On the 31st December 2014, I will celebrate my first year in Germany. It was a year of self-discovery and learning. A year and a half ago, I did not speak a word of German. However, I took the decision to follow one of my dreams: Move and live in a country where the language and culture were totally unknown to me: Germany. It was now or never! If I had started to work I would have probably not quit my job to go for my dream. So, I took this bold decision to go for the unknown and try to find my way in a new environment.

The first things that puzzled me are the different reactions I faced when I explained my decision to move to Germany. It seems important to me to share those insights as you may face similar reactions when implementing your new goal or offering an innovative way to solve issues.

Four ways people react to your new goals or your innovative thinking:

I have to admit that I did not really know what to say to the people who did not understand my decision. They always found my reasons to move to Germany invalid and created their own narrative. It used to upset me a lot and then I realized it was their way to deal with something they did not understand. So just be ready to not be understood by your peers. It doesn't mean that your goal makes no sense.

I also learned a lot about myself and can sum up the following lessons I learned and I am still learning. I guess people who had similar experiences can also recognize their experience. 

Here are the lessons you can learn from doing something new and unexpected:

  1. Learn new ways of expressing yourself (not only a language skills, you can learn to be a better leader, a better consultant, a better colleague, a better coach...).
  2. Looking at the world in a brand new way, again (Some aspect of life will become more colorful and those that made no sense before will start to have one).
  3. Discovering new skills ( you can realize that in the end you are good at time management)
  4. Learning something new is confusing at the beginning but rewarding after a while.
  5. Look at the positive side even at the hardest time. There were moments when I thought German was the most difficult language to learn and then I remember how hard French Grammar (my mother-tongue) is so hard to explain.  
  6. Moving on step at a time when overwhelmed by all the things you have to do. Carry on.
Now, what is the craziest thing you always wanted to do but always hold on? Have you always wanted to learn programming or develop better relationships with your employees? You do not know if you can do it and wonder what could help you go for it? Here are my advice:
  • Go for it
  • If you dream about it, it is means you can do it. You have all resources to achieve your goal.
  • Collect information (there is always someone before you who took a similar decision)
  • Talk with your colleagues and relatives to get advice but run away from people who judge you.
  • List all the opportunities and options you have available to achieve your goal.
  • Break the goal in small steps.
  • Keep yourself accountable (write a journal, tell your colleagues, create a motivation group)
  • Know yourself (why have you in the past failed? Lake of support? Lake of information?...)
  • Understand your motivations.
  • Once launch do not stop!
I am sure you will take many resolutions for next year.  Make yourself a promise: "I will keep the resolution that really matters to me"

I hope you enjoyed my last blog post of 2014! 

See you all in 2015 and share if you like it! 

We take decisions all day long from our breakfast to the selection of a new business partner. Some decisions are "easier" than others.  This difference in difficulty comes from many factors some of them are our environment and the way our brain is wired. Some people find tiresome to choose a new car while others never have a doubt. Where does this difference comes from?

In developed countries, we can choose a variety of products and services from variety of providers and options. Decisions have become more complex to take for many products and services. We went from "one car fits all"  to "the car fits you".  The offer of almost unlimited choices is grueling because everything is subject to choice. We have a limited amount of energy to spend every day and taking decision is one energy vampire that you may have not considered as one before.

For example, few days ago, I wanted to buy a blue pen and went to a store. I was overwhelmed by the choices I was offered. I took me 20 minutes to look at all the blue pens and finally choose a BIC. It was a default choice, not a decision. At the beginning of a purchase, we may feel powerful and able to handle any choice. Unfortunately, the longer the purchase the harder the decisions are and sometimes for the worth. What can we do?

First, we have to understand the way we function when we take decisions. +Dan Ariely participated to a +TED  event where he illustrated our cognitive limitations when dealing with decisions. We are subject to visual illusion, irrational decision, and are ignorant of our own functioning. You can watch the video below to get more details.

After reading, and watching different sources about decisions making I summarized my findings here:

  1. We are influenced by the way information are presented to us. For example, Dan Ariely explained that: When presented with three options and having B and C slightly different with B better than C. We ignore A because we compare B and C to finally select B.
  2. We are faced with more and more choices that "paralyze us" and make us "regret our decisions" when our choice end up being unsatisfying as explained in another TED event by Barry Schwartz. The paradox of choice
  3. We are subject to Decision Fatigue. The more decisions we take, the less energy we have to deal with them. We will then go easily for the default choice offered to us, even if it is more expensive or of poor quality. 
Here are few tricks you can use while dealing with hard decisions. It can be applied at the individual level but also in teams and organizations.
  1. Define your benchmark and limits.
  2. Have low expectations. (Don't expect to get rich in one night after opening your own company)
  3. Take breaks often. ( Do not hesitate to say: "I need to think about it")
  4. Recharge your energy with a bit of sugar. (yes, you can have this "pain au chocolat" or "croissant") 
  5. For critical decisions: Let experts you trust choose for you. (It prevents feeling regrets once the decision is made). *** After a discussion with +rita jaskolla:  I want to add that you should look for technical advice more than subjective ones as the subjective ones are influenced by the person opinion and goals *** 
In the end, some of your decisions may be a life changing one: getting a Master degree or working full-time. Those decisions are critical and I encourage you to follow your gut feeling because it is never wrong to follow your instinct. "All roads lead to Rome"

Thank you for reading!
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Organizations cannot exist without problems. In fact, it give them life. Groups of people come together in order to solve issues. It could be creating transportation system, housing and clothes. Organizations are made of people with different skills and intelligence trying to provide a solution to a particular problem. I have the feeling that we are surrounded by problems, not the ones with a negative meaning but the ones we try to solve using creativity. This can also be challenging.

In this quest for solutions, we may sometimes lose ourselves. It happens that an issue pops up while we are trying to solve our problem. There are then different ways to solve the issue. As you will guess some ways are better than others because more efficient and logical. In general, we can react in the ways illustrated bellow.

