Monthly Archives: March 2013

Success or failure at work? You make the call

Recently I was working on an initiative for my job that involved getting some feedback from an Executive Director at my company. I had emailed him, asking a couple of questions and requesting a meeting to discuss what I was working on.

Over a week went by without a response. I found out that he was on vacation and wouldn’t be back for another week or so. A couple days after he was scheduled to come back in the office, I emailed him again. This time another week or two went back without any response. I was beginning to get frustrated. Why wasn’t he responding me? I’m sure he had a full inbox to look through when he returned to the office but surely he has cleared it out by now!

That week I was attending a meeting with a number of other local leaders and after the meeting ended I got to talking to VP at my company. I expressed my frustration about the situation and lack of response to my emails by the Executive Director, but was stunned with the VP’s response to my comment. It wasn’t accusatory or condescending, but more inquisitive.

“Why don’t you just give him a call?” she questioned.

Then it hit me. How could I have not done something as simple as picking up the phone? I realized how technology has caused us to put up so many barriers and in some ways has hurt the work relationships that are so crucial to build. We look for the easiest way for us to communicate something, instead of one that is the best for the person we are communicating with. I also felt like a bit of a moron, given that I had overlooked such a simple solution.

The next day I made the call and was able to connect with the Executive Director and get the information I needed for my project right away. All that stressing I did was for nothing and what I had built up to be a hassle in my mind, was really a simple fix.

Email is great, don’t get me wrong, but our reliance on it (especially at work) has caused us to forget about some of the most effective ways to communicate. Email can provide a better record of a conversation, but it is much easier for someone to say “no” when you ask them for something electronically. It is much harder to be turned down over the phone or in person. In using email, we also look to avoid confrontation and instead engage in a bunch of back and forth, as more questions come up or people pay half attention to what you write, asking for information that you already provided.

Talking to someone live or on the phone demands more of their attention and engages them in a way that sending an email cannot. Plus, it is a more efficient form of communication because you can get the answers you want immediately, instead of having to wait for a response (what will invariably come when you are distracted doing something else). Moreover, since many of us receives dozens of emails a day, our email may get lost among the others, while a call stands out more. One final, often forgotten, benefit of talking with someone live is that it improves your working relationship, helping you do your job better in the future.

Instead of only relying on less-personal forms of communication where tonality and urgency can be lost, go back to the “old school” and connect with people more directly.

Successful young professionals are willing to proactively pick up the phone to get what they want. They set up an in-person meeting to build a better relationship instead of just relying on technology platforms.

So go ahead and pick up the phone, or drop by your co-workers’ office instead of sending that email. Not only will it improve your working relationships, but it will help you get the answers you need faster. The worst that could happen is that you have to leave a message.

 

BE AWESOME!

-MR. BIZ

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From peer to boss: How to manage a team you used to be a part of

Going from peer to manager can be a difficult process. It is a challenge for you, taking on a management role where you used to be an individual contributor, and it is challenging for your team members, as they have to take orders from someone who used to be their peer.

A STAR manager (someone who is Savvy, Tenacious, Adaptive and Resourceful… for those not familiar with the archetype discussed in my book)  is able to leverage the benefit of knowing what it takes to be successful at what her team does while being sensitive to the fact that it may be difficult for their old peers to see them an authority figure.

To start, STAR managers are conscious of the fact that this situation may happen, so they are sensitive about the reputation they create for themselves among their peers. It is much harder to get a team to believe in you as a manager if you were thought of as selfish, scheming or dishonest.

When transitioning from peer to manager, STARs do the following:

  • Transition relationships: STAR managers work with their close ex-peers to help them understand their new role and to ask for their support during the transition. The book The First Time Manager, by Loren Belker and Gary Topchik, characterizes the complexities of being promoted to manage your old team well when it notes that knowing employees too well can be an issue because a certain comfort level has already developed. They go on to note the importance of setting the right expectations, rules and regulations, fostering accountability.
  • Treat everyone equally: It is natural for people to like and get along with people at varying degrees when you are on their team. As a manager, however, you must make an effort to treat everyone equally. It is okay to have past peers/now employees that are friends who you socialize with outside of work, but you must not show them any favoritism or it will create a division within the team.
  • Show your authority: STAR managers treat this as carefully as walking across a frozen pond. As mentioned, you will be challenged by your team. Especially as an ex-peer they will use all kinds of logic to get you to relax as a manager and cut them slack. Ensure that you portray yourself as an authority figure. Discipline rule breaking and seize coaching opportunities. While it is important to exert that you are the boss and that people must follow your lead, be careful how you do this; otherwise your people will develop an “oh you have changed” mentality and not trust you as a manager. It is okay for them to think you have changed, but openly discuss with them why.
  • Find ways to show that you are their advocate: Make a concerted effort to show your team that you will stand up for them and support them. Find ways to make positive change. A great place to start is to take your new authority and find ways to remove obstacles that bothered you in the role before you became a manager.
  • Keep the right frame of mind: Don’t lose sight of the fact that you understand how to do the job your people are tasked with doing and the challenges they face. Keeping this perspective will help you in shaping the appropriate culture, vision and management style to use with the team.
  • Have fun and learn: Since you remember what it is like to be an employee on the team, further integrate what the individuals on the team would typically find fun and look for new learning experiences that are valuable.
  • Shift the culture: While there may be pressure to keep things the way they are, make sure to leverage a contingency approach and change the culture to better fit your management style. You may face some pushback from your team on this, but follow through if you believe the change is important.

