management parenting Uncategorized

Fear of something something

A few months ago I had the sudden insight that no one ever gets a break. And I don’t mean that we don’t get a break from work or from parenting or from doing things, it’s that we literally don’t get a break in consciousness. We get no rest from time moving on and from things happening. Yes, sleep, kind of, because we don’t have to be aware and participating while we’re asleep. But not really, because the whole point of a break would be that we could know that things were happening for other people but we were free entirely of obligations even to have thoughts and ideas. Like, we’d exist but not in relation to anything else.

Does that make sense? I never took a philosophy class in undergrad, so maybe this is a thought from the third week of a 101 class, but: Things Are Always Happening and we’re always conscious and we can’t just take fifteen minutes or a couple of hours of doing nothing to catch up.

I know I’m not the only one who’s totally ground to a halt this week. I spent Monday and Tuesday doing exactly nothing but reading romance novels and ignoring everything that was supposed to happen in my life. So now it’s stacked up and I’m behind and trying to catch up.

I’m also in pain. Every part of my body just hurts, very weirdly. Do I have covid, is it some other virus, am I doing or eating something that makes me feel like this, is it bone cancer, is it somehow related to the sun coming up the latest in the day that it will for the year this week, is this just this week’s iteration of perimenopause?

And everyone I’m talking to is having problems making decisions and moving through everyday activities. And when we do make a decision, we’re thwarted somehow despite someone else’s intentions. The only good decisions we’re making that are working out are in Wordle. (#201 3/6) It’s not depression, in which you feel numb and disconnected. I think it’s trauma, in which it just feels like you’re very in your body but very not in your body at the same time. Alert, but confused. Loving, but stuck. Like a pint of delicious ice cream that’s too cold to eat and you try anyway and bend the spoon.

Parents of kids in school are flashing back to last year and feeling trapped and wondering what to do. But the kicker is that parents can do whatever is available to us–keep sending kids in person, keep your kids home, go online, quit and homeschool, whatever choices you have–and that has no effect on the school or district or state or country. The decisions about how the rest of this year will go for your kids were already made in April 2020 when your governor did or didn’t shut down bars and restaurants and then did or didn’t open them back up again later. Your superintendent and principal can makes things worse, but they can’t make it better for any of us or our kids or the teachers or themselves. Six or 18 months from now there may or may not be an even minimally-functioning system to go back to. Where your child is tomorrow at 10 am and what they’re doing and how that affects where you are and what you’ll be doing then and your process at arriving at that decision affects you immediately but not for the long term, and it barely effects anyone else at all, even for a few minutes.

This pandemic has been an enormous game of Prisoner’s Dilemma. I used to like Prisoner’s Dilemma. Game theory is one of my favorite things in the world, and the simplicity of PD is beautiful. But I just can’t think through it. Not this week.

All work and no play.

I can see the end of this, and I think you can, too. It’s not that we don’t know how to get out of this. The answer to that is simple: just keep breathing. It’s just…exhausting. Relentless. Alarmist. Whatever the opposite of FOMO is, that’s what we have.

I have no suggestions to alleviate this. I’m only writing about it to observe and document it. There’s value in being a witness. I also want you to know that you’re not alone right now. Wether you’re feeling the things I’m writing about or not. Whether this feels like sand or or like frozen gravel or like the burn in your throat from too-hot tea.

So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat.*

It’s ok. You’re ok. Hug your child. Smell their hair. Tell them you love them. Ten years from now you will still remember how scared you are for your child right now.

Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.*

You are an animal that is built for periods of movement and periods of inactivity. The world can’t provide all the inactivity that would help right now. You are still built for the world, always and right now.

It’s ok. You’re ok.



* From “Relax” by Ellen Bass

management parenting Uncategorized

We’re falling apart

This is cross-posted on my problem-solving Substack and my parenting blog, because it’s about solving a big problem parents are having right now and this coming weekend and which affect almost everyone in the entire country.

Why does this affect everyone? Because everyone works with or for parents, so if parents are all stressed and precarious, everyone and everything is stressed and precarious. (Hint: Parents are already stressed and precarious therefore everything is stressed and precarious therefore parents are stressed and precarious, etc.)

The problem is that our entire process for raising children in the U.S. is invested in having children in school full-time 180 days a year from the time they’re 5 years old until they become legal adults, and now the schools have fallen apart and we have no replacement system.

This isn’t exactly a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to schools for the last 20-30 years. But covid has turned all the cracks in the system into huge gaps, and the duct tape of parent volunteers, fetishizing of technology, and arguments about curricula just aren’t enough to hold things together anymore.

