The Learning and Development Center

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Featuring Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson, Director of the Houston Public Library

This interview with Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson, Director of the Houston Public Library, was conducted and condensed by Mahogany Johnson.

MJ: I noticed that the Library has a ton of engaging community initiatives. What innovative new programs are you implementing or partnerships are you forging to increase the awareness of the Houston Public Library System?

RBL: With the launch of the new library card, mylink, we were so fortunate to have HEB as our new strategic partner. And, with a corporate sponsor like HEB, we got a lot of mileage out of our library card campaign. As a matter of fact, it’s still going on because it’s a yearlong campaign. They had bags that they gave customers in their stores with the library’s logo, an image of the new card, and they provided those bags for each of our locations. In addition to that we appeared on their ads, and they were gracious enough to let me record a message that shoppers could hear while they were doing their shopping in HEB stores. Not only were they there for a major press conference, but they wrapped four of their big trucks with the new library card campaign logo. That was by far one of the biggest marketing campaigns that the library has been engaged in. Throughout the year, we are going to be doing events in and around HEB stores.

A strategic partner is very important when you really don’t have the advertising dollars and need to get your word out. When you put messages on your website or in the local library, people who come in know about what we’re doing; but, we plan to reach as many people as possible, and that’s our goal for the new library card called mylink. Our mission is to link people to the world. So our library card becomes that link, and our goal is to have one million cards in the hands of Houstonians by this time next year. The main message here is to look for strategic partners. We look for strategic partners that share our mission. Many people say “HEB’s a grocery store, how did you do that?” One of HEB’s core missions is to help strengthen education and literacy, and that’s right in line with what the library’s mission is. We have also partnered with Capital One through our Liftoff Houston project, which is a business plan/writing competition in partnership with the Office of Business Opportunity for the City of Houston. Others are: The Children’s Museum and The Collaborative for Houston, just to name a few. This is how we get our word out and what our initiatives are, and we look for these strategic partners that share our core belief.

There’s a plaza in between the Central library and the Julia Ideson building and we are going to reimagine the look and use of that space to make it a downtown destination, and we’re going to begin that work in June, and by this time next year phase one should be done. By having activities on the plaza like jazz performances, children’s performances, spoken word or inviting food trucks up, it gives families and people another space to gather downtown in the middle of the day or right after work. We’re looking to make that plaza a really exciting place in this part of downtown and to do that the partner would be the downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ). They have sponsored the Project for Public Spaces, which is an international organization that works with Discovery Green and Market Square. They are now working with us on the plaza. Similar spaces are popping up all over the United States. People are looking for places to gather, share food and enjoy a program or just relax; and, we want to make that space something that Houstonians can enjoy.

MJ: I read an article this week that noted changes in the new generation of library service platforms, as well as enhanced integrated library systems. How has the advent of social media and web 2.0 impacted your organization and added to the complexity of your work?

RBL: We’re real excited about where libraries are right now in terms of technology and the platforms that libraries are now operating. Libraries are at a place of so much change, the most change I believe that they’ve ever seen in their history. We have technological change. The demographics of our city have changed. Our budgets have been impacted by the recent recession, and we have not fully recovered from that. As a result, we have budgetary challenges; we have the advances of technology that are happening so rapidly around us. Houston has now surpassed New York City as the most diverse city in America. So, the needs of our customers have changed, and the people that use our libraries have new demands on the services that we provide.

Although it is a challenging time, it is also a very exciting time because it makes us look at our operations, services and our programs with a new eye. We have such talented people at the library that are coming up with ideas and innovative ways to reach the public. For example, we just launched a new website and we had in mind how people are using us. We found that people are using us with their smart phones, tablets and PCs, and a variety of other electronic devices, so we had to have a website that would be adaptable for all those other kinds of devices. Also, we realized that many people would never walk through our doors. They will shop online, buy their books online, and they access the library and other resources online. We had to step up our game in terms of what an online presence looked like and made it more intuitive and user friendly for the online audience. We have text reference and email reference. You can text in a question, send an email; or, pay us a visit or call. These changes have been happening rapidly over the last eight years. The way we have changed the most is to become more of an agile organization and one that can embrace change quickly and adapt to it quickly.