First of all, you can either blame someone for making the mistake that led to the issue or recognize the existence of the problem. Blaming is a sterile exercise because it create negatives feelings that are not a good sign for the future of the group work. Imagine two teammates working together on creating a PowerPoint for a presentation due tomorrow. After a wrong manipulation the presentation disappears from the screen. Everything is lost. If the teammates spend their time blaming each other they will not solve the issue. On the contrary, it will generate a negative relationship which will not help create a new presentation. Blaming others takes energy, time and sometimes good relationships. Now, if our two teammates recognize the issue - no more presentation. They can focus on finding a solution which will for sure be faster and more effective than blaming each other.

Second, you can focus on the past or the present and both dynamics will have different consequences.  A focus on the past is like replaying the event in loops which won't help ease the bad feeling it creates. A focus on the present, on the opposite takes the information from the past event and uses it to build a possible solution. The two colleagues can either get more and more upset or decide to take actions.

Last but not least, in a bigger group people may start to speak about the problem. In some cases, they may gossip and share the blaming past oriented version of the event while in other cases they may inform others about what happened to avoid that this event happens again. Story telling is very powerful in organizations and bad news usually circulate faster than good ones.

As a leader or a manager or even as en employee it is our responsibility to ensure that problems are solved by following few rules:
  • Recognize issues and not blame
  • Be present oriented and not past oriented
  • Inform to avoid repetition of the issue but do not gossip
It is also possible to see a mix of the two dynamics. Some groups are able to recognize the issue while being totally focused on the past event. They may simply be paralyzed by the event itself. It is then important to learn few tricks to avoid those problems.. Here are suggestions you could try to use: 

What are your tips? how would you go from Bigger issues to Solutions?

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. 

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Change, change, change… is it all about change? The only constant in life is change. However, it seems harder and harder to implement new strategies in organizations. Today, change has to be handled in complex, fast moving and sometimes multicultural environments. This multifaceted aspect of organizations may discourage some and raise the interest of others. At the end of the day, we can say that at whatever level of the organization change is not easy. It is a time when you have to accept that what was there today and yesterday will not be there tomorrow. It may also be a time of self doubt and questioning: will I be up-to-date? Will I be part of the organization’s future? Will I adapt fast enough? What if it gets worth for me?

Since very young we react to change. Some children love to go to school for the first time while other just don’t want to hear about it. There are the early “change” enthusiasts and those who need more time to get use to the new state of things.

In fact, 70% of change initiatives in organization fail. Even if change is present all along our life we do not know how to handle it. Will you accept an operation with 70% of failure rate? I bet you won’t.  Still organizations invest time and money on change management processes that have more chance to fail than to succeed. Only a few people in organizations have an understanding of change management. They know models like Lewin’s Model of change (Unfreeze > Change > Refreeze) which were develop to understand and help deal with change. Unfortunately, change did not become easier with those. All models are different interpretations of the same process with different methodology to arrive to the desired goal. Most of the model concentrate on identifying the need for change, communicate, analyses change impact, make the change happen and keep the change alive. They forgot the principal agent of change: people psychology.

How many leaders have tried to change a process or a habit? For example, you may see the need to improve the billing process. The leaders were aware of this need, spoke about it and had a good idea of the final result: A more effective billing system. At the end, they failed to create a sustainable change even if they followed all the stages of the change model they decided to use. Why? They forgot the following things:

  • The understanding of your own reaction to change.
  • The importance of employees' needs and point of view. 
    • Maybe changing the billing system as the leader suggested will create more paper work for some employee. We all know that almost no one likes paper work…
    • Maybe the employees have a better solution than the one suggested and the billing system should not be changed but the way you archive documents.
  • The attachment to old habits.
    • We are attached to our rituals, conceptions of the perfect day at work and so on. Change will just mess up with it and we may not be able to handle the modification of our ritual. 
  • The misunderstanding of the “reason” for change.
    • Some employee may simply not understand why the change is necessary because they are not directly and clearly informed. 

I have few suggestions for you. It is all about inquiry and refocusing your work on people behavior and emotions. You should  ask the following questions:

  • What do we want to achieve? 
    • Be clear about the goal of the change: do you want to create a new service, improve or stop one? Is your goal more efficiency or a better customer service?
  • What could be done at the employee, manager and C-suite level to achieve the organization goal? 
    • Depending on the size of the organization: create focus groups in each department and level. Answer the question: “how can we achieve our goal from your point of view?”
    • Find common trends in people answer.
    • Create a change process based on the results of your findings. 
  • Where will employee need support to adapt to the change? 
    • Evaluate the need for training and/or coaching.
    • Evaluate change reactions with the Change Diagnostic index

The change process should be easier to handle for everyone because you determined the change need while involing all employees in the discussion . There is nothing worth than an imposed change to create strong reactions. The more you empower your employee, the more your organization will grow and develop innovative solutions.

Some employee may be totally okay with any change you suggest and trust you to take decisions for them. It is always better to offer to employee the possibility to express themselves concerning a potential change. Even if they trust you, you better verify with them that the change you envision is suitable to them. Afterward, you won’t have to pay the consequence of a bad informed team  that do not act on the change suggested.

Change is all about balance.

Your support means a lot to me. 

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This article was first published on HR Transformation Network partners on the 24th of October 2014.

Jean Tirole won the Nobel Prize of Economy 2014 “for his analysis of market power and regulation”. This man born in Troyes, France, the city where I studied my BA, is now working at “Toulouse 1 Capitole University, Toulouse, France “.His work reveals the importance of the human psychology in the world of business.

So far, the classical vision of the market could not fully explain the creation of inefficient organizations. The companies’ life is more complex than what we hoped. While the model of Ford made sense in his time, it cannot apply to today’s market. The jobs performed earlier were far simpler than the current ones. Almost no one needed to be computer skilled 30 years ago. Now, no one can survive in the working world without a minimum of IT knowledge.
Looking at the evolution of the market one could think that organizations lost their rationality or worth that they never had it. Jean Tirole proves us all wrong. There are few things that HR professional should learn from his work.

First of all, we are rational but we usually play different roles with different interests. This means that during an interaction our decisions are based on what we know, what we think we know, what we want and our interest. We may work for the same company or same goal but our needs may vary. This difference in interest will impact the way we interact with one another in the organization. An employee may hide a mistake to his boss because his interest is to keep his job. A boss may avoid giving bad feedback because he wants to keep a cool image in the heart of his subordinates.

