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Ward Green Group

This I Believe

This essay was inspired by the NPR series “This I Believe”.

Humble Leadership

I was born in Scotland, not long after the second world war. My parents had grown up in the depression and had endured the second world war where my dad served in the British army and my mother in the land army. We didn’t have a lot, but neither did anyone else at that time.

I picked up a lot of my values from my parents, as we all do. Living within your means was one. My parents never had a car. They never had a credit card, and paid cash for everything. They believed everyone was equal: or as they say in Scotland “We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns”. Always do your best. Treat others as you want to be treated. And never blow your own horn. Boasting or bragging about what you have, or how you’re better than others was one of the cardinal sins.

When I started working, I was an engineer, then a manager. My bosses always said I was good at managing people, and my staff thought I was good to work for. I continued to develop myself as leader, taking classes at university, reading extensively, trying out new ideas and building my leadership tool box.

Along the way I was given troubled employees to manage…either help them to perform or move out of the company. Most performed. I was also given problem projects to manage, and they always turned out well. I was given promotions and moved up the ladder. What started as a small organization in Ottawa, Ontario, grew to have people in 6 locations in Canada and the USA, with clients all over North America, the Caribbean and Latin America.

We all have gifts and leadership seems to be one of mine. When 360-degree assessments became popular in my organization I always had good results. When my colleague, John, was doing his PhD he was studying managers who were exclusive (they do things alone) and managers who were inclusive (they work with others) and shared the results. He said I was the most effective leader because I did both, as the situation required. When I did a 360 at the Center for Creative Leadership the facilitator said, “We don’t see many assessments as good as this”.

When I was being certified in The Leadership Circle (a 360-degree tool) a few years ago and had my own assessment results that trainer said, “I don’t see many like this”. He observed, however, that I had scored myself lower than everyone else in pretty much everything. During one of the peer coaching exercises I was working with a guy called Mike. Mike commented on the excellent feedback and wondered why I had scored myself lower than others had. I quoted William Shakespeare who wrote, “Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”. And with me leadership was like that. Throughout my working life I rarely volunteered to be a leader, others asked me to do it, and I did it well. Mike’s next questions were “What would it be like if you didn’t do that? What would it be like if you stepped into leadership roles?”

Great questions, and I’ve thought about it almost every day since then. I’ve done a lot with my life since growing up in Scotland. I have a lot to be proud of: wonderful family, I’ve lived in 3 countries, travelled a lot, had a successful career, have good friends, and a secure life. All without ever blowing my own horn. My parents would be proud of me.

My purpose in life going forward is to share what I know and what I’ve learned with others on their leadership journeys. I want to inspire people to grow and blossom and become outstanding leaders. If they choose to blow their own horns a bit, that’s OK. And as I guide others in this, I will always be humble. My parents taught me well.

This I believe.

David Green.

Bangor, Maine.

November 14th, 2018.

How Courageous Are You ?







A real life example of Managerial Courage.

The Project and the Compromise…

Being courageous in any organization can be risky. Taking the risk of saying what needs to be said can, however, make a huge difference. Several years ago, I was asked to join a team that was working on re-engineering a supply chain process. Manufacturing was done in Canada and the USA and customers were in about 30 countries. It was an interesting project, though I didn’t have enough time to really participate fully. The compromise I made with the Project Director was that I would participate in his weekly team meetings and when my time “freed up”, I’d increase my involvement.

Observations on the (Dysfunctional) Team…

Listening in on the team meetings for a few weeks, I noticed several things, most of which were not good…

  • The team had several warring “factions”. Some were loyal to the Director and some were not and had their own agendas. Each faction tried to recruit me to their “side”.
  • Some people on the team had bosses that assigned them to undermine any progress and ensure there was no negative impact on their own departments. Yes, this surprised me!
  • The team was competing for funding with 4 or 5 other teams, and all had similar business goals. (This is common in big companies).
  • No business case for the project had been done. There was no compelling reason for doing the project.
  • There was no executive (high level) sponsor, thus no one to provide “air cover” when it was needed.

