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Reshape your delivery

Part 2 of 2 – Reshape

Audience has context.Hitchcock

I like to watch film content that shows suspense, paranormal activity, and mystery. So I was very pleased to find that Netflix has the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (39 episodes!) available for streaming subscribers. Each episode is roughly 20 minutes, displayed in black-and-white, and oh so 1950s. I’m fascinated how Hitchcock twists a usually suspenseful plot for a surprise ending. Most of all, I like how his stories usually leave me thinking deeper about the subject matter.

I recently watch episode 5, “Into Thin Air”. The script follows the daughter of a woman who disappears from a hotel in Paris. After the woman’s daughter discovers the disappearance, she searches for her mother by questioning the hotel staff. None of the staff remembers ever meeting the woman or her daughter even though it’s been less than 24 hours since they checked in the hotel. Despite my love for Hitchcock films, I didn’t like this episode at all. It wasn’t the content of the story. It was the acting of the woman’s daughter.  I felt like her reaction to the situation wasn’t at all realistic from how a daughter would react if her mother went missing from a hotel. The actress played a character that was dumb-struck and confused. There was no anger or strong emotion. No hysterics or fits of rage. She didn’t call anyone names.  I get the thought that we might start to doubt our own memories when told by multiple people that our memories are wrong. But typically, anger, outrage, or some other emotional outburst would come first. I kept thinking to myself while watching this isn’t a good portrayal of character.

Then in the Hitchcock closing he remarks, “I thought the little leading lady did rather well, didn’t you?” I think my face went completely blank. But then it occurred to me, that the actress was playing a character that the audience of that time expected. Maybe it was closer in character to a wealthy traveling woman of the time than what I know. The part was played to connect with and appeal to the audience of that day and age. The success of the Hitchcock short’s show that he definitely connected with the audience.

(As an aside, I found after a little research that in this particular episode, the actress was played by Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter Pat Hitchcock. No wonder he made that remark!)

We too are taught to know our audience. It’s part of the basic block and tackling taught in school. It’s important when preparing content of any kind whether in business or for personal interactions.

Reshape my delivery.

Why am I rambling about all this? That Alfred Hitchcock episode was the inspiration for my two blog posts on ‘reshape’….(pause for effect)…..I know…….. Yes, this is the point when you realize your suspicions were true that I’m a rather odd fella.

But after watching the episode and thinking about audience within context of time and medium, I saw a parallel to how I wrestle to produce content for speeches, documents, and emails each week in business. Those that work with me see that I constantly tweak the format of some recurring meetings and presentations. I like to tinker with the flow of staff meetings as well. It’s a constant cycle of produce content, deliver content, and measure by how well I think it connected with the audience. Reshaping my delivery is about trying to connect with other people on an idea, a thought, or a task.

Onward and upward!


Reshape yourself

Part 1 of 2 – Reshape

Understanding my mistakes.pottery-166797_1280

I’ve worked for four different organizations since I graduated from college. Going through the transition and onboarding at each new organization was an opportunity to correct mistakes from my past. I’m referring to mistakes in attitudes and actions where I let my feelings cloud my judgment. In some cases I became defensive rather than acknowledging my mistake or weakness. In other cases I was outwardly critical of management decisions because of personal preferences. The new job and new relationships became a chance to get rid of the organizational baggage that I carried. My actions were my personal public record. That record included the good, bad, and ugly. I had left my mark.

Seize the opportunity.

Changing employers is not a goal of mine. But when it happened, it was an opportunity to reshape and transform myself.  The key for me was to reflect on my experiences. What actions and attitudes did I wish I could change and coarse correct? How would I behave differently given the chance? What was the root cause for my past behaviors? Was I behaving in the best interest of myself or the organization for which I worked?

There’s a classic interview question from candidate to employer, “what does it takes for a person to be successful in this position?” There are specific skills of course. But what about how the position fits in the organization and who does the position need to interact with to be successful. This is the opportunity to learn and shape actions for the new job.

The whole is more important than the pieces.  

Reshaping myself has been about seeing the betterment of the whole organization as the goal. It has meant that I want my actions to be less about what’s most important to me and more about what’s most important to the organization. Reshaping myself has been about seeking common ground with others. It’s been about finding win-win outcomes to better everyone. It’s been about being a better employee, colleague and manager.

Reshape yourself.

Onward and upward!

Three things I learned at Harland Clarke

I recently resigned my position at Harland Clarke and I am preparing to transition into a new role at Curtis 1000. I worked 15 years to the day at Harland and it was time well spent considering my professional development and growth during the time. As I reflected on the experience, I thought of the people and events that helped me to grow along the way. I compiled a memory book to share with fellow employees that showed a timeline of some of the team accomplishments and the people that worked to make it happen. My reflection revealed that the important stuff is always about people, relationships, and helping others to solve problems.

On a more personal level I want to document some of the business lessons that I learned while at Harland. There were many, but I think these three are very important because they are things that go beyond the boundaries of Harland Clarke. You may think these are obvious learnings or that they are common sense. But sometimes we have to live through experiences to come to the realization of just how important certain principles are to how people relate to each other. So I have a better appreciation for my learnings through experience.

