Unwritten Rules

Unwritten rules are based in organization values - often unwritten or even unconscious values.

For example, if an organization unconsciously values "action orientation," then a person gathering a lot of data before starting execution on a project could derail. Or if the organization talks about collaboration but actually values internal competition, trying to collaborate will only get you run over.

When joining a new organization, It's important to ask "How do things really get done around here? What are the behaviors that get rewarded (and not)?" Then ask again after you are onboard.

While unwritten rules can certainly derail those new employees you worked so hard to hire, they can also be blindspots for you about how your own organization works. The values and the behaviors that you think are being followed may be just that -  thoughts. Check in with your leadership team, with your new employees, and beyond - to learn if your top-level intentions have translated into behaviors.

Scaling Compaq with Karen Walker - The Women in Tech Show

In the 80s, Compaq became one of the fastest growing companies in American History. Compaq pioneered the idea of building a computer that was compatible with IBM’s software. Back then, IBM was the dominant player in the personal computers space and their software was used everywhere. Karen Walker was Vice President of Operations at Compaq. She controlled capital investments totaling $1 Billion. Karen oversaw the construction of 11 million square feet of Compaq’s offices around the world and helped grow Compaq, which became the largest supplier of PCs in the 90s.

Source: https://thewomenintechshow.com/2017/06/26/...

The Three Lenses

Myopia. Diagnosed at age eight, I was astonished that my new glasses enabled me to see the leaves on the trees. Who knew! 

The same "aha"moment can occur in organizations when we shift the perspective from one lens to three to analyze an issue.

Individual. Group. Organization.

  1. What does the individual need? 
  2. What does the group need?
  3. What does the organization need?

The answers to these three questions are usually different. If you approach the issue from any single perspective, painting the other perspectives with the same myopic brush...won't meet the needs of the others.

For example, looking at a specific project - an individual might need a growth opportunity, her/his group might need skills to function as a team, and their organization might need a project done in a way that is replicable and scalable.

If the issue is of minor importance or only has one answer, the single view may be fine.

If it is of major importance and has consequences, then it is well worth your time to review through all three lenses. Then, determine a solution that that optimizes all sets of needs. 

Are you using these three lenses to view the major issues and objectives in your organization?


Shortlist: 12 Best Practices

I've compiled a shortlist of best practices for internal alignment and engagement. I've seen these work, over and over again, in successful growth companies. 


  • 9 Box talent review: Performance vs Potential
  • Tour of Duty conversations / CEO 1-1
  • Weekly check-ins: 3-5 bullets this week/last week
  • Quarterly executive level meetings / big picture topics
  • Annual leadership offsite: 1-2 levels
    • Where are we going? How will we get there? How are we doing?
  • Leadership development for 2nd level
  • 360 developmental feedback
  • Seeking multiple outside perspectives: coaching/consultation/advisory for CEO
  • Bi-annual all hands meetings: presentations from all levels
  • Weekly exec sync lunches (call-in when necessary)
  • Behavioral-based interviewing: focus not just on what they can do, but also how they do it. Highlight the ability to deal successfully with ambiguity.
  • Vigorous attention to conflict management and decision making options


Discipline, accountability and commitment to process. There's no secret formula, but there is a proven path that creates and aligns your internal strategies to support external growth.

Are there holes in your processes?

A/C or A/A?

One of the major "maturity" shifts in an individual - and in an organization - is that of personal responsibility and accountability.

HIRE for this. Reward it. Without it, you end up being a parent playing tug-of-war with your staff.

If you are doing all the work of follow-up and accountability, you are working in Adult/Child mode, not Adult/Adult.

Even worse, this takes away from other work that you could/should be doing. Is your time better spent on your priorities or ensuring that someone has turned in their draft BOD presentations on time? Or one-off follow ups to see if projects are/are not on plan?

  • Set expectations - and hire people who ask questions such as "when do you need this by?" or even better, proactively say "I'll have this to you by Thursday, will that work?" and then follows through
  • Verbally reward people who proactively communicate status updates
  • Either delegate or automate the checking process
  • Don't constantly rescue! Let someone fail, from time to time, on low risk areas that have a social (not business) stigma
  • Name what is going on - set and reinforce your expectations about behavior

Adult/Adult creates a culture of accountability and responsibility that will serve the organization's growth in many ways.

But That's the CEO's Job!

In a meeting with a venture capitalist, I explained who I work with (CEOs), what I do (grow bigger, better companies), and how I do it (creating and aligning internal strategies to support external growth).

His response, "But that's the CEOs job!"

Yes, and ... 

Any good leader knows their strengths and areas where they need shoring up. In this case, the CEO is financially brilliant - strategically and tactically - and knows that he needs an extraordinarily strong team to lead his company's fast-paced growth. In this case, the CEO also knows utilizing my outside expertise has been valuable in the past.

