What I learned at Two Fortune 100 Companies about Development
Updated: Feb 5, 2021
How it Applies to Reaching Your Personal Goals
Photo Courtesy of Canva, Uncredited
I circulated a picture on Instagram I thought would ignite some interest and perhaps provoke some uninvited debate. I found the image on Canva — a bust of a Roman or Greek woman of antiquity, bathed in pink. The image resembled a chess piece. Over the image, I wrote the caption: I Create Therefore I Am. The caption alters one word from the famous quote from French Philosopher Rene Descartes, I Think Therefore I Am. As I wrote in the caption, I’m not making a philosophical point, I’m making statement about the power of your imagination in relation to how you approach designing your life.
Given my coaching model hinges on a six-step process focused on actively designing your change efforts, you would understand that I am really focused on the inflection points in creating positive change. When I put together (maybe I should say adapted!) the model, I based it on my experience with successful change in the companies and organizations I’ve worked. I sketched out the model in a relative vacuum and then searched to see if any established models resembled it. One did with two key distinctions — I’ll comment on that in another post. My focus hinges heavily on leveraging your imagination as part of the process.
I think about this process as it relates to my current program because of the connection to creativity. To build connection at work, I would often ask my teams to engage a simple and common exercise — let's dream about the things you want to accomplish — at work or personally. The exercises were simple and exhilarating: write down all the things you want to accomplish, dream on a big scale.
I found the exercise through a Lou Holtz video where he mentioned it in relation to the book, The Magic of Thinking Big, by David Schwartz. I recreate the exercise in my Goalverse webinars (where I take it further.) The whole point is to generate a deeply personal connection that links dreams for work with personal goals.
Like many, I believe that the greater connection you can make at work with the innate talents and personal interests associates bring to their work, the greater commitment, engagement and satisfaction you get. The organization strengthens. I recognize it’s not a revolutionary idea! But you have to leverage a strategy and system to make it happen.
I would reinforce this connection by occasionally references lessons from uncommon resources: read children’s stories during staff meetings and review simple themes, share newspapers articles about obscure acts of kindness and talk about the relevance at work or review a 60 Minutes segment on Free Soloing and discuss what we could learn about the climbers attitude as it related to our own work. At one stop, I asked associates to write a letter to a loved one. You might think there is no place in a corporate setting for that kind of activity. I disagree, respectfully.
I would also look for ways to just have fun that went beyond bowling. Our team meetings included physical, competitive games of wiffle ball (yes, physical and competitive! Believe me) and softball. One year we held a meeting at Laguna Beach and hosted a raucous Volleyball Tournament. Afterwards we cooked s’mores on the beach and sang songs accompanied by one of our team members who played the guitar (thanks, Glenn!) I get that not everyone enjoys physical activity, so we tried to make it enjoyable for everybody in other ways.
As I write these sentences, those activities might appear tame compared to other corporate events you hear about in other industries (Seal Survival Training, White Water River Rafting), but you must remember that at the time, at those companies, I thought it was rare (aside from the routine bowling expedition — which, to be fair, we did, including lawn bowling! I have to say, I really liked lawn bowling.) Incidentally, the point of the physical exercise was to create team bonding, nurture competitiveness, have fun and change our perspective.
How does the development work embedded in my system relate to my work experiences? On multiple occasions we either built or renovated teams and organizations from scratch. I had the help of a lot of great training along the way at both companies. Both companies believed in development and leveraging models, as do most Fortune 500 companies. We also worked extensively on change management and used models to navigate it broadly and create it positively in different teams.
However, I did not think the corporate frameworks we used were enough. We did not leverage our team creativity.
At my last stop, I took the training available to us corporately and then took development one step further. I wanted to create a highly engaged culture, so I took the coaching model we deployed and paired it with a development program we dubbed, Develop U.
Why go to the trouble? The job is stressful. I’m not suggesting we are fighting fires or saving lives in an Emergency Room. However, our business faced the exact same pressures confronting any business large or small: intense price competition, fight for mindspace, dwindling resources (do more with less). Our teams were no different than teams at other companies — we had some awesome years, but we also had years where it genuinely seemed like we might fall off a cliff no matter what we did. I wanted to ensure we were fully engaging everyone’s talents and focus.
Our leadership team put together multiple pieces of a development program that we intended to accomplish various things, but primarily provide a framework for people to pick and choose what they wanted to engage in. So, for example, we created a Master Class series and asked anyone with specific domain expertise, like how to plan with business partners, or use a specific software program, or increase sales in a particular product to help others in our organization improve their own performance in those areas.
The opportunity to lead a discussion was open to anyone and everyone with a particular skill. We had two rules: do it in under an hour and make it entertaining. We made it a regular feature and kept to a specific schedule. One huge side benefit from my perspective: we now had a built-in mechanism to address emerging issues affecting everyone.
We also adapted the book club model for our own purposes. This one was tricky because book clubs feel like a cliche. I wanted substance and rigor — along with engaging entertainment from the subject matter. We picked two people to lead the groups each year, organize the discussions, assign homework and make certain we had engaged audiences — not an aimless discussion group. The leaders always did great work!
We varied the types of books we read. They ranged from inspirational tales like Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand to personal development focused like Now, Discover Your Strengths by Clifton & Buckingham to the business related Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni (a favorite of my bosses boss), and explicitly sales focused, like The Challenger Sale by Dixon and Adamson.
You could see our strategy. We wanted to engage and appeal to a diversity of interests. Sometimes we simply wanted to inspire, other times we wanted to increase domain knowledge or round out general business awareness. Participation was completely voluntary. Incidentally, we got great participation and the activity aligned perfectly with our overarching company development plans — win/win!
The third element we pioneered involved meditation. I talked about this experience in another post. This effort languished a little, a victim of a remote environment and competing time zones — my regional team spanned Pacific, Mountain and Central across 20 states. I’m glad we organized and tried it; but this might have been a case where the intention was more valuable than the actual sessions.
Finally, we put together a mentor program that was fully voluntary. Over the years, this program generated less attention than I thought — except for the few individuals I mentored or the occasional connection we made outside of our organization to a peer team. And this was an example where an official program from Home Office was introduced within a year of our own program introduction.
In the aggregate, the whole series of programs, when paired with our coaching system and other tools we leveraged, created an excellent string of consistently high-performance years. Again, I talked about that in a prior post.
There are several things I learned from these experiences that appear in Sugar High Motivation. I want to emphasize that I’ve simplified certain formats to really focus on the coaching activities which energize individual goal achievement. And I focus on modifying and using very practical tools to help individuals transform their efforts.
The techniques used in corporate environments, modified for personal use, can really deliver transformative results. I’ll discuss them in more detail in succeeding posts. I emphasize harnessing creativity and pairing it with an action bias.