Big Result for 2015?

Happy Holidays!

Having a nice restful break is a great thing.  It provides an opportunity to reflect on the year that was, and to think about the upcoming year.  I have some big challenges ahead next year as most others do as well.

This next year needs to be different for me.  I need to think differently, act differently and lead differently.  My management is expecting a breakthrough result, but the good news is I believe I have a plan.

While I can’t discuss the plan, I can describe some of the key considerations I made going into the development of the plan.  These elements are answering the “why” question, developing a clear set of expectations (down to every team member from Day 1 of the new year) for higher levels of performance, strategies for rewarding team members who rise to the challenge as well as plans to deal with those who don’t make it (and that’s OK) and developing the metrics to figure out how we are doing.

Answering the “why” question is probably the most important part to get right.  People will want to know why this plan, why we need a certain result, among other things.  From there they will be able to better connect to the plan once it is communicated.

I will keep track of my progress here and share any lessons learned.  No doubt there will be some.

Big Presentation Tips

This past week I did a thirty-minute talk as the leadoff presentation of our internal symposium.  This was one of my larger talks I have done, and it was an important one in my professional world.  A few days have past and I have had a chance to reflect on the overall experience.  I am happy to report the talk itself went well, based on the feedback I got.  Most importantly, my boss was happy!

Doing great presentations is an required skill for leaders in today’s business world.  I have decided to double my efforts to improve in this area.  I’ve been told I am competent as a speaker, but I would like to become a lot better at it.  It’s probably the best thing I can do to prepare for the next level.

I learned a few valuable lessons that I will apply next time (hopefully) I am invited to do a talk.  The three big lessons were: be clear about your goal, work with a team and rehearse in front of an audience.

Be Clear About Your Goal

In this recent experience, the goal was apparent to me.  I was speaking in front of an external expert and I had a good idea of what he was going to say.  As I was going through preparation, I went back to my objective: to energize and inspire the audience.  Essentially I wanted to “build a bridge” to next speaker.  I found it helpful to remind myself of that objective often during the process.  It helped me stay on point and get the right content in the talk.

Work With a Team

As a senior manager, I have access to a great team in my laboratory.  I brought together a small group of people to help me craft the presentation file, sound out the key messages and provide encouragement and support.  I don’t think you’d need direct reports to build a team to help.  If it’s important enough, you should not have too much trouble getting some teammates to help.  Probably the biggest help my team provided in this experience was to provide encouragement, especially as the talk got closer.  They helped me keep things in perspective.

Rehearse In Front of An Audience

For big presentations, I found it to be critical to give the talk to as large an audience as you can find.  If you can replicate the venue of the talk that is helpful as well.  This will help you figure out the time of your talk, and give you a chance to gather feedback.  As my instructor a few weeks ago said, it’s all about muscle memory.  If you go through a good dress rehearsal, your body will remember how it felt and it will reduce your stress as a speaker.

As I mentioned earlier, I think being clear about the goal, working with a team and rehearsing in front of an audience will be the activities I will focus on next time I get the call to do a big presentation.

The Ingredients For An Amazing Training Experience

I was nominated by my management to attend an off-site training the last couple of days.  The topic was Performance Based Presentations.  I thought, oh goody, another class on PowerPoint.  I could not have been more wrong.

The content of the course was absolutely amazing.  I got some great strategies for both preparing and delivering presentations in different scenarios.  In the next few weeks I have a few important presentations that this will no doubt make a difference in not only my success, but also help my self-confidence.

The moral of this story though isn’t about this great course.  A manager I had at one point had a theory about training.  There are three value propositions for training: getting away from the daily grind at the office to focus, the people you meet and collaborate with during the experience, and, of course, the content itself.

I have a lot going on in my world right now, especially at work.  Getting a break from my office and those fun meetings to build a skill, and the chance to meet some great people when added to the content of the course made this an encounter that will impact me going forward.  I am grateful for this opportunity.

