Category Archives: Management Craft

Get in the Mood: Creating a Manager’s Inspiration Board

radiant quote 2

I’ve always loved inspiration boards.  As a teenager, I covered my bedroom walls with layers of Benetton ads and poignant hair-band lyrics.  (Just like every night has its dawn…every rose has its thorn.)

These days, my inspirations have changed but I still like to look up from a tough problem, or lean back after a difficult call, and see the things that inspire me…as a manager, as a writer and as a mom.

Ann Friedman suggests that our teenage bedroom and locker decorating has evolved into the current popularity of Pinterest and Tumblr.  And while I like those mediums, I’m inherently more tactile.  And lazy.  I need my inspirations to be accessible without requiring the foresight to open my web browser.  So I recommend having the things that inspire you as a manager on an actual board (or cube wall or clipboard or whatever you’ve got).

With all that in mind, here are some ideas for creating a Manager’s Inspiration Board.

Inspiring or motivational quotes – The one above from John Butler Yeats is a favorite reminder to myself to keep finding new challenges.

Your dream workspace – Designers use mood boards to capture the atmosphere or feeling they want to create in a new space.  You can do this, too, with clippings, fabrics and color swatches.

Elements of your management philosophy – What management truths do you hold to be self-evident?

Your personal, and/or your company’s, mission statement – Ideally, these two things are in harmonious synergy.

Symbols of why your job matters to you – Maybe this is a picture of the people you serve.   Or your smiling team after a productive retreat.   Or your kids.

Ideas to revisit – Include a place to capture all your brilliant, but not really applicable at the moment, ideas.

 

How about you?  What things are on your inspiration board?

 

My Best Possible Team

clouds

The people around me are smart, talented and committed.  They feel recognized and respected.  They bring their best work to the table and they are confident that I do the same.

Our task is meaningful and our objective is clear.  We communicate directly and honestly.  Leadership is fluid, drawing on individual strengths and areas of expertise.

I feel energized and excited.  My demeanor is relaxed and confident.  I am generous with praise.

This is my vision of my best possible team.

What is yours?

 

(Photo by theaucitron via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

A manager’s 5×5 for employee engagement.

FiveToday I’m taking inspiration from a recent post on
The Altucher Confidential“The 5×5 Trick To Make Life Better”.

In this moving post, James Altucher explains how he keeps himself from being overpowered by regret and worry.  He takes off on the idea that we are all the average of the 5 people around us, then adds that he is also the average of the 5 things that inspire him, the 5 things he thinks about most, the 5 things he “eats” (mentally & physically) and the 5 ways he can help people each day.

While Altucher takes a personal spin, I want to explore this from the perspective of a manager.

Here’s a scary reality: unhappy, disengaged workers outnumber happy ones worldwide.  The majority of workers are not engaged; they “sleepwalk through their days, putting little energy into their work”.  And the factors that go into engagement?  Most, if not all, are related to the employee/manager relationship.  Whether you like it or not, as a manager, you control the worker experience.

So, back to Altucher’s 5×5 idea.  How can we use this to keep our teams more engaged?

5 People – 
This is probably the size of most of our workgroups.  Is everyone on your team contributing and adding real value?  Think about the old “one bad apple” adage.  Is there someone dragging the others down?  And look at yourself with a critical eye here as well.  You’re one of your team’s 5, right?

5 Things That Inspire –  Look around your workspace, the place where you spend the bulk of your day.  Are there 5 things in it/about it that inspire you?  If you’re not inspired, can you expect your team to be?  Encourage your employees to find their own inspiration.  Ask them to display and share it.  Remember show-and-tell from grade school?  Bring that idea to a meeting and open with what inspires each team member.

5 Thoughts – Can you articulate your organization’s core values?  They should be top-of-mind and driving your team’s behavior.  Adding value, working smarter, being passionate, having fun, showing gratitude.  These are the type of thoughts that keep your team engaged.  I come back to this quote from Lao Tzu:

“Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habit.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”

5 Things You Eat  Yes, you should encourage healthy habits, like eating right, by insuring your team has the time and freedom to take care of themselves physically.  Too many long hours, too few breaks, eating at their desk – these all take a toll on job satisfaction.  But let’s focus on mental intake.  What data streams are feeding your team?  Think about forms of feedback you give, positive and negative.  Are you providing creative input?  Encourage engagement with other departments, disciplines, and industries.  Allow your team to bring fresh ideas to the table.

5 Ways You Help This is your highest priority as a manager.  Are you available to help your team on a daily basis?  Are you engaged with their careers?  Do you know their long-term goals and their project interests?  Are you a mentor?  None of this is easy, particularly if you’re a working manager with a full task list.  But helping your team members grow can be the most rewarding part of management.

 

What do you think?  Does the 5×5 idea ring true for you as a manager?

