Thoughts & Observations

Choose Your Own Adventure

I usually make decisions quickly. I don’t dilly-dally. I get the information I need, give it just enough thought, and then I go.

But I couldn’t do that in this case.

This time, I had to sit with a feeling for months. I kept thinking and thinking and coming to the same conclusion in my gut, but I couldn’t move. I had to keep dipping my toe in the water, hoping that at some point the temperature would feel perfect.

I finally had the realization over the past month that the water was never going to be just right, that the circumstances were never going to align themselves perfectly. If I wanted the change I had been envisioning, I just had to jump.

Last week, I turned in my good-bye letter to Girl Scouts. I had been with the organization for seven and a half years. That was a mighty big band-aid to rip off. But I needed to do it. I realized that I had grown comfortable: I was addicted to the stability of a consistent paycheck and the comfort of health insurance.

On the surface, those may not seem like bad things to get addicted to, but once I realized what I was giving up in the name of achieving that security, I couldn’t look back.

When I first started working, I believed that work was a life sentence we all had to serve, and that the best I could hope for was a job I didn’t hate, with a good salary and some benefits. I felt pretty lucky to have found that comfort at a young age.

But when I became CEO three years ago, a light bulb was flipped on for me. It was dim at first – this slight flicker of an idea that somehow the way that society had conditioned me and everyone else around me to work was wrong. There was something wrong with being chastised like a five year-old for showing up ten minutes late to work. There was something wrong with having to ask permission to take a couple hours off in the afternoon to go to the doctor, as if we were third graders asking for a bathroom pass. There was something wrong with a hierarchy that required staff to write multiple memos to justify buying a $12 pair of computer speakers so that they could listen to an online training. There was something wrong with the fact that I felt that every time I walked through those office doors I had to leave half of myself on the sidewalk.

So I decided to change everything. I read an amazing book called Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, and within a month we became the first non-profit Results-Only Work Environment in the country. I found inspiration from Zappos and books like The Levity Effect and realized that half of what made work suck was that it wasn’t much fun. I started serving kids’ cereal at morning meetings. It became ok for people to laugh and to dress in silly costumes and to just be themselves.

I didn’t realize it as first, but as our organizational culture changed, I changed too. Our VP of Human Resources used to joke that when he first met me, he thought I had no personality. People who met me two or three years ago, when all of this change was just starting to happen, say that I’m a completely different person now – in a good way.

The difference is that I got comfortable being myself.

That light bulb that was once dim was now glowing brightly.

When I launched my Regret Me Not Project back in September, I knew I wasn’t the same person I had been. I was looking at life differently. And looking at work differently. I put a new value on every minute of my day, and didn’t want to waste any of time doing things that drained my spirit and stifled what I knew I was capable of contributing.

Soon, I started to have this strange, nagging feeling that I wasn’t quite where I was supposed to be and that I wasn’t quite doing what I was supposed to do. I started to feel frustrated and knew in my gut that it was time for me to make a big change.

There was still the problem, though, of the paycheck and the health insurance. Those things had built fences around me, and fences have a funny way of creating both a sense of security and a sense of fear.

But the more I sat with the fear, the more I realized I wasn’t willing to live with a constant state of unease and the overwhelming feeling that life had much more to offer me. I realized that staying behind the fences was actually more frightening then stepping out.

So I stopped dipping my toe in the water and I jumped in.

Within the week or so, I will have moved to New York City. I’ll be exploring, doing whatever work I get most excited about, and living a choose my own adventure, walking down my own path.

Starting now.


Why Work Sucks

Well, actually work doesn’t really suck for me. But it used to. And then we changed everything and became the first non-profit in the country to migrate to a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). After that, work pretty much stopped sucking.

Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, authors of Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, just released an updated, paperback version of their book. The new material features a little bit of the story of how Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council switched to a ROWE, alongside interviews with me and Mary, another awesome member of my team.

I first discovered Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It in an airport bookstore in June 2008 and it was the most intriguing thing I had read in years. It verifies every suspicion I had that they way we traditionally work doesn’t make any sense and that there is a better way.

If you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think.

Want to read more about rethinking the way we work? You should see the stack of books beside my bed…it includes:


Thoughts & Observations

The Challenge of Execution Starts with Strategy

Reprinted from my “Practical Business Radical” column in The Business Press

The world is full of thoughtful strategy. Companies spend hundreds of hours every year and significant financial resources on ensuring that they have crafted a strategy that will lead them to success. When so much of a company’s intellectual capital is dedicated to building its strategic foundation, why does the execution of a strategy so often fall short?

First, crafting a strategy feels deceptively simple. It is a finite process. It involves a beginning (brainstorming, data gathering, conducting a situation analysis), a middle (analyzing and discussing data), and an end (crafting and writing the strategy). Even though this formal process may be revisited every few years, writing strategy is not work that a company has to do every day.

