Fables for Leaders includes 100+ short stories of talking animals and trees…. and my ruminations on each. I emphasize the philosophical and ethical aspects in these stories – from across the centuries - to my own on-the-job experiences, - successes and failures - and relate them to our contemporary behavior and decision-making. We relate to stories, we remember stories, and these fable stories may help in thinking through and solving, in untraditional ways, problems on the job.” Whimsical illustrations by international artist and paper cutter, Béatrice Coron, capture the charm of this ancient literature and add to its comprehension and enjoyment. Each entry -in 7 chapters- sets forth the original fable followed by Lubans’ commentary. And, many fable feature a “My Thoughts” space to explore how this fable relates to the reader. The seven chapter heads: “Us and them” “Office politics” “The Organization” “Problems” “Budgeting and strategic planning” “The effective follower” “The effective leader”. Topical sub-heads include: “Perspective makes a difference” “Where is the cooperation?” “Hiring decisions” “Performance appraisal” “Pretenders” “Kindness, loyalty and respect for the boss…or not” “Have you heard of the Tall Poppy?” “Gossip and envy” “Are you leading or am I following?” Etc.

Books, Crooks and Punishment

Posted by jlubans on October 23, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Book Thief, REALLY?

Usually I write about leadership and followership and other items of organizational life.
But, now and then I stray into different pastures.
Today’s blog is about book crime and punishment; specifically, about how judges sentence book thieves.
I last wrote about book thieves in 2013, “Book Thieves and Other Library Scoundrels” and "More Scoundrels, Knaves and Varlets.
Invariably, victims (librarians, teachers, cultural leaders) who testify against book thieves, call for harsh penalties – at least for some jail time.
Just as invariably, judges tend toward leniency regardless of how egregious the crime.
A recent story about rare book thievery (an inside job) at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh epitomizes this judicial attitude: one of the two thieves was sentenced to three years’ house arrest and 12 years’ probation and the other received four years’ house arrest and 12 years’ probation.
In California there was a similar outcome: the crook’s six-month sentence to county jail, was suspended, and he was placed on probation and ordered to pay restitution to the University of California and to booksellers he had tricked into buying stolen goods.
So, none of the “perps” went to jail.
Why all this judicial forgiveness? Why are jail sentences often suspended and fines reduced?
Is it because the crooks come clean and offer to return not just the "caught red-handed" loot -but other thefts yet to be found out?
In other words, prosecutors make a deal with the criminal in order to retrieve as many stolen books as possible.
Or, is it because book thieves tend to be sad sacks; misfits on society’s fringes thereby earning judicial empathy?
Or, does the judge buy the thief’s story that he was never in it for the money; rather he succumbed to a psychological need, however twisted.
In the case of the Pittsburg heist, the thief used the money to pay his children’s private college tuition.
What a dad!
Did that evoke judicial sympathy?
Or, is stealing a book - snatched in the dark with no weapon beyond a cheese sandwich and a thermos of coffee while hiding in the toilet, waiting for the library to close – far removed from an armed stick-up?
And, then there’s the laxity of the victimized library along with the complicity of the buyers of stolen books which might pressure the judge into not making too big a deal of it.
Sure, some collectors buy the offered item and believe it to be an honest transaction.
Others - especially antiquarians - can smell a rare book, can sense rarity by its heft, can tell in a single glance at the binding and paper that something is too good to be withdrawn, as purported, and serendipitously found in a Friends of the Library Booksale.
Indeed, is the rare book collector truthful when he claims the stolen book was stamped as “Withdrawn” from X Library? Is the presence of that simple rubber stamp – easily purchased at any office store - truly exculpatory?
It’s one thing to believe the “Withdrawn” stamp for books like some of mine – yes, I have run across, with tears in my eyes, a few of my books withdrawn and offered up for .50 cents.
It’s totally another to believe in the “Withdrawn” stamp inside what is likely a unique book. A knowledgeable book collector might want to confirm that book’s provenance. Due diligence in such a case is easy: call and ask the withdrawing library to confirm.
So, it gets complicated for the judge.
While balking at judicial leniency the letters to the court never spell out what the “harsh” punishment should be.
Here are some suggestions about the degrees of severity and implied incarceration.
An Inside job, a betrayal of trust, should result in a greater punishment.
I'd add a year for the “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” insider. Such a disguise may manifest itself as either a fuss budget or an oleous priest of high culture who keeps readers away from precious books to do his dark deeds with a free hand.
Mutilation (slicing out of pages, illustrations, maps, tearing off book covers and otherwise disturbing the integrity of the book), should increase the punishment.
There’s a difference between a shlub who steals from a provided list of books and an antiquarian who knows the library’s ins and outs and who may have carte blanche to library vaults. Judicially, the former gets off with probation while the latter goes to jail.
The professor who steals a book deserves a greater punishment than the undergraduate thief of a textbook.
Finally, book theft damages the public good. There should be a cost assessment of the societal damages – from inconvenience to intellectual loss – and figured into the sentencing.

