Conversations That Never Were.

Posted by jlubans on November 30, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)


I usually have a “What I Would Do Differently” moment when I think about my leaderships vis a vis what I have learned since leaving the 9-5 world.
Now, I could do a Willy Nelson, that dear reprobate, and come out with, “No Regrets”, but it’s not that easy for me.
I’ve got some second thoughts, some regrets. Instead of Willy, give me Jo Dee Messina’s “A Lesson in Leavin’”, those painful learnings that only come to us upon reflection from experience.
Not too long ago, the WSJ had a piece on employee retention.
The author, John Sullivan, a management professor, offers up a formula for keeping the best staff. He terms it a “stay interview”, “a one-on-one conversation that’s scheduled every 6–12 months when there are no current emotional retention issues.”
It’s a planned intervention before a crucial employee decides to leave for greener pastures. Note well, this conversation is not about the boss – at least not overtly – it’s all about the employee: her value to the organization or his contribution to the smooth running of the shop. No platitudes or bromides, please. A valued employee deserves well-considered praise and critical insights from you, the team leader. Then, ask about what the star staffer needs in order to keep doing what he or she is doing so well. The boss’s job is to listen and to offer real support. Always keep in mind that this conversation is meant to retain the outstanding performer.
When I read Sullivan’s piece, I thought about all the conversations, real ones, that I never had with some very good people – I called them organizational “spark plugs” – the folks who made things happen and inspired others. I assumed they understood – tacitly - how they were doing and that I appreciated them, so I did not need to do anything special about it. Wrong.
I’d now spend far more time thinking about what the employee is doing and registering to them not only my approval but also how they make a difference; how they stood out from the mundane, the day to day.
And, importantly, I’d want to hear what was most on their minds, job-wise; What do they want to do more of and what do they want to do less off? And, what about me? Should I be more available, what can I do less of, more of?
One thing Sullivan does not mention is preparing the employee for this conversation. I’d do so by clarifying in my verbal invitation what we’ll be talking about and what questions I'll want to raise. No need to have this serious and real talk without some forethought.
OK, OK. You might agree but then you are one busy person. “How could I possibly find the time?” Easy. Trade those wasted hours of performance appraisal, that annual paper shuffling ritual, for this real conversation.
End the conversation with a plan that addresses the issues raised. You’ll fix what you can fix and the employee will know you support them – you know what they are doing - and you have their back.
I’ve been fired a few times (not counting the several times I deservedly got the boot when I worked in construction for my father!). First was when I was a clueless bus boy in a cafeteria, then for insubordinate behavior - once again as a bus boy! - at the elegant Hershey Hotel, and much later when I was an administrator. When I got the ax at the latter, I told the boss showing me the door it was the first time we’d had any kind of serious conversation. That did bring to mind a passable country western song: “The only time you looked me in the eye was to let me go.”
Avoid being that kind of sorry boss.
Why this departure (the last paragraph) from the happy task of praising star performers to the shabby dismissal of alleged underperformersl? Because, as a good leader you do not avoid counseling the errant employee; you guide and advise in an imaginative, constructive way and the best leader sometimes even changes her mind.
Caption: Too many conversations go like this. (Oil by Zack Zdrale,1977)

Off topic, maybe, but here’s a link to my comfort foody article, “Countryside Eating at the Airport”, on an unlikely source for Latvia’s traditional potato pancakes. Please note that only the first two pages will come up. Be sure to click on the “OPEN ARTICLE” tab and scroll down to get to all of the pages, photos, recipes & notes.
Speaking of the Riga airport, I’ll be returning in mid February 2016 to teach my 8-week Democratic Workplace class at the University of Latvia. This will be my fifth time doing so! Only in Latvia.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: University of Victoria Library, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable: Lubans’ “Why the Brolga Flies So High*”

Posted by jlubans on November 27, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: A brolga in flight.