Things are happening external to the organization, and we have to be able to see what impacts us and how our services will be affected by it. We have not lost customers. What we have now is a diverse group of people who use us in different ways. There are still a large number of people who bring their kids to the library every week to select books so that they can have story time at home. It’s something about them cuddling with a kid with a book that’s different from cuddling with a kid with an iPad. A part of our product line for the library is that we still offer human interaction.

MJ: What is your library technology forecast for the remainder of 2014 and beyond?

RBL: Stay vigilant and be aware of the technological changes that occur around us and how they impact the library users and our library services. As we hire new staff, there is a greater emphasis that they be technologically savvy.

MJ: What are you all doing to stay ahead of the curve?

RBL: I really believe in staying connected with the profession on a national and international level. I make sure that we have team members that are engaged in committees and tasks forces at the national level that are looking with a bird’s-eye view of the profession and where it’s going. Looking not only at the library profession, but also technologically at how the advances in technology are useful for our services. We wish we had more resources to travel and to be engaged and we do that; but, we also take advantage of webinars and invite speakers in to train us when it’s cheaper than sending a group of people. The other thing that we focus on is leadership training, because I believe you can be a leader anywhere in the organization. We just don’t provide leadership training for those of us in executive positions, but throughout the organization because we want people empowered to suggest changes and have a vision for where the library is going or needs to go.

You can lead from where you are. You can also give people room and space to be innovative. That’s another important part of a smart organization. You want people to be willing to try things and you celebrate even the mistakes and the failures so that we can grow from them, but I’d rather have a team around me that wants to try new things and that are forward thinking, creative and innovative because that makes our organization more interesting and exciting.

MJ: What is your best advice for budding professionals interested in working for the library?

RBL: That’s a really interesting question. The library attracts people from all disciplines, and that’s what makes us so unique, so exciting and so eclectic. For many people it’s a second career, and for people who are coming right out of their educational career, it’s an amazing space to work in, especially now. For example, if you have an interest in doing outreach and you don’t want to be cooped up in an office all day, you could work on our mobile lab that goes all around the city providing services. If you are a person that really just wants to be behind the scenes, we have a finance office. There are opportunities for almost any personality type, whether you’re a behind-the-scenes person, person that wants to be in a leadership role, or a person that just wants to provide service. There is something for you to do at the library. And, my best advice because you focused on a budding professional, is to come to the library with a sense of being willing to try a number of different roles until you find that role that is right for you, because there are a lot of different opportunities here. The main thing we’re looking for is that you have to care about the service and the library’s mission, and you have to want to give the best that you have to give. I believe in excellent customer service. So I’m looking for people who like people, because we are a service organization. You may be hired for a particular opportunity, but keep an open mind and be willing to go for other opportunities because it may be a better fit. It makes for a more well-rounded professional.

MJ: In these times when search engines, social networks, and ecommerce sites set an almost unreachable bar for user experience and breadth of content, libraries have to make extraordinary efforts to impress their patrons with the information resources and services that they offer on the web while remaining true to core library values. It seems that libraries continue to face enormous challenges as they continue to deal with dwindling government funding and woefully inadequate budgets. What has been your strategy to mitigate this issue?

RBL: When you’re in a situation where there is so much going on, you have to be centered somewhere. One of the things that has helped us is our engagement in strategic planning. By pausing, you take a look around you in your organization and you take some time to reimagine and to imagine where it is the organization needs to go.

We’re wrapping up our strategic master planning process, and we feel that we have a center from which we can deliver services, and have a direction over the next three years for our services and facilities, and what they need to be over the next ten years. The ten-year window may seem daunting but it’s necessary when you’re dealing with facilities. I would never do a ten year plan for programs and services, because we are changing too rapidly. If you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t lead. Even in turbulent times and dynamic changing times you have to have a center, and the master plan, for us, is that center.

