An Ode to Nat King Cole

Autumn leaves drift by the window.  Autumn leaves of red and gold.

According to my faithful book index, GoodReads, I have only read 22 books in 2011.   Last year, I read 32 books by year’s end and vowed publicly that I would read at least that many in 2011.  I suppose I could hurry through 11 short novellas and meet the goal, but is that what a resolve is all about?  Is it about meeting the letter of the resolution while breaking the intent?

I see your lips, the summer kisses, The sunburned hands I used to hold.

I intended for this year to be chockerblock full of reading and writing.  Instead it’s been a year of frantic action . . . helter skelter movement as opposed to thoughtful introspection.  I did not mean for it to be so busy.  Honest, I didn’t.  The year started out so relaxed, so full of earnest reflection.  The beach in Zanzibar.  The meditative mornings.  The trip to Berryville.

Since you went away, the days grow long. And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song.

Time which seemed so abundant in January hit a patch of ice and now it is almost Thanksgiving.  What thief absconded with my early mornings, quiet evenings, and lazy weekends.  And, why was I an accomplice to the crime?  When did I start pushing away the days?  What conspiracy led me to complain nonstop about spring’s saturating rains and summer’s humidity?  Was I really in such a hurry to face my kids’ first quarter interim grades?  Yes, I am to blame for having wished away the year.  Ah, time . . . if only.

I miss you most of all, my darling, When autumn leaves start to fall.    

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A Modern Day Herzberg . . . A Good Luck Wish for My Friend, Brigid

After spending two weekends in a row, trying to teach a 9th grader how to study, listening to a husband scream at the same 9th grader about world civilization, and trying to convince a 7th grader that living in two-feet of clothing is a fire hazard, I feel like I could write a book on the downside to a lack of leisure in one’s life . . . instead, my friend, Brigid is writing such a tome.  This posting — albeit way longer than any of us has time to read is for Brigid on the relevance and importance of her work.  Intrigued?  Good.  Get ready for a long story.   Grab a cup of decaf, find a quiet space and settle.  Or, you could just hit delete. It won’t hurt my feelings — much. 😉

For the past ten weeks, I’ve been studying culture in an effort to help our company determine what ours is and then determine if we have the right culture to support where we are headed as an organization. I was handed this “project” by my manager whom I dearly love with these words, “Marcia, I’m responsible for this project and because I am, you are, too. Let me know what you think.” From that day forward, I had to wedge in time to get my arms around the subject and figure out what to do with it in time for a company-wide meeting to be held over three days at a bucolic location off Skyline Drive. In between rides to travel soccer, field hockey, tutoring, and piano as well as teacher conferences, groceries, cooking, running (yes!), and planning an engagement party for a friend, I’ve managed to read over 2,000 pages on change, innovation, culture, management, and motivation from people like John Kotter, Marshall Goldsmith, Daniel Pink, Ruth Kantor, Frederick Herzberg, and the like — people I deem to be way smarter than I am.

Early on, this project was shaping up to be a lecture to the team led by my manager and me. The more I read the more I thought this was certain suicide. Culture is not an it, it’s a living and breathing thing shared equally by all. Yes, there is a tone set by the top — executive managers — but who wants to hear your CFO and your head of HR dictate to you what you should be thinking and feeling about your workplace? No wonder I was getting anxious thinking about it . . . we were on the wrong track. I scheduled time with my manager and cited my sources. The clock is ticking. We were now eight weeks out from the offsite.

“I think we’re on the wrong track. We probably need to ask questions and talk less,” I suggested.

“Hmmm . . . like what?” he asked. “This is starting to sound kind of woo woo.”

I then rambled off the kinds of questions that could get some meaningful dialogue started — what are the culture’s values? what do we want to keep? what don’t we like? what is missing that we should add? what steps would you take to institute more meaningful values?

“Yuck, it does sound woo woo,” he responded. “Okay, I’ll take this to the exec staff meeting on Wednesday. Meanwhile, don’t stop writing the speech and creating the powerpoint.”

The more I read, the more I was convinced that dialogue was the answer. Also, the more I read, the more I started to think about the culture I’d grown up with, the culture I was creating in my own house. I read this incredible lecture-cum-article written by Clayton Christensen of Harvard entitled “Measuring Your Life” (   and began to see the principles that were at work in companies at work in my own household. I did not feel particularly able to articulate anything or stop anything from happening, but I was awake to the fact that these concepts were not just applicable to business, they were applicable to all of life. Meanwhile, life was moving along — Costco runs, back to back fatal heart attacks of two friends’ spouses, birthday parties, impromptu gathering for the rising of a harvest moon, planning the annual Halloween party for 90 teenagers, church small group, and the list goes on. Luckily, the executive staff agreed that a dialogue was the answer. We were all in this together.