Second, there are internal and external motivations. On one hand, our intention to perform certain actions is influenced by internal motivation such as the desire to be promoted, to get along with our colleagues, or to preserve a positive self-esteem. On the other hand, external motivation will induce us to behave a certain way. For example, the existence of a sanction for people who arrive late at work will influence their behavior. The creation of transparency rules will also impact the way people deal with information. Organizations have the capacity to modulate the external motivators for their employees. Sometime a sanction meant to reduce a kind of action will in fact increase it. Organizations should then anticipate the type of reaction on motivator can have.

Third, we have access to different information; this is called the information asymmetry. The IT expert has obviously more knowledge and information about computers than the HR person, unless being educated about it. This asymmetry of information is the cause of many misunderstandings and lack of communication. The jargon used in each specialty makes the communication difficult or inexistent. Sometimes we compare it with foreign languages. Information asymmetry is not reduced to that. It can also relate to information that one side has and the other one not. This information asymmetry has a huge impact on final decisions. There are groups’ exercises where one side of the negotiators knows more than the other one. They can decide to keep it for themselves, and then have an advantage, or share it with the other team in order to take a decision that will maximize the outcomes for both sides.

Those three factors: rationality with different interests, internal and external motivation and the information asymmetry when taken as a whole can explain why organizations become inefficient. This implies the existence of power games in the organization with people using their power to satisfy their interests, motivations and need of information.

Jean Tirole pointed out very important factors in organizations’ life which are the existence of personal interests, motivation and access to information. This can be referred to the study of decision making, group dynamics and leadership.

My question is: What can we do as HR professional to avoid the pitfalls of those three decision making factors? My first reflections lead me to the following idea: Organizations are made of individuals with different interests, motivations and information (IMI). The role of HR is to create bridges between individuals IMI, in a way that individuality is respected while helping the organization grow as a whole.

A first step, is to acknowledge the existence of individuals, groups and organizations IMI. The second one, is to understand the dynamics between those three factors. Then, we will be able to create organizations which take advantage of individuals IMI to become efficient.

Yet, the HR and Organizational Sciences spheres have been working on answering some of the questions mentioned earlier. Our role is to focus on the human aspect of business and not consider employee as resources but has a capital part of the organization.

Source: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economic-sciences/laureates/2014/tirole-facts.html 

Now you know “How to welcome a new employee”. You understand its importance to increase employee engagement starting on Day-1. Having a personalized welcome strategy allows you to differentiate your organization from the other ones and attract more talents. People exchange information about their first experience with their friends or relatives and sometimes people who approached them to gain insights on the company. Your employees are then one of the best marketing tools to spread good or bad information about your organization.

You may start to panic and realize that in your organization there is not such a thing as a welcome strategy. You understand the principles developed in my post on: “How to welcome a new employee?”, which describe the 5 areas to consider when developing or reinforcing your existing strategy. (Welcome Package, Check-Lists, Personal Mentor, IT and Celebration: read more here)

Before you freak out, let me give you some hints. You can develop your own strategy because you are an expert in your organization. You know its people and processes; you have an insider look and can spot areas of improvements.  The next question is: How can I improve employee first days and weeks at work in my organization?

The first advice I would like to give you is to engage with as many people as possible in your firm during the development of your strategy. This will allow you to get more ideas on the table and a more realistic picture of what is and what will be. You could ask for volunteers to participate to the exercise of developing a welcome strategy. Some may come as they felt that their first days could have been much better organized.

Do not be scared when you receive negatives feedback. On the contrary, use them to build a strong welcome strategy that will reduce the types of incidents your own employees had to face. Acknowledge the need to improve the current state and listen to what your employee have to say. The word “Improvement” suggests that something can be better done. Do not over think about the issues you had in the past but concentrate on constructing a better today and tomorrow.

There are several methods to collect ideas in groups. I encourage you to use the The Snow Card Technique as it is a very effective brainstorming tool. It can be used in small and big groups and the group can be divided by themes. So, if you have not a lot of time allocated to your project but many volunteers, do not hesitate to divide your group in the subcategories (a, b, c, d, e) defined bellow.

It is important to expose the project timeline and steps to the employees involved so they know where they are going and when each step will take place. A clear communication will also allow you to prevent any stress on your side. You will have clearly defined your timeline and expectations to avoid unexpected events.

Let’s now talk about the process itself. It is divided in 5 steps as it is easier to remember 5 steps than 20. Use this process as your own and do not hesitate to add more to it as it is supposed to be a base to start thinking. This is not a rigid method that has to be followed perfectly. You have the responsibility to make it your own. I will be happy to help you during the development process. Do not hesitate to contact me with any questions: acgraber@gmail.com

Now let’s have a look at the process I developed to help you create or redefine your welcoming strategy. To do so, you can follow the following process:

Here is a more detailed process to help you with the underlining questions that will help you deepen your thinking process.

 I. Inventory of current situation
a. What is our welcome package?
b. Do we have check-Lists?
c. Do we design a personal mentor?
d. Do we evaluate IT needs?
e. Do we celebrate?

II. Define envisioned strategy
a. What will be the best welcome package ever?
b. What will contain our check-Lists?
c. How will be the personal mentor designed?
d. What and how will we evaluate IT needs?
e. How will we celebrate?

III. Gaps analysis
a. What gaps exist between our current situation and our envisioned strategy?
b. Make a list of all the gaps between those two situations.

IV. Filling the gaps
a. What steps should we follow to fulfill the gaps?
b. What will help use filling the gaps?

V. Review
a. Are the five steps al covered?
b. Are they difficulty we did not anticipate? What can we do about it?

This may seem overwhelming to you but remember that all big thing seem difficult until they are done. Do not give up on your employees. Give them the best reasons to stay with you with the best first days and weeks at work. To be engaged they need to know that they count, not as a number on a employee list, but as a human being.

In case you want to discuss. I am always here for you!

