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How Introverts and Extroverts Can Live in Harmony at Work

Tue, 02/10/2015 - 08:30

Most work groups will have a mix of introverts and extroverts in them, and their differing work styles can cause conflict or frustration if not managed well.

Extroverts, after all, tend to engage in more social interaction at work, and often prefer or even need to talk through ideas and processes in order to be their most productive. Introverts, on the other hand, often prefer to work in relative quiet without interruptions and can have trouble focusing when there’s constant conversation around them. Extroverts can easily annoy introverts by too much noise and talking, and introverts can come across to extroverts as chilly or aloof.

These differences can affect both job satisfaction and productivity. If you’ve got a team full of extroverts and one or two introverts, those introverts can end up with nowhere quiet to focus and feeling drained by interruptions or noise around them. Alternately, if introverts dominate on your team, the extroverts who find themselves in the minority might feel isolated and have their own troubles being productive if they get more done when they’re able to talk things out and bounce ideas off of other people.

So when you’re managing a team with mixed work styles, how do you resolve conflicts between introverts’ need for quiet and focus and extroverts’ need for talking and collaboration?  Here are five compromises that will let everyone,  regardless of where they fall on the introvert/extrovert scale, be reasonably comfortable and productive.

1. Cultivate an office-wide awareness of different working styles. Openly acknowledging differing preferences along the introversion/extroversion scale is an essential step to figuring out solutions that will work. If introverts come to understand that extroverts are often more productive through conversation, and extroverts come to understand that introverts aren’t freezing them out when they put on headphones and keep their heads down, you’re more likely to find compromises people are happy with.

2. Zone your office space for different work styles. Designate some space for conversations and groups working together where people can make noise without guilt, and designate other spaces “quiet space.” If you can, let people choose where they work, and let people move from one to the other as their work needs dictate. You don’t need to revamp your entire physical space, but simply having some quiet conference rooms (and encouraging people to use them when they need quiet space to focus) can go a long way.

3. If your space is limited, encourage people to go off-site when they need quiet or interaction. If you don’t have spare conference rooms to zone for these uses, encourage people to go off-site when they need to. If their roles allow it, your introverts might be thrilled to work from home or a coffee shop when they particularly need to focus. And your extroverts might love the idea of holding a group brainstorm at the pizza shop next door.

4. Consider having set “quiet hours” each day, where any noisy activities take place in rooms with closed doors. Otherwise, introverts may end up feeling like they’re always having to flee shared space if they need to concentrate in a quiet area.  This is something you can do team-wide if people like the idea, or it might just be a solution for an otherwise mismatched pair who share an office to implement on their own.

You can balance that with “noisy hours” too if there’s a need for it!

5. Make “let’s take this to a meeting room” a standard phrase in your culture. Create a norm on your team where after a certain amount of time, a conversation is deemed a “meeting” and moves to a more appropriate location (like a conference room). This will allow extroverts to keep having the discussions they may need to work effectively, but without creating ongoing distractions for those who need a quieter space to work.

You May Also Like:
How to Keep from Being Distracted in an Open Office
How Introverts Can Succeed an Be Leaders in the Workplace
Four Tips for Getting the Most from Your Introverted Team Members


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Daniel Levitin on How to Conquer Information Overload

Mon, 02/09/2015 - 08:30

Too much information has overloaded our brains, leading us to become more forgetful and indecisive. But an expert says there are ways to think clearly and make better decisions – and never again forget where we put our wallet.

Every day millions of us search for our car keys, our smartphones and our sunglasses. We can’t remember passwords for our online banking account and lose critical emails or other bits of data important for our work.

While dealing with such stress and frustration, we’re being constantly bombarded with information from thousands of different sources. For example, in 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986, or the equivalent of 175 newspapers. Is it any wonder that we become paralyzed by the sheer volume of incoming data, causing us to have more and more brain blips?

Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist, psychologist and author of “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload,” says that while we’re all faced with “an unprecedented amount of information to remember,” most of us are still trying to “keep track of things using the systems that were put in place in a pre-computerized era.”

For example, one of the problems is that the computer has evolved into “that big disorganized drawer everyone has in their kitchen.”

“We have files we don’t know about, others that appeared mysteriously by accident when we read an email, and multiple versions of the same document,” making it difficult to determine what is the most recent, he explains.

But he says that he’s found examples of how high achievers manage to keep things running smoothly without getting bogged down by information overload. Their systems make a “profound difference” and enable them to have time for fun and relaxation, he says.

Here are some ways Levitin – using scientific research – says that we can become better at being more focused, productive and less stressed.

  1. Just say “no.” Become your own enforcer of no email or Internet for certain periods so you can sustain your concentration. Don’t check your email every time something arrives in your in-box, but instead check your email only during certain periods. Prioritize your critical tasks for the day and then stick to the plan, learning to ignore that nagging voice that’s trying to get you to do something else (like checking out funny goat videos on YouTube.)
  2. Reach for the reset. When the brain goes into “brain wandering mode,” it is serving as a neural reset button that gives you a refreshed perspective. A 15-minute nap can provide such a reset, as can reading, walking outside, looking at art or meditating.
  3. Do an information dump. If it’s supposed to snow tomorrow while you’re at work, forget reminding yourself to bring your snow boots. Just get the boots and set them by the door. That way, he explains, the environment is going to remind you about taking the boots instead of forcing your brain to keep track of it and clutter your thoughts. If you find ways to rid your brain of so much responsibility, you can better focus your attention on what is in front of you.
  4. Buy some index cards. Putting a to-do list on a computer or smartphone may not be the best method for focusing on priorities. The problem is that you have to scroll through the whole list every time you consult it. But with index cards, you prioritize your tasks with the most important on top. (It’s a technique used by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg).
  5. Control incoming messages. In a method used by executive assistants at the White House, correspondence is sometimes put into more than one category. Reports or letters might be filed by committees and by projects, and is marked as it comes in with appropriate tags. If you have a phone conversation that you need to remember, jot down your notes and send it to yourself in an email that you can then file accordingly. You can also set up different email accounts – one for personal and one for business. That allows you to turn off your personal account when working on business and limit distractions.
  6. Purge once a year. You may procrastinate about making a decision on whether to throw something away, and before you know it your email is overflowing with thousands of emails awaiting a decision or stacks of paper teetering on your desk like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. “It’s important to go through piles on a regular basis to whittle them down, trim them, or re-sort them – not everything in them remains relevant forever,” he says.
  7. Take 10. Psychiatrists work in 50-minute sessions, allowing them to jot down their notes before the next patient. So instead of scheduling back-to-back meetings, give yourself 10 minutes to write down your thoughts, what happened and what needs to be done. It’s also a good idea to give yourself 10 minutes before a meeting to review what needs to happen. “It’s good neural hygiene for your brain to give it time to switch into the mind-set of your next meeting gradually and in a relaxed way before the meeting starts,” he explains.  At the same time, if you get interrupted while working on a project, make notes so that when you return you’ll be able to resume the work more quickly.
  8. Scrutinize your junk drawer. “Our junk drawers provide a perfect metaphor for how we live our lives,” he says. Old shopping lists, broken dog collars and five screwdrivers of the same size don’t make a lot of sense, and that’s why we all need to take time to check out the “junk drawers” in our offices and computers. Is the item serving you? Does it clutter up your thinking so that you’re not open to new ideas? Is the purpose clear?

“Getting organized,” Levitan says, “can bring us to the next level in our lives.”

