My Social Experiment

We recently passed another Labor Day Weekend.  It marked the end of the summer of 2015, and the beginning of a new school year for my kids.  My work life this summer has been more than a bit challenging over the past few months, with a lot of change occurring around me — new leadership, relationships changing, and the like. Part of the fallout of all the change is an increase in the number of distinct threads of activity thrust upon me and my leadership team, all requiring a certain level of effort to address.

For those that know me would say I am a devoted user of technology.  I have one of almost everything in computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices.  I also enjoy the use of social media, actively using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  I’m in a Social Media Advocacy group at work to support the company’s efforts to increase business impact of social media tools at the corporate level.  I really enjoy this stuff, and all that it brings to enhance our lives.

Yes, I am fully connected.  Sometimes to a fault.  I get feedback (most of the time justified) from my family about my use when I should be more present.  It has happened at work, and, for the record, I am not the only one.

I wondered what might happen if I took a full holiday from my iPhone?  Would I become anxious or upset, almost like a drug addict?  Would my work suffer because I wasn’t paying attention over a long weekend to those that chose to work?  What would I see if I paid a little more attention to what’s going on around me?

I decided to do it.  Friday night I turned off my iPhone, placed it in the bedside table and left it there until Tuesday morning.  The world did not end.  I didn’t break into a cold sweat.  Social media continued and didn’t really notice I was absent. The work emails were there and it really didn’t matter whether or not I responded before.  It was a nice weekend because I let myself see the world around me through my own eyes, not tainted in any way by what was going on.

The biggest thing I noticed was that I lived with my head up.  The iPhone, even when in my pocket, draws my head downward.  Downward to look at it, downward to even sense it’s presence on my person or in the car.  For three days, there was no downward force drawing me away from my world.  I saw my world more fully, whether it was to be present with my family, or just to enjoy watching people as I went about my business.

I’m still a huge fan of my iPhone, and will continue to be.  However, I will be less afraid going forward of turning it off when it doesn’t really need to be on, and enjoy seeing life for myself.  I am going to be asking myself the question more often – does the iPhone really need to be on right now?

At the end of all this, it’s really about the fact the smartphone has arguably destroyed the boundary between personal and professional life.  Maybe shutting these devices off a little more often will help me reclaim some of my own personal life.  We’ll see what happens.

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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.

Plymouth Visit

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Mayflower II, a replica of the original Mayflower.

Earlier this month, my wife and I were in Boston and decided to make a day trip to Cape Cod.  Along the way we stopped by Plymouth, Massachusetts, where we found the Plymouth Rock which is the spot where the Pilgrims landed in the New World.  This place is especially interesting to me because I am a Descendant of one of the Pilgrims.  My grandfather was very interested in genealogy and assembled some great documentation of that fact, along with the whole family tree.

Plymouth Rock
Plymouth Rock, partially obscured by a shadow

As for The Rock itself, it was not as large as I would have thought.  There was a monument surrounding the rock, which was erected in 1920 to commemorate the 300th anniversary.  We wondered for a moment what might be planned in a few years for the 400th anniversary.

The Mayflower II, pictured above, is a replica of the actual Mayflower ship.  We did not board the ship for a tour, as it didn’t really seem worth the money.

I really enjoyed the visit to Plymouth.  If you are interested in history, this small town is rich with it.

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.