The Cheese Party

Throughout the last two years at my job, I have had a significant focus on culture. How? By starting with a simple idea and building relationships with folks throughout the organization using an event I coined “Cheese Party.” We merely built ourselves into a group of consistent people who like cheese AND invite others. The goal? To be cheesy and embracing to others around!

John Kotter talks a lot about how transformation takes place, and one of his points is creating a climate for change, and that is our primary goal with these conversations. And you know, it has stuck, and even other folks have started their versions of the cheese party after leaving the company. But why I do share this?

I know this may seem like an odd comment to make but I someone quoted me with saying: “I am still for putting lipstick on a pig since people will at least laugh at it.” If you don’t know what this expression means, Wikipedia states “to put ‘lipstick on a pig’ is a rhetorical expression, used to convey the message that making superficial or cosmetic changes is a futile attempt to disguise the true nature of a product or person.” And I think this is key… Cheese will not solve the problem of changing the culture but we know the urgency, we have a coalition of folks wanting to support, and we all laugh at the lipstick that lives on the pig! Every company has a culture war that will go on, and you must know it is there and simply work towards fixing it with a smile. So, I will keep putting smiley faces up and aiming to be cheesy to not coverup culture but to at least laugh at the issue!

Focusing on Notes at Work

Nathaniel Elliott Notes

I have been aiming to take better notes for clearer follow through and action after meetings at work. For the past few weeks I have been trying many different techniques and finally found one that works for me. First, it starts with using a notebook: moleskin then finding the right method for you. What techniques are there? Here are two that I checked out:

  • Bullet Journal – http://bulletjournal.com/get-started/
  • Cornell Notes – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornell_Notes

Personally, I am pushing the two together in some ways while making sure I have the “area” set up for optimal use. Michael Hyatt points out that “note taking also captures in-the-moment insights, questions, and commitments.” Not all of these things can be solved immediately, and this is why some hierarchy becomes essential.

PS – here are the other articles I read while defining the process that I aim to use:

My Analysis Process: APD(P)

Nathaniel Elliott APD

I am often asked to analyze businesses, teams, and/or individuals to see how the processes they work in can be improved. Every consultant (internal or external) has their way of doing this type of work, but over the years I have solidified the method that I take, and the results have created strong wins over and over again for the groups that I work with. It is crucial to apply the following method in an agile approach as it iterates on itself as you go through it. Here is the process at a high level that I work through in each scenario that you can start applying immediately:

  1. Analyze – Analyze the situation that is at hand through 1:1 conversations, focus groups, and open retrospectives with the members that are part of the business or team. Finding and defining the problems at hand is crucial in this step.
  2. Prioritize – Work with those involved to prioritize the output from the analyzation so that those folks take the ownership of the findings and what impact needs to be. Looking for quick wins helps define what problems come first.
  3. Do (Produce) – Build an implementation method with SMART action items. When creating this, each item must have systematic owners who are responsible for making sure it moves forward which will help lead the change that came from the initial step.

This method for analysis was built off of my tag in life: creatively, executing, ideas… Everyone has excellent views and practices to do this work, but I have seen many consulting firms build out an excellent analysis of teams and yet forget that there is ownership and producing that must come as well. Analyzing businesses, teams, and individuals must produce results, not just the document stating the facts. The team needs to own this and deliver the wins/execute on the changes that were built out creatively. Be agile in the application of this, see what works and doesn’t. For example…

Sometimes I call it the APD method or APP method depending on the group that I am working on since “doing” may be the output required while other times “producing” may be the critical component. Building out an analysis works on many levels but needs to be continually done and not a one-time act. And in short, it can be applied to you as an individual as well!

Taking a Break – Work/Life

Nathaniel Elliott Builds Fire

I am someone who loves what they do most days. If you were to ask me how I am, many days I would respond that I am living in paradise! Why? Because I sincerely love what I do and the team that I work with at Inovalon. I understand that this isn’t the case for most, but there is a downfall of doing what you love: work/life balance. Also, when I say work, I don’t just mean the 9-5 you may live in but also the honey-do list and the continual task list that will never be completed. All of these things need to be balanced out, and I’ve seen three significant steps that have helped me and encouraged me to have a better work/life balance:

  • Start Small – Simply start making time outside of a work a priority by taking small moments here/there for yourself that aren’t focused on work or the next to do item. Take a walk and purposefully not think about work!
  • Plan It & Do It – After you start small, start planning the priortized time that you will take and use for the balancing of work/life. More importantly than just expecting it, you must follow through and execute on it and take time for yourself. Take a weekend away with no technology and breath!
  • Separate from It – When you start small, plan your work/life better, and execute, you also need to make sure you separate yourself from the work that you have going on. With a connected world, this is hard, but also with how our brains are wired, we like to solve problems but take a break and separate!

