Monthly Archives: September 2014

The clients I can’t talk about

Back in the beginning of August, I had A LOT of people who were dissatisfied with their careers. Either they felt like they were in the wrong fields entirely, or they were in the right field but wrong position within that field. Those cases were all reasonably simple, because the crux of most of them was simply giving permission to want something different than what they’d spent all their time achieving, and then making a plan to get to that new thing as efficiently as possible.

For the last few weeks, though, I’ve had some clients that brought me complex, complicated personal problems that are outside the scope of therapy because they’re more interpersonal strategy than feelings. (Let’s remember that I love therapy, for myself and for everyone in the world. I think that if everyone spent six months with a good therapist about 80% of the world’s problems would just evaporate. Shirtless Putin, you go first.)

This recent chunk of clients had problems that were more interpersonal than about themselves, although their own feelings were important. A lot of the issues were negotiations, either overt or underlying, with another person or group or institution.

I had people trying to negotiate responsibilities inside relationships (both romantic relationships and familial relationships). Some were things that had come to a head because of work or health issues, but a few were long-standing blocks.

I helped two people decide if they should stay married or not, and another person make a plan to tell their kids that they were separating.

I helped two people (both men, incidentally) push past the one-dimensional pro/con list to decide between two life paths. (I mention that they were both men because I think men are trained to look at things as a balance sheet, so the magic in the consult was helping them find other ways to balance and evaluate absolute and relative value of the two paths they each had.)

I helped two people with convoluted and deeply painful situations that they’ve requested I not discuss, even vaguely.

I wonder what it is that’s making September the month people allow their own hurt and confusion to be valid? I mean, it takes having some faith in yourself and some hope that there can be a resolution to contact a stranger or near-stranger to help you untangle your problem. People only come to me because they think it’s possible not to be in pain. I wonder if maybe it’s the new beginnings aspect of September that’s giving people the kick to get out of limbo.

Now I’m wondering what’s going to happen next.


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Introducing RISWS, the way to flash consult your own work team to engagement

Two things have been happening:

1. People have been reading all the case studies and telling me they wish they could hire me to come flash consult the teams they manage at work on an ongoing basis, because they’re on top of project milestones but feel like there’s a lot of stuff going on that they aren’t understanding that is causing problems or potential problems. Now, you can actually hire me to flash consult on an ongoing basis on retainer, but I’m not convinced that’s the most elegant solution because you shouldn’t really have to bring in someone from the outside to get a handle on your team. So I started thinking about a better way. (Flash consulting myself, as it were.)

2. Renewed discussion in business media about this Gallup State of the Global Workplace study from 2013 showing that employee engagement in the workplace is abysmal. (Note that engagement is better in the US and Canada than in other regions, but still, only 29% of employees in the US and Canada report being engaged in their jobs.) There was a ton of press when it first came out about how much money this was costing companies, because non-engaged employees are basically just sacks of meat sitting in cube farms (my paraphrase, obvs.) so this is a big problem.

The new round of writing about it is along the lines of the Inc. piece “Dear CEO: This Is Why Millennials Don’t Want to Work for You.” I liked this piece a lot, first because it didn’t denigrate the Millennials, but second because it basically laid out exactly what behaviors and structures were causing lack of engagement. And then also drawing a direct line between people being disengaged at work and leaving those jobs. (I do think that Millennials are more likely to leave than those of us in Generation X are, for the usual mortgage/family/we’re-just-so-so-tired Gen X reasons. Which means that we’re the big unengaged non-productive sacks of meat in the cube farms wishing we had the energy to go start our own things like the still-shiny Millennials are.)

I was thinking about these two things and realized that they’re the same problem. Employees aren’t engaged because there are all sorts of barriers to their being engaged in the workplace. Everything from stupid problems with clients, to problems with the systems they have to use every day, to politics with other people they work with, to not feeling aligned with whatever their department’s supposed to be doing right now, to a million other things. And the overriding reason they’re not engaged is because their managers don’t care (or don’t know) about all the challenges they’re facing, so it feels like tossing their energy into a bottomless pit. Plus, they don’t get any help eliminating these problems so they can just do the work they were hired to do in an engaged way. It’s basically Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s worst nightmare.

In the meantime, managers don’t have any idea what challenges their people are facing. They don’t even know what questions to ask or how to ask the questions to find out what’s making their people check out mentally. (When they do ask questions it probably sounds a lot like asking a 14-year-old “How was school today?”.) So they’re stuck trying to light a fire under people without knowing what’s preventing their people from caring. And when they try to figure out how to fix it, they don’t get any institutional support, plus they have too much other stuff to do, so they just go back to look at the project milestone tracker to try to feel better about things.

The popular lore is that workers are lazy jerks and managers are greedy jerks. I think in reality, we’re all just trying to make our days as productive and interesting as possible. If given the choice, every one of us would rather be engaged in what we’re doing. So I created a system that gives employees the opportunity to express what is preventing them from engaging–in a way that’s emotion-neutral so it just becomes an issue of operations and eliminating waste, not of blame or inadequacy. And then teaching managers to read the reporting they get from employees to figure out what the barriers to engagement and production are and how to determine who should/could solve them, and then solving them. I call it Reporting/Interpreting/Solving Workflow Solutions, or RISWS*. It’s based on a comically simple reporting process and then a layered, nuanced (but teachable) interpretation process that eventually becomes routine.

The training is in three stages:

one on-site group training in the reporting method and how to interpret likely results (based on your industry and type of team),

one intensive group follow-up training using your actual gathered reporting data several weeks later,

and then three monthly individual follow-up interpreting/solving mentoring sessions.

This works best with multiple managers in the same organization, but eventually I’ll be scheduling some sessions managers can come to individually.

Think about when you’re going to be ready to solve the engagement problem in your group by learning RISWS. And in the meantime, keep sending in your individual problems for me to Flash Consult.


*The other option was something totally esoteric like You Got Your Chi In My Peanut Butter Mindmeld Fantasia, so be happy with RISWS.

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