Casting about for a Friday Fable, Australia's brolga came to mind, so here goes.
Once upon a time, a brolga was a delegate to a conference of birds. The birds had assembled (as Aristophanes wrote) to debate how best to avoid mankind. Once, man and beast lived in harmony; nowadays, Man only wanted to capture or kill and eat the birds. Zeus overheard the birds and – being in an expansive mood after a feast of ambrosia and other viands - asked each bird what he, Zeus, could do to help them survive against man. Some asked to be made invisible by blending in with the environment, others asked for talons and sharp beaks, and others for enhanced senses of smell and sight to keep man at bay. The brolga, a solitary creature by nature, asked for extra wide wings to fly high, out of the range of boomerangs and spears. Zeus granted this, and that is how, along with enjoying the coolness of the air at these high altitudes, the brolga keeps away from his enemies.

Of course, while these improvements helped the birds elude Man none were guaranteed. The cunning opponent always finds a way. The brolga has to come to earth to rest and to feed; that’s when Man seeks him out.

*The Brolga is a large grey crane, with a loud trumpeting “garooo”. He is named after a great Aboriginal dancer who was abducted by an evil sprit, to return in the form of a beautiful bird. This brolga myth is featured at corroborees (like Native American pow-wows), in dance and song, with brolga dancers taking long hopping steps and seemingly to float on the air.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

Thoughts on a Man's Life: Perry W. Harrison (1931-2015)

Posted by jlubans on November 23, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: “The Storm Aftermath” by my friend, Perry Harrison, 2006. Perry sketched this North Carolina couple shortly after a crop-destroying storm, the farmer looking forlornly out the farmhouse window.

Last Sunday afternoon I went to a little church out in the rolling hills and farmlands near Pittsboro, NC. It was to pay last respects to a new friend, someone I’d gotten to know over the last four years. Perry Harrison was his name. He was the superintendent of schools for Chatham County in North Carolina for 26 years. I knew him best as an artist from lunches at Virlie’s Grill with LaVerne Thornton when we went over LaVerne’s stories and Perry’s illustrations for LaVerne’s latest book, “You Ain’t Moses”, his collection of essay on practicing servant leadership.
Now, I know it is usual not to speak ill of the dead, or to list out any negative quirks of character, especially at a memorial service. But, the three grown-up memorialists and a young granddaughter remembering his life suggested to me just how extraordinary Perry was.
He was a man of faith; his favorite hymn, which he chose for this service was “Trust and Obey”.
I believe its words applied more to him and his faith than it did to anyone else. Those words guided his life; they were not meant to direct others. Certainly I, a lapsed churchgoer, never felt like he expected me to be more than whatever it is I am. He accepted me, for some reason, freely sharing of his rural background and views and was always interested in what I had to say. The speakers confirmed that’s the way he was on the job, taking time to hear from other people, taking time to listen, taking time to visit.
What did I hear about Perry and his leadership that Sunday?
A persuasive listener. One of the speakers related how Perry would listen to him and, then, inexplicably, the speaker would leave Perry’s office having changed his mind on whatever topic it was.
I already knew he had a sly sense of humor. His granddaughter confirmed this with a tale of how “Poppy” would take the time to play school with her. She’d be the teacher and he’d be the “bad boy”!
He was in touch with his community, “riding the roads” to all the county schools regardless of weather.
Just doing the job was hardly enough for Perry. He used his gift for drawing to benefit others, always free – a deal he’d made with God along the lines of “If You help me get better and better at drawing, I’ll never charge a penny for my art.” (See below for more examples of his unique, self-taught style.)
His art facilitated his community involvement: each year he’d draw the Kiwanis calendars to raise funds for scholarships and he’d draw for the church bulletin. At our lunches, Perry always had a stash of drawings (copies) to give me – he must have thought I needed some of these; he knew of my childhood immigration to the USA as a refugee. My favorite drawings are from his rural up-bringing. Those scenes feature him and his brothers in country settings, amidst farmers swapping stories in the general store, his family in the farm-house kitchen, the young Perry playing by the wood stove alongside the sleeping hound dog, his mom cooking. His outdoor scenes describe a hardscrabble type of farming – yet in a setting of Elysian hills - his dad behind a mule powered plow.
He made a difference. At our lunches at Virlies’s there was no end of people coming up to say hello and see how we was doing. In the USA, nowadays, a superintendent of schools rarely lasts beyond 4 or 5 years before having to move on. Perry superintended for 26 years, including during the complex years of integrating white and black students.
An active innovator, many of the current programs in Chatham County first appeared under Perry’s guidance.
He was involved directly in building new schools for the county’s growing population; each received his attention. He’d make and draw suggestions to the architects.
A balanced life. Perry always made time for family. He never rushed family connections, even when going out to frequent night meetings. Notably, each of the presenters and the pastor spoke directly to the family – seated in the front row of the church - and told them how much Perry loved them. One of the speakers mentioned how Perry would always speak of his family and he wanted to hear of his friends’ families.
Life slips away. During Perry’s last year LaVerne visited often and kept me up to date while I was away in Latvia. After I got back, I recall one of our last lunches, organized by LaVerne. By then, Perry was using a walker. While feeble, I’d still see that sparkle in his eyes when one of us, usually LaVerne, cracked a joke, usually a raunchy one. And, even in his sickness, he never forgot to bring me more of his drawings!
At service end, the late afternoon sun was out, lighting up the remaining fall leaves on the trees along the property lines of the farm fields, just like one of Perry’s drawings.

