By Jackie Yun
Courtesy www.pixelperfectdigital.com via Darren Hester
“I’ve been mandated to shut down the office by next June, after we deliver on our key project this upcoming April”.
All eyes quickly turned my way. It was as quick as a door slamming shut and I hoped that wasn’t what it would portend. I knew conventional wisdom would not have approved of what I had just said. Our HR Generalist’s shocked reaction re-confirmed that. Instead, I had taken my direction from my gut. Would my team walk out and make an already terrible project situation disastrous?
Was the Gut Wrong?
I had just inherited the Austin Technology Center (ATC) and this was my first all-hands-all-staff meeting with the ATC. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost overruns and repeated schedule delays had plagued the ATC’s project. Our customers were terribly unhappy. High dollar penalties (possibly in the millions!) would be incurred if quality and schedule were not met. Even our support groups grumbled about the ATC and said that we were “rogue”.
My gut had a felt-sense that the staff at the ATC wanted and would appreciate the truth. They were extremely savvy and smart, very knowledgeable about the latest technologies, and quite entrepreneurial. This project could be turned around and perhaps (although I had no guarantees), our CIO and our President’s minds could be changed about the shutdown ~ but only if the ATC wanted that.
Incredibly, the Gut was right. They did!!
So due to a gut feeling, we were now together on an entirely different journey. And the first step called for some self-assessment.
Gutting It Out by Stopping, Keeping, and Starting
Until we asked, I don’t think the ATC knew to what extent their outright battle against using the Corporate Problem Tracking System had on the ATC being able to work with Corporate. Once the ATC stopped the battle (tabling it with plans to suggest improvements at a later date), conversations moved forward, opportunities opened up.
Stopping this one action helped the ATC to chip away at their reputation for being “rogue”. Stopping the ATC’s opinionated technical banter and eliminating their un-corporate dress code of shorts and flip-flops would help, too. But, this was part of their dot.com DNA and spoke to who they are. Could we keep our DNA intact yet start getting people to see the “good” in our “rogue”?
With the ATC’s unique knowledge set, we focused on becoming a Center of Excellence. We also touted the ATC’s satellite office culture as a place within our company to re-charge, re-energize. We gave authenticity to our “we do whatever it takes” attitude and took on projects that no other division wanted. We looked for opportunities to help. When our sister division, which supports our company’s core systems, needed people resources; we volunteered to provide “in-sourcing”, even subjecting ourselves to being interviewed. We started to reach out and not be so insular. Many other actions were taken, including those to specifically address the project situation.
Unknowingly, what we had been doing was a variation of the Stop-Keep-Start Feedback Method (Read more here: http://blogs.hbr.org/hbsfaculty/2011/08/three-questions-for-effective-feedback.html). Asking ourselves, our peers, our customers and our executives: “What should we STOP doing? What should we KEEP doing? What should we START doing?”, gave us practical insights that we used. It got us to a better place.
That April, the project was finally completed; not the prettiest of implementations but it got done. The June shutdown was averted and we were on our way to becoming an integral part of the company and would be so for another six years.
A Few Final Gut-felt Words:
S. Chris Edmonds (@scedmonds on Twitter) tweeted a keen observation about leaders that resonates with me:
“Too often a leader’s HEAD doesn’t always act upon what is in that leader’s HEART”. To this, I would add — “and Gut”.
I encourage you to let your gut and heart speak; even in, or maybe especially in a corporate environment. Magic can and will happen!
To Will and all of you who read and engage on Will’s blog, a heartfelt and gut-felt thank you for giving me of your time. I’d love to hear how you feel about the gut and heart in the corporate world. Do tell me if there’s been a time when you let them lead instead of your head. If you’re curious about how to encourage your gut and heart to speak and for you to hear them, spend a few moments at the end of day and ask yourself: “Would the decisions I made today be any different if the gut and heart were involved?”. Put your response down on paper and review at the end of two weeks. You may be surprised at what you hear.
For more information about Jackie Yun, follow her at https://twitter.com/JackieYunTweets or connect with her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jackieyun @JackieYunTweets
I saw this tweet by @pdncoach (Mark Sturgell) ~ “#BeTheOne who opens the door to discovery for someone else today.” Thank you for being that person for me. This is my first blog post and I so appreciate your kind support, my friend. Take care.
Jackie, an excellent post and thanks for the kudos in your comment. One point, in particular, really stopped me in my tracks and got me thinking about a question highly creative, entrepreneurial and technical teams should be asking: What can we do so people will see the “good” in our “rogue”? Great question and one that I know would serve a lot of business units “out there” who take pride in their creativity, independence and culture yet are on the verge of elimination or break-up!
If the only thing about you or your team others are measuring is how “rogue” you are, chances are they are missing any value you produce. Which raises many questions including: How can we better create value and demonstrate our value?
Jackie, I always love your tweets and appreciate your support of my work. I look forward to reading more blog posts from you in the future, as well!
I like your question ~ “How can we better create value and demonstrate our value?”. The word “we” says to me that this is a team question, not just a question for the leader. Who else is better to own their reputation and core values than the team itself? If teams reflect upon your question on a regular basis, we may be able to avoid breakups and being eliminated; and for sure, we would create more impactful value. A fun and inspiring way to do this would be to use your #BeTheOne tag to explore what it means to the team to #BeTheOne and see if we are achieving that for ourselves and those whom we are connected.
By the way, the phrase, “good rogue”, became an integral part of the ATC’s identity and was used throughout the company to describe us in a positive manner. 🙂
Sending hugs and appreciation for you, your support, and thoughtful comments.
Beautifully written post chock full of wisdom! I love how you shared that listening to your gut essentially helped you and your team turn things around at work. It was a truly inspiring leadership example.
Too often, we are afraid of listening to our gut, particularly within the corporate world…
I can’t wait to read and learn more from you in future blog posts 🙂
Your kind words make my day bright!
Listening to the gut and heart is important, but is so hard to do; especially when any of us are put in difficult situations. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi said: “Discovery is seeing what everybody else has seen, and thinking what nobody else has thought”. It’s not easy to provide open and neutral space in our minds when we know what our trusted colleagues and bosses think. Quotes like these are helpful reminders to keep me on track. I saw this particular quote from Leia Cator’s Daily Celebrations web site at http://dailycelebrations.com/091611.htm
Thank you for taking the time to write to me. I always look forward to your posts at http://www.dorleem.com and your tweets!
Fantastic article. Make sure to visit their blog to read the full post……
Appreciate you dropping by Will Lukang’s Blog and your rousing recommendation. Have a happy and impactful day!
Hi Jackie. I remember thinking when you told me this story that it’d make a powerful article. Kudos on making it so and bringing an important perspective (and experience) to current and aspiring leaders.
I enjoyed our “in real life” conversation! Thank you for making me feel heard and seen when we chatted, just as you have now with your supportive comments about this post!
By the way, your post, “Challenging The Status Quo” (http://ggci.com/blog3/2011/09/making-leadership-development-models-dynamic/), would be a good read for current and aspiring leaders. I particularly liked John Seely-Brown’s point that what’s needed is “a deep QUESTING disposition amplified via a CONNECTING disposition”.