Managing your team's workload

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One of the most frequent issues in today’s fast paced work environment is managing workload. Too much to do all of the time or the new task or project that pushes workload to the unimaginable right now, today. As a manager, workload is one of the most important things you will help your team manage and there are plenty of things you can do to that end. Let’s take a look at some simple steps to take.

Let’s start with your overall approach to managing workload. Workload is one of the primary topics you should be regularly discussing with your team as a whole and with individuals. Make sure you ask about workload and keep tabs on who has stretch room and who has a full plate. When you communicate new projects and deadlines, explicitly ask about how this will impact workload and whether there are issues and conflicts. Discuss possible trade-offs up front to ensure that workload does not become an issue. Finally, don’t forget to openly acknowledge exceptional or peak workload periods – recognize when extra effort is needed to get to end of job.

However, no matter the steps we take to try to avoid overload, it still happens. When workload is problematic, start by simply assessing some facts. When gathering the facts, realize that your team members are probably in the throes of frustration and feeling out of control. You can help them check their emotions by directing the conversation to the facts and not the emotions caused by the situation. Look out for negative thinking patterns in comments like “I’ll never get it all done” or “I’m just not good enough” and point out the alternatives.

The first thing you want to do is assess whether the problem is temporary (caused by a peak in workload) or whether it is an ongoing situation.  How you seek to resolve the problem will be different if you have a temporary issue. This can be assessed by simply asking the question – is this an ongoing issue, a periodic one or an exceptional situation?

Some industries and job roles have natural peaks and valleys. It’s important for everyone to recognize natural peaks and valleys and accommodate them as much as possible.  As a manager you can encourage your employees to think somewhat differently about their work schedule. Perhaps during peak times, they can put in more hours which can be recovered during the valleys. Make sure that there are accommodations for employees to take time to recharge their batteries during the down times. It is important to help the team level set on what the job will require in general – and peaks and valleys can be a part of that.

But just working more during peak periods is not always enough. There are a few areas to explore to understand the situation. Think about the flexibility which is possible in deadlines. Consider who on your team might be able to help during this crunch time.  Make sure there isn’t a specific personal situation which is adding to the issue. If there is, figure out how you can help by reassigning tasks or creating more space for the employee to handle their personal crisis.

Here are some questions you can use to discuss the situation with your employee. These questions focus on the temporary problem – we’ll get to the more systemic issues later in the article.

  • What are the projects and tasks that you have on your plate?

  • What are the deadlines to these projects and where do they conflict?

  • What is the priority level of each of the key tasks/deadlines?

  • Are there tasks which can be pushed out to after the peak workload has gone back to normal?

  • What day to day things can you stop doing to make time?

  • What can you reprioritize personally to make more time, temporarily, to get the work done?

  • Who might be able to help with some of your tasks?

  • How is your personal situation impacting your capability to manage the peak workload?

  • How do you plan your different tasks and projects and manage your time?

Helping your team to learn how to prioritize (and reprioritize!) is an essential skill. Some recurring tasks can be left undone for short periods of time. Some meetings can be skipped with little to no consequence. Work with individuals who aren’t sure how to assess and help them learn how to do it themselves going forward.

Finally, you’ll want to check in on how your employee is planning and managing their time. Some people don’t have any kind of system and easily become overwhelmed when faced with what looks like a mountain of tasks. Spend some time to help team members with this issue to list all their todo items, assess the time needed to get them done, and plan out exactly when they are going to get them done. Explain how they can leverage their calendar or a to do list or project management tools to manage their time more effectively.

Discussions about systemic issues with workload are a bit different.  There are two different angles to look at : what the employee is doing and how the job is being done.  Following are some specific things for employees to assess for discussion:

  • Assess how you are spending your time – compare key tasks vs responsibilities/objectives

  • How are changing organizational priorities impacting your workload?

  • Are there any potential process improvements which could lighten your workload?

  • Assess the meetings on your calendar – what is your role? Are you necessary to the call? Are there meetings which are not a good use of time which can be eliminated?

  • What are some things you might stop doing, things you can spend less time on?

  • How do you plan your different tasks and projects and manage your time?

Ask the employee to prepare an assessment of these areas and then sit down to have a conversation about it. Take a close look at how the employee is spending their time relative to their job responsibilities. Are they focusing too much on any specific task or aspect of the role? Have changing priorities made focus on certain tasks less important? Have changing priorities added new tasks but taken nothing away? In that case, spend some time brainstorming what tasks can be stopped.

If your team member is in a similar role with similar workload as other colleagues who are better managing their time, you might ask someone to buddy with the struggling person to help them re-balance their workload and suggest ways to optimize their time. Remember too that each individual has their own work pace. Some people need more time to accomplish tasks. If this is an ongoing issue with an individual, it might be time to consider a different role for them which carries less workload. But before you make that decision, consider whether your team members who are getting it all done are sacrificing their personal lives and simply putting in hours beyond the normal workday.  If everyone is either struggling to get their jobs done within the normal workday or putting in lots of extra hours to get it done, it’s time to reassess roles and responsibilities and work capacity to ensure that you are not over burdening your team.

Don’t let workload become the bug bear of your department. With regular attention and focus, you can help your team to prioritize and focus on what’s most important and not just what seems most urgent.

Managing job and career ambiguity

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A poorly defined job role or lack of clear path for evolution can create uncertainty and significantly decrease motivation and engagement. As a manager, you are in the hot seat to ensure your employees don’t have job ambiguity. In addition, there’s a lot you can do to help your employees deal with career ambiguity.  Let’s take a look.

