List #5: Reflections on #myyearoftwelve

2019 was like any other year, in that it was crazy.  Every year is crazy, because life is crazy.  In 2019, my craziness involved going to get trained at the Aspen Institute’s AmEx Leadership Academy (hooray), then getting laid off the next week (sad face), traveling to Ireland (hooray) and coming up with plans for the next step (whoa).  It also involved travel to and with family and friends.  I got to run a half marathon in another country, and my son got to play with my friend’s son as the sun was setting over the Grand Tetons.  Crazy.

My unifying theme for 2019 was #myyearoftwelve.  Each month I wanted to do something new in the following categories: scone-baking, album-listening, mindful traveling, trail-running, date-nighting, healthy living, and bouquet-arranging.

This was, perhaps, a bit too ambitious – even in a year that didn’t involve a significant life change.  Well, two significant life changes… did I tell you I turned 40 in 2019?  That’s right; I was born just a few months after Jimmy Carter was attacked by a bunny.

That said, I’d like to reflect a bit on what was meaningful from My Year of Twelve.

  1. Make ambitious goals.  You may not meet them, but you are a far more interesting person if you at least shoot for them.  My husband and I didn’t get to twelve albums this year, but we at least had something more to talk about than work or our child’s sleep schedule.
  2. Involve your family in your goals.  If you are trying to bake scones quickly, don’t ask your child to help.  If you are trying to bake scones meaningfully, ask your child to help.  My son and I made scones with one of my dearest friends in Ireland as part of an AirBnB activity deal offered by a local baker.  It was messy, and there were distractions – at one point I found him playing with plastic garbage he found in the baker’s living room – but asking him to come with me is something that I will never regret.  
    A flower arrangement by RenaissanceLista - yellow tulips and white peonies.
  3. Create beauty and share it.  I’m pretty sure I did meet the goal of making 12 flower arrangements this year.  Were they perfect by any florists’ standards?  No.  But they were a reminder that the earth is bountiful and that we can appreciate the bounty and the beauty if we stop and take a moment.  On my personal social media accounts, my flower photos were one of the most popular things.   I like to think that my friends looked at those photos, to a mindful breath, and felt a little happier in that moment.
  4. Practicing mindful travel is an essential tool for professionals.  People understand being “on the road” as fascinating / exciting / badass (if you only know about it from movies) or grueling / lonely / exhausting (if you’ve actually done it, sans mindfulness.)  I understand that it is often all of the above.  What I have found is that practicing mindfulness during travel – whether that means mindfully breathing while waiting in lines or mindfully skipping out on the socializing and getting to bed early – makes it far more likely that I appreciate the positives of travel *and* the positives of being at home.  By planning for mindful moments (getting a massage) and also allowing myself to experience them when they came up unexpectedly (enjoying a 4 AM cappuccino with the night bartender when I was jet-lagged in Las Vegas), I felt so much better about travel than I had in previous years.  And when I came home, I was energized rather than depleted, and so happy to see my family.
  5. Write things down.  I mean physically.  Somehow, physically writing things down makes it seem like more of a commitment than simply typing it electronically.  You can do both, but physically writing things down allows you to a) hang it somewhere in your house where people can see (to enforce accountability and spark conversation) and b) cross things out when you have completed them.
  6. Balance is key to living out your values and being well.  I look over the categories in My Year of Twelve and realize that I was prioritizing what I consider to be some of my core values – the values that help me to lead a fulfilled life.  These values help me live what I would consider a balanced – or RenaissanceLista – life: health/wellness, learning, creativity, and connection.  Aligning your actions – what you do, how you spend your time and energy – with your values allows you to live a balanced life.

So in 2020, I invite you to explore what it is that makes you feel fulfilled, how those actions reflect your values, and how living out those values helps you live a RenaissanceLista life.


