Use of Self

Just a little reminder of the Principles of Presence, according to the NTL Handbook of OD and Change.



Be Honorable

Align personal assumptions, values, beliefs, behavior

Stand for something; take a position

Dare to be different (or similar)

State the obvious

Speak the unspeakable


Be an Effective Agent of Change 

Be an awareness expert

Facilitate enhanced interaction among members of the client system and with self

Teach basic behavioral skills

Model a methodology for solving problems and for dealing with life in general

Help the client complete work  and achieve closure on unfinished businessCultivate conditions for the client to experiment new behavior


Be Curious

Stay in a space of perpetual wonderment

Show genuine interest in the client

Be interested in self

Explore the nature of relationships between self and client and among individuals in the client system


4 ways to create more civilized workplaces

Every time that I read about mental health at the workplace and the article focuses only in  depression or stress related to the job, I cringe. As a Mexican that has spent 2/3 of her career in the third world, I find that there is an excess of concern regarding depression and stress, and not enough in other malfunctions of teams and people. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada “in any given year, one in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness….Mental health problems related to the workplace include anxiety, depression and burnout.”


I find that we (HR and general population) need to differentiate mental problems. Feeling sad or demotivated is not being depressed, perhaps it may be dysthymia, but not depression. I have seen examples of these mental states and I’m puzzled to see that both are easily labeled as depression. Anxiety is common in this world of incertitude and we can (and should) learn to manage it if we are to survive as society.  I cannot talk about the burnout as it doesn’t seem to exist in Latin America and I have never seen it or experienced it.

For sure some jobs are very stressful, but being really busy, having tight deadlines or having conflicts at work not necessarily makes a job stressful.  Perhaps an employee is not skilled to deal with difficulties, but that doesn’t mean that the person (and the team) cannot learn how to do it.

Some companies have changed their paternalistic views to adapt to modern times, but they continue dis-empowering people by acting as if people are not able to deal with complexity, conflicts or even worse, not able to learn how to do it. But what I find more concerning is that, in general, organizations are just focused on the  effects and not on the causes.

I’ve seen so many power struggles, battles of egos, unhealthy competition among teams and people, and meaningless activities in the workplace, that I wonder when we’ll start addressing these issues that cause on the mental health problems.


Different studies mention that stress ( job insecurity, abusive supervision, excessive demands, etc), social isolation, lack of social support, the encroachment of work on family life, and domestic relationship problems contribute to mental health issues

We need to avoid the stigma of mental health issues, but we cannot pretend they don’t exist. We need to give people the tools needed to cope with stress, if we want to have a successful team/organization.  HR has the responsibility of helping people develop new skills, and one of them is how to work in harmony with the rest of the team.  Some of the ways to create more civilized and harmonic workplaces are:

1. Promote collaboration: Creating a culture of collaboration reduces stress and social isolation. People learn to accept collaboration in their work and lives and become more involved in the organization, family and community.  A person who is involved in any of these groups know that s/he is not alone.

2. Promote organizational values: When people (and especially executives) behave in congruence with the organization’s values, the morale of the team increases. The system regulates people’s behaviors reducing stress. There is a sense of unity to achieve goals, instead of internal competition.

3. Respect personal boundaries: Although people in general (at least in Quebec) respect work-life balance, we can forget easily that we need time to restore our energy. Being all the time available for phone calls, expecting people to change personal plans due to lack of organizational planning, and treating people in a disrespectful way,  increases stress.

4. Have fun: Teams that have fun together deal with stress in a better way.  We (HR) can promote team fun by relaxing the atmosphere in the company a little bit. A fun environment doesn’t have to be unproductive or unprofessional. Accept that happiness and performance are key for the organization’s success.

Some other interventions to improve the morale and engagement of the team are:

Lunch&learns and all-hands meetings are a great time to promote a relaxed atmosphere.

-An appreciative inquire conversation will help to change the way we view things.

Rewards and recognition programs, systems, events.

Meaningful activities in each role.

-Follow the No-Asshole rule.

Do you have more ideas? please, add them in the comments.