Job ambiguity

With digital transformation and an ongoing search for increasing productivity and effectiveness, job roles are changing at a furious pace. Often, roles change with no formal documentation. New tasks are introduced, new priorities are added but seldom is anything explicitly taken away or deprioritized.  The result can be chaos and confusion for employees who feel like it’s impossible to get it all done and can’t see their way clear to fixing it. Uncertainty is one of the primary threat triggers of stress, and this kind of situation can create frustration which can grow into anger and hopelessness.

But job uncertainty isn’t just a result of changing work conditions. This type of ambiguity can happen not only because of changes in the workplace, but also when an employee moves from one job to another or when there is no formal job description defined for a role.  As a manger, you are directly responsible for dealing with job ambiguity. Here’s what you can do to avoid and address it with your team.

The most important thing you can do is to ensure that there are clearly defined and documented roles and responsibilities. What is the work that needs to get done? What are the primary outcomes that the team member is responsible for? Every team member should have a clearly documented job description which outlines their responsibilities.

But in addition to what needs to get done, how things get done is just as important. What are the key steps in the process? Who does the employee need to work with at each step in the process?  This usually isn’t part of the job description, but important processes should also be documented, or at least discussed with the team.

When changes to priorities and process occur, work with your team to put the changes in context for each role on the team. If the changes impact the entire team, you should discuss it as a team as well as working with each individual. Some key questions to work through are:

·         How will the change impact each role?

·         If new priorities are being added, where do they fit with the priorities already established?

·         What can be deprioritized?

 For people who are new to a role, it’s critical to take the time to ensure they understand the role and what is expected of them.  Sit down with them when they are getting started and walk through it. If they have peers who do a similar role, assigning a “buddy” can be helpful. Provide opportunities on a regular basis in the first few months for the team member to ask questions and get clarification as they become familiar with the role.

Career ambiguity

Career ambiguity happens when there is no clear path for growth. Some (usually large) organizations have career paths defined with very specific steps and even learning to follow. But most people don’t have that luxury, and even when these paths exist, many people will simply focus on their job without prompting. As a manager, there are many things you can do to allay career ambiguity for your team members.

Start by having regular conversations with each of your team members about their career goals. This is an area where employees often need coaching. You can help your team member think about what they want next in their career by asking pointed questions about what kind of tasks, responsibilities and accomplishments they would like to evolve towards. You can help them to think through the steps in creating a career vision if they are up to the task.

Once you have an idea of how your employee wants to evolve, you can work with them to create some career goals and an action plan to get there. Help them think about what skills they need to get there and what types of activities they can do to acquire them. You may be able to help with stretch assignments or with other project-based opportunities. Share with them the importance of a learning plan, mentors and sponsors in achieving their career goals. You may be able to help identify learning opportunities and introduce them to potential mentors or sponsors.

Not all employees are interested in creating a career vision and plan. That’s ok. For these employees, you’ll want to find other ways to keep them motivated and engaged.

All in all, first-line managers are the best positioned to help employees avoid job and career ambiguity. Make sure you take time out of the fire drills and business priorities to focus on this important topic on a regular basis.

Management: Cultivating Self-Awareness

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As a leader and a manager, self-awareness is an essential quality. Daniel Goleman, a leading author on emotional intelligence, said, “If your emotional abilities aren't in hand, if you don't have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can't have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”

The majority of our decisions and our behavior are made unconsciously, based on our experience, beliefs, values and biases. Without self-awareness, we allow that process to go unhindered, leading us where it may. And often, those decisions and behaviors are based on emotion, speculation and a less than approximate representation of facts. In addition, being sensitive to the impact we have on others opens the possibility to adjust our behavior to achieve a desired outcome rather than simply having one functional mode. So, how do you cultivate self-awareness? 

Strengths, weaknesses and leadership skills assessment

A good way to start working on self-awareness is to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Do this with a blank sheet of paper and reflect on what you’re really good at and what you struggle with the most. Identifying weaknesses and key skills gaps enables you to do two things. First, you can work on improving those weaknesses. Second, you can seek out and leverage others for whom these areas are strengths.

Then, move on to assessing your skills.  The grid below shows key management skills that you’ll want to assess. Once you have done the assessment, consider creating a learning plan to build on those leadership skills in which you have the least expertise.

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Communication style

Understanding your communication style is the first step to becoming more aware to the different communication styles and how they impact what people focus on and listen to more attentively. According to Pierre Casse (1), there are four basic communication styles. Each style correlates to a basic value orientation: action, process, people and ideas. These styles can be found in all cultures and indeed, in all people. Realistically, even though we are capable of using all four styles, we tend to have a dominant style which we are more comfortable with. That’s the style we usually revert to under pressure.

Our preferred style is influenced by our personality, cultural background, past experiences, as well as the present context. Each style has particularities which impacts the types of content the person focuses on. These are usually associated with specific personality traits. Find out more about communication styles in this short article and then take the assessment.

Leadership style

 There are three basic leadership styles: Autocratic, Democratic and Laissez-Faire (2). Each of these styles has pros and cons. The best leadership calls on all three and applies the most appropriate style in the context of any given situation. As with communication style, we all tend to have a default style. Start by understanding your default style.

The Autocrat maintains control, making decisions directly. They generally provide lots of direct instruction, sometimes to the point of micro-management. They can be Pace setters – often setting a pace which is faster than most people can keep up with. They may choose to withhold information and communicate only what they feel the team “needs to know”.