MJ: I recently read an article about your corporate sponsorship initiative to tap into big business. How has this impacted your bottom-line?

RBL: The partnerships are usually targeted to a particular initiative. Our operations budget is a part of the general fund. The additional resources or support that we get helps us with specific programs or initiatives like the library card campaign, the business plan competition or if we’re going to do a series of jazz workshops or whatever kind of program the community would like to see at the library. So innovation and creativity is very important. As we acquire more resources, we can do a good job with them as a result of the innovative and creative team that I have. We’ve won over 35 local, state and national awards in the last eight years for our program services and facilities. Currently, Houston Public Library is the seventh largest in the country and the largest in Texas. There isn’t a ranking system nationally, but we are one of the leading libraries in the country, and I’m very proud of that.

MJ: Regarding public access, what promotional and outreach strategies are you deploying to successfully keep local residents abreast and engaged in the resources available at HPL?

RBL: Periodically, we ask our customers how we are doing. We want to know in their eyes how we’re doing. We don’t want to be providing services without having a feedback loop.

MJ: What have your experiences as a library professional taught you about leadership?

RBL: I’ve always had my eye on the top job. As a result of that, I was a student of leadership my entire career in terms of finding mentors and observing people who impressed me with their leadership skills. I led from wherever I was. I think there is this question out there in the leadership literature about whether leaders are born, or can they be taught to lead. I believe there is some innateness in leadership. I’ve always wanted to lead, and I’ve always led from whatever position I have, and I can recognize leaders and leadership skills in people, and I admire great leaders.

MJ: How do you get people on your team to live your leadership philosophy—especially for staff trying to move up the ladder?

RBL: You do that by sharing the journey and the glory. We all work hard over here at the library. Sometimes I have to send people home. I have such a dedicated and committed group of people that they just want to get it done. Service is in their DNA; innovation and creativity is something that they do. I just love my team and I provide for them any opportunity that I have to engage them in something exciting.

I believe in the 80/20 rule: that 80 percent of what you do you should really enjoy, but there’s always going to be that 20 percent of the have-to-dos. All of us have that 20 percent, but it would be great if we could say 80 percent of what I do I really enjoy, and I try to make that happen for my team. Also, another thing that my team knows is that when they bring me ideas, I tell them to go for it. We discuss it and may tweak it a little, but more than likely I’m saying go for it and keep me in the loop. We never start a new idea large; we start a pilot and see if it’s something that we want to expand to the system, but there are little library experiments going on everywhere.

I was struck by the engineer environment and I brought some of that to my leadership style, because you can learn from any environment. It’s a number of various people who are playing and trying to invent new ways of doing or improve upon things that are already existing, or come up with something new. So they go into their offices or cubicles every day and play. Of course there are other things that they must be doing. My team’s imagination, creativity and innovation give us room to grow or space to invent new services and programs. I think that makes us exciting.

MJ: Is there anything that you would like to share with the City of Houston’s workforce, or something you wish people knew more about you or your department?

RBL: Early on in this profession I was working in an environment where innovation was expected and encouraged, and I have carried that with me throughout my career. I also believe in giving people the room to be their best. Authenticity is another word that I love, being yourself, because you can’t be your best self if you are not your most authentic self.

The Learning and Development Center’s OD Team presented the Houston Employee Assessment Review to the City of Los Angeles

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Houston, TX—November 17, 2014—The Learning and Development Center’s organizational development team presented the Houston Employee Assessment Review (HEAR) process to the City of Los Angeles Personnel Department the week of October 13 in Los Angeles, California.

The exclusive train-the-trainer session provided a step-by-step process on effective communication between employees and supervisors and expert advice on how to drive performance. Themed LA HEAR Benchmark, the training addressed setting realistic expectations and progress updates, including coaching skills for supervisors and a simple approach to launching the new performance management system.