1. It’s not about me.
My first week on the job with Harland I received my first set of goals and objectives from my boss. As with any new employee, I was eager to please and wanted to start the new position with some immediate successes. So I promptly set out to gather information and mobilize people. I sent an email to team members telling them what I needed and what I was expected to do.

There were two problems with this approach. First I used the pronoun ‘I’ all over the email. It was for my goals, my objectives, me, me , me. Second, I didn’t look at the greater context of the goals to see why they were important to the company and why they were important to the customers. I was only concerned about myself.

Someone on my team was kind enough to explain all this to me because I didn’t understand some of the resistance of other team members to help me. This changed my outlook and helped me to start looking for at bigger picture. It helped me to discover that’s it’s not about me.

2. The most successful leaders make a point to be visible.
When I think back to times when groups would rally around leaders, I think of former Harland CEO Tim Tuff who would sit with workers in the lunchroom and would visit workers at their desks. He didn’t have to do this, in fact I later learned he was more of an introvert by nature. But he did it to earn the respect of employees so that he could mobilize their work efforts towards the company goals. The employees liked Tim, because he was social, straight-forward, genuine, and visible. I’ve heard it said that companies that romance their employees often perform better because their employees will in turn romance their customers. Harland thrived during Tim’s years of leadership because he had strong business objectives and was able to rally employees to the cause.

Another leader that made an impact to the organization was Nicki Simmonds, a director in the Marketing organization for design, artistic work, and print production. It was not uncommon to see Nicki on the floor talking to designers and artists to provide assistance with job request. She wasn’t micro-managing, she was creating an environment where employees loved to contribute. One of Nicki’s team members once told me that she didn’t mind her long commute to work because she enjoyed the people at work and the environment. When employees like their team and the environment they live in, they will contribute and support the company. Successful leaders understand this.

3. Make your customer successful to make yourself successful.
There is a focus within the sales organization at Harland to provide solutions that help the client to solve their problem first. It’s the classic principle that is framed by the question “what problem are we trying to solve?” An example in the Harland environment for the checks programs was to lower the cost of program expenses and create more program profit for financial institutions. Helping the client with their objectives helps the business to create contracts and resign client contracts.

This idea is easy to understand, but not always easy to implement. In our own lives and during the course of business it is tempting to think of ourselves first. We don’t want to make unwise business decisions and operate at a level that is not profitable for our own company. But we should always work to solve problems for the client and understand their needs first. This is what makes partner organizations valuable and it’s what keeps business relationships alive.

The views expressed in this article belong to Bob Williams and do not reflect the views of Harland Clarke.

2 lessons learned in my career and I’m not done learning

If you’ve ever spent anytime inside a youth baseball dugout you’ve probably noticed that sometimes the boys tend to fixate on the unimportant things in a game. Most often, it’s the results of their individual performance. When this happens they can lose focus on their future plays and the greater context for how they fit on the team.  As adults we can be blinded by the same weakness related to our career performance and growth.

I’ll admit, that just like gaining a larger perspective on sports, it’s taken me some time to gain a larger perspective on my career.  Learning and maturing is a process. It involves successes and failures and while not always easy to go through, makes one stronger.  Here are 2 lessons learned in my career and I know I’m not done learning.

Accomplishments are only part of the equation

In school, our success is based on our individual performance. The system of receiving a grade teaches us that if we work hard then we’ll be rewarded with excellent marks and moved to the next level. If we make superior marks then we could receive additional rewards. As I look back, I came out of school deeply in this mold. I made good grades in high school and developed good study habits. In college, I worked hard and finished with a 3.6 GPA. This led to a good paying job right after graduation.

In the early years of my career, I believed that as long as I continued to perform worthy of an “A” that I would advance to the next level. For a few years, this continued to work for me. Eventually though I hit a ceiling and it took me some time to realize that I wasn’t progressing any longer despite my additional efforts.  When I stopped long enough to observe the environment around me, I found there was an another dimension to growing and maturing that they didn’t teach me in school. More than what I can contribute as an individual, I needed to learn to contribute with other people through team work and influence.

It’s about other people

In so many ways career maturity and advancement is about relationships with other people. In many of the books I’ve read, senior executives admit that their advancement in an organization was about being prepared and having a little luck. I’ve seen what they’ve written within my own organizations. People who advanced and matured were prepared because they worked relationships with people as much as they did their individual accomplishments. They learned about their emotional and social intelligence and how to use it to strengthen bonds with others. They learned how to influence-up 2 or 3 levels beyond their manager. When the timing worked in their favor, they were prepared and ready to move up to the next level of responsibility.

Working people relationships is like seeing the bigger context of the baseball game. You learn how your actions affect the overall progress of the team trying to achieve its goals. You learn how to strengthen others so that they can achieve their objectives. You learn how to influence others through your knowledge and authenticity. You learn how to serve others. It’s the team player philosophy. It’s about becoming a leader as much as a doer.

Now, as I’ve come to realize all this, it doesn’t mean that I’ve perfected it. But recognizing something is usually the hardest part of making a change. I think I’ve got some momentum in this area and I’m glad I’m still learning.