The Democratic leader shares decision-making and collaborate with others. They strive for consensus and harmony. They tend to be better at leveraging others’ skills and strengths. They share information and communicate regularly.

The Laissez-Faire leader stands back and lets others decide. They have little to no involvement in the day to day of the team. They provide little to no support to their team and they don’t communicate much. Coaching can be considered as a part of Laissez-Faire style – helping team members to find the answer themselves. And sometimes Laissez-Faire leaders are visionaries and expect the team to run with the vision with no further instruction.

Give some thought to what your natural leadership style is. Learn more about when each style is most appropriate and start trying to alternate the style you use based on the situation.

Core beliefs and values

Your deepest beliefs and values influence everything you do. Beliefs can empower us but unfortunately much of the time they can, and often do, handicap us instead. Tony Robbins tells us that “What we can or cannot do, what we consider possible or impossible, is rarely a function of our true capability. It is more likely a function of our beliefs about who we are.”

Beliefs like “I am smarter than most people” or “I know the best way to get things done” can empower you but disempower others. Spend some time getting to know your beliefs, and find out more about how you can change the ones that are holding you back.

Your values impact your behavior and your decisions, but they also hold the key to what motivates you. Some examples of values are: Respect, Education, Power, Money, Harmony, Structure, Hard work and Honesty. If you think about it, you can see that any one of these values can have a strong impact on your decisions and priorities. Spend some time assessing your values. You’ll be more engaged, more motivated when your work environment is in synch with your values. When feeling demotivated, it’s a good idea to check for dissonance between values and the current situation.

Bias

A word about bias to close the chapter on self-awareness. Bias is prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. If you think you have no biases – THINK AGAIN. We all have unconscious bias – and yeah, that means you aren’t aware of it. But it is possible to realize that there are certain things, types of people, situations, attitudes, appearances which rub you the wrong way.

Understanding your biases can be critical to treating people fairly in the workplace. Unconsciously, you could be privileging team members who are “more like you” and giving the short end of the stick to team members who are different in ways that bother you unconsciously. Bias generally starts with a difference.  Start to take notice of the differences between yourself and others that make you uncomfortable or angry or simply disinterested. Once you become aware of a bias it is easier to take steps to keep it from impacting your decisions without all the facts.

In summary, the more you learn about yourself, the more you can take control over unconscious decisions and behavior patterns that are making you an ineffective manager. The good news is, this work will help you improve yourself not only at work but also in your personal relationships since all the same principles apply.

 

1 Pierre Casse, Training for the Cross Cultural Mind, SETAR 1981

2 Lewin, Lippit, White, 1939

Managing organizational change

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Organizational change is inevitable, and we all need to deal with it occasionally. But when you are a manager, you’re responsible not only for yourself, but also for helping your team navigate the changes. Everyone knows change creates stress, but did you know that organizational change is one of the top workplace stressors? The good news is there are lots of things you can do to ease the way for your team.

Announcing change

We’ll talk about two types of organizational change in this article: reorganizations and process change. Regardless of the type of change going on, it’s important for you to share changes as soon as you can to avoid rumor and anxiety. Whenever you are announcing change, you should focus on why the change is happening, the impact to the organization and finally, the impact to your direct team. Some changes will create more emotional response than others. If the change is emotionally charged for you, work on managing your emotion by focusing on the facts and the ways you can help.

When you are describing change to your team, you should focus on opportunities created by the change. Of course, there may be threats and down sides to the situation. Be realistic and honest about the level of difficulty in the change. But even if you don’t agree with the changes taking place, you need to let the team know that your job is to put them in place. So, you can, and should, discuss the “elephants” in the room – but you should shift the focus to what is going to happen going forward instead of dwelling on the downside.

Reorganizations

Reorganizations create a lot of stress. Rumors can fly for weeks, even months sometimes, when major reorganizations are in the works and people can have a lot of time to speculate. Managers don’t always have a lot of time before public announcements. But whenever possible, you should communicate role changes privately before any public announcements. Then, of course, talk to the team about the change and impact to the team. If everyone is not aware of the impact for themselves personally, don’t give details about individuals. Let the team know when you’ll be communicating the new organigram for the team.

Get time with each of your team members to discuss personal impact. If you have new team members joining the team, you’ll want to spend a bit more time with them. Have a discussion about their experience and skills. Share your management style and principles with them and let them know how the team works together. In situations where employees have been moved around a lot due to reorganizations, you’ll want to reassure them as best you can. Often, just taking the time to have such a discussion can go a long way towards reassuring anxious team members. Formally introduce them to the team. Ask everyone to share their roles and something about themselves.

A discussion with the previous manager of team members moving into your team is an important step. Get an update on their perspective, the team member’s salary and performance. For team members moving to other teams, you’ll want to debrief their new managers in a similar fashion.

Finally, if your own manager changes, prepare a clear view of the team, key projects, known issues and your management system. Enquire about their management system and start getting to know their communication and leadership style. Help them get to know you as well by sharing your career trajectory and key skills – both those used in your current role and any untapped skills you aren’t being called on to use currently.

Don’t just assume that once the change is introduced, everything will work fluidly. Keep an eye on how things evolve. Some people adapt quickly and easily to change, others need more time and encouragement.

Process change

Digital transformation is disrupting legacy work processes and how things get done. New processes are meant to be more efficient and effective. The reality is, process change can have the opposite effect for some time before it is understood and becomes deeply rooted. As a manager, you play a key role in easing this transition for your team.