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3 Ways to Gauge If Your Business Needs to Make Big Changes

Fri, 02/06/2015 - 08:30

Any good business plan anticipates change and growth. But what do you do after you’ve reached those goals and benchmarks you set for yourself? Even the best-designed systems and processes are subject to a range of variables that will make them less effective or even counterproductive though the life of your business. When is it time to change what you do and how you do it?

These are a few indications that your business can use an upgrade.

1. The business has grown beyond expectations or experience.

You are no longer the plucky startup but established in the field. In fact, you’re a contender. Are you still managing like you’re working in the studio loft? Conversely, you lead a young department in a large corporate structure. Your unparalleled success has you and your team noticed by upper management. Now you’re getting more work and responsibility than you can handle. You’ve met your initial goals and expectations. Simply put, growth is ready for you. Are you ready for it?

This is a great time for reflection. Take a careful inventory of where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re headed. You’re never going to have a better time for course correction and setting the future trajectory of the company or your career. Do you want to remain small and work for a more elite clientele? Or do you want to take on the entire business world? Are you staying local or looking at the big prize of international outreach? Or is it time for your business to cash out?

Growing too quickly has challenges that even the most diligent and motivated entrepreneur may not be ready to face. Now is the time to create the values, strategy, and philosophy that are going to lead you, your employees, and your company to the next chapter.

2. Your workforce is older and more experienced.

You’ve trained a cadre of loyal, hardworking associates or employees, and your current team is a collection of individual experts who work well without supervision. How can you reward them and retain the experience you’ve invested so much time and resources in maturing? It might be time to see how they can lead and how they can grow a junior staff.

It’s time to find out what their goals are, to determine if the next step in the ladder of success is as ready for them as it is for you. It could also be an opportunity to look for new ideas and new employees, people to report directly to the more experienced staff.

The downside, of course, is that this puts you a step away from the ground level of operations. But if growth is one of your goals, this is expected and necessary. You’re also giving the people you’ve worked with the chance to manage. If that hasn’t been a goal yet, it certainly should be.

This is also a good time to ask difficult questions. Has your leadership been a component in the growth of your employees? Are the people under your direct supervision looking to you with respect…or fear? Have you instilled any of your best qualities in your people? Have you been the kind of manager you wanted to be? Building trust and encouraging your people to trust one another can make your new course correction a great moment in their lives.

Being generous with opportunity has its own rewards. Upper management is probably looking for someone who can grow to the executive level. And the people who have worked under your supervision can provide an excellent example that you’re that person to encourage progress. Great leaders don’t just build loyal staff; they build future leaders in the process.

3. You need to keep current with technology and compatibility.

You’ve just learned that the project management software or CRM you’ve been using is losing support. While the rest of the company has grown and made improvements, you’re still using computers and processes that are working piecemeal with the newer systems in order to work at all.

This is a problem whose solution usually involves money: There are organizations and individuals lining up to sell you something bigger, better, faster, and perfectly compatible. Now is the time to look at the numbers. If you have a clear trajectory of what’s ahead—greater volume, enhanced productivity, a change in focus from one product to another—the old software or older processes may now be subject to a radical change. Is your current stack of software customizable enough to grow with you?

Poll the staff who have managed the old system, and get their opinions. With their input, the transition will move more smoothly. Ask them questions about the flaws the older model had, and find out what they need to work quickly and more efficiently. The outlook of experience will be very important when you’re getting a buy-in from the people who are letting go of the old and learning how to make the new work most effectively.

A smart leader knows when it’s time to make the big changes. A skilled change leader can make them painless, exciting and even invigorating.


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What To Do When You Can’t Focus at Work

Thu, 02/05/2015 - 08:30

Ever have a day where you just can’t seem to focus on your work? Maybe it’s your coworker’s distracting phone calls, or the lure of social media, or thoughts about an upcoming vacation, but for whatever reason, we all have days where our concentration is shot. Here’s what to do when it happens to you.

1. Change your location. If your environment itself is posing an obvious distraction (like a meeting happening on the other side of your cubicle or an annoying rattle coming through the vent), changing locations will obviously help. But even if your environment isn’t at fault, sometimes simply changing venues can help reset your brain and bring back your focus. Try temporarily moving to a conference room or a coffee shop and see if your focus returns.

2. Make your work area and computer distraction-free. If changing locations isn’t an option or isn’t helping, try eliminating distractions from your immediate work area and your computer itself. For instance, shut down your email program, turn off notifications, file away those papers that are littering your desk, change your IM status to “busy,” and see if your mind feels clearer.

3. Tell yourself that you’re going to work on a project for 10 minutes and then will take a break. Committing for only 10 minutes is pretty easy, and often you’ll find that once you’ve started, you’re able to keep going. And if you need that break 10 minutes in, you’ve still made some headway that you wouldn’t have otherwise done.

4. Stop fighting it, and turn to activities that require less focus. If you try both of the above without success, your brain might just need a break right now. Rather than fighting it, see if you can use the time to do activities that don’t require intense focus, like filing, cleaning out your desk, dealing with expense reimbursements, or anything else that needs to be done at some point but which doesn’t tax you mentally.

As part of doing that, you should also…

5. Prioritize ruthlessly. It’s all well and good to spend the day on low-focus activities if nothing is pressing, but that might not be realistic for the whole day. Ask yourself what the absolute most important things are you for you to accomplish today. Are there tasks where you’d feel terrible if they were undone at the end of the day? Tell yourself that you’re going to do those now so that they’re not hanging over you, but that you won’t pressure yourself to go beyond that if your brain is rebelling.


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How To Document Your Current Processes In 10 Easy Steps

Wed, 02/04/2015 - 08:30

Most companies use repeatable processes to get work done. That’s a good thing. But if those processes aren’t written down, there are any number of things that could happen to cause breakdowns in the workflow and have an impact on your customers or your cash flow. That’s not a good thing.

It’s not hard to document work processes, but it does take time. The time is well worth it though because it will help you determine if the processes are efficient or if there are steps that can be eliminated or changed. And if you’re in the middle of getting ready to automate some of your work, documenting current processes are an absolute must.

Using a step-by-step method to document your processes will help you get it done quickly and efficiently. Over the years, I’ve used (and taught) a ten step method many times over with success. It can help you too.

A Quick, Ten Step Method For Documenting Business Processes

This method works best when all participants can see what’s being created by using a flip chart or white board. Make sure you have the right people in the room who know what’s involved in accomplishing the process.

Step 1 – Process Name. To get started, write the name of the process along with a description on the flip chart.

Step 2 – Process Boundaries. Identify the start and end points of the process. What triggers the process to start? How do you know when it’s done?

Step 3 – Process Outputs. Identify what’s produced by the process.

Step 4 – Process Inputs. Identify what’s needed to perform the process and where it comes from (e.g. paper, web, fax, etc.)

Step 5 – Process Activities. Brainstorm the activities (what) that need to be done to get the process from start to finish. State these in a verb / object format (e.g., approve request, sign paperwork, distribute form, etc). Don’t worry about sequencing the activities at this time, just brainstorm freely. Sticky notes can be very effective for this step. Just write one activity on each note.

Step 6 – Process Organization. Take all the brainstorm items you identified and sequence them into the process flow. Make sure you identify key decision points as you build the visual of your process.

Step 7 – Process Review. Take a look at the sequence as a first quality check. Does it look complete based on the boundaries you defined in Step 2?

Step 8 – Process Roles. Identify the roles (who) that will be completing the activities for the process. Assign a role to each activity step.

Step 9 – Transcribe Process. Place the steps into a flowcharting software program in a swim lane format.

