Author Archives: Kathy Becker

Kathy Becker

About Kathy Becker

Kathy is the CEO/President of the Company of Experts, Inc. and oversees this Small Woman Owned Business serving schools, colleges and universities, businesses, corporations and non-profits moving them from deficit models of planning and thinking to engagement, empowerment and collaboration.

The Impact of Mentors: Personally and Professionally

January is National Mentoring Month, created in 2002 by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health “to focus national attention on the need for mentors, as well as how each of us—individuals, businesses, government agencies, schools, faith communities and nonprofits—can work together to increase the number of mentors to assure positive outcomes for our young people”.

When you reflect back on your best learning moments; when someone was mentoring you, or perhaps you were mentoring someone, what made that moment stand-out for you? How did that impact you? How did that impact the lives of others?

If we are fortunate, we will have many mentors along the way. I was fortunate to have been introduced to Appreciative Inquiry (Ai) by Charles Miller and Nancy Stetson. As a Community College Human Resources Administrator, I saw Ai’s immediate application in my daily practice. I did not know at that time, that my life would radically change as a result of me meeting this dynamic duo. When Charles and Nancy gently and lovingly shared The Center for Appreciative Inquiry with Jim Pulliam and me – it was not just a new chapter in my life being written, rather a new book.

The “hand-over” of the consulting practice took years as Charles and Nancy guided us about the basics of the Corporate operations (Company of Experts, Inc.) and the emotional connection to the Appreciative Inquiry Facilitator Training (AIFT©) which they developed together. While there are many facets to this Company, the passion Charles and Nancy had for the AIFT© was what inspired Jim and I to connect with them and join them in sharing this remarkable program with hundreds of people, organizations and communities around the World.

As the years passed, Charles became my mentor for the AIFT© and other Appreciative Inquiry projects and consulting work. During this time, I had the opportunity to work with him on two major projects: Creative Change through Imagination (CCTI) and The Macon Miracle. The CCTI was designed to build connections between business and education. The Macon Miracle was an inquiry with over 4,000 people. As we worked together, I would watch Charles as he engaged with others. He was always available for guidance and mentorship – and with gentle and thoughtful questions – he would facilitate a mini-inquiry – rarely providing answers in the hopes that through his questions, the answer may present itself to you.

After his passing in 2015, many shared reflections about him – mentor, inspiration, coach, wisdom, deep spirit of life and energy, and that he always taught us through his actions that life is about relationships.

Charles was right, Life IS about relationships and he did a wonderful job in cultivating the relationships with those he met. Charles made time to send us (myself and the rest of the Center for Appreciative Inquiry staff) short emails of encouragement. We received these notes – always written in the affirmative – after almost every training conducted or email promotion sent. About two weeks after his passing, we came across an email from him that appeared to have gotten lost in the mix of things. This email read, “Your guys’ email looks great. Good work!” This email was a reminder to us at the office that Charles is not far away and will always be with us.

January 21st is Thank Your Mentor Day (the website above has a list of suggestions on how to show appreciation to your mentor). This year, I will show my appreciation and pay tribute to Charles Miller by:

  1. This humble post is my expression of how much Charles contributed to my professional and personal growth;
  2. Contribute to the newly established “Charles R. Miller Disability Resources Department Fund” at the Santa Rosa Junior College Foundation. If you would like to contribute to this fund, click on this link.

It’s April, Let’s JAM (Jazz Appreciation Month)

If it is April, it must be Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM)! Even though I cannot read music, carry a tune, or have rhythm – this has not diminished my love for Jazz, or music in general. Frank Barrett, a professor of management at the Naval Postgraduate School in California – who is also a jazz pianist, believes change agents can learn a lot from Jazz such as the art of improvisation, continuous learning, and permission to experiment. (You can read Forbes’ article, Leadership Lessons From the Geniuses of Jazz where Barrett bridges Jazz to leadership).

Barrett’s phrase, “say yes to the mess” rings true for many trainers, consultants and facilitators I know. No intervention is every the same. Connecting Appreciative Inquiry to Jazz has been a learning journey for me. It really is a case of being curious and open that began my journey into the connection between Jazz, Appreciative Inquiry and Leadership.  What I have learned is the connection goes far beyond. We can look at parenting, teachers, police officers and being human and see that the threads of Jazz are woven into life.  In fact, one of our Certified AI Facilitators wrote an outstanding article Cooking, Jazz and the Art of Improvisation 

This quote by the great Herbie Hancock brings it all together for me “The spirit of Jazz is the spirit of openness.”  We are living Jazz “When we are open, truly open that we are nurturing spontaneity, creativity, experimentation, and dynamic synchronization.” Frank Barrett so clearly makes the connection and presents a call for leadership in another article, this time in Fast Company titled, If Miles Davis Taught Your Office to Improvise.

