Busy November

Kenyon & Rey having coffee in the MissionNovember is going to be one heck of a month. I can’t even believe it’s less than a week away till Halloween is over, and the presidential election is over. And before we know it, Christmas and New Years will be upon us and a brand we’ll usher in a brand new 2009. Here’s what’s on my calendar for the next four weeks:

  • Oct 31-Nov 2 – Los Angeles for Cindy’s wedding, hanging out with Billy, USC’s homecoming for a hot second, and visiting Ms. Van Hunnick, hopefully
  • Nov 4-9 – Cancun for Shanif’s wedding. Yup. Cancun!
  • Nov 14-15 – College Tour with BUILD sophomores and juniors. We’re going to St. Mary’s, Cal, UC Davis, and Sac State
  • Nov 26-30 – Vegas for Thanksgiving with the family

If you are in a city near me, give me a call or email to get together. If you’re going down to USC’s homecoming, I’m going to try to make it to the tailgate before the wedding, and I’d love to see you!

And by the way the photo has nothing to do with this post, but I figured I would add it anyway since Kenyon and I had a lovely afternoon in the Mission drinking tea and coffee on Saturday.

Mentoring as a form of activism

The 60’s and 70’s were all about the protests and activism. It’s hard not to think of hippies and  sit-ins at UC Berkeley’s campus when you think of that era.

Our generation has been faced with redefining our own form of activism, and I think we have found it largely by giving back to our communities. It’s a key theme on Michelle Obama’s platform as she makes her case to be the next First Lady of the US. Check out this excerpt from her speech at the Democratic National Convention:

I stand here today at the crosscurrents of that history — knowing that my piece of the American dream is a blessing hard won by those who came before me. All of them driven by the same conviction that drove my dad to get up an hour early each day to painstakingly dress himself for work. The same conviction that drives the men and women I’ve met all across this country:

…The young people across America serving our communities — teaching children, cleaning up neighborhoods, caring for the least among us each and every day.

…All of us driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won’t do — that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be.

…And in my own life, in my own small way, I’ve tried to give back to this country that has given me so much. That’s why I left a job at a law firm for a career in public service, working to empower young people to volunteer in their communities. Because I believe that each of us — no matter what our age or background or walk of life — each of us has something to contribute to the life of this nation.

More and more people in this day and age are giving back to their communities much like the Obamas did and have been doing. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Michelle Obama was a Public Ally, which is an Americorps program that trains young up and coming leaders to lead and serve in the public sector with a year of service at a nonprofit organization along with professional development. BUILD has been working with Public Allies for years, and I’ve had the immense privilege to be working alongside amazing allies like Elizabeth, Quynh, Alison and Naomi.

But I think a trend that continues to rise among young professionals is that they want to do well and do good, and mentoring programs continue to be a popular option for people to give back without giving up their corporate jobs. This is the very reason why BUILD’s mentor program is such a success. Not only do our students get exposure to talented professionals, but our volunteers, in turn, also get their horizons expanded by working with our enthusiastic students. I’m not going to lie and say it isn’t a challenge, but seeing mentors really connect with their students is worth that challenge. It changes everyone’s lives; students benefit, and the mentors personally develop as well.

If you don’t already mentor youth, I encourage you to get out there and start affecting the lives of youth. If you’re interested in mentoring our youth at BUILD, check out our website. The BUILD mentor program is a school-year-long commitment from October-May, and our mentors work with our Oakland and Peninsula students in a variety of capacities: helping them write a business plan, guiding them through the business start-up process, and supporting them as they apply to colleges. Apply to be a mentor today as spots fill up fast!

Like Michelle said, “Each of us has something to contribute to the life of this nation.” By raising up and educating our youth, we take one small step to advance our country.

Honoring our Tribal “Elders”

I’ve been thinking about culture incessantly as I have been getting situated in my new role as the site director at the BUILD Peninsula site.