Step 10 – Final Process Review. Get the participants together and review the process flow. Secure approval by all team members.

Put It All Together

Here’s an example of a documented process to help you see how it all comes together.

Process Name: Pay Employees

Process Boundaries: Employees work for one week and get a paycheck or check stub if on automatic deposit.

Process Outputs: Employee checks or stubs, payroll report, updated PTO records

Process Inputs: Employee time cards

Process Activities: Completed and verified employee time cards, time cards delivered to HR, PTO records updated, data entered in payroll processor, checks or stubs delivered to employees, completed payroll report generated.

Process Roles: Employee, Supervisor, HR Manager, HR Assistant

And the transcribed process in a swim lane format would look like this:


Your Next Steps

Once you have the processes documented and approved, your next step will depend on what actions you plan to take in your company. Whether you are making changes or not, it’s a good idea to take a look at each process to determine where there are opportunities to make the process more efficient.

You May Also Like:
Take the First Step in Improving Your Business Processes


Resisting Delegating Work? How to Move More to Your Team

Tue, 02/03/2015 - 08:30

If you’re like many managers, you sometimes find yourself resisting delegating a piece of work or a responsibility to someone on your team because you’re worried that it won’t be done well enough. But in most cases, if you give in to this impulse, you’re forfeiting the benefit of having a team, which is to allow you to get better results – in part by having more people doing the work, but also in part to free you up to spend your time on things that only you can do.

Here are some of the most common reasons managers resist delegating and why you should delegate anyway in these cases – along with one time when you shouldn’t.

“They won’t care about it as much as I do.”

Ever feel this way? You might worry that if someone doesn’t care about a responsibility as much as you do, they might not do it with the same sense of urgency or attention to detail. Maybe they won’t put as much energy into it as you want them to. Or maybe you don’t trust that they’ll remember to take care of it regularly if it’s an ongoing thing.

If you have the right person in the role and you’ve correctly set up the task for them (including doing things like talking through how to do it well, what could go wrong, its importance and the context for why it matters), you should be able to trust them to care as much as you do – or at least enough that the work will be well done. If you don’t, that’s a flag to figure out why. Maybe you need to prep them better for the work, or maybe you don’t have the right person in the role.

“They won’t do it the same way I would do it.”

This might be true! And it might end up being to your benefit. Part of the advantage of having a staff is that you’re getting multiple brains to work on a problem and figure out the best way to approach it. Assuming you don’t think that no one will ever have a better, more creative idea than you (you don’t think that, right?), your best bet here is to encourage people to look for better ways to do things, even if they’re different from yours. Your role is to ensure that the outcome is what you need, but it’s often okay if someone takes a different path to get there (as long as they’re not sacrificing things like accuracy, final quality, or service to customers along the way).

“They can’t do it as fast as I can.”

This might be true too! But if you let them try their hand at it, they’ll probably start getting faster over time.  But even if they don’t, it’s still often going to save your time, which can be better spent on work that only you can do.

“They can’t do it as well as I can.”

Another one that might be true! But if you want to make full use of your team – which will help you get better results in the long-term – you’re going to need to give people opportunities to develop their skills so that they can make larger contributions to the work. That doesn’t mean that you should delegate everything, of course, but it does mean that you should be vigilant about spending your time in the areas where it will pay off the most, not just in the areas where you might be a bit better than a staff member.

Otherwise, you could easily spend most of your days on small things where you add some value and never get to the work where you add the most value – and the latter is what will most powerfully drive your work forward.

“I really enjoy doing it.”

If you truly enjoy a particular task and find it fulfilling, it’s not crazy to hold on to it, as long as it doesn’t drain your energy or keep you away very long from more important work. If something energizes you and makes you like your job more, it can make sense to continue doing it yourself, traditional delegation advice notwithstanding. (But if you find yourself saying that about multiple tasks you should otherwise delegate, that’s a flag to do a gut-check.)


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Why a Team in Conflict Can Be a Good Thing

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 09:00

Can’t we all just get along? It seems that when it comes to teams, that’s a plea often made by managers. But research shows that conflict among team members may deliver the best business results.

One of the biggest headaches for a manager is when members of a team don’t really like working together.

This dislike can range from snotty comments muttered during meetings to outright confrontations among team members. A manager is put in the unenviable position of taking on the role of playground supervisor/negotiator/drill sergeant as he or she tries to get results from a team that needs to function as a cohesive unit.

But could it be that friction among team members is a good thing and managers should learn to appreciate it?

Recently a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and George Washington University of a large U.S. professional services firm found that men and women don’t really like working together on teams. Individual workers reported they were more satisfied with their jobs when they were on teams filled mostly with those of their own gender.

“People are more comfortable around people who are like them,” says Sara Fisher Ellison, a co-author at MIT.

Interestingly, however, business results were shown to be much better when men and women worked together.

Ellison explains that could be because teams filled with similar individuals “socialize more and work less,” and various perspectives and skills may help teams function at a higher level. Researchers say that moving all female teams or all male teams to coed teams would boost revenue by 41%.

Further, she suggests that companies may need to do more to help team members embrace differences instead of seeing them as a point of contention.

Other research has found that instead of managers dreading some team conflict, they should learn to harness its power.

“[T]he mere presence of diversity you can see, such as a person’s race or gender, actually cues a team in that there’s likely to be differences of opinion. That cuing turns out to enhance the team’s ability to handle conflict, because members expect it and are not surprised when it surfaces,” says Margaret A. Neale, a management professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business who focuses on negotiation and team performance. “A more homogeneous team, in contrast, won’t handle conflict as well because the team doesn’t expect it.”

Additional research backs up the benefit of diverse teams, as Neale found that while senior team members reported greater satisfaction with new members who were similar to them, better results were actually achieved when the new members were more diverse.

Still, while teams that have conflict are more likely to be innovative, it’s still going to be a headache for the manager if that conflict is personal and not just intellectual. The best course of action is to already have conflict resolution management procedures in place. If you don’t, then experts recommend:

  1. Acting quickly. Don’t hang back, hoping the conflict will resolve itself. The longer it goes on, the more difficult it will be to resolve and get the team back on track.
  2. Being respectful. Leaders cannot appear to take sides in a dispute, so show respect for each side and fully hear each side of the story.
  3. Keeping goals a priority. Remind the group of why it was formed and its purpose. Pointing out the things a team agrees upon is important to keep it focused on how to move forward.
  4. Going for a win. Try to find a simple task that will be easy for the team to accomplish together. This helps re-establish the success of the group and show they can work together.

As a leader, it’s important to keep in mind that there is always going to be conflict, but learning to direct that energy into something positive is possible. As Thomas Payne noted: “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

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Using Data about Emotional Intelligence to Drive Performance

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 09:00

You can’t just wave a magic wand and expect your team’s personality conflicts to disappear. But if you’re John Hughes, an executive coaching and leadership development consultant, you can use a data-driven EQ (emotional quotient) assessment to diagnose and solve these problems.

So what is EQ, anyway? It’s your ability to feel and express emotions; your assertiveness levels; your stress tolerance; your flexibility; your level of empathy; your ability to do your best alone or in a team. As with IQ (intelligent quotient), EQ can be measured. But unlike IQ, which degrades as we age, EQ can be developed.

“Many of the executives and managers I work with understand the concept of emotional intelligence but needed a way to make it ‘real’ for them,” Hughes said. “They needed data.”

In order to do this, Hughes derives his results from an EQ test—he administers several hundred a year—based on the work of Dr. Reuven Bar-On, one of the leading theorists and practitioners in the emotional intelligence field. The test takes only fifteen minutes to complete yet reveals critical information about the test-taker’s emotional makeup.

