150 Thank Yous





July 1, 2017 marks Canada’s 150th birthday, and the 20th anniversary of my consulting business. It’s time to celebrate and give thanks.

Thank you to my wonderful family for their unconditional support: Gary, Lise, Alexei, Danielle, Dwayne, Mum and Dad.

Thank you to consulting friends who are also colleagues, clients, and mentors:

  • Barb Burton
  • Belinda Austin
  • Brad Harper
  • Brad Nykyforiak
  • Brenda Spilker
  • Bruce Klatt
  • Catherine Heggerud
  • Dan Delaloye
  • Eric Breitkreutz
  • Gail Aller-Stead
  • Gail Cook Johnson
  • Heather Duggan
  • Heather Rutkowski
  • Jack Middleton
  • Janet Hyde
  • Julia Melnyk
  • Leah Von Hagen
  • Margery Knorr
  • Marjorie MacRae
  • Patty Schachter
  • Robyn Baxter
  • Sam Hester
  • Sandra Anderson
  • Sandy Chipchar
  • Stella Cosby
  • Susan Flaherty
  • Susan Robinson
  • Yvonne Beatty

Thank you to my behind the scenes team who help my business grow and thrive:

  • Michael O’Brien, Chartered Accountant. AT Advisory Services Inc.
  • Randy Goertzen, early web design, http://bluebanana.ca
  • Ian McDonald, Lawyer, retired
  • Harold Sookman, remote technical support extraordinaire, http://simplidata.com
  • Doug McLachlan, current web design and support

Thank you to Dave Mowat, CEO ATB Financial for a long and treasured consulting relationship and to his extraordinary right hand person, Doris Stoikopoulus.

And thank you to all my clients who give me the opportunity to learn and support their success:

From Vinegar to Fine Wine

I love analogies because they require us to express and see our thoughts in a different way. I use the “Vinegar to Fine Wine” tool with groups that are clarifying their mission. The tool was shared with me by a colleague, Bruce Klatt, years ago and I do not know its source.

A clear mission statement describes the purpose, role or “raison d’être” of a group or organization. If well written, the mission clarifies what a group or organization does and, conversely, does not do.

The “Vinegar to Fine Wine” tool can be used after the mission statement is developed to draw out what the group will NOT do (vinegar), will do as a tertiary activity for political or social responsibility reasons (water) or will do on an opportunistic basis (milk).

The results of this dialogue could be visualized as a bullseye with the group’s mission (fine wine) as a large circle at the centre surrounded by a smaller ring of activities which the group would do on an opportunistic basis (milk) surrounded by a third ring of  activities the group might do on an occasional basis for political or social reasons (water).

Much like how projects can lose focus and “creep” beyond their terms of reference, groups can experience “mission creep”. The “Vinegar to Fine Wine” tool can be very helpful in getting a group back on track.


Five Participative Processes to Develop Your Vision

Here are my beliefs with respect to visioning:

  • It is more important to have a vision than a vision statement.
  • A vision is best developed through a series of reflective and generative steps (“a process”) and not by simply discussing, “What should our vision be?”
  • Ultimately it is the leader’s or leadership team’s responsibility to develop the vision.
  • A vision is nothing unless it is shared and lived by everyone in the organization (and potentially suppliers and community members too).
  • The best way to ensure a vision is shared is to engage others in the development.

Given these beliefs, the next question becomes “How do you involve stakeholders in developing a vision?”  The following ideas are drawn from my experience facilitating visioning processes for large and small groups.

To set the stage, I share the definition and purpose of a vision, and provide examples:

  • A richly imagined desired future state
  • Your hopes for what your organization will do, have and be in the future
  • A state that is significantly better than today, but more than a solution to today’s issues
  • A stretch but possible
  • Not prescriptive. There should be many ways to achieve the vision.
  • Visual – you can see and imagine it.
  • Emotionally appealing

Participants add to the discussion sharing their own examples of powerful visions.

Then participants work in small groups to develop a vision. Five processes I have found to be engaging and effective are:

  1. From Me to We

Participants write their individual vision, pair up, share and find common ground. The pairs pair up, share and find common ground. Groups of 4 pair up, share and find common ground. Continue pairing until you have 3 – 5 groups. Each group records the key vision ideas they share on a flipchart. Flipcharts are posted like a gallery. The facilitator helps the large group find the common elements across groups.