The Difficult (and Courageous) Conversation

I offered to meet with the Project Director for 20 minutes and to share my findings. I wore my best “diplomacy hat”, thinking that this conversation might not go well.  I was right; the conversation went badly (insert some curse words here). The Director’s resistance to the information was high, and I found myself “uninvited” from all future team meetings!

The Turnaround…

About four weeks later I had a call from the Director. He told me: “I was really annoyed by what you said, but the more I thought about your feedback, and the more I observed the team, the more I realized you were right. I now have an Executive Sponsor (the President of the Division). I have a good business case showing this project will save the company hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, and the competing projects have been rolled into the supply chain project. And I need you on the team”.

The Successful Conclusion…

As it turned out, that combined project was key to the business’ success and helped the careers of all us who worked on it. Without that (courageous) difficult conversation, the project may have failed.

The Call to Action…

If you are like me, you’ll have many opportunities for exercising courage. And if you are like me you may hesitate to step forward. Taking the risk of saying what needs to be said can make a huge difference to the success of a business or organization.

David Green.

What Matters Most? Aligning Our Time, Priorities and Actions

Over-doing can distract us from focusing on what matters most. . .

What is an over-doer?  One definition is . . . “someone who does something to excess”.  That’s me, when I am not careful.  Is over-doing also a problem for you?

I think the roots of over-doing may spring from many sources.  For me, over-doing connects with being the caretaker of an unruly mind.  Friends and family members who love me in spite of my mental unruliness graciously call me an iterative thinker.  As defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary, the word iterative means . . .

“doing something again and again, usually to improve it”

One thing leads to another. . .

In my case, being an iterative thinker means that any idea sparking my interest quickly develops into my next idea. My next idea leads to my next insight, which frequently leads to something else calling out to be created or done.  RIGHT NOW.  I developed a collection of small scraps of paper here, there and everywhere (by the computer, by the treadmill, in the car, in my pockets, on the fridge, on the mirrors, on the doors. . . )  Learning how to put my unruly mind on a leash and keep track of my iterative thoughts has been interesting.  And fun.  And then I noticed how. . .

Competing commitments collide. . .

Like you, probably, I also have many other responsibilities that I take seriously.  These are most often connected to people I care about, my work, helping out in the community, and staying healthy.  Also, perhaps like you, I tend to say yes when someone asks me for help.  Surely, they wouldn’t ask me for help if they didn’t need it, right???  In addition. . .

  • I was raised to believe that anything worth doing is worth doing right.  That means as perfectly as I can do it,  and . . .
  • I am a strong “Quick Start” in my conative style.  (Google Kolbe.com to learn more about your own conative style — the typical way in which you get things done). This means that whatever I am considering doing, I almost always say to myself. . . “How hard can it be?  Of course I can do that!”  This is especially true for things I have not done before.  I am sure I have said this at least a thousand times.  Almost a thousand times, whatever I then put into motion turned out to be a much larger and more difficult project than I ever dreamed it could be.  And then. . .

Consequences follow. . .

Can you relate to any of this?   How many of the qualities I just described are also at least somewhat true for you?  I suppose it’s possible that all of us over-doing together contribute to keeping the world spinning, but there are some downsides I have discovered. . .

  • Over-doing invites under-doing on the part of others
  • Just because we are over-doing doesn’t mean we are necessarily doing in service of our biggest priorities (and we can get too busy to notice this for a while)
  • Over time, we tend to burn out, and on the way to burning out, we just get TIRED. And some of us (me included), when we are tired, end up feeling out of sorts and cranky.

I have thought a lot about this problem, especially in relationship to how often what matters most to me ends up not getting as much of my love, attention and energy as it deserves.  Along with my notes about ideas on things that spark my interest, I started writing about what drives my over-doing and the consequences that follow.  That led to coming up with ideas for how to better align my time and actions with my priorities.  This is still a work in progress, but if you are also an over-doer, perhaps some of my thinking on this will help you.

Change is a process, not an event. . .

Here are three steps that you can take to begin a process of aligning your time and your actions with what matters most to you.

Step One

Identify five things that are most important to you. Don’t over-think this.  I’m guessing that you already know your priorities.  Write these five things down, rank order them, and post your list in a place you will notice it every day.  I keep my list on the fridge door.  Here’s what I’ve got. . .

