Adventures in Lego-Land

Recently I attended the monthly meeting of InterCom, the organization for professional communicators in SW Michigan.  InterCom has become a must-attend for me in recent years because of the quality and variety of the monthly programs.

March’s meeting featured Renee Shull of integrated play. The couple of short “building” exercises she had us do using Lego blocks was certainly fun. It was also revealing as she explained the use of the small blocks as a metaphor for our perceptions about success and work. But what particularly struck a chord with me was when she talked about the need to remake herself after a career in corporate HR and how it led her to working with former NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA athletes. Renee has built her business on helping former athletes and others create successful transitions from their current career to whatever comes next for them and their families.

As she pointed out, some professional athletes have a relatively short career and in their 20’s or 30’s realize there is going to life after the playing field or arena. The average NFL career is 3.5 years while the average in the NBA is 4.8, the NHL is 5.5, and MLB is 5.6 years, so it’s clear that most professional athletes are going to need to do something else at a relatively young age. Long-lived playing careers, such as Derek Jeter’s 20 years as the New York Yankees’ shortstop are unusual to say the least.

Thanks, Renee, for a fascinating and fun InterCom meeting. And best wishes for continued success with integrated play. For the rest of us, this is a good reminder to keep working on Skill 8 – Growing Yourself

What’s next for you?

Paul

Choices And Expectations

Whenever we see performance problems the culprit frequently involves expectations. Someone’s expectations about what was to happen did not get met. Those might involve results, behaviors, communications, relationships, or a combination of unmet expectations.

Expectations are often unstated or implied, the person “expecting” certain behaviors or results rarely has been explicit about the specifics of the expectation. Far too often the offending party has no idea what they have done wrong, and when an expectation goes unmet for days, weeks, or even months, the relationship sours, perhaps to the point of somebody losing their job.

Expectations come from a variety of sources, for example:

  • Employees have expectations about how their manager communicates with them.
  • Managers have expectations about when an employee needs to ask for input or permission and when the employee can act on their own.
  • Customers have expectations about the relationship with your organization, including how and when you will communicate with them.
  • Peers and co-workers have expectations about the relationship and communications between you and them, as well as between your unit and their unit.

Those are simply a few examples of where there are expectations, but you get the general idea. And in many instances the expectations are strongly held but completely unstated. Think about what kinds of expectations might be operating in your particular situation. What expectations do you have about how your subordinates are to behave and which of those expectations are merely implicit? How often has an expectation not been met but you’ve said nothing to the employee? Look at some of the examples below:

Managers Expectations – samples:

  • Be flexible in responding to shifts in priorities or direction
  • Suggest improvements to will help the organization be more successful
  • Keep them in the loop about what is happening in your unit
  • Be a self-starter, honest, trustworthy, and reliable

Employees Expectations – samples:

  • Manage under-performers so they either succeed or leave
  • Listen to their ideas, concerns, problems, and proposed solutions
  • Keep them informed about things that have a bearing on their work
  • Provide clear information about what you expect them to do

Peers Expectations – samples:

  • Pull your share of the load; make sure your team does too
  • Train and develop your staff
  • Be an active member of the team; provide ideas, suggestions, feedback
  • Share information that helps others get the job done successfully

These are just a few examples of typical expectations; you can easily come up with others. And there may be expectations unique to your own organization. Yet time and time again these kinds of expectations are not communicated to the key people you work with every day. What would happen if you sat down with your boss, your employees, your peers and had a real conversation about expectations? Do you think it might help people work more cooperatively, more positively, more successfully?

I think so. What do you think?

Paul

Do You Really Want to be a Supervisor?

Being a supervisor . . . managing others . . . leading a program staff or production team where you work is often rewarding and energizing. It provides an outlet for your creative passion, and can be a very real way to contribute to your organization and your local community. And of course it can also be difficult, challenging,, disappointing, and a major pain in the neck (or some other portion of your anatomy).

Many times we think becoming a supervisor is more or less expected; the next step on our career. Moving from an individual contributor or team member role to managing a group is often viewed as a right of passage in the organization. That’s great if being a manager is what you really want. But there are so many other ways to make a positive and substantial contribution to your organization.