The timing could not have been more appropriate. Over the last three years I’ve spent my summers designing and executing summer business boot camps for our sophomores and juniors with the goal of inculcating them to what I called the “Incubator culture.” Now as the site director, I have the distinct opportunity to extend that inculcation to my staff, so that our entire site–students, paid staff, volunteer mentors, and visitors–can tangibly feel our culture when they walk through our front door.

On a very basic level, the culture of our site mirrors that of a tribe. Yes, I’m talking about “tribe” as in a group of people who share a common ancestry, or a clan forming a close-knit community under a defined leader, chief, or ruling council. When you hear “tribe,” visions of Native Americans traveling together in a banded group under a chief leader probably come to mind. Well, if you think about it, this is where humanity stems from. Humans (homo sapiens) have been around for 250,000 years, and our species only really began to flourish when early humans learned to band together in tribes for survival. Embedded deep in our ancestral roots, we all come from tribes, and, in contrast, the notion of the “modern civilization” has only been around for the last couple of millenia.

As humans entered the era of modernity after the industrial revolution, and more and more people populated large urban areas, tribal elements became an antiquated idea of the past. But did they disappear? I think they were just translated into modern versions of what we call organizational culture. The four basic elements of this culture are simply rules, rewards, routines, and rituals. These four R’s can be found scattered all over the place in our homes, at our schools, our corporations, places of worship, and even our media.

At today’s E2 Boot Camp, we practiced a ritual, which we had never done before, and it all started with a hunch. Tribes honor their wise elders and ancestors–think back to Native Americans and their beliefs in ancestral spirits and the leadership of their chieftans. In modern translation, corporations do the same exact thing. Instead of invoking ancestral spirits, founders and corporate leaders (presidents, CEO’s) act as the organization’s wise elders and ancestors. Have you wondered why you can usually find a picture of their revered founder smack dab in the middle of a corporate lobby?

In translation to our youth-serving organization, there’s a lot of value for our students to have that same tribal sense of leadership and respect for their elders. At BUILD today, our “elder” is our young Founder and CEO Suzanne. She stopped by our Boot Camp to formally welcome our students into our Incubator program and to answer their questions about our organization’s future. What Suzanne didn’t know was that the students had planned to honor her for all of her hard work, and you can watch a snippet of our “ritual” in the youtube video below or at this link.

In fact the entire four-day Business Boot Camp for our sophomores is one big ritual to prepare them for the rigor and routines during the school year. And hopefully the addition of this new ritual of honoring our leaders can become a staple in our culture.

What rituals do your organizations perform, practice, or celebrate?

And as for the rest of the “R’s,” I’ll keep the conversation going on as culture seems to be the hot topic right now. Stay tuned.

12: The Elements of Great Managing

This summer I’m transitioning into the site director role at BUILD after three years of proudly serving as the incubator manager. Yes, I’ve known for a while, and we have been making announcements here and there in the BUILD community (during our after-school incubator sessions and a big announcement during the Business Plan Competition back in May), and I suppose now is as good of a time as any to make a general announcement about it. Indeed it is a promotion, and one that I am extremely excited about because not only will it be a huge opportunity of personal growth and professional development, but I get to do it in an organization I love, with a team a really care about, and with a mission that I value.

After speaking with our management consultant, Linda, I realize that one of my biggest hurdles will be shifting from the role of individual contributor to that of a manager / leader. Coincidentally, tomorrow is my final year-end performance review in my role as the incubator manager, and it is so neat to reflect back on my value-add as an individual contributor. I will never forget the trials and tribulations of creating and implementing my first Business Boot Camp (and only now am I truly seeing it objectively… yes, after two years, thanks to Karla‘s Results-Process-Relationships triangle), the collaboration with Randy and Adriana on “The Bridge” (one of my proudest accomplishments), and the painstaking task of creating an expansion manual for my programs (don’t get me wrong, I love creating processes, but somehow I really just love to keep them in my head, so this was a good project). Through it all, I’ve been stretched, stripped, and developed, but now it’s time to move on. Just like our students move from one phase of our programs to another, so too will I move, and entrust our excellent site program assistant, Amber, to innovate and improve the program in my place as the new incubator manager.

