Close 2016 with a Bang

2017_new_year_template_design_with_runway_6824428Now that Labor Day is behind us, it is time to enter the final push to make 2016 successful.  There are roughly 80 days until Thanksgiving, which basically ends the work year.  That is less than 60 work days to make an impact on your year.  Instead of freaking out, figure out what you need to do to make the year a success for your company, team and yourself.

I would focus on the following areas.

1.       Your Professional Development.  It is time to stop procrastinating and get your continuing education credits (and other training) done.  It is important that you invest in yourself but also that you are current.  One of the easiest ways to get overlooked for a promotion is because you let your credentials lapse.

2.       Your “Stated” Goals. It is a great time to check where your progress on your performance goals.  Are you going to make bonus?  Where are you missing budget?  Do you have the tools to fix it?  This should be a quarterly exercise any way, but for the fourth quarter, now is the time to review.  Waiting until October is too late.

3.       Your Short Term Projects.  Stay motivated and get all of those annoying quick projects off your desk.  Need to analyze some boring reports or reorganize an office area?  Take care of it now. You get to cross them off your To Do list and add them to your accomplishments for the year.

4.       Your Long Term Projects.  Guess what?  The end of the year is upon us.  All of those reengineering programs that you were going to do, need to be sped up and finished.  Was reinventing the sales cycle or the AP process all year a project?  The time to get it done is now.  What is great about this type of pressure is that it unclouds you and enables you to work through the project with renewed interest.

5.       Your Personal Development.  Look at the relationships you developed over the year and see how they impacted your ability to perform your job better.  If you did not invest in building deeper relations with your co-workers, customers, or colleagues, then you need to do it now.  Focus on growing your sphere of influence.  The more people who like you, the easier it is to get your tasks completed.

End the year on a high, work hard to improve your performance and you will reap rewards.  Who knows, you may figure out how to coast all year and surge your way to greatness.

What Happens When Your Leader Leaves?

control-tense-situation-150x150This is a question that gets asked a lot in terms of team sports.  Just this week, the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers had to ask that question before and after their trade of two clubhouse leaders.  NFL teams ask themselves that every time they cut a trusted veteran and decide to keep a younger player.  Their businesses are built on cohesion and chemistry.  Tinkering with that mix may yield a disastrous season.

In the business world, these changes happen all of the time.  CEOs and other senior leaders change companies constantly, taking their “team” with them from job to job.  The leadership void that is left behind can potentially cripple a team or company until the next regime comes in and starts implementing their plan.

Regardless of your spot in a company, when your leader leaves, you have a chance to improve your company standing.  Being ready for that opportunity is a key to your upward mobility.  You should focus on the following:

1.       Interpersonal relationships within the current organization.  If you are a good teammate and have made positive relationships in the key departments that affect your team, you are already on the radar for moving up.  Continue investing in these relationships when there is a leadership void.  Your presence will help you become a go to person.

2.       Global perspective.  Looking at your corporate landscape and understanding where the company needs you will help you gain the access needed to become a more valued leader.  If your former boss used to present quarterly numbers to the Board and you were the person running them, volunteer to fill that void.

3.       Being the calming influence.  People hate change and tend to overact to it.  Be the person who people can vent to and be reassured that the situation will improve.  Our positive outlook will help the team stay together and people will look to you for more important issues.

One of the biggest things you don’t want to do is self-appoint yourself as the heir apparent.  No one wants you to be a “grave robber”- waiting for your opportunity to advance during a time of mourning.  You need to state your desire to be the next leader, but not in a sneaky or grandiose way.

Being a leader is earned, take the time to invest in yourself and your team and people will see you as the next leader whenever the old one is traded, released or goes somewhere else.

Want to be a Better Leader? Volunteer!

thank-you-volunteersVolunteerism around America is declining in droves.  People are too busy to “give back” to their community.  Nonprofit organizations are struggling to fill their Boards.  Local sports leagues cannot find coaches, umpires or administrators. 

And guess what?  Our businesses are going to feel the effects of this decline.  One of the best ways to learn to lead is to do so through volunteering.  You are one of a team of people who have a similar interest in a topic, let’s say children’s athletics.  Your goal is simple- improve the experience of every player in the organization.  But how you get there is unique to each team member.  In order for this team to function, someone needs to take the lead.

There is one big difference between leading at work versus volunteering- most people in volunteering are agreeable to being led, especially if the person is likeable, well-spoken and almost smart.  They want to achieve a common goal and are giving up their free time to get there.  Politics, back stabbing, fear of job loss, etc. are not in the equation.  Volunteers are willing to work with a leader and accept mistakes more readily because “it is not their real job”. 