 

(Photo credit: Microsoft)

 

To Hire, or Not To Hire: Evaluating Locus of Control

locus of controlThis is the third in a three-part series on identifying great candidates through the interview process.  First, we talked about evaluating candidates on their sales skills, even when hiring for non-sales roles.  Then we explored how to determine if a candidate fits within your organizational culture.  Now I want to talk about what I think is the single most important thing to look for in a candidate:

Internal Locus of Control.

Okay, I realize “single most important thing” is a bold statement.  But before I make my case, let’s make sure we’re on the same page as to what locus of control is all about.

Locus of control is an element of personality referring to the extent to which individuals believe that they control the events that affect them.  Individuals with an external locus of control believe that results derive from external factors – other people, situational factors, fate.  Individuals with an internal locus of control believe that results derive primarily from their own actions – from within themselves.  As with other personality traits, locus of control is measured on a continuum.  While none of us are ever all one way or the other, we generally tend toward one end of the spectrum.

What does this mean in the workplace?  Individuals with an internal locus of control believe their actions directly impact outcomes.  They have an attitude of personal responsibility and take ownership for their actions.  They are goal oriented and are persistent in problem solving.  Where individuals with an external locus of control are looking for someone else to tell them what to do, those with an internal locus of control feel empowered to make decisions and act on their own.

How do you identify candidates with an internal locus of control?  Using specific questions can be difficult and a bit transparent.  (You can try a locus of control test here)  So the key is to listen for locus of control cues throughout the interview.  You should be alert for repeating patterns in the candidate’s responses:

External – Excuses, blaming, rationalization, focus on obstacles

Internal –
Optimism, persistence, ownership, recognition of obstacles but focus on how they are overcome

I’ve found the following questions, and particularly the elements in bold, useful in eliciting locus of control cues:

What are your professional goals for the next 2-5 years?  What steps have you taken toward reaching them?

What were the weakest areas on your last performance review?  What actions have you taken to improve those areas?

What are you most proud of?  Why?

Of your previous jobs, which was your favorite?  Why?

How would your former teammates describe your work style?  How would they describe your approach to problem solving?   (I like this type of question because people are more likely to give their true opinion when speaking for others.  Again, listen for actions taken and interpretations of end results.)

As I said, I believe internal locus of control is the most important thing to look for in a candidate.  Not because skills and experience are not important.  They are.  And you have to weigh the importance of each in the context of your business needs.  But the reality is that no candidate is ever perfect.  So at some point, you have to look beyond the resume.

In my own experience, my best hires – individuals who proved great at their jobs and added the most value to the organization – were not the perfect candidates for the positions I hired them for.  They lacked an advanced degree or their experience was in an unrelated industry, for example.  But I believed these candidate had the confidence, persistence and drive to succeed.  I felt they could master the specific tasks of the job over time and their willingness to learn, to perhaps struggle but keep trying, would help them take the job to the next level.  They had an internal locus of control.

 

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on locus of control.  And do you have a favorite interview question?  Please share it in the comments.

 

(Photo credit: Microsoft)

 

To Hire, or Not To Hire: Evaluating Cultural Fit

culture models This is the second in a three-part series on identifying great candidates through the interview process.  Last week, I proposed that all candidates be evaluated on their sales skills, even for non-sales roles.  This week, I explore how to determine if a candidate fits within your organizational culture.

We all know organizational culture is important.  It gives our organizations their character and sets them apart from other organizations.  At the behavioral level, culture defines what is expected and accepted, and guides our action when there isn’t a policy, procedure or manager to tell us what to do.

Each new employee represents an opportunity to reinforce the organizational behaviors you’ve identified as driving extraordinary results.  So it’s critical to find a candidate who shares the organization’s core values and who can readily adapt to your standards of performance.

Entrepreneur and charter school leader Cameron Curry describes culture as “the actions, attitudes and achievement standards a leader desires for a team to strive for in obtaining excellence.”  These tangible elements of culture can be found in how we answer the questions of process and procedure that arise on a daily basis:

  • How do we approach new people and new ideas?
  • How do we prioritize our work?
  • How do we delegate authority?

Your key cultural drivers will be unique to your organization, but these are questions I’ve found valuable in the past:

Describe three key things you try to accomplish in your first week at a new organization. This question highlights the candidate’s approach to new situations and indicates their high-level priorities.  Is the candidate task focused?  Looking to understand work flows and organizational structure?  Eager to meet new people?

Imagine a situation in which you have multiple tasks due by the end of the day but it is unlikely that you will be able to complete them all. What do you do?  This question allows you to evaluate whether a candidate’s priorities and work style complement your culture.  Do they emphasize meeting customer requirements first?  Or is pleasing their boss top priority?  Do they focus on delegation and utilizing cross-functional teams?  Or do they power through on their own?

How does an employee demonstrate they are ready to take on more authority?  This question offers insight into how the candidate measures achievement, whether they emphasize seniority or merit, and what other factors they consider significant to leadership development (peer and cross-functional feedback, challenging assignments, etc.)

