management

What should you have delegated today?

Before you leave your desk today, jot down one thing you should have delegated but didn’t.

No excuses, no “but I had no choice“, just think of one thing you could have asked someone else to do.

Try it again before you go to sleep. Was there a moment in your day when you could have asked for help but didn’t? Or did someone offer to help you and you turned them down without even really considering the offer?

Sometimes we don’t even realize when we’re lifting a load someone could help us with because we’re so used to getting it done.

“I’ll just put this slide presentation together myself because I know where the images are and it’ll be faster that way.”

“It’ll take me longer to explain how to do this right than to just do it myself.”

“But they won’t do it as well as I would….”

Sound familiar?

When we don’t ask for and accept assistance, we’re not only limiting ourselves, we’re limiting the people around us.

Several years ago, I wanted to teach my kids how to help in the kitchen when they were little. It was easier to make the meal myself. It was done faster, it looked better, and the kitchen didn’t get nearly as messy.  But when I was able to set aside my image of how things should be, I was able to accomplish two pretty big things: they learned a few things about cooking and, perhaps more importantly, I wasn’t resentfully working alone in the kitchen while they did something else: we spent the time together. I’d say that boost to our happiness was worth every crumb on the floor.

Work seems like higher stakes than cooking (until you’re contemplating whether to hand that kitchen knife to your kid) but remember what it was like to be new at your job? You really wanted someone to hand you that project, let you give it a try, and to coach you without micro-managing every decision you made, right?

When you can see delegation as part of the bigger picture – growth, development, expanding your team’s capacity – it becomes a positive. It’s not just handing someone else more work, it’s growing your team for the future.

Answer that question we started with for a few days and then think about what’s holding you back.

Do you need to set clear expectations so you can feel confident that you’ll get good results?

Are you setting up a system that will allow for questions and monitoring without being overbearing?

Can you start small and work your way up?

Once you begin seeing opportunities to delegate as growth moments for your team – at work or home – you may find it a little easier to entrust and encourage.

And remember: they’re not the only ones who get to grow from this experience. When you encourage your superstar team , you also create space and opportunities to push yourself to the next level.

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Two Ways to be a Better Supervisor

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If you want to be a better supervisor, you need to know what employees are looking for when they consider working for you.

In the best interviews, the questions and evaluations take place on both sides of the table. They’re interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing them.

There’s usually a lot of pressure to fill an empty position. You’re focused on your needs: what you need to accomplish, how this person will perform, and how they’ll work in your culture and with your team.

Meanwhile, your staff is probably anxious to fill a gap and get some of the extra work they’re doing back where it belongs and off their overloaded plates.

That’s a lot of pressure to find someone and plug the hole.

But a good fit is critical, especially if you don’t want to be recruiting again in a few months.

If you ask candidates what makes a good supervisor, two key responses come up consistently, regardless of the particular position or the level of responsibility: 1. Keep your door open and 2. Give me guidance, then turn me loose.

It’s how we all want to be treated.

1. Keep your door open.

We want to know that someone’s there who is vested in our success. Supervisors communicate that by being available, answering questions, helping us see the pitfalls and hurdles before we stumble, and being our advocates and mentors. You can’t do this from behind a closed door.

2. Give me guidance, then turn me loose.

We crave autonomy, but we hate to find out we’ve been wasting our time heading down the wrong path. Don’t micromanage me, but don’t let me get so far off track that we’re in crisis mode cleaning up something that could have been prevented with decent communication. Hence the open door.

Simple, right?

Easy to do? Yes, when we’re relaxed, open, and not rushed. But the reality of our work world today is that we have to deliberately carve out the time (and intention) to meet these two basic needs.

If we’re overloaded, rushing from meeting to meeting, or locked in our office trying to manage an overload of deadlines and responsibilities, it’s hard to open the door. It can also feel hard not to micro-manage (or ignore) our colleagues when the stress is getting to us.

With January just around the corner, maybe this is a good time to set some new year’s goals for your supervisors and yourself.

Just these two actions can go a long way to keeping solid relationships with the people in your work life.

What else do you think employees want?
And what do you plan to focus on next year?