Here in Michigan, my high schooler didn’t have school today because his district was overwhelmed by copycat threats and rumors of threats echoing from the Oxford shooting 90 minutes away. Most of the schools in the area were closed, except for a few that were able to go virtual at the drop of a hat. But between the staff shortages, covid infections, and weakened community because of arguments about covid protocols, the district just couldn’t get on top of the threats in a way that made anyone feel safe.

We aren’t the only district or the only state. Districts and schools all across the country have been limping along with staff shortages, skyrocketing covid transmission rates, and teachers, kids, and parents with PTSD from the last 20 months. Every parent I know is just waiting for the robocall that their kid’s school is going virtual for the rest of the year. Half the parents I know have had a kid out of school this semester for possible covid exposure or a school closed for staffing shortages.

This just doesn’t work anymore.

And the real truth is that school hasn’t worked for a lot of kids and a lot of families for decades. But it worked just enough for just enough kids and families for us to put all our society’s eggs in that one basket. Those of us who had been hurt by school were expected to parent our own kids effortlessly through going to the same schools hurting them in the same ways we’d been hurt, but with higher stakes and fewer resources and community supports.

Lack of funding, No Child Left Behind, the DeVos family, artificially low wages, racism, the school to prison pipeline, and general lack of respect for teachers and teaching have eroded the stability of schools at the same time that the stability of parents was being eroded by the same stuff. (And teachers, who are often parents themselves, were double victims of all of this.)

I’ve got theories about how to get out of this tailspin, but my real focus is on helping parents figure out what to do now to help themselves and their kids, and other parents and kids. I’ve got a couple of suggestions.

1. Strengthen community. Reach out to other parents you know, at your kids’ school or other schools or homeschoolers. If you’ve been mostly making friends online because you haven’t been seeing people in person lately, start creating friendships or at least alliances with local parents online. You don’t have to solve things with each other. Just get to know each other, talk about things that matter, support each other, and care about each other’s kids.

2. Tap into teachers. Part of the separation of schools from the communities they’re in has been the gatekeeping of teachers by administration and unions, so parents are put at odds with teachers and teachers experience a really dysfunctional sample bias of only being contacted by the parents with extreme emotions and opinions. Talk to your kids’ teachers and let them know that you support them personally, not just as part of the system, and that you support their relationship with your kid, and that you support them individually and as part of this parent community you’re generating.

3. Reevaluate. I mean hard core. Step back and look at your life and what kind of life your kids could be living vs what’s happening right now. Gen X (plus younger Boomer and older Millennial) parents have been manipulated and guilted and gaslighted into forcing our kids to conform to the system as much as possible so that they won’t fail. But the system is so broken that conforming to it might be more traumatizing than failure is. Step back and inspect your entire life and what you want your kids to know about themselves by the time they go off on their own. Let yourself think about what would happen if your kid failed or “failed.” Maybe this full-scale reevaluation will lead to changing things. Maybe it won’t. But just the act of reevaluating will give you a little more space and that will make your interactions with the system less high stakes on a daily basis.

4. Give everyone in your life more leeway. At work, at the grocery store, with clients, with employees, with your boss, online, in traffic. Culture, society, and the economy are all squeezing all of us all the time. Make your body big to take up space to buffer that squeeze, and then give some of that space to other people to give them a little ease.

5. Get political. Not a single thing will get better until we fix the minimum wage and how we deliver healthcare, at the very least.

I always sign off my posts with some version of “You can do it,” and yes, you can do these five things I’ve outlined. I can, so you can. But it’s also really normal to feel so overwhelmed by this (especially in the dark and cold of December, especially under the weight of the timeline of the murders in Oxford) that you need a minute to just breathe and get a little more stable before you start. Take the time you need to get your legs under you again. You are smart, strong, clever, worthy problem solver, but we’re all soft mammals, too.



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management parenting

Winter Checklist Challenge registration is open!

Registration is open! Click here to sign up.

Winter is getting closer and closer, and you know you will feel worse and worse soon. The coldness, the change in light, the early darkness. It all feels like it’s crushing you.

I used to be crushed by winter every year, too. And then a few years ago I started doing things I knew would eventually make me feel better, every day, and I started refining a checklist of actions that would help. For the last two winters I’ve done my checklist every day and have felt clear-headed and peaceful all winter instead of numb and agitated. The checklist is a combo of things I ingest, move, and do every day, and it takes me about 70 minutes spread out over the course of the day to do mine. (I’d rather spend 70 minutes doing this stuff than 70 minutes feeling bad.)

So this year I’m opening up my checklist as a challenge that will run November 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021. Everyone who makes it all the way to the end with 10 or fewer missed days will get a pin and the satisfaction of having done something kind and gentle for yourself.

There is no guarantee that doing this challenge will improve or stabilize your mood, but that’s impossible given the political climate and the fact that it’s 2020 anyway. What I can guarantee is that if you stick with the challenge and keep going even when you miss a day or two, you will know you are giving yourself the care and sweetness that you deserve.