Value-based hiring

Several years ago I took some German courses. I remember my teacher saying that a lot of German companies where hiring people with this language skill in Latin America. He said (and after 3 years of German courses, I agree)  that it’s easier to teach people how to perform a job, than to teach them German. This observation comes to my mind often, especially when I meet someone who doesn’t share the company values or doesn’t act in a respectful way. Acquiring skills and knowledge is not that difficult, but finding someone with the right attitude/values is.

The most important function of recruitment is to put the right person in the right role. Finding the right person means taking a look to the whole person, as the predictors of success in a position, the real person-job fit,  include attitude and skills, not only knowledge.


To create a talent pool we need to hire balancing the needs of the present and the ones of the future. Is the person going to be promoted? (I hope so!) What is the career path she might follow?

The person-job fit is not only responsibility of the recruiters, different people are involved in ensuring this match once that the person is promoted.  A person might be promoted at least 3 times, not considering lateral moves.  7 if she doesn’t change companies in her lifetime, which is very unlikely (considering the average tenure in a job as 4 years, according to a recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor).

If your company has an HR planning process, you know that the potential a person has is as important as the fit with the job that was hired to do. This first job may not last even six months, but if we want to guarantee that the investment in time, money and effort the company made is not wasted, we need to make sure that the person has a good fit with the company culture, and that means values. Behaviors can be influenced with the right incentive, but values are very difficult to change.  A group of employees with the right attitude will make any job feasible.  The right attitude in the company will increase morale, improve performance and reduce turnover.


We need to clarify first the company values, as you know, the strategic plans of the company will have a direct impact on the HR plans. The values are one of the most important topics in HR and strategy ever. It’s a foundation of the company that impacts everyone everyday. For sure, they are something more than a poster in the hallway. Doing some research, I found values mentioned just 3 times -yes, you read it right-  in the book: Relever les défis de la gestion des ressources humaines. Not by coincidence, I found 8 references to violence in the same book.

When the employees are not aligned with the company values, the entire company resent it. In order to have a value-based hiring process, that allows us to ensure that the person with the right attitude is coming on board, we need to consider that both the employee and the company might have espoused values and enacted values. Espoused values are the ones that we consciously say we live by, that we’re committed to them, while enacted values are the ones that we really live by and show in our behavior.

Companies, for example, tend to say that they are committed to innovation, teamwork and social responsibility. If we take a closer look, we often notice that they want everyone to invest time and resources only in the most profitable projects, reach their department or individual targets relentlessly and well, just make profits. As for employees, everyone says (and probably believes) that they are really dedicated,  are committed to the company’s goals, and they love to work in teams, and anyone who has more than a year of experience working in a company, knows that it is not always true.



1. Ask relevant questions: Incorporating values, as we said at the beginning, means to understand that the person is whole. This means, that being realistic, you will expect that the future employee will come to the interview with fears, hopes, dreams and ideals. We want to know what the candidate’s enacted values are. Some months ago, I went to an interview where I was asked “How would you describe yourself?”.  A more concrete questions would have been: “How would you describe yourself and WHY?”, or even better,  if we already have a clear idea of the values we’re looking for, using the Behavioral interview would be more useful as it gives concrete examples of behavior that we may see repeated over time.

2. Set priorities. What is the importance of values over skills and knowledge?  That depend of your company and your strategic plan. There are companies that follow the “No Asshole rule”, and if this is your company case, it’s pretty obvious that values/attitude will play a more important role in the hiring process. Hiring based on values doesn’t mean that you will hire weak or “nice” people, but it means that you are aware of the discrepancy of the enacted and espoused values of your company, and you’re betting on developing the talent pool to reach the ideal.  If you’re hiring someone who has jumped from job to job, or seems to be difficult to motivate, well, what you see is what you get.

3. Be congruent: Honesty and openness from the interviewer to acknowledge the struggles or the status of the company is important, too. A motivated candidate that is really interested in the company will probably love the challenge. Of course, there is a need to protect the company regarding sensitive issues, but we cannot pretend that things are not wrong when it’s clear they are. I’ve asked in interviews why they’re looking for an OD specialist (we know that it’s not because everything is going great) and recruiters often deny the reality.