Do you work on a Maker’s Schedule? Or a Manager’s Schedule? Should you switch?

wpid-20150816_153645.pngI was going to only write about Genius Hour today, but in poking around, I came across a link to this article from July, 2009 by Paul Graham about the Maker’s Schedule vs. the Manager’s Schedule and my first thought was: Genius! These two are related.

First, Genius Hour. It’s is a pretty simple idea. Torn from the Google playbook, and seemingly adopted in education (I’m hoping my kids will come home with Genius reports this year), it’s all about designating a piece of time for the pursuit of your passions.

Classroom or office, the idea is If you give people time to pursue what they’re interested in, they’ll develop their best ideas, the ones they care enough about to implement. We all need time for creative refreshment (vacation, anyone?) and focus. Voila: Genius Hour. Daniel Pink shares a great story about how a Credit Union manager made time for her front line staff to have an hour a week for Genius Hour. Pink also emphasizes the importance of not just being creative but having the power to implement the results when you’re given a genius idea.

And that is what brought me to the Maker’s Schedule vs. the Manager’s Schedule.

In a nutshell, Makers (in Graham’s case, coders) need time to produce. We all know this feeling. You’re writing something, running numbers, preparing a budget, doing anything that requires more than a 30 second attention span and your reminder bings: time for a meeting! That’s when the Manager’s schedule (1 hour increments for meetings) is colliding with what your Maker needs (uninterrupted time to think-and-do).

For most of us, our jobs are not clearly divided. We’re both Managers and Makers. We’re in meetings, our time is chunked up, but we’re still expected to produce. We don’t give ourselves time to produce well, which leads to rushed work, stressed employees, and missed opportunities. Meanwhile, we’re in meetings, we’re wondering how we’ll ever get around to doing X.

Can the calendar bring some control to this conundrum?

I’ve experienced a designated a block of time each week for staff meetings agency-wide. That means nobody is scheduling “can’t miss” meetings over standing team meetings, which reduces scheduling stress. It’s predictable, simple, and everyone does it, so it has an impact.

Bringing these thoughts together, what practical action can we take?

  • If you manage your own schedule, you might designate a regular Genius Hour and a Maker time (half a day? A few hours?) on your calendar.
  • If you manage others’ schedules, can you help them do the same?
  • Respect the scheduled time – yours and others’.

Has this given you any genius ideas? Or have you seen these efforts in action? If so, please leave your story here.

Did you make a mistake? Here are three ways to wash down your humble pie.

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I started off this week with a big slice of humble pie.

Yuck.

Failure seems to be all the rage right now, with articles abounding – failure is the new essential step toward success abounding. But that abstract reassurance doesn’t really help when that specific wave of realization comes washing over you:

I shouldn’t have done that.

My mistake? I didn’t ask questions before I tried to address a complaint. So, of course, I was missing half (or more) of the picture. The result? Some hurt feelings and time spent trying to understand, undo, and realign our group.

In the grand scheme of things, mistakes happen. We are, after all, only humans trying our best to work together in a complicated and demanding world.

Which means we live in a laboratory of mistakes and their ripple effects – the perfect environment from which to draw three pointers for managing your next mess up.

And it will happen…

1. Own it

This one is easy to say but hard to do. When it feels like everything rides on a decision –I’ll get fired, my co-worker will hate me, my boss won’t consider me for a raise- it’s really hard to look up and say “Yeah, I did that.”

It’s easy to play the blame game – Well, if you had been more clear, I would have done that. But how could I have known?

Blame tends to set off defensiveness which in turn sets of more blame and the next thing you know, you’ve spent half the day emailing something totally out of proportion while the actual issue remains unaddressed. And the actual issue often comes down to realizing that you probably knew something they didn’t and vice versa.

Next time you mess up, take a break before you do anything. Sit for a moment and let yourself acknowledge that you made a mistake.

It’s not the end of the world.

2. Get Some Perspective

Chances are high that there are things you don’t know. Always.

Find someone to talk to. This someone shouldn’t be your work-place-bestie who’s going to indignantly stand up for you and blame everyone else. That kind of support may feel good at first, but it really doesn’t help you manage the situation.

Instead, look for someone who can give you honest feedback or helpful suggestions. A mentor who has your best interests at heart.

If that somebody isn’t around, think back. You’ve seen lots of mistakes happen around you.

How have other people handled them?

What made you cringe?

What made you respect them more?