Oh, and I also wanted to add a book to my booklist, and it is somewhat related to my transition into my new management role: 12: The Elements of Great Managing.

by Rodd Wagner & James K. Harter, Ph.D.

The book shows the importance of employee engagement through several real-life business accounts (a la any other business-y book out there), and argues that you can manage people successfully if you implement these twelve essential elements:

  1. Knowing what’s expected
  2. Materials and equipment
  3. The opportunity to do what I do best
  4. Recognition and praise
  5. Someone at work cares about me as a person
  6. Someone at work encourages my development
  7. My opinion seems to count
  8. A connection with the mission of the company
  9. Coworkers committed to doing quality work
  10. A best friend at work
  11. Talking about progress
  12. Opportunities to learn and grow

Some of them are kind of, duh, obvious, like “materials and equipment” (who doesn’t need a computer, desk and chair these days?), but I thought some of the more interesting chapters were regarding the “best friend at work.”

Something about a deep sense of affiliation with the people in an employee’s team drives him to do positive things for the business he otherwise would not do. Early research that identified the 12 Elements revealed a very different social bond among employees in top performing teams. Sebsequent large-scale, multi-company analyses confirmed the 10th Element is a scientifically salient ingredient in obtaining a number of business-relevant outcomes, including profitability, safety, inventory, and — most notably — the emotional connection and loyalty of customers to the organization serving them. (page 140)

In short, friends watch each others’ backs. And having that culture is invaluable because not only is it good for individual and team morale, but your constituents (or customers) can feel and see it as well… And with the staff modeling it, they will then start to mimic it — e.g. If you are friends with your coworkers and show it at your youth-serving organization, your students will probably be more friendly with each other. Sounds easy enough, huh?

Maybe my first order of business as the site director with my team will be some forced bonding time. 😉

Read on for more quotes from the book:

Continue reading 12: The Elements of Great Managing

Upcoming: Elaborate tour of the South and East Coast

I’m really looking forward to a crazy, fun, and travel-filled summer filled with multiple trips to the South, a quick visit to NYC, and a full-circle trip to USC to facilitate a workshop with Karla at our alma mater. I signed up for this new Twitter-like social-networking site called Dopplr, which touts itself as an online tool for frequent travelers. Anyway, if you’re on it, add me, and I’ll see about posting my Dopplr badge on my website (I’ve added the application to my Facebook already, but we’ll see how long it stays on there). It’s a good way to keep track of where I am at any given moment, and to see if there are any locational overlaps between you and your friends (Oh, you’re going to New York then, too? Let’s meet up at Hiro on Sunday!).

Till then, you can see what I’ll be doing / going in the next few months in the table below:

EOY Beach Party with Incubator students in Santa Cruz, CA
June 9
Going to the beach with 50 students… for work! I love this job.
BUILD E2 Orientation
June 10
At the office
Karla in SF
June 11
BUILD Mentor Appreciation Night
June 12
At the office
BUILD Staff Strategy Retreat at the Headlands Institute in Sausalito
June 23 to 25
College Summit workshop at USC, Los Angeles, CA June 25 to 30 Facilitating a College Summit workshop at USC with Karla.

I’ll have a free night on Sunday, June 29!

College Summit workshop at UNC-Asheville, Asheville, NC July 2 to 6 Facilitating another College Summit workshop at UNC Asheville with Zenia. Never been to North Carolina, but have heard that it’s beautiful.
Quick Vacation in New York, NY  July 6 to 11 Visiting Tony in New York. Finally a vacation!
International GALA Chorus Festival in Miami, FL July 11 to 20 Performing with SFGMC and lounging at the beach, I assume. Bring on the sun!
Back to SF July 20
Back to the city after 3.5 weeks of jetsetting.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank College Summit, and particularly Oudete, for rocking out and allowing me the immense privilege and opportunity to be a Rap Director at USC and UNC Asheville. I can’t wait!