Copyright (all text) John Lubans 2020

WIWDD #4: The Specialist

Posted by jlubans on October 17, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)


Caption: In Admiration of the First Celebrity Specialist, Lem Putt

The Specialist continues my reflections on What I Would Do Differently (WIWDD) in my career.
Most organizations of a certain size feature specialists. These are usually one or two person units with an often-esoteric focus, not unlike Lem Putt who specialized in outhouse construction: one holers and up.
Now, most specialists, like Lem, earn their keep. They provide good service and benefit the organization. But, and this is a big but, a few specialists are in it more for themselves than the organization. Of course, we all put ourselves first - which is healthy - but we make sure what we do ultimately benefits the organization.
One time I was asked/assigned to supervise a specialist. I knew full well this was a problematic individual. He used his position for self-aggrandizement and he had, if not an unsavory reputation it was a sketchy one.
He could be charming, yet prickly and nasty, and could “go musicologist” (like “going postal”) viciously fighting over minutiae. He had made enemies but, to his credit, he did have some supporters.
Since our environment was higher education, part of how he operated was much like many other professors. Those with tenure have a great deal of freedom and, if they engage in wrong doing, are rarely held accountable.
My new supervisee was a quasi-faculty member, so some of his behavior emulated the professoriate. Bear in mind that the faculty member is a solo player. She may collaborate on research and publication but she remains a soloist.
My specialist failed to make his specialty relevant to the students and other professors; instead he focused on narrow research topics.
Often he would be invited to do research at exotic locations. (I found out that many in his circle of specialists – including influential donors - played a round robin of inviting each other.
(Certainly, this goes on at many campuses not just for my specialist and his international cronies.)
However, there is a certain shamelessness, I’ve discovered, in a small segment of the faculty. They count on not being called out and if put on the spot, wriggling out of any accountability.
Ambiguity can be a scoundrel’s best friend.
WWIDD: I should have questioned this new assignment much more closely than I did. I’d ask, Why me?
Why is the previous supervisor unable to continue?
I should have had a frank talk with my boss to get answers to:
What was he expecting me to do?
When the specialist again did something ethically questionable, what was I to do?
How much support would I have from the boss?
Fundamentally, I should have gotten an answer as to how important was what the Specialist supposedly was doing. Did what this person do matter to the organization? How much did it matter?
I had learned over many years that higher education avoids being embarrassed. If push came to shove, as they say, would my boss back me in disciplining my new charge?
And, I should have spoken with the “old” supervisor.
What was his experience?
Why was he willing to give up this direct report?
Too blithely, I accepted this assignment.
My supervision of the specialist was how I worked with all of my two dozen or so direct reports. Regular meetings and no micromanaging. Instead I modeled what was expected: high quality and respectful treatment of clients with careful attention to new initiatives and technological applications. Given freedom, some of my direct reports soared.
Others, had a hard time lifting off. They obviously needed far more guidance and direction than I provided.
The Specialist, as it turned out, continued his self-serving ways. Marginally, what he did was beneficial but generally he was the beneficiary more than the organization.
Dismayingly, as soon as I took over, his previous supervisor began to carp about the Specialist’s performance. That criticism was aimed at me as much as the Specialist! I was judged guilty by association!
While the Specialist did some of his job, it was never really what I was hoping for. The Specialist and I should have had a frank talk early on. I should have provided more direction and been clearer about expectations. Instead we muddled along.
I don’t recall reviewing a job description. That might have helped. My expecting him (and others) to figure it for themselves, was not always the best strategy.
Probably I should have refused to take on the Specialist job; I had plenty to do.