  1. Family
  2. Friends
  3. My health (physical, mental, spiritual)
  4. Paying work
  5. Being a good neighbor (in the area where I live, and within the larger community)

Step Two

Over the next week or month or whatever you are willing to commit to, do your best to keep track of how you are spending your time. This does not have to be a minute by minute accounting of where your time goes, but give it your best shot.  Don’t judge or criticize yourself for the way you are spending your time; just notice it and write it down.  It’s only data.

Step Three

  • At the end of the week, or month or whatever, look at the data on how you spent your time, and compare it to the list of the five things that are most important to you. What do you notice?
  • Does the way you spent your time align with what matters most to you? If yes, that is terrific!  If there is room for improvement, stick with not judging yourself critically.  Awareness is the first step to building internal motivation to make changes, and changing ourselves takes time.
  • Continue to write down how you are spending your time, and compare this data against the list of your five most important things. Over time, what patterns, if any, do you notice?
  • Finally, identify one or two small actions you are willing to commit to trying over the next week or month which would better support your priorities, and see how it goes.

I would love to hear from you about your experience with trying these three steps.  In the meantime, I’m off to the treadmill to pay attention to the third item on my own list of priorities. . . my health.

Take care and be well.

Ginger Ward-Green

August 2017

Are You on a Hiring Treadmill?

We don’t always make the best hires…

If you are like me, there will be some hiring decisions you have regretted. You may have hired someone whose technical skills were a bit “suspect” but you had been interviewing for months and hadn’t found the right person. Or you hired someone who interviewed well but didn’t play well with others… Or you hired someone who just wasn’t a fit to the culture. Yes, it can happen to us all!

In the USA unemployment is running at 4.3% (US Dept. of Labor). In Maine it’s 3%. For some jobs like Direct Service Providers, where the pay is low and the work is difficult, turnover nationally runs at 45%.

The hiring treadmill…

For many employers, it can seem like they are on a Hiring Treadmill. Always hiring to fill open positions and knowing that trend is likely to continue. And they may end up taking people who are not a perfect match, hoping it will all work out.

What can an organization do to attract potential employees in a tight labor market to ensure they get people with the right technical skills, the right people skills, and who will be the right “fit” to the organization and culture? Without all three there will be trouble ahead…

Some things to consider in hiring:

  • Be really clear about what you need: the technical skills and the people skills
  • Be really clear about the kind of person you need, to fit your organization’s culture.
  • Develop good interviewing skills, good interview questions and a good interview process
  • Do the right background and reference checks
  • Give the candidate enough information about the job, company and culture. Make it attractive, but don’t stretch the truth! That may lead to dissatisfaction when the candidate comes on board.
  • Consider having team members join in the interview to ensure the right fit.
  • Avoid any questions that will get you in trouble.
  • Consider partnering with a hiring agency to do some of the work

David Green

What Would It Take To Make Work a Better Place to Be?










What Would It Take To Make Work a Better Place to Be?

For Answers, Come to Power, Politics and Partnership (The Organization Workshop)!

At the heart of the work that David and I do, we are interested in inspiring people to do their best work and live their best lives.  It’s a simple vision, and for us, a compelling one.  What is it, we wonder, that makes it so hard sometimes for people to say what needs to be said, listen to what needs to be heard and work together in service of a common goal?

Why Does it Go The Way It Goes?

Many years ago, a man named Barry Oshry began to study the dynamics of people inside of organizations.  Barry’s life work has revolved around the lessons of what makes organizations (and people) “work”, and what causes things to fall apart.  From Barry, David and I learned that what he calls “systems thinking” provides a framework for understanding what consistently goes wrong between people within organizations.  And this is a funny thing for us.  Even as we understand, on an intellectual level, the research and dynamics of what it takes for organizations to work toward their vision and goals, David and I still sometimes find ourselves caught in the web of relationships that don’t make sense at all.