Execution, on the other hand, requires daily recalibration. If a strategy is going to be executed effectively, every moving part of an organization has to be aligned to delivering on that strategy, every single day. Even in small companies, it is difficult to align each department and staff person with the overall strategy of the company on a consistent basis.

It turns out that this challenge of execution can actually be tied back to an underlying problem with strategy. Often times, strategies sound visionary, but do not paint a clear picture for the individual employee of how they fit into the strategy. They may not see how their daily work needs to change or how they need to align themselves differently with another department in order to execute the new strategy appropriately.

Spending time at Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas back in October, I witnessed how a large company can effectively align all of its employees to its strategy. Zappos started as online shoe retailer and has come to be known not only for the shoes and other wares it sells online, but also for its phenomenal customer service, its creative culture, and its fast growth. Zappos’ first step in setting their strategy is defining their “BHAG” (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), which at Zappos is focused on growth in sales.

The BHAG is posted throughout the Zappos offices, complete with a graphic representation of the BHAG as a big, hairy beast, displayed proudly on the walls. Once the BHAG is established, the senior leadership at Zappos crafts plans for how each of their teams will contribute to achieving the BHAG. Each subsequent manager down the line finds a new way of refining the presentation to their group of employees to ensure that every employee knows what the BHAG is and knows how the work they do on a daily basis will contribute to achieving the BHAG. The employees in sports merchandising know what their growth in sales needs to be and the customer service representatives know what their level of performance needs to be in order to reach the company’s overall goal.

Taking a big goal and breaking it down into smaller, easily executable pieces is a daily occurrence at Zappos and is a skill that the company helps its employees develop. Zappos onsite coach, Dr. Vik, helps employees address a variety of personal challenges in their lives, from losing weight to reducing credit card debt. He teaches them the technique of setting their own personal BHAGs, and then slowly chipping away at their BHAG in small steps: doing 10 sit-ups a day or volunteering on a weekend instead of shopping. As employees see that this technique of accomplishing major personal goals one step at a time works, they start applying the same concept to the company’s BHAG. Everyone is focused on the BHAG and knows how they can help the company reach it, and it pays off.  Zappos recently achieved a huge BHAG – reaching $1 billion in annual sales.

Successful execution requires a strategy that is relevant to every employee. Although there are many factors that influence the outcome of execution, the rate of success increases dramatically when each employee can clearly see how they can contribute to achieving the company’s goals. How relevant is your BHAG?

Thoughts & Observations

Debating Computer Restrictions

Reprinted from my “Practical Business Radical” column in The Business Press

I was about to write this column focusing solely on how companies should stop babysitting employees’ use of computers – that they should stop blocking websites, stop blocking Facebook and MySpace, and stop restricting use of programs like Firefox. I recently read Farhad Manjoo’s great article – “Unchain the Office Computers!” – on and I was all ready to unleash my battle cry of computer freedom, when a nagging memory of a recent news story stopped me from moving forward with my single-sided argument.

When the story first broke in October about the two Northwest Airlines pilots who overflew the Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport by 150 miles, some of the blame was placed on them being distracted by using their laptops while piloting the aircraft. Although it now looks as if that might have been a more minor factor in the incident, it got me thinking about the other possible circumstances in which restrictions on the use of computers might help avert substantial disasters.

In his article on, Majoo argues that doctors and nurses in hospitals, for instance, have received enough training and are skilled enough to juggle using an instant messenger program while they are completing their other work. What happens though, when those doctors and nurses get so engrossed in the messages they are sending back and forth that they don’t respond to a call quite as fast or they don’t get to a patient’s bedside as quickly as usual or they write the dosage of a medication down wrong?

There are other situations too, where distractions would be dangerous. We probably don’t want 911 operators watching videos on YouTube or bus drivers sending text messages while they drive bus full of passengers down the freeway. So where is the line? How do we decide what the right level of restriction is?

It has to do with analyzing the benefits of limitation-free computer use versus the potential negative consequences of allowing employees to operate with access to everything on the Web. Unless there are situations in which computer-based distractions risk the lives or the well-being of employees or the general public, there is not a very strong argument for restricting computer use. At my company a few months ago, we were hit by a virus that was traced back to an employee’s use of MySpace, and although it did take some IT staff time to fix the problem, the incident did not warrant banning employees from using MySpace or any other social networking platform. Why?  Because the cost to fix the problem was small compared to the potential negative implications on our trust-based culture if strict restrictions were put in place. It made a lot more sense for us to educate our employees on how to look out for potential virus and spyware traps (like not clicking on ads about filling out a survey to win $10,000), then it did to restrict the use of a program that we actually promote using as a marketing tool for the organization.