Stop Wasting My Time

I recently read a Harvard Business Review blog post from Dorie Clark.  This isn’t the first post I have read from her.  I think her advice is quite pragmatic and helpful.  I’m always looking for little tidbits of advice, and in this post she delivers a few nuggets.

This post is about stopping people from wasting your time.  In today’s fast paced business world, where the concept of time and personal space is becoming increasingly blurry, reducing time waste is crucial if one is to have any chance of balancing work and life.

She states four strategies: stating your preferred communication method, require an agenda for meetings, policing guest lists and forcing others to prepare.  These are great strategies in my mind.  Some of these things I seem to do fairly naturally, but as with everything there is room for improvement.

Stating your preferred communication method to people will help streamline the many threads of information.  For me, my preferred method is email because it allows me to prioritize my responses to messages.  I tend to ignore incoming phone calls to my office as more times than not it is a time waster coming through from the other end of the line.

Requiring meeting agendas is a good practice also.  I have also couched requests for agendas using the “so I can contribute fully” phrase, and it really helps surface the true purpose of the meeting.  Often I am double booked, and the agenda is often the tie-breaker to help me decide which meeting to attend.

Policing the attendees is really important also.  For example, if a number of my managers are already in the meeting, I may choose not to go, and sometimes even help by agreeing to send just one from my team.  After all, it’s not just about my time, but my team’s time is valuable also.  More often or not, less is more when it comes to most meetings, so limiting attendees is almost always helpful to get a successful outcome.

Forcing others to prepare is the area where I can improve a great deal.  It really comes down to communicating expectations, and if I can do that, a meeting will lead to some form of progress.  I’m not always good about that, so for me this is the nugget I will take from this post.

Thanks again, Ms. Clark.  I appreciate the reminders.

Stop Making Simple Things Hard

This is the first post for me in a long time.  I have been going through a lot at work, and happy to say they are all good problems.

I have been doing some reflection lately, and I have come up with a series of posts that I will be rolling out.  They are a more generalized version of what I plan to share with my team next week as we are beginning a new year.  Here we go!

How many times have we all just blindly done things the same way just because it’s “how we always have done it?”  I am guilty of it far too often.  This past year, I experienced a situation where I was asked by my boss to do an important report for an executive.  Reading the request, I couldn’t help thinking how easy this should have been, but it wasn’t.  It was difficult only because the information was scattered across a number of people, network and cloud drives.  Meanwhile, I had to take a business trip to meet with an internal customer.  I was forced to make a choice about whether or not I should follow through a make the trip, as the deadline was not negotiable.  I ended up cancelling out of the trip, which really bothered me (fortunately I had one of my leaders that could take control).  I ended up taking advantage of the open time now on my schedule to design a solution to handle these types of requests more efficiently.  The value of solving the bigger problem is a great example of making a simple thing simple.  The effort usually will have high payback in the long run.  Imagine if you found several items in your day to day work that could be simplified with a little extra effort.  You would have more time to spend dealing with the more difficult and impactful things.

Don’t Create a Crisis

This past Father’s Day, I was enjoying a breakfast out with my family. Our server that day had just delivered our warm meals, and inevitably with a group of six people there were one or two things that still needed to be brought to the table. Maybe it was an order of toast, or something like that. No big deal.

The server quickly moves toward the kitchen to grab the missing items, and not more than ten seconds passes and we have a manager who descends upon us and immediately jumps to the conclusion that there is a problem. We had to convince him that his employee had everything well in hand, and that there was no issue he needed to address.

As I reflected on that situation, it occurred to me that there’s a lesson here. As managers and leaders, we hire people to take care of our customers, solve problems and so on. Each time we intervene, we are sending a message to our employee that we think they are incapable of handling it her/himself. In my example, I wondered how the server felt with her boss intervening on her behalf when there was no reason. Bottom line, it destroys trust. Better to give your people every chance in the world to solve their challenges and be there in the background to offer coaching and encouragement. Even if there is a tough situation, leaders can use these opportunities to build trust.