Taking on a new project, developing a new product or process, taking the new team member under your wing and teaching them how to get things accomplished, looking for ways to exercise your sphere of influence (see: “It’s All About Choices“) to help your team and the organization move forward . . . all examples of “leading” without becoming a supervisor or manager in a more formal sense.

So when the opportunity appears to move into a management role, take the time to ask yourself if you really want to be a supervisor or if there are other ways you can contribute in your current role. Get a good handle on the expectations for supervisors in your organization. Managing a team or a unit isn’t for everyone; make sure it is for you before you step into that role.

Think about it.

Paul

The Proof Is . . . In My Hands

The moment when the final printed proof  of your book is in your hands is pretty special. The months of effort to revise and expand the material, researching and writing the new chapters,  the multiple revisions, the back and forth with designer and editor . . . it all becomes worth it when the finished product arrives.

A trip to the post office this morning brought the page proofs for the 2nd edition of The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers nicely bound in its new cover. The new chapters and additional information brings the page count  to more than 420.

There is still more to do, of course. There’s the final review with my editor, Jan Andersen of Beyond Words, Inc., getting the word out to previous purchasers and organizations who adopted the 1st edition for their management development programs, marketing and promotion, as well as the upcoming eCourse.

Savoring the moment is wonderful. Now, back to work.

Stay tuned!

Paul

eCourse Planned for 8 Essential Skills

For some time now we’ve been looking for a way to provide the training course that goes along with The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers to a wider audience. Creating the book’s 2nd Edition has been a major undertaking over the past nine months and is now nearing publication, so it’s time to devote some attention to creating a series of online video eCourse modules.

We’ve partnered with our good friends at UNIVentures, Inc. led by Candace Cox and her  team.  And through them we’ve found the folks at Thinkific as technical partners. UNIVentures operates on a global basis delivering outstanding training programs all over the world. Greg Smith and the Thinkific team are based in Vancouver, BC. We like the international flavor this provides and look forward to working with these great people in the months and years ahead. We also have other interesting projects in the works, so . . .

Stay tuned!

Paul

While Washington Fiddles

Our federal and state governments do some things quite well; most career civil servants are dedicated, hard-working, and do a difficult job as well or better than one might expect. I’ve worked with great people at all levels of government; certainly none are more dedicated than the folks at the City of Kalamazoo.

At the same time many of our elected officials seem to be capable of generating only hot air and headlines. Now, if they could actually DO something instead of just talk about what’s wrong with the opposition, that would be deeply appreciated by everyone living outside the Beltway. I’m not holding my breath since they seem to be able to do . . . well, pretty much nothing at all.

Some states seem to be afflicted with similar extreme partisan rancor as the professional politicians prove themselves incapable of doing the job they were sent to do. And so it comes down to local government to lead the way in dealing with current financial reality, ’cause the folks in Washington and (insert your state capitol here) can’t seem to agree on what day of the week it is.

I grew up in an era where the particular political party of elected officials was much less important than their willingness to find common ground, compromise, and discover a way to make local, state, and federal government function reasonably well. Most politicians were moderates and while they might lean a bit left or right of center on some issues, the focus was on doing the work of the people in the best way possible. Right-or-left-wing ideologues were few and far between and there was much more that united us than divided us.

In spite of the level of rancor, venom, and hatred that seems to be the norm in much of our political discourse, I still believe that trying to find a common ground is the best way for government to work. Neither of the two major political parties has a monopoly on the truth; reality seems to exist somewhere between the two extremes.

The transition to an information-based global economy continues to disrupt lives and communities and it will do so for some time to come. One thing each of us can do is to get involved in helping our local and regional communities through nonprofit organizations and local government. We really cannot depend upon state or national elected officials to do much of anything beyond run for office. The political system is clearly broken and incapable of accomplishing anything meaningful.

So for all our sakes, please Vote – if the folks we elected to do the job can’t get the job done, maybe it’s time for somebody else to give it a try.

What do you think?