*As immortalized in Charles “Chick” Sale's best seller of 1930, The Specialist.

Copyright all text John Lubans 2020

WIWDD*, #3: Avoiding Conflict

Posted by jlubans on October 06, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)


Caption: A corner of the “Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument

The first two of my WIWDD* reflections are here and here.
This third reflection is about avoiding conflict.
I made a case study of it to use in my teaching and titled it Jack and Jill.
Like the nursery rhyme, it did not work out well: Jack “fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.”
Jill was a department head who had long used her negativity to get what she wanted. Jack was me, her supervisor.
I’d gone along with Jill because – her dog in the manger attitude aside – she and her department did a good job. Unlike some aggrieved bureaucrats, she did not punish her clients.
I stayed pretty much silent on her negative views and of her victimhood cultivation. I largely ignored the real possibility that her negative attitude permeated the work of the department and her peer relationships.
Let’s be honest, I obviously was avoiding a “difficult conversation”.
At least I could have made an effort to help, and not wait until it was too late to do anything.
I think Jill trusted very few people and – based on her gloomy interpretations of others’ actions – very likely had a touch of paranoia.
Alas, I said nothing.
If I thought about it, it was that probably things would get better. Given my strong support for her department and its mission, surely she would gain a sunnier disposition. Dream on.
Jill firmly believed, I think, it was her whining and complaining that got things for her department.
And, my avoiding a difficult conversation was encouraging the bad behavior.
Finally, I did take action when I found out she’d been fudging her production statistics.
Following a department heads meeting about our organization wide budget crunch in which she displayed a pit bull territoriality and offered no help, I asked for her to come speak with me.
Exasperated, I told her that I was disappointed and embarrassed with how she constantly complained in meetings. I then asked her since this job was so difficult whether she would like to step down and let someone else do it.
I had no one in mind, but thought maybe she’d opt for a break.
Given her probable paranoia, she thought I was attacking her unfairly and that I was wanting to fire her. (I suppose I was.)
Afterwards, I learned that she complained bitterly about me to my boss.
What would I do differently?
First, I should have asked my boss for guidance before having it out with Jill.
I should have known there was no easy fix and that my confronting her would have repercussion.
Nor should I have held the meeting while angry.
Years earlier, when I hired her, I should have made clear what I expected from my direct reports. Namely, I did not want to hear complaints unless they came with solutions. And, if there were no solutions, then we needed to move on and focus the discussion on the doable.
If I had started giving Jill feedback sooner, maybe we’d not have had the blow up.
For example, I could have asked her early on if she would be open to my observations on how she interacted with her peers.
If she agreed, I’d tell her what she did well and what she could have done better.
No telling the outcome, but maybe we would not have had this unhappy ending. A year later she left for another organization and rarely spoke to me except when obligated to do so.
Interestingly, when I used the Jack & Jill case study in a management workshop the participants sided with Jill and blamed Jack for the problem.
I can see why.
But, what I found a little hard to believe was that they (unlike Jack) would confront Jill immediately and give her guidance on how to improve the relationship.
Most managers – not just Jack -have a hard time with conflict; of the five conflict modes - competing, collaborating, compromising, accommodating and avoiding - the latter three see a lot more use than does the best option, collaborating.