List #4: The Interconnectedness of Process, Inclusion, and Strategy

I recently finished adrienne maree brown’s amazing book, Emergent Strategy. The book is part facilitation instruction manual, part celebration of all things nerd-dom, and part glorious celebration of the interconnectedness and mutual dependence of our shared existence.  brown weaves a beautiful narrative, defying genres and yet somehow successfully fulfilling the needs of people hoping to explore some pretty specific genres.

brown defines emergent strategy as, “how we intentionally change in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated worlds we long for.”  What initially struck me in that definition was the word intentional.  Throughout the book, brown describes adaptation and change as being responsive and purposeful.  She isn’t talking about change for change’s sake – or, as Chris McGoff references in his book The Primes, distraction through “bright and shiny objects.”  She’s talking about change informed by relationships, experience, and living purposefully in the process.

Process is one of my favorite topics to mull over on sleepless nights.  More specifically, I find myself thinking about the connectedness of process, inclusion, and strategy.  Below is a list in which I articulate their interconnectedness and how it plays out in the workplace.

  1. By definition, process is “a series of actions or operations conducing to an end.”  A business process is “a collection of related, structured activities or tasks… which in a specific sequence produce a service or product (serves a particular business goal) for a particular customer or customers.” Process, by definition, is task-oriented, concrete, and in service of something else. 
    Pay attention to the way I phrased the last clause: “in service of something else.”  In my experience, because process involves service, it is often viewed as inferior to other aspects of an organization’s work, particularly when mentioned alongside strategy.  Intentionality, planning, thoroughness – though these characteristics are essential to the success of organizational strategy, they are inexplicably seen as the antithesis of vision, strategic thinking, and innovation.  Process is something that most aspirational leaders prefer to delegate to others – especially women – and a distaste for process is often touted as a sign of one’s leadership capabilities.  More on this in a bit.
  2. Simultaneously, leaders have [finally and rightfully] sounded the call for more inclusion in the workplace.  The irony is this: you cannot be inclusive if you ignore process.  Process helps us create the tools that execute our intention to uphold our stated values.  In order to execute on our shared values, we need to ensure that we create processes that maximize the involvement of diverse stakeholders.  If we say that we value inclusion, but we do not provide time and space to plan for how we will be inclusive, our words are empty.  If we say we value inclusion, but we don’t create plans that allow for the full, authentic participation of diverse stakeholders, we will never create inclusive spaces.
    Let’s say that a team leader has a new idea and they want to roll it out at the next leadership meeting.  The leader has some choices to make.  They could go through the steps to build a structure around their idea on their own, but most leaders know that they won’t get traction if it’s just their ideas that are being presented.
    The leader could also build out their idea collaboratively.  Here is where process comes in.  The easy way to build out an idea collaboratively would be to present it to a select few individuals when it’s convenient.  Typically, this would be during one-on-ones or other pre-scheduled opportunities.  The more time-consuming and process-oriented method to build out an idea would look and feel different.  It would not be convenient, because it would involve actively seeking out divergent thoughts and opinions – in other words, it would require that the leader be inclusive of perspectives that differ from their own.
    Intentional inclusion would require the leader to focus on process.  How will they ensure that they are getting different perspectives?  How will they provide space for all voices to be heard?  How long will it take to lift up all of these voices?  How long will it take to even get all of these people at the same table?  What are the steps needed  to get the people at the table?  What will they do once they get all of these people together?  What will follow up be like?  How will they allow for people to give feedback after the meeting is done?
    Let’s go back to the concept that I mentioned earlier – process as inferior to strategy.  If you view process as inherently boring or inferior, chances are you didn’t make it through two of the questions from the list in the preceding paragraph.  If you didn’t make it through two of those questions, how can you allow for sufficient time and space to create an inclusive process to support your “bright and shiny” idea?  Similarly, if you view process as inferior to other forms of work – or if you, like many male leaders, outsource it to females – how can you ensure that what you create is inclusive of multiple perspectives – male and female, leadership and junior staff, introvert and extrovert?  And a lack of process isn’t always intentionally exclusive.  Sometimes – and almost always with excuses related to time or other priorities – it unintentionally falls by the wayside.  But if you are too disinterested or too busy to plan for and participate in an inclusive process, how will your efforts create inclusion in your workplace?
    If we say that we value inclusion, but we do not provide time and space to plan for how we will be inclusive, our words are empty.
  3. Relatedly, if you are not inclusive through intentional process, how will any of your efforts be strategic?  When we go back to brown’s definition of emergent strategy – “how we intentionally change in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated worlds we long for” – we now note two other striking words: “we” and “grow.”  Truly liberating strategy only emerges when our “we” is inclusive – when we are brave and wise enough to intentionally involve colleagues whose ideas may differ from our own so that we may adapt, emerge, and truly “grow” together.*
    Involving divergent ideas through intentional process is a strategic decision.  Indeed, it is the only way that an organization can create impactful strategy – a shared strategy, an emergent strategy that comes from honest relationships with others.  These relationships develop slowly, mindfully, through moments of shared mundanity and brilliance.
    Let’s pretend that in the example mentioned above the leader with the bright and shiny idea decided that process was an unnecessary burden.  Rather than thinking about who to include, how to include them, and how to put input into action, the leader decided that they had enough input from their closest supporters and then moved forward with selling and implementing their initiative.  Their idea may be doable, but would implementing the initiative be strategic?  In other words, the initiative didn’t consider all perspectives that were gathered through an inclusive, emergent process – so where is the “we” and the “grow”?
    I’m reminded of a story that I heard when I participated in a training at the Center for Equity & Inclusion in Portland.  We learned about a well-intentioned (and well-heeled) philanthropy that decided that one of the communities it was serving really needed a particular service.  They spent tens of thousands of dollars creating the service, putting the infrastructure in place to deliver it, advertising the initiative… and ultimately, asking members of the community why no one was using it.  What the philanthropy discovered was that the community didn’t really want the service; their needs were being met in other ways, and the service didn’t take into account their values or priorities.  To the community, because the philanthropy had eschewed an inclusive process, their new and shiny idea was neither visionary, nor strategic, nor innovative.  It’s as though the philanthropy had the brilliant idea to create a down coat for a goose, only to discover that they should have asked the goose if he needed it.  Perhaps if they had spoken to the goose, they would have had the chance to learn, grow, and emerge as a more strategic organization.