Los Angeles city officials expect the new system to improve employee confidence and provide a clear, two-way channel of communication.

“We're starting to work on the logo, branding and mission statement for the employee assessment review program…Everyone seems to be leaning towards CLEAR (City of Los Angeles Employee Assessment Review). I really enjoyed the training provided by Noel, Mahogany and Marie. It was very informative and engaging,” said Charlette Rodgers Starkey, Senior Personnel Analyst.

The new system will enable managers and supervisors to track and monitor job performance and recognize employees who performed well during the evaluated year. This process will help to identify value-added employees and make them viable candidates for promotions from within the organization, giving them a clear road map for success.

Check out highlights from the LA HEAR Benchmark:


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The following self-paced, web-based training modules will allow you to take advantage of these course offerings at your own pace from the convenience of your desk.

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Volunteer Instructors Needed!

Become a Learning and Development Center (LDC) Adjunct Instructor

We're expanding our instructor force to meet the growing demand for our learning programs.

The LDC is seeking third-party support on matters related to the Center for Excellence's quality of professional education programs offered as part of our newly developed course curriculum. This information is also designed to help your Learning and Development Center know more effectively how to serve you and to ensure that all requirements for course instruction have been met prior to the start of class.

Our Awesome Courses:

Come Partner with Us:

Turn your technical expertise, on-the-job experience and great communications skills into a rewarding volunteer training opportunity.


Monday - Friday

8AM - 5PM

Please complete the following form and provide as much of the information as possible.

Check Out Our Latest Course Offering(s):

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Dealing with Difficult Situations (00020165)

Thursday, Nov. 20th, 8:30am-4:30pm

Learning & Development Center | 4501 Leeland Street Houston, TX 77023

Upon completion of this course, participants should be able to understand their roles in keeping the workplace efficient and pleasant and be able to find the root causes of conflict.

This course focuses on:
  • Defining civility in the work place
  • Applying workplace etiquette
  • Diagnosing the causes of difficult behavior
  • Communicating effectively

Instructor Led: Bonnie Sandberg

Price: $35.00

Manager Approval Required: Yes

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Excel 2010 - Level 2 (00020094)

Wednesday, Nov. 19th, 8:30-10:30am

Learning & Development Center | 4501 Leeland Street Houston, TX 77023

Are you familiar with the basics of Excel 2010 but need to know how to perform advanced formulas? Do you need to sort and filter your spreadsheet data? Do you need to have certain data stand out? Would you like to chart your data? Then this class is for you.

Learn to be more efficient with Excel by:

  • Entering more complex formulas
  • Using Conditional Formatting
  • Sorting and filtering data
  • Creating and modifying charts
  • Creating a custom number format

This course focuses on:

  • Working with more complex formulas and functions
  • Using Conditional Formatting
  • Sorting and filtering data
  • Creating and modifying charts

This hands-on, interactive class includes a step-by-step manual to use in class and as a reference at your office. This manual includes many “best practices” in working with Excel 2010. Class files are sent to participants to use for review and practice.

Instructor Led: Bonnie Sandberg

Price: $35.00

Manager Approval Required: Yes

Upcoming Industry Webinars & Events

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Fall 2014 CLO Symposium Online Edition

Join Chief Learning Officer magazine at the Fall 2014 CLO Symposium Online Edition to hear how learning leaders are experimenting with and applying new approaches as well as transforming traditional models to meet the demands of the modern workforce. As an attendee, you will have the opportunity to network with fellow attendees, participate in live question and answer sessions with the presenters and receive human resource continuing education (HRCI) credit.

In this session, you will learn the following:

  • Build your personal knowledge base with new ideas and inspirations and discover the tools that will advance your career.
  • Discover best practices, insights and trends that will make you a more well-rounded professional
  • Benefit from the expertise of industry experts
  • Discover innovations and solutions that can make an impact on your enterprise learning
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It's (Almost) 2015 - Do You Know Where Your Top Performers Are?

