S5E29: Best Practices are dead batteries. Let’s talk about next practices with the workforce with Karl Ahlrichs

“As a leader, you have to know your people and be aware when their behavior changes.” Karl Ahlrichs

In today’s episode, we are joined by Karl Ahlrichs. Karl specializes in helping professionals make order from chaos. He’s a national speaker, author, and consultant presenting on people issues in all industries and is often quoted in the local and national media. Karl’s experience is ideally suited for times of organizational change, as he pulls up on risk management and organizational development theories to replace best practices with next practices. He owes much of his communication mastery to working as a writer and editor in daily media, to the on-the-job writing experience, and to the process of becoming a published author.

Karl Joined Gregory and Appel insurance in 2010 after serving as the founding partner of Exact Hire, bringing his HR operations diversity and belonging in learning and development skills. Karl’s affinity for design, composition, and learning started at a very young age by taking and examining 1000s of boring pictures with the goal of improving his craft. In 2003, he was named the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Human Resource Professional of the Year for the state of Indiana. He is also on boards of several organizations, including the Maryland Society of CPAs.

What motivates high performers only comes from a quality relationship with a boss they respect, and that only comes from intentional conversation where the boss appears to listen to them. Money is a very small part of why employees quit.

Leadership requires somebody with communication skills. However, there is a heightened hunger for empathy, where the leader shows their team that they’re invested in them as people, not just employees. Empathy goes beyond attention and means being willing to say, ‘I feel your pain without being judged or called out.’

The topic that is never discussed enough is mental health. When a person is in pain, all they can think of is the pain. When the person is not in pain, they can think about anything and everything. As a leader, you have to know your people and be aware of when their behavior changes. When someone has a mental health issue, they exaggerate their core behaviors and become more of what they are.

When your people exhibit extreme behavior, pull them into privacy, make good eye contact and ask if there is anything you should know. Leaders should also ensure that they look after their own mental health so that they can be prepared and tuned in to their teams’ mental health.

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S5 E17: Strengths of Running a Collective Intelligence Workshop with Rod Collins

“In rapidly changing times, dexterity to speed is your key to adaptability.” Rod Collins

In today’s episode, we are joined by Rod Collins, a returning guest. Rod’s initial episode was released on February 14th, 2022. The topic of conversation was ‘The Benefits of Flat Organizational Structures.’ Today, our discussion focuses on the strengths of running a collective intelligence workshop when you’re trying to solve problems or coming up with new ideas. If you have not listened to the earlier recording, I highly suggest giving it a listen and then following up with this episode.

Rod is a leading expert on digital transformation in the future of business. He is the host of The Thinking Differently podcast on the C-suite Radio Network, where he explores how technological innovations continue to transform the rules of how successful businesses. Rod is a regular blog contributor on Substack and the author of Wiki Management, a revolutionary new model for a rapidly changing and collaborative world, highlighting the innovative tools and practices used by a new breed of business leaders to sustain extraordinary performance in a world reshaped by digital disruption. Rod is the former chief operating executive of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Federal Employee program, one of the nation’s largest and most successful business alliances. Under his leadership, the business experienced the most significant five-year growth period in its 60-year history.

A collective intelligence workshop gets a microcosm of the business in the room. Everybody who would touch on the business’s project, process, and initiative must be in the meeting room. We come up with a way to develop good ideas where we put them into groups to discuss their ideas. At the end of the sessions, each table reports the vision they have settled on. As a decision-maker in a rapidly changing world, you want the best picture, which helps move things along.

After identifying the ideas, we open them up to agreements and disagreements because we want creative energy. The members are also allowed to present their grievances to uncover unknowns that always mess up projects. By having the whole system in the room, things get to be handled in real-time and rapidly, and it helps to drive unanimous consensus.

In rapidly changing times, dexterity to speed is your key to adaptability. My experience is that collective intelligence is more significant than one person providing answers, and frequently this is the power of a network. 

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Power Skills are Hard to Master!

On August 10th, I delivered the keynote address welcoming the Master of Science in Accounting students at Oklahoma State University to the Fall 2021 semester.  The title of my keynote was Improv Is No Joke.  Not something you would expect to be a keynote title to a group of accounting students.  