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Congratulation! You made it and got the job. You passed all interviews and tests to finally sit behind a computer which purpose is not to search for a job anymore. You dreamed about your first day and probably had panic attacks the night before: will I arrive on time? Do I have all information necessary? Will I enjoy my job? You are all prepared and may unfortunately be the only one.

Your computer, oh dear, is not working properly. No one seems to know what to do with you? The team does not make efforts to include you…

After several discussions, I realized that some organizations, departments or teams have no clue on how to welcome their new employees. You may think that “welcome to ABC” is enough. Do you realize the impact of a bad first day or week on employee engagement?

When a new employee sees that the organization has nothing planned for him. He starts his journey with a bitter taste. He may feel unsafe, not meaningful and will therefore not be available for the work you hired him for. This is the road to disengagement and it started on the Day 1.

It is your role as an organization to welcome the new employee. For sure, he has to make some effort to integrate himself but coming in a new team can be intimidating. This is where a good welcome strategy helps both the organization and the new employee to create a good relationship.

Fortunately, there are strategies to welcome new employees and improve their adaptation to the new environment. Here are five suggested areas that you may consider developing for your welcome strategy.

Those suggestions should be monitored to your organization’s culture. Do not start having welcome lunch if your team is more into coffee breaks. Do not use Check-List if your team never uses them. Make sure to use tools and strategies that do not deviate from what you are used to. It will be easier then to prepare the Welcome Day of your new employee.

Most of the time, the organizations’ Welcome Strategy do not cover all the 5 suggested areas above. You should then consider the impact of this on the new employee. He may feel perplex because he knows he is welcomed but feels that something is missing.

Finally, the idea is to make the first days and weeks as pleasant as possible to the new employee. When building the welcoming strategy try to imagine what questions a new employee may have or the one you had as a new employee. Your goal will be to help him through the adaptation phase. An employee that feels welcomed will be more inclined to go for the extra mile for the organization.

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When you think about it we spend our life playing poker faces which is in a way lying. We invent a story to not hurt a colleague or just to enjoy a quiet afternoon at work. We even lie to ourselves when we procrastinate and think we are on time, until it’s just too late. Lying happens in organizations during coffee breaks, interviews, sales, internal processes....  It goes beyond borders and it seems impossible to live without those acts of bad faith. We lie while considering it with some kind of disgust.

There are acceptable and unacceptable lies and the border between those two depends on everyone sensitivity. Nonetheless, some lies can be harmful to organizations and their employees. I would like to focus on the lies & poker faces that people create when they are proved guilty or wrong. It can be challenging for a team to deal with a group member who cannot face reality or his responsibilities. This post aims to determine the possible origins of lies and open a discussion on strategies to help teams and individuals in those situations.

People lie when they make mistakes or ignore a rule that lead to an incident. Such actions can have huge repercussions. A lie to a customer can lead to a loss of customer loyalty and then a decrease in sales. Our friend internet is always there to share bad experiences. A lie in a team can impact the engagement that your employees have while destroying their trust. In the end, the efficiency of the group will be impaired and your team may never totally recover from the consequences of the lie.

The main sign that a person is lying to others or to himself are: .

As you can imagine those reactions create a sense of powerlessness and frustration in the team facing such behavior. Furthermore, it does not allow solving the initial issue or create better policies and processes because people affect gets involved. The group dynamic may face serious issues. The first step to stop making a mistake is to face your responsibilities and recognize your implication and the one of others.

Most of the time people create comforting lies in order to:

The worth thing we can do when a mistake is done in a team is to look for the ONE responsible of all this mess. Mistakes and failures never come from one person but from the incapacity of the group at a given time to see the big picture. One last person may have pressed the wrong button but a cascade of events before this final one led him there. If as a leader, an employee and a person you understand that there is not a guilty person but a group of individual who share their responsibilities in the occurrence of the incident then you will be able to learn. You will be able to unfold the actions that led to this final one. You will understand that no one can judge the executioner because he was unfortunately the one designated by cultural norms, expectations and habits to push this button. Without him you would have never find out that something was wrong. You should still be able to judge the performance and measure the impact of the incident on the team and the organization.

Next time someone makes a mistake and reacts as described before, pause. Realize that he made the broken system obvious. A good team is the one that will find a way to solve the issue without looking for a guilty person. A mistake is just another opportunity to learn. Maybe a way to help our little liars and poker players is to create an atmosphere of trust and security. I would suggest to reflect on the following thoughts

What are the challenges you face when working with a person that plays Poker Faces?

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Decision making is a very interesting subject. It becomes even more interesting when you learn that every decision you take is biased. You may think that learning about those biases will help you avoid them, well, most of the time it won’t because they are automatic. This originates from the way our brain is wired. The human evolution was led by survival needs, where quick reactions were necessary. You can take the time to ask yourself some questions to check that your biases are not forcing you to take a "bad"decisions. This requires energy and time and may be good for big decision like: merging with another company, getting married, buying a car...

An HBR article by Robert F. Wolf counts six types of biases (http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/09/how-to-minimize-your-biases-when/). Those six biases can be summarized in the image below:

Short-stories to understand:
§  Anchoring:  You are influenced by number you see at the moment you take a decision. If I give you the price of my neighbors’ houses and then ask you to estimate the price of mine. You will use the price of my neighbor as an Anchor to estimate the price of mine.  In another situation, if I give you a random number like 10 and then ask you to give me the price of a book. I bet your guess will be close to 10Euros.
§  Framing: You need to buy a new car. You can be in two situations a car that fits your requirement but sold by a very unfriendly vendor and the same car sold by a very nice person. I bet you will buy the car to the nice person. Imagine then the consequences of framing on your daily life. You always go for the good feeling situation and marketers know it…
§  Availability heuristics: you know the story with the bread that always falls on the wrong side. It is wrong. The probability for the bread to fall on the wrong side is as high as the probability to fall on the other side. We just remember more easily the situation that made us have a strong emotional reaction.
§  Confirmation Bias: You finally took the decision to buy the new iphone and ordered it online. Chances are that you are going to look for information that proves your decision was right. The anti-iphone community could be harassing you, you will ignore it and prefer the pro-iphone community.
§  Commitment escalation: One day you go for a coffee and decide on the one that seems to be the best that day. You will return to this coffee the next time and the next one and the next one… In fact, you commit to the decision you took one day without reevaluating  your options. Maybe the coffee next door is fare better but you don’t know it! Try to spot in your life those commitments that escalated until habits and reevaluate you choice. Are they still a good ones?
§  Hindsight Bias: You learned how to use Google or to tie your shoes but you won’t remember it. It is not possible to remember when we learn something which make things harder when you want to “learn from your past failure”. How would you know that a particular action is the reason of your failure? Sometimes an external point of view such as a psychologist for a person or a consultant for an organization can help.