Why is this at the top of my mind? Well, this past weekend I took my wife and kids to a cabin in Maryland only an hour away from home for a reprieve. We spent time outside, we didn’t use technology, we spent quality time together, and it reminded me of the importance of these type of moments for my kids, my wife, and myself. And, when I returned to work, I was rested and ready to tackle what work had coming to me. My mind, spirit, and body were revamped and capable of doing what I do: solving problems.

What steps do you take to help with the work/life balance that we all need?

Starting the Morning Right

Fabulous App

For the last few months, I’ve been working on “habits” both personally and professionally. Purposeful habit-building has been an area for me that does not come naturally and yet, this tool/application fit perfectly into my routine. It talks about creating these keystone habits that you build on throughout the rest of your life. For example, if you take this journey, you’ll start with one habit: drinking water when you first wake up. At first, it seemed like a simple item to implement into my life, and it was, but turning it into a habit was a different story. It worked me through setting up a trigger to do so, setting my water out the night before, and a few other actions like “celebrate” when completing.

I know that you may be thinking, this is simple and not for me, but I would encourage you, these things add up to be influential in life quickly. If you are interested in trying out the tool, here is the email you would receive from me if I were to send the invite (and no, I don’t get any referral for it that I am aware of):

Check this out, great app for building healthy habits.

I thought of you while reading an article in this new app I downloaded called Fabulous created by researchers at Duke University. I’m using it to build new habits.

I thought it might be fun to use the app together and hold each other accountable.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“Having an accountability buddy is like taking a friend to the gym. It turns an otherwise difficult and boring chore into a fun and social outing. You’ll encourage each other to do better and end up going more often because you’re holding each other accountable.”

You can get it here if you want to partner up!

Let me know what you decide and how you are working on your personal & professional habits! I ended up paying for the service because of the high value I found from it after a few weeks. And, the journey is just starting. I am now working not only on my morning routine but also my eating routine, exercise

The Materials Today

Every day I aim to learn something new and gain more understanding both personally and in business. The books that stick out right now which are pushing me forward are listed here:

  • Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action – I am working through this book with my team at Inovalon to understand not only our jobs and roles within the organization but also as a tool to have more apparent communication/influence since it all starts with “why”.
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business – I’ve been listening to this on a daily basis (the audiobook through google) and have fallen in love as I am working on personal habits like exercise, sleep, productivity, and much more. But, the book uses how habits form on a personal level to explain how organizational patterns are developed and how you could influence corporations to choose the right keystone habits.
  • A Walk Across America – Right now there is a significant pull towards adventure in everything I do. My father-in-law knew this and bought this book for me plan out my next long weekend on the Appalachian Trail and a possible climb on Mt. Rainer.
  • The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day – One of the best journals I’ve had in a long time. Or, maybe the best ever since I don’t journal. But as I work through building out my mission in life and goals, I have been watching high performing people and learning the habits they focus on. These habits often have an early morning with journaling as a ritual. I’ll talk more about rituals in future posts!

Let me know what books I should check out to keep my learning and being more productive in my life! Here are the cover of the books to help you find them (and yes help support this site and free information).

 

      

Managing Time – Especially while Training

Nathaniel Elliott Time Tracking Tool

There have been many updates to my life since I last posted a blog, but it doesn’t negate the fact that time must be managed. One of the major updates in my career at the moment revolves around leading classes specific to agile methodologies (scrum, kanban, SAFe, and others). With that, there has always been a goal of live conversation and feedback during a class which can make time hard to manage while engaging the participants as well! What did I do to fix that? I created three key points to check against when taking questions during presentations as well as a tool in excel to help me manage the time well. Yes, I am all for timeboxing but what about when things are a bit more fluid than that? I ask myself (and sometimes the group) the following three things before going down a rabbit trail:

  • Does this help the group learn and apply what we are discussing?
  • Can we answer this as a group at a different time?
  • Is it helpful to remove time from another area of the presentation to handle this now?

When this conversation has happened, and I do a vote by class, I need to figure out how to keep managing my time moving forward! Below is the excel spreadsheet I created to help me achieve the flow (with delays) that often happens!

Excel Document: TimeDoc