Three drawings from Perry’s prolific portfolio:
Caption: A detail from a barnyard drawing. That’s probably Perry drawing in the dirt. The sleeping dog re-appears in many of his drawings.

Caption: Detail of young man harvesting tobacco.

Caption: Panorama, from memory, of Perry’s family farm, Forsyth County, central NC.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable. Aesop's Fables: Sir Roger L'Estrange’s “A DOG IN A MANGER”*

Posted by jlubans on November 20, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: "Chromolithograph" from a McLoughlin Brothers children's book, New York, 1880.

“A churlish envious Cur was gotten into a manger, and there lay growling and snarling to keep the Provender (food). The Dog eat none himself, and yet rather ventur’d the starving his own Carcase than he would suffer any Thing to be the better for’t. “

“THE MORAL. Envy pretends to no other Happiness than what it derives from the Misery of other People, and will rather eat nothing itself than not to starve those that would.”

You’ve arrived 20 minutes early at the building permit agency. All the required forms are complete and ready to hand in. The clerk looks over your file and asks, “Where’s Form 530?” You have no clue. “When I called, no one told me I needed Form 530.” “Sorry, you’ll have to make another appointment once you have it.” Arf, arf!

“Hmmmm,” goes the examiner, “You’ve filled out the application in blue ink. It has to be black ink. Sorry.” Grrrr, Grrrr!

The clerk is fastidiously studying your application. The last time you applied, the agency said you needed a bank authorized financial statement. It’s on the top of the file. She’s frowning and shaking her head, “No, this won’t do. The bank official has initialed her name by the bank’s stamp. It has to be a full signature. Sorry.” Woof, woof!

And so you can see how someone - with very little real power - can frustrate, like Aesop's classic barking dog, the most humbly compliant and well intended among us.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: Olympic College,
Haselwood Library
, Bremerton, WA, USA.

*Source: Aesop’s Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange, 1692.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

"Unchanging Hands"; Of Friends, Old and New

Posted by jlubans on November 16, 2015  •  Leave comment (1)

Caption: Dog friends, wary but not letting go.