When taking on a management role in these types of situations, be mindful of not only being tested by your new employees but also of any resentment that exists. In many cases, one of your other ex-peers interviewed for the position you received or possibly thinks they are more deserving of the position than you are. This may cause them to hold a grudge and act in certain ways to make you look like an incompetent leader. This can manifest itself in many ways, like them purposely making mistakes on things that you ask for their help on that they know you won’t catch because of a time crunch or because you trust them with it.

One way to deal with this resentment and animosity is to address the issue head on, speaking to individuals on your team and acknowledging how they feel . When doing this make sure not to come off as if you have an “I won and you didn’t” attitude.

Another way to handle this kind of situation is to be nice to these employees and show them that you value and support them in their own career progression. Specifically seek out their advice and find ways to make them look good. This will calm the resentment and focus them on reaching the team’s goals.

STAR managers see situations to manage where she used to be part of the team as a unique opportunity to help the team be even more successful. She successfully leverages her past experience to remove obstacles, empower her employees and create a culture that the entire team believes will help the team achieve even more.

BE AWESOME!

-MR. BIZ

No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.
-Abraham Lincoln

Every time I appoint someone to a vacant position, I make a hundred unhappy and one ungrateful.

– Louis XIV

A nerdy professional guilty pleasure

Everyone has their guilty pleasures. For some it’s chocolate, for others it’s trashy books. While most associate them with their personal lives, these guilty pleasures can creep over into your professional life as well. It can take the form of getting wrapped up in office gossip or even doing something around the office that you shouldn’t do (I’ll let your imaginations go with that one).

My professional guilty pleasure isn’t all that exciting; in fact, it’s downright nerdy. My secret professional love is work conferences.

I dig ‘em. Whether it’s a live webcast, or even better yet, in person, I crave the stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, a good amount of what happens at conferences is fluff. It can take the form of a ra-ra “repeat after me” chant initiated by a company executive. I have even seen my company hire singers who take a stupid template for a song that they throw three or four relevant references about my company into in order to make it sound like the song was written just for us.

Last week, I attended a multi-day leadership conference that my company put on and was reminded of the great things that in-person conferences offer. Here are 5 reasons why you should love conferences too:

  1. You can sharpen your sword– In my first book, I referenced the importance of being a constant learner. With the burden of our daily responsibilities and endless inboxes full of to do’s, we often forget to build our skills. A number of famous quotes say something to the effect that once we stop learning we stop living. Careers stall when you forget to sharpen your skills by either learning new things or being reminded of timeless lessons. Conferences can provide you with this training. It’s also a good thing to take advantage of when your company puts money into building your skills.
  2. It’s a break away from the office– While we have to deal with the backlog of email and other deadlines that don’t just stop because we aren’t at our desks, conferences offer a nice break away from the office. At times these sessions are in other cities, allowing us to get a change of scenery and to clear our heads a little bit. A deviation from the normal day-to-day can give us some good perspective.
  3. For the networking– With so much training and development happening through web-based content because of the lower cost, in-person conferences are becoming less frequent (side note: I don’t know about you, but I tend to get distracted with web conferences, looking at email or doing something else. With in-person conferences there is a different level of focus). In-person conferences allow you to network with people from different parts of your company and from different geographic areas. Strengthening these relationships, and building new ones through networking, can really help you get your work done faster and more efficiently in the future. Seeing each other face-to-face is an important element of business that helps people buy-in to you and your ideas more; something that is lost in other forms of technology. Plus, the networking (especially the kind that takes place at night after the day’s session) is the most fun.
  4. The “swag”– Sometimes it’s crap, but other times it can be pretty cool. Most conferences have giveaways and other free stuff handed out at these conferences. From water bottles, to great leadership books to prizes like smartphones, your can pick up some pretty awesome stuff at company conferences.
  5. The thoughts sparked– Above the other 4 reasons to love in-person conferences, my favorite benefit of this time away from my office is not necessarily the dose of inspiration that a speaker provides, but the thoughts provoked in my own mind. There have been countless times when a speaker is droning away but then offers a statement that provokes an awesome thought in my mind. It could be something I realize that will help me do my job better, or maybe a new idea for a project I am working on; but I have found that the conversation in my head sparked by either something I learn at the conference (or just having the time away to clear my head) has been incredibly valuable throughout my career to this point.

So value the time spent at conferences. It’s better to take a conference call or shoot out a couple emails from the hallway outside the conference room than not go to the conference at all. Who knows, you might make a connecting that leads to your next job, or you may spark a big idea at the next conference you attend. Even a nerdy guilty pleasure like conferences can be a huge help to your career.

 

BE AWESOME!

-MR. BIZ

 

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