Even if biases are unconscious we can use this knowledge to take better decisions or help other take better ones. The following suggestions are not exhaustive. You can ask yourself questions at the six different levels as suggested in the graphic below. 

Do you know a better way to overcome Biases in decision making? Share with us in the comments!


If you want to learn more about Biases here are two links suggested by +John E. Smith

And a last one suggested by +Vanessa Gennarelli 

Thank you for your contribution!

On the 4th of September 2014 I had my first Hangout!

 +Adelheid Hörnlein invited me to talk about my post "Do not make assumptions, ask questions!" we ended up speaking about the impact of assumptions on our interaction with other. 

Here is the link to the exercises I mentioned in the talk. it is a bit different than what I explained but still have the same conclusion. http://organizationalmanagment.blogspot.de/2014/05/the-blind-men-and-elephant-conflict.html

Today I would like to concentrate this post on the assumptions we make daily. We assume that many information we receive are true, unless very disruptive. We assume we are right and the other wrong. We assume that we know the reasons that pushed an employee to act the way he or she did. We assume that at the end of the month we will still possess what is ours today. All those assumptions make us feel safe and comfort us in our habits. In the end, we do not try to understand the world around us because, well, we know it. This is also true for organizations as they are the concentration of men and women working with the same goal, at least we hope.  I invite you for a second to consider the existence of assumptions in your personal and professional life. What assumptions do you make and what are their impacts?

Unfortunately, when we work on automatic thinking we end up:

As you may guess making too many assumptions can be dangerous for organizations. They may not see the danger coming or ignore it. Remember the Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable and engineers assumed they built the best boat, ever. As we all know the Titanic sank in the night between the 14th and 15th April 1912. Furthermore, organizations may discriminate a part of their employee because they assume to know what is good for them. When people do not questions their assumptions they are more inclined to impose their thoughts and decisions to change or remain in the same comfortable place.

Nowadays, we realize the importance for leaders to consider their employees and to connect with them. How could you possibly connect to employees if you make assumptions? It prevents you from knowing them. A good way to get out of your “Assumption zone” is to realize that you are making assumptions and ask for more information to yourself and others. You may assume that your employee wants a day off per month because he is lazy. What would happen if you try to find out why? (without being intrusive but this is a subject for a future post). The employee will give you more information that will break your assumptions into pieces or consolidate them. Understanding the need behind the request help to not judge the person. There are few opening questions that could help you get closer to reality, such as:

Obviously, connecting with a person requires more than just asking questions. It requires care. You should attempt to create a genuine relationship. One thing you have to accept is that your employees may not fit to your assumptions, that their desires may differ from yours or your assumptions, that employees are simply different from you. You should accept that no one can enter in any box you ever created to interpret the world. Assumptions prevent you from discovering differences that make every person unique.
Be mindful and try as much as possible to stop judging the person in front of you because this leads back to the starting point: assumptions. When it comes to people no assumptions are valid, you simply have to ask questions.

Here is a SlideShare I made after a Google Hangout I had with +Adelheid Hörnlein & +Margherita Crystal Lotus.

Here is the video of the Google Hangout

Thank you for reading! if you care, share. 

The Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) is an instrument developed by Jym Kouzes and Barry Posner in order to identify individual leadership practices. This 360° tool allows to measure, learn, and teach new behavior that one need to improve his/her leadership.

 Here are the The five Practicesâ of leadership identified by Jym Kouzes and Barry Posner:

Each individual has a tendency to develop some practices more than others. It is possible to learn new behavior if we can identify the least developed practices. This tool gives insights from the leader himself and people working with him. On one hand, the leader clarifies the practices he uses by answering 30 questions. On the other hand, people working with him answer another 30 questions to determine the practices that the leader shows on a daily basis. 

This 360° analysis identifies discrepancies between personal and external perceptions. This is the reason why I encourage leaders to use this tool to learn where they really stand in order to become better leaders. I  used this tool and could identify specific behaviors to develop my leadership.

You may not be able to use the LPI tool but I would still encourage you to use this framework to analyse your leadership style. How do you Challenge the process, inspire a shared vision, enable others to act, model the way and encourage the heart?

This reflection can lead to self-discovery and improvement of your leadership by implementing a step by step plan to develop new practices.  
Innovation and conservatism led humanity to develop in what it is today. On one hand, humans use technology that simplifies their daily life starting with lighting fire to the last smart phone in your hands. On the other hand, conservatism develops institutions and beliefs that frame the way people look and interpret the world. Innovation is intimately tied to conservatism. The presence of conservatism points out the existence of “attachment objects” threatened by innovation. I encourage you to read my article on Resistance to change for more details.
Short explanation: When we grow up, we develop attachment to objects, ideas, people, rituals and so one. We call them “attachment objects” as defined by Dr. Victoria M. Grady. One day, for some reasons we lose this object. The loss causes six symptoms such as anxiety, frustration, and retardation of development (more details in Resistance to change). Luckily, there are strategies to soften the pain by using an appropriate “transitional object”. It helps to cope with the change and be part of it.
Innovation led to great discoveries such as vaccines, water filtration and outer space exploration. At any time, conservatism is confronted to its fear to lose its beliefs, rituals and so on. The dynamics of innovation and conservatism look like the chart below:

At the first stage, the innovative mindset develops hypothesis whereas conservatism mindset develops convictions. One looks at the world with questions while the other one looks at the world with certitudes. Then innovative mindset observes and analyzes its environment in order to understand it. The conservatism mindset creates rules and morals to explain what makes no sense. When a new idea emerges innovative mindset welcomes and tests it while conservative mindset rejects it. This rejection comes from the fear to lose the attachment objects developed in the past to explain the world. The innovative mindset generates innovations when conservatism tends to freeze.