When you are communicating the change, it’s helpful to name a focal point who will share new information, become the “team expert”, and collect questions and issues. That could be you or it could be a member of your team. You can also assign specific topics to individual team members and have them share back what they learned with the rest of the team.

Make sure you are sharing the training documents for the new process. If there are multiple things under transformation in parallel, you may want to provide recommendations for your team for prioritization. Help the team understand where they should focus first, and the best way to get started. That can take the form of a structured training plan or a less formal set of recommendations.

Keep a pulse on what’s working and what isn’t. If there is a company focal point for the change, keep them informed of the major issues and barriers to progress.  Keep the team informed – either through direct participation in updates or by recapping for them. Identify the experts on the new process and help your team to connect with them when appropriate.

In the era of Agile, process change often comes in increments and new processes may be rolled out before they are completely ready for prime time. Frustrations will run high when process change interrupts and hinders daily business needs. Help your team to level-set on what is possible and what is not. Identify the impact and make sure your management is aware. Encourage the team to focus on what they can do and help them troubleshoot overcoming new obstacles.

Finally, talk to your peers and other managers who are managing the transformation. Share the experience your team is having. Learn how other teams are overcoming the obstacles. It’s empowering to know that you aren’t alone, and your team members should understand the level of difficulty being experienced across the organization. It’s not about whining about how hard it is – it’s about realizing that the issues are understood, and that the situation will evolve.

Change is hard. But as a manager, you can make it easier for your team by the way you handle it. Communicate. Stay involved. Keep the team focused. Step by step, change becomes routine again.

Out of sight, out of mind: managing visibility at work

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Working hard and providing value should keep your career from stagnating, right? Unfortunately, sometimes it’s just not enough. Recognition for good work starts with visibility. So, what can you do to make sure your hard work is seen by others?

Inform your manager about major milestones and accomplishments

Your manager can provide opportunities for broader visibility and recognition – but for that they need to be aware of the projects you own and are participating in. When you reach major milestones for projects where you have made a significant contribution, let your manager know. When you are part of a team, share the overall team accomplishment and highlight your personal contribution.

Use internal/external social media

If your organization has an internal communications platform, use it to share your accomplishments. Shout out your thanks to others for their contributions – it will encourage people to do the same for you.  Participate in external communities in your job domain or industry. Share learnings with a blog in internal and external communities – not only what went well but things that went wrong, and how to avoid them.

Share best practices

Most organizations have somewhere to share best practices. When you finish a successful project, consider writing up a best practice. Volunteer to represent the team to present a best practice on an open call. Use external communities to do the same, being careful to modify content if needed to protect confidential information.

Share kudos with your manager

When someone thanks you and gives you kudos for work well done, be sure to pass it on to your manager.  If they give you verbal recognition, ask if they would mind putting it in writing. Most people are happy to send a note directly to a manager to inform them of work well done by their employee – but don’t necessarily think to do it without prompting.

Establish a relationship with your 2nd line manager

Your manager can be a great resource to create visibility for your successes. But sometimes, managers are more interested in taking credit themselves. Regardless, it’s good to get to know your manager’s manager. Often, second line manager’s will hold round tables and town halls to get to know their extended team. Be an active participant – take advantage of Q&A to ask a question. Follow your 2nd line manager in internal and external communications and comment on blogs. 

Ask to participate in a cross departmental task force

Large organizations love to launch task forces to resolve sticky questions. When change is in the air, talk to your manager about how you can participate to influence decisions. Representing your department in a taskforce can give you opportunities to meet new people and share your expertise outside your immediate hierarchy.

Offer to do cross departmental training

Are you an expert in something others could benefit from understanding better? Offer to do cross departmental training to share your expertise. For example, you could teach others how to read KPI’s for your department, or how to work effectively with your team. Sharing your knowledge freely, formally and informally, not only demonstrates your expertise but your good will.

Offer to sit in for your manager in their absence

Who sits in for your manager when they are away? Volunteering to sit in for your manager can be a big responsibility, but it can also be a direct way to have contact with your 2nd line manager and other managers in your organization. An alternative can be representing your boss in a regular meeting which presents a conflict.

Don’t be the invisible (wo)man at work. Share your accomplishments and your expertise and keep your career moving. 

First published on Forbes.com.

Working with ineffective bosses

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We have all had ineffective bosses at one time or another in our careers. Alas, there are many reasons for poor leadership. Bad leadership can be the result of lack of experience, communication skills or lack of emotional intelligence. When the situation is the result of knowledge gaps, it CAN help to let your boss know what you need from him or her. And frankly, you should always try to communicate your needs to your boss, even if they aren’t receptive. But often, poor leadership is the result of depending too much on one leadership style.

Regardless of why your boss is an ineffective leader, it’s not your role to “fix” your boss. So, you’re going to have to figure out how to work with them for the time being. Because leadership style is so often the culprit, first we’ll take a look at the different management styles. Then we’ll look at some ways you can manage a boss with a specific style.

Leadership styles

Get to know your manager – their likes, dislikes, expectations and habits. Their communication style is an important piece of information that can help you tailor the focus and level of detail that you share with them.  Knowing your boss’ leadership style is the first step in learning how to best deal with him/her effectively. The three basic management styles are Autocratic, Democratic and Laissez-Faire.  While the Democratic leader can still be a poor manager, most often, issues with managers come from those who adopt a more autocratic or laissez-faire style. The best managers combine different elements from all three styles since there is a time and place for each approach. Many managers, however, will tend towards one of the three. 