Do you know the keys to a high performance culture? Can you describe what success in your company's key roles looks like? If not, you're not alone. Over one-third of organizations in Brandon Hall Group’s recent skills gap survey have not defined the critical roles required to enable their future business success. Knowing the traits that lead to performance in particular jobs is a core task for the modern HR function, but creating an accurate picture of success can be difficult. By turning to data, many successful organizations are building "Performance Profiles" that help them reduce staff turnover, boost productivity and accelerate time to performance. This webinar will address the latest research on Performance Management, the science behind Performance Profiles, and how they can be deployed in the HCM cycle. Join Laci Loew, VP and Principal Analyst of Brandon Hall Group's Talent Management Practice, and Jason Taylor, Infor’s Chief HCM Scientist, on this free webinar to explore:

  • Critical trends in using data to define success, and the talent science behind it
  • How to develop high-quality Performance Profiles for your organization
  • Turning data into action – how profiles accelerate time to performance for new hires, identify low performers, and support development efforts through data-driven insights
  • The importance of mobile tools for managing and measuring performance
  • Managing employee and manager expectations around Performance Profiles

Topic: It's (Almost) 2015 - Do You Know Where Your Top Performers Are?

Date: Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Time: 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Host: Brandon Hall Group

About the Speaker(s): Laci Loew, Brandon Hall Group & Jason Taylor, Infor

Laci Loew, VP/Principal Analyst of Talent Management Practice

Brandon Hall Group

A principal talent analyst and consultant with Brandon Hall Group, Laci is expert in all areas of human capital management particularly talent management, leadership, leadership development, and succession management. She has worked in the public and private sectors consulting global and matrix Fortune companies across all industries on integrated talent initiatives. Laci holds a bachelor of science from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; earned her MBA from Keller Graduate School of Management; and is currently a PhD candidate in organizational psychology. Laci’s hometown is Chicago and she is based in Las Vegas.

Jason Taylor, Group Vice President, Development and Chief HCM Scientist

Jason Taylor learned early in his career that all people are different, but everyone is a fit somewhere. He is passionate about using sound science and scalable technology to design and create innovative and sophisticated tools that bring a fresh perspective to the selection and talent management field. Annually, the technology tools under Taylor’s direction match several million employees to employers while providing quantified results to board rooms across industries.

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Strategic Workforce Management: If It Was Easy, Everyone Would Do It

The concept of strategic workforce management is everywhere today, but what does it really mean for your organization? Are your systems and processes ready to be strategic? After email, workforce management systems are often the most frequently accessed applications, but not all organizations are using them to their full potential. These systems are uniquely positioned to not only help you deploy your workforce and ensure compliance, but measure performance and improve productivity, agility and efficiency. Join Mollie Lombardi, vice president and principal analyst for Brandon Hall Group's workforce management practice and Ted Frederick, vice president, workforce management at SumTotal as they discuss:

  • The evolution of workforce management– from improving accuracy and compliance to enabling strategic decision-making
  • How to build the right culture and processes around your workforce management solution to ensure strategic impact
  • How to achieve competitive advantage by leveraging workforce data and interactions the workforce management system to foster learning and communication
  • Critical steps you can take today – without changing systems or purchasing technology – to start to get more strategic value out of your workforce management efforts

Topic: Strategic Workforce Management: If It Was Easy, Everyone Would Do It

Date: Thursday, November 20, 2014

Time: 12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. EST

Host: Brandon Hall Group

About the Speaker:

Mollie Lombardi, Vice President of Workforce Management Practice and Principal Analyst at Brandon Hall Group

Formerly Vice President and Principal Analyst for the Human Capital Management research practice at Aberdeen Group, Mollie brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to Brandon Hall Group clients in the workforce management practice area.

About the Learning and Development Center-The Center for Excellence

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At a glance...