I thought hard about what to price this challenge at. It needed to be enough that you wouldn’t drop out after the first week, or if you missed a day. I think the value of the challenge is a dollar a day, or $151 for the whole November to March stretch. But that prices it out of reach for some people, so I cut that in half and am charging $75.

So: If paying $75 will keep you in, choose the $75 pricing option. If paying $151 is more likely to keep you going (or you want to pay by value), choose the $151 pricing option. It’sthe same challenge, whichever oe you choose.

When you sign up, you’ll get an email (probably into your Promotions folder) with the following:

1. A pdf with all the instructions for creating your wn checklist or following mine exactly (but with your own friends and family, obvs).

2. A spreadsheet you download and modify that is your actual checklist that you keep rack of every day.

3. A link to the big spreadsheet of everyone doing this, where you check every day when you finish your checklist.

4. A link to join the Discord server to talk about the challenge with other people doing it. This is optional. Discord is a simple, non-commercial messaging site/app used by gamers that I’m using for this because it’s so simple and there are no ads or selling our info. If you have access to a teenager, they’ll get you on it.

5. Instructions for how to get a daily email reminder to do the checklist if you want on. I am NOT sending out daily email reminders for this unless you ask to get one.

If you want to join but don’t want to pay through Shopify, Cashapp me to $Pecsenye or Venmo me to @MagdaMedia and make sure you put your email address in the memo line.

Yay! I’m glad you’re interested in the challenge! The sooner you sign up, the sooner you can start assembling everything you’ll need to do your checklist.

Click through to sign up.




Get Ready For The Work Team Dumpster of Fall 2020

Managers, this is going to be bad, and you’re the only ones who can help even a little

Heads up: If you’re a manager, you manage managers, or you’re managed by a manager, you’re about to go through a buzz-saw this fall that could land your team straight in the dumpster.

Some time between last Monday and the Monday four weeks from now, the children of your team members are going back to school. In previous years that would have meant not scheduling meetings for back-to-school day, knowing that parents might have a weird schedule so they’d just catch up later in the day or week. This year, the first day of school is the first day of the apocalypse.

There are a few situations you can find your team members in:

Their kids are going back to school full-time “just like usual.” This sounds great, but within a month the virus transmission rate will be out of control and those kids will be home all day quarantining or sick, and will then do the rest of the school year remotely.

Their kids will be doing school remotely online. For kids older than 12, your team members won’t have to be with them constantly, but will still have to check to make sure they’re attending class. For kids younger than 12, your team member is going to have to facilitate a lot of the online school every day.

Their kids will be doing some truly cockamamie hybrid model involving being in school a few days a week and online learning the other days, which is going to be the worst of each of the two previous cases.

They’ll be homeschooling their kids without having an external organization delivering classes to the kids. In the Beforetimes, homeschooling while working full-time was a preposterous idea, but of all the Fall 2020 situations it’s actually the least bad for your team member and for you because of the combo of time required and flexibility.

You can see how this is all going to be impossible. And I’ve seen way too much out there about how this isn’t the fault/responsibility of employers to even acknowledge, let alone fix. But that’s both incorrect and stupid, because anyone who’s ever gotten into a fight with a toddler knows that the toddler always wins. Either right then or fifteen years later. If you, the manager, put your team members in the position of choosing the job or their kids, they can only choose their kids. (And even if they can make it look like they’re choosing the job, they’re done with you and will walk away the first chance they get. There’s a reason so many women leave jobs 1-2 years after coming back from maternity leave, but that’s a topic for a different piece.)

The best response is to pull as many unnecessary stressors off your team members as possible, so that they can pour everything they have left after dealing with the kid school stuff into doing their jobs well. That includes making it absolutely clear that kids and school are just givens to be worked around, the same as your organization and team works around laws and policies and certifications and everything else for the public good. The alternative is that your team members are so stressed out with too many responsibilities and with trying to apologize for their kids that they really can’t focus on their work at all and everyone loses.

PSA: Managers who are already certified in the Tilmor Process for managing have been thinking about this for months, know exactly what situations all their team members are in, are in the middle of working on plans with everyone on their team to cut out things that don’t have a lot of value so that everyone can do their best work and respond to changes from all directions, and they and their team members are feeling like they’re working on it together instead of like adversaries. I’m happy to train your managers to use the process so this becomes just another thing in 2020 instead of a really big problem that causes hatred inside teams.

Yes, I know that there are organizations and managers that think an easy solution is to let go anyone with kids and just hire people who don’t have kids who need tending. Those people will learn. Using the approach of removing unnecessary stressors helps not just team members with kids, but also team members with older or vulnerable relatives or dependents, team members with health or mobility complications, and any team member who does better when they feel better in general.

