Month: March 2011

Electronic Maze – A Great Teambuilding Event and the Power of Serendipity

We just became a Value Added Reseller for the Electronic Maze! I know, strange huh?

I fully believe it was serendipity which according to dictionary.com is:

ser·en·dip·i·ty

/ˌsɛrənˈdɪpɪti/[ser-uhn-dip-i-tee]- noun

1. an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.

2. good fortune; luck: the serendipity of getting the first job that she applied for.

The story goes like this.  We have been using the Electronic Maze since the first day of business at The Lantern Group.   We’ve done hundreds of events that have utilized the maze with great success.   Thousands of people have gone through it.   I wrote about 5 great insights from the Maze back in August (click here to read).  We’ve highlighted it as one of our key team building events on our Lantern Group Web Page (see here).

But I never thought that I’d be selling it.

Then the phone calls started happening.

The first was a few months ago – out of the blue, I got a call and somebody wanted to buy a maze from us.  I told them politely that we use the maze as one of our key team events, but we don’t sell them…sorry.  I didn’t think much of it at the time.   Then the second call came – same inquiry, “can I buy a maze.”  Again, sorry, we don’t sell them, but here is the website for the company that makes them.”   It seemed a little curious, but nothing more than a fluke.   But then the third and the fourth call came and I thought – wait, this might be something.

Apparently, when you Google “Electronic Maze” we are the second highest rated web page.

I thought to myself – cool!  I love the product – really do (we’ve owned them for over 14 years – with only needing to replace the batteries).  I think they can be used to address a number of team and leadership issues for a variety of participants (we’ve had CEO’s go through the maze, a group of women educators, assembly line workers, and managers from across the globe – to name just a few).  And now I’m getting calls about them.

I contacted Interal – the manufacturer.  I spoke with Boyd the President of the company (we had a great long talk about the many different uses of the Maze and how I’ve loved it for a long time).  Now we are a Value Added Reseller of the product.  You can contact us and we can sell you the Electronic Maze at cost (612-396-6392 or kurt@lanterngroup.com).

Serendipity at its best.

Insight # 6 from the Maze: Always be open to new opportunities!

Taking some time to recharge

I feel that it is important that we take time for ourselves to recharge.  When I say that, I mean more than just finding the ten minutes a day to have some quiet time or even an hour a day to exercise (although both of these things help).

I mean that we are able to fully disengage from our main line of work for a week.

I just did this – I took a vacation!

Yes, I checked in on e-mail a few times (and even posted here), but for the most part, I took the time off and enjoyed my family, relaxed, forgot about real life and absolutely enjoyed myself.

I recommend this to everyone.

I think it also:

  • Recharges us – coming back from vacation, I feel much more motivated to do work.  It feels new again.
  • Refocuses us – time off allows us to refocus our energies.  I think that it provides a perspective that allows us to better identify the important tasks that we need to do.  It helps us prioritize!
  • Enlarges us – we come back with new experiences that help us look at things differently and I would say more creatively.  We tend to grow in different ways while we are on vacation.  This gives us a broader
  • Encourages us – this time for ourselves makes us realize that work is an important part of who and what we are.  I tend to miss it when on vacation (or at least parts of it).
  • Reminds us – of the reason that we work – both the intrinsic aspects that make us appreciate the work we do as well as the extrinsic aspects that provide us the means to take a vacation.  It makes you realize that there is more to life than just work – but how important work is to our life.
  • Inspires us – I had the opportunity to spend a week with one of the nicest, most thoughtful, most resilient  people I’ve ever had the opportunity to  meet.  His life story and his attitude on life inspired me.  We get the opportunity when we take time off to be inspired by any number of different elements.
  • Connects us – to new people, new places, new ideas.  We come back from our time away with more connections that can serve us well in the upcoming days, months, years…

So make sure that you take time off to recharge yourself.  Make sure that you don’t shortchange your vacation, or miss it, or do too much work over it.  Remember…the time off is important to our overall motivation and well being!

I’m sure there are many more positive aspects to taking time off.  Please let us know your thoughts on this.