3. Do Something About It

It’s not enough to own the mistake and reflect on how you might have handled it better. You need to do something about it.

Remember what we learned in elementary school?

Apologize.

This can be really uncomfortable, especially if you have a history with the person or people involved. That’s not uncommon, because it’s those folks who press our buttons who show up time and again in our mistake laboratory, right?

Apologize, in person, if possible.

Don’t hide behind your inbox.

Don’t say “I’m sorry BUT…..” and proceed to tell them how you were actually right. That’s not a real apology.

Here’s the thing that makes an apology real: meaning it.

Sometimes we hesitate to apologize because we think it’ll make us look weak, or incompetent. But if you’ve already messed up, failure to apologize just makes you look arrogant and stubborn. Those aren’t the traits you’re going for, right?

A sincere apology opens the door to understanding.

Hey, I’m not perfect, what can you teach me?

I can’t guarantee that slice of humble pie will taste good, but these three tips might make it go down a little bit easier.

How have you recovered from a mistake?

What didn’t work?

Is your inability to delegate holding you (and everyone else) back?

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You know who you are. You can’t let go. You won’t let anyone else do the work because they never get it right. You’re buried in a pile of obligations, sweating every deadline and working into the wee hours while you wonder why your  no-good co-workers and ineffective staff can’t just step up.

Been there?

Maybe you’re the boss, maybe you’re the employee, and maybe it’s not be as bad as all that, but if you have any perfectionist tendencies (guilty as charged!) you may be having a hard time with the D word. Delegation. And, by extension, maybe your staff is, too.

Delegation opens so many opportunities for things to go well or awry. Delegation is not bossing them into doing it our way. Much of our success at work comes from completing projects in a way that is valued by others. Considering delegation in this light provides some interesting insights.

Does the person you’re handing off to know what you value?

Unless you’re working with someone you have a long established relationship with and you’ve undergone some sort of mind-meld, it’s likely that you need to spend some time explaining the task, the expectations, and how you’ll communicate along the way.

For instance: “I have a project I’d like to assign to you. It’s going to have a tight deadline and some high expectations. Can we find some time today to make sure we have a shared understanding of the milestones and how I will know you’re making progress?”

Not:

To: Employee.

From: Uncommunicative supervisor

Date: Tuesday at 6:30 PM

Subject: IMPORTANT!

Hey! I really need to you to get the report pulled together for finance by friday. Ok?”

 

Perfection is the enemy of the good

We’ve all heard this one. And it’s true. It’s so much easier to just do it yourself instead of taking the time to show someone else how to do it, answer questions, and potentially see them fail.

But how much worse is it to stifle your staff because you won’t let them learn?  Remember when you had a supervisor who wouldn’t let you take on the projects you were eager to do?  Don’t be that supervisor.

Employees? This goes both ways. If it’s your first assignment, you want to get it right and you will have questions (you should  have questions!) Don’t hang onto that work until it’s perfect. Missing a deadline because you’re trying to polish something to perfection is not a good choice. How do you approach your boss?

Maybe:

“I know this project is important to you and I didn’t want to work too long in one direction without being sure we were still aligned. Can we check in for 5 minutes?”

And when you have that check in? Be prepared. Have focused questions then listen carefully for new information.

Remember, you’re both working at this together, if you supervisor forgot to tell you something the first time around, don’t roll your eyes and say “I can’t do this work if the direction is going to totally change every time I ask you a question!” (You get my point). They need to know you’re going to be able to work with some independence but you’ll come back to them along the way. The need for check-ins may diminish as you work together more, but even with people I’ve spent a long time working with, the check-in is essential. Things change, schedules shift, priorities rearrange – you will rarely have a complicated project that is assigned and completed exactly the way it was initially described and those are the ones worth learning.

How’re things looking from another point of view?

If you have an employee who has been offered help only to brush it aside…no, no, I got it….and they’re weary, ring-eyed, and intent on doing it themselves, you may be working with a delegation-challenged-perfectionist.

Perhaps an honest conversation about how their reluctance to delegate is impacting others will help them see their situation differently. Appeal to their better self, the one that wants to motivate and encourage others. Acknowledge that they’re drowning in deadlines and assignments and that’s not a sign of success. Ask them to help someone else grow to their level of skills.