Prior to the students attendance, I had a conversation with the department head of the school of accounting, Dr. Audrey Gramling.  Dr. Gramling is a huge proponent of developing accounting students’ power skills.  You know, those skills that we commonly refer to as soft skills.  I like to say, ‘we may call them soft skills, but they are very hard to master’.  I assured her that my presentation would focus on these Power Skills.  

Before my keynote began, there was a video message to the students from the dean of the Spears School of Business, Dr. Ken Eastman.  In his welcome to the students, he referenced the Korn Ferry five skills that need to be developed right now: Agility, Creativity, The Service Mindset, Communication, and Leadership.  In other words, the improviser’s mindset.  

Let’s dig deeper into the Korn Ferry blog posting, ‘Five Skills That Need to be Developed Right Now’. Agility, Creativity, The Service Mindset, Communication, and Leadership.

Agility means “being able to adapt quickly to uncertainty and constant change.” That, in and of itself, is improvisation.  The ability to adapt or be agile means focusing on the things that we have control over and letting go of things that we have no control over.  This is accomplished through the philosophy of Yes! And. Accept the premise that is handed to you, and positively add to it.  

Creativity “can be as simple as staying curious and not falling into the trap of “this is how it has always been done.” It also requires two separate and distinct types of thinking, divergent and convergent thinking.  Divergent thinking is the process of coming up with lots of ideas without censoring yourself or others, or saying the dreaded creativity killer, “we can’t do that.” In improv we say, you can’t create and criticize in the same space. Criticism is essential in creativity only after all of the ideas have been vetted. Convergent thinking is the process of analyzing those divergent ideas to determine which ideas can solve the problem at hand. 

The Service Mindset is “having the awareness to adjust the goods and services we provide to customers, in the way they need them, when they need them – this is a critical skill for talent.” To do this effectively, you need to park your ego and listen to what the customer wants, not what you think the customer needs. In improv, it is all about the team, and the customer, and less about ourselves.

Communication is essential ​​in both “written and verbal skills and presenting well in-person and on videoconference, [these] are growing in strategic importance.” The ability to articulate your thoughts and deliver that message in a way that your audience can understand has always been important, even more so when delivering it virtually.  This communication also extends to your body language, both in-person and on Zoom and other virtual platforms. Always present positive body language when speaking or attending any meeting or presentation.  This means no slouched posture, no using your smartphone, and always have your camera on when in a virtual environment, just to name a few.  

Leadership is developing “talent with the ability to reach out and take the initiative, build relationships across the organization, and foster trust and inclusion through behavior and actions – [these are skills] in demand at every level.” Leadership is also about being vulnerable around your team and letting them know when you are wrong.  In improv, it is all about the team and less about you. Our job is to make the individuals on our team look good, support them, and treat them with the highest respect. It is not our job to disrespect them or tear them down. That is just your ego getting in the way. Let your ego sit on the bench for a while and focus on what is best for the team.

The two-hour keynote on improv contained the essence of this Korn Ferry blog, along with helping these accounting students understand that they speak a foreign language called accounting.  Those in the corporate world who are not well versed in the foreign language of accounting have no idea what you are saying.  The sixth critical skill that every accountant, engineer, or financial person needs to develop is a translation of technical language into plain English.  When you master all six of these skills, you have become a well-versed and highly impactful leader within your organization. 

If you would like to discuss this article, please email me at peter@petermargaritis.com

Dealing with The Peanut Gallery That Is Your Inner Critic

Let’s start off this article with a conversation about that voice in your head. You know the one.  The voice that keeps coming back with the warning, “don’t say that idea out loud because people will think you are stupid or crazy.” Or, another favorite, “you have to be kidding me, you know you can’t speak in front of an audience – you will look like a fool.”  You know that voice… and it has a lot more to say on any number things – and none of it is good.  This is the voice of your inner critic.  

So what exactly is an inner critic?  According to the Good Therapy Blog, the inner critic is “an inner voice that judges, criticizes, or demeans a person whether or not the self-criticism is objectively justified”. A highly active inner critic can be paralyzing – it can take a toll on one’s emotional well-being, self-esteem – and in some cases, it can cause individuals to seek help from a therapist or counselor to help balance thought patterns and change their mindset.

Jerry Seinfeld has done a standup routine where he joked that people’s number one fear is public speaking. Their number two fear is death. So, they would rather be in a casket than giving the eulogy.