The skills that you learn from leading during your “volunteer” time is invaluable.  Skills like managing people who do not work for you, making change with minimal resources, time management, consensus building, customer service, and conflict management are must haves for the strong volunteer.  Funny because they are also some of the key skills that leaders need to be developed.

Why do companies look for team captains and student government for employment after college?  Easy, they are leaders in the making.  They were seen by their peers to be worthy of following.  So why do companies want you to volunteer?  For the same reason, they want to see who their leaders are.  They want to see how you work in a group of strangers and whether you lead, follow or drop.

So, make the last third of 2016 productive, find an organization, and volunteer.  Your career will thank you as will the people whose lives you impact. 

Solving a Misunderstanding

meetingIf you have ever dealt with another person in your life, you have had a misunderstanding.  Things like cream in your coffee instead of black or who forgot to set the alarm when you leave your house are issues that can be very easily handled and, after a quick remedy, are put behind you.

When a misunderstanding happens at work, however, they tend to blow up bigger than they really are.  Things like forgetting to send a package or returning a call can become huge issues.  Tempers escalate even further when a shipment to a customer is messed up and no one is notified or a report is run with outdated data and huge projects are based on that report.

As a leader, you need to know how to diffuse both types of issues because they affect your team’s performance and their trust in each other.   In order to lead through the fall-out from misunderstandings, you need to:

  1. Create a culture of accountability.  Many times mistakes and misunderstandings occur when there is a lack of control over a project or task.  People need to know what they are expected to do every day and that they will be held responsible if their tasks are not done properly.   A leader has to own your (or your team’s) mistakes.  The buck has to stop with you and you need to recognize when mistakes are made by your team or you and accept the consequences.  You cannot blame others for your team’s issues.
  2. Communicate with your team and key contributors.  Misunderstandings and hurt feelings usually occur because of poor communication.  Keep your team and the other people that you need to be successful informed on changes, decisions, and other issues that may cause problems.
  3. Empower your team to solve their issues professionally without you getting involved.  Having mom or dad solve the issue usually causes more hurt feelings.  This is especially true when a leader has to mediate between team members.  The one that “won” is smug and the one that “lost” is demotivated.  Let them try to solve their own issues before getting involved.
  4. Keep HR in the loop.  Human Resources is a leader’s best friend during misunderstandings.  They know whether the issue is a job related mistake versus harassment.  HR also can help sensitize your team to avoid issues altogether.  Telling someone you like their sweater may be a nice compliment but it also can be construed as an advance.  Make sure your team knows how your company wants employees to interact with each other.

As with most of my articles, these are pretty simple on the surface policies to enact.  However, it takes a dedicated and determined leader to stick to these principles- especially when someone books you to go to St. Louis, MI instead of St. Louis Park, MN.

Pride in the Name of Your Career

coffee potYou come in the office and the coffee pot has exactly one mug left in it.  Later your luck continues as you use the last of the toilet paper and the final hand towel in the dispenser. Without a blink, you just go about your day.

Now think about the person who followed you in the kitchen and washroom.  They had to clean the coffee pot, start a new pot of coffee, replace the toilet paper and reload the hand towels.   They are probably now having a bad day.  All of this extra work in an already crappy day.

Imagine if your boss was that person and he/she passed you in each entrance way.  Do you think they will have noticed that you used up everything and didn’t replace it?  Did your day get worse because of theirs going south?

There is an old Italian saying that “Clean doesn’t cost anything”.  They couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t have personal pride in their space.  It costs the same amount of money to have a clean or dirty area.

The same can be said for employees who do not take the time to clean up their work area, common areas, and themselves.  Their outward appearance is that they are not observant, do not have pride about their work appearance, and potentially are lazy.

Leaders need to be neat, buttoned up, aware of their surroundings, and selfless.  It is really hard for a person to be a leader of others if they cannot manage their own stuff, humble themselves to think of others first and sweat the small stuff that affect their team.

The person who lacks self-awareness goes through life not worrying about what comes next.  That disregard often leads to shortsighted decision making- affecting the results of their team and company.  It affects their reputation with the coworkers and management as they are seen as self-absorbed and spoiled.  Make sure you take pride in your appearance and your surroundings, you never know who is watching.

What You Do Next is the Key…

Baseball season enderWhile watching the Home Run Derby last night, I started to think about all of the players that flamed out after a year or two.  Players like Mark Fidrych, Mark Prior, Joe Charboneau, and Dontrelle Willis.  They all had tremendous initial success, but were not able to sustain it.  This is compared to a player like Tim Duncan who was outstanding for almost 20 years in the NBA or Derek Jeter formerly with the Yankees.