Do this right now:

1. Schedule one-on-ones with all of your team members to talk about the school situation (even people who aren’t technically parents are affected by this, so definitely talk to everyone) and start figuring out solutions that actually work. Fair >>>>> equal.

2. What are all those extra (both meanings of “extra”) processes/systems/tasks/traditions/holdovers/whatever that you’ve always wanted to get rid of? Now’s your chance to suspend them during this coming school year. Next fall you can assess objectively and decide what to add back.

3. Wish this was all less drama? Ask your HR to put you through Tilmor Process certification and all these plans and communication and big thoughts just turn into part of your weekly routine with your team members and it becomes really difficult to shake you up.

You can do it. Your team members can do it. Your team members’ kids can do it. You will all have so many more skills and capabilities by this time next year. Stay proactive.



If you are a parent and are looking for some support from the parenting side of this, sign up for my newsletter.

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management parenting Uncategorized

When “just work it out” creates more trouble

I’ve been sick this week and have been lying down on the job with parenting my kids. I’ve been sleeping a lot in the evenings (or just zoning out on the couch while I try to drink fluids) and my kids have been doing the stuff they’re supposed to do (mostly), which is the benefit of having a teen and a tween instead of little kids who need to be directed. But one thing that’s been happening is that my older one has been mean to his younger brother and I haven’t been catching it and setting up any expectations for better behavior. They’ve been dealing with each other on their own, and it’s become a little lopsided.

Not coincidentally, I’ve been talking to clients and friends who are dealing with situations in which one employee is either bullying others or simply blocking action so no one can get anything else done. And management hasn’t been stepping in to censure or fire the problematic employee because they want everyone to “just work it out.”


There’s this fundamental misconception that people are just going to be able to work things out and be harmonious and work together, as siblings or coworkers. And that’s clearly Just Not True. First of all, not everyone wants things to work out or wants harmony. In every work-related situation I consulted on this week, the employee creating the blocks was doing so specifically to attempt to preserve power. And my teen is messing with his brother because he thinks it’s fun. The only people who want harmony in these situations are the people who can’t create it (because the other person is causing the problem) or the manager/parent (um, me) who isn’t stepping in.

Second, allowing both parties in a dispute to just resolve it on an even playing field only makes sense in a situation in which both (or all parties) have the same intentions and weight of risk of the outcome of the dispute resolution process. Basically, we’re assuming there’s a free market of intentions and that all other things being equal, the logical course of action is going to make the most sense and everyone will agree with it. Insert your own joke about how Milton Friedman must never have met YOUR kids, because there’s no such thing as a free market of intentions in a conflict situation.

If we were in the same room, I’d talk with my hands or use M&Ms to show you how this all plays out, but we’re not, so let me just go back to Game Theory and use numbers to explain it:

Let’s say that Person X is trying to hoard information about something I need to get done at work, and I can’t do my job effectively because she won’t tell me what she knows. So our boss tells us to go into the conference room and talk it out, ladies. Going into this conversation/confrontation, I’m 100% invested in this, because if I can’t get her to lay off the gatekeeping and just let the info come to me, I’m hosed. I can’t get my job done. At the same time, she’s just trying to stay in power and she knows there’s nothing I can do to her (because if there was our boss would already have told her to cut it out), so she comes in invested maybe 30% in this negotiation.

So I’m at 100% risk and she’s at 30% risk, before we even walk into the room. Now, as all good faith negotiations go, we each use a lot of “I statements” and we take turns with the talking stick and blah blah blah. THE ASSUMPTION IS THAT BOTH OF OUR POSITIONS AND FEELINGS ARE EQUALLY VALID. No one penalizes her for being a jerk who’s trying to screw with my ability to get my job done. No one gives me credit for just trying to come in and do my job well every day. We’re assumed to be equal. So then the solution we arrive at involves each of us compromising equally, 50/50. I give 50% and she gives 50%.

Now do the math:

Me: 100% x 50% = 1.0 x 0.5 = 0.5 = 50%
Her: 30% x 50% = 0.3 x 0.5 = 0.15 = 15%

So I got penalized 50% FOR A SITUATION I DIDN’T EVEN CREATE and she got penalized 15% for deliberately messing with my job and life and ability to feed my children.

And I still don’t even completely have her out of my business, because we compromised.

You can go in and substitute any situation in which one person is harassing another person or blocking another person, about video games or chores or project metrics or who gets to ride in the front seat or program funding or face time with the CEO or meeting deadlines or anything that happens at home or work. This is why you can’t go into couples’ counseling with an abuser. This is why you can’t go into mediation with a vendor who has no legal repercussions for not fulfilling a contract. It’s all about risk and investment, and the problem of assuming that both parties get equal say and equal priority.