And it’s true. Chapman University conducted a recent survey that uncovered America’s top fears. Among those were: corrupt government officials, pollution of oceans, rivers, and lakes, and cyber-terrorism. However, at the top of personal anxieties is the fear of public speaking, well above the fear of death, as Seinfeld joked.

THE RELIABLE INNER CRITIC

That inner critic of yours never goes on vacation – it’s there continually giving opinions on anything and everything you do. In speaking, the closer you get to the time you have to present, the louder and more incessant the critic becomes. For many people, they can get sick from the stress that the critic brings their way.  Whether you are in front of an audience or sharing thoughts during a meeting, all you can see or think about are all those eyeballs leveled at you. While at the same time, your inner critic is constantly telling you how you are going to fail. So what can you do? How do you overcome this fear and silence the inner critic?

Improvisation!!!  Yes! And by employing the principles of improvisation, you will overcome the fear, and silence the critic every time! 

Improv will help you change the conversation in your head and start programming your brain to use “yes, and…” instead of “yes, but…”. Why does this matter? Think about the difference between “but” vs. “and”. Using “but” introduces a contrasting thought and stops the other in its tracks. Using “And” instead, connects one idea with the other – allowing both to be considered jointly. So, for instance, you could be saying to yourself, “yes, you have been asked to give this presentation, but you’ll do awful.” Or, you could turn it into the following, “yes, you have been asked to give this presentation, and you can do it.” Just a slight change in words and tone from “but” to “and” has an immediate and positive impact on your confidence, self-esteem and self- worth.

For example, consider the classic children’s story, “The Little Engine That Could”.  It teaches this very principle. Each of the different locomotives in the story could be considered inner critics – each pointing out why the little engine couldn’t accomplish the task at hand. Eventually, the little engine, which had been told she wasn’t fast enough, big enough, or powerful enough, was the best locomotive for an important job. Despite the doubts and criticism, the train, as we all know, repeatedly chanted to herself, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” And she did.

“You’re not fast enough,” “You’re not smart enough,” “You’re not interesting enough.”  “You’re NOT ENOUGH”!  The inner critic needs to be reprimanded and corrected for this. And guess what? You have the power to do it. Tell yourself, “I can do this,” and the more times you repeat it, the more you will believe it. This positive programming of the brain is real and can be used to overcome your immediate fears. The more you say it, the more you will silence that droning voice of doom that cycles through all your fears: “You can’t do this, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re a fraud, you’re going to fail, something will go wrong…” STOP!

THE PERFECT INNER CRITIC

This last part of the inner critic’s diatribe, “something will go wrong…” is very likely to come true, however.  Why? Because we expect ourselves to be perfect.  But there is no such thing as perfection.  Of course you will make a mistake, probably more than one.  Remember however, that most of the time, unless it’s a real blooper, the only person who knows about it is you. Your listeners and audiences won’t see it or hear it – only you and your inner critic.

When you’re overly focused on perfection, you can go into a downhill spiral if you make even a minor mistake, such as forgetting to make one of your less important points. If you maintain your confidence, something like that won’t trip you up. It would be best if you accepted the fact that you will make some slips. Think of them as opportunities to learn to do even better and roll with them… this is what keeps us interesting and interested.

Also, keep in mind, a certain amount of vulnerability goes a long way in winning over your audience. An excellent example of this is a TED talk given by Megan Washington, a premier Australian singer/songwriter. When she opens her speech, you are immediately aware that she has a speech impediment or stutter. She says that, while she has no qualms about singing in front of people, she has a mortal dread of public speaking. Throughout the presentation, the audience watches her struggle from time to time to get certain words out, but it doesn’t matter. Her vulnerability warmed the audience to her, keeping them engaged up until the moment she disclosed a deeply personal fact: you can’t stutter when you sing. At this point, she plays and sings a beautiful song superbly, ending with a roaring applause from the audience.

While we may not have the opportunity to leverage a vulnerability like this, it’s important to remember:  the inner critic will tell you far more than you need to know, and it is not true. You will hear what you cannot do or how you will screw up. And here is what you can tell that naysayer: “Yes, I know I will make mistakes, And they will not hamper me. Yes, I will not be perfect, And that means I can only get better.” Even today, whenever I get up in front of an audience, I get butterflies, AND I can control them now and make them flutter in the direction of my choice.

