Author: Jen Lawrence

Writer. Storytelling Coach. Blogger at Huffington Post and 1010ParkPlace.com. Author of Engage the Fox: A Business Fable About Thinking Critically and Motivating Your Team.

I’m now a blogger with The Huffington Post

I am excited to announce that I am now a blogger with The Huffington Post. I will be writing about women and business, diversity, corporate culture and career management. You can find me at http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/jen-lawrence-/ and if you want to fan me over there, that’d be swell! My first article is on returning to the workforce after taking some time away from the corporate world and can be found here.

Engage the Fox on Radio

If you are in the listening mood, I have done a couple of radio interviews recently that outline some of the critical thinking basics outlined in Engage the Fox.

Take Action Get Profits with Michele Scism, How Critical Thinking Can Drive Profitability. I’m on at the 13 minute mark (thanks GSL!)

560 CFOS Owen Sound, ON

Monday Morning QB: Five things we learned from Superbowl XLIX

I adore Superbowl. I love any spectacle that everyone is watching as a collective and I love eating junk food. Plus, roman numerals are the best. So Superbowl is a natural even though instead of the great US commercials, we Canucks get ones for Home Hardware’s Ultimate Spin Mop.

I kid you not. We have to watch the Superbowl commercials the next day on You Tube. But still, we love Superbowl, in part because you can learn so many lessons about business:

1. You need to engage your stakeholders

Nationwide Insurance decided to feature an ad using a child who drowned. Ouch. This is a risky strategy anytime. But to play such an ad during Superbowl? I have to think that this was one of those decisions that involved very few people. Did they ask football fans what they thought? Bereaved parents? Anyone? Based on the swift negative reaction on social media, they did not engage their stakeholders. They are now claiming that they were not trying to sell insurance, but trying to start a conversation. Well, they sure did that… Carroll’s was not the only bad call of the night

2. When you let others shine, you shine too.

So, Katy Perry. Pretty good, huh?The video floor was very cool and the structure that flew her around during Firework was inspired. And yet, Katy knew that when it comes to delighting your audience, it’s best to have a trick in your back pocket. Enter Lenny Kravitz who was good, and then Missy Elliot who shone shone shone. In fact Miss Missy’s Lose Control had a streaming uptick of 1396%. But did we think less of Miss Katy? Nope, we thought more of her. When you surround yourself with great people, you look great too.

3. Be careful with over thinking decisions when emotions run high.

Not sure if the Seahawk’s Peter Carroll made the Worst Call Ever, but it sure as heck wasn’t a good one. Seattle was one yard — one yard! — away from a probable Superbowl win, when they decided to pass instead of run in the ball. When stakes are high, it’s important to think critically. Running, especially one yard, is typically a safer strategy than passing. As Darrell Royal pointed out in 1963, “three things can happen to you whenever you throw the football, and two of them are bad. You can catch the ball, you can throw it incomplete, or have it intercepted.” Whoops.

4. Play to your strengths.

Compounding everyone’s feeling that this was a bad call was the fact that the Seahawks failed to use one of their biggest assets. Running back Marshawn Lynch is know as “Beast Mode” for a reason. According to The Guardian (where everyone gets their US football analysis, no?), he was this good. I’m not a football expert, but if I were running a football team and had a guy nicknamed Beast Mode based on his ability to run in the ball,  and I needed to run in the ball to win a really big prize, well, I have to think that I’d take advantage of that. The key takeaway here is when you have experts in house, use them.

5. You never know who your heroes might be.

Four years ago, Patriots rookie Malcolm Butler was working at Popeye’s after being kicked out of school, with a not very promising future in football. Last night, he won the Superbowl for the Patriots based on an incredible interception. Let everyone in your company have the chance to be a winner and they just might show you the amazing things they can do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diversifying Your Corporate Thinking

Recently, Canadian Business magazine released its list of Canada’s Top 100 Highest-paid CEOs. As usual, we aren’t exactly tripping over all of the women on the list.

We have been talking about getting women into senior roles and getting women onto boards and getting equal pay for work of equal value for years and years and years. So why isn’t it happening?

I think it starts with our view of diversity. I’m a pretty smart cookie. I’ve received buckets full of scholarship money to get a fancy MBA. I’ve worked for blue chip companies and I tend to be promoted quickly. And I’m a keener. There is no reason that I should not be working for some major corporation in some highfalutin role. And yet, I’ve rejected corporate life in favour of doing my own thing. I’ve “opted out” and I suspect a lot of other women who might otherwise have been groomed for the c-suite have as well. My decision to leave came down to me getting sick of being asked to be someone I’m not: to be tougher, to be less emotional, to be more motivated by money, to be less concerned about other stakeholders, to dial down the stilettos, and to chop off my hair. And although I did well, playing the game, I found it exhausting. It’s exhausting to bring your best self to work when you’re asked to check parts of that self at the door.