So, what does this all mean? It means that if you’re a parent, please please don’t do any of that “I don’t care who started it; I’m going to finish it” crap we grew up with that assumes a free market of intentions and ability to change a situation. Instead, if you notice that one of your kids is consistently the aggressor, make that a no-win situation for them (without involving the other kid, if possible) to guide them into better behavior toward their sibling.

And it means that if you’re a manager, step in. Don’t tell your employees to hash it out on their own. That’s lazy and cowardly, for one thing. You can be conflict-avoidant on your own time, but if you’re being paid to run a team, run the team. Spend some time and do some due diligence on what the underlying dynamics are so you can identify who’s doing the blocking. And then require better behavior of them. If they can’t stop, they need to move out of your team. You cannot sacrifice the entire team and your employees who are 100% invested because you’re afraid to fire someone who’s trying to hoard power or prevent the team or others from doing the best work.

Here’s a plug for my RISWS process for managers: It’s a low-stress, high-reward way to figure out what the flow is in your department so you can see this stuff coming and head it off before it becomes a big problem OR you can gather the evidence you need to be able to fire someone who is taking the whole department down. Anyone acting in good faith benefits from using this process and anyone who’s not acting in good faith gets flushed out.

If you are an employee in a department in which the manager won’t take any action to guide a bullying/blocking employee into better behavior: Ouch. I’m sorry. It’s not you. And you can’t fix this. And being kinder and nicer and more accommodating to the blocker is only going to make things worse (because they’ll gain even more power from that and less investment, while you now have even more investment). You could refer your manager to my RISWS process (because we spend time working on interpersonal dynamics in the department as I teach the manager the process) if you think they’d go for it. You could find another job someplace else (that’s probably the simplest thing to do, as long as you don’t carry any bad feelings about not having been able to fix the situation on your own). You could see if you can go over your manager’s head (DICEY, and I don’t recommend it unless you really have a direct line that won’t come back and bite you later). Whatever you decide to do, just know that it isn’t you.

If you want to read more about Game Theory in a way that you don’t have to be a mathematician or strategist to understand, check out The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist’s Guide to Success in Business and Life by Dixit and Nalebuff.

management parenting

Is it your problem to solve?

Ellie Newman interviewed me for her radio show “That Got Me Thinking” on KDPI 88.5 FM out of Ketchum, Idaho. Listen to the interview on Ellie’s website here.

The interview is on the topic of change, and how we solve problems to create change. Which is, of course, what I’m always thinking about. The fantastic thing about this interview is that Ellie immediately got my focus on both parenting and managing people, and how they’re the same thing for me. I know it’s a big leap for a lot of people to switch back and forth from the work space in their brain to the parenting space in their brain, but that’s where I live all the time—those two zones—and Ellie didn’t bat an eye at my assumptions that they’re the same thing. There’s also a lot in the interview about my process of solving Flash Consultations, and the types of questions I get.

Last week was the first week back for most of us, to work and to school, and I think it was both a relief and a confirmation that there are real problems for a lot of us. A relief because being out of the regular schedule is stressful. Kids get very very stressed out by the combination of being out of the regular routine and not necessarily knowing what to expect next, and seeing people they don’t usually see while not seeing the people that they see every day in school. If they don’t like school, it can be hard to process the relief of not being there, plus there’s the negative anticipation of going back. If they like school, they may genuinely miss it, and they might feel at a loss without those activities and those people.

Adults are the same way for the same reasons, and there’s another huge layer of cultural expectation that we’re not supposed to want to be at work. (Think of the Powerball frenzy of the last week. Half a billion dollars would utterly ruin your life if you won it out of the blue, but everyone’s so conditioned to think we’re supposed to not want to work that people stood in line for hours to buy tickets to misery. 4 8 15 16 23 42.) But being at home (or “at home” if you were running around a lot or visiting people) has its own kind of stress and dislocation.

So getting back to the regular routine can be a big relief, despite the initial shock of having to get up early and put on pants to go somewhere. But then by day 3 or 4 of the week, all the old problems that were chewing at you before the break popped up again. And you have to confront the fact that a) they actually exist, b) they didn’t magically go away on their own, and c) you’re going to have to do something about them.

Problems such as: your child getting in trouble at school or your boss assuming the worst of you (same problem), your child or your employee getting entrenched in roles and resisting doing something that’s good for everyone just because they don’t want to feel like they have to (again, same problem), chronic miscommunication (with kids or coworkers), gaps in process that means no one’s responsible for something crucial (at home or at work), and generally just being tired of having so many complications to deal with and just wanting to do your work (everywhere). In the worst-case scenario, you really just don’t want to be there anymore.