Interestingly, Hughes said, certain skills match up to certain professions…and it’s not always obvious which is which. For example, most people would say that the most important emotional intelligence skill for a nurse would be empathy. But actually, the most important is problem solving—because we would rather the nurse solve our problem than express empathy.

Here are some examples of Hughes’ EQ evaluations, the results he presented to an executive or team, and a problem-solving action plan.

Example #1

Mary’s biggest problem is conflict avoidance. Her leadership style is reflected in her team: They can identify a conflict, but they can’t resolve it.

“In her EQ, she scored low in self-regard, assertiveness, and stress tolerance,” Hughes said. “So my job is to look at these three low scores and [ask], ‘Is there a story here?’”

There was. Mary had been very successful at similar positions in other companies and had been in this job only six months. She was expected to take immediate ownership of her team. The missing piece: She had not been given a sure footing in the culture and orientation of the company or help in building a network. She was simply expected to produce, based on her successes in previous similar roles in other companies. Her assertiveness was low because she didn’t have a voice, Hughes said.

The solution: Mary came up with her own orientation plan with her manager, giving herself ninety days to acclimate to the culture. They also realized that she needed clarification of the overall company strategy, another missing piece.

“Ninety days later, everybody’s happy,” Hughes said. “Of course, this is just the beginning of the relationship, but it’s a great outcome.”

Example #2

Brian prides himself on his honesty. This honesty tends to come out in high levels of assertiveness: He loves to put his voice out there.

This is often accompanied by a high degree of “reality testing,” manifested in a lot of questioning—sometimes rapid-fire questions, asked even before an answer is delivered. In Brian, this was paired with a low degree of impulse control. Therefore in meetings, Brian was perceived as not collegial.

During the debriefing, Hughes told Brian, “Sometimes anger is at the heart of a lack of impulse control.

“As the team facilitator, I had to point out to Brian that his tone was shutting people down—it even shut me down,” Hughes said. “I told him, ‘You come across as angry. You frame as honesty, I frame it as anger—the emotion that’s driving your honesty is anger.

“Then I asked, ‘Is there anything about your anger that you want to share with the group?” It turned out that in joining the company, the position that he was supposed to get had been eliminated. He felt he was doing work that was below him, and he was upset.

“I said, ‘Brian that sucks, but the whole team is suffering. You have to find a way to deal with it, or leave the company.’”

Example #3

The boss, Lou, is a senior business leader who had a reputation for being intelligent, hardworking, and loyal. But his leadership style had changed, and he delivered rude responses, belittled his team, was viewed as inflexible and aggressive, even unapproachable and angry. Other bad boss behaviors included favoritism, frequent and ineffective team meetings, and a stressed and conflict-ridden relationships with peers.

But Lou has high assertiveness, high empathy, and high emotional self-awareness – so, Hughes said, when he shouts at people he knows he’s hurting them.

With the EQ assessment, Hughes said to Lou, “You know you’re sticking the knife into your team members every day. Your empathy tells me you don’t care. Unless you put your knife away, terrible things will happen.”

It turned out, Hughes said, that Lou’s personal life had taken a nasty turn. Ultimately, he had to go for external counseling.

Hughes planned to work with him and his direct reports to make sure that Lou stepped up to the behavior change he committed to.

As Hughes reminds us, “The company doesn’t pay you to be happy, it pays you to be effective.” Finding a weak spot in your stakeholders’ EQs, and working to improve it, can help you and your team function as effectively as possible.

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How to Grow Your Emotional Intelligence
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Is Your Team Misusing Email?

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 09:00

Ever had the frustrating feeling of reading a long, convoluted email and wondering, “Why didn’t this person just pick up the phone?” Or seeing someone take offense to an email that sounded abrasive, even if the sender didn’t intend it that way?

If you manage a team, chances are good that you’ve seen people making some bad choices when it comes to how they use email. Here are three of the most common, and what to do if you see them on your team.

1. Hashing out complex problems in email rather than talking face-to-face. When explaining complicated or nuanced information, or talking about complicated projects or tasks where you still need to hash out what the outcome should look like, email is rarely the best medium. Talking in-person or jumping on the phone will usually let you get to the outcome you’re looking for faster and with less opportunity for confusion.

What to do if you see it on your team: If you see repeat offenders on your team regularly turning to email when a real-time conversation would be better, point it out! Repeat offenders here tend to be “email people” – people who have a strong preference for written communication and find it more efficient – and you’ll get better results if you start by acknowledging that email is often the right tool … but that in some specific situations, a phone call really does make more sense. Email people are more likely to be receptive to this if they don’t feel like you’re steering them away from their preferred communication method across the board.

2. Sending emails that read as abrasive or unfriendly. It’s basically a truism at this point that tone can’t be read correctly in email, but many people continue to have trouble judging how their email might sound to the recipient. They can inadvertently end up alienating people who they need to have good working relationships with, because their email recipients are reading their written tone as dismissive, abrasive, or even outright rude. Of course, to the senders of these emails, it’s often a great mystery how they were interpreted that way!

What to do if you see it on your team: Again, point it out, and explain why it matters. For instance, “Jim, I know that when you’re emailing, you like to get straight to the point. Unfortunately, it’s coming across to people with a different style as more abrasive than I know you intend. Can you try taking an additional minute or two to make sure you’re not being so concise that it’s coming across as brusque? I’ve noticed that it’s come up a few times when working with the events team, so paying particular attention there would really help.”

3. Treating email as optional. The people in this category are the opposite of the folks who use email for everything, even when they shouldn’t; instead, they may not use email much at all. They don’t reliably respond to emails, even when asked direct questions, and they seem unaware of key info that was communicated in emails to them in the past.

What to do if you see it on your team: Call it out and be clear about what you expect around email usage. For instance, you might explain that you expect all emails to be read within a day of receiving them, and answers should be sent within two business days (even if only to say, “I received this and will need a week to get you the information you’re asking for”). And you might also need to be explicit that email is a key business tool your team relies on, and an employee can no more opt out of its use than they could opt out of attending client meetings.

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Take the First Step In Improving Your Business Processes

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 09:00

You can’t improve what you don’t know. That’s the key reason why an assessment should be conducted prior to any change in business process or software implementation.

An assessment will help you identify:

  • Benchmarks for current service levels
  • Who is typically involved in a business process
  • What tools are used to complete the work
  • Ideas on how to improve the work from the people who do it

There are actually three stages to an assessment, 1) Preparation, 2) Interviews and Data Gathering, and 3) Compiling the Results

1) Preparation

One of the best ways to complete an assessment is by conducting individual interviews with the people who are currently doing the work for the area under consideration.

How many people need to be involved in the assessment effort will depend on the size of the area in question, such as a small team versus a large department. So the first thing you need to do is determine the size of the assessment team and what role each person will play.

It’s also important to develop standard questions you will ask so each assessment team member places the focus on the proper areas of the business. The questions will vary depending on what area of the business is involved, but should follow these general guidelines.

  • How does the work group integrate with other teams or departments within the company?
  • How does the work group integrate with external groups or departments?
  • Is the group comprised of people who specialize in certain areas or are people cross trained to perform multiple functions?
  • What standards or policies govern the work of the group?
  • How are decisions made within the group?
  • What portion of the work (if any) is outsourced to an external company?
  • How is work distributed within the group?
  • What technology systems are used by the group to get work done?
  • Are there any other groups within the company that do similar work?
  • What are the current standards or benchmarks for completed work?
  • How do people learn to perform new jobs or tasks within the organization?
  • What change would help you do your job better?