4. Create a value-based process: The recruitment process shows the candidates the values of your company. Recruiters shouldn’t just ignore candidates. Timely responses and follow-ups are a way to show respect.  Application processes should be logical, user-friendly and work well. Messages should be respectful. A couple of months ago I applied to a job that was perfect for me. I never received an answer from the recruiter. Then I saw the job coming through my network and the message from the recruiter said something like: ” We’re not concerned if people are looking or not for a job, the great majority of the people we end up considering are actually not looking”. Ah, there are so many things that we can deduce from this message. Clearly, this was not the right company for me.

Hiring based on values is only the beginning of the process. Values should be present in the day-to-day life of the company. HR, in particular, needs to make sure that the policies, procedures, and systems reflect the company values and help to cultivate talent in the company. There is no other way to build a great company.

How to cultivate a Learning Network

After you finish school your learning opportunities come from three sources: events, reading material, and people. The events that happen to you are pretty much related to the kind of job you have and activities you do. If you work in a company and follow the same routine, it will take a lot of luck to move out of your “comfort zone”, which incidentally is your “learning zone”. If you go out, your learning will follow a pattern that will limit you, as you won’t be exposed to radically new ideas.

Let me explain: if you work, as I did, as a manager of a team, your reading material and experiences will be related to your field and the few topics that interest you. But also, if you are the “expert” in a topic, you might disregard information that you don’t agree with, as we tend to consider ourselves too good to learn from them.   If you still read the newspaper, it will bring you perhaps a little bit more of information, although probably outdated (as we know that with social media we have access to more and more information every second).

I’ll give you an example: ten years ago most of my reading material was on Organizational development, personal development and literature. The chances of reading a good book on, let’s say medicine, were really slim. However, one day I went to a conference where the speaker was Juan Enriquez, and this event opened the door to a whole new world: genomics, technology, science, innovation, etc. During this conference, Enriquez talked about the BRCA test and how this small piece of information should be more important for women than any other thing related to her breasts. Angelina Jolie just brought it to the attention of the general public 10 years later.

The type of books/articles you read, will likely come from the people that you talk to or the events that influence you. So, when we hear Humberto Maturana saying that “the quality of our conversations  determines the quality of our relationships, and the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our work”  all this makes sense. Your learning and your work depends on the reflections you have on the events and conversations that you have.

In 2008 I read that my colleague Abiel Guerra had attended a seminar in Cape Cod with Edgar Schein.  Although I was closer to Cape Cod than him (he’s in Mexico), I hadn’t heard of this institute before.  Attending Schein’s seminar next year changed the way I perceived several things and introduced me to more awesome people, such as my friend Ralf Lippold in Germany. This event had a strong influence too, in the type of projects I designed during my master’s degree, such as a virtual stammtisch on Change, with people from all over the world, as Ralf introduced me to an Austrian guy who is in Brazil, and I invited a couple of friends from Colombia, Chile and Mexico that I met through a World Cafe workshop in Brazil. That broadened my network and their networks, too. changing conversations logo

So, if you want to increase the quality of the conversations you have, you need to be exposed to different experiences, different people, different ways of thinking. The best way to do it is to have a diverse network.  To increase the diversity of your network you can start changing your patterns in the following ways:

-Meet new people: don’t be shy, talk to people, ask questions. You have to show up, engage in situations where you can meet new people who can introduce you to different ways of thinking. Be open to discuss and learn about other people too, and to answer questions about your own ideas.

-Attend professional gatherings from industries that are not related to your field: this will give you the great opportunity of meeting new amazing people, and listen to great ideas.  Also, people love to talk to someone who is genuinely interested.

-Get out of your comfort zone: that’s a given. If you don’t speak the same industry language, you’ll likely ask more questions, be more interested and learn more (as you won’t judge and discard easily a topic).

-Follow people on Twitter: search for keywords that are interesting, check users’ bios and followers. Then, follow more people!

-Suscribe to TED: a lot of my inspiration for my work I got it from a TED talk, if you find other similar resources, let me know. I’ll be happy to share more information.

-Join Goodreads and search for trending books: check out what are your friends and some other people reading, you may find interesting stuff.

-Connect the dots between fields or topics: my friend Ralf is passionate about opera and ballet and loves to see how arts connect with management and productivity, for example. Find the common elements, the things that work in a field and how they can be applied into another field.  There is no limit!