Visiting friends in the Pacific Northwest brought friendships to mind. On the plane back, I reflected on friends, old and new, in my life and work. Relationships are central to the concept of “Leading from the Middle”, with its implied de-emphasis on a strong leader telling others what to do. In my realm, things got done by people who trusted each other and felt good about each other.
The notion of friendship parallels the idea of leadership. Leadership is never a person; it is at least about two people, the leader and the follower. Similarly, a friendship is never about one person. Rather, like leadership, it is about two people with a shared experience and interests.
As I thought about this and wrote in my journal, names began to appear in the margins; names from the past, some no longer in touch, others more recent. All exemplify the variety of friendships we may have in our lives.
Ever since I stopped “nine-to-fiving” some of my friendships changed; indeed, some slipped away sooner than career’s end. For some, “It’s only a job” and by extension, work relationships have neither depth nor substance.
Why, I mused, do some friends stay and why do some leave?
For me there have been three sources of friends: school, work and travel. And from each of these we may have friendships that continue past our school years or into retirement. Many are not of the gospel song’s “unchanging hand” variety - some drop you or drop off - but the best are of the unchanging variety. In these, the friendship continues undeterred by one’s status or ability to do something for the other person.
Friendships may be different among men than they are among women. It’s not necessarily a “guy thing”, but women have better social skills than do most men; as I think about it, women have much larger networks than do many men. How much do minimal social skills contribute to having fewer friends? Guy friendships may be deemed shallow and, yes, guy confidants are rare; regardless, there’s something ineffable about any kind of friendships, allegedly shallow or deep. Relationships grow, even tacitly.
Relationships take effort.
I re-upped with a close - for a guy - friend at my 50th high school class reunion. We were on the same sports teams and were good friends long ago, but now, so much has passed. We’ve seemingly grown apart, grown in different directions, just not like old times, but then maybe the old times were not so great after all? Maybe that’s the dawning realization. While we enjoy each other’s company, it takes a concerted effort to get together. At times it feels like blowing on cold ashes to make a fire. Some relationships won’t re-kindle.
So, remain open. Instead of fretting, over it, reach out and make a new friend. Social skills need honing? Pay attention, nothing will happen unless you try.
Time and distance are factors. Both take effort. A good friend from my work and beyond gave me some insights into his business relationships and how he came to be quite successful. He never sold a “product”; when he visited with customers, it was about relationship building. He went about it systematically and naturally for him, making notes in his diary about what was talked about, what was new in the person’s life and career. These were referred to in follow up correspondence and, of course, at the next visit. Yes, business got done, but more important was the relationship of one human being with another.
What would I change about my relationships at work? A lot. For one thing, I’d acknowledge daily the importance of other people in what we were trying to do. I’d not leave it to chance or a tacit understanding.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable. La Fontaine’s “THE TWO BULLS AND THE FROG.”*

Posted by jlubans on November 13, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Illustration by the French caricaturist, J. J. Grandville, pseudonym of Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard (1803 – 1847).

“Two bulls engaged in shocking battle,
Both for a certain heifer's sake,
And lordship over certain cattle,
A frog began to groan and quake.
'But what is this to you?'
Inquired another of the croaking crew.
'Why, sister, don't you see,
The end of this will be,
That one of these big brutes will yield,
And then be exiled from the field?
No more permitted on the grass to feed,
He'll forage through our marsh, on rush and reed;
And while he eats or chews the cud,
Will trample on us in the mud.
Alas! to think how frogs must suffer
By means of this proud lady heifer!'
This fear was not without good sense.
One bull was beat, and much to their expense;
For, quick retreating to their reedy bower,
He trod on twenty of them in an hour.”

“Of little folks it oft has been the fate
To suffer for the follies of the great.”

Yea, verily. In my business I’d see "perfumed dagger" stuff, like my first boss used to say, in the administrative suite akin to the bulls battling over a pasture. The loser would get “kicked upstairs”, ousted from a position of some importance and “promoted” to another of an apparently higher status but far less influential. Sometimes the “promotion” was masked as a “re-organization”, a shuffling around of responsibilities. In reality, this sleight of hand was nothing but an avoidance of decision-making and effective leading. Instead of frankly counseling a no longer satisfactory manager to improve or move on, the CEO copped-out. Was it all about “saving face”? Depends on whose face is being saved.
Regardless, the employees (the frogs) who get the “demoted” boss have to deal with his stomping around and other behaviors stemming from the so-called “severity error”; when someone is treated shabbily by superiors, he treats his subordinates poorly, a form of “down stream retribution”.
And, worse for the organization, the demoted boss's new group knows full well it too has been down-graded.