My response - "He's successful because he's talented and he knows both his strengths and the weaker links in his skill set. Isn't that what you'd want in a CEO?"

It's so important to realize that we're not - and don't need to be - omnipotent, even at the desk where the buck stops. Do what you are good at, and what you enjoy, then reinforce everywhere else. Your "weaknesses" will almost never turn into strengths, but that doesn't mean that they have to hold you back.


Dependent or Inter-Dependent?

Are your teams dependent or inter-dependent?

Dependency alone sets up a power dynamic that gets in the way of good cross-functional teaming. 

Inter-dependency allows for power sharing - allowing both parties to share situational power. It's a healthier state.

When you charter projects or teams, look for ways to create interdependencies. If they don't occur naturally from workflow, you can create them with your reward structure. Examples include shared targets for bonuses and shared recognition for accomplishments.

Power dynamics are often overlooked in organizations but exist at every level. From your position as a senior leader, it's not enough just to model the behaviors that you want, you must also set-up conditions to encourage healthy interactions. No one else has the influence and authority to create, monitor and reward healthy, effective interactions.

My new podcast series! Download past episodes or subscribe to future episodes.

You can find it on my website:  No Dumbing Down Podcast/Website

Or you can subscribe on iTunes: No Dumbing Down Podcast/iTunes


Don't Wait for a Crisis

During a crisis, we can only deal with the urgent - and that rarely includes building relationships. If you are only communicating with others when there is an urgent problem, you are setting up poor relationship patterns and damaging your effectiveness.

At best, issue focused communication will produce simple accomodatation of your immediate needs. 

At worst, your calls and emails will be met with "What, another problem?" 

So don't wait for a crisis. Spend a few minutes each day with someone, simply talking about - listening to! - the bigger picture. The agenda is understanding, not immediate problem solving with your colleagues. Think out loud with them. Sow seeds for the future. Learn a little more about them as a person - and let them learn about you. Step away from your monitor for a few minutes and connect face to face with your peers, your staff, your boss. If you are part of a distributed group, do it with a phone/video call. 

Then, when a crisis hits, you'll have more information and solutions for the long term, and more social capital in the system for executing those solutions.

We do this externally with our customers; we should apply the same best practices internally as well.

Karen Walker

My new podcast series! Download past episodes or subscribe to future episodes.

You can find it on my website:  No Dumbing Down Podcast/Website

Or you can subscribe on iTunes: No Dumbing Down Podcast/iTunes


Good Guy vs Bad Guy

Here's a classic case of Good guy vs Bad guy: Intentions vs Behaviors. 

Intentions are, of course, the good guy. Behaviors, the bad.

We begin each year, month, day with intentions about how we will spend our time and how we will behave. We end each year, month, day with behaviors that have diverged from those intentions. 

That's because intentions don't equal behaviors. 

We want to do things differently and sometimes - often - we do. If we are attentive, we can catch ourselves quickly when we revert to old patterns. When we are stressed, busy, distracted, it's harder.

I know you are stars at setting intentions but how can you keep those behaviors on track?

Ensure that the intention is truly important to you and then debrief your actual behaviors frequently. For example, after a meeting, at the end of each day, spend just a few minutes on "How did I do? Why was I successful (or not)? What do I need to do again - or do differently - next time?"

Then, from time to time, look for patterns that you can influence on a bigger picture level.

Gaining incrementally more effectiveness from our behaviors is definitely worth a few minutes of debrief each day.

My new podcast series! Download past episodes or subscribe to future episodes.


You can find it on my website:  No Dumbing Down Podcast/Website

Or you can subscribe on iTunes: No Dumbing Down Podcast/iTunes



With my background in industrial engineering, my core is optimization. So I've been fascinated with the recent popularity of "life-hacking," which is really just optimizing your time. 

  • How few minutes can you exercise (20? 7? 1?) and still receive health benefits?
  • How little time can you spend acquiring food (Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, ...) and still eat healthy meals?
  • What's the quickest way to improve your immune system (immersion in cold water, ingesting turmeric, ...) ?
  • and many, many more.

But what about our work lives? How do we optimize there? 

In fact, we are always optimizing. All of our decisions, our conflict resolutions, our schedules...they are all based on our perceived optimization of our lives.

But here's the thing...

We have blind spots. We don't know what we don't know. So what looks optimal, well, that's only optimal for the conditions that you've considered. And you can only consider conditions that are in your awareness.

This is why the hard work of teaming is so important. Why coaching is important. To get viewpoints outside of your own bubble. To understand other constraints, other best practices, other possibilities.

So that you can better optimize your life.

Karen Walker, One Team Consulting

My new podcast series! Download past episodes or subscribe to future episodes.