So, in a nutshell, opening up to new opportunities and new people will help you generate new ideas. Some days ago, for example, I went to an HR breakfast, a Sustainability 5@7 and a Growing Community event at the Planetarium, all these events in less than 48 hours.  I cannot begin to say how I feel now, excited and recharged, and now my mind is exploding with new ideas, leads and articles to follow up with, and the best, all of this for free!

Please, share your ideas and let’s see what we can build together.

Organizational Stewardship

stewardshipIn 2006 I attended a reunion of  the Global Stewards of the World Cafe. I had the opportunity to meet amazing people, one of them the caretaker of the land at the Marconi Center where the event was held. Meeting him during the first session helped me to reflect on the differences among Stewardship, Leadership, Ownership, and other concepts that come into play when we think of responsibility. We tend to think that leadership implies stewardship, and ownership implies the others, too, but it’s not quite so. I believe that the three roles are different and absolutely needed to thrive.

Stewardship is to hold something in trust for another. Stewardship requires understanding the big picture, knowing that we are serving a cause larger than our own interest.  With so many scandals that we see daily when companies and cities are looking into their own values, at least to pretend that they care for citizens and communities, we need to really understand Stewardship and promote it within our organizations.

Peter Block says that “Stewardship encompasses concerns of the spirit, but it also must pass the test of the marketplace. It must be practical and economical. It must be low cost and good for customers and communities as well as employees. Our organizations constantly stand on this intersection of spirit, community, and the marketplace.”  We tend to think that Stewardship is for hippies or religious people and it isn’t. It’s part of our daily job if we’re to help organizations to thrive.

The awareness and the need for transparency is increasing, and it is changing the way we distribute the power in organizations. It also implies that the responsibilities we take are not so clearly defined and if they are, that there is nothing wrong with taking a look and lending a hand into another area.

I recall the confusion generated a couple of years ago, when the receptionist in our company quit. She was doing some tasks to support the Accounts Payable/Receivable coordinator who was absent, such as receiving invoices and checks and sending them to the head office to be payed or cashed. The receptionist quit in less than a week, and her manager wasn’t at the office.  I received all her things (keys, cards, taxi slips and other stuff) as I was the only manager present that day (and there is no HR people in Montreal in this company). Then, I started taking care of these tasks that I’m sure people considered menial, but that were really important if we wanted to continue drinking coffee and purified water, and keep our clients happy. To me those reasons were enough. I did it for almost six months.  People were confused and some questioned me why I would do that, and at some point my answer was: Why wouldn’t I do that? If the organization needs your help and you say you’re committed, why not?

Our role in HR is to help people understand that the organizational borders are disappearing, we need to be a reminder that accountability and service is part of any role in the organization. If I want to be part of the success of  an organization, I can no longer say “It’s not my job”, if a certain task needs to be done.

Also, it’s our role to facilitate perspective, transparency and responsibility in all the tasks.  The number of companies that are sharing compensation information, financial reports and all kind of indicators with the employees. Employees are no longer a pair of hands, we/they come with a brain, too, as Nordstrom and Ridderstrale reminded us.

So, how do we enhance the Organizational Stewardship culture?  There is no one-fits-all recipe, as each organization is in a different stage but the key of Stewardship is creating the conditions that allow transparency and involvement within the organization.

Becoming a Sustainable company

I’ve recently attended different events regarding sustainability. It seems to be gaining relevance in these days, when we see more environmental challenges. There are terrible tragedies that make us wonder what will happen with the earth if we continue in this path. But as George Carlin said the Earth is fine, is the people that are f#cked. Every day we see in the news companies that are actively working to improve the situation: we see great advances in science that show a light at the end of the tunnel, but of course, we see that the usual suspects don’t seem to be doing anything relevant. We know that some companies are doing really good efforts and other are just pretending. Becoming sustainable requires operating in a way that helps the environment, which requires not only occasional actions but an entire strategy to drastically change the way we’re  interacting with the environment.

According to an MIT Sloan research on Sustainability, this is a two stage process. The first stage  involves re-framing the company’s identity through leadership commitment and external engagement with organizations that share this concern. The second stage involves codifying the new identity through employee engagement and mechanism of execution.

Of course, the CEO commitment is key, but it has to influence the behavior of employees. It’s not only a good intention that is needed, the culture of the company has to change to allow and promote sustainability in each one of the tasks employees perform. The study says that “engaged employees are emotionally connected to their work and to their workplace. As a result, they tend to be more productive and more willing to engage in discretionary efforts to achieve company goals”.

