Thursday, July 14, 2011

Learning From One Another

For one hour on July 15, beginning at 12 p.m. ET, Judy Gombita (@jgombita) and I (@parissab) have the honor of co-hosting the #Kaizenblog chat while the esteemed Elli St.George Godfrey (@3KeysCoach) is on a well-deserved vacation.

The week’s theme focuses on learning from each other, primarily in the work environment. Also, why it’s in everyone’s best interest to be aware of and open to these enriching teaching and communication moments, professionally and personally.

The following narrative is co-authored by Judy and me; it’s been a pleasure working together to develop this kaizen chat’s theme.

Judy Gombita

“You should hire her. She’s the best one for the job.” 

Several months into an early-career position I learned the company’s receptionist gave her seal of approval to my boss. Intuitively, she picked best candidates based on brief chats prior to scheduled interviews. Although never formally recognized, she gained a reputation for hiring savvy. Later with the opportunity to test it, my respect grew.

Besides appreciating the receptionist’s recommendation, a lesson learned was how significant are impressions made from first encounters. Be polite and respectful to frontline people; engage in conversations when appropriate. Recognize those who are exceptional in this important role. It saddens me how few people do this, based on the thrilled thanks and smiles my compliments elicit.

Similar lessons are applied to anyone in a gatekeeper role to “official” leadership. Executive assistants can be a goldmine of assistance, providing time is taken to cultivate genuine relationships, based on mutual respect and clear, persuasive communication as to the business need for access.

Other teachings

Accountants/financiers teach the value of research and logic, and how financial impact must always be given front-end consideration—the need for precision, checks and balances, including independent verification and actions. Learning to read and understand financial statements, including double (triple checking) the figures and accompanying commentary.

Similarly, marketing mentors drive home the need for metrics and having a baseline for analysis. Many marketers are exceptional at providing words and imagery (“branding”) to “sell” an organization to relevant shareholders/stakeholders.

Skilled human resources professionals edify about challenges as advocate/champion for vision and business goals; essentially, balancing the needs and wants of both the enterprise and each employee—the best ones pull it off.

Customer service reps teach ways to make satisfied customers even happier and the unhappy ones more accepting as to reasons why—despite a mandate to do both in very short timeframes.

My offerings

With a career-focus on communication management—term evolved to shaping the “organizational narrative”—I posit communication needs to ring true and be compelling. It needs to be timely, relevant and interesting.

The best way to make communication resonate is to cultivate and recruit key players into narrative champions.

Whenever possible, give validity and recognition to relevant players. Sometimes through profile, more often by cultivating individuals as resources in their areas of expertise, no matter what rank in a company’s hierarchy. Key is mutual respect, plus trust.

Giving people a voice means listening—asking questions and inviting input; determining strengths and weaknesses, plus skills and interests.

“In the filter bubble, there’s less room for the chance encounters that bring insight and learning. Creativity is often sparked by the collision of ideas from different disciplines and cultures.” Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble

It’s also true for company departments. Collapse silos: glean and meld ideas and insights from staff in different functions—it’s organizational manna! This framework supports fulfillment of business and communication objectives. An overarching goal is for each employer to be happy in the relationships and end-result outputs and outcomes.

Parissa Behnia

I can relate to these ideas.

In a previous life, I managed a number of teams with members representing IT, finance, risk management among others. Though we ostensibly shared a common language and business goal, we had disparate departmental points of view, needs, territorial goals and whatnot.


As a marketer, I spoke in generalities to set the stage for projects, thinking that specificities would be addressed “later.” This drove many an IT and finance colleague batty. I looked at the world as my personal white board (with smelly markers and erasers), without comprehending that everyone else had his or her own white boards. My missing component was in understanding that their white boards were critical to my personal learning, not to mention ensuring a project’s optimum success.

I mistakenly thought that, as the owner of a project, I had better understanding of its vision than others. My tendency was to discount other people’s input, with dismissive thoughts such as, “Oh, that’s just XYZ coming from a place of ‘no’ again.”

As Judy so correctly states, the best way to make communication resonate is to cultivate and recruit key team players. Instead, I disregarded their input. I didn’t recognize them for their unique experiences, or for their pragmatic or creative contributions.

Turning Point

It took one contentious meeting with an IT colleague to make me “get it,” though it was not a shining moment for either of us. He and I had been butting heads. Truth be told, he was unpopular with others in marketing, too. I had reached my boiling point with him and he also had reached his limit. It didn’t start out pretty. 

But something in the dynamic changed. I don’t quite know what made me drop my weapons, listen and accept the lesson being taught. What I heard and learned about his perspective of business as my IT colleague changed my strategic approach to that project. It also:
  • evolved my view of how necessary it is to cultivate team input 
  • changed my view of leadership, from sequential to circular, and 
  • (in a cheesy greeting card moment) began a very strong friendship with this same IT person. He even helped me pick out the shoes I wore on my wedding day!
In turn, I believe I taught him the value of opening up and trusting colleagues; his knowledge and opinions gained understanding and value. Not only did this give him a persuasive voice, but it earned him an ally and champion in the organization.

We really are a team.

It’s easy for people within a work team to focus externally on the customer while considering an internal colleague as competition, and sadly, as our collective nemesis. It’s easy to forget those colleagues’ personal and business experiences are always relevant, including maintenance of the office environment’s good health.

We’re taught as children the importance of listening to others and the importance of respect and yet we don’t always apply those in our work life.

Why is this so important? Companies spend a lot of time reducing waste tangibly: LEED certified buildings, paper/plastic recycling, reducing electricity use, etc. It’s time that we reduced intangible waste – the waste of time and misdirected energies.

We can do this by taking some level of care to communicate effectively, to listen and to respect. If we do these things, all of us can go farther, faster.

July 15th #kaizenblog questions

Q1. Provide examples of teaching moments from colleagues in a different area or discipline. How and why did it happen?

Q2. Reverse roles. What are you most proud of teaching someone else?

Q3. What official or artificial constructs inhibit cross-functional communication, learning and understanding?

Q4. How can we be proactive in collapsing departmental silos, to better learn from one another?

Bonus Q5. (time permitting) Has any work colleague been such an effective communicator and teacher that you yearn to do that job?

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