All of this stuff, though, is just a problem to be solved step by step. Or maybe a few interlocking problems that you have to tease apart. If solving the problem is your responsibility, then you must solve it. And you can solve it. Just look for the most variable part of the problem, and start looking at why that aspect of the problem varies and what that means, and how you can figure out the motivations of the other people involved to change things.

How do you know if the problem is your responsibility? If you are the parent in a parent/child problem scenario, then it’s your responsibility. If you are the manager in a manager/employee scenario, then it’s your responsibility. None of this, “They’re acting childish so I don’t have to fix it” stuff. Step back out of your ego and look at the situation from a systems perspective and figure out where the block is and how to fix it in a way that lets everyone feel good about themselves and learn from the whole thing. That’s heroism (as well as good parenting and good management).

If you’re the child in a parent/child scenario or the employee in a manager/employee scenario, then you probably can’t solve this problem, just because you don’t have the right access or authority to. So think about how honest you can be with the person who can solve it, and ask them to solve it for both of you. Or, if you can’t be that honest, figure out if there’s a way to sidestep the problem so that you can still get the things done that you need to do, and be as free of stress about it as possible.

If this “Whose problem is it to solve?” perspective is interesting to you, check out the books Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott and Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon. Both of these books are super-useful for managers, whether or not you’re a parent, and a lot of the concepts in them have informed my managing process, the Tilmor Process.

management parenting

Status Update, December 18

There’s some stuff we all need to remember today:

1. You can make it. This is a brutal time of year, with a grinding set of conflicting expectations. I don’t know whether it’s better to plant your feet and stand up no matter what comes at you, or take a breath and let your head go under and trust that you’ll float to the top in a minute, or hunker down low and crawl under the smoke level. You can assess your own situation and decide what you need to do to make it through the next two weeks.

2. Work has value. Your work has value, whether you’re paid for it or not. Whether it’s something job-ish or emotional work or some other kind of work. All the extra work you’re doing right now that you’re not getting paid for has value. I appreciate it.

3. If you’re having problems with boundaries and clarity at work, it’s the responsibility of the manager to fix it. This includes confusion around roles, performance, bonuses, metrics, etc. If your manager isn’t clear about this stuff and you’re being trapped, don’t take it on yourself. And if you are the manager and you see the confusion and feel the drift, put on your big kid underwear and make some decisions and have some conversations. You can do it.

4. Your deadline is not today. Even if your kids are done with school today, you still have to work for two more weeks. You will get a bunch of stuff done next week, and the week after that. Not everyone’s going to be working, but there will be enough co-workers and clients and customers who want to get some work done with you that stuff is still going to come together. You can close those sales or finish those projects or do whatever your job involves. You still have a lot of time.

5. “We are going to die. Let’s love honestly, courageously, non abusively, stankly before that happens.” –Kiese Laymon 


(Go get a glass of water and drink it.)

management parenting

A warning to employers

Oh, employers. The tide has just turned. After seven plus years of hearing and saying “in this economy” as an excuse for treating workers poorly and for employees to just take it because they’re scared of being unemployed, it’s no longer an employers’ market. The economy has improved enough that people aren’t afraid of leaving a job that doesn’t fit or that has bad management, because they know they can find another job.

How do I know? Because I just said “What are they going to do, fire you?” to the third person in two days.

I am not a career counselor and I’m not on the employee side of What To Do At Work. I work with managers and upper management to help them create organizations and departments in which employees are engaged and happy and productive. But the other side of that is that I get to hear from a lot of employees what their managers are doing wrong. (And they’re doing so very many things wrong.)

[Side note: My 13-year-old is at his dad’s house today and he just texted me that he just watched the movie Office Space for the first time. I wanted to text back “Today you are a man” but thought that might confuse him. Later we can talk about how the movie is really not that different from the daily lived experience of a majority of people working in offices in the United States and the rest of the world. And why my whole mission is helping people not be Lumbergh.]

Even a few months ago, when people were telling me about the random and disheartening things their managers did, they had a pervasive sense of sadness. Of realizing that there wasn’t anything they could do about it and they’d have to just suck it up if they wanted to stay and be able to pay their mortgages. People were being put on Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) because their employers had reduced the number of jobs to reallocate roles so people were being asked to do too many things in ways that they couldn’t possibly succeed at, and then were being penalized for not being magical. Of course, when you’re on a PIP you’re scared and demoralized, so you’re not going to work any better (even if you are working harder), so there’s nothing useful or good about a PIP for anyone in the equation except from a documentation perspective that shifts all the risk from the organization to the individual. PIPs are all the negatives of capitalism without any of the positives, basically.