Today I Am Grateful For: A Torn MCL

Ok, I might be trying a little hard to find some gratitude on this one, but…

I was skiing last week with some friends while we were working on developing a conference (a cool conference that includes skiing activities that help solidify key insights…yes, the one I talk about in the previous post…but that is another story). On the last run of the second day (after I had written the previous post), I caught an edge, had the tip of my ski catch and flipped over, twisting my knee. At the doctor the next day, they said that I have a slightly torn MCL.

This week I came out to Montana with my family and some friends to ski at Big Sky. We had planned this vacation for months.  We were looking forward to having some time away, teaching our kids how to ski, and enjoying the mountains.

Everyone skied yesterday except for me.

I did a little work, took pictures, captured some video, and got groceries.  I kept myself busy.

Today they are off again but instead of keeping myself busy I’m all alone watching the snow fall down at a rate of a few inches an hour (fresh powder). I really want to go out on the hill and ski – but my knee is not quite ready (hopefully tomorrow).

But here is what I’m grateful for…I have a day to relax and enjoy. I sat this morning with a cup of coffee watching the snow fall softly and cover the evergreen branches with a white coat.  I watched a bird I couldn’t recognize fly into the evergreens and saw the snow cascade down in a torrent to the ground as the birds wings hit the branches.   The mountain is hidden in mist and snow, but outside is beautiful. There is a calm quiet that permeates this place which I can’t find in Minneapolis. I’ve been given a day of contemplation. One in which I can think and be grateful for all that I have.

I could be bitter…I could be mad at the fact that I am stuck here now because I was stupid last week.  But what good would that do me?  So instead I choose to use this time and enjoy it.

I choose to be grateful.

And so…while I would like to be out skiing and feeling the fresh powder under my skis…I am thankful for this alone time in such a beautiful setting.

Today I’m Grateful For: Mountain Time Reflection

I am in Colorado working/playing with a few friends planning a future conference. While we have probably been playing more than working (we talk work on the ski hill, but I can’t really call that work) this time has given me some moments of reflection that I wouldn’t normally get. It is refreshing to step away from everyday life to gain some perspective. Looking at the breathtaking vista’s from the top of the mountain really make one thing about how we fit into the world. Feeling the sun in your face as you glide down the ski hill makes me focus on what is really important in life. Having a beer and sharing stories about the day reinforce the fact that we are social creatures.

I am very grateful for this time of reflection.

How do you motivate the mundane

I find that motivation isn’t usually a problem when you have new, exciting, rewarding or cool work projects.  The new client that has a problem that challenges you to come up with a novel solution.  The big project that will catapult your career or the company into a new stratosphere.  The project that if done well will get the high profile recognition both by the leaders of the company and maybe even the outside press.

Those are the low hanging fruit….

Those are the open layups you better make….

Those are the no-brainers…

It gets harder when the task or project doesn’t have the same “appeal”

Here is the $50,000 question for you – how do you make sure employees are motivated to do the everyday, mundane, boring tasks that lead to better company performance?  These are those tasks that do not get your picture in the company newsletter.  The tasks that make your mind so numb that you swear you’ve lost half your brain.  The tasks that are essential, but you would easily skip to watch paint dry as that would be more enjoyable?

Give your thoughts in the comment section below (I know, commenting on blogs can be one of those mundane and boring tasks)…

Layoffs and employee motivation – observations from the outside

My wife’s company has just gone through a layoff of 125 people.   This layoff was announced a few weeks ago and came as a surprise for most people (mostly the employees working there).  Of course I had concern for my wife’s job and those of her co-workers…but I also had a curiosity of seeing firsthand from a very close proximity the effects that the layoff had on motivation. This is a qualitative look from my perspective and as such, should be taken with a grain of salt – but still, I think there are some useful nuggets here.

Here are a few observations that I saw:

1.  Layoffs suck motivation out of people

From talking to people and listening to my wife, the overarching fact was that this layoff sucked the motivation out of almost all the employees.  They were nervous.  They were mad.  They were making contingency plans.  They were talking one-on-one or in small groups about what was going on.  They were frightened.

What they weren’t doing was being motivated and productive.