You can find out more about JAM at the Smithsonian Website.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Last October I shared in this newsletter “This will be the first time I will say “yes” on any a family medical history when asked about Breast Cancer. My sister was diagnosed with Breast cancer this year”. Update: Still cancer free, my sister is thriving. Our family is appreciative for the early detection and treatment that contributes to her continued health.  We cannot be more grateful to those who have contributed in the past and encourage you to visit the Breast Cancer Awareness site and see how you might join in any way possible to raise awareness. Most importantly outreach about the importance of early detection to those in your life. To learn more:  http://www.nbcam.org/

Living Card of Appreciation for Jeanie Cockell

Jeanie Cockell picture

Don’t believe what you read in the newspaper and see on television. People all over the world are achieving their dreams to improve their communities whether that is a school, hospital, or corporation, for profit and non-profit. It is amazing how many terrific, caring and inspirational people we meet and the stories that we hear from them. Stories of grace, of style, of engagement – awe inspiring stories. Unique stories about people and the people that they work with.

We have an amazing Expert on Call – Jeanie Cockell. Many of you may know of Jeanie as an Appreciative Inquiry Facilitator and trainer from seeing her name on our website or from stories of success written by those who have worked with Jeanie. Jeanie has that special magical personality that lights up the room and invites you in to converse and to become friends. People gravitate toward Jeanie like a hummingbird to a flower.

We are so fortunate that Jeanie is with us. A few weeks ago Jeanie was involved in a horrific automobile accident and had a punctured lung, fractured pelvis and a leg broken in several places (I am not a medical person and do not mind if anyone corrects me!) It is awesome that Jeanie had no head injuries and remains positive about her recovery and is already looking ahead to returning to the work she loves. Working with people and introducing Appreciative Inquiry whenever possible.

Jeanie has physical rehabilitation to relearn how to walk and how long that will be we are not sure of. We just thought it might be nice to start a Jeanie Cockell Living Card to express our appreciation and wishes for her return to full health.

To send Jeanie your wishes, please follow this link to Facebook (click on the discussion tab) or Linkedin – if you are not a member, you will need to join. Jeanie will be able to visit her Living Card of Appreciation when she is able and as often as she wants. You may leave messages as often as you like – check often to see what others have to say.

The New Untouchables

Last summer I attended a talk by Michelle Rhee, the dynamic chancellor of public schools in Washington. Just before the session began, a man came up, introduced himself as Todd Martin and whispered to me that what Rhee was about to speak about — our struggling public schools — was actually a critical, but unspoken, reason for the Great Recession.

There’s something to that. While the subprime mortgage mess involved a huge ethical breakdown on Wall Street, it coincided with an education breakdown on Main Street — precisely when technology and open borders were enabling so many more people to compete with Americans for middle-class jobs.

In our subprime era, we thought we could have the American dream — a house and yard — with nothing down. This version of the American dream was delivered not by improving education, productivity and savings, but by Wall Street alchemy and borrowed money from Asia.

A year ago, it all exploded. Now that we are picking up the pieces, we need to understand that it is not only our financial system that needs a reboot and an upgrade, but also our public school system. Otherwise, the jobless recovery won’t be just a passing phase, but our future.

“Our education failure is the largest contributing factor to the decline of the American worker’s global competitiveness, particularly at the middle and bottom ranges,” argued Martin, a former global executive with PepsiCo and Kraft Europe and now an international investor. “This loss of competitiveness has weakened the American worker’s production of wealth, precisely when technology brought global competition much closer to home. So over a decade, American workers have maintained their standard of living by borrowing and overconsuming vis-à-vis their real income. When the Great Recession wiped out all the credit and asset bubbles that made that overconsumption possible, it left too many American workers not only deeper in debt than ever, but out of a job and lacking the skills to compete globally.”

This problem will be reversed only when the decline in worker competitiveness reverses — when we create enough new jobs and educated workers that are worth, say, $40-an-hour compared with the global alternatives. If we don’t, there’s no telling how “jobless” this recovery will be.

A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work just isn’t there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables.

That is the key to understanding our full education challenge today. Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait. Those with the imagination to make themselves untouchables — to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies — will thrive. Therefore, we not only need a higher percentage of our kids graduating from high school and college — more education — but we need more of them with the right education.