This also happens in the business world.  A product manager has a hit, is on the fast track, then somehow gets derailed and their career stalls while another one gets product after product into the marketplace and their career grows exponentially.

It got me thinking about why someone is able to sustain their initial success and why others aren’t.  In my opinion, most times it boils down to effort and attitude.

  1. Effort- our world today is all about instant gratification.  What can I do now to make myself- happier, looking or feeling better, etc.?  By having success at an early age, most workers will become satisfied and consciously or unconsciously have their drive diminish.  What separates them from the “best” is that the best drive themselves every day to improve.  Instead of only looking at the positives in a project, they look at the negatives to see where things could be done more efficiently or effectively.
  2. Attitude- being told “how great you are” tends to give you an inflated opinion of yourself.  If you believe that hype, your attitude wanes and you become an expert in all things.  Being a valuable member of a team is no longer a goal of yours, you need to be the smartest person in the room.  As this happens, your team loses its trust and faith in you.  It makes being able to adjust to your environment harder and harder until you become a dinosaur in your company.  A person with a great attitude is always will to improve and adapt.  They are able to literally hit whatever is thrown at them.

There are no one size fits all ways to be successful for a sustained period.  You need to constantly work hard and be a team player- even if you are the boss.  By staying humble and driven though, you will most likely be able to stay a star.

Managing Change

happy-customersThe business world and life in general are full of challenges.  How you respond to those challenges makes all of the difference as a leader.  Most of your business challenges are brought on by your competitors.

To lead your team and beat your competition, you need to do the following:

  1. Analyze where and why your competitor has an advantage
  2. Review and adjust your strategies to close the gaps
  3. Execute your plan perfectly

Three simple steps involving 25 simple words are the most elusive part of any business plan.  Why is it so hard to see where your competitors are better than you, to change your plan on the fly, and for your team to follow your vision?

The reason is that people are resistant to change.  And managing through change is the hardest thing a leader has to do.  Using the following techniques, you’ll improve your skill and your team’s performance will thrive.

  1. Over Communicate.  During times of change, normally sound minded people tend to overact to every situation.  By making sure your team is loop into every part of the analysis and strategy, you will reduce some of the fear of the unknown associated with change.
  2. Stay Positive.  It is easy during a period of change for you to lose confidence and worry.  But a true leader will always look to the end goal and pull his team with him.  Being negative is not going to help your team beat your competition.
  3. Be Open.  When reviewing competition, look at them from all sides and really focus on their positives and negatives as well as your teams.  This will help you actually improve your performance and narrow the gap between the teams.  Take your corporate glasses off and see what is really happening.
  4. Plot and Plan.  Once you see what is really going on, build a plan that both maximizes your team’s strengths and your competition’s weaknesses and neutralizes your weaknesses and competition’s strengths.  This is not usually a five-minute meeting.  Take the necessary time to do it right.
  5. Act Decisively.  Once the plan of attack has been approved, lead your team in a focused way to achieve your new goals.  Trust that you have done your best to provide the right roadmap and make sure everyone is following it.
  6. Be Prepared- to Change Again.  No plan will work forever.  Make sure your team is ready to embrace changes on the fly.  Look at how football teams change their play calling every down to maximize how the other team lines up.  You need to be ready at a moment’s notice to punt- or to throw the ball down the field.

You need to be an agent of change if you are going to be a successful leader.  By practicing change management, you will become a pro and your team’s performance will soar.

Make Sure You Are Covered

beach umbrellaSummer is vacation season.  You are taking time off to explore new worlds.  Creating lasting memories that can be passed on for decades.  You are living in the now- not worrying about work.

Wait!  You are still worried about work on your vacation!?  That is so wrong.  Your vacation is given to you to decompress and come back with fresh ideas.  Not stressed that your work isn’t being done.

In order to have a relaxing vacation, you need to give your team ample instructions on how to cover your position during your time out of the office.  Your checklist should include:

  1. Your Monthly, Weekly, and Daily Tasks- list the tasks that you are required to perform each day.  Include detailed instructions on how to complete each task and when they are expected to be completed.  Also write down who is supposed to get the results of each task- which supervisor gets which report for instance.
  2. Your Key Contacts- list the key people inside or outside of the company who may try to contact you and their contact information and give a little background on why they may be calling.  Leave space on the list for your covers to put notes on when they called, why, and the actions taken to help.
  3. Your Voicemail and Email Instructions- aside from the obvious changing your messages so your team knows that you are out of the office, when you are returning, and who to contact while you are away, include how you’d like the covers to keep you in the loop with calls and emails.  I prefer that every email to one of “my” contacts provide me with a direct copy and that any calls answered on my behalf have a follow up email to summarize the conversation.
  4. Your Passwords- work with IT to create temporary passwords for your computer and applications that may require someone else accessing them during your vacation.  This is especially important when you are accessing programs that send the lost password email to you and/or restrict your access when passwords are entered incorrectly.  Make sure you change your passwords back as soon as you return to work.
  5. Your Filing System- whether it is a physical file or a computer file, show your covers how and where you put files.  This will make it easier for them to find files but also for you to find new ones upon your return.
  6. Your Project List- leave a list of all of the projects that you are working on and where to find the files (electronic or physical) with your covers.  This helps them understand what they may need to pitch in on and see how busy you are.