Caption: Don't we all?

*WIWDD=What I Would Do Differently

Copyright All Text John Lubans 2020

Waiting for Wisdom

Posted by jlubans on September 28, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Wise as Minerva, polyglot sardines.

I know a few wise people. Maybe two or three and one dog. No cats.
That small number doesn’t mean there are no other people (or dogs) who do smart things, who lead good lives. It’s just that the truly wise for me are few in number. The wise are not omniscient. Even they make mistakes, and my canine paragon chews on a dead gopher now and then.
Still, I aspire to be like those few but fall short much of the time and I am running out of time!
If that Jovian wisdom-imbuing bolt-out-of-the-blue is ever to strike it had better hurry up.
I find myself all too often in a decision-making rut, over reacting or under reacting.
The most I can hope for at this late stage is that the ratio of wise decisions vs. foolish ones is on the rise, however slight.
OK. What is wisdom?
What are wisdomly traits?
I’d include patience, kindness, humor, humility, and openness to other views.
The wise learn from errors but they don’t perseverate over failure; they move on and do a better job.
The wise are able to back away from a pet idea or answer. They don’t just ride a hunch, but knowingly believe there’s one way better than another.
But, the wise avoid clinging to that “one way” when there may be other ways to get to the same destination.
When I think of the truly wise, I believe they have an inner compass set to true north.
Yeah, I know “true north” sounds de rigueur but has little meaning for many of us.
More aptly, they seem to have an internal gyro compass that keeps them steady and out of dead-ends.
So, let’s say they are able to balance opposing views and make decisions based on an inner conviction of what’s important and what’s not.
The wise weigh consequences of decisions. While it may make fiscal sense to move a business to a place with low labor costs, the wise consider the multiple ramifications of such a move, not just profit. Perhaps there are other solutions besides joining a stampede to low cost places.
The wise are able to articulate of what they speak; that’s the inner conviction which keeps them cool under fire. It takes study and understanding.
Wisdom is more than luck, more than a flip of the coin that lands right.
Finally, the wise I know have a closeness to Nature, an awareness of forests and open fields, of sunrises and sunsets, and rain and wind and of other creatures besides man. Somehow, this link to Nature helps the wise person make techno/urban decisions.
In my wisdomly efforts, I’ve found time helpful. Not too much time but enough to cool off if agitated or un-nerved.
Then, I am best able to consider options.
Best of all, with enough time I can look for the real problem. Often, what I think is a problem is actually one superficial manifestation of the underlying problem.
I’d say we should avoid what is termed “conventional wisdom”. It isn’t either one.
I’ve come to believe that “putting one over” is not wisdom.
The Yankee horse trader who sells someone a lame horse may be canny and shrewd but it does not make him any less of a crook.
I try, whenever I think of it, to encourage wisdom with a conscious neutrality, asking for alternative views, and avoiding self-delusion.
The latter, especially is not easy to do.
I’ve often been one to go with my first idea. While occasionally the intuitive idea is good, it may well be skewed. When I slow down and rethink that impulse - burning to be put into action - I begin to see other approaches, other viewpoints. It’s akin to a written first draft, a second and third draft tends to get better.
All that said, waiting for wisdom may be like Beckett’s Waiting for Godot; Vladimir and Estragon loiter on.