[Another side note: Every time I see “PIP” I think of Pip in Great Expectations, which makes me think of that scene in the old version of the movie in which Miss Havisham catches on fire in her wedding dress. My high school freshman English teacher, Mr. Oehlers, rewound and showed us that bursting-into-flames scene half a dozen times. (We loved it.) Little did I know then that it was the perfect metaphor for what happens when an organization gets so entrenched in structures and appearances that they stay mired in the past and can’t make good use of the real live people in front of them: flames.]

But now, people are getting mad about being treated poorly and are realizing that a PIP often means more about the organization’s problems than it does about them, and they’re poking their heads up and looking around and realizing that they are marketable workers. With skills and knowledge and flexibility and perspective. And that they can find a job that uses those skills and isn’t going to be as demoralizing as where they are now. So they’re looking, and not caring if they get fired while they look.

I was giving a recommendation for a friend to a potential employer last week. I knew my friend had been impressed with the organization during the interview process, so I figured I could be honest and go a little deeper with the company rep who called me. He and I ended up talking about two of the traits I think are most impressive about my friend–her sense of perspective and her loyalty to people and process. I knew he’d get it because those traits are values of the organization he hires for, and he did, and told me he was happy to hear it because it’s hard to know those things just from four or five interviews with a person. She got the job, and it was absolutely no choice to leave her current job, which sees her as an interchangeable cog with nothing special to offer. Her current job thought (until the moment she gave notice) that she was lucky to be there, even though they ran an organization that couldn’t deliver on the basics of being decent people, let alone put in the thought work about what kind of organization they are and what that means for their management or workflow process. They are never going to be able to keep good employees, because they don’t know or care who they are or who they employ.

When my friend and I were talking about how she spends her time in her last week at her old company, I said, “What are they going to do, fire you?” And then I had virtually identical conversations with two other people I know about how they can act while looking for an organization that values them so they can leave organizations that devalue them on the daily.

When I hear (or hear myself saying) something once, fine. Twice, I notice. Three times–there’s something going on and I should pay attention. And this is three times in two days of recognizing that being fired isn’t a threat anymore.

So, employers, managers, bosses, team leaders, anyone who needs people to help you do what you’re doing: You need to go a little deeper. Put in the deep work it’s going to require to see your people for who they are and what they actually have to offer your organization. Think about who you are as an organization and what you can be. Who do you need to fit that mission? (And if it’s not a mission, maybe you need to move on, too. Life’s too short to do work for bad systems.) Are those people sitting right in front of you, slowly withering or trying to get out?

If you have the wrong people working for you, fire them in a human, decent way that honors both of you. They will move on to something that fits them. (And maybe you know what that thing is and can help them make a connection.) And you now have the ability to hire the right person who fits in with your organization and your mission.

But know that it’s the employee’s market again. You decide who you hire, but if you can’t deliver on giving them a real reason to come in every morning that honors who they are, they’ll leave. The threat of being fired isn’t even remotely enough to keep them there, because they can find something else.

management parenting Uncategorized

Agile methodology, parenting, and managing people: some thoughts

This is going to be another one of those “everything’s connected” posts that people either love or hate, so enter at your own risk.

I think ALL THE TIME about how to free up people to do their best work and get into the flow state. It’s basically my whole parenting method: Facilitate and support my kids in experiencing a lot of things and then creating and maintaining their own boundaries so they can do what brings meaning to them. And it’s what I think good management should be, too: Facilitate and support your people in developing their strengths and maintaining boundaries so they can do what brings meaning to them.

And I think a lot of the time about processes and systems. I am a problem solver even when I try to turn off my brain, and the way I solve problems is by looking for the moving parts. You can’t tell what’s a moving part if all you have is chaos. You have to have a system or process in place so that you know what are the set pieces and what are the variables. Then, at the next level of problem solving, you look at all the data of the variables and recognize patterns, and then the anomaly is where you start looking for a solution to your problem. So the more processes and systems I’m familiar with, the better.

Which is all a long way to explain why I was research agile software development methodology. I don’t write software, but I’ve worked for software companies and am familiar with the constructs of traditional software development, and I wanted to find out how agile is different. So I popped on over to and started reading. And then I felt one of those classic “OMG, you like peanut butter?? I like peanut butter, too!” moments of recognition.

Let’s roll back a little to talk about my process of developing the Tilmor Process for managing people, that gives managers a continual data stream of information on their employees so they can help them develop their strengths and remove barriers to engagement and productivity. I came from the basic assumption that it makes more sense to take the people you have and help them do their best and keep them engaged than it does to focus rigidly on roles and try to force people into them at all costs. And a lot of that is changing mindsets so that people are allowed to trust each other and focus on working together instead of on defending territory and roles. The Tilmor Process is a process that you follow to deal with the individualities of people and with the individualities of their problems and competencies. It’s a cycle that creates continual progress and continuous improvement and trust-building.