An Invitation to Two Spring Events!

Dear Friends,
Hi, how are you? Oh, you’re doing well? That’s great. 😉 Me? Oh, busy as usual. You know, work, singing, traveling, eating, etc. Thanks for asking. Oh, you haven’t seen me in a while? Yea, I know. Apologies! May’s going to be a really event-packed month for me, too, so we’ll just have to play it by ear. I want to see you though!

On that note, I wanted to invite you to 2 of my bigger events this month:

Continue reading An Invitation to Two Spring Events!

Diversity = Productivity

Karla and I have been racking our brains trying to figure out why the social sector is home to some of the least diversely populated organizations, and, subsequently, what can we do about it? So we have been doing our research to first find out how diversity improves the workforce (in business, government and the social sector), if it does at all. Surprisingly, we have not found a lot of empirical evidence that diversity actually improves organizations. In fact, a semi-recent study by famed researcher Robert Putnam (check out Financial Times article here) shows that diversity negatively affects civic life (not quite correlated with work life, but it’s still a blow to diversity advocates).

From the Financial Times:

His research shows that the more diverse a community is, the less likely its inhabitants are to trust anyone – from their next-door neighbour to the mayor.

However, another researcher, Scott E. Page, has found a positive correlation with diversity and productivity in the workplace and chronicled it in his recent book, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. Here’s a snippet of a conversation with the auther from an article in the New York Times:

An edited version of the interview and a subsequent phone conversation follow:

Q. In your book you posit that organizations made up of different types of people are more productive than homogenous ones. Why do you say that?

A. Because diverse groups of people bring to organizations more and different ways of seeing a problem and, thus, faster/better ways of solving it.

People from different backgrounds have varying ways of looking at problems, what I call “tools.� The sum of these tools is far more powerful in organizations with diversity than in ones where everyone has gone to the same schools, been trained in the same mold and thinks in almost identical ways.

This is exciting news for the diversity front! Now how can we translate that into the non-profit sector, which is mired with inefficiencies and challenges in the the talent acquisition, management and retention departments…?

The Eye of the Storm

Thursday night at BUILD’s Youth Business Incubator felt like a little snapshot of life at our little growing operation. It felt all at once like a blur. Like it could have all passed by if you shut your eyes for a moment. It went by fast, like a cyclone, and I still can’t believe that we managed to pull it all off. The following insane things were going on in one evening:

I was facilitating the first session of The Bridge, which is the program that I created in collaboration with a few other colleagues about a year ago. The aim of The Bridge is to connect concepts in both business and academics so that our students can create a toolkit of resources in preparation for and to take ownership of the college application process. Basically, they are taking the entrepreneurial lessons learned from running their businesses and transferring that knowledge to their personal lives. In my honest opinion, it is the most important work that I’ve created in my time at BUILD and think it will impact a lot of our students’ lives. The first session is quite possibly the most pivotal session because I facilitate a discussion that sets the tone for the entire 12 weeks of the program. It was important to have all students in attendance and attentive.

So here I was with my dozen or so juniors in the common room. Our semi-circle formation of chairs was facing the windows so as to minimize as much of the foot traffic that usually runs across the common room area. I knew that the evening would be full of distractions, but I really did not anticipate that there would be so many. Continue reading The Eye of the Storm

Epiphanies are slow and gradual, not big bangs

Almost a year ago today, I thought of writing  a post with this title because I was driving to work with Karla and had an epiphany. It wasn’t a big huge crazy epiphany.

It was more like a puzzle all falling into place, and all of the pieces were gathered throughout time.

Anyway, the epiphany was that I wanted to teach at the university level. OK, so that unto itself is not a very concrete epiphany, but I like it the way it is. It’s flexible, and I am sure I can make it work.