Paul

It’s All About Choices

I’m willing to bet that you have lots to do. At the end of the day, week, or month you can look back and spot all sorts of things that you could have accomplished but didn’t. You’ve clearly made choices about what to do, what not to do, what to pay attention to, and what to ignore or defer until later. You probably make hundreds of choices every day. The choices you make must answer three basic questions:

  • Who should address or resolve this issue? – you, somebody else, or nobody?
  • How important is this to me? Is this mission-critical to my job or not so important?
  • What is the best use of my time, talent, and energy right now? Handling this particular issue or something else on my plate at the moment?

I’m certain you have issues you can make decisions about, otherwise known as your “span of control.” These are decisions you can make on your own, choosing what seems best to you. For example, if something is within your span of control, you may decide to move ahead and keep your boss in the loop after the fact. If the issue requires sign-off or approval from your supervisor, then it clearly is not in your span of control; it’s in somebody else’s span of control.

You also have issues, challenges, problems, and concerns that you have some influence over, whether you realize it or not. This is your “sphere of influence.” These issues are outside your span of control; your position and authority don’t allow you to simply decide what to do. In this case you need the approval of someone else or the willingness of your boss to carry things forward. These issues tend to be things you care about and would like to see changed, but are outside your direct ability to make happen. So it pays to get good at raising issues, communicating critical information, and making recommendations so you can influence the person who actually can make the decision to make their choice the way you would like to see it made.

Learning to effectively use your sphere of influence has a great deal to do with the future scope of your span of control. Using and expanding your sphere of influence usually starts with your relationship with your own manager. You should quickly learn how they prefer to get your suggestions and ideas. Do they:

  • Need a lot of data or just a general overview?
  • Prefer to discuss your idea or issue, see it in writing, or receive it electronically?
  • Have a more receptive time of day?
  • Need to perceive any new idea as their own?

This is all about your ability to influence the future direction of your team or unit. The goal is to provide your manager with the information needed so their decision will go the way you want it to. Obviously, you need to provide your boss with information that’s truthful and complete. You don’t want to leave out an essential piece of information that could prove to be a problem later. That would brand you as someone who doesn’t think things through very well. Still, you can craft information and recommendations in such a way that they lead logically to the conclusion you prefer.

Often, supervisors and managers are frustrated by an issue or problem outside their span of control. So they toss the issue to their boss without thinking about how that person prefers to get input. When their boss ignores it, rejects the idea or makes a decision they don’t like, the frustration continues.

If you look back and can see you are not getting the results you want from your approach, it’s probably time to try a different approach. Ask yourself some basic questions, such as:

  • What is the real problem or issue? How can I best describe it so my boss understands the essential facts and generally sees the issue as I do?
  • What specific outcome do I want? If this issue was in my span of control, what would I decide to do?
  • Are there potential difficulties or problems associated with my approach? If so, what are they? What effect might they have on implementing my recommendation? (Hint – they often are political or “turf” issues)
  • What will be the benefits of following my recommendations?
  • What will the payoff be to the organization and its customers or stakeholders?
  • Who else supports my recommended approach?

Expanding both your span of control and your sphere of influence is a natural byproduct of experience. As you become more adept at managing yourself and the assignments, challenges, and opportunities that come your way, you “graduate” (David Allen’s apt term) and get to take on new, higher-level challenges. Because of the confidence you develop in your own abilities, this growth process can continue as long as you’re alive. But you have to start somewhere and where you are right this moment is a pretty realistic place to begin.

Ask yourself two questions:

  • What issues are really within my span of control?
  • What issues are in really within my sphere of influence?

Once you’ve identified the issues that are within your particular area of responsibility, then it’s a matter of choices – what are you going to do to move those issues forward to a successful resolution, and what issues do you choose to defer (maybe) until later?

Then once you’ve identified those issues that you care enough about to want to see move forward, then it’s a matter of who, how,and what – who needs to know about this particular issue, how do you want them to move forward, and what would you recommend they do?

I recommend you really think about it. What’s within your span of control and what’s within your sphere of influence?

Think about it and commit yourself to making good choices. Choose well and you’ll see your sphere of influence and your span of control expand.

Paul

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