*Source: THE FABLES OF LA FONTAINE Translated From The French by Elizur Wright. [original place and date: Boston, U.S.A., 1841.] A New Edition, with Notes by J. W. M. Gibbs,1882. Available at Gutenberg.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: Pierce College Library, Puyallup, WA, USA
(I drove past the town of Puyallup last week.)

© John Lubans 2015

“Let’s get serious! Not!”

Posted by jlubans on November 09, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Will Rogers (atop the bull): “Do the best you can, and don't take life too serious.”

How serious are you?* Answer this question:
“If a police officer arrests a mime, should she say he has the right to remain silent?”
a. A stupid question deserves a stupid answer.
b. Stale
c. Kind of funny
d. Hilarious

If you answered a or d, I’d be worried about your seriousness index.
So, what’s brought on my Seriousness fixation? An art house movie, The Driving Lesson. An alleged romantic comedy about New Yorkers and their personal issues, there was the usual marriage break-up; the straying husband and the successful literary wife now left to struggle for independence. The film had some comedic moments but for the most part it was a self-parody – unintended – of affluent New Yorkers all behaving super seriously - with one notable exception – like the denizens of an Upper West Side TV sitcom.
I came away bemused and wondering if less seriousness and more levity might not have made it a better movie.
What about being too serious at work?
My low seriousness index probably did not always serve me well. Even when outcomes went quite well, there was always the insinuation by some that I did not really know what I was doing; that I was more of a fool than I appeared.
When asked about his irreverent way of leading, Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher called it “management by fooling around”. He explained, “by that I mean taking our jobs seriously, but not ourselves.”
That philosophy is incorporated in SWAs statement of values for cultivating a fun loving
Have fun
Don’t take yourself too seriously
Maintain perspective (balance)
It may be that this permission to enjoy work and to maintain equilibrium between the office and the job is why SWA is the only American airline never to have a losing year. Most other airlines – no doubt very serious at every level - have difficulty competing with SWA. Those that do complete tend to eschew, like SWA, excessive seriousness.
Besides a lack of humor about your importance to the organization, there’s a tendency among the serious to engage in non-work.
What’s non-work? It’s a busyness, which superficially looks like something is happening, but actually you are adding zero to the bottom line or to the output of your team or department. Being so busy leaves you no time or energy to think about what you are doing or to reflect on improving.
Real work adds value, it improves something, and it validates a process. You set aside time routinely to think about what you do and why you are doing it and what you can do to improve.
Want examples of non-work?
Not so long ago, I served, in my professional association, on a program committee. There were a dozen of us. We’d closet ourselves in a windowless meeting room and review, at each annual conference, the proposed programs for the next year.
For 10 hours, strung out over three days, we’d review the stack of applications, page by page, largely making sure that all the blanks were filled in – I never saw a single program proposal rejected by the committee. Nor did this group ever come up with a program idea. That’s 120 hours of very busy non-work. I only lasted through the first year of my two-year appointment.
Similarly, non-work is afoot when you are the third signature on a four signature form (when one signature would suffice).
Or, worse, non-work thrives when an organization insists on supervisors reviewing everyone’s work, even when a person consistently achieves a 99% accuracy rate and the 1% error has a negligible effect on the quality of the product. Those supervisors proudly pin on their “Master Jobsworth” badges and assure you, if you have the temerity to ask, that the review is essential and any steps taken to stop it would jeopardize the quality of the unit’s output. They give no thought to the time that could be gained for real work.
And, let's not forget that annual orgy of seriousness and non-work: performance appraisal!
So, if you find yourself overly serious at work, reflect on why. Is it more non-work than real work? If the former, then take Will Rogers' advice and figure out what can you do to trade out the non-work for real work?