So, how can that be?  It’s a complex question, but one simplistic answer is what Barry calls “system blindness” – when we are part of a system, part of an organization, we become caught in the “can’t see the forest for the trees” dynamic.  We become unable, or are “dis-abled” in our ability to see the part we actively play in keeping the things that make us crazy about organizational life going.  Because of “system blindness”, we are not able to see that we are co-creators of the problems with which we are faced.  And here is another funny thing. . . even if we get tired of working within the craziness of one organization’s environment and move on to another organization, we are probably 100% guaranteed to experience the same frustrations within the new organization we have joined.  How fascinating!  As someone famously said. . . “wherever we go, there we are.”  What would it take to make work a better place to be?  We are running a workshop that will help answer this important question.

What Else is Possible?

In collaboration with BRLI, we are gearing up to run a very special program called The Organization Workshop (The OW).  Based on the work of Barry Oshry, the OW is a simulation in which participants experience universal conditions, traps, and dilemmas of organizational life. By learning firsthand about these traps, along with solid theory on avoiding them, participants emerge with concepts, methods, and a common language to improve their interaction in any organization. And the learning is fun, we promise!

The OW places a strong emphasis on our ability to create and sustain satisfying and productive partnerships. Partnership is defined as: A relationship in which we are jointly committed to the success of whatever process we are in … and to each other.

The questions we will explore in the OW are:

  • What would an organization look like if this sort of partnership permeated throughout?
  • What gets in the way of that happening?
  • What does it take to make it happen?

The OW has great possibilities for you …

  • To see organizations more clearly than you have ever seen them before
  • To open up new possibilities of partnership for yourself and your organization

If you are ready to help make work a better place to be, come to the OW. 

Register now at www.brliexperience.org/events

Ginger Ward-Green

Are Your Goals Unreasonable Enough?








The Background

Several years ago, I was leading a small Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) team based in Ottawa, Ontario. We were part of Nortel Networks, and BPR was the newest corporate trend. I was given the opportunity to take on any BPR project I could find and the first “away” project was in Atlanta, GA.

My client was Peter Murphy, GM of a division of Nortel who made “wall boxes”…the things that connected your home or business to the cable or fiber optic network outside. Nortel’s clients were traditionally companies like Verizon, AT&T, Bell Canada, and British Telecom. To order a product, engineers for both companies would talk, agree on the configuration, orders would be placed, manufacturing would begin, and 3 or 4 months later the product would appear where it was needed.

The (Impossible?) Problem

Now, in working with companies like Time Warner Cable, Peter realized he was now in the entertainment business, not telecom. When TWC called in an order they expected their order to be shipped later that day, not in 3 or 4 months. Peter said “I need the cycle time to come from 3 months to 3 hours. Can you do that”? Of course, I gave him a “yes” …though I confess I didn’t have all the answers but was excited by the challenge!

The Result

The sequel is that we did it. By studying the process and partnering with a Nortel logistics warehouse in Nashville the products were configured as “models” rather than engineering each one individually. The models were stored in the Nashville warehouse and shipped out within an hour or so of an order coming in. Roles and responsibilities were changed to have a simpler automated process, fewer (expensive) engineers and more order management people. As well as reducing the cycle time, costs went down by a few million dollars / year, and quality went up. Customer satisfaction increased dramatically.

If Peter had asked to reduce the time from 3 months to 3 weeks he would have got that. Reducing cycle times from 3 months to 3 hours sounded completely unreasonable when I first heard it. And it turned out be doable.

So…What Goals are You Setting?

So…as you start your year ask yourself: are your goals unreasonable enough? Or are you settling for “just good enough”?

David Green.

2017 Goal: Inspire my Team. Regularly.







Great, But Not Good Enough!

Many of us have had bosses in the past who inspired us to stretch and reach higher levels of achievement. One of mine was Dave MacLaurin. One year my team had excellent results: a large manufacturing project had reduced costs by several million dollars, reduced cycle times by 50% and improved quality significantly. As Dave handed me my bonus he said “You had a good year. And it’s not good enough”. By being “not good enough” he explained I had raised the bar and he expected even better results next year. I got the message, set loftier goals for myself, and provided similar inspiration for employees…whenever I could.

The Dreaded Performance Review

As this year draws to an end, though, most managers are closing out the year…and that usually involves doing employee performance reviews. Yes…everyone loves performance reviews, don’t they? Or am I thinking of something else?