My reading continued. I was now becoming attuned to juggling work and life with business reading. I read before I ran. I read after I ran. I even tried running while reading on the treadmill, but almost killed myself falling off of it. I decided that some innovative modification was definitely required to make this a safe effort so I abandoned that one, but I continued to read at lunch. I read at the doctor’s office. I read getting my nails done. I read before dinner/after dinner/before bed. I dreamed about what I was reading. I had dialogues with Herzberg and Maslow. I woke to Pavlov’s dog (our 14-year-old pooch Kofi) barking to be let out. To say I was consuming a lot of material is an understatement; I was being consumed by the topic.

Our chief of staff was catching the bug, too. What if culture became the theme of the offsite and all our sessions revolved around it? Wow! What a concept. Instead of our stand-up routine, which could have been a comedic one (because I hate delivering serious content to a group), the agenda took shape — corporate jeopardy on Wednesday night, executive overview on Thursday morning, group exercise on culture mid-day, team-bonding with dice/cards on Thursday night, and family feud game on talent/people on Friday. My reading was starting to pay dividends at work . . . but not at home. Harried, harried, harried. A resolve to eat better produced two meals in one 10-day period. A well-intentioned stock-the-freezer trip to Costco resulted in a collapse of the shelves. An innovative program designed to give parents access to high-schoolers’ grades turned into the shocking revelation that the 9th grader was making Ds in two subjects, one of which was English. How the hell do you get a D in your native language? Gaps were being revealed all over the place. Ours was a culture of chaos, disruption, broken promises, and snarky responses.

To say Frederick Herzberg saved my life is so nonsensical, I can’t even believe I started the sentence that way. It makes me, and probably everyone reading this think I was looking for him . . . that I was aware that there was an answer and I was aggressively seeking it. Kerphluie! I was becoming increasingly convinced that there was no way out — that there was nothing that me or any one of my talented friends could say or do that would relieve the pressure I felt as a professional, a mother, a wife, and as a person. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. However, I was still reading, reading, reading until I felt like I couldn’t stomach one more list — Goldsmith’s list of derailing behaviors, Bill Murphy’s list of entrepreneurial traits, Donna Dubinsky’s top five leadership lessons, and Jim Collin’s traits for the best kind of employee. I was now skimming tables of contents before I put time into another article or a book.

It was in this context that I almost skipped Herzberg’s article, “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” What, after all, did a psychologist who studied motivation for 50 years and who passed away in 2000 as the internet boom was in full-swing have to say to me or to our cool, cutting-edge company which was launched the year before he died? With offsite planning in its final stages and my presentation recast as a gameshow with a partner who is arguably the most fun person I’ve ever worked with in my 30 years in business all but done, I was not interested in learning anything new. The title caught my attention. Starting out with “one more time” reminded me of an aerobics instructor from days gone by who sensing the reluctance of her students to give their all to lunges and grapevines barked, “one more time and THIS TIME with feeling!” Excuse me. Are you talking to me?

I started to read the article . . . and I started laughing. Laughed, you scoff? Yes, laughed. LOL. Belly laugh. Cracked up. Doubled over laughing. Herzberg was writing to me — the weary parent, devoted employee, busy person, do-gooder wanna-be. Herzberg had my attention. I learned that motivation has primarily focused on positive and negative KITA behaviors — kick-in-the-ass tactics used by management (applicable to spouses and parents, too!) to get employees (read: spouses, kids, colleagues) to do what we/they want them/us to do. Apparently, as humans we’ve gotten smarter over the years and our tactics have become more subtle. Whereas corporate beatings or corporal punishment in schools were early ways of maintaining order, today we send employees to classes on working with difficult people or managers to sensitivity training — all with the same goal of getting them to work better in a culture that thrives on hierarchy and discipline. What Herzberg learned was that once you get beyond the KITAs and actually tackle the concerns employees have about their jobs, there is no lift to motivation. What???? So you can resolve everyone’s concerns over money, time off, benefits, working conditions and they’re still not happy. This is starting to sound like justification for the boot-camp tactics at Parris Island, I think. But no, Herzberg argues, you should fix those things anyway just don’t expect them to send your employees into a productivity upturn. So what’s the point here? Harvard’s teaser to the article reads, “Forget praise. Forget punishment. Forget cash. You need to make their jobs more interesting.” What does interesting have to do with anything? It’s midnight and I have to stop reading because I have to get up at 6am to fill out paperwork for school, write checks for picture day, and figure out what we have left to do to complete our 2009 tax return — yes, it is October 2010. Please do not smurk if yours were done well before now, it won’t help. 😉

I wake up unhappy. I now have proof that wheedling, cajoling, bribing, sugarcoating, ass-kissing (hey if Herzberg can write it in the Harvard Business Review, I can write it here!) does not make me or anyone around me happier. Plus, I could give in to all my teenagers’ requests, give raises to all of our employees, grant sabbaticals right and left, and still experience no lightening in my load at either home or the office. No more laundry would get done, we wouldn’t do any more deals than we’re currently doing, and most importantly, I’m still the b—- on wheels I currently am. I then remembered that I haven’t finished the Herzberg article. I am not hopeful, but I am intrigued. I realize that I’m not going to have any time to get to it until lunch. I sigh and accept my lot in life.

