A spring blizzard in Denver, brings out the best…and worst in a team

On a recent business trip to nowhere (I’ll explain later) I saw both the best, and the worst in how a team of employees on any given day, for any given organization can rise to the occasion during a crisis…saving the day, or make a bad situation soooo much worse. Even in crisis, especially in crisis sometimes, how your key team members from the front-line… on up respond can either lose you precious customers by the planeload, OR those same people, can become lifelong fans. Warriors extolling the virtues of how your team, turned an awful situation into a pleasurable one.

So, I got on a flight with a back pack and a guitar headed for a seminar in Denver. It was to be a 4 day trip. Days 1 and 4 would be travel, with 2 days of classes in between. A freak blizzard hit Denver that day, one day after 70 degree temperatures filled the air with a touch of spring. Even Denver, used to snow was caught somewhat unprepared for tropical storm force winds and a foot of snow. The airport lost power, while flights were cancelled and diverted left and right. My route, which was supposed to be West Palm Beach, through Newark and then on to Denver changed.

What is tough to swallow was the lack of onsite “Call in” support personnel to handle the influx of delayed and cancelled flights which of course resulted in thousands of travelers being displaced and re-routed. The storm itself was expected, just not the intensity of it.

I won’t name the airline in question in my particular instance, and certainly all carriers flying into the region were affected on this day. However, I can only speak to what my experience was in observing how THIS carrier prepared…or didn’t prepare in advance for the “possibilities.” (this airline was made notorious a few years back by breaking… and even more so, it’s subsequent handling of the breaking, of a traveling songwriters expensive musical instrument. It became a book, and turned this no-name songwriter into an author and well-traveled speaker on the motivational speakers circuit…His topic was of course customer service and the way social media can turn one person into an army.)

Ok, back to regularly scheduled programming. There were not enough customer services representatives at the service desks to handle the travelers who were all in need of routing solutions. Those that were on site, DID manage to for the most part smile and do all they could for the hoards of frustrated travelers. I became one of those travelers upon landing in Newark from Florida when I found out my initial connecting flight to Denver was first delayed and then subsequently cancelled in short order. With some help from my amazing boss, who was pulling the strings behind the scenes, I got re-routed to Houston for a later connecting flight to Denver. The fun started on that flight, as the crew was less than loving and kind. It wasn’t horrible, but it wouldn’t have given an already weary traveler the warm and fuzzies either.

Upon landing in Houston, and all of us turning our mobile devices back on a half-second after touchdown, the word started to spread that Denver airport was closed, and all of our flights were of course, canceled. Welcome to Houston folks, please enjoy your stay.

At the help desk in Houston, the weary, and yes under-manned staff for the airline in question were doing their best, but they were tired, a bit grumpy, under-manned and apparently not “empowered” by their higher ups to do very much to make our unexpected stay in Texas more comfortable. They did give us discount vouchers to local hotels, who on a Wednesday night, were about to get a HUGE boost to their mid-week occupancy rates.

Now, at the hotel the story was entirely different. The staff, though not quite prepared for the surge in business in terms of personnel levels, were entirely ready to smile, accommodate, and inquire as to how they could help to make our unexpected stay wonderful. They succeeded.

That night I found out, I’d never make it to Denver and the entire days’ worth of travel was simply going to take me straight back to Florida the following day. Wow. Who knew what fun that would bring?

As we left the ground the next day, the pilot thankfully warned us of rough weather we’d be flying through, and it sure did get bumpy several times. But the turbulence in the air, bumpy as it was…did not compare to the gruffness of one of the airline attendants who may well have been an Ogre from a Disney movie. People were pissing her off left and right because they needed to “gasp” go to the bathroom. I’ve never in all my years of travel heard an attendant treat guests from all walks of life with such vitriol. “Sir, there is someone in there, you’re going to have to sit down.” “Mam, I will tell you when you can come back to the restroom, it’s currently occupied. There is one up front you can try….if you want.” There is no real way for me to convey here how nasty this woman’s tone and attitude were. Now granted, maybe she was having a horribly off day herself. She is only human. But this is the travel/hospitality industry, and her performance was a solid F.

The Sum of the Parts

It’s been too long since I’ve written you in this space, and for that I apologize. To be honest, since taking on the role of Director of Operations at Big Dog Ranch Rescue, I’ve been overwhelmed by the undertaking in many ways. 11 months into the process I feel I’m starting to get the hang of it, and the inklings of a work-life balance are creeping back into my existence.