It’s no secret that most employees don’t look forward to these reviews, and few managers do. For many managers, it’s a chore. Something to get off the list to keep the boss or HR happy. If it’s treated that way, the results are likely to be disappointing. Employees may not really know how they performed: what they did well, the impact they made, or what they need to improve to become a more valuable employee or move up the ladder. So, mediocre results will continue: company performance won’t go up, staff won’t be energized…and your performance as a leader will be lackluster.

Inspirational Goals

What if performance reviews were done differently? What if performance reviews gave people positive and negative feedback, recognized their contribution and inspired them to greater levels of performance? What would that do for the company? What would it do for employees? And what would it do for you as a leader?

This doesn’t work for everyone…some people are content just to do a good job. But many people get excited and energized by stretch goals. And when they get excited they perform better, which is good for them, the company and you as their leader. Try this…and don’t do it just once a year. Inspiration never gets old.

David Green.

Middle Managers…Assets or Liabilities?







The Simulation. And the “Usual” Dramas…

I ran an Organization Workshop recently in Portland, Maine, for Middle Managers.  The “OW” gets to the heart of partnership in organization life – why partnership is critical to organizational success, what gets in the way of it developing, and the role of leaders in making it happen. In the OW, participants are randomly dropped into roles as top executives, middle managers, workers and customers interacting in a fast-paced environment, experiencing situations that regularly occur in these positions. Very quickly it all becomes real–just like what people face day-to-day at work.

The interesting thing is that most of the time the same dramas play out regardless of who is in the simulation, and what their background is. This newsletter focuses on the “world” of Middles: what often happens in the Middle World and how to be more effective in that role… This draws on the work of Barry Oshry, creator of the OW, and is adapted from his book “Seeing Systems”.

What Usually Happens to Middles…

Middles tend to be torn…trying to please the boss and trying to please their staff. Middles often align up (with the boss) or down (with their staff). Middles are trying to keep everyone happy and often don’t succeed. The boss doesn’t see him / her as putting the organization first, and the staff don’t see him / her as representing their needs and taking care of them. Middles usually don’t have the things the staff want, and can’t (on their own) deliver the services that the boss is looking for… Throw in a few more complexities like customers, peers, and family needs, and the life of the Middle can be very stressful and unsatisfying.

What to Do About It…

Fortunately, there are some solutions to consider when you find yourself in a middle role:

  • Be Top when you can. Make the decisions your boss would make when it’s appropriate, and keep your boss informed. You may not always get it right, but when you do it reinforces your value. When you don’t consider it a growth opportunity.
  • Be a Bottom when you should. Sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and do “real, non-management work”. When the chips are down your staff will appreciate your hands-on help.
  • Be a Coach. Help your boss understand the needs of your staff. Help your staff understand the “big picture” and the needs of the organization.
  • Be a Facilitator. Instead of constantly running back and forth between your boss and your staff, try organizing a meeting where the boss and staff can get to know each other, discuss what they each want, and find solutions that work for everyone.
  • Integrate regularly with your peers. Middles tend to work in “silos” in organizations and their business work is often done alone. Try meeting regularly with the other middle managers to share information, do mutual coaching and work on system-wide issues that affect all of you.

Middle managers can continue to live in a tearing world, or choose to empower themselves. Effective middle managers are a huge asset to any organization.

David Green.

What to do about THAT employee!

What to do about THAT employee!

You know the one I mean…technically skilled and hard to work with. The same conversation happens every year at his performance review…he does the technical work well and is prickly with other people. As his boss you are constantly fielding complaints and may sometimes give him feedback. It’s hard to do though…after all, he gets defensive or aggressive and the conversation is uncomfortable and nothing changes. According to him it’s someone elses fault that the relationship is rocky, and maybe even because you’re such a lousy manager. Have you had  these kinds of employees? Do you wonder what to do about them?