Autocratic – The autocrat maintains control, making decisions directly. They provide specific instructions. They limit the decision-making of their employees. They may be Pacesetters, setting high standards and demanding the same of all others. They are often focused on negative feedback and corrective actions.

Democratic – The democratic leader makes decisions but considers the opinions of one or more team members. They strive to gain consensus. They leverage the knowledge and skills of the group. They may be Affiliative, striving to maintain harmony and connect people together, focusing on the results of the group versus the individual.

Laissez-faire – Rather than maintaining control of decisions, the laissez-faire manager lets employees make decisions directly. The “pure” laissez-faire manager provides little leadership, simply lets things happen and does not intervene.  But laissez-faire managers can also be Coaches, focusing on the individual and helping them see how to improve their performance. They may also be Visionaries, capable of painting a vision for the team and letting them run with it.

The Autocratic manager

The pure autocratic manager can be extremely hard to work with. Many leaders get to where they are because of their intellect and business acumen, not their relationship skills and emotional intelligence. You can learn a great deal from a smart but difficult leader if you can set aside their personality and focus on the knowledge they have to offer. It’s important that early on in the relationship you assess your personal motivations. What do you have to gain by getting along with this person? 

They often have a very abrasive style, which you should avoid taking personally. Listen to the message and do your best not to focus on the tone or style of delivery. If the abrasive style goes over the line to bullying and harassment, you’ll want to start thinking about taking action. My article 8 things you can do when you have a toxic boss covers how to document the situation.

Besides tone and style, Autocratic managers can prefer to keep information to themselves, making it difficult to stay on top of strategic direction and transformation. Leverage formal communications channels proactively as a starter. You can also establish a network of allies across the organization to create an informal communication channel.

Finally, it’s never a good idea to surprise an Autocratic manager. Keep them advised of issues as they emerge. It’s not about asking for help at early stages, but sharing that there is a problem and how you are handling it. If it escalates, they’ll be aware.

The Laissez-faire manager

The Laissez-faire manager is a completely different profile, usually with an extreme hands-off approach to management. Because they are not involved in the day to day workings of their team, they tend to have limited knowledge about how things work, and delegate downwards often.

Whether or not you enjoy it, with a manager like this you need to embrace autonomy. Forge your own path and manage yourself as best you can. If your manager isn’t responsive to requests for help or questions about how to do things, you’ll want to establish a network of experts around you who you can ask for help.

You’ll also want to provide your own visibility within the organization. Chances are, the Laissez-faire manager isn’t talking much to others about the team’s work or individual contributions. Find ways to share your key projects with others via best practice forums or other communication methods. Establish a relationship with your 2nd line manager if at all possible and keep them posted of your major accomplishments.

As with the Autocratic manager, Laissez-faire managers often don’t share information. In their case, they aren’t keeping it for themselves, they are simply negligent about passing it on. Sometimes, asking for more information can yield the “forward” of a key communication. But you’ll want to take the same measures mentioned above establishing your own sources for information.

Finally, even if your manager isn’t interested in knowing the details of your day to day work, you’ll want to keep them informed about your decisions and issues. They probably won’t do anything with it, but at the end of the day, you want to be able to demonstrate that your manager was aware of important issues and decisions if there is a problem down the line.

First line managers

The beauty and the curse of first line management is that you have the capability to create a different environment for your team than the broader environment in your organization. So, if you have an autocratic or laissez-faire manager, you can take matters in your own hands with your team.

Start by adopting your own management system. You can establish communication and a collaborative work environment within your own team. You can also help your team by pushing back on unreasonable demands and suggesting alternatives and trade-offs. It won’t always work, but it’s a win whenever it does.

Help your team members know what to expect when they are meeting with the boss. You can give them guidance about the boss’ leadership and communication style and help them learn how to interact effectively. 

Fostering collaboration

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Collaboration is essential to the success of multi-discipline and multi-departmental projects. It serves to provide different types of perspectives and expertise on any given problem or project. Indeed, it enhances the effectiveness of problem solving when done well. It also provides great opportunities for learning and growth.

Collaboration is more than just teamwork. Teamwork requires knowing your role, the steps to do it and who and when to hand off. Collaboration requires sharing perspective, opinion and experience. Without collaboration, a group of people is only as strong as each person’s individual contributions. A collaborative team however, represents more than the sum total of its members.

As a manager or project manager, collaboration starts with you. The first step to fostering collaboration is to solicit it yourself. If you are open to listening, understanding and applying others’ expertise, you can leverage their strengths. When you have a new project, idea, problem, take it to the team and ask for input. Encourage questions and facilitate brainstorming sessions to solve problems. Demonstrate by example how you strengthen your decision-making with others’ expertise. Be careful, If you invite other’s opinions but consistently ignore them, the team will be likely to mirror your behavior and stay entrenched in their own views.

Sharing expertise is the most empowering benefit of collaboration. Encourage it by establishing where expertise lies in the team. Who is the expert in key tools, processes, and skills? Communicate that expertise to the whole group. Ask experts to give their input when their domain is involved. Invite experts, in your team and in others, to share their expertise with the broader team. When new tools and processes are established, ask for a volunteer to become the focal point and expert.

Provide a forum to share best practices. When you see something particularly well done, innovative or effective, ask the team to create a best practice and share it around. But don’t only share successes. Share stories about issues and problems so the team can learn from past mistakes and help solve current problems.