Copyright all text John Lubans 2020


Posted by jlubans on September 17, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)


SEEING how a Bee was busying itself about a flower, an Eagle said to it, with disdain,
"How I pity thee, poor thing, with all thy toil and skill!
All through the summer, thousands of thy fellows are moulding honeycomb in the hive. But who will afterwards separate and distinguish the results of thy labour?
I must confess, I do not understand what pleasure thou canst take in it.
To labour all one's life, and to have in view—what?
Why, to die without having achieved distinction, exactly like all the rest.
What a difference there is between us!
When I spread my sounding pinions (wings), and am borne along near the clouds, I am everywhere a cause of alarm.
The birds do not dare to rise from the ground ; the shepherds fear to repose beside their well-fed flocks; and the swift does, having seen me, will not venture out into the plains."
But the Bee replies,
To thee be glory and honour!
May Jupiter continue to pour on thee his bounteous gifts!
I, however, born to work for the common good, do not seek to make my labour distinguished. But, when I look at our honeycombs, I am consoled by the thought that there are in them a few drops of my own honey."
Fortunate is he, the field of whose labour is conspicuous!
He gains added strength from the knowledge that the whole world witnesses his exploits.
But how deserving of respect is he who, in humble obscurity, hopes for neither fame nor honour in return for all his labour, for all his loss of rest —who is animated by this thought only, that he works for the common good!
Our bee is happy,
humble and content, he envies not the braggadocious eagle.
Many of us bloggers – under the long tail of the Internet (a scatological image, not?) – labor away likewise. Someone said, never have so many written so much to be read by so few (for free.)
Well, I’m not as gruntled or diffident as the collaborative bee; indeed, I am disgruntled by the congestion in the beehive of the Interne.
A bit like being in a traffic jam and sticking my head out the window, hollering: “Why the hell aren’t all you idiots home?”
I remember the Internet’s pre-congestion days of the 1990s, when every blog or web page had some kind of welcome and following. Of course, it was all a novelty back then.
Most of those early web pages are a now like burned out satellites circling the earth.
That said, while I know how to get more traffic to the blog, I really do not want to.
I eschew ginning up controversy to attract eyeballs. Nor do I want to promote beyond the little broadcasting I already do. I could pay to advertise, but why?
So, like the bee, I write this blog largely for myself and for the occasional reader who might enjoy something (the bee’s own drops of honey) I’ve written for the “common good”.

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869.

2020 Copyright All text. John Lubans

Gluten Free Management* - The Neo-Boss

Posted by jlubans on September 12, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)


We’ve all seen products labeled “Gluten Free”. If you are among the 1% that suffers from celiac disease, you pay special attention.
Interestingly, it’s a magical phrase for about 30 percent of gluten-tolerant American adults. They believe in their hearts – without any evidence - gluten free is better for the world and them.
For example, my daughter’s laundry detergent proclaims to be Gluten Free! Some vodkas now claim gluten freeness! – thing is, vodka never had gluten.
Ditto for Olive oil. Butter. Cranberries, Milk. Garden hoses.
Perhaps there is more to the label than just a marketing profit motive. Are those consumers spotted in the gluten free aisle more with it than the rest of us?
Of course, managers do not have Gluten Free emblazoned across the shoulders in three-inch letters.
My use of the term applies to how managers act, how they behave.
When a manager is gluten free, what replaces the “gluten”?
When something is declared sugar-free, the replacement is usually a cloying chemical sweetener.
When a product heralds itself fat-free, what’s the replacement? Among other ingredients, a large scoop or two of sugar.
For my GFs, the replacement may be slogans over substance. And, the GF orthodoxy may be made up of taboos, indefinite stereotypes and unproven assertions.
But, conforming to what others want may require lying to yourself.
And, if you side with one segment – really a clique - you may alienate a much larger group.
Remember that there are some 70% of people who don’t habituate the gluten free aisle.
Of course, one solution is to hire only the wokest staff; but doing so is certain to limit diversity of thought. (Did I just hear the woke transgression alarm go off?)
To help clarify what I mean by gluten free management, here are some traits and indicators:
When pushed, GFs go along.
GFs are “woke” and intolerant of those less so.
GFs’ on-the-job decisions are knowingly influenced by one-sided societal and political thought.
GFs, being aggrieved about one thing of another, tend toward the humorless.
Some argue that this mind set leads to sweetness and light, but GFs operate in a climate of fear. Contrarian ideas are eschewed and those with differing opinions are crushed.
Such a climate requires the GF ever to be on the qui vive for shifts in what’s woke and what’s not.
Hardly an enviable position for the new manager.
Is it reversible? Only if senior leadership has the courage to offer guidance away from bias.
The trapped, unwoke manager, stuck in the gluten free aisle, can only hunker down, work hard and hope for the pendulum to swing toward a more open and diverse work environment.