Today I read Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art” speech in book form. It’s a cool concept/graphic design oriented gift book, recounting this well-known speech he made at a University graduation ceremony May 17th, 2012. The gist of the talk is that those who “make good art” make many mistakes, BIG mistakes, and a variety of mistakes…and that the best artists do this often. The concept resonates with me, but truthfully, as I sit here looking at the lake and the seabirds on this Sunday morning…I really latched on to something else, though it was not the author’s intended message.

This book was quite driven by layout. So much so as a matter of fact, that though the entire book was comprised of snippets from Neils’ speech, he and the graphic artist shared billing equally at books end.

What hit me in the face upon reading both what Gaiman had to say, and how he said it was this.

When a painter paints, it’s truly the blending of colors and shades, the contrast between light and dark, and the context of white space vs. occupied space that tell the story of the work. How well the painter accomplishes this teaming of elements, in turn decides how successful the work will be in making a dent in the fragmented impression-span of today’s viewer.

When a dancer dances alone, it’s a sequence of moves, highly choreographed, much practiced…that all work together in creating a seamless stream of movement that is the actual “routine” of a dancer. The story is made of up pieces. Similarly, if the routine involves multiple dancers, rather than a solo act, it’s the joint movements or actions of the collective, which becomes the overall “painting” of this dance.

One of the most prolific songwriting teams in history, husband and wife Barry Mann, and Cynthia Weil are featured on Sunday Morning Live on CBS this morning. “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” and dozens of other landmark hits, were inked by this dynamic duo. Talk about a collaboration on multiple levels! Their combined talents, Cynthia for the words, and Barry for the music were largely responsible for creating the soundtrack of a generation. See where I’m going here? The sum of the parts is where it’s at.

Who can you team up with today to make progress, improve something, create your personal masterpiece, push one little corner of the world into better shape?

Going to the dogs…for real! Building a team from the ground up.

Ok, so it’s been far too long since I’ve updated you on what’s going on with The Song Team.  Partially, that’s been laziness on my part, and partially it’s because there have been vast changes under way.

As of April 1st, (yes April Fools Day) I left Nashville after 18 years to undertake a unique opportunity.  I was offered the position as Director of Operations at Big Dog Ranch Rescue.  This is a large no-kill dog shelter in South Florida. www.bdrr.org The chance to build my own team from scratch, while being charged with the task of saving dogs was too good to pass up.  Having dabbled in Animal Rescue for years as a volunteer, this cause was as near and dear to my heart as songwriting.  Coupled with the professional development angle, it was time for a new adventure.

And phew, what a ride it has been.  As you know, Whenever one takes on a new leadership role within in an organization, change is inevitable to one degree or another.  As we try to implement new policies, procedures and protocols…place new systems in place and tweak old ones, we start to shed staff sometimes just like a snake sheds it’s skin.  We look to mold the team after our vision, and it’s NOT an exact science.

In 2 months’ we’ve turned over approximately 70% of our team, and that hasn’t been easy or fun, but it HAS been necessary in order to tackle the job at hand.  The essence of what we aim to accomplish is to take better care of our dogs,  adopt more dogs out to the right forever homes, assemble a team that cares for each other and our mission, and do this all in a more efficient manner than had previously been the norm.  Creating a new culture…..

The Song Team keeps plugging away though.  As I type this entry, I’m on a plane back from leading interactive keynote for Credit Unions of The Dakota’s Annual Conference.  Scott, Sherrie and I had a really great time with these folks.  The theme to their conference was “Orchestrating Goodness”, and that was a GREAT jumping off point for a large team, songwriting session.  Credit Unions are true bedrocks in their communities and the leadership of these fine institutions TRULY understand the concepts of team and collaboration.

Next week, Sherrie and I will be back up in Nashville leading a small group breakout for a healthcare company sales meeting.  We are still based in Nashville as that’s where most of our team is, so I’ll be up there many times a year….for Team Gigs, AND for songwriting and recording of course!

Well, it looks as though we’re descending now, and our amazing flight crew on American Airlines is getting ready to tell me to put away my laptop, and make sure seat backs and trays are back in their upright positions.   I vow to stay in better touch with you in the coming weeks and months.  If you need a hand of any sort with your organization and would like to touch base with us, please don’t hesitate to call or email.  We’re always here.

Yours in Dog and Song.

Jeff J.

A Lesson from Google on Keeping Your Employees – (Sharing from Adam Vacarro)

Google’s decision to place senior vice president of advertising (and employee No. 16) Susan Wojcicki at the helm of YouTube offers an important lesson about retaining employees.