If you are worried about your employees slacking off and wasting company time checking their Facebook pages, restricting access to Facebook is not going to solve the problem. It is not going to make them more engaged, productive employees. You are actually missing the much bigger picture. The bigger picture is that employees should not be measured by how much time they spend physically at the workplace or even what they spend their time doing. They should be measured by what they actually produce. If employees are measured in that way, then the time they spend on Facebook or Twitter does not matter, as long as they are still getting their work done.

Restricting employee access to websites that might be seen as time-wasters does nothing but create an environment in which the company slowly becomes the enemy of the employee. Restrictions that have no reasonable basis give employees the strong message that they are not trusted. Restrictions also stifle innovation. Innovative companies like Google place no restrictions on their employees’ computers, and neither do most of the large technology companies.  They understand innovation does not thrive in environment littered with fences and barriers.

Policy & Practice

Entitled Millennials and their Expectations

Reprinted from my “The Practical Business Radical Column” in The Business Press

I’m a Millennial. Born between 1978 and 2000, we grew up in the midst of rapid change, fueled by technological innovation. Some people say that we act entitled and that we have high expectations of our employers. It seems, however, that earlier generations had bigger expectations of their employers than we do. Here are the things I do not expect: I do not expect anything to be permanent. I do not expect to work for the same place for the next 25 years. I do not expect the company I work for to take care of me in my old age. I do not expect to ever be able to truly retire. There used to be expectations of pensions and “permanent” jobs, and Millennials do not have those expectations.

That being said, there are things that I do expect. I expect to be paid fairly based on the value I add to the company I work for, no matter what my age is. I expect that the length of the ladder I have to climb to get to the top will get shorter and shorter based on my performance and will have nothing to do with how many years I work at the company. Given the fact that I have no expectation that I will ever be able to retire, I expect to have a job that I love doing every day, to the point that if I became a millionaire and no longer needed to work, I would still want to keep doing my job.

I expect that judgment of my performance will be based on measures that matter and not on arbitrary and empty measures like how many hours I spend at the office or what time I arrive in the morning. I expect that the company I work for will give my ideas equal consideration alongside the ideas of someone with longer tenure. I expect that I will be given the freedom to manage my own time and my own performance. I expect the company that I work for to trust me, respect me, and build a team of talented, passionate people for me to work with.

This may seem like a long list. But the difference between the Millennial’s list of expectations and previous generations’ list of expectations is the price tag. Other than the expectation of fair pay for my contributions, most of the things I expect from the company I work for do not require any money. I am not asking for a pension or a fancy retirement plan. Trust and respect do not cost anything. Giving me the opportunity to have my ideas heard or take on leadership roles actually have the potential of helping the company I work for improve its financial performance. Giving me control of my time can improve company productivity and innovation.

In addition to having expectations of the company that they work for, Millennials often have high expectations of themselves, and of how the work they do will contribute to society in some way. They are willing to do what it takes – including rewriting the rules – in order to have an impact. This willingness to do things differently and to be unconventional can create significant tension because traditional business is more about following a standard set of rules and processes. Sometimes it is hard for Millennials to understand why their perspectives might not make sense to everyone. When I speak about our Results-Only Work Environment, I am often surprised that not everyone in the audience jumps on board with the concept right away. It makes so much logical and business sense to me, that it is hard to understand why other people would not see it the same way. When Millennials face these types of hurdles we just keep working until we amass the evidence and support to change the game.

As the number of Millennials in the workforce continues to increase, companies that do not pay attention to their expectations (and the strengths they bring to the table) will fall further and further behind. The expectations of Millennials can result in changes to the work environment that benefit all of the generations in the workplace and the company itself. We might have a long list of expectations, but it is our expectations that will help raise the bar of performance for your company.

Thoughts & Observations

The BBQ That Will Change Your Business

Reprinted from my “The Practical Business Radical” column in The Business Press

If you don’t think a BBQ can change your business, then you’ve never met Bernard Ross. A year and half ago, I attended an Association of Fundraising Professionals conference in San Diego. Unfortunately, for most of the conference, I felt like I was attending a history lesson: the same strategies and tactics repackaged under the false pretense of fancy new titles. Then I met Bernard Ross, the Director of the Management Centre in London, who is a loud Scotsman with a thick accent and a propensity for profanity, and the registration fee I had paid for the conference was instantly made worth it. He convinced me that what I needed to do to help move our organization forward was host a BBQ. Not just any BBQ would do. This BBQ needed to be a Sacred Cow BBQ.