Careful process isn’t inferior work; it’s work that builds community and creates growth.  Giving space for process allows organizations to hear divergent voices.  Elevating all voices gives colleagues the chance to intentionally co-create, and this leads to truly innovative strategy.

If you’re interested in chatting about the connectivity between process, inclusion, and strategy, or if you just want to discuss your favorite nerdy outlet, use the Contact form.

*Here, I will make my own nerdy reference, to an episode of Dr. Who.  When I think about being willing to learn through growth and change, I am reminded of the following scene.  A character says to Dr. Who, “I will not change my mind,” to which he responds, “Then you will die stupid.”  Better to admit you’re wrong, grow, and become a little bit smarter/more strategic, than to die stupid.

List #3: Five Surprising Measures to Support Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in Your Workplace

We’ve all heard that what’s measured gets done.  When striving for equity, we have to balance two things: the need to accomplish what we’ve set out to accomplish and the recognition that measurement alone is insufficient* and is often used – particularly by white people – to check off boxes so that we can be more comfortable by claiming that we did what we set out to do and then move on to other priorities.

I say all of this so that we understand that extensive measurement is not a replacement for authentic listening, an open mind, and a willingness to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them.  Simultaneously, when we measure the right things in the right way – by allowing our measures to emerge through collaboration with the people who know what matters – numbers can support a holistic effort to create a more just society.When we measure the right things in the right way, numbers can support a holistic effort to create a more just society.

With this in mind, I’d like to share List #3: Five Surprising Measures to Support Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in Your Workplace.