I’m using the term “him” in the article but this also happens with women employees

Here are some ideas to deal with THAT employee…

  1. Get his attention: Under no circumstances give him an “Exceeds” or a “Fully Satisfactory” at his annual performance review. Ensure he gets the message that Business as Usual is not acceptable. Your high performers are both technically skilled AND easy to work with. Hold the annual raise or bonus or interesting project until behavior improves.
  2. Gather some data from people who work with Mr. Hard-To-Get-Along-With. Some managers are skilled in this, and most are not. A consultant can be used for this part of the process…
    •  One effective way is to gather feedback from people who work with him (peers, internal clients, other managers etc.) about his strengths, areas for development, impact of his behavior on the department and the company etc.. This method focuses on the problem area and the impact of it on the employee, department and company.
    • A second way is to use a good 360 degree assessment tool and gather feedback from the same people as above. This method will cover the problem area (it usually shines a bright light on the problem area) and in addition cover all aspects of leadership. This is the preferred method for a long term development plan. I recommend and use the Leadership Circle Profile.
  3. Give feedback. Using a skilled consultant (who is not his boss) reduces the emotion. Many employees think their poor performance review is because their boss doesn’t like them, and resist feedback because of that. When the feedback is all about “the data” and what they hear comes from several people with a similar message…they are more likely to “get it”.
  4. Have a series of coaching sessions to work through the data and the resistance, and to work on building new, productive, behaviors. Often it doesn’t take many sessions to get the employee back on track.
  5. The manager follows up with monitoring and feedback.
  6. IF significant progress has been made and sustained, consider a raise or bonus.
  7. Give yourself a reward. This is one of the toughest management problems to have and solve.

David Green.

Real Life Solutions for the Money Draining Problem of Employee Turnover

Last fall, we spoke to the members of the Hampden Business Association about Staff Retention.  Since that time, we have talked with several business leaders about this issue.  The real costs of losing an employee continue to rise, making this an important problem to address.  For businesses of all sizes and non-profits as well, finding and retaining the best employees is critical. Recent research on the costs of employee turnover reveal that although studies are all over the map, the dollar figures associated with poor staff retention are LARGE.  A February, 2016 article about Employee Retention written by  Christina Merhar cites a recent study estimating that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it costs 6 – 9 months’ salary (on average) for that position.  For an employee making $40,000/year, that’s $20,000 – $30,000 in recruiting and training expenses.  Also referenced was a study done by the Center for American Progress,providing the following data on employee turnover costs, with the cost of turnover varying by wage, role and level of the employees.

  • 16% of annual salary for high-turnover, low-paying jobs (earning under $30,000/year)
  • 20% of annual salary for mid-range positions (earning $30,000 – $50,000/year)
  • Up to 213% of annual salary for highly educated executive positions

In a recent article on employee retention, Josh Bersin of Deloitte included the following factors for organizations to consider regarding the “real cost” of losing an employee. . .

  • Cost of hiring
  • Cost of on-boarding
  • Lost productivity
  • Lost engagement
  • Customer service and errors
  • Training costs

Many business owners and managers think that retention is based on compensation issues, but the research shows that the top three reasons why employees leave are. . .

  • Poor relationship between employee and manager
  • Lack of opportunity for growth and development
  • Lack of challenging and meaningful work

What to do about improving Staff Retention?  Consider the following as you develop your Staff Retention Strategy.  Get better at. . .

  • Selection, recruiting, interviewing (hire the “right” people)
  • Performance management and ongoing development for people
  • Communication (be as transparent, authentic and open as possible)
  • Loyalty (runs both ways)
  • Help people understand how their job/role supports the organization’s vision, mission and day to day work
  • Do all that you can to keep compensation and benefits package competitive
  • Consider what else you can offer if not more money. . . What do your employees want?  (e.g, More time off?  A flexible work schedule?, The ability to work from home?  Opportunities to grow through special project work?)
  • Conduct “stay” interviews (What would it take for you to want to stay with this organization?)
  • Give people an opportunity to grow through “larger” assignments
  • Straight, clear, timely positive and critical feedback
  • Make sure that roles and performance expectations are clear
  • Make sure your supervisors and managers are trained and  have the skills, abilities and desire to manage others well
  • Foster a team environment and reward for performance
  • Create a culture/environment of recognition

Ginger Ward-Green