You may want to do a pre-interview request for any documents or data that is available to save time in the interviews.

Conducting the Assessment

Depending on the culture of the organization, the people who are being interviewed for the assessment may feel threatened by the process. It’s important that you make them feel comfortable so they’ll share important information with you by offering anonymity of their responses and indicating that although you will be using their input, no single person will be identified in the results.

A good way to begin an assessment interview is to explain that you have several questions you will be asking and that you’d like the person to be as frank as possible with you. Then begin the discussion with the statement, “So tell me a bit about your job.” Beginning the interview with this icebreaker helps establish rapport with the interviewee and will help set the tone as you proceed through your prepared questions.

As you proceed through the interview, make sure you ask for any hard copies of documents as they are mentioned by the interviewee.

Close out the discussion by thanking the person for their input and advise them of any next steps that are applicable to your project.

Compiling the Results

It’s time to put it all together and determine what will be affected by your project and how it will be addressed in your project plan.

It’s a good idea to create a framework for your results compilation to help keep the information organized and your assessment team focused. If you don’t already have a framework defined, getting the assessment team together and brainstorming key areas for “chunking” the information you learned is a good way to begin.

Once you’ve decided upon the format, dig in and sort through what was discovered to compile the final assessment results.

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How to Document Your Current Processes in 10 Easy Steps


Do You Feel Tele-Pressure When You Work From Home?

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 09:00

More and more companies are embracing telecommuting – or at least allowing it on occasion. That flexibility is usually a boon for workers … but regular work-from-home’ers know that this flexibility comes with a dark side too: “tele-pressure.”

Researchers coined the term tele-pressure to describe the urge to respond to emails, texts, and voicemails as fast as you can, so that you appear connected and responsive. That leads to people doing things like interrupting evenings and weekends to respond to emails that aren’t actually urgent, or even neglecting their biggest priorities during the workday itself in order to remain continuously responsive to a never-ending stream of emails and other communications. Over time, it can lead to workers being less productive, burned out, and even experiencing health and sleep problems.

“Employees pick up on both subtle and not-so-subtle cues in the work environment that imply that fast response times are needed to be perceived as productive workers,” says Larissa Barber, a psychology professor at NIU and lead author of a new study on the tele-pressure. “This may leave employees feeling like they technically have the option of not being continuously accessible, but that unplugging—even for short periods of time—may be damaging to their careers.”

So what can you do if you’re feeling pressure to show at all times that you’re responsive and productive? These six steps may help:

  • Turn off new message notifications on your phone and email so that you’re not getting distracted by the constant “answer me!” ding of every new message. Instead, check your messages several times throughout the day when you’re at a good breaking point in the rest of your work.
  • Schedule work blocks for yourself, several-hour chunks of time where you’ll work distraction-free on your biggest priorities, and consciously choose to stay out of your email during those periods.
  • Don’t assume that your manager expects instant responses to every email. Plenty of managers send emails in the evening or over the weekend but don’t expect responses until normal work hours. If you’re in doubt, ask your manager: “Hey, I’m assuming that it’s fine for me to wait to reply to emails sent over the weekend until I’m back at work on Monday, unless it’s an emergency. Let me know if that’s not the case.”
  • Resolve to disconnect from work email altogether once your work day is over. Not every field allows this – there are some jobs that truly require you to be available and responsive at all times – but the majority don’t. Unless your job explicitly requires you to be constantly connected, try simply not checking your email over the weekend for one week’s worth of evenings and see what happens. If everything seems to go fine, try it for a second week and see what happens. Still fine? That’s probably a sign that you can truly disconnect going forward – and should.
  • Remind yourself that if you don’t get an answer within a few hours every time you query a colleague, you don’t assume that person is slacking off; you assume they’re busy with something else. The same is likely true of how your colleagues think of you – and that’s doubly true if you have an established track record of getting back to people and doing good work.
  • If you’re a manager, do your part to combat tele-pressure on your team by (a) creating norms around response time that make it clear instant responses aren’t expected unless something is truly urgent, (b) convey specific, non-urgent timelines in your emails when you can (such as “would you let me know by Thursday?”), and (c) explicitly telling people that you don’t want them to feel pressured to prioritize email above other work or disconnecting at night and on weekends.


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How to Make Any Meeting More Productive

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 09:00

No matter how much you may wish it to be otherwise, meetings at work are necessary. But they don’t have to be long, annoying affairs that get little accomplished. A fresh look at how we can take ownership of making meetings better.

Think you attend a lot of meetings?

Let’s do the math and see if that’s true:

  • There are an estimated 25 million meetings in America on a daily basis.
  • If you live to the average U.S. life expectancy of 78.6 years, then you will have spent two years of your life sitting in work meetings. (The average person also swears two million times in a lifetime, although it’s not clear how much of that is related to sitting in meetings.)

So, data has proven what we’ve all known for a long time: We spend too much time in meetings. They are time-sucks that often accomplish little and force us to spend our personal time catching up on the work we should have been doing while sitting in a meeting.

Is there a way to salvage the work meeting?

Paul Axtell, author of “Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations,” says meetings are important, but we’ve lost sight of how to ensure they are productive.

For example, 92% of information workers fess up to multitasking during meetings, even though it has been shown that there is a 40% drop in productivity when you multitask and a 50% spike in errors.

That’s why he advises to “leave your technology at the door,” and “keep only what you need for the meeting in front of you.”

You may argue, of course, that the reason you use your smartphone to check your email (and Facebook and Pinterest) during meetings is because of other people. Other people make the meetings run too long. Other people don’t stay on topic. Other people aren’t focused.

Buy Axtell advises that one of the keys to more productive meetings is that everyone needs to take more personal responsibility for meetings going wrong. In other words, it may not always be other people. It may be…

Here are some ways you can take personal responsibility for making meetings more effective, Axtell says:

  • Be patient. Don’t jump in the minute someone pauses in a conversation. By remaining attentive, you’re more likely to hear important information and won’t alienate the speaker.
  • Be nonjudgmental. “Remind yourself that the other person’s views are as legitimate as yours,” he says. “Give them the benefit of the doubt; assume positive intent.”
  • Listen for something new.  You’re going to hear new information and gain new insights if you decide beforehand that you’re going to listen to what others are interested in or care about. Or, perhaps you decide that you’re going to focus your attention on what each person seems to be dealing with in their particular area. The point is to stop listening only through “the filter of your own personal interests,” he says.
  • Be a focused speaker. This means that you’re clear, concise, relevant and respectful, he says. For example, don’t add a lot of extra detail unless someone asks for it; don’t speak unless what you’re saying will add value and move the conversation forward; and  don’t express disagreement unless it’s necessary.
  • Be careful with humor. Don’t make a joke that discounts the previous speaker or the conversation.
  • Don’t fidget. Don’t use nonverbal behavior that is distracting. 

If you’re a manager in charge of running a meeting, then you have even more responsibility for ensuring that a session is productive. But sometimes that can be difficult, especially if you’ve got a chronic interrupter, a complainer or motormouth. In these situations, Axtell says some strategies include:

  • Ignoring it. If someone interrupts, for example, let the person finish his or her comments and then resume yours or ask whoever was interrupted to continue.
  • Asking for what you want. Another option for someone who is interrupting or talks too much is to stop and ask for what you want. For example, a conversation hog might be told: “If you don’t mind, I’d like to hold you back for a bit while I get a couple of other people into the conversation. Then I will come back to you.”
  • Confronting the issue later. Away from the meeting, you can tell the person that you’d like participation to be more balanced or you’d like him or her to interrupt less. 