One of the critical elements in collaboration is trust. Trust that a person, team or group is fully sharing knowledge, will do what they say they will do and has no hidden agendas. Reputation and personal experience govern trust in general. If you have a reputation for being a straight shooter and a good listener, open to discussion, you’ll begin new collaborations with an advantage of additional trust. If you are known as closed minded and unwilling to discuss or negotiate, you’ll find others less willing to work together.

Collaboration can also get out of hand. Not every topic needs to be debated and decided on in a group. Determining what decisions, problems and projects require collaboration and which ones don’t is an important first step. Where you, or your team, have ALL the expertise required to make a decision - no collaboration needed! If problems and projects require cross functional expertise, you’ll need to have the perspective of other teams and disciplines – thus collaboration.

When you are bringing together large groups, there are a few ways you can manage collaboration so it does not get out of control. Establish the expertise of each person in the group at the outset. When decisions present themselves, explicitly designate the experts who will have the final say/decision. That could be a combination of a sponsor/project manager and an expert, or several experts. The larger group can be asked for input and should be given an explanation on the key points which influenced the decision.

Finally, when very diverse groups meet together on a regular basis, it’s key to establish an agenda for meetings and clearly define what topics will be covered and decisions are needed.  This allows collaborators to know when they can safely bow out of a meeting where their expertise is less in demand.

It’s quite amazing to see a team start to get more autonomous about problem solving – going to one another for insights and advice before coming to the team’s or project’s manager. It takes some time to instill an overall sense of collaboration in a team. If you’re just getting started, be patient. It’s up to you to start by setting the example and then encourage others to follow suit.

Authenticity and vulnerability: walking the tightrope

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We all wear a mask to some extent when we go to work. We want to put forward our best selves. We put on our work uniforms (and yes, even those of us who don’t wear a formal uniform still have our “work clothes”), comb our hair, put on our makeup and show our professional faces. Being authentic at work can be daunting. What to show, what to keep for ourselves?

Say what you think

There are many ways to be authentic. One is to say what you really think instead of sticking to a company “party-line” or blindly agreeing to other’s ideas. Share your thoughts and experience, and especially your ideas for different ways to do things. Make sure you are providing productive feedback though, and not just griping. It’s worth speaking up with a different opinion if it comes with a different solution to solve the problem. Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates an alternative opinion or solution being proposed. You’ll find some leaders open and others who expect their team to simply fall in line. Listen and learn who your boss is and how he or she prefers to hear opinions, thoughts and ideas.

When I have to deliver news which I know is uncomfortable, I share my own discomfort with the situation. Just because are required to do something as a manager or an employee does not mean you are comfortable with it. I have always tried to be open about what I think about things personally at the same time as I demonstrate, professionally, that I expect us to all move forward despite our discomfort. It’s a fine line to walk. As a manager, you represent decision-making authority, even if you didn’t make the decision. Showing your team compassion for the impact of the decision while taking concrete actions to implement it is not an impossible conundrum, but it is a little tricky. 

Lift the mask

Authenticity also comes from lifting up the mask a little and letting people see your personal life. Sharing stories about your favorite hobby, or about time spent with your spouse or children, your vacation, all enable people to see a personal side to you. You become more relatable to people who have something in common with you. And that’s part of how trust and relationships are built. The other part comes, of course, from delivering professionally.

Be vulnerable

Another aspect of authenticity is vulnerability. Admitting to others that you are human and capable of mistakes requires humility and vulnerability. To me, that’s a big part of vulnerability – being honest about your personal responsibility in things. Yes, I made a mistake…..and here’s how I am going to fix it. And here’s how I am going to avoid this ever happening again. Apologizing is a powerful tool, but it is much more powerful when accompanied by an action to counter the mistake.

Read the situation

I’ve gotten mixed advice over the years about admitting mistakes, or admitting that I don’t know something. Part of that is definitely from working in a Global culture. Some cultures admire the capability to admit mistakes and others are more focused on maintaining “face”. So, know who you are talking to and decide if you can “lift the mask” and show your face or whether you need to maintain the perfect professional face.

But it’s not just who you are talking to but what’s going on around you. The HBR article, The authenticity paradox, gives two examples where authenticity and vulnerability did not work out well. Admitting that you need help is one thing. Appearing like you can’t handle your job is quite another. In addition, authenticity is not an open invitation to refuse to grow in uncomfortable ways. Like everything else, there’s a time and a place for authenticity and vulnerability. Be sensitive to the context of your situation and the personalities of the people around you.

This blog was first published at Forbes.

Making things happen

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My gift, my superpower, has always been the capability to make things happen. At 17, I wanted to live in New York City. At 20, I decided I was going to France. At 26, I joined IBM as a temporary secretary, convinced I would do more. At 42, I decided I was going to be an executive. And I did all those things and more. The truth however is, it’s not really a superpower. Making things happen is something everyone can do.

Believe in yourself

All my life, people have told me what I could and couldn’t do. And I have ignored them copiously. Each person has a unique perspective on the world. Some are narrow and constrained, others are broad and wide open. Alas and hallelujah, what you believe directly impacts what you are capable of. What I believe is that anything is possible if you are willing to pay the price. Emerson said “What will you have? quoth God : pay for it and take it.” Step one is to simply believe this is true.