Organizational development specialists encourage innovative mindsets in organizations. Our goal is to help employees cope with the change. We can encourage and coach people to be more innovative by helping them question the world they live in and observe it before they generate convictions. But things are not that easy. Everyone is confined by beliefs, rules and mental models {kind of maps that we use to navigate the world}. We should not try to become absolutely innovative because our conservatism is also a security that invites us to reflect on the necessity for change. All changes are not necessary.

This highlights the requirement to evaluate the need for change before implementing it. Once organizations determined that the need is necessary it makes sense to encourage employee to belong to the innovative sides of the balance and not the conservationist one. The Change index tool is a wonderful one that helps organization identify the individual and organizational symptoms that the change may cause, cause and will cause. It also help create a personalized change strategy which has more chance to succeed than a massive plan that does not take into account the organization uniqueness,

Accompanying employees is then the key to an accepted change and here is how you can do it.

Hiring the right person is not only posting a job offer and waiting for the right candidate to show up. In the last few months, I read different blogs and followed some interesting discussions about hiring a new employee. Here is the summary of what caught my attention.

The hiring process’ cost starts at the moment you design the job offer and ends when the person you hired is “productive”. Hiring the wrong person does not only hurt an organization financially, it hurts its culture and its employees’ morale. The consequences of a hiring mistake are too important to avoid a good preparation.
A hiring failure can be defined as hiring a person who does not have the skills (soft or hard) required to perform the job and who does not fit to the organization’s culture. Basically a person that does not have what it takes to satisfy the organization’s needs.

There are a minimum of three steps to follow in order to ensure success. The graphic bellow explains it.

  • Determine your needs 

Make sure to determine all your needs in order to avoid bad surprises when the new employee comes in. Here are a few questions to start: Which hard and soft skills does the person need to have? What type of tool will he/she use in a daily basis?
The next step is to verify if someone in your organization could do the job. One positive aspect of internal hiring is that the person is already known in the organization and can ask for direct referral.

  • Write the offer

Writing a appealing job offer may drive you nuts sometimes. To make sure it will attract the right person you should write a concise offer with clear requirements. Remember that job seeker read hundreds of offers per week. So the shorter and clearer your offer is the more chance you have to attract people’s attention.
The first paragraph should be the best one, avoid writing the organization history here. Job seeker will look for more information when preparing their application. If they don’t, you probably don’t want them to apply or work for you.
In the offer make sure to list the skills which are required and preferable. Clarify responsibilities and give some information about the culture but not too much. You want to attract people that fit to your needs by being clear.

  • Select employee

Once you received applications look for information that indicate that their skills, former experiences and responsibilities fit to your needs. You will then need to determine if the employee personality fits to your organization’s culture but this is a subject for another post.
So basically, hiring the right person can be summarized in three ideas: clear needs, clear offer, clear fit. 
Do you have best practices that could help organization get the right person on board?
Feel free to share it in the comments below!

In the poem “The blind men and the elephant” six blind men discover for the first time an elephant. Each one of them touches a different part of the animal and hold his perception as the unique truth. They argue and try to impose their own perception to the others without understanding that their perceptions are complementary. It is obvious to the reader that they do not "see" what is wrong in their judgment. They could get a better image of an elephant by accepting that different perceptions do not mean opposition. On the contrary, different perceptions lead to a more colorful and complete understanding of what is.

In business, we face many situations where we do not recognize that the different perceptions of the same problem complement each other. For example, disputes can exist between Financial and Research and development departments. One is willing to spend more time and money on a new project when the other one wants to reduce the expenses. When they come at the negotiating table they see each other as competitors. They do not try to find bridges that could be used to develop a common understanding of their issue and a common solution.

I thought of an exercise that places people in the same situation as the 6 blind men. I would love to receive feedback to improve it. So, please do not hesitate to write a comment. Its aim is to help team or people in conflict to understand that different opinions and perceptions are not a sign of opposition but an indication that each one has a different point of view.

In order to conduct the exercise you will need some specific material such as: piece of paper for each participants, pen, pictures of the same object from different angles (you should have one pictures per group or person), and a blackboard.


  • Distribute one picture per team and make sure they cannot see what other team have. The best is to have people in different rooms. 
  • Ask the participants to write down a description of the object using only its features. (Colors, forms, texture…) The name of the object should never be mentioned.  
  • Tell to each group they have the same object on the picture but the other group should not know that they know. (They may be confused at this point because “why hide the pictures if they are the same”) reassure them, it is part of the exercises. 
  • Ask each team to read their description out loud in front of the other groups while the mediator draws it on a blackboard. It should be inconsistent as their pictures are taken from different angles.
  • Ask the groups what is wrong with the drawing. The groups should start to argue about the real content of the picture. Let them argue for a moment. 
  • Then ask them to be more precise about what they see exactly. What is the object’s orientation and so on. 
  • You should let people disagree if they carry on. At the end, ask each group to show their pictures.
  • The groups realize that the pictures are taken from different angles. Emphasize the importance of the different perceptions to build a 3D image of the object. In the end, you only see one dimension of a problem.
  • Ask the groups why they argued so much. What did they believe? What information they thought was shared by everyone?
  • Debrief (a): make a list of lessons learned from the exercise. Make a parallel with the conflict the group is facing. 
  • Redo the exercise with another series of pictures from a different object. This time they should be more careful and try to understand from which angle the pictures of the other one is taken. 
  • Debrief (b): ask the group to explain what they did differently.
  • The findings from debrief (a) and (b) should be written down and distributed to the team. It is important to create a strong memory of the exercise as it reminds team members that they should build a "3D image" in any conflicting situation. 
  • When people communicate well with each other, it is possible that they quickly figure out that the same object was photographed from different angles. Ask them why they where so fast in doing so. How did they communicate ?
This exercise helps people experiment viscerally the poem “The blind men and the elephant” and do more than just showing them that we have communication issues. It makes it real. There is a difference between understanding a concept and experiencing it. I hope you will use this exercise or make your own version to develop "3D perception of issues".
I had the chance to participate to classes lead by Dr. Victoria Grady who teaches at the Department of Organizational Science within the Columbian School of Arts and Sciences at the George Washington University. Her work in the field of change management is fascinating as it takes into account the individual reaction to solve organizations change management issues.