  1. A Day in the Life

Using guided imagery, the large group “time travels” to a date in the future. The facilitator asks them to imagine what is different. Participants write ideas on post it notes. In small groups, participants cluster ideas and then write a short story or paragraph, “A Day in the Life of (Organization X) in Year (Y)”. Each group shares its story. The facilitator helps the large group find the common elements across the stories.

  1. Timeline (Past, Present, Future) (inspired by the Future Search process)

The facilitator explains the timeline process where participants build a shared understanding of key events that have shaped the organization from the past, where the organization is today, and the future desired state. The facilitator posts a long timeline on the wall divided by years from the founding of the organization through the present day and extending as far as the group wishes to envision. In small groups, participants write ideas on post it notes and then place the ideas at the appropriate places on the timeline. The facilitator helps the large group identify the key elements in the past, present and future.

  1. SOAR 

SOAR is an appreciative or strengths-based approach to visioning and planning where participants identify current STRENGTHS, external OPPORTUNITIES, ASPIRATIONS (which is visioning), and then RESULTS. Small groups work together on each of these steps. The facilitator helps the large group find the common elements in each step.

  1. Collage

In small groups, participants use magazines and art materials to collectively build pictures and headlines that illustrate the desired future state. Each small group talks about their collage, and everyone listens for key words or phrases used by the presenter or evoked by the images. The facilitator helps the large group identify key phrases that are common across the groups.

All of these processes build from individual ideas, which are then clustered into vision elements, which are the foundation for writing a vision statement.

A visioning session may end when the vision elements have been identified, or with small groups drafting vision statements that honor the vision elements. The leadership team may take away the vision elements and/or draft vision statements and reach consensus on the final vision statement. Some organizations further summarize the vision statement to a motto or tagline, which can be used for marketing and branding purposes.

Participative visioning processes enable participants to see their “fingerprints” in the evolution of the vision statement. Participants are therefore more likely to understand, accept and support the vision. Participative visioning also provides a depth of data and robustness to the vision statement itself. There is no need for any leader to bear the pressure of developing a vision on his or her own.






Quotes for Strategic Planning

I can’t fully explain why I love quotes so much, but I find them invaluable as I facilitate strategic planning sessions. Quotes are succinct and summarize key points in the planning process in ways that add insight, and sometimes humor. I try to remember good quotes so I can spontaneously use them at the right occasion. Here are a few of my favorites:

 Strategic Planning

 “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Dwight Eisenhower

“In the face of uncertainties, planning defines the particular place you want to be and how you intend to get there.” Peter Drucker

“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.” Leonard Bernstein


Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18

“Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.” Jonathan Swift

“When I was growing up I always wanted to be someone. Now I realize I should have been more specific.” Lily Tomlin

Strategic Priorities

“If you have more than 3 priorities then you don’t have any.” Jim Collins


Strategy is not about competing for the present, but competing for the future. It’s about understanding that non-linear change means anticipating & appealing to customer discontinuity.” Vijay Gvindarajan

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” Michael Porter

“A great strategy is born of constraint.” Terry O’Reilly


“A goal should scare you a little, and excite you A LOT.” Joe Vitale

“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” Ken Blanchard

 Action Plans

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” Confucius


 “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”  Winston Churchill

It turns out there is a name for people like me who love quotes – a quodophile!  Happy quote collecting.

Ode to 2016

lionDecember is a great time for, as Jim Clemmer would say, “a checkup from the neck up”. I am grateful to my clients and colleagues for the opportunities to learn together. Some of my greatest learning opportunities this year came from unexpected sources:

  • I was invited by the Refugee Sponsors’ Coalition of Calgary to design and facilitate a workshop where sponsors could share learnings and resources. The planning team and participants opened my eyes to the challenges faced by refugees and sponsoring groups alike in this humanitarian work.
  • I completed a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Igniting Your Everyday Creativity. This was my third MOOC and I am thrilled with this mode of learning. In particular, I am energized by the opportunity to interact with students from around the world, giving and receiving feedback on our thinking and projects. If you have not explored the world of MOOCs, visit Coursera or EdX to see the breadth and quality of free courses available.
  • My husband and I travelled to Namibia for three weeks in November. It was a new experience in so many ways from navigating the country on our own to seeing the impact of drought on people and animals to witnessing a new (1990) democracy. We will be processing our learnings from this trip for a long time.

2017 will be a special year as Canada celebrates its 150th birthday and I celebrate 20 years of consulting.

Thank you for your interest in my business and blog. I wish you all the best and a healthy and happy 2017 for you and your family.