REASONING WITH INNER CRITIC

With all this bad-mouthing of the inner critic – it does serve a purpose. If I were to consider delivering a speech on nuclear physics, I would hope that my inner critic would start screaming at me long before I stood at the podium. However, the critic doesn’t know when to shut up; that’s where you need to train it. You might know enough about a topic to deliver a decent speech, but the critic keeps nagging: “Your nose hair is showing. Your tie is crooked. What a nitwit.” If you pay too much attention, the prophecies of failure could come true. You get hung up on your shortcomings rather than focusing on your strengths.

Sometimes the key is just to confront it: “Shut up! Shut up!” You can accomplish this through the “yes, and…” approach of improv. “Yes, I hear what you’re saying, And I’m going to do it anyway.” The critic may still try to undermine you but not as loudly. You’ll build up self-esteem. You’ll feel confident. Now go and do it!

If you would like to know more and /or discuss on ways to silence your inner critic and become more confident in your presentations and meetings, please email me at peter@petermargaritis.com.

Staying Ahead of Technology: Trends You Need to Know & What You Can Do to Protect Yourself with Byron Patrick, CPA, CITP

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Just like so many other instances in life, sometimes IT security comes down to trusting your gut. 

That’s one of the biggest lessons we took away from our session with Byron Patrick, CPA, CITP. He’s brilliant when it comes to keeping your business safe and secure from attempted security breaches, which are, of course, becoming ever more prevalent in today’s world. 

“Seventy-five percent of data breaches occur because of the human element,” Byron said.

Whether you run a large business, or you’re just interested in internet security for your personal use, the same principles apply. 

First, according to Byron, you’ve got to listen to your gut. If you get a suspicious email that you already feel like you need to forward onto the IT department to see if it’s a hacking attempt or something malicious, then you probably already know the answer! Go ahead and delete it. 

Second, if something is trying to inspire urgency or fear when you read it, that’s likely a malicious attempt, too. 

Sometimes, employees need a little practice in making these decisions — click or delete can maybe feel a little like “fight or flight,” so it’s all about honing that instinct. 

“We do security tests where we send phishing emails to our clients and see who clicks,” Byron said. “We’re helping to teach them what to look for, and put the fear of God that they’re going to fail the test and get in trouble with the boss, which protects them. … The other benefit is it enrolls them in a short 5- to 10-minute training that they then have to complete because they failed the test.” 

Plenty of these phishing attempts are getting more sophisticated as technology evolves. However, it’s not just your business; you have to worry about: It’s also essential to think about IT security when you’re at home. 

Who else owns some device — like an Amazon Alexa or a baby monitor — that hooks up to your home WiFi? These devices are incredibly popular, but unfortunately, we’re still not sure about how secure they are.

“There have been stories of crooks gaining unauthorized access to things such as baby monitors, watching the home, and learning the behaviors and activities, and they can figure out when the home is empty and go right in,” Byron said. “So that’s where you need to make sure that devices you’re putting on the WiFi network are segregated, isolated, and they require additional authentication. You want to make sure it requires additional authentication, passwords, or something.” 

In this day and age, there’s plenty of these conversations to be had: the risk vs. reward of convenience vs. giving up a certain level of security. 

However, as long as you’re using extra authentication, and protecting yourself against the human element of phishing attempts (training your employees to make sure they understand what *not* to click), Byron talked a lot about the benefits of running your business in the cloud. 

Cloud-based systems are enormous right now — this is where you don’t have to log in to multiple apps on your local computers. Instead, everything is browser-based, so your workforce can work outside of the office. 

“Organizations are now adopting all of these browser-based applications,” Byron said. “They’re adding multiple logins to all their staff. They’ve got data all over the place. Also, talking about how to gain control of that browser-based computing platform for your business, and how to do it efficiently, effectively, and securely.” 

So what are a few must-have apps that Byron suggests every CPA have to run their business? 

  • Some form of online accounting, whether this is Quickbooks or something else
  • Zoom (for communication with remote employees)
  • Office Lines (for taking photos and converting them into different file types, like a PDF or JPEG)

However, remember: The convenience of all these apps comes with an inherent risk. That’s why it’s essential to stay up to date on security risks. Above all, train your employees on how to minimize that risk and work safely and securely. Also, that’s exactly what Byron encourages through his work. 

“It is an ever-changing world,” he said. “And, you know, we’re trying to pivot and stay up to date to make sure that we can keep bringing that value to the industry and keep everybody relevant.” 

Listen to the full podcast episode by clicking here.