The corporate culture will have an impact in people’s behavior, but given the fact that Sustainability is an incipient concept (at least in our economical model) MIT recommends to head in a direction, tolerate risk and make adjustments en route, which is very likely against any manager’s expectations.

This is the reason why consultants that are familiar with this kind of transformation are needed, to help the company trust the process and create room for small changes, that will increase the capacity of the organization for transformational change.


So, the first question is: who is involved in this change? Shareholders, CEO, employees?  It’s not the responsibility of the OD department, the Engineering team or a committee that wants to see some changes. It has to come from the top (or get to the point where there is real buy-in from the CEO, otherwise, is only a nice-to-have attribute.  It has to permeate the entire company, through conversation, training, generation of ideas and re-definition of the processes, or it will never work.  As any other change process, is everyone’s responsibility.

If you pay peanuts, you will get monkeys

Computers have done things super easy for a lot of us, but it also brought some disadvantages. When I was younger (it is sad, but I’m now entitled to use this phrase),  I learned to score and review psychometric tests by hand. Of course, I WELCOMED the computer and  software that allowed me to get the results in seconds instead of spending 20 min on each test, but I didn’t regret learning what each item/category/combination meant in the overall result.

However, in these days of self-taught learning, a comment I hear often is: “why do you pay a professional when you can give the opportunity to someone who is beginning his/her career or my friend who also does that (as a hobby, they usually fail to mention)”.  Meaning, I won’t pay a “Communication Specialist” $XXX when I can pay a “Social Media guru” just $X.

We need to remember that you get what you pay for. If you pay peanuts, you will get monkeys.  It’s that simple.


You wouldn’t dare allowing a student to perform a heart transplant surgery. Yes, everyone has to start somewhere, but that’s the reason why Career paths exist. You need to identify if the skill needed is easily acquirable.

One of my friends is working at a hospital in Montreal. She’s really competent and applied to a higher position that she’s definitely qualified for. She’s also an immigrant and although her French is very good, her writing style is different than the people born and raised here. The recruiter asked her to write a sample letter, and despite the letter was beautifully written, well structured, concise and effective, the recruiter didn’t like it because the way she phrased something wasn’t the usual way (that IMHO is an old-fashioned style). Therefore, she was rejected for that position.  The recruiter will probably hire someone who lacks the experience and tact to deal with upset customers, but is able to write letters as beauty as templates.

So, again, there is no substitute for good judgement. If the task that you need to do is:

  • sensitive (such as a  Corporate Culture campaign after a company merge)
  • permanent (e.g. designing your mission and vision posters)
  • impacts a lot of people (such as answering the complains in a hospital)
  • or has an impact in your resources (hiring a Finance Manager, for example), you better invest on it

As one of my mentors say: Do what you want and pay for it.  I’m a big fan of doing things myself, but I always have this question in mind: what are the consequences?

One thing is to design and print my own training course handouts, materials and diplomas, and another one is to negotiate a collective agreement with the union. Unfortunately, in order to know what are the consequences, I need to know what’s at a stake. And that doesn’t happen until you move in the learning circle from unconsciously incompetent to consciously competent.

Does this mean you cannot change careers after 10 years or you cannot enrich your work with some other experiences that are not directly related? Absolutely not. There are amazing stories of people who excelled in two different fields, such as Marie Forleo, or Anthony Robbins. It has to do with passion, preparation, and professionalism. I would bake a cake for my niece’s birthday, I would even bake for my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary, but I wouldn’t bake your wedding cake, although I love baking and I am very good at it. If you are going to pay for it, you deserve the best your money can get you.

As for enriching your work, yes, you might give better advice to businesses in Social Media, for example, if you have developed communication plans, worked in the internet industry and have taken some relevant courses. In that way, you have the real world experience, the structure and the technical knowledge. That’s after all how you get into a field that is still developing, but you have to have someone professional on your team, so you can avoid falling into beginner’s mistakes.

So, at the end of the day, it pays to spend more in a graphic designer who worked for months to learn Image analysis, Color theory, and Form theory, instead of someone who just invested a couple of days learning how to copy and paste in Photoshop.