Re/code reports that Wojciki had recently had some of her responsibilities on Google’s senior executive team split with fellow SVP Sridhar Ramaswamy. Moving on from Google wasn’t out of the question. “Wojcicki had been interested in running her own thing [and] had also been a recruitment target for a venture capital or perhaps a CEO role,” the website reports.

Google’s dilemma–a high-performing worker wanting to give her leadership skills a whirl–can come up at any company. You might not be able to hand your employees the keys to a brand as powerful as YouTube, but you can let them scratch their itch by letting them launch their own projects under your umbrella. In other words, you can retain your top talent by encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship.

I know, I know. The term is one that causes many business owners to roll their eyes. It’s been found in the pages of Inc. since the 1980s, but rarely is it clear exactly how a small business with a distinct focus can realistically expect to let every employee chase her dream.

A few months back though, I was able to interview the leader of an Inc. 5000 company–Kansas-based marketing firm DEG Digital–about the company’s dedication to encouraging intrapreneurial endeavors. Among the feathers in CEO Neal Sharma’s cap: More than half of all DEG employees have a different title than the one they were hired with by the end of their first year at the company.

Sharma related the story of then-DEG web strategist Cara Olson, who years ago told him she wanted to leave the company to launch her own email marketing startup. Sharma listened to her idea, then asked her whether she’d want to stick around and launch the project for DEG. Eight years later, Olson manages 30 employees, and email marketing is one of the company’s biggest business units.

Weigh Your Interests

The obvious and important caveat about Olson is that she didn’t want to start a recipe blog or open a coffee shop. It’s unlikely that Sharma would have let her do so on DEG’s time. She wanted to start something that made sense for DEG to have under its umbrella.

So it’s important to clarify that for small businesses, an intrapreneurial initiative should be judged on its fit with your company. Sharma says he tries to approach every employee-pitched project as a venture capitalist would, thinking about the kinds of returns it could ultimately net DEG. At the same time, it’s necessary to weigh how well you can afford to lose that employee.

In the case of Wojcicki, Google’s brass clearly didn’t want to lose her. She’s been with the company since some of its earliest days; the company even operated out of her garage for a time. Putting her in charge of YouTube keeps everybody happy.

Google’s experience with Wojcicki doesn’t perfectly mirror DEG’s with Olson, but both drive home one obvious, yet easy-to-forget point: One key asset you have in your effort to retain top employees is, when reasonable, to let them do what they want.

 

 

Technology as part of the team: Songwriting and team building

Technology as part of the team was our topic this past weekend at The Keen Digital Summit at the Omni hotel in Nashville was a truly inspiring, and enlightening event. With so many entrepreneurs, social media gurus, marketers and designers in one place…MAN, the ideas and solutions were flowing. So much information was transferred back and forth, amazing networking. Really it felt great to be a part of this inaugural event put together by Kristin Luna and Scott Van Velsor. Amazing presentations from Chefs, bloggers, designers and even Hub Spot blew the lid off my creativity tea-pot!!

Sharing the overall bill/speaking platform with the likes of Jairek Robbins and Mark Montgomery www.findyourflo.com was very cool. Both of these guys are at the top of their game creatively and have accomplished so much relative to their ages on the timeline…so to speak.

For my part, it was rewarding at a “Tech Conference” to be well-received with the message of technology as PART of the team, rather than as a replacement for vital team members. Unique thinkers, creative problem solvers, passionate inventors, skilled workers will always have a place in successful organizations. There is NO app, that will replace these folks. Nope, no way, no how.

And sharing the commonalities between successful collaborative songwriting and team building, was joyous.

Is Your Workplace Environment Stunting Collaboration and Innovation?

 

Recently, our team participated in a songwriting/team-building program with a Fortune 500, Financial Services Company.  We were very excited to be working with a new group of driven, talented individuals.On this day, we were part of a full-days “technical” training.  We were the “Grand Finale”-Non-industry related part of the program.  We were there to shake things up, and help shift the thought processes of those in the room from their normal, linear thinking norms.

We were challenged to work in a room, where the layout was, well let’s say not ideal so as to encourage collaboration.  A primary goal with our programs!  Set up class-room style with long, thin rectangular tables.  All attendees were facing forward.  Nearly all had laptops in front of them, rather than the round tables we typically prefer.  So, what did we do?

Well, we “re-arranged the chairs on the Titantic!”  We shut down the lap-tops.  We asked those in attendance to move the tables around. Rather than row upon row of faces turned towards  “us” at the “front” of the room, we NOW had 4 “pods” or “Squares” of attendees facing each other.  Eye contact.  Everyone was now able to see lips moving when a colleague was speaking…contributing to the conversation.