Thinking about Systems Change

Early in my career, I taught and believed change was a linear process. Implicit was the idea that we could plan, organize and control change as well. My views changed as I was exposed to systems and systemic change.

One of my first exposures was reading Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science. For the first time, I saw organizations and communities as living organisms best understood through scientific lenses such as biology, chaos theory and quantum physics. I didn’t (and still don’t) grasp all the concepts, but I understood you cannot “change manage” a system.

I attended a talk by Peter Senge who, to explain systems, said, “When you flush, it goes somewhere.” Now this I could understand, and it made me think about the ripple effects over distance and time that change can create, as well as unintended consequences.

I had the honor of attending a training program in Orlando led by Dr. Deming. Understanding Systems was one of the four pillars of his System of Profound Knowledge. Rather than organizational charts, we used systems maps to understand organizations. I learned a system:
• Consists of inter-related and interacting parts
• Exists in an environment with which it also interacts
• Has a purpose or “aim”
• Is ever changing and needs to managed effectively
• If parts of a system compete or strive for optimal performance on their own, the performance of the whole system suffers and this is called sub-optimization.

Deming’s famous Red Bead Exercise reinforced powerful learnings such as:
• If you pit a good person against a bad system, the system will win every time.
• If you change out the people without changing the system, you will not change the results.

At a practical level, when I work with an organization, I start with a systems lens and the premise that the organization is perfectly operating as a system to get the results it is getting. In other words, the structures, policies, processes and relationships inside and outside the organization are interacting to produce the current organizational outcomes. To improve outcomes, you need to approach change through a systems lens.

How do you do that? These Seven Lessons for Leaders in System Change are helpful:
1. To promote systems change, foster community and cultivate networks.
2. Work at multiple levels of scale.
3. Make space for chaos and self-organization.
4. Seize breakthrough opportunities when they arise.
5. Facilitate – but give up the illusion you can direct – change.
6. Assume that change is going to take time.
7. Be prepared to be surprised.

Systems change is not for the feint of heart.

Do you mean what I mean?

We vacationed in San Jose Del Cabo this winter. One day as we sat by the pool, an older gentleman started talking with my husband. I noticed a lady sitting and watching nearby. I went over and asked, “Is that your husband talking with my husband ?” “No”, she said, “I am his traveling companion”.

Well, that had me stumped. What exactly is a traveling companion, I wondered? We talked about other things but that interaction has haunted me, and made me think about the power of language.

Let me explain. Had she replied “Yes, that is my husband”, I would have immediately “checked off a box” in my mind, saying to myself, “Yes, husband and wife, just like Gary and me”. Instead, her precise and provocative language caused me to think and invited many questions (which I did not ask at the time).

Language has the potential to open up dialogue and at the same time, language can dull the mind. In our busy lives, language can be a form of shorthand, where we hear one word and like a magnet, the word draws all sorts of assumptions and meanings in our mind, which we do not take the time to test. How often have you been in meetings discussing “engagement”, “accountability”, “leadership”, etc. without checking whether everyone shares the same meaning?

Dave Snowden, an expert in social systems complexity, describes how he and his colleagues worked on a body of theory and practice for over two decades and named it “Cynefin” deliberately to ensure this work would not be easily dismissed as a “decision support matrix” or another “theory of change”. But do we have to go so far as to make up new words to prompt dialogue and clarification? I don’t think so.

Language in the workplace can be a minefield of misunderstandings. We can take simple steps to ensure we are aligned:
• Do not assume that you associate the same meaning to words that others do.
• Ask, “Tell me more…” to seek to understand others. And then share your perspective.
• Develop glossaries.

A spirit of inquiry will serve you well.

Why I love volunteering with TELUS

This past week, I volunteered along with 20,000 other people from across Canada for TELUS Days of Giving, themed this year as #TheGivingEffect. What might surprise you is that I resigned from TELUS almost 20 years ago but still feel tremendously proud to be a TELUS Ambassador. What surprises me is how few companies recognize the competitive advantage of maintaining positive relationships with former employees and retirees.

How does TELUS promote such loyalty and commitment? In my case,
• My resignation was handled well, and I always felt welcome to visit and reapply should I change my mind about consulting. Other companies make it clear that you are persona non grata for leaving the organization.
• TELUS makes it extremely easy to volunteer and stay connected through the TEAM TELUS Cares website and TELUS Ambassador newsletter.
• TELUS amplifies the volunteer work I do by annually matching my charitable donations and providing Dollars for Doers, financial donations to charities based on the hours I volunteer.
• TELUS lives up to its promise of “Giving where we live” with strong local chapters of volunteers and TELUS Community Boards, comprised of local leaders who direct TELUS philanthropic funding to meet local needs.
• TELUS makes me feel valued and appreciated at each volunteer event, not only with t-shirts and refreshments, but also warm welcomes and thanks.