Most people mistakenly try to get everything done before they go on vacation.  Instead you should make sure everyone knows what you are doing and how to get that accomplished.  One of the surest signs of a leader is that they can leave the office and the work still gets performed at a high level.  By outlining the information above, you could probably take a full month off.  Imagine that!

When Someone Calls Your Baby Ugly

ugly_baby_by_dleish-d53u50lHave you ever been presenting an idea which you think is great and revolutionary only to have everyone in the room mock it?  This phenomenon is known as having your baby called ugly.  You feel terrible and begin to doubt yourself.  Depending on how long you have worked on the idea, you feel like you wasted tons of time and are probably going to get fired.

If you work on the product development end of your company, you are numb to this type of rejection.  It is part of your job description- right up there with drinking too much coffee and eating too much sugar.  But for the rest of us that are sensitive to what people think about you, what can we do to move on?

1.       Separate Fact from Opinion.  Many times, even in a very visceral response, there are some good facts in the criticism.  Take the time to hear the message, not necessarily the words being spoken.  You can learn a lot about the deficiencies of the idea this way.

2.       Ask Probing Questions.  Take the time to ask people questions that remove emotion from the equation.  If someone does not like the color of a package, ask whether a different color may be better.  If you ask why you do not like green, it is likely to illicit an emotional response.

3.       Look at Your Idea with Fresh Eyes.  Now that you have received negative feedback, look and see where the idea can be improved.  If it is a new process, review each step and see where the breakdowns are- and fix them.

4.       Do Not Get Defensive.  Your natural instinct is to fight back.  This is almost always the wrong response.  Impassioned pleas work well in the movies, but not so much at work.  Take in the criticism and defend your position, but not to the point where you are going to crying discussing it.

5.       Scrap the Idea, If Needed.  Sometimes your ideas are not going to work.  Whether it is a toy that the kids don’t like or a form that no one will fill out.  Cut your losses and go back to the drawing board.  If 10% of your ideas stick, you are a prolific innovator.

Now throw all of this advice out if you truly have a groundbreaking idea.  If your company or clients don’t appreciate it, find an audience that will.

Preparing for a Meeting- a Lost Art

bored-employees-in-presentationBy the time you reach your forties, you will have attended literally thousands of meetings.  According to through a white paper by MCI, the average worker attends 61.8 meetings per month and 50% of the meeting time is considered wasted.  That means you are potentially wasting a work week per month in meetings that are not accomplishing anything important.

One of the reasons in my opinion that so much time is wasted is because there are too many meetings to attend and most meetings are not being well prepared for by either the organizer or the attendee. This lack of preparation leads to disjointed meeting flows, distracting sidebar discussions, and unmet expectations.

Here are some simple ways to prepare for a meeting that is faster and more effective:

  1. Set and publish an agenda (and read it if you’re an attendee).  This helps the organizer organize his/her thoughts on topics to be covered.  It also enables attendees to see what is or isn’t being covered and can come prepared for the meeting with pertinent input.
  2. Set hard time limits for your meetings in offbeat intervals.  Scheduling a twenty-minute meeting gives everyone the expectation that the meeting needs to be crisp.  It also allows the professional meeting going to have a few minutes before their next one.
  3. Invite essential attendees only.  While it is great to be inclusive, having people who are not directly affected by the meeting topics yields for disinterested participants.  Disinterested participants tend to be distracting and cause the meeting to veer off course as they get the topics their interested in interjected into the meeting.
  4. Start on time.  If most of the attendees can make the appointed time, start the meeting.  The late arrivers will catch up and will also make an effort to be punctual the next time.  Also, do not let the late arriver hijack your meeting by apologizing, making excuses, etc.  Guess what?  No one cares.  Be on time.
  5. Send out minutes in action oriented formats.  Do not send a recap of the meeting, instead send what needs to be done coming out of the meeting.  This makes each subsequent meeting more productive and the agenda easier to write.

Make sure you take your meeting organization and attendance seriously.  It will help you be more productive both in and out of your meetings.