The Learning and Development Center (LDC) develops and provides programs designed to empower and enhance employee skills and competencies for improved performance and job satisfaction. Our services also extend to external businesses, organizations, and communities.

Our mission is to build a world-class, responsive and results-oriented workforce by providing the following:

  • Learning that meets critical business goals and needs
  • Lifelong learning opportunities that will prepare employees for life and work in an increasingly technological society

Facility Features

The LDC is a two-story, 54,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility featuring:

  • An auditorium capable of seating 150 with fold-down desktops
  • Instructor computers connected to HD projectors and the Internet
  • 170 available campus parking spaces
  • Break-room area with microwaves and refrigerators
  • Welcoming lobby area
  • Open atrium for al fresco activities

Internal & External Room Rental Request Forms

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What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter

America’s most sought-after executive coach shows how to climb the last few rungs of the ladder.

The corporate world is filled with executives, men and women who have worked hard for years to reach the upper levels of management. They’re intelligent, skilled, and even charismatic. But only a handful of them will ever reach the pinnacle -- and as executive coach Marshall Goldsmith shows in this book, subtle nuances make all the difference. These are small "transactional flaws" performed by one person against another (as simple as not saying thank you enough), which lead to negative perceptions that can hold any executive back. Using Goldsmith’s straightforward, jargon-free advice, it’s amazingly easy behavior to change.

Executives who hire Goldsmith for one-on-one coaching pay $250,000 for the privilege. With this book, his help is available for 1/10,000th of the price.

About the Author

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith has been recognized again as one of the top ten Most-Influential Business Thinkers in the World and the top-ranked executive coach at the 2013 biennial Thinkers50 ceremony in London.

Dr. Goldsmith is the author or editor of 34 books, which have sold over two million copies, been translated into 30 languages and become bestsellers in 12 countries. He has written two New York Times bestsellers, MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – a Wall Street Journal #1 business book and winner of the Harold Longman Award for Business Book of the Year.

Marshall’s global professional acknowledgments include: Harvard Business Review – World’s #1 Leadership Thinker, Institute for Management Studies – Lifetime Achievement Award (one of only two ever awarded), American Management Association - 50 great thinkers and leaders who have influenced the field of management over the past 80 years, BusinessWeek – 50 great leaders in America, Wall Street Journal – top ten executive educators, Forbes – five most-respected executive coaches, Leadership Excellence – top ten thinkers on leadership, Economic Times (India) – top CEO coaches, Harvard Business Review (Poland) – Leadership Thinker of the Decade, CEO Global (Canada) – World’s #1 Leadership Speaker, Economist (UK) – most credible executive advisors in the new era of business, National Academy of Human Resources – Fellow of the Academy (America’s top HR award), World HRD Congress – global leader in HR thinking, Tata Award (India) for Global HR Excellence, Fast Company – America’s preeminent executive coach and Leader to Leader Institute – Leader of the Future Award. His work has been recognized by nearly every professional organization in his field.

You May Not Be In Charge, But You Can Influence the People Who Are

“The great majority of people tend to focus downward. They are occupied with efforts rather than results. They worry over what the organization and their superiors 'owe' them and should do for them. And they are conscious above all of the authority they 'should have.' As a result they render themselves ineffectual."—Peter Drucker

You can make a positive difference, even when you do not have direct line authority.

Here are 11 guidelines that will help you do a better job of influencing decision-makers, whether these decision-makers are immediate or upper managers, peers or cross-organizational colleagues.

  1. Accept the Facts: Every decision that affects our lives will be made by the person who has the power to make that decision, not the "right" person or the "smartest" person or the "best" person. Make peace with this fact. Once we make peace with the fact that the people who have the power to make the decisions always make the decisions and we get over whining that "life isn't fair," we become more effective in influencing others and making a positive difference. We also become happier.

