Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Practice 'Flexing' your Style

We all have 'default' ways in which we respond to difficult situations at work. Some people react quite seriously - they default to an almost Zen-like belief that when we work we should work. Others default to a far more casual affect. 'Not to worry,' they say, before digging in to get things done.

Even though our natural tendencies may suggest otherwise, there is no one right way to "be." Consider:
  • Sometimes, people need a stern talking-to to get them going;
  • Other times, they need support, encouragement, and a friendly smile more than anything else;
  • And still other times, they don't need much of anything but to be left alone to do what they know they need to do!

A range of possible scenarios implies a range of responses.

So, when faced with a difficult situation at work, it is advisable to stop your 'default' reactions before they happen, and instead, purposefully choose a response that will best serve you - and those around you.

Admittedly, such a 'flexing' of style takes a bit of practice. After all, you don't have to think when you respond out of habit - you just respond! Too, there's that pesky issue of not being able to initially calibrate your flex as accurately as you'd like. Again, it takes practice.

It's like asking a power pitcher to learn to throw a slow curve ball for strikes. At first, it isn't easy - some might say it's impossible! But with practice, he learns how. And once he does, it makes his fastball – and all his pitches for that matter – much more effective.

Similarly, if you typically react one way to problems at work, it may not feel natural to react any other way. But once you learn how, flexing your style actually increases your effectiveness. Why? Because it gets people to naturally pay more attention to you, that's why.

And for a variety of reasons that could be a very good thing, yes?!

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Hobson's Choice and the Counteroffer

Ever been in a situation where a boss has given you a choice between two or three equally UN-appealing alternatives? That's called a Hobson's Choice, named after Thomas Hobson, (1544–1630), "a livery stable owner at Cambridge, England who, in order to rotate the use of his horses, offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in the stall nearest the door—or taking none at all." (source: Wikipedia.)

If so, how do you handle it?

Keep in mind that often times, a Hobson Choice is often less about reality than a lack of imagination, flexibility, and creativity. While, true, you may sometimes just have to comply, it's quite often possible that your boss would actually be open to another idea or suggestion - a counteroffer - from you.

In the case of Hobson, himself, I could see you proposing a counteroffer whereby, for an additional fee that you'd be happy to pay, he'd send his apprentice to fetch you when your horse-of-choice is 'next up.' (Did you like how I used the word 'fetch' to give it a late 1500's/early 1600's feel?!)

In the case of your boss wanting several things done by the end of the week, I could see you proposing a counteroffer that has you completing his/her topmost priority by Friday morning, and finish the rest up over the weekend.

What has been your experience with proposing counter-offers? How have they actually expanded your discussions (and rapport) with your boss?

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Use Your Resources

One of the main ways people become successful is by doing what they do really, really, well. That often leads to them being promoted, which is generally a step in the right direction. But one of the main ways people fail to remain successful is by continuing to do what they did really, really, well in their prior position, in their new one.
Classic Example: The analyst who's promoted, but acts more like the work group's super-analyst than its supervisor.
(Surely you know someone like that. Odds are you've been someone like that - I know I have!!)

It's not easy to let others do what you know you can do so much better yourself ... if you only had the time to do it yourself. But therein lies the rub because you don't have the time to do it yourself. It's likely that you barely have the time if someone does it all for you!

No, relying on others isn't always easy. But it is important. And as we move up-the-chain, it becomes increasingly imperative - not just advisable or desirable, but imperative - for you to fully utilize the "people" resources available to you. And you've likely got more of them than you realize:
  • Direct Reports
  • Peers
  • Staff in other areas doing related work
  • Vendor personnel
  • Colleagues
  • Customers
  • Other outside contacts and connections
  • Even your boss!

So what do you need some help with? Identify three people who could provide you with some meaningful assistance on it. And ask them to help.

Even if two of the three say no, you'll still be better off than trying to slog through it all yourself.

You know I'm right.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day!

from Nan's garden


Friday, May 11, 2007

What Next? By When?

"I'm in a real backlog situation, Barry. How can I dig out?"

Although it may seem a bit odd to phrase it this way, the problem here isn't so much that there's too much to do as much as it is that not enough is getting done soon enough.

Phrasing it in terms of having too much to do can actually slow you down. Why? Because the time spent thinking about how much there is to do is time no longer available to get 'er done.

Conversely, phrasing it in terms of not enough getting done soon enough begs the question "What Next?" which is the key to moving things meaningfully forward. Many (most?) managers have a pretty clear sense of what needs to be done, but far fewer really grasp what needs to be done ... next.

Starting there is always a good idea.

A corollary of the "What Next?" question is "By When?"

You don't leave for work in the morning without any sense of when you'll get there, do you? You didn't do your taxes without any sense of when the 15th was, did you? But you probably do assign tasks to your staff without telling them when you need them completed by.

"Jimmy, take care of this," is not nearly as effective as "Jimmy, take care of this by the end of the week," or "Jimmy, take care of this before leaving for lunch today." Deadlines not only help things get done, but they also help things get done sooner. And that's the point, right?!

So the next time you find that not enough is getting done soon enough, try managing based on deadlines rather than just on deliverables and see what "What Next?" and "By When?" can do for you.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Procrastination DNA

Last week I wrote about using the T-O-P-3 approach to priority management. If you haven't tried it yet, I strongly suggest you do. Why do we get so distracted from our priorities, though? (Embarrassing Disclosure: I'm writing this blog now instead of working on one of my so-called priorities!)

I think the answer is typically one of three:
  1. Procrastination Trap #1 - Distractions - Best intentions aside, we keep getting caught up in other things. So, we basically forget it ... and time passes.
  2. Procrastination Trap #2 - Nonconcurrence - We reject the very notion that this particular task really is a priority - or believe that working it will result in something bad instead. So, we basically dispute it ... and time passes.
  3. Procrastination Trap #3 - Avoidance - We just don't like to do what we don't want to do, or are too uncomfortable with doing to do it. So, we basically ignore it, hoping it goes away ... and time passes.

I suppose we could call these traps Procrastination DNA (Distractions, Nonconcurrence, and Avoidance). That might even explain why procrastination feels so ingrained in us!

In my case, I think I've been trapped by all three: I've been allowing myself to work on other things (distractions) because I really don't think that there's a sufficient upside to working it through (nonconcurrence), and, so, I've just been ignoring the whole thing (avoidance).

So many hours later the work is still not done, but at least I got a blog posting out of it!

Stay tuned.


Friday, May 04, 2007

Always Complete Your "T-O-P-3"

We all have to-do lists. But sometimes (often?) the things on our lists never seem to get off our lists. That's where the "T-O-P-3" comes in.

The way it works is this:
  • Identify three of Today's Overriding Priorities - that is, your T-O-P-3 things to complete today, no ifs, ands, or buts.
  • Don't end your workday until you do complete them.

Can it get any simpler than that?!

Each morning (or the night before) write down your T-O-P-3 for the coming day. Then, go do them.

No excuses, justifications, or rationalizations allowed. No complications, turn-of-events, or surprises matter. Notwithstanding anything else that does or does not happen - or anything else that you do, or do not, do - these are Today's Overriding Priorities. Period. Paragraph. Post.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

What's on your BIWI Fun List?

BIWI, as in, "Becasue I Want It."
Fun, as in, well, fun!
And List, as in, go ahead and list some things out. I'll wait!

Now go do some of them. Or at least make plans to do.