As the Harvard University labor expert Lawrence Katz explains it: “If you think about the labor market today, the top half of the college market, those with the high-end analytical and problem-solving skills who can compete on the world market or game the financial system or deal with new government regulations, have done great. But the bottom half of the top, those engineers and programmers working on more routine tasks and not actively engaged in developing new ideas or recombining existing technologies or thinking about what new customers want, have done poorly. They’ve been much more exposed to global competitors that make them easily substitutable.”

Those at the high end of the bottom half — high school grads in construction or manufacturing — have been clobbered by global competition and immigration, added Katz. “But those who have some interpersonal skills — the salesperson who can deal with customers face to face or the home contractor who can help you redesign your kitchen without going to an architect — have done well.”

Just being an average accountant, lawyer, contractor or assembly-line worker is not the ticket it used to be. As Daniel Pink, the author of “A Whole New Mind,” puts it: In a world in which more and more average work can be done by a computer, robot or talented foreigner faster, cheaper “and just as well,” vanilla doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s all about what chocolate sauce, whipped cream and cherry you can put on top. So our schools have a doubly hard task now — not just improving reading, writing and arithmetic but entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity.

Bottom line: We’re not going back to the good old days without fixing our schools as well as our banks.

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Friedman, Thomas L. “The New Untouchables.” Nytimes.com. New York Times, 20 Oct. 2009.

Web. 17 Nov. 2009. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/21/opinion/21friedman.html>.

The Connection between Style, Productivity, & Morale: Why it is Essential to Understand and Respond to Different Styles

 

How often do you get frustrated or upset as a result of how others have delivered their message or treated you? What about the times you’ve tried to communicate your point, but just don’t seem to get through to your audience? What’s the price you’ve paid for these disconnects in communications? How has it affected relationships and collaboration? What would be the benefit if it improved?

Anyone who has ever worked with others knows people approach situations differently. At times, these differences can create fresh perspectives, balance, and innovative solutions. Understanding personal style, and acting on that knowledge, can lead to improved performance, productivity, and morale.

Unfortunately, the converse can also be true. Often the differences in style lead to misunderstanding, mistrust, and frustration. This can then lead to lowered productivity and undesirable outcomes. Consider the following short (true) example:

I was requested by a client to coach an employee who was “having issues” with a team mate. As I sat down with the employee, something immediately became obvious… he was a matter of fact, direct, results driven guy. He acted quickly in an effort to hit his goals. His team mate, on the other hand, was relatively quiet, less direct, and seemed to take the words and actions very personally.

May not seem a big issue, but in this instance, they were required to collaborate on business opportunities. The bottom line… misinterpretations of styles and lack of insight into how to work with one another drove the two apart and cost the organization a deal worth more than $1M.

While this scenario might be extreme, conflicts, difficulty communicating with others, and less than optimal working relationships, are an everyday occurrence.

Your ability to understand your own characteristics/style, as well as those around you, can help you:

1.      Identify personal tendencies

2.      Adapt for improved communications and interpersonal relationships

3.      Effectively meet the needs of yourself and others

4.      Understand and respond to information and interactions more appropriately

5.      Get things accomplished!

For many of us, it’s likely that you’ve been using information about social style on an intuitive level for many years. Formalizing that understanding is a next step to taking actions.

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Author: Sue Cooney

Check out Sue’s upcoming Webinar – Foundations of Style: Behavior and the Bottom Line – premiering November 19, 2009 at 2PM (EST)

Professional Development in a Technological Age

Has your training budget been red-lined? Most companies, schools and non-profits are looking at their training and travel budgets and wonder what happened.

E-Learning and software available today makes it possible to deliver on-site employee training programs more cost-effective than face2face training. Company of Experts.net has the expertise to deliver, great software and outstanding content to engage employees at a time that works for employees and for organizations.

Whether you have cut back or cut out your professional development programs – you may be left wondering how do I effectively manage now?   Lack of quality professional development training can be a serious and expensive problem. One direct and immediate impact may be the high cost of turnover and the cost of recruiting and retraining new employees now replaces the fund used to train and maintain your current talent.

With curriculum designed for adult learners delivered on-line in real-time or at the employees and the organizations schedule with outstanding facilitators, the learning is timely, effective and cost-efficient.  In this new era we are all required to do more and to be more independent, communicate with people in other parts of the globe and be part of the “team”. Our programs include time management, communication, customer service, motivating employees, appreciating culture.

Can soft skills really save money?  How much time do you spend with the same employees going over the same or similar issues. Perhaps these employees are great “technically” but are their interpersonal relationships slowing down productivity? Smart companies are taking advantage of the new professional development opportunities appealing to their employees desire to increase their knowledge, skills and ability to improve their working relationships.