*While my use of the term Gluten Free Management may be new, the condition is not. However, it’s been exacerbated of late. If past generations sought to drive out fear in the work place, that fear of being out of step, of being censored for contrarian views, is once again ascendant.

Text Copyright 2020 John Lubans

What I Would Do Differently, #2

Posted by jlubans on September 08, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)


This is the second essay on rethinking something in my 40-year career that either failed or went well. Failure is ahead by two!
Today’s reflection is about a large-scale project. It was a group effort developed within my administrative area to provide new students with a thorough orientation to a research library. We were evangelically committed to the concept, and we had the enthusiastic support of the head of the English department. He proclaimed he was in, boots and all!
Ours was an early and ambitious effort among research libraries at teaching two thousand freshmen research skills, ones they would need– we were convinced – to be successful university students.
Our program would give each student 3 class hours of in-person instruction.
We were a platoon of public services librarians, on a righteous mission to do good.
Our planning team was high energy, creative, unafraid to take on this Herculean task.
But, in the first of the 3 classroom segments, we began to see disconcerting behaviors - tardiness, reading of newspapers, talking, etc. - among the students.
Well, the grape vine had it that the Teaching Assistants (TAs) were not on board. They’d been pretty much ordered by the department head to do it.
No doubt the students were picking up on the instructors’ unhappiness; some TAs probably were not above sabotage.
By the third and last class, the head of the English department had capitulated to the mutiny and declared the class was no longer mandatory; it was now up to each student to be there or not.
When I announced this to my section of 30 students, all but one gathered their things and rushed for the door.
The remaining one was asleep; when I roused him and explained to him the new deal, he yawned and exited wordlessly.
So, what would I have done differently?
Obviously, I’d involve a cadre of the English TAs – all graduate students – in the planning!
Also, we would include a few freshmen in the design.
And, we’d make a much greater effort to fight group think – we were apostolically like-minded in wanting students to learn how to be independent library users. Why would anyone not want that?
Our task force should have developed worst-case scenarios and what to do.
In one of our early planning meetings, one of our quietest participants spoke up; she said we might encounter resistance from the TAs.
While I well remember that small voice, at the time I paid little attention. I, as the leader, should have stopped and asked her to elaborate. Sometimes the devil’s advocate might be the quietest person on your team.
And, at the bitter end, we should have done an AAR (after actions review) to better understand the why. This AAR would include any TAs willing to explain their viewpoint.
Instead of discussing what went wrong, we licked our wounds and went on with other efforts, mostly away from large group instruction.
Some of us blamed the department head for caving to the TAs, but that was not fair.
We did offer another large-scale orientation for freshmen, a scavenger hunt. Several cases of beer probably had something to do with its success!
Subconsciously, I am sure the failed partnership with the English Department shaped future efforts for the better.
A subsequent very successful teaching program became pretty much the model for effective collaborations between teaching departments and college libraries. It was the pairing of subject librarians with instructors in various disciplines at the point when students were writing research papers for a specific class.
That’s about it.
In retrospect, all obvious lessons; the foremost is to involve clients in any project dependent on them.
Diversity trainers take note!
Be suspicious of virtue, when you think you’ve cornered the market, you’re on your way to disaster.

Copyright 2020 John Lubans

What I Would Do Differently, #1.