 

NOW, we were set to work together in individual teams, and as a collective whole.  And everyone chipped in.  Beautiful.

 So, what can you do within the “walls” and WITH the walls of your organization to better promote innovation through collaboration? 

  •  Are there actual physical barriers which you as leadership can consider “bringing down?”
    •  Are there systemic barriers, or parameters that might be easier to change than you think?
      •  Conversely, are there systemic barriers or policies, which despite how difficult change may appear to be…STILL need to change? 
        • What can you do right now?  Within 3 months…6 months…12 months to better assure that all voices at the table have a say in creating and/or finding solutions?

        Let’s think about it….Then, let’s do something about it.

         

Emdeon Team-Building/Songwriting with Karen Taylor-Good!

Recently, we facilitated an intimately sized songwriting/team-building program for Emdeon’s IT department. The VP’s who attended this program are charged with blending personnel and systems from an old company, with parts of a new company, new personnel, and new systems.

With Grammy-Nominated Songwriter, Karen Taylor-Good at my side, we convened in the collaborative workspace that is C3 Consulting just south of downtown Nashville. Tackling both the challenges of A) A company in today’s fast-changing healthcare industry, along with the B) The challenges faced by a company in the process of merging the “old with the new”, is a formidable challenge.

However, as we often find…the steeper the hill, the more opportunities we have to improve… the longer view vision we tend to have, which leads to a big picture focus. This is especially good when dealing with such complex issues. If we “can’t see the forest through the trees”, then being strategic in our implementation of new engagement systems, new professional development goals etc. becomes quite a bit more difficult.

Building a Great Team – A Dentist's Chair View

If you have work to be done on your teeth, please take note. The following describes a situation that might make you LOVE going to the Dentist. This is not your typical open up and say “ah” experience.

Building a great team is not easy. Developing that team once in place so that it performs consistently at championship level, may be even more challenging. However, Dr. James Munro and his amazing cast at Belle Forest Dental in Bellevue, just a few minutes west of Nashville proper…. are Oscar-worthy in the quality, scripting and demeanor of their service. From the moment you walk into their office “living room” with its West Elm sense of modern, open décor you are swept into feeling as though you are in a spa. Complimentary beverages of a very wide variety await you in their help yourself, guest fridge. Watch the program of your choice on their huge flat screen TV, or assuming it’s not being utilized at the time, take a seat in their highly effective, full body massage chair, isolated in it’s own “Zen” room complete with waterfall sounds, and soft lighting to set the mood. This part of your experience really helps reduce your stress level before entering the inner sanctum.

None of this even begins to touch upon how genuinely friendly, extremely knowledgeable, or efficient the cogs turn here. Susan and Connie in the front desk area are amazing. “What flavor smoothie would you like when you’re finished?

“What’s that,” you say?

“Yes, with fresh fruit, we make a smoothie for you to take with you when done with your procedure! “

Brilliant. This clinic not only goes above and beyond in every aspect of your clinical experience with them, before, during and post-procedure….BUT they also stand by their work. If there is an issue with something that has been done, and you’re not happy with a result, they will take care of it. (Disclaimer – within reason. If you go and bash your teeth on a microphone or with a baseball bat…I wouldn’t expect any help here.)

The staff at Belle Forest Dental truly illustrates the winning definition of TEAM to me. Together Everyone Achieves More.

Caring for One Another, Especially Those Who Have No Voice

Times are challenging to us in many ways right now. Especially in light of Fridays’ tragic events in Connecticut, we find ourselves struggling with our emotions.

While volunteering with Animal Rescue Corps (ARC) last week I had a bit of a revelation. This organization has mastered many aspects of what it takes to be a successful “team.”

They actively partner with dozens of localized animal rescue groups around the country in order to utilize what local groups are often better positioned to do, than larger more centralized groups. Foster, train and place adoptable animals. With Egos put aside, ARC is able to travel around the country to a large degree as an organizing, galvanizing and specially trained rescue team for large and devastatingly tragic operations. They have fostered a network of volunteers around the country, who typically already are on the ground with local rescues. The volunteers jump to help and organize further volunteer forces when the need arises for a large operation, as is currently happening with the 50 or so dogs rescued from a dog-fighting ring in Middle TN.

It’s been a joy to see this operation in action over the course of a few rescue’s now. Though of course, we all wish it weren’t needed. The team at ARC knows how to cater to the strengths of their team members, as well as to the strengths of team members from local partner groups. Good works are done. Success in this case means animals saved, and hopefully in many cases, forever homes found. ARC’s mantra has long been “compassion in action.” Sounds like good advice for us all at this time. Thank you for reading, and happy holidays.