Company of Experts has a solid set of workshops and webinars online and we can customize your professional development program for you.

New Department Chair – You’ve Got the Stuff!

A quick Google search and I found many hits for department chair. Most of these “hits” were job descriptions from a number of colleges and universities. Most start job descriptions include the statement. “The position of Chair is important and one of the most difficult in any college environment.” If you are a Department Chair this is no surprise.

Some chairs are elected and others appointed and the job comes with built in term limits. What is certain is that many are unprepared for the move from greatest educator in the classroom to the new role of go between.

Reading some of the job descriptions is like reading the script for a CBS show titled CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.  Only a forensic sleuth could wind their way through these job descriptions and know how it happened and who did it before big reveal.

The Chair position is one of great importance and sounds impressive to the lay person. To the Chair, it is a personal journey of participation and excitement as well as the opportunity to develop leadership skills. Neither faculty nor management, the department chairs that I have known usually share the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Our new Show DCI: Department Chair Institute

Solving the impossible

Scene of the Crime

Our gullible and innocent faculty member is either selected or elected to the position of Department Chair. The DC is an honor as the faculty member is recognized and respected by their peers and the college leadership.  This is a spring rite of passage for the new chair. They are welcomed into the new position. Their friends and family are so excited that they have been recognized for their hard work. It is a glorious time of excitement for the New Year. As graduation fades and the faculty begin their summer journey, the new chair realizes that summer for them is no longer a time of renewal, of travel, no opportunity to learn, to research or to write. This is the time for scheduling classes, hiring faculty, and there is usually a budget to begin to understand and maybe, just maybe program review or accreditation responsibilities.

The Investigation Begins

From an actual job description found on the web “The Dean ….will listen sympathetically to suggestions about such [training] opportunities. This is a major shift in the drama. The new chair isn’t automatically provided training to do their job? How, What and Who?

From the start, this DC will identify the evidence at the scene of the crime (no budget), hit the high tech lab (also known as business services) and apply the most scientific techniques used today by DC’s to crack this case also known as building a team.  This is definitely for someone who likes to learn on the job.

  • Communication
  • Motivation
  • Hiring Faculty
  • Managing Time

The Finale

I will admit that I have never been a chair but I have worked with Department Chairs for nearly 30 years. My knowledge comes from these department chairs as well as those who have attended the Department Chair Institute. All good employees who wanted to do a service for the college.

Cash For Clunkers Concept

Cash for Clunkers, what a concept. What do you do when you feel like a clunker? Too many miles? Need a new paint job? Maybe the clutch is a bit worn? No government bail out here – how did I get left out? The truth is, you can be your own stimulus plan and perhaps it maybe a requirement for our times. You have that power, that ability to regenerate your energy and revitalize your attitude and your life.

We live in interesting time, and the world is changing faster than we could ever imagined a decade ago. Now more than ever, it’s so important for us to stay focused on our own positive vibes so that we may achieve our individual goals. If times seem dark and dreary, turn your vision toward a successful and fulfilled future. We are each powerful humans with the ability to generate the energy to fuel our personal engines and fire all those cylinders.

Emails, twitter, the evening new and negative images and words that conjure even more negativity. It is enough to make a person feel down. The repetition of negativity bears down on our subconscious and leads to feeling as though we are powerless.  Depression is a medical issue and anyone can become depressed.  If you are depressed, please seek out professional guidance. Don’t be fearful of asking for help. There is a vast support system out there to assist you.

I feel so fortunate to work with people who are seeking out new and energized ways to improve their personal happiness and the well-being of others. Some of what I have learned from so many has been that improving our attitude is a first step toward being happier and healthier. We have that individual power to change our perception and our reality. By focusing on what we want more of for our future – creating a positive mindset. Changing you view is possible by becoming the CEO of Organization ME. Lead yourself through the tough times with compassion, energy and a view of all is possible.

Some simple steps that have been shared with me can and I now share them with you:

  1. Spend some time reflecting each day – five minutes. Lack of sleep can make it hard to focus. Before bedtime, think about one or two good things that happened that day.  Filling your mind with what made you smile or laugh during that day may just make it easier for you to relax and get a good night’s sleep.
  2. Begin to watch the words you and others use. Focus your questions to be positive. Example: Instead of, “Why am I always late?” ask yourself, “What meetings, events, or appointments are so important to me so that I am on time for them?”
  3. Searching for solutions will make you open to new ideas – be creative.
  4. Be your own advocate: circumstances beyond your control may place you in an uncomfortable situation and may cause you to feel exhausted and out of control. Champion your cause, solving problems and making decisions to overcome what may feel like an obstacle can improve your well-being.
  5. Celebrate life everyday! Make a conscious choice to be appreciative and embrace the love and lives around you.