You can find it on my website:  No Dumbing Down Podcast/Website

Or you can subscribe on iTunes:  No Dumbing Down Podcast/iTunes


Is Your Team Scaling - or Straining?

There's a big difference in scaling and straining as the organization grows, and that difference matters to a team's ability to execute for the long haul.

How do you know how your team is doing? Here are a few indicators for each.


  • Mostly heads up, focused on the end goal
  • Taking actions that solve today's important problems, forestalling tomorrow's urgent ones
  • Exhilarated
  • Growing and developing to reach a stretch goal
  • Collaborative problem solving and resource sharing
  • Managing the development of their teams


  • Mostly heads down, feeling overwhelmed with what's directly in sight
  • Taking actions that only solve today's urgent problems
  • Exhausted
  • Pulling muscles as they over reach for something unattainable
  • Frequent near misses
  • Isolation
  • Complaining about their teams

Of course, we vacillate between these two poles in any given short time period. But if you see that your teams are constantly straining, you'll need to make changes. Teams that are straining need support - resources, skills building, reprioritization, it's a hard place to scale from.

Check out my new podcast series! Download past episodes or subscribe to future episodes.

You can find it on my website: 

 No Dumbing Down Podcast/Website

Or you can subscribe on iTunes: 

 No Dumbing Down Podcast/iTunes


The High Cost of Task Switching

Remember the last time you worked on a weekend and completely cleared off your desk? Or the night you worked late and finished a project in less time that you thought it would take? Why can't we do that during the work day?

Task switching.

During the weekend and the late night, you gave yourself a period of single focus. One without interruptions. A time of dedicated concentration on a single task. And it paid off.

If there is one controllable behavior that gets in the way of personal productivity, it is task switching.

What does task switching look like? We start many things during the day, but don't finish them because we interrupt ourselves and move on to other tasks. Back and forth, back and forth. We check email too frequently, we have unnecessary notifications set up on our computers, we leave the door open to the office and allow all of our time to belong to others. 

And the costs? Here are a few:

  • High start up time - the time to settle into a project and ramp up our thinking- is repeated over and over again
  • Information goes missing - as we lose some of the thoughts we were forming before the interruption
  • Superficial, barely adequate completion of the task when it finally becomes so urgent that we must finish in spite of the lack of deep thinking
  • Finally, there is a high psychological cost to never finishing - this feeling of being out-of-control

The worst news here is that task switching is usually self-inflicted inefficiency. There will be occasional instances, of course, where you don't control your calendar, but for the most part this is caused by poor habits. Try a few days of fewer but longer single-focus work sessions and see how productive you are!


Not Getting the Behaviors You Want?

You don't need to use a megaphone. Just ask for what you want, notice what you get.


Your chances of getting what you want increase exponentially if others know what you want - and if you notice what you get.

Too often we reverse these - I might hear from a client, " I'm not getting what I want from x. " 

"Does she know you want it? "

"I think so. She should, she might, she ought to ..."


No, you must be explicit. Be clear. Be unambiguous. Ask for what you want. 

Then, notice what you get. 

And if you still aren't getting what you want, look at these:

  • Does the person have the skill to deliver? If not, can it be taught in an acceptable period of time?
  • Are they being rewarded for a different, opposing behavior?

New Habits: The One Action that Stands in Your Way

Happy New Year, all!

One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach.
— Morrow Lindbergh

I've always loved this quote - both because one literally cannot collect all the seashells but because in order to pick up any new ones, I must put down some of the shells that I have collected in the past. It's not always easy to choose which ones to put down, but there is a physical limit to the volume that I can carry.

This being early January, I'm also looking at my personal collection of patterns and habits. And looking with my clients at their patterns and habits. 

One thread is blindingly obvious - yet rarely noted:  In order for a new habit to be successful, you must stop an old habit.  

There is a physical limit to the amount of time in your day.

  • If you want to spend more time on strategy, you must spend less time on tactics.
  • If you want to close more big deals, you must spend less time on small deals.
  • If you want to exercise in the morning, you must stop whatever else you are currently doing during that time. You can move activities around to other times, but in the end something has to go or be reduced,
  • And so on ...

It's not just what do you want to do, it's also what do you want to stop doing.

If you don't pay attention to both of these questions, you will default back to your existing comfortable behavior whether it still serves you well or not. 

Revise those aspirations for 2017 - make note of what you will stop in addition to what you will start.



Coach Phil Jackson famously uses mindfulness training to get his teams into game shape - knowing that mental state profoundly affects performance.

George Mumford has led these sessions for Jackson's teams, and was quoted in the NY Times this week. He says the results include:

 "This ability to step back and observe your experience in an uncritical way, you can actually understand how your mind works, how your body works, how the universe works, how basketball works,'' he said. "And also understanding that when you're performing at your best level, there's usually a lack of self-consciousness."

