June  2000
Volume VI  Number 2                                             jimborland@att.net

“I took the road less chosen, and that has made all the difference”


Continuing with our theme for this year of “choice,” I have been pondering the whole issue of level of choice. The impact of choices occurs on a great many levels.  One of my coaching clients recently had a son, and he remarked that choosing a child’s name is a major challenge.  “He’s going to be stuck with it for a lifetime,” George said, “and he’ll blame me if he doesn’t like it.”


Yes, there are choices we make without being consciously aware, such as  how hot the shower should be, which of three cereals to have for breakfast, which parking space to take -- you get the idea. Choice can be a method of control, or it can be seen as such by others ( e.g. why are you taking the Merritt when I-95 is faster?).  It can be a relief to have choice taken away or frightening (I find it a relief when I fly to leave the choices to the crew, but, many people are terrified of flying.)


We, at G&S, recently attended an excellent one-day review of consultative selling by Eric Baron.  Eric focused on the basic choice we have in communication -- to speak or to listen.  His comments made me think about how hard it is to really listen.  We listen only until we have an actionable thought, when we should, in Eric's terms, make a note, and then resume listening.  So much of what goes on is non-verbal, and we retain so little of the verbal, that, on some level, it is amazing we do as well as we do.


This choice of what to communicate was brought home to me when I read the NYTimes account of President Clinton’s address to Carlton College graduation, summarized in two paragraphs of description with two short quotes.  The President, the report said, “started by expressing regrets of learning Syrian President Assad had died and sympathy to the people of Syria.” Now, it happens I saw the President on CNN, and what he said was clearly “the people of Isre…I mean Syria,”learly a misstatement which could have had considerable repercussions.


It reminded me also of hearing BIll Cosby deliver the commencement address to my son’s graduation class at Tufts. When I mentioned that he had given the address, many people asked me “What did he say?”  None expected me to literally tell them but wanted me to choose a funny Cosby-ism.  Actually, while he did get off a few good lines (e.g. after 16 years of praying with his grandfather, Cosby finally told him he couldn’t understand a word the old man said. “That’s OK,” Grandpa replied, ”I wasn’t talking to you.”) Cosby’s main serious note was that there would be difficult choices in life, and he urged the graduates not to be afraid to make these choices. 


In consulting with our clients, whether it’s a choice of multiple job offers, defining an individual or team goal, or planning for acquisitions or divestitures, one aspect we bring to the choice is respect and support for the need for courage in the choice process.


Important choices should be part of an orderly, analytical and well-communicated process. Finally, communicating choices needs to be considered in relation to their significance. When related to a business setting, such as accepting a job or instituting a training program, the wider audience for the decision and the individual to whom the choice is communicated are both important.

Tough Choices


As organization development consultants, we often are asked to provide solutions for problems which are defined as nouns -- “morale”, “low  rofits”, “poor teamwork” or “high turnover”.   Communicating with the Human Resources officers and line managers they support is a big part of developing effective and timely interventions. Recently one senior human resource development manager at a large financial conglomerate remarked that he was often at a loss, when faced with the choice to intervene in an individual way, as with executive coaching,  or to develop a more systemic approach, such as a departmental development or teamwork program. 


My G&S colleagues and I often  consult around the choice process, with a focus on the business cause for intervention, and we try to develop with our  clients a choice scenario. Many times,  the option chosen involves an off-site formal program (such as the Harvard Executive Development Program)  or a technology-based solution. Our overall consulting position is to be your partner over time to create increased value.


For our financial services client, the choice was to focus on  significant,  individual contributors with specific developmental needs by establishing a one-on-one executive coaching program. It was based  on senior managers’ desire to deliver a human resources-based message  that they care about and will develop their people. Building individual success will seed an organization with positive examples of change and allow for their development. 


Choices in Target and Time


Two of the ways clients in career transition exercise choice is in targeting and use of time. We target a job when we define geography (where do you want to work?), function (what do you want to do?), and industry (who do you want to do it for?) 

The second choice is how much time a client devotes to the process. At  G&S, that is very much an individual executive’s choice.  We will help set the expectation of time it takes for most, but, if a client’s choice is, as one of my banking client’s was, to take the summer off to enjoy her  young children, so be it.  We’ll look next time at other choices in Career Transition.




Books I’d Recommend


Who Moved my Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D., Putnam, 1998, $19.95.


This NYTimes bestseller is required reading in the G&S Rochester office, and they have recommended it to the rest of the firm.  It is about a half-hour parable on the difficulty we have with change. My only reservation is that the price per page is high.


The author, who co-wrote The One Minute Manager with Ken Blanchard, compares the reaction of two mice to having their cheese moved with that of Hem and Haw, two little people.  The mice, without the higher intellectual and emotional functions of people just go hunt the cheese.  But the choice to move in search of a new cheese (Brie, cheddar, camembert --yes, folks, the authors name names!) comes harder to Haw, and Hem is unable to make the choice to change.


There is an introduction by Blanchard, and a putative discussion with imaginary friends of the deeper meaning in the story.  This expands the 52 pages, many with big printed graphics, to a total of 95. 


Johnson’s comment on choice:


“Haw hadn’t found cheese yet, but as he ran through the maze, he thought about what he had already learned.


“Haw now realized that his new beliefs were encouraging new behaviors… He knew when you change what you believe, you change what you do.  It all depends on what you choose to believe .He wrote on the wall --WHEN YOU SEE THAT YOU CAN FIND AND ENJOY NEW CHEESE, YOU CHANGE COURSE.”