Finally, if you’re really pressed for time and want to ensure your group stays focused, you might consider a strategy used by Christopher Frank, an author and vice president of American Express. He suggests having participants say in five words or less the problem to be solved. If the answers are inconsistent or lengthy, then that’s a clue that attendees aren’t focused on the same problem.

“By clearly articulating the issues, you will get a good idea of the information you need, the people you should talk to and will ensure everyone is working toward the same goal,” he says.

Learn how P&G eliminated 18-24 days of meetings per person per year.


Research Proves That Delayed Responses Hurt You

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 09:00

Instant ecommunication equals sky high expectations.

I’ve talked before about how responsiveness – or lack thereof – can make or break your reputation at work. Typically, I complain about people who never answer emails unless there’s something in it for them at that moment, or who take weeks to do so. However, it turns out that most people’s definition of responsiveness is even stricter than I would have thought. It turns out that your colleagues don’t want to wait for you at all.

Same Day Response is the New Normal

MailTime is an app that converts email to a text message format via the smartphone. The founders recently conducted a study of 1,500 professionals to evaluate email etiquette in 2014-15. What they discovered may surprise you.

Most people (52 percent) expect you to answer work-related emails within 24 hours, and 19 percent want that response within 12 hours. The more time that goes by, the less people tolerate. Only 3 percent think it’s appropriate to answer emails within a week. More than that? Forget about it.

Wi Fi: A Blessing or a Curse?

As technology becomes more and more instantaneous, it’s no longer acceptable to pretend you didn’t see a message right away, or even to cite the “I was traveling” excuse. Wi Fi is everywhere, so except for those precious few hours on the plane (for now, while you still have to pay extra fees), you’re on the hook to get back to co-workers within hours. Unless you’re 80, the 90s model of checking email once or twice a day is long gone.

Slow Responders Reap the Consequences

There was a time when people thought email was going away, but things have evolved quite differently. For the time being, email is still the default method of communication inside the global business world.

What happens when you take too long to respond to a message? To start, you could lose business. In my own line of work, prospective clients frequently email several speakers/writers at once and go with the person who sends back the most satisfactory response in the least amount of time. Second, you’re in danger of a misunderstanding. The sender may think the lapsed communication means you are trying to ignore him, or that you don’t think he is important.

When you get into the habit of failing to respond in a timely manner, people start to question your competence, level of organization, and work ethic. They resent having to chase you down for an answer, and they start to avoid working with you. Word gets around, and pretty soon, your overall reputation is suffering.

“But I Actually Have a Job Besides Answering Email!”

You’re busy. Really busy. And if you thoroughly answered every email that popped onto your smartphone right away, you would never get anything done. Not only does it take longer to type on a smartphone (for most of us), but you’d be constantly interrupting true productive work.

That’s why, in an article for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, MailTime founder Charlie Sheng recommends that you get back to people right away with a one-liner letting them know that you received the message, and that a more detailed response is forthcoming. This way, you appease them while buying yourself time to compose a thoughtful response later.

In case you are feeling overwhelmed by these results, you can rest easy knowing that apparently expectations for personal email responses are not quite as high. Sixty percent of those surveyed by MailTime said they expect responses to personal emails within 48 hours, and a full 10 percent are willing to wait a week.

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How the Trust for Public Land Manages Conservation Projects Efficiently

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 08:30

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit that has protected over 3 million acres of parks and open space for all Americans to enjoy. Since 1972, the organization has been at the forefront of national conservation efforts.

From Walden Woods to South Central Los Angeles, TPL has completed more than 5,200 conservation projects of varying size and complexity. Smaller projects might only require a week and a few staffers to complete. Larger projects might require 2 years of effort from a wide range of staffers and consultants from among TPL’s 40 different office locations.

Like many large nonprofits, the Trust struggled to manage projects across multiple teams and states. Coordination and communication were hampered by an ad hoc system of spreadsheets and emails, slowing down projects and preventing the team from delivering on its conservation goals.

In this video, learn how the team was able to leverage a cloud-based system built on Intuit QuickBase to streamline project management and improve its ability to deliver.

Read the full case study on the Intuit QuickBase customer page.

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What to Do When an Employee Keeps Making Mistakes

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 09:45

So you’ve got an employee on your team who keeps making mistakes – maybe small ones, but they’re chronic. You see potential in the person and you’re not ready to cut your losses. What can you try to get them back on track?

Readers offered advice on this question  – and had great suggestions for how to respond when an otherwise good employee is making too many mistakes.

1. Ask the mistake-maker to propose a solution

“I am a big believer in insisting the person hammer out a solution to their own mistakes: ‘Going forward, how will you endeavor to prevent this mistake from happening again?’ It’s interesting how many people will actually figure out their own plan to prevent the problem from happening again. Because they created the plan themselves they are more likely to stick to it.”

2. Help people feel the impact

“I think a person almost needs to spend time in a position that gets impacted by the mismatch or the error–to actually feel the consequences–for it to become real. If the address is wrong, are you getting the call from the angry customer who didn’t receive his order? If the line of code doesn’t include a closing tag, are you the one who experiences the visceral embarrassment of seeing a public-facing HTML fail on the company website? These consequences, at least to me, feel so different than a scolding or a write-up.

Some people don’t really internalize the consequences of an error because the fallout is never really theirs to deal with. To them, errors result in a reprimand or a bad grade, and that’s why errors are bad. If there’s a way to give them responsibility for fixing the errors and dealing with the fallout, I’ll bet they’ll develop a better eye for catching them.”

3. Invest some coaching time

“Invest some coaching time being really hands-on with the person, really delving into how they’re operating, what systems they’re using, how they’re staying organized, etc. — the kind of intensive, remedial help they shouldn’t need, but being very hands-on in that regard for a week or two to see if it gets them back on track. Sometimes it does! And then you can back off and return to normal and see what happens. It’s not sustainable for you to continue being that hands-on, so the key is seeing what happens when you stop … but for some people, that will be what they needed.”

4. Checklists and simplifying

“Short term: have a second person complete the same checklist for each item – that is, not do the work, but ensure it was done. Have both people sign off at the end. Say you have 10 people doing these orders. Make two of them ‘inspectors’ who double check the work before it goes out. The amount of time and money you’ll save making sure everything is done correctly before it goes out will more than pay for the fact you only have eight people directly working instead of 10. First pass quality is a big deal.

Long term: Standardize and simplify your processes. Are there common places where mistakes happen? Could there be more computer automation? What are your difficult edge cases, and why don’t they fit within your standard processes? Are there any roadblocks to getting work done? Enough space, materials, resources, time, etc.?

The last thing you want to do is have everyone come up with ‘their own way of doing things’ with respect to repeated tasks because it’s a great way to introduce errors of all sorts down the line.”

5. Another benefit of checklists

“A benefit of using a checklist is uncovering the parts of the job that are taking up so much of your time and effort. In a job I had many years ago, I followed a set of procedures that had been given to me by my predecessor. Over time the job changed and the volume of work increased dramatically. But I continued to follow the old process. The problem was that the process had been set up to address a particular quality issue that was no longer relevant. I was spending an incredible amount of time doing work that no one else valued and I had my nose so close to that grindstone that I never realized I could change how I did that work.

A checklist might have uncovered which tasks/outputs are important and which aren’t. What if you are producing reports that no one reads – eliminate them. Maybe you are tracking other peoples’ inputs and outputs – you can stop doing that.”