Posted by jlubans on September 03, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)


Caption: Yours 40 years later (courtesy of a WSJ app)

From time to time I will write about some past event which I would do differently – this is the first installment.
These reflections will come after a 40-year career in higher education (teaching and administration). Some, like this first case, will be based upon a failure. Others will be based upon successes.
I won’t bore you with personal life-decisions I’d do-over.
I will just bore you with things I would have done differently at work!
Why? Well, since I still teach management topics this is a constructive way for me to reflect. And, maybe a reader will find something of value for how she or he leads.
So here goes.
Numero Uno was a project, long unrequited.
Simply put, we had two different ways of labeling files. The new way one had about 3 million files (more recent and most used) in it and the old one (less used) had 1 million.
Some wanted to reconcile the two systems.
Others saw little value in doing this because, besides the work being redundant, there were several other ways to find any desired old or new file.
However influential clients mounted a persistent campaign and were adamantly convinced about merging the two sets of files.
I was charged with chairing a team as to whether to do this merger and what the costs might be.
We never got much past the best guessing phase.
The end result was that our (probably skewed) estimate of the high costs of changing labels prevailed. The pro-relabeling forces folded their tents and went off to brood some more.
While conclusive for one side, the recommendation did not assuage those believing a merger was essential
How would I do it differently? In several ways:
Borrowing from the military and business, I would appoint red and blue teams. Each would argue factually their side of the problem. To merge or not to merge.
Of course, this would also require our stating what the real problem was. Indeed, was it a problem? And, if so, just how large was it.
The evidence was pretty much only complaints claiming that having two systems inconvenienced some and somehow did not provide “good optics” of a modern organization. If one were a fuss budget, then this was something to fuss about.
We needed to get past the emotion and absolute certainty on each side of the issue.
I would include in the exploration team a few of the staff closest to the work, not just the supervisors.
I’d also try to find out via focus groups what it was the pro re-label faction wanted and why.
Once we had some conclusions to offer, I would lead a robust after action review (AAR) to make sure we were on the right track.
Another different approach would be to jump in feet first and do a large sample and actually re-label 1000 of the old files.
Doing so, would get at underlying complexities and the true costs – perhaps they would be far less than what we guessed they might be.
None of this re-label work would be wasted since the newly re-labeled would go into the new label side. And we would have a much firmer idea of how to do this project, if and when decided, and what the most effective procedure would be.
While not a new approach of doing the work, I’d use the opportunity to leverage a quid pro quo from the re-labeling advocates.
The same clients agitating for a merged system were largely opposed to storing files off-site. Perhaps if we agreed to re-label the most heavily used (all files had records of use) and store the least used, the opposition might go along not only in reducing the size of the re-label project but also getting them to be a bit more positive toward the use of off-site storage.
That might have been an acceptable trade off.
Probably the ratio would be around 60% for storage while the remaining 400,000 could be relabeled and merged with the new system; I’d be happy with 50/50.
Doing so, we would gain badly needed on-site space and reduce substantially the redundant and other work required by a re-labeling process.
In any case, the more we showed a full faith and inclusive effort to study the problem, the more trust we could between the two factions.
But, as happens in traditional organizations like bureaucracies, reason does not always prevail.
As it turned out, in a few years, many of the old and new labels would be replaced with barcodes linked to e-records for off site storage.

Copyright John Lubans 2020


Posted by jlubans on August 20, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Discerning Donkey

THE next time you write a fable about me," said the donkey to Aesop, "make me say something wise and sensible."
"Something sensible from you!" exclaimed .Aesop; "what would the world think? People would call you the moralist, and me the donkey!"
Be careful whom you support as wise and sensible.
The donkey gets a b
um rap and Lessing’s Aesop goes along.
As a former slave, Aesop might have had a bit more sympathy for the donkey.
For all of Lessing’s philosopher credentials – even though he never sported a beard – he gets no further than the stereotype. Once a silly ass always a silly ass!
What about the biblical Balaam’s Ass?
I’ve often referred to that creature as a star follower, one who hears an invisible guardian angle and stubbornly stops his leader’s headlong gallop into perdition.
Aesop, btw, was never a moralist. Morals and moralists came long after Aesop.
Aesop, it seems, never doubted a listener’s getting the message.
Imagine that!
Does Lessing really have to tell us about taking care in whom we “support as wise and sensible”?
Good advice, nevertheless, during this presidential election.