Organizational Change Beginning with Stakeholders

How has the economic shift impacted your organization, your culture and your employees? With the significant changes in the world, is there any organization that has not had to make major changes in how they operate? Whether private or public, how our organizations work and how we determine success has changed.  We have seen and heard of a lack of accountability in key financial areas with the integrity of important people or organizations being called into question. The level of accountability is even higher for organizations. Most organizations will look more at facilities, money and lose focus on their most valuable resources – their employees. Organizations are required to more with less. How do they do this while gaining commitment from employees who are looking for a work-life balance? How do we bring together employee and the organizations need with an eye to the return ratio?

Working with a large organization recently, I heard from several people that they operate in silos. Like so many organization, this one is at a cross roads, the status quo has been challenged. This organization has the opportunity to create a new future, if they pick up the challenge and engage in successful initiatives.

There is sound evidence that our happiness is directly linked to our psychological and physical well-being. The mid-century view from Maslow was “The science of psychology has been far more successful on the negative than on the positive side. It is as if psychology has voluntarily restricted itself to only half its rightful jurisdiction, and that, the darker, meaner half (Maslow, 1954, p. 354).” This century the focus is the understanding of human emotion and how positive psychology contributes to health and happiness. And in true scientific fashion, there is debate on what this means and what is the value, if any, of positive psychology.

Most organizations are still operating with the 1954 model! How organizations treat their stakeholders, how they engage dialogue during any change initiative determines the outcome of such an adventure. In the 2006 issue of The Journal of Positive Psychology, the authors challenged their peers. They laid out a plan for current and future psychologists to assess, to respond to and to potentially find applications within their practice. They brought in the stakeholders!

This change in psychology can be compared to the change within an organization, that it is inevitable and that the people in charge of such change have competence, legitimacy and passion for leading that change.

Working with individuals and organizations looking to Appreciative Inquiry for positive change we are now challenged to dig deeper into how change occurs within organization. We have experienced the high of a simple training exercise or full scale summit using AI. The energy and the employee engagement for change is there and it’s glorious and they are ready to take off.  Does this excitement realize actual lasting change in organizational culture? Because the energy is there, the passion is highlighted, the shared values are expressed and open commitments are made, many people think this is it. That our work is done for this project is done. One day and that energy is now on auto-drive. The work indeed, is just beginning. The generative value of AI and how we maximize that value is crucial. Gervase Bushe in his research has found that this AI’s real power is in the ability to focus on the preferred future. He states “Rather than planning and controlling, leadership needs to look for any and all acts that move the organization in the desired direction and find ways to support and amplify those efforts. I call this tracking (looking for where what you want more of already exists) and fanning (adding oxygen to a small fire to create a blaze)” Bushe, OD Practitioner, Vol. 39, No. 4, pp30-35, 2007).

Change begins with employees and other stakeholders.  Engaging employees in the Company story, finding what makes them happy and fills them with gratitude.

The organization noted earlier in this paper will need to gain commitment from their employees to create a silo-less culture. How they begin this inquiry is crucial. What do the employees see as their preferred future? By focusing on the positive does not mean that you do not evaluate problems and take any actions necessary to fix them. To understand what gives employees gratitude, appreciation and happiness you focus on what they want more of? How can we do things differently? What actions will employees commit to?

Organizations that succeed know that it is not about the perks – it’s about the culture. These organizations support the whole person and the whole person is engaged in the organization. The organization is seen by employees and clients as a community.  Developing this type of organization is not a linear process but rather a meandering path that may have a few bumps along the way. Some tips for this organization and others who are seeking change:

Look at your culture: Do your employees live the culture? Do they have a belief in the organizational mission? Does the organization operate with integrity? Is learning valued in the organization?

Is there an emphasis on your most valuable asset – your employees? How is the whole balance of the employee viewed? Is management top-down? Flat? Does top management model the organizations values?

Are employees and stakeholders proud of the organizational mission? Does the mission speak of integrity, value and empowerment?

Organizations may or may not have the ability or skills to evaluate their effectiveness and their readiness for change. They may need advice on change management or how to facilitate dialogue through these changes by an experienced facilitator with a strong background in traditional organization development and Appreciative Inquiry. “AI can be generative in a number of ways. It is the quest for new ideas, images, theories and models that liberate our collective aspirations, alter the social construction of reality and, in the process, make available decisions and actions that weren’t available or didn’t occur to us” (Bushe).

Resource: http://www.gervasebushe.ca/AI_pos.pdf