6. A culture that supports questions

“Back up trainers. Can you assign them to mentors within their peer group? Can you create a culture where people are available and people feel free to ask each other random questions during the day? I was big on telling them to ask each other, especially when it appeared that someone had a good handle on the area in question.”

7. Have a serious conversation

“Have a very serious, direct ‘this is a really serious problem and it could result in us needing to let you go, but I think you have the ability to excel if you figure out how to address this one area’ conversation — because sometimes people just aren’t taking it seriously enough and don’t believe it’s that big of a deal, and you have to help them understand that it is.”

8. And after it all…

“Make sure you’re regularly following up – it’s easy to have an intensive one-time event that blows by and then people go back to their bad, old habits.”


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Little, Latest, Likeable: 3 Qualities of Five-Star Companies

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 09:00

If you’re not a startup, acting like one could decrease your turnover.

If you’ve looked for a job in the last five years, chances are you are familiar with Glassdoor. Known as the go-to website for employee reviews of their companies, Glassdoor only has 37 companies (out of nearly 150,000) with a perfect five-star rating. In order to determine what these highly-praised companies were doing right, consulting firm Software Advice analyzed their qualities and reported the following.

Little and Latest: Startups Rein Supreme

Nearly three-quarters of the top-rated companies were founded in the past 10 years, while 90 percent employed 149 employees or less. This makes sense if you understand that half of all visitors to the Glassdoor site are 18-34 year-old millennials, and millennials are known for preferring work at smaller companies. The top-rated companies also tend to be stereotypical startups. Forty-two percent are in the business services sector, while 39 percent are in the information technology sector. Sixteen out of 37 five-star companies are located in California – the global hub of tech-startup action.

If your company is old and large, there’s not much you can do about that. However, you can promote a startup-like culture – through the fostering of innovation, flexible schedules, and shifting challenges and responsibilities – in order to capture some of the Glassdoor magic.

Likeable: Collegial Support Makes the Employment Experience

Over-the-top perks are not what excite Glassdoor reviewers. Rather, it’s the camaraderie and support of co-workers that keep them enthused to show up at work. Thirty-eight percent of reviewers commented on the importance of their team, and managers that promote group cohesiveness and bonding were mentioned as well.

If you’re relying exclusively on benefits to retain your top talent, you might want to re-think that. Benefits are important, but your people and their relationships to one another are what will decrease your turnover. You can start small and simple, perhaps by planning one “official” team-building activity a month or bringing your people together for some low-key fun every once in a while.

A focus on employee careers and helping your people connect with work-related passions will keep them too. The Glassdoor research cites professional development (32 percent) and meaningful work (22 percent) as the second and third characteristics most critical to a top-notch employment experience.

Danger: Growing Pains Ahead

So do employees at five-star companies think anything is wrong with them? The truth is, not really. However, many expressed concern that their currently nimble organizations would experience growing pains that would be detrimental to the strong company culture. Indeed, the need to establish new processes and strategies and bring more employees on board can negatively impact a startup climate.

Employers at five-star organizations should be mindful of what makes their cultures special, and ensure that new hires (particularly those arriving from large, established companies) will support rather than detract from their cultures. Just because you’re growing doesn’t mean you have to become an inefficient bureaucracy.

As for those not at the top of the Glassdoor rankings, it’s worth a look at the five-stars’ employee messaging (via the website, internal handbook, news articles, etc.) to assess exactly why their cultures are praised so profusely. If you can, spend some time on the ground at these companies and see for yourself what they do to keep employees happy with their jobs and motivated to share their positive opinions on Glassdoor. Incorporating some aspects of their vision and strategies into your own operations could be beneficial in improving your own Glassdoor standing and recruitment ROI.


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Is Project Manager An Actual Title?

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 09:00

Apparently, “Project Manager” means different things to different people.

I came across a post in my LinkedIn feed from a PM from Bahrain, Eman Deabil, who sparked a healthy debate about whether “Project Manager” is a real title and “Project Management” is a real profession.

The crux of Eman’s argument is that project management is actually a set of interrelated skills that need to be developed by the person who is in charge of managing a project. These skills differ depending on the project, and especially depending on the industry in which the project will take place. For example, managing a project in IT requires a separate set of competencies than a project in the eLearning space.

No PM is One Size Fits All

Eman cites her concerns with the current PMP certification process, which she feels assumes that people who obtain this credential can go on to successfully coordinate a project in any industry. She simply doesn’t think this is the case. A Project Manager must not only have project management skills, but also the appropriate academic credentials and experience in the industry at hand.

Project Manager, she says, isn’t even a genuine title. Rather, titles related to project management should be much more descriptive – for instance adding details on the person’s line of business or type of project (e.g. Project Manager in Supply Chain). Instead of being asked to choose whether they are principally involved in project management or learning and development, for instance, professionals being considered for new positions should say they are “Project Managers in Learning and Development.”

I see Eman’s point, although I do think that transferable skills – or those that are appropriate across a wide range of industries and roles – are especially useful when it comes to project management. No matter what industry or business line you manage projects in, you’d better know how to lead disparate teams, coordinate multi-functional activities, manage timelines and budgets, monitor and report on progress, and analyze results. [Learn how to create a "GPS" for your own projects today at 2 PM. Or sign up for the OnDemand Recording.]

 What Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg?

Can a Project Manager get certification (or obtain essential PM knowledge in another way) and then master the technicalities associated with a particular field, or must the field knowledge be present first, before someone can learn to be an effective Project Manager? Is it truly possible for Project Managers to easily switch industries as long as their PM skills remain intact and up-to-date? There doesn’t appear to be a clear cut answer.

Among the audience of PMs on LinkedIn, some people agree with Eman while others vehemently disagree. Says Ali Al Noory, a PM and training and development manager: “I’ve managed construction projects as well as training projects, and there are limited general skills that can be used for both. However, the industry knowledge is a must, and many of the skills associated with it are non-transferable.”

Samer Abdel Maksoudat, Ali Bin Technology Solutions counter-argues: “The project manager is the Maestro – he can’t play all the instruments himself but he is necessary to deliver a successfully concert.” Adds Mohammed Abu Shammalah at Turner Construction Company: “From the experience I have dealing with lots of PMs, I can say that a PM is not required to understand all of the technology related to the industry because he already has within his team qualified technical people.”

Based on the trajectory of your own PM career, what do you think?


Photo Credit ©

The Buddha Walked into the Office: Workplace Meditation 

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 08:30

Arianna Huffington and director David Lynch have found meditation to be a big boost to life and career. The late Steve Jobs meditated too. Phil Jackson, president of the New York Knicks, brought meditation to the Knicks’ locker room after using it with previous NBA teams in Chicago and Los Angeles. Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll attributes his team’s 2013 Super Bowl victory, in part, to meditation.

Lodro Rinzler, head of the Institute for Compassionate Leadership, also believes that meditation—the New Agey practice that’s considered to be wreathed in incense—has real career, workplace, and achievement applications. Toward that end, he has written a new book, his fourth, on meditation and work, called The Buddha Walks Into the Office: A Guide to Livelihood for a New Generation.

Meditation is the practice of training the mind to concentrate — either as a self-standing discipline with its own intrinsic benefits, or as a means to an end (mindfulness, visualization of goals, transcending one’s earthly concerns or achieving goals like compassionate business practices or intense focus). Practitioners may meditate in different places: sitting on a pillow at an ashram, at home, in a group in Manhattan or even on a subway. There are many kinds, some associated with a religion or culture and some not: Buddhist, transcendental (or Vedic, often with a mantra), energizing and a host of others.