The name may sound somewhat horrific, but the concept and the results are anything but. At the foundation of a Sacred Cow BBQ are an organization’s “sacred cows” – the rules that an organization follows, both written and unwritten, official and unofficial. Every organization has sacred cows, things that have become so engrained in an organization that no one can remember why the rule or procedure got developed in the first place. Sacred cows are the “we’ve always done it that way” elements of any business.

Not all sacred cows are bad. Sometimes sacred cows are good. There may be some things that you’ve always done that are actually effective and beneficial for you to keep doing and that in fact are what set your business apart from others (like In N’ Out Burger still using fresh potatoes for their french fries). The point of the Sacred Cow BBQ is to bring multiple stakeholders in your organization to the table to openly and honestly discuss all of your organization’s sacred cows – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Depending on the type of organization you run, a Sacred Cow BBQ would involve all levels and types of staff, customers, volunteers, clients, other businesses, and vendors. Although not necessary, it helps if you actually do host a real BBQ (people are more likely to come and actively participate if food is involved). The location for your BBQ will need at least one wall that can accommodate Post-It notes being stuck all over it.

Here are the Sacred Cow BBQ rules: each participant is given a pad of Post-It notes and a pen. Before any food is served, the participants anonymously write down as many of your organization’s sacred cows as they can think of, one per Post-It note. There is no judgment passed on the sacred cows they write down and it is acceptable if their sacred cow is the same as someone else’s. For each sacred cow that the participant writes down, they get one piece of BBQ. Their first sacred cow gets them a hamburger bun, their second gets them the hamburger, their third gets them condiments and hamburger toppings, their fourth gets them coleslaw, and so on. As the participants turn in their sacred cows in exchange for food, the sacred cows get posted on the wall. Before long, all of the stakeholders in your organization are staring at a wall covered in sacred cows.

As everyone enjoys their hard-earned meal, the session facilitators start the process of categorizing the sacred cows, grouping similar and duplicate sacred cows together. As this process takes place, patterns start to develop. It becomes clear what the organization’s biggest sacred cows are. For us, the most frequently listed sacred cow had to do with requiring volunteers to complete too many forms. After the sacred cows are categorized, the session facilitators lead a group discussion around the top five or ten sacred cows. Together the group talks about each sacred cow and debates whether it should be kept, modified or removed.

The discussion that occurs around a Sacred Cow BBQ is probably one of the most interesting discussions you’ll ever have in your organization. It provides clarity around what your organization values and what may be preventing your organization from growing or providing better products or services, and it gives you starting place to make changes. Since we knew that our volunteers were frustrated with forms (our biggest sacred cow), we embarked on a forms reduction project and brought the number of forms from 52 down to nine essential forms. That is how a BBQ can change your business. What are your sacred cows?


Policy & Practice, Uncategorized

I Heart Our Social Media Policy

I recently crafted this social media policy for our organization.I loved writing this policy. It was fun. That may sound weird, but it was cool to be able to write a policy with a little bit of personality. I heart our social media policy!

Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council’s Social Media Policy

We think social media is super cool. And so do our customers. We invite our employees to become social media butterflies…with the guidelines below in mind.

The Policy:
1. Tell the truth.
2. Have a purpose.
3. Add value.
4. Be authentic.
5. Speak for yourself.
6. Play nice.
7. Respect copyright and fair use.
8. If it’s confidential, keep it that way.
9. Be social.
10. Use common sense.

The Policy Explained:
1. Tell the truth.
No explanation needed.

2. Have a purpose.
Like everything else in life, reaching your goals is a lot easier when you have some clue what you’re trying to accomplish.

3. Add value.
Bottom line: say something helpful, or witty, or informative. The world doesn’t need to know what you ate for breakfast this morning.

4. Be authentic.
This is not the place to develop an alter-ego. Let people know who you really are and what you do.

5. Speak for yourself.
We know your opinions may not always be the same as the council’s. And that’s cool. Just make sure that your presence in the social media world is in the first person – lots of “I” and not so much “we”.

6. Play nice.
Respect people. Don’t be mean. Don’t call people names. Don’t use racial slurs. Don’t use foul language. Don’t be a jerk.

7. Respect copyright and fair use.
Don’t use people’s stuff without giving them credit (and don’t use stuff you’re not allowed to use). That’s just tacky. And in some cases, it also happens to be illegal.

8. If it’s confidential, keep it that way.
You don’t like people sharing your personal business without your permission. So if somebody has told you that information is confidential, keep it that way.

9. Be social.
Don’t be in a one-way social media relationship. If people comment on your blog, respond nicely to their comments. It’s called “social” media for a reason.

10. Use common sense.
We try to hire employees who have common sense and we trust them to use it. Think of social media as a giant world-wide billboard. What you post can be seen by anyone – your boss, your co-workers, your mom. You don’t need a poorly chosen Tweet to wreck havoc on the council or your life.