Dream big

A direct extension of believing in yourself is the ability to dream big. To dream big, you have to let go of all the endless permutations of destiny which could lead to failure. Some dreams never take off because we squash them with doubts and imagined barriers. We tell ourselves “I can’t do that” and that’s the end of that, we don’t even allow ourselves to dream it. Imagine, just for a moment, that you CAN do that. Imagine yourself doing it – how you would feel, how it would change your life. Bask in that feeling for a moment.

Decide, with confidence, you’re going to do it

At some point, you need to decide that you are going to do this. Weighing the pros and cons, the potential hurdles, the unknowns becomes useless at some point. You will never know everything that stands between you and your dream. You have to start. If your heart is all in, if you’re ready to pay the price, whatever it is, it’s time to just decide. You’re going to do it.

Tell people

Now, don’t be shy, tell people about your decision. Your family, your friends, even strangers you meet along the way. Sharing your dream and intentions serves two purposes. The first is creating accountability. By tell others your intentions, you bolster your own intentions about the decision and create accountability. Turning back will require telling people you changed your mind. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind, but we feel more inclined to deliver on promises and can be more motivated to make them happen. The second purpose is that sharing your dream and goal can open doors you never thought possible.  Every person you meet is a potential ally, may be the keeper of a key you can’t see or know about until it has unlocked a door.

Keep your eyes and ears open

The world conspires with you when you are paying attention. No matter what you are paying attention to. It never fails to amaze me that when I have made an important decision, I start noticing possibilities all around me. When I decided to go to France, I got a school newsletter that announced a scholarship for international studies the very same day. The day before, I might have received the very same newsletter and not noticed the scholarship. Possibilities ARE everywhere. We just aren’t always paying attention for them.

Take action - Think, plan, do, adjust

Build a plan. Reaching big dreams can take time, and there can be major milestones along the way which have to be met. Think about the steps you need to take to be successful. Plan them out and start doing them. Don’t be surprised that once you start doing things, your plan may change. Frankly, once you start doing things and taking steps towards your dream, even your dream and your ultimate vision can change. That’s ok. Think, plan, do and adjust. Repeat again and again and again.

Accept that sometimes you will fail

There are many pathways to take to get to any final destination. Some of the roads you go down will be dead ends. Things will not turn out the way you hoped or planned. And that’s ok. Learn from these things and store the lessons away to serve you the rest of your life. We learn more from our mistakes than our successes, so embrace it. Backtrack and pick a new path and continue along the way.

Celebrate

In long journeys, there are many defeats and victories. No accomplishment along the way is too small to celebrate. Take a moment when you achieve a step in the right direction to recognize the effort it took you to get that far. Do a happy dance. Give yourself a pat on the back. For major milestones, treat yourself and invite others to celebrate with you.

My dream today is this blog, this new coaching and training business, this new direction in life which sometimes seems like it is taking off and others seems like it is stuck down in the mud. But I know I will find a way. I am finding it every day.

Prioritization and time management

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No matter what stage in life you are in, things can get hectic and overwhelming. As soon as you have more than one thing to do, you need to manage your time and prioritize. At work, in many jobs, there is ALWAYS more you could do. So, how can you deal with that without killing yourself?

Start by having good time management practices. Use your calendar – not only to book meetings with others but to block out time to do important tasks. Know the meetings on your calendar. Which meetings do you need to prepare for? Which meetings absolutely require your presence?

Be militant with your agenda. Set guidelines for the times that you are willing and able to take meetings, with a standard morning start time and evening end time. Start negotiating the time of meetings (and the length!) to fit your limits. Know when it is necessary to accept an exception – it will happen but it should be just that, the exception and not the rule.

The same goes for planning out tasks. If you block time to do an important task, protect it and don’t just give it away at the first request. Put yourself in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. If you can’t do that, use a “Do not Disturb” sign to signal to those around you that you need to be uninterrupted.

All that is well and good but what about the unplanned requests and tasks? Everything that comes up seems to be urgent and practically overdue before you even get started. How do you weigh the priorities of the different tasks you have to accomplish?

There are several scales to think about as you weigh the priority of your to do list. The first is urgency. What is the due date? How much time will it take to do it? What’s the latest you can get started and be timely? Consider the various due dates on your actions and you can prioritize by due date and time to get done. But that’s not enough.

The second is importance. Is the task strategic or tactical? What is the impact if this task is not done? If it’s not done on time? Who is asking for it? Assess the level of importance of the task and the potential consequences of not doing the task. Make sure you understand what the purpose (or end goal) is and not just the task you are being asked to fulfill. Many deadlines can be moved and it’s important to get a sense of whether or not deadlines are fixed due to dependencies or whether they were randomly picked. Some tasks may have little or no consequence if they are not done.

When considering who is asking for the work to be done, I would suggest some caution. It’s not about systematically prioritizing what the big bosses want. Yes, it’s an important consideration if a high-level executive is requesting something. However, the implications of not meeting some peer deadlines may have high consequences down the line, so never decide based on who is asking with no other context.

Once you have looked at all this, you can reshuffle your priorities and your time to accommodate it. But how can you make time? There are a number of ways.

1)      Learn to say no – some tasks that you are requested to do may be “nice to have” but not critical compared to the rest of your task list.

2)      Cancel meetings which are not time sensitive when you have an exceptional fire drill

3)      Shift priorities – take over a time slot which was meant for another, less urgent task. Don’t forget to reschedule the task you are stealing the slot from, unless you decide elimination is the way to go.