In my post Resistance to change – What if we were all wrong? I mentioned the Change Diagnostic Index© which is a quantitative individual assessment tool that measures people reactions when facing change. It allows certified consultants to tailor a unique change management strategy with the following steps:

People's reactions to change can be anticipated and classified in six different symptoms. Those individual symptoms are transferred to the organization level. They vary in intensity for each individual and organization which made it difficult so far to develop a change management strategy. The Change Diagnostic Index© gives certified consultants the keys to develop a personalized change management strategy. The table bellow shows strategies that help reducing the  six symptoms.

The Change Diagnostic Index© is a powerful tool that has already helped organizations to strive during their change initiative. Its quantitative data fosters the comprehension of the organizations reaction to change while developing specific strategies that fit the organization needs. The 70% change management failures could probably be avoided if we took the time to support our employees by identifying their symptoms and giving them the right support.  

For more specific information on the Change Diagnostic Index© I invite you to visit the following website http://pivotpnt.com/

Negotiation occurs at many stages and layers of organizations life and it can be frustrating. I want to highlight the existence of an approach that has the advantage to respect the rights and duties of each member of the negotiation. In spite of fighting for resources the mutual gain approach allows to create more value for all participants. The main idea and aspiration is to develop a setup which benefits the members of the negotiation.

The main principles are the following: (inspired by the Mutual Gain association website http://www.mutual-gains.com/mutual_gains_neg.html)
  1. Identify common interest – You always come to the table with at least one common interest. Find it and build your dialogue on your common interest not your differences.
  2. Consider as many options as your imagination permits – be creative and imagine all potential solutions even the ones that technology does not allow. This will allow you to find innovative way to find mutual agreement. You may in the end combined two ideas to achieve the negotiation goals.
  3. Generate criteria or standards - They are maybe pre-existent criteria and standards in your industry that can limit and help the negotiation. In case no standards or criteria exist, generate a document that will list all the authorized action within the negotiation. Clarifying the rules of the negotiation will permit a better understanding of what is acceptable or not and will avoid conflict or cultural misunderstanding.
  4. Understand all your alternatives – in a negotiation you always have a choice to accept, reject or offer modification to the proposal. In order to negotiate effectively determine your Best Alternative to the Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). What happens if the negotiation fails?
  5. Build relationship – Make sure to build a negotiation based on facts, open and clear communication (do not hesitate to ask for clarification or give more details if you feel the need to), and respect. As a consequence, the connection you created with the other person remains even if the negotiation fails. In the future, you will be able to negotiate with this person again with trust and clear communication.  

Prepare for the negotiation:

Before going to any negotiation try to answer the following questions. If you fail to answer some of them you should try to answer those questions during the negotiation.

During the negotiation your feelings may be triggered. You should allow yourself to exit the situation if your emotions are taking over your rational thinking. In case of “emergency” you can:

After the negotiation, take the time to assess your success in answering the following questions:

I suggest that you write down question to ask during the negotiation and even prepare a speech about the way you would like to process the negotiation. It is important to clarify your intentions and needs to the other side in order to allow them to do the same. The mutual gain approach is not commonly used in negotiation and may disturb people at first. When they understand its benefits they will for sure participate more actively.

Do you have any tips to share with us to achieve a successful negotiation? Write it as a comment. 

Few weeks ago, one of my blog's reader asked me if I had suggestions or tips for a new leader in an organization or team. The main question is How to figure out the new organization's (team) culture and values? A person becomes a leader when people start to follow him. This will never happen if the leader has no idea of what the organization is about.

The new leader should become a detective and try to find as much information as possible about the organization's culture and values. He should not be satisfied with reading reports on how things are done. The most important is to connect to the people in the organization. The Leader should have few questions in mind such as: Was the organization successful? Were there many changes in the last few years? What is the internal reputation of the organization?...

My first advice to any new leader is to observe what happens around him and take notes. The new leader should observe the following behaviors and processes (this list is not exhaustive however it should be a good starting point):

  • Observe everything. This may seem overwhelming  but those observations will give you a lot of soft information about the organization.
    • Observe Interactions between colleagues, supervisor and employees during work time and breaks. For example, Do colleagues eat together for lunch?
    • Observe and Question influential people in the organisation and make sure to develop a relationship with them. They may not have senior or high level position in the organization. It could be the secretary that has been working for the organization for years and knows everyone. The article on Social Networking Analysis could help you to understand what could be done. 
    • Observe Processes. How does the organization get the work done? Is it different from what you are used to? Could it be improved thanks to suggestions received?
  • Ask questions: if you do not know something and you cannot figure it out alone: ask questions. People will appreciate to help you especially if you recognize their participation in your learning.  
    • Ask people: what is their work about? How do they do it? and what could be done better? maybe this will highlight dysfunctions in the organization. This allows the new leader to improve efficiency and work life while being praised for listening and taking useful actions. 

All those observations should help the new leader to better understand and grasp the organization's culture and values. My second advice relates to the leader's behavior in the first few months. Remember that the leader leads by example and that his behavior is influenced by his beliefs and habits. So:

  • What are the leader's values, goals, mission, vision? Do they fit with what was observed? if not should the leader adapt himself or try to change the organization?
  • Clear communication.When a new leader arrive people expect change. The New leader should make sure employees know what is his plan. He should be mindful of the communication tool he uses because it has to correspond to the organization' s culture. 
  • People Talk: good and bad news are quickly spread in organizations. The leader should be aware of the influence of what he says, to whom he says it and how he says it. When people have no idea what is going on they use their imagination to fulfill their knowledge's gap. No one wants negative rumors to spread because the communication was not clear or existent.  
  • Create momentum by communicating clearly and by creating partnership with people within the organization. It is important to  make sure that employees can answer the following question: Where are we going? What are our resources? How are we going to achieve our goal?
  • Slow is better than too fast: I advice any new leader to avoid lead major changes before he understands the organization's culture and values. 
I encourage you to read the following article as it gives another perspective on what should a new leader do. http://www.forbes.com/2009/11/04/new-job-success-leadership-ceonetwork-employment.html

This article is based on the book “Change your questions, change your life” written by Adams Marilee. She explains that our behaviors are impacted by our thoughts, emotions and the circumstances we live in. We have two possible reactions which depend on the type of questions we ask ourselves (unconsciously most of the time). Those questions impact our behavior and emotional state. Understanding the impact of those questions allows to face issues with a more positive view. It empower us to make better decisions and improve our emotional state.