Any company that thinks its employees are going to be motivated because they are afraid of losing their jobs, needs to rethink that assumption.  From what I saw, it acted in exactly the opposite way.  There was a sense of apathy and one of giving up once the upcoming layoff was announced.  People started updating their resume’s, they added people to their Linked-in network (I got quite a few of these from my wife’s co-workers), and they called their friends and acquaintances (either to prospect for jobs or to have a sympathetic ear to vent to).

My wife said to me one day during this, “I feel like I’ve been at a funeral for a week.”

2. Communication is vital

From the time of the announcement of the layoffs to the final layoff occurring took a total of 10 days.  During that time, there was a great deal of confusion, fear and anxiety.  The communication coming from the company was limited and often led to more chatter at the “water cooler” than it prevented.  I would be hard pressed to say that the communication put forth by the company helped much in alleviating any of the discomfort and anxiety that the employees were going through.  I know that the company was limited to a degree by certain laws about what they could or could not say, however, that is not an excuse for having people be confused about the reasons for the layoff and how they would happen.  I think that any company that is going through or thinking about a layoff needs to think very hard about their employee communications.  Specifically, they need to let employees know:

  • Why the layoff’s are occurring and why this layoff is necessary
  • What are the alternatives that they looked at and why they were rejected
  • What the process is for the layoffs themselves
  • What is the criteria that they are looking at to determine who is going to be terminated
  • Where can employees go to receive more information
  • When they can expect more information if it isn’t available now

It is important to communicate about resources people can go to regarding dealing with the stress of the layoff, but that should be just a part of the communication campaign.

Also key to this is to make sure that whatever is communicated is followed through.  If you communicate that layoffs are not going to start until next week, don’t layoff directors this week (even if it is only a handful).  The damage that does to trust, motivation and stress is significant.

3. The unknowns are the worst

Most of the anxiety, anger and stress that I observed were caused not by what was known, but by the unknown.  This plays into much of what I discussed in the communication section – but the entire process would have been better if there would have been more transparency in the process.   The biggest unknown that faces an employee is will they have a job or not – but that isn’t the only one.  Unknowns also include: what are the layoff criteria?  How will the different departments be impacted?  What do I do about my on-going projects if people on them might not be here in two weeks?  What is going to happen after the layoffs are done?  How will we cover the increased workload?  What will happen to the people let go?

4. After the fact

The big challenge now comes after the fact.  What will the company do now that the layoffs have occurred and the survivors are left.  From the few people I’ve talked to (including my wife) there is a feeling of “survivor’s guilt” going around (e.g., “why was she let go instead of me – she has 3 kids and is going through a divorce?”).  There is also sense of “is this the end?”  Will there be more layoffs in the future? What is going to happen next?  How will my job be effected?

This is the moment that the company needs to shine.  They have put in place listening sessions with senior leadership (kind of a venting process as much as an information transfer) – this is a good start.  There is need for more.  They need to communicate their plan for growth to ensure that this will not happen again.  Employees need to feel like they are not just numbers in a big machine that are expendable at any moment, but instead feel like they are a vital component to the success of the company.  They need to be heard and appreciated.  A new energy needs to be instilled – one that drives motivation up and not down.

There is an opportunity over the next month or so for the company to do this.  If it doesn’t happen, I fear that it will be a long climb back to the level of engagement and motivation that was there prior to the announced layoffs.

Have you gone through a layoff?  Let us know what you feel about how it impacted motivation – good, bad or ugly.

Today I Am Grateful For: 9 minutes in the car

Most winter days, I drive my wife into work. Often, I’ve already started on something by the time my wife is ready and she yells up to me in my office “Time to go.” I stop what I’m doing. I go downstairs. I grumble about the hassle of driving. I put on my coat and grab the keys. I drive her in and drop her off.

It takes about 9 minutes for us to make it downtown to her office. That is 20 minutes out of my day.

I can’t think of a better use of 9-minutes. This is our time. We talk about things. We discuss our plans for the day or week or month. We share some gossip. We make some decisions. I tell her to have a good day. She kisses me goodbye.

This 9-minutes each day is ours and I treasure it.

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