*One of the questions found in Charles C Manz’s essay, “Let’s Get Serious! . . . Really?” Journal of Management Inquiry July 2014 23: 339-342.

© John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable. Sir Roger L’Estrange’s, “A Hedge-Hog and a Snake”*

Posted by jlubans on November 06, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption. These edible hedgehogs would never behave like their brother in this fable.

A Snake was prevail'd upon in a Cold Winter, to take a Hedge-Hog into his Cell; but when he was once in, the Place was so narrow, that the Prickles of the Hedge-Hog were very troublesome to his Companion: so that the Snake told him, he must needs provide for himself somewhere else, for the Hole was not big enough to hold them both. Why then, says the Hedge-Hog, He that cannot Stay, shall do well to Go: But for my own part, I'm e'en Content where I am; and if You be not so too, y'are free to Remove.”
“Possession is Eleven Points of the Law.”

The unwanted houseguest or the guest who overstays his welcome! We’ve all had them. P.G. Wodehouse tells, in a note on the oddities of American life, of an overnight guest who stayed for 15 years. Probably in Chillicothe, Ohio. For some reason Mr. Wodehouse, was taken with the name of this buckeye town. But, I digress.
More relevantly, Grant Burningham’s “Your Worst House Guest” documents dozens of outrageous tales of woe about hedgehog guests. There’s a prevalent theme among the comments on these jeremiads: spineless hosts. If the hapless host showed some gumption and set limits the hedgehog guest would know the score and either get out or behave.
And, I suppose, that’s the way it is in the workplace. Sometimes, when a worker behaves badly, the boss is to blame for making a poor hire and subsequently for not calling the behavior or for not adequately training the miscreant.
“It came seventeen years ago—and to this day
It has shown no intention of going away.”

— Edward Gorey, "The Doubtful Guest"

*Source: Abstemius' Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange, 1692.

Leading from the Middle Library of week: Campbell County Public Library, Gillette, Wyoming, USA

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

Dog Poop and Problem Solving

Posted by jlubans on November 02, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Volunteer with trailhead sign for Tails on Trails.

While trekking in the forest near Corvallis, OR, I came across a series of bright orange signs, on sticks. (They reminded me of the 1950s-era Burma Shave roadside campaigns*, less the rhymes.) Among several repeating messages, one proclaimed “We Love Dogs”. Others inquired: “Do you know where your dog is?” and explained an owner’s responsibility, in respect for other trail users – some of whom fear dogs - to control her dog when off-leash. But the primary message was to raise awareness about the spreading problem of dog poop on the walking trails and how that kind of waste can be harmful to the forest’s ecology and enjoyment. Corvallis trails are normally free of litter – love of Nature is a core value for many in Corvallis – but dog waste is another matter. On popular walking trails near developed areas you can spot an abundance of poop on each sides of the trail. The “Tails on Trails” campaign drew a “line in the sand”, so to speak. Volunteers spray-painted the dog poop neon orange. So, for the first mile or so of the trail, from the parking lot and trailhead, ran two intermittent rows of brightly painted dog poop; visually unavoidable even for someone convinced that dog poop is a “natural” fertilizer that benefits the forest.
Trailhead signs explained the campaign and asked for volunteers for the clean up effort on Oct 10.
Caption: Cleaning up.

