure I feel is self-imposed. It’s based on my interest to try to alleviate the pain, self-doubt, and confusion people feel when working together. I try to give others new words, a new concept, a new frame that comes from my belief that people are generally good at their core. I believe people want to do work that’s meaningful in some way, however small.
This personal interest began with a childhood decision. At a very early age, I remember very clearly that I made a conscious decision to work, to have a career, so I could be independent. I had a fierce independent...

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I did it! what?

joy at work Apr 19, 2019
Written by Ed Cook
Recently, I successfully defended my dissertation. That sentence is an incredible understatement of my emotions. The lead up to the day of the defense was laden with anxiety. Despite the assurances of certain success from so many friends and family, I was not certain. As I waited in the hallway for the committee to deliberate, talking with the friends and colleagues who had come to watch the presentation, I was fatalistic about the future. I hadn’t had that feeling since I was on the deck of aircraft carrier having completed my initial landings aboard the ship and now waiting to hear if I had passed. I mused over my fate: “Well no matter what I’m a pilot that has managed to land on a carrier, a tailhooker. That can’t ever be taken away.” Barely before getting into the back of the jet, the instructor said over the comms system, “Clear on the canopy, Cook you qual’ed!” I let an involuntary and joyful scream that had to...
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Feedback Foibles

management Mar 15, 2019
Written by Ed Cook
For much of my corporate career, I have heard: “feedback is a gift.” I think it is a gift I’d prefer to give back. Apparently, I’m not the only one. In their new book, Nine Lies About Work, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall discuss the growing distaste for feedback, at least feedback as it has been practiced for the last several decades. They point out the charged and emotional nature of feedback and how that can be detrimental to guiding improvement. I have certainly had the butterflies-in-the-gut feeling spread through me after hearing, “I have some feedback for you.” My anticipation is that the next phase will not be about how wonderful I am but rather a portrait of my shortcomings. With my emotional wall up, almost nothing of any value can penetrate. But maybe that protection is good. After all, what is feedback? It is certainly not an objective and universal view of my performance. At best, it is a perspective that...
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Meaning Inspired by Mission

leadership Feb 02, 2019
Written by Ed Cook
Is there anything that brings on the overwhelming urge to yawn more than a corporate mission or vision statement? This is supposed to be the company’s description of what it means to work there. It is the expression of purpose. But, (yawn) is often an example of mediocrity and stale wordplay. What makes me incredibly sad is that people crave purpose. Everyone, customers, employees, the lunch lady, everyone. And it is not all about money, as in cost for customers and pay for employees. It is deeper. Dan Pink’s book, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, illustrates the impact of intrinsic factors like autonomy, mastery, and purpose as much more powerful drivers than money.   

If everyone desires an expression of purpose, then companies would start to describe that purpose in a statement that has meaning, real meaning. But how?

One way NOT to do this is with Corporate Mad-Libs. I love this phrase! This is the corporate jargon...
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