So when I started reading about how agile development uses the Scrum project management structure to get continual data and create an improvement cycle, I thought these two methods (Scrum and Tilmor Process) were really similar at the core, although radically different in the actual process. Both are focused on working in the middle of the process and making constant improvements. Both realize that a long process without feedback can lead to disaster. Both prioritize new information and decisionmaking that celebrates information instead of assumptions.

Agile is “iterative and incremental,” which is what managing people using Tilmor Process is, too. No manager has to be perfect. Anyone promoted into a manager role can learn. Teams and their leaders learn together and improve together. Honest feedback–and then acting on that feedback!– is crucial.

And both of these methods seem a lot like parenting preschoolers. You can wait for your kid to do something wrong (and preschoolers are always doing something wrong) and then punish them for it once it goes too far. Or you can keep a consistent eye out and set up regular processes, so as soon as things start to deviate you can step in to offer guidance and correction (in the “let me help you make it better” meaning of correction, not the hot saucing meaning of correction) so the child gets help succeeding until they can do it on their own. Agile and Tilmor Process are the same thing: watch carefully, help, don’t penalize.

The other thing I think is really similar about relationship-focused parenting, agile, and Tilmor Process is that they’re threats to traditional power structures because they focus on people and relationships and they trust people and relationships instead of trusting rules and penalizing people. So even though they make so much more sense than the more traditional, control-based, oppositional methods of parenting, product development, and managing people, they can be tough to institute because they require that the people in power take their hands off the wheel and trust these relationship-based processes.

Trust people. It’s a timeless but still-threatening concept. In a lot of areas.

management parenting

Some thoughts on managing and parenting while my kids are still gone

Today is day 20 of 21 of my kids being on their annual three week roadtrip with their dad, so I’ve been thinking a lot more for the past few weeks about managing adults in the workplace than about facilitating kids’ development at home*.

You know how you always think your boss knows what’s going on with your job so if they don’t fix things that are bad you assume it’s because they’re deliberately not fixing them to spite you? And how if you’re a manager you don’t know what’s really going on with your people because no one wants to complain and be seen as a whiner? So then everyone resents everyone? I developed a process for managers called Reporting/Interpreting/Solving Workflow Solutions (RISWS) [called the Tilmor Process as of 2018]. It gives managers and team leaders a consistent flow of data that tells them what’s actually going on with their people, so they can fix things or give their people the power to fix them, and everyone can be engaged and happy and just do their jobs.

I’ve been working on RISWS with managers in the last year and have been getting good results, and just started a group through the process as part of a grant-funded study of the process.

It’s no secret that a lot of the way I show managers how to work with employees is related to the way I try to work with my kids. Employees are just people, and kids are just people, and managers and parents are just people. And all people want the same things: to matter, to be good at things, to be heard, to be valuable.

It’s a huge mistake–in my mind–to try to make your kids fit a checklist of well-roundedness instead of paying close attention to what they love and are good at, and encouraging them to run to those things. The same thing with employees–hiring someone and then trying to force them into a box you’ve created instead of looking at what’s fantastic about them is going to end up making everyone frustrated at work, and creating less value for the organization. If we’re being completely frank,it makes zero sense to pay good money for a salary and then not get the best out of an employee. People can sit at home being mediocre and frustrated on their own time.

I had a meeting at my older son’s school yesterday about class placement for next year, and it forced me to focus on who my son is and what he’s good at, instead of choosing classes by what I think he should be good at. It’s not easy, this parenting the child you have instead of the child you think you have. I’m a lot better at listening quietly and observing carefully than I was before, and releasing my preconceptions about what brings meaning. One of my RISWS clients had a similar moment of realizing she was releasing a lot of unnecessary tension at work by admitting that one of her team members was really good at something that wasn’t strictly in the job description but could be useful for their team.

I realize that it’s a luxury to have the time and space and complimentary work area to be able to really think about parenting strategy for a big chunk of time. I miss my kids horribly during this three weeks, but being able to think about strategy and tactics and mission without being consumed by their immediate needs has been good. And a lot of managers are so busy putting out fires that they never really get to strategize about their team or team members.

I wish I could give everyone this kind of risk-free space. Parents to think about how to interact with their children to help them self-actualize, and managers to think about how to interact with their employees to help them stay in the flow state as much as possible. If some time and space drifts past you, grab it and let yourself use it to just think for awhile. It’s an investment in yourself, but also in the people you spend your time with.

* You know what’s super-easy? Being a fantastic parent by text. My older one’s been texting me throughout this road trip and I am KILLING IT when all I have to do is offer sage advice in written form. If only there was a way to do the first three years by text, this parenting gig would be fantastic.