The first types of questions are opened ones. They have a positive impact on our behaviors and emotional state. They are called Learner questions. The other types of questions are called Judger questions because they blame either ourselves or other people for our current situation. The consequences of such questioning will badly impact our behavior and emotional state. Learner and Judger questions are listed bellow with a list of consequences.

It is preferable to be in a Learner mode as the consequences of this questioning are way better than the one from Judger. It is then interesting to know how to switch from a Judger position to a Learner one. The main question is: Are you able to evaluate in which mode you are? As written before, we may not be aware of our unconscious questioning. Self-Awareness can be challenging to develop as it requires to pause for a minute and listen to ourselves. Our bodies have unique ways to communicate with us. Some people can feel back pain, tight shoulders, or migraine when they are in the Judger mode. How do you feel in stressful situations?

If you want to use appreciative inquiry you need to listen to yourself. You have to make the conscious effort to observe yourselves and your reactions when you are in Judger mode. Once you identified your personal reaction you can switch to Learner by simply asking learners questions; such as below:

You may hope that once you acknowledge the existence of Judger it will disappear. Unfortunately, it is in the human nature to come back to Judger. In this case, we have to develop our self-awareness so that we can detect the moment when we become a Judger and ask switching questions.

Appreciative inquiry can also be used in group to resolve problems. This tool is called Q-storming as it is based on the idea of Brain-storming, It consists of asking learner questions in group regarding an issue. The questions lead the group to better understand the roots of the problem.

I interviewed Jing Tian a PhD student in the program of Human and Organizational Learning. She works in an organization that provides job training with a focus on leadership, communication and change management. When she looked at PhD programs she was advised by her coworkers to look at George Washington University where she studies now.

During the interview she expressed her interest in Social Networking Analysis which is the study of the connections between people within organizations. She explained that understanding the interconnections between people is crucial to understand organizations’ dynamics. It allows visualizing the invisible connections between people by creating a social network map.

Computer sciences and network science fields were the first to develop the network theory. The goal of network theory is to map and visualize the existing relations between objects. The connections between objects can be asymmetric and symmetric. The technology used to map those interactions was restrained to computer sciences for a long time.  Nowadays, Organizational Learning uses this theory to map social network.

The interest of Jing Tian is to use this theory and its concepts in order to apply it to human interactions within organization. Mapping those interactions allows consultant, researcher and managers to better understand the network of communication, influence, and relationships within an organization.

This theory is relevant to my focus on change management as it can help depict connections between people. A Social Networking Map can uncover unbalanced power, non-existing relationships, and dysfunctional processes. This tool can be used as an eye opener for the people within and outside the organization. People may not be aware of the informal network which is more relevant to study in the change process than the formal network established in Organizational chart. Mapping the social network allows to identify the most influential people in the organization. Once identified, influential people can be empowered to be the “porte parole” of the change process. 

If you want to learn more about Network theory I invite you to consult the following books and journals:
·         The Strength of Weak Ties by Mark S. Granovetter, American Journal of Sociology, Volume 78, Issue 6 (May 1973), 1360-1380
·         Academy of Management, http://aom.org/ and their Academy of Management Journal (AMJ) http://aom.org/amj/
·         Journal of Management and organization http://jmo.e-contentmanagement.com/

If you would like to be interviewed to talk about your subject of study and interest you can contact me at acgraber@gmail.com. This blog aims to share knowledges and experiences to improve organization life for all.  

I had the chance to have a dinner in the dark few weeks ago. We arrived in an old waterhouse transformed into a restaurant, no light could penetrate the room. The principle is to eat a normal meal with “entrée, plat, dessert” without knowing what we are about to eat. All the meal takes place in total darkness. You cannot see your hands in front of your face.

The owner of the restaurant explained that this experience will change the way we look at our food and more precisely its taste. It also gave me a good insight on organizational life. Let me develop my thoughts. In the dark, the only information you have about the food you eat are its smell, consistency and taste. Your eyes are useless. Here are the most stunning revelations I got from this dinner.

Break mental models to develop innovation:

Because of the temporal blindness you start to act weirdly. You become totally aware of what is happening around you. You think that the waiter is next to you when you feel a fresh breeze or when the floor starts to vibrates. But in fact, you have no idea… You make comments on anything you feel. “Oh, there is a plate in front of me and it is warm!”
In organizational life, they are many interactions that seem simple and normal but are you really paying attention to them? We get used to our surroundings, rituals, habits and so on. We call those mental models. The blindness makes us aware of the existence of those mental models which guide us in our daily life.
Blindness allows us to perceive what could be improved in an organization. This permits to innovate and solve issues that are not visible as they are integrated into the mental models we have.

Your first memory influence future reactions when reinforced:

Are you eating lamb or pork? Well, after few exchanges with your neighbors you are not really sure. You are even more confused. Are you having the same meal?

The role of our eyes in our approach to food is phenomenal. Once, we tried carrots for the first time. We registered its taste, consistency, and color and were able to determine if we liked it or not. In the dark, some participants liked carrots when they swore they hated them since they are seven years old. Their eyes were not able to alarm them of the presence of carrots in the dish. What does that mean? The first time we eat something we register all information about it. Then, when we have it again the “souvenir” of the first time comes back to our mind and we taste the carrots that we ate the first time in our life.

Translated to organizational management the first experience impacts the way we perceive future experiences. It is useful to understand this bias when it comes to customers and employees retention. You want the first experience to be the best one and the second one to reinforce it so that even if people taste may change they will keep coming back.

This dinner in the dark opened my eyes to a world that was invisible to me before and I hope that you enjoyed it too.