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.

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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.

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.

Know Your Numbers

CaptureThe other day I had an opportunity to address my team, almost half of the audience were new to my organization, including our summer interns.  I saw it as a chance to capture the imagination of these new members, and I thought it went well.  As I did some self-reflection on the event, a little nugget emerged as a general lesson in leadership:  Know Your Numbers.

Know Your Numbers means that leaders ought to have an inventory of key statistics in their back pocket, along with an understanding of how to use these numbers appropriately to make the desired point.  In my case, I lead a growing laboratory so I used the relevant leading indicator to make that point.  Upon doing that, I did notice multiple and very clear  non-verbal cues from the audience that the message was received.

So, leaders, what are your numbers?  Can you pull them out on the fly and use them to support points during crucial conversations?  As I found out, it can really help shape other’s perception of your leadership.

Coaches, What Are We Doing?

This video is a few years ago, but the message Coach Van Gundy delivers is spot on.  Our role as youth coaches is to teach skills. Period.

This year is my first season as an assistant coach on my son’s traveling basketball team.  We are a “C” level team which means most of the kids have developing fundamentals – bringing the basketball up the court is enough of a challenge, let alone dealing with zone defenses, presses and the like.

In our first few tournaments we encountered situations where pressing and zone were allowed. Unfortunately, we ran into teams that decided that it was more important to press as long as the tournament rules allowed, then fall back into a zone trap once they had established big leads. What is the purpose of doing that? I think it’s exactly what Coach says in the video – the coaches are more interested in bragging to their buddies about their coaching prowess, rather than building skills. Even in a 40 point win, I argue by employing pressing they are not building skills either. Stealing the ball becomes their offense.

The other part that stinks, is that to attempt to avoid potential embarrassment in a tournament we have to spend over 50% of our practice time on press breaking. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get away from that and teach the kids how to dribble, pass and shoot? I’d like to propose that at lower levels we ban everything but man-to-man defenses.

On a positive note, we did run into one tournament where pressing was banned. It was a much better experience for the kids overall. Why can’t that be the rule?

At the Epicenter of Big Data Research

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I am wiped out as I am on the plane home from my most recent experience at MIT.  This week the topic was Big Data.  Big Data is a big topic around the water cooler these days, so I thought it would be important to learn more about it.  The title of the course was Big Data: Making Complex Things Simpler.  This was a 2 day Executive Education course designed to brief managers and executives on this exploding field.

First of all, if you are interested in this topic I highly recommend making the investment of time and money to attend a future offering.  Professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Sandy Pentland, leading researchers in Big Data present a well-crafted curriculum that connects a great deal of their research around how Big Data now provides the technology framework to do, very quickly, what researchers have done for years – create hypotheses, design experiments and analyze results.  Because of Big Data technologies, organizations can become more data-driven in their operations and/or product development.  Key issues including data privacy and data ownership are discussed as well, but this landscape is changing very rapidly, so it was challenging to go into too much depth.

If you are looking to better understand Big Data technologies, this is not the course to take.  However, if you are looking to spend a few days better understanding the ramifications of Big Data and how they impact organizations, I highly recommend making the investment.  The participants in the class contributed greatly to the discourse, which I appreciated as well. Plus, it was a great place to network and find out what is happening in other industries related to Big Data.