For every woman I know who has leaned in and pressed through in spite of all the nonsense, I know many more who have opted to move into a non-business field or raise kids for a while or start their own businesses, because they could no longer stand being stifled. They said to hell with all that and they found out that there is a world out there — outside the corporate kingdom —  where not only do you not need to cloak you unique qualities, but you are rewarded for them.

Our leaving corporate life matters. And it matters not just in a way that makes it embarrassing for companies when faced with statistics about the compilation of their executive suites and board rooms. It matters because organizations are cheating themselves out of one of their most powerful tools: the diversity of thinking that comes from hiring different types of people. Diversity of thinking prevents organizations from falling into groupthink or making assumptions based on similar biases. Diversity of thinking ensures that better decisions are made and projects are less likely to fail. In order to make great strategic decisions, we need men and women and people of different religions and cultures and political leanings and sexual preferences and economic backgrounds and styles and world-views and philosophies and personality types with eyes on our business. We should not have diversity policies in place because its embarrassing if we don’t. We should have them in place because it makes us better and smarter and more creative and more effective, and better reflects our client base.

The trouble is, people tend to hire in their own image. I worked as a recruiter for a number of years and most companies are insistent that the candidate be “a good fit” with their current corporate culture. This approach works if you have a steady business that is as successful as it could possibly be and is not expecting any change in the future. (If this is you, well done. You should stop reading and start on an immediate book and speaking tour. Suggested title – How to Be Build a Totally Successful Business Impermeable to Change, subtitle King of All That…) If you are expecting change (and you should be) or want to do better, however, consider expanding your corporate thinking by hiring people who think differently and bring a whole new perspective to the table.

Hopefully what we are seeing on the CEO list is the last of the dinosaurs. Tools like social media have given voice to so many diverse groups that before were silenced. We can not longer pretend that the entire world looks just like us (or should.) Smart corporations will listen to the voices and find ways to capture this diversity in their workforce to give themselves a competitive edge and over time the best of a broader group of people will naturally rise to the top.

 

 

Practicing Change Management (one hair colour at a time)

On Halloween, I went to a party dressed as Black Widow, Scarlett Johannson’s character from the Marvel franchise.

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I wore a cheap red wig over my blonde hair and boy oh boy were there compliments. Everybody loved the red colour on me: friends, fiancé, and kids. So after much deliberation, yesterday I asked my colourist for Amy Adams red and, by George, I got it.

I loved the results. The others in the salon loved the results. My fiancé loved the results. It was bold and better suited my personality than the Book Cover Blonde I’ve been sporting for three decades. But then I picked up my kids from school. In spite of liking the red wig, my daughter was not thrilled with the new look as my hair colour no longer matched hers. My son hated it because I didn’t look like me anymore. People were Not Happy and it got me second guessing the results too.

But of course…

As someone with expertise in change management, I get the theory in spades. People don’t like change. They especially don’t like change that they believe affects them and over which they were not consulted. I’d talked in broad terms about going redder but had not discussed any specific plans with my kids. As my daughter said, “it would be different if I’d known you were going to the salon today.” People like to be informed if there is change on the horizon, no matter how small that change might be. I had underestimated how such a minor change to me (I can always change it back, I figured) might be so major to my kids. My daughter likes it when people point out how similar we look and she feared she might be losing that. My son is big on stability and relies on me looking the same when I pick him up from school as I did when I dropped him off. To me, it was “just hair colour” but to them it was something more.

It reminded me of how our local newspaper reacted to the closing of Target Canada.

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“Oakville store among 133 Target closes in Canada,” the headline read. When I first saw it, it made me chuckle. Well of course the Oakville store is closing: Target is closing all the Canadian stores. It’s not like Target is deliberately targeting (!) Oakville. But Oakville loved its Target store. The mall where the Target is located is renovating based on Target’s presence. Lots of Oakville residents were employed by the chain. So for Oakville, losing our Target store feels personal. It feels like we are somehow being singled out even when we aren’t, and we can only think of the change in terms of how it it feels to us.

In my book, Engage the Fox, I talk about the importance of stakeholder involvement at all stages of the decision making process if it is important that the stakeholders embrace the decision. Sometimes involvement is not possible such as in the case of Target (layoffs rarely take into account the feelings of the employees because the ex-employees are no longer stakeholders.) Sometimes involvement is possible such as in the case of my hair. If you need to have stakeholder cooperation in order to make a decision work, those stakeholders need to be engaged from the beginning and feel they are part of the process.  This is critical for small decisions as well as for major ones.

Had I involved my kids in the process, it would have made the change more fun for them. And when I greeted them in the car, they’d likely have been excited rather than shocked and appalled. I would not have had doubts about my decision based on their reaction. It was a great reminder that even when we understand change theory well, it’s important to put that knowledge to to work in all parts of our lives. That way, we won’t be surprised when people do not react the way we expect them to in decisions both large and small.