How we can apply this in the corporate world? For us, this is the time of year for Board level 2017 planning meetings. A big game! What's your pre-game plan to do your best? 

Here are a few routines that I've found most useful for me and my clients:

  • A good night's sleep.
  • A thoughtful amount of caffeine - don't over do it.
  • Pre-meeting music to get you into the appropriate "arousal state." I use an upbeat playlist. You might need something more calming. But figure out what works for you and try it.
  • A few minutes (or more) of pre-meeting meditation / focusing on your breath, and positive visualizations of how the meeting will flow.
  • Make a few cryptic notes and keep them in front of you during the meeting.
  • Note behaviors that you want to work on to be more effective - listening? Being concise? Jot it down.
  • Also note a couple of your strengths - there is a reason you are where you are! Use these, but don't over use them. Don't dumb down but also don't turn your strength into a weakness. 

Great athletes have a pre-game routine. It gets them into the flow, it allows them to do their best work. Shouldn't you have one too?

The Right Question

Planning for 2017 is well underway for most of your organizations. A common method is goal setting that begins with the question "what do we want?"

But "what do we want" is not really the right question - or at least not the right first question ...

I've found that starting with "what are we doing now that works for us" is a more effective place to begin. Then work on what you want.

If you start with what's working when goal setting, here a few of the benefits:

  • You build on your strengths.
  • The organization already knows how to be successful.
  • People will understand the behaviors that are required and allowed, and those that aren't. 
  • You will have a reference point and leverage for any new "wanted" behaviors.

I'm not suggesting that you ignore new possibilities, you should be setting goals that stretch and grow the organization. But you'll be more successful if you start with a clear understanding of what's true for your organizations today - and why -  and then use those strengths to move forward.

Start with your strengths, then apply them as levers to where you want to go.

Perspective (or Why Thanksgiving is My Favorite Holiday)

Perspective is an invaluable competency. The ability to see what is truly important. 

One of my clients uses the phrase "no one lost on eye," a friend says "no one is shooting at us." These words are grounding, pulling us back from over reaction to the the merely loud.

We live beyond what kings and queens could have imagined for most of human history.  If you are reading this newsletter, you have literally unimaginable access to food - safety - information - productivity tools - transportation - health care - and more. 

It can be difficult to keep this perspective when we're caught up in the 10,000 things of daily life. Gratitude gives us perspective.

Let's use the Thanksgiving holiday to both remind ourselves how fortunate we are and to find ways to infuse the perspective of gratitude back into our daily lives.

Let perspective help us enjoy the journey.

The Role of a Leader

This week, I've been inspired by Ken Chenault, the exceptional CEO at American Express. Chenault says: 

"I think what's important for me about leadership (and I'm really passionate about leadership because I think it's critical, no matter what you do)...I follow a quote from Napoleon. And I always preface this with 'I don't want to end up like Napoleon.'

But it's a quote, frankly, that I think about every day because I think it's what a leader has to do. The way I paraphrase the quote is: 'the role of a leader is to define reality and give hope.'

When you think about that quote, it's very simple, but if you put it in a leadership context, what's very difficult about leadership is you'll have very well-meaning people who will try to sometimes distort reality. Not intentionally, but they may just tell you what you want to hear. And part of your job as a leader is, really, to find out what the real deal is.

"But that's not enough. Then you've got to put together a strategy that galvanizes people, that gives them hope that they can overcome the obstacles or achieve something that they didn't think was possible. So 'define reality and give hope' is, really, what I believe is most important for a leader."

Define reality and give hope. Yes. That's your job. Everyday. 

If you have both skill sets, use them often. 

If you don't, then either develop what you are missing or find a strong partner who complements you. Organizations can run in the short term with one or the other, but long term they need both to be successful.

The Dangers of Team Decision Making

Yes, that's a provocative title but I see it over and over again. Here's what happens:

We start working with a group of very nice, very smart and very motivated leaders. At some point we demonstrate the benefits of more collaboration, of fewer silos. And then, with the best of intentions, these very bright people stop making decisions. They put all the decisions onto the back of the team, making everything dependent on team consensus. 

What happens next? Organization effectiveness grinds to a halt. Everything takes longer to decide, and some issues just don't get decided because there it is nuanced or the answer isn't clear or everyone can't be in the room to decide.

And no one calls it out. No one says, "hey, what's happening here?" No, things just take longer.

It doesn't have to be that way. There are many methods for decision making, team consensus is just one. And it should only be used for the most important decisions, the strategic decisions where everyone must buy-in to the answer. But for everything else, make another choice. Have an expert decide - have a subgroup decide - have the boss decide. Or just vote and move on.

If the decisions are significant, communicate them and the intentions behind them. But don't stop making them. You want the pendulum to swing to the correct spot, not to get stuck on one end of the decision making continuum.