On that day, twenty-five volunteers "harvested" 231 lbs of dog waste.
OK, by now you may be wondering what does dog poop, especially the neon orange variety, have to do with the workplace, with problem solving? Well, I’ve been involved in change efforts like this – no, not picking up poop, but similar ones in trying to get clients, customers, users to change behaviors deemed undesirable by the organization. More than a few of those change initiatives failed. Why then did the Tails on Trails program appear to turn out so well – lots of positive feedback and a rise in public awareness?
In search of answers, I interviewed Ryan N.K. Brown, Recreation and Engagement Program Manager of the Research Forests, College of Forestry at Oregon State University (OSU).
She organized the campaign with several others, including staff, paid student help and a host of volunteers. From her I gained some insights into how a campaign like this can succeed or - when certain elements are absent - can fail, like some of my past efforts.
The dog poop issue goes back several years, all the way to a survey conducted in 2009 and published in 2011.**
The report found that of 11,000 regular visitors, 51% were accompanied by dogs, sometimes by more than one dog. These visitors are highly educated and environmentally minded, which is in keeping with the mind set in Corvallis and the OSU region.
This survey was followed with focus groups*** in 2013 and 2014 of Runners, Bikers, Hunters, Equestrians, and Hikers. Among a long list of findings and recommendations, dog waste was among the “Very Prevalent Topics”, euphemistically termed as “refuse leaving behavior motivations.”
In short, while people loved dogs, dog droppings offended many. Unsightly and polluting, the dog poop issue was further aggravated on hot summer days by an offending stench.
A task force of 9 women – the Group of Nine - all “dog people”, handpicked by Ms. Brown, went to work on the problem. They wanted a “least offensive strategy”, to figure out a way to influence and change minds and practices without alienating the forest’s multiple user groups. The Nine came up with a public information campaign (the term “education” was considered but then dismissed as potentially off-putting) and decided to post signs (“snippets”) along four of the most heavily used trails. One of the Nine suggested the phrase “Tails on Trails”, a visually explicit double entendre.
Shortly after posting the signs and spray-painting the poop, most comments were positive but some complaints did come in: the snippets on signs were anti dog, the campaign was negative, it was unfriendly to people who respected the trails and forests. Indeed, someone absconded with all the signs at one of the locations.
That’s when Ms. Brown came up with the “We Love Dogs” message and posted those, serially, along each of the four trails.
I saw that sign several times and it registered with me that those words would help dog lovers overcome the notion that the campaign was targeting bad dogs and bad owners. Instead, the walkers were more likely to read and consider the other messages re pollution. The complaints diminished and many commented, “It’s about time!” that something was done.

So, what are my problem solving takeaways? What are my transfers to the workplace?
A real problem. This was a real problem for the community, not just for the forest administration. The data gathering in the survey and the focus groups confirmed there was a common, shared problem to be fixed.
Not a solo effort. The Group of Nine, drawn from the user community, including two veterinarians, helped shape and develop the message of “Tails on Trails”. It was not just what the forest managers – the “experts” thought was needed. Indeed one of the most successful aspects of this campaign was posting knowledgeable volunteers at trail junctures to answer questions about the campaign and to dissuade – with facts – the myth that dog poop is a “natural” fertilizer rather than a contaminant.
Flexibility. Ms. Brown’s posting of the “We Love Dogs” signs, after the first complaints came in, helped get over any initial hiccups for what turned out to be a highly positive campaign. The ability to adjust to meet current needs is critical for any pilot change effort.
Participation, Social Skills and Gender. Research, as I have previously discussed, shows that problem-solving groups excel when all participants engage, all have good social skills and that there is a majority of women on the team. Ms. Brown told me that, along with her leadership, there were two or more independent thinking and proactive “leaders” in the Group of Nine, and that most everyone took part in idea generation and discussion. The one or two quiet members would give her feedback after meetings and, importantly, took on a large part of the active work this campaign demanded.
When I think back about those failed change efforts referred to above, I can see that one or more of these “take aways” was missing from our process. How about you and your approach in trying to problem solve and bring about change?
Happy trails!

*Caption: Burma Shave road sign from pre-Interstate days.

** “Public Support, Demand, and Potential Revenue for Recreation at the McDonald-Dunn Forest”, Final Report by Mark D. Needham, Ph.D. and
Randall S. Rosenberger, Ph.D.
Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University

*** “Collaborative Community Recommendations for Oregon State University College Forests Recreation Planning.”
By Elspeth Gustavson, College Forests Graduate Research Assistant
Ryan Brown, College Forests Recreation Manager
Christine Olsen, College of Forestry Research Associate and Instructor
August 27, 2014.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015