  1. Caregiver status. I recently read a blog post by Mindful Return, a website that helps new parents return to work mindfully.  The post recommends tracking and reporting caregiver status in the optional field of the EEO-1 form.  Numerous authors – such as Anne-Marie Slaughter – have asserted that caregiving is not limited to new mothers, nor is it limited to new parents.  Caregiving more broadly defined includes the care of family and loved ones, whether old, young, or in-between.  Caregiver status is often unreported and undervalued, and – based on personal experience – misunderstood.  Caregiving takes more than time; it takes emotional energy and impacts how you show up at work.  Tracking caregiver status would help employers understand the extent to which supports (or a lack thereof) are ensuring that caregivers are getting the same opportunities to thrive and advance in their careers as non-caregivers.
  2. Meeting Agendas.  As a former qualitative researcher, I’ve seen the value in reviewing pages of qualitative data.  In equity work, one untapped resource is the meeting agenda.  I’ll write elsewhere about the importance of process to equity, but here I’ll focus on the idea that simply building out the agenda in a way that gives everyone the chance to participate is critical to ensuring equity.  Think about it; we’ve all been in meetings where the agenda was created five minutes beforehand and the creator of the agenda – typically the person with the most power in the room – has booked themselves the most time to talk down to their employees.  Sometimes, everyone gets a tiny slot set aside to talk; other times, only the people with the second-most power in the room are allotted a tiny bit of time.  Where does that leave everyone else?  Simply sitting and listening – or not.  Gathering team meeting agendas and analyzing them as a whole body is one way to discover the extent to which power dynamics are denying people opportunity to contribute.
  3.  Meeting Participation.  Sometimes, despite efforts to lay out an equitable process, agendas are ignored.  I’ve often heard women complain about being talked over, looked over, or simply ignored in the workplace.  I’ve witnessed men take over a meeting, knowingly speaking until the end of the allotted meeting time despite the fact that female colleagues come after them on the agenda.  However, data around this phenomenon are rarely collected by employers.  If an organization is truly interested in ensuring that everyone has a voice – not just a seat – at the table, employers could measure minutes.  Rotating volunteers could sit in on other teams’ meetings to audit the extent to which the voices of people of color and women are being elevated – or shut out.  In our current culture, it’s hard to argue with bar graphs that show that individuals from the dominant culture are overtaking meetings, while the ideas and contributions of their colleagues aren’t getting any air time.
  4. Calendar / Time Spent Analysis.  Many of us have analyzed our time spent in order to assess efficiency.  What if we analyzed time spent in order to assess equity?  This is particularly important for people who manage more than one person.  Collecting data over the course of a month can give managers and senior leaders insight into who is getting time with their managers, and what those individuals have in common.  Bias in time spent is often completely unintentional; some people simply connect more quickly and enjoy each other’s company more.  However, if managers are interested in equity, they will learn from analyses such as this, particularly if the organization facilitates conversations around the deeper meaning of disparities in time spent. Are disparities reflective of underlying fears or biases?  Might there be an opportunity to give this precious resource – time – more equitably and intentionally across the team?
  5. Task v. Strategy Allocation.  Most professionals are savvy enough to not use the term, “woman’s work.”  However, if we step outside our roles and observe the tasks of our colleagues, we often notice a two trends.  First, women and people of color are disproportionately taking on tasks for which they won’t be credited in a performance reviews.  Think of how often you see the women and people of color in your workplace setting up for convenings, cleaning up, taking notes during meetings, or scheduling meetings on the calendar for themselves and their peers.  This is in part due to a desire to help the organization, and in part due to the fact that managers assign and/or praise women and people of color when they take on these tasks.  Second, notice how often men – particularly white men – are pulled aside to “strategize.”  This typically involves brainstorming, coffee meetings, diagramming, or meeting up after work for drinks.  Just as we are acknowledging that we need to praise young girls for things besides their looks, we need to praise colleagues from traditionally marginalized communities for their higher-level contributions.  Women and people of color can do more than execute tasks, and it’s time we start praising and assigning accordingly.

Like I said, there’s more to come!  If you’re interested in learning more about the services we offer at RenaissanceLista, check out my services or contact us.

*I love the book Decolonizing Wealth, in which Edgar Villanueva writes, “Diversity statistics that get held up as a sole measure of progress are an insufficient measure, because we need to go beyond mere representation, to access to power and ownership.”