  2. Realize You Must Sell Your Ideas. When presenting ideas to decision-makers, realize that it is your responsibility to sell, not their responsibility to buy. In many ways, influencing ultimate decision-makers is similar to selling products or services to external customers. They don't have to buy—you have to sell. No one is impressed with salespeople who blame their customers for not buying their products. While the importance of taking responsibility may seem obvious in external sales, an amazing number of people in large corporations spend countless hours blaming management for not buying their ideas. A key part of the influence process involves the education of decision-makers. The effective influencer needs to be a good teacher.

  3. Focus on contribution to the larger good—not just the achievement of your objectives. An effective salesperson would never say to a customer, "You need to buy this product, because if you don't, I won't achieve my objectives." Effective salespeople relate to the needs of the buyers, not to their own needs. In the same way, effective influencers relate to the larger needs of the organization, not just to the needs of their unit or team.

  4. Strive to win the big battles. Don't waste your energy and psychological capital on trivial points. Executives' time is very limited. Do a thorough analysis of ideas before challenging the system. Focus on issues that will make a real difference. Be willing to lose on small points. Be especially sensitive to the need to win trivial non-business arguments on things like restaurants, sports teams, or cars. You are paid to do what makes a difference and to win on important issues. You are not paid to win arguments on the relative quality of athletic teams.

  5. Present a realistic "cost-benefit" analysis of your ideas—don't just sell benefits. Every organization has limited resources, time, and energy. The acceptance of your idea may well mean the rejection of another idea that someone else believes is wonderful. Be prepared to have a realistic discussion of the costs of your idea.

  6. "Challenge up" on issues involving ethics or integrity—never remain silent on ethics violations. The best of corporations can be severely damaged by only one violation of corporate integrity. I hope you will never be asked to do anything by the management of your corporation that represents a violation of corporate ethics. If you are, refuse to do it and immediately let upper management know of your concerns. Try to present your case in a manner that is intended to be helpful, not judgmental.

  7. Realize that powerful people also make mistakes. Don't say, "I am amazed that someone at this level…" It is realistic to expect decision-makers to be competent; it is unrealistic to expect them to be anything other than normal humans. Even the best of leaders are human. We all make mistakes. When your managers make mistakes, focus more on helping them than judging them.

  8. Don't be disrespectful. Treat decision-makers with the same courtesy that you would treat customers. While it is important to avoid kissing up to decision-makers, it is just as important to avoid the opposite reaction. Before speaking, it is generally good to ask one question from four perspectives. “Will this comment help 1) our company 2) our customers 3) the person I am talking to, and 4) the person I am talking about?” If the answers are no, no, no, and no, don't say it!

  9. Support the final decision. Don't tell direct reports, "They made me tell you." Assuming that the final decision of the organization is not immoral, illegal, or unethical, go out and try to make it work. Managers who consistently say, "They told me to tell you" to co-workers are seen as messengers, not leaders. Treat decision-makers the same way that you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. If you stab your boss in the back in front of your direct reports, what are you teaching them to do when they disagree with you?

  10. Make a positive difference—don't just try to "win" or "be right." We can easily become more focused on what others are doing wrong than on how we can make things better. An important guideline in influencing up is to always remember your goal: making a positive difference for the organization. Focus on making a difference. The more other people can be "right" or "win" with your idea, the more likely your idea is to be successfully executed.

  11. Focus on the future—let go of the past. One of the most important behaviors to avoid is whining about the past. Have you ever managed someone who incessantly whined about how bad things are? Nobody wins. Successful people love getting ideas aimed at helping them achieve their goals for the future. By focusing on the future, you can concentrate on what can be achieved tomorrow, not what was not achieved yesterday.

In summary, think of the years that you have spent "perfecting your craft." Think of all of the knowledge that you have accumulated. Think about how your knowledge can potentially benefit your organization. How much energy have you invested in acquiring all of this knowledge? How much energy have you invested in learning to present this knowledge to decision-makers so that you can make a real difference? My hope is that by making a small investment in learning to influence decision-makers, you can make a large, positive difference for the future of your organization.

See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for companion video

TIMELINE | The Learning and Development Center Story

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