TELUS has received many awards for Community Investment and Social Responsibility, which contribute to TELUS’s reputation as one of Canada’s most admired brands. Doing good in the communities where TELUS employees live and work is part of the TELUS culture and its brand promise – The Future is Friendly ®. Doing good in the community is one way TELUS attracts and retains its customers and employees.

Organizations who ignore or alienate former employees and retirees do so at their own peril. Organizations like TELUS are catapulting ahead, powered by the goodwill and volunteer efforts of armies of former and current team members.
group 3 TDOG

Is Your Cup Overflowing?

Are you exploring new ideas and methods? Is your organization trying to change and innovate? Consider this story:

“There was a man who was determined to become enlightened.  After many years of sacrifice and study, he felt ready to visit a very holy man in India.  He journeyed far and long and finally reached the holy man’s home.  The holy man invited him in and offered him a cup of tea after his long journey.  The man held his cup while the holy man poured tea from a pot.  The man was surprised and then shocked when the holy man continued to pour more and more tea, causing the tea to flow out of the cup and over the floor.  The man asked, “Please holy man, why do you keep filling my cup?”  The holy man paused and then said, “You have come to become enlightened but your mind is full.  Like the cup, your mind is so full that my words will just flow over and away from you.  To become enlightened, you must unlearn some of what you believe to be true.  You must empty your mind to allow new ideas in.”

To learn, we must first unlearn, and give up what we know “for sure”. We must have a beginner’s mind, meaning an attitude of openness. As Zen Buddhists would say, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few”. [1]

But this is easier said than done. How can we empty our cup so that new information and insights can take hold? Here are a few ways[2]:

  • Take one step at a time, without trying to pre-determine the outcome.
  • Celebrate failures as well as successes for their gifts of learning.
  • Question all your “should”s.
  • Let go of being “the expert”.
  • Face your fear of failure.
  • Focus on questions, not answers.

Like stripping old paint, letting go of old paradigms and habits makes room for the new. Happy spring-cleaning!

[1] Suzuki, Shunryu. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. p. 21

[2] http://zenhabits.net/how-to-live-life-to-the-max-with-beginners-mind/


Psychological Safety

Many companies begin each meeting with a Safety Share to highlight safety risks in the environment. As a facilitator, I am equally concerned about ensuring the psychological safety of participants. Psychologically safe participants feel accepted and respected, and are willing to take risks.

I have learned not to underestimate the anxiety created in high-risk meetings. Will I be ridiculed or ostracized for my opinions? Will I come across as competent? Will people turn a blind eye to bullying and harassment that has become commonplace under the guise of humor? Will there be retribution later? For these and other reasons, I am committed to creating a psychologically safe environment.

Psychological safety starts with my contact with participants in advance of a facilitated session. In my one-on-one interviews, I ensure people know what they share with me is in confidence. Interviews help me prepare for the group dynamics and I coach each person to raise issues to the degree they feel comfortable.

To create a safe and productive environment at the start of sessions, I propose groundrules or rules of engagement such as:

  • Every person participates. No one person dominates.
  • Focus on the issue, not the person.
  • Respect each other’s views.
  • One person speaks at a time.
  • It’s okay to disagree but not to be disagreeable.
  • Peel the onion – go beyond superficial comments.
  • What’s said in this room, stays in this room (like Vegas).

I set the expectation that we all share responsibility for the quality of the dialogue and results of the session.

I use processes to “discuss the undiscussables” in a safe and respectful way. Depending on the dynamics, I might:

  • Post a summary of the themes I heard in the interviews.
  • Use “eyes closed” voting and then display the results to get the reality in the room visible to all.
  • Use a talking stick to ensure each person has an opportunity to be heard in their own way and at their own pace.
  • Call a pause after an emotional moment to enable people to reflect, recover and recommit.
  • Intervene to balance the power dynamics.

I am mindful of the wellbeing of the group and each individual. I have found the guidelines for the guardian’s role in the Circle Way by PeerSpirit very helpful.

Psychological safety is about driving out fear and enabling all parties to have the discussions they need to have in a productive manner. Work safely, my friends.

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