In a cozy alcove of the Wilson Boulevard Corner Bakery I tackle Herzberg’s article. Yup, I’ve read it correctly. I can’t expect more from anyone by satisfying their list of demands. But then again, I can expect worse if I don’t do those things that should be done — however, moderation is recommended. I envision a conversation with my 9th grader, “No, you still cannot go to a movie at 9pm and then hang around Hoffman until midnight. Don’t mess with me. I have Harvard professors on my side now.” Although I am buoyed by this, I am still left wondering what is the key to motivation? Mine and others? How do I become more engaged in my multiple roles? How do I motivate others to do and tackle more? How do I get this blasted monkey off my back? I am in favor of a more interesting life, I have an interesting job. Job enrichment, I learn is the answer. Job enrichment, what the heck does that mean to me? “Stifle,” I say to my subconscious as I feel the bile rising from my gut. Humans crave being of value. They want to feel useful, engaged, committed, interested, I read. Herzberg writes:

The term job enrichment describes this embryonic movement. . Job enrichment provides the opportunity for the employee’s psychological growth, while job enlargement merely makes a job structurally bigger. Since scientific job enrichment is very new, this article only suggests the principles and practical steps that have recently emerged from several successful experiments in industry.

I push away my soup and croissant. I think about what’s been written. I think again. I grab my journal and start writing. How do I feel about this? What implications does this have for me, my family, my workplace? Does this apply to everyone? I go back to the article and search for footnoted exclusions. No references to teenagers and spouses who have given up alcohol/TV/caffeine are included. Have I found the answer? I don’t know, but I do feel a lot lighter.   I’ve got to share this with Brigid, I think. How do I weave this into the offsite? We are t-minus a week and counting.

Last week, we conducted our offsite at Airlie. Although I was stressed for two-and-a-half days waiting for the opportunity to contribute my piece to the content, I could sense a shift in the load management was carrying. We were sorted into six teams ten days out and those teams were gelling nicely. Some had taken creative names, the Q-Shore, a take on Jersey shore, the 50-Cent Gang for a group that was 50% men/women, Workaholics, etc. Others had t-shirts, bandanas. When we arrived, there was energy. Ad hoc running groups were sprinting out of the complex at 7am and on breaks before dinner. Someone had brought a guitar — there were sing-a-longs until 2:30 in the morning. There were questions from management — teams had answers. There was stimulating content from people who know how to deliver a presentation from a podium — I promise to learn how to do that one day. The feud game my colleague and I led on Friday was long, fun, but definitely not boring. The offsite had been improved. My reading was paying off and the offsite was the beneficiary.

Home? I got home around 1:30pm on Friday. I was going to go to the office, but was exhausted. I decided to take a power-nap and woke up 2 hours later. It didn’t take long before the inhabitants of 101 Uhler Terrace were all at each other again — curfews, laundry, nothing to eat in the refrigerator (despite the crushing weight of all of the food in the freezer), Swahili lessons, cellphone upgrades (or not!), studying, etc. I went to bed at 8pm on Saturday night and dreamt of Herzberg — no lie. I had now seen so many images of him on Google he had a face — a kind of modern-day looking Einstein with more weird hair. He, or rather his picture, kept floating around in my dream talking to me. He wasn’t talking about motivation he was just talking to me. Odd at best, possibly deeply disturbing at its worst. I prefer to think of it as uplifting and a reminder that this “enrichment” thing may be something we all need to ponder — men and women, moms and dads, brothers and sisters.  All of us.  However, in the case of my circle of mothers, we have to realize that we are management and the only way to enrich our roles is to enrich the roles of others.  As the editor writes in the notes to Herzberg’s article, “But the real key to motivating your employees is enabling them to activate their own internal generators. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck trying to recharge their batteries yourself.”

Worth pondering . . . I wish Herzberg had lived long enough to study families — parents, spouses, and children.

Oh wait a minute . . . Brigid!  That’s the answer. You’re the one to take up the mantle and go from here, a modern-day Herzberg. Good luck. We’re all counting on you.

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