*Source: Lessing, Fables, Book I, No. 30. Translated by G. Moir Bussey
Excerpted From: Cooper, Frederic Taber, 1864-1937. “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land.”

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© Copyright John Lubans 2020

Lost Your Mojo*?

Posted by jlubans on August 18, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)


Who’s to blame? Is it you or is it corporate culture, the environment in which you work?
A study from 2015 suggests that it’s more the culture than the individual. It’s understood, it seems, that given the right corporate culture an employee will align herself and make the most of a good job.
I am not so sure; you could be the wrong fit for a great job.
But, there’s no question that a star employee under a freedom-granting administration may well become less luminous under a new boss jealous of an empowered employee.
I have worked in both settings and excelled under the former and far less so under the latter.
Also, I have seen up close and personal with one organization often cited for its good mojo: Southwest Airlines.
The many SWA people I interviewed loved their work and that love carried over into great service and successful returns on investment.
Sure, there may have been a few that did not buy into the SWA way of working, but they may have been having a bad day, or, more likely, had personal problems not related to the workplace.
I often refer to SWA in my blog. For just one reference out of many, go to this link.
Unlike some in the business press who regard SWA as a management cliché (sort of like the decades ancient allusion to 3Ms coming up with – out of nowhere – its Post-It notes).
I keep referring to SWA because it continues to hold true to its values over the decades.
According to the study there are 6 or more influences on workplace motivation. The authors term this as “Total Motivation” or ToMo: play, purpose, potential, emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia.
The first three influences are positive and direct motivators and the bottom three are indirect and tend to de-motivate.
As many previous researchers (e.g. Fred Emery)
on why people work have shown, the more external or indirect a “force” the less positive in motivating anyone.
For example, if you have no clue why you are doing the job (inertia), that condition will require more than coffee to get you “pumped” for the daily grind.
Ditto for going to work solely for economic gain or because you are trying to please someone other than yourself.
If you enjoy your work (it’s almost like play) and the greater the future potential (gaining experience and an explicit career ladder) and a positive, meaningful purpose for the job it’s likely to trigger your internal motivation to do a very good job.
The 2015 article is not an opinion piece but a delineation of quantitative ways to gauge how an organization’s culture sways individual motivation; the researchers calculate a total motivation (ToMo) score for each variable. They conclude that leaders can indeed successfully change corporate culture for the better by pursuing a higher ToMo score.
Why is this important?
To quote the authors: “… cultures that inspired more play, purpose, and potential, and less emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia, produced better customer outcomes.”
And, getting to the bottom line, they conclude that those corporations with the most positive ToMo scores perform better than industry peers with lower ToMo scores.

Lost you workplace mojo?
Take this quiz and rank your response as high, low or medium.
If you get “Highs” for Question 3, 4, and 5 that suggests you have a high ToMo and probably a pretty effective personal Mojo going on.
And, if you get “Highs” for Questions 1, 2 and 6 you probably lack personal motivation hence your mojo may be AWOL as well.
QUIZ. I work because:
1. Without this job I would be worried I couldn't reach my financial objectives.
2. There is no good reason for doing so.
3. The work itself is fun – I derive pleasure – from the work.
4. This type of work will help me reach my personal goals.
5. I believe the work has an important purpose.
6. If I didn't work, I would disappoint people or myself I care about.

*For those readers who only know the word MOJO from Austin Powers,
mojo also refers to an almost magical personal power, an infectious enthusiasm, and a palpable motivation.
While we (most of us) laughed at Austin’s raunchy bedroom mojo, there’s much more to it.

ONLY a click away, now 40% off all summer long only at this link:

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020