Then listen closely. They may be able to point out areas for improvement. Together you might identify people who can help find success.

I have a mentor who regularly asked “who’s your support team?” when I talked about new projects or initiatives. It’s a life-saver of a question, worth internalizing and sharing.

Are you the perfectionist or do you work for one?

How have you met this challenge?

 

 

Tug ‘o War

When was the last time someone handed you a rope and said “hey, how about you pull really hard on your end, and I’ll pull really hard on my end, and when one of us falls flat on our face, it’s settled. Okay?”

Eighth grade P.E. class, maybe?

For me, it was last weekend. Except it wasn’t a rope, it was an argument. The same stupid argument we have over and over. And nobody ever wins this particular one. we just pick up our ends of the rope, dig in, and start heaving our weight around. There’s a lot of mud involved and the emotional equivalent of strained muscles.

In the middle of all the pulling and tugging I wondered “Why do we keep tugging? Why not let go of the rope?”

Arguments can go wrong in so many ways when the emotions are high. We say things we don’t intend, we drag up battles of years past, we resurrect old hurts, previous slights, and the reasons to continue arguing pile up. But most of us don’t relish tug ‘o war and the repair cost can be high.

Some graceful ways to let go and buy yourself a little time to cool down without dropping your opponent (or co-worker, or family member) on their derriere.:

Take responsibility for your emotional state:

  • I’m getting (angry/frustrated etc.) and I need a few moments to calm down.
  • I want to come back to this discussion but I’m not thinking clearly right now, can we take a ten-minute break?

Own your role in what’s going wrong:

  • I’m starting to say things I don’t mean because I’m angry/frustrated/sad. Let’s take a break to calm down.
  • I think I’m being unfair because I’m feelilng (fill it in….). Can we take a break?
  • I know this is important to you and I want to listen carefully. I’m not able to do that right now.

For work-place situations:

  • I think you’ve made some good points and I need some time to think them over. Let’s schedule a follow-up conversation.
  • I’m going to need some time to consider this information. When can we get back together?
  • I can see this is important to you and I don’t have time right now to give it my full attention. Can we come back to it?

It’s very (very!) tempting to tell the other person all the things they’re doing wrong and enumerate all the reasons you can’t possibly have a productive conversation with them, but these kinds of statements probably won’t help:

  • You’re so unreasonable/irrational/mean/wrong that I just can’t talk to you.
  • You never/always …………(anything).
  • You don’t know what you’re talking about.
  • You should feel…..(any emotion)
  • Oh yeah? Well remember the time you did (this other thing that’s not related to the topic at hand but I’ve been dying to bring this up….)

Ideally, we wouldn’t get into these heated situations in the first place, but once it happens, putting down the rope until you’ve both had a chance to cool down and think things through can save a lot of struggle.

I’m sure there are many other great ways to stop fighting out there. What’s worked for you?

 

Six years of recipes, and other project management thoughts

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For some reason, I was hit by an obsessive need to clean out the six year accumulation of cooking magazines that had overtaken not one but two shelves of cookbook space in my kitchen. It’s not as if I’m awash in extra space anywhere in my house, especially in the kitchen! So, for a few weeks, I had a massive pile of plastic sleeves, torn pages, half-destroyed magazines and binders. Then, one day, voila: three binders, with tabs and recipes grouped in a way that makes sense to me. Cue the relief. Wouldn’t you know it, not two days later I opened my mailbox and found – you guessed it – a new cooking magazine. As I type this update, I know that there are at least two more in my pile of magazines in the living room. My lovely system will need – sigh – some maintenance. Of course, I suppose I could just pass those magazines along to someone else without adding to my binders.

I think part of the reason this project was so satisfying is that it was defined. I had a pile of magazines and I knew what I planned to do with them. Unlike a lot of our workplace challenges, I knew what was expected and had a clear outcome in mind. No conflict, no changing expectations, no wonder sliding recipes into neat, orderly plastic sleeves felt like a counter-stretch to the usual day.

Working on this project also gave me time to sort out a few idea about how to capture that sense of satisfaction at work.

1. Pick a project you’ve been putting off
In my case, it was the multi-year pile of magazines I’d been meaning to “do something” with for years.