According to Rinzler, the values of Buddhist meditation (the kind he practices) in the workplace can start with compassion for yourself and continue with compassion for the jerk at the next desk or the guy who just dissed you at a meeting.

In the preface, he explains why he wrote the book: “Sometimes at work people are jerks. Sometimes you are one of them.” The book, he adds, is about how not to be a jerk “and how to work with others so that mindfulness and empathy can flourish.”

Here are some examples of how people use the fruits of meditation – the presence you gain from a new, more mindful perspective — in the workplace.

It helps you pay attention.

You might have someone like Brett, who’s more and more a jerk. But if you slow down and are present enough, you might notice that something’s going on with him. You might be in his office and notice that the picture of him and his wife is no longer on the desk.”

When you notice the small clues, you can solve the bigger mystery: It turns out that Brett is separated, and because of his relationship woes, he can’t concentrate. “And our heart opens for him naturally,” Rinzler said. “But we wouldn’t have been able to ‘spare the rod’ unless we could slow down enough.”

The magic happens, Rinzler said, in noticing physical cues like the absence of the photograph. In a business context, meditation helps practitioners tune in to what’s going on right now.

“We can loosen our hold, stop forcing our agenda and be more open to, and inquisitive about, the people we are working with,” said Rinzler.

It helps you listen when no one is speaking.

Let’s say you’re a manager and running a meeting, pushing through your agenda. “As I’m leaving meetings,” Rinzler said, “I’ll notice that someone’s very quiet.”

A person who is focused on the agenda, and the agenda alone, may overlook this stakeholder’s silence. But in Rinzler’s case, “I’ll get inquisitive–‘Jeff, I notice that you haven’t said anything about the budget: Is there anything you want to say?’”

Jeff answers by saying he has misgivings about the budget and about priorities, Rinzler said, information that came out only when the boss was present enough to see Jeff’s reaction and ask for his opinion.

“We can start working together better as a team,” Rinzler said.

It helps you diffuse anger.

One of the biggest virtues Rinzler extols is the practice of being benevolent. “Often when we butt heads with someone, they’ve completely derailed our project, or maybe they said they would do something and didn’t,” he said “We might call them on it, and they get angry.”

But the compassionate results? “We don’t have to perpetuate that response,” he said. “When someone’ s very angry with you, you can come right back to them and say ‘Listen, buddy, I have to warn you, if you keep getting angry with me, I’m only going to get more gentle with you.’ ”

Rinzler likens this to a bull in a pen at a rodeo. The handlers tease the bull, rile it into a frenzy, and only at a certain point release it from the pen, raging, kicking and snorting.

“More often than not, when people are angry, we keep poking them,” he said. “But as a result of meditation, we can be benevolent: opening the gate, and letting the bull fly out of the gate into a wide open field.  At some point, the anger exhausts itself. The bull kicks and screams and eventually tires out. And then you can communicate.

“In other words, you don’t buy into the anger – you give that person enough space to calm down, and then you can relate to them like a normal person.”


Rinzler was one of the instructors at The Path, a new meditation-focused start-up that holds weekly “sits,” as meditators refer to group sessions. in the West Village in Manhattan. It was founded by Dina Kaplan, formerly of, and you can request information or an invitation to join at

Separate from The Path, Rinzler also does sessions in person and online, as do many teachers. If you want a deep dive, his Institute for Compassionate Leadership in New York City has a six-month part-time training program: a mix of meditation, leadership skills, and coaching. If your workplace is already compassionate enough, you can read one of Rinzler’s other books, Walk Like a Buddha: Even if Your Boss Sucks, Your Ex Is Torturing You, and You’re Hungover Again.


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3 Simple Questions to Ask Before Your Annual Project Planning

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 09:00

If your company is like most, this time of year is dedicated to focusing in on projects that will become a reality sometime in the near future. This normally means you’ll have to look at the project “wish list” to determine what’s doable and get them on the schedule to begin the process of getting it done.

It can be an arduous task that no one looks forward to since it typically involves several rounds of discussion to nail down projects that need to be done for maintenance purposes and new projects that will help move your business forward.

Before you really dig in to the process, it’s important to ask three simple questions that can help focus your efforts and make the outcome more meaningful.

Question #1: Where are we now?

You absolutely must take a quick look back at what happened in the past year. Assess what got done, what stalled and what never got started. Make sure all the projects that were completed are properly closed out and archived for future reference.

You also want to consider any internal or external influences on your company. Has something shifted in those environments that will directly impact where you focus in the next twelve months?

Last, take a look at what worked really well in the past year for each of your projects. This is not one of the tasks that we do best, but it’s an important component of project success. Here are a couple areas you’ll want to take a look at.

  • Were there specific people involved that made things run smoothly?
  • Was a new tool or process used that helped to successfully move projects along from idea to execution?

Make sure you identify all of the key success factors so you can replicate them in the coming year.

Question #2: What didn’t work well and why?

You can more than likely tick off a laundry list of things that didn’t work well for your projects last year. We’re all pretty good at focusing on the things that don’t go right. But instead of just compiling a list, make the time to actually assess why they didn’t go so well.

After all, you can’t fix something if you don’t know what caused the issue in the first place. You may discover the root cause of the problem has an easy fix that can help make this year’s projects even more successful. Or you might find you need to totally ditch a tool or a process you’re using and find another way to fill the gap. Either way, knowing what caused the problem and addressing how to change that will save you time and money in the long run.

Question #3: Where do we want to be?

The first place to start answering this question is to take a look at this year’s business goals and strategic direction. Any projects that won’t have a direct impact should be moved to the bottom of the priority list. There’s no need to waste time and effort on something that has no chance of ever becoming a reality.

Then review what’s left and complete a tentative priority list based on your business drivers and requirements.

Asking these three simple questions before you begin can help streamline your project planning process to ensure you make the most of the time required to get your schedule set for the coming year.

Let us help you close the gaps by attending our free webinar January 21: “Creating a “GPS” for Your Projects: From Project Request to Success” Click here to register now. Alternatively, you may register for the OnDemand recording and free assets to watch on your own time.


Workplace Success – What You Need to Know This Week

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 08:30

Here are three stories people are talking about this week.

1. Is business use of voicemail dying out?

Tech experts have long been predicting the death of voicemail as a business tool as people increasingly prefer email and texting, and now at least one large company has completely ditched the technology: The Coca-Cola Co. shut down its voicemail last month, in order to “simplify the way we work and increase productivity,” according to an internal memo. In situations where someone would have reached voicemail in the past, they now hear a message asking callers to try later or use a different method to reach the person.

The company did allow workers to keep their voicemail if they could present a critical business need for it, and about 6 percent of employees chose to retain it.

2. “Work hard, play hard” is real and potentially dangerous

People who work more than 48 hours a week are more likely to drink at dangerous levels (defined as 14 drinks per week for women and 21 for men) than people who work fewer hours, according to a new study in the British Medical Journal. The research found that the connection between work hours and alcohol consumption stayed consistent at all economic levels and suggests that employers should be more aware of the social and health impacts of working long hours.

3. What to do if you’re smarter than your boss

Harvard Business Review tackles what to do if you’re smarter than your boss, a problem a lot of people think we have (whether we really do or not). It suggests that you keep quiet about your assessment, notes that being smarter doesn’t mean you’re more effective, and suggests finding something to respect, focusing on doing a good job, and helping your boss be better but not covering up her mistakes. “There’s no reason not to be generous,” author Amy Gallo points out. “If your boss is successful, there’s a greater chance you’ll be successful too.”

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