4)      Consider “good enough” solutions to requests – understanding the end goal of a request is important. Sometimes, more work is requested than is needed to meet the goal. Some people are perfectionists and will systematically go deeper and provide more polish than is required. A request for an in-depth report may hide the need for a specific number. Data from last week which has already been analyzed may be good enough to give someone a glimpse into the trends they need to understand. Understand when you can do less and still meet the end goal.

5)      Don’t be a slave to instant messaging and email – responsiveness is great, but it’s not always needed by return. When you have a vital task to accomplish, turn your instant messaging to Do Not Disturb while you work. Ignore email notifications which pop up on your screen. Focus on the task at hand and go back to your new messages later.

Don’t let you’re your tasks and priorities manage you. Take charge and start managing your time and priorities more effectively! Having trouble? Get a coach to help!

Setting goals and action planning

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For me, there is no question. Setting goals, planning, listing actions, that’s my nature. If I can see a goal, I will start ticking off what needs to happen to get there (whether it’s my goal or yours!). The problem with setting goals and action planning isn’t that they don’t work. It’s that they only work when you manage and adjust them with flexibility. Because what’s most important, right now, can change, and often does, in a heartbeat.

Goal setting starts with a vision for something you want to accomplish. For a college student, that could be the vision of graduation, landing a job, starting to become independent. For someone in their late 20’s and 30’s, it could be having children and giving them a good start in life. That could mean increasing earning power and evolving job and career. For someone in their 40’s or 50’s, it may be about planning a second chapter to your life and career.

The vision and its key elements become your goals. This opens the possibility to plan. Planning is nothing more than identifying the things that are going to help you achieve the goal. Start by asking yourself some key questions:

·         Resources – what resources do I need to succeed? What people could help me? What communities/collective resources do I have at my disposal?

·         Investment – what do I need to invest (time, money) to succeed? What trade-offs can I make to free up what I need?

·         Environment –  how does my day to day environment encourage / discourage my success? What changes can I make?

·         Behavior – what changes in my behavior are required to be successful? What habits are working for me / against me?

·         Time – how much time is required? Overall? On a daily/weekly/monthly basis?

·         Milestones – what important steps do I need to achieve along the way?

Now you can start mapping out your plan. Lay out the overall timeframe and the key milestones. Document the key actions you will take and the timeframe within which you will do them.  Here is an example.

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It’s not enough to just make a list. You have to be committed to actually doing them. Accountability is a big part of success. How will you keep yourself accountable? Self-discipline is great, but it’s not always enough. It’s great to have an accountability buddy. That’s someone who you can share your goals and actions with and count on to hold you accountable.

A big part of accountability is taking the next step from planning to doing. That’s when prioritization and time management start to come into play. Start by scheduling actions on your calendar.

There are only 24 hours in a day. Even when you go so far as to play out every hour of your day, life is full of unexpected turns. So, not only do you have to plan, you have to be flexible while you are trying to impose some order! Be ready to shift your gears and focus. But don’t lose sight of what you’re put off temporarily. Adjust your plan accordingly.

Think

Plan

Do

Adjust

It’s a never-ending cycle. You may be adjusting for the timeframe of smaller actions to reach a milestone. You may find you need to change the timing of key milestones. In any case, it’s important to check in on the status of your plan regularly (schedule time to do it weekly or monthly depending on how intense your plan is). 

Remember that the end goal is not set in stone either. Often on the journey to reach a goal, our vision evolves and changes from what we initially had in mind. Don’t blindly continue working towards a long term goal – reassess your vision and goals on a regular basis.

Think, plan, do, adjust. Make goal setting and action planning part of your DNA. Your dreams will get that much closer.   

Remembering joy on bad days

Some days, it’s hard to remember what joy feels like. When you’re sick or in pain, troubled by work or money or relationships, worried about loved ones, the last thing on your mind is to open it up to feel joy.

And yet, isn’t that exactly when we need it most?

Three weeks ago, I had one of those moments. All was well in my world, for that breath, that moment in time. It felt wonderful. But I knew those moments are fleeting and that this one would be too. So I cherished it. I thought about all the good things in my life and listened to the joy radiating within.

This week, in the midst of an onslaught of health issues in the family, I thought of that moment. I stopped to remember the reasons why life can feel so good. I stopped to realize that most of those reasons were all still right there, front and center in my life. And I felt good.

It was only a moment. But it’s one that grounded my day.

Some days, it’s hard to remember to look for the joy. Take just a moment, even on your worst days, to remember yours.

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Building organizational acumen

Organizational acumen is nothing more or less than understanding how things work in your organization. The better you understand the structure, systems, processes and people in the organization, the more effective you will be at getting things done. Find out how you can improve your organizational acumen.

Communication styles

Communication is the key to success in ……. just about everything. But if you’re looking to have a successful career, it’s a foundational skill that you need to master. This blog series will take a look at three aspects of communication.

Passionate Or Pushy – How To Avoid Going Over The Line

When you are emotionally charged and passionate about your work, it’s easy to cross the border from passionate to pushy. When you’re passionate, you are enthusiastic, eager, fervid, emotional, and heartfelt. When you’re pushy, you are overbearing, domineering, aggressive, and forceful. How can enthusiasm deteriorate into aggression?

8 tips for resolving conflict

Wherever there is conflict, there is liable to be escalating stress. As a project manager, your actions and reactions in the face of conflict will set an example for the team. Every conflict is unique, but basically is about managing opposing forces and disagreement. You’ll see that resolving conflict calls on many areas of learning we have covered so far. This blog focuses on bringing it all together.