2. Identify the beginning and the end of the project
I picked a day to start the project and described what the end would look like: no more magazines, all the recipes I wanted to keep organized in binders. I think the end is important because we often fail to be clear about where we stop. Sometimes that end point is a hand-off to someone else, in which case we need to be sure they’re on board with our plan. Sometimes, we fail to recognize the “maintenance” phase of a completed project. If we do that, it can fall back in our lap (see below).

3. Collect the resources you’ll need to complete the project
This involved a trip to my favorite office supply store where, armed with a clear idea of what I needed, I wasn’t distracted by the endless options. Same goes for work: a team of creative people can pile on the great ideas until you lose sight of your product. Having a clear list of resources and and end point can help you be flexible but firm in getting your project complete.

3. Set aside some time each day to work on your project
This can be the stumbling block. How many projects do you have in you list/head/space that you’re going to get to? And how many have a dedicated worktime on your calendar? I had to set aside time in the evenings to work on my project. I also kept all the supplies together in a bag (sleeves, binders, labels, markers, scissors) so it was ready to go when I was. Do you have a place for the materials and resources for your project?

4. Don’t give up before it’s done
We all do it. We get up a head of steam, we start, and we get distracted. If that happens, rededicate some time or space in your life to get the project done. If you’re really having trouble completing something, ask yourself if it’s still worth doing? If so, are you the right person to do it? If not, can it be crossed off the list? Sometimes choosing not to do a project is a good choice.

5. Know how you’ll maintain the results.
Will I cancel my magazine subscriptions? Or set a regular time to update my collection? I decided to let some of my subscriptions run out and to go through the sorting and collecting/discarding process a few times a year. If you don’t have a maintenance schedule, you may end up back at step one.

How do you make it through a project you’ve been putting off?

Rube’s Moment

Meetings sometimes go like this:

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I enjoy the back and forth – the exchange of ideas and building something together.  That’s part of the joy of what I do for a living.  But sometimes, in the middle of the glowy creation phase, you get a flash of perspective and wonder “What exactly are we creating here?”  But you press on, because building something together is messy.

Sometimes along the way, there’s a pivot point in the process when everything changes.  You’re in the flow, everyone’s jamming along, the problems are cropping up and you’re following them down the chute, up the ramp, around the tunnel and then, suddenly, someone pulls that innocent looking lever on the wall and “wham!” the entire contraption changes course and you think “woah now!  Didn’t see that one coming….!”

Rube Goldberg got it.

Life is a crazy, unpredictable mess, but we do our best, draw up good plans, knock our heads together and sometimes the whole thing works in beautiful, wonderful ways.

And sometimes it falls apart and we pick up the pieces and start over again.

The Inbox as Chinese Water Torture

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I’ve never actually had more than three billion unread emails, but close, pretty close.

It started so innocently….first one, then a few more, that thrill that you were needed,  you were connected, something exciting  was going on in your inbox.  Then – drip, drip, drip – they just kept on coming.  Daytime, night, weekends, vacation – drip, drip, drip.  And what seemed good or useful kept piling on until the Pavlovian reaction is less teenager-in-love-thrill and more make-the-torture-stop.

There was a point at the three-quarters way mark of a huge project last year that I actually did have 2,277 unread emails in my inbox.  Not three billion, but close, pretty close.

The first time I sat down to send an email, I had an address and a vague idea of what email was, but I had nobody to send a message to except my friend sitting at the terminal next to me.  We spent about 10 minutes there then headed out for food, coffee, people, something real.  I feel like I’ve been through the cycle of not having a use for email to email becoming virtually useless.  The important stuff is buried in the flood of newsletters, cc’s, people trying to schedule meetings through conversation instead of calendar, and the general chaos of people punting in the general chaos  that has more in common with a multi-team global soccer game with no rules than with actual communication.

Wikipedia lists “information overload” as the third problem with email (higher than spam, lower than limited attachment size).  So, what do we do?

In Germany, some lucky dogs at VW have their email blocked during non-work hours.  I think that’s better in some ways than trying to train ourselves to ignore, unplug, and ditch the habit between certain hours – but it’s really ignoring the real problem.

Email has become, in my opinion, fairly worthless but we lack a coherent alternative.  Maybe.  I see people opting out altogether (just a few brave pioneers, mind you) but maybe that’s the wave of the future.  Want to talk?  Pick up the phone.