Of course, addressing culture directly is also valuable:

Describe the culture of your last organization. What did you like best about it?  What did you like least?
  There are many elements of culture a candidate can talk about.  Noting which they choose to highlight gives you insight into their own values.

And remember to consider what the individual can add to your culture:

What makes you unique?  Cultural fit doesn’t mean we are looking for cookie-cutter candidates.  Dynamic organizations always require fresh insight and new approaches.  Ideal candidates will share your core values while still bringing their own style and personality to the table.

 

Next week: The single most important thing to look for in a candidate

 

(Photo credit: Microsoft)

 

To Hire, or Not To Hire: Evaluating Sales Skills

salesThe key to a great organization is great people.

And identifying great people starts with the hiring process.  How well you evaluate a potential employee’s skills, cultural fit and overall personality will dramatically impact your team’s future performance.

To help you get it right, I’ve put together a three-part series on evaluating candidates.

First up: Sales Skills

In his book To Sell Is Human, Dan Pink posits that like it or not, all of us are in sales.  Or what he calls “non-sales selling“.  We might not all be selling a specific product, but we’re all trying to move others to do something.  Pink suggests that 40% of our time at work is spent persuading, influencing and convincing others.

Does it follow, then, that all job candidates should be evaluated on their sales skills, at least to some degree?  I think so.

I look for three things in an effective salesperson:  Resilience, Relationships and Relevance.  (Sorry, I can’t resist a good alliterative list.)

Resilience – Effective sales people respond positively to setbacks.  They accept rejections as a necessary part of the job. They are self-confident, tenacious and have an overall sense of optimism.

Relationships – Effective sales people are an ally for the customer.  They focus on long-term customer value and are able to work with all kinds of people.  They have the emotional intelligence to adapt to the needs of a particular situation or person.

Relevance – Effective sales people are able to identify key drivers of behavior.  They know how to ask the right questions and bring clarity to a situation.  They focus on the benefits of their product/idea/objective and easily convey them to their customer.

To evaluate these characteristics in the interview process, try these questions:

Describe a situation in which you weren’t successful.  How did you recover from this setback? Resilient candidates will focus on what they learned from failure and how they applied it to their future successes.

Describe a situation in which you built a positive relationship with someone very different from yourself?  This question is intentionally broad and open-ended.  It allows you to see how the candidate interprets and adapts to differences.

How would you sell me this pen?  This is a classic scenario in sales interviews.  For the non-sales candidate, this is a good way to see how well they think on their feet.  Did they start with questions?  Did they identify your needs?  Did they sell the benefits of the pen for your particular situation?

Other things to look for:

A good collaborator is an expert at asking questions.  During the interview, did the candidate ask follow up questions to topics you introduced?

And finally, remember the old ABC’s of sales?  Always Be Closing.  How did the candidate end the interview?  Did they express their enthusiasm for the position?  Did they identify where they could bring value to your business?  And ultimately, did they ask for the job?

 

Next week: Evaluating Cultural Fit

 

This post contains affiliate links to Powell’s Books.

 

(Photo credit: Microsoft)

 

Be a better manager in 40 minutes a day.

Today

Last week, Sarah Von Bargen’s Every. Damn. Day list got me thinking about my daily benchmarks for productivity.  As a work-from-home mom, my personal list includes things like showering (a surprising luxury) and feeding the kid (yes, he wants to eat EVERY day).  But since you’re here to read about management and not my sporadic personal hygiene, here are four daily tasks to keep you on track, even on days when the rest of your to-do list has gone up in flames.

1.  Tidy up.  I think of organizing my desk as the business equivalent of making my bed every day.  It signals that I’m awake, upright and ready to tackle the day.  Whether you’re a neat freak or someone who thrives in organized chaos, spend 10 minutes every day on administrative tasks – filing, opening mail, approving receipts – to keep them from becoming messy and demoralizing eyesores on your desk.  Doing a little each day keeps recurring tasks from becoming huge projects that you need to fit into your schedule.

2.  Walk around.  Whether you call it “management by walking around” or just stretching your legs, you need to get out from behind your desk and see what the rest of your team and organization is doing.  You can learn a lot from seeing your team function in real-time, so take 10 minutes each day to engage with your team without a set agenda.

3.  Think long-term.  It’s easy to get caught up in the urgency of daily tasks and forget to allow time for working on your long-term goals.  Networking, professional development, deliberate practice – you don’t need to schedule large blocks of time for these things.  Once you’ve mapped out tasks required to reach your long-term goal, you can work your plan in 10 minute increments. You’ll be surprised by how much you will accomplish over the course of a month.

4.  Do nothing.  Spend 10 minutes each day reading, writing or thinking about something non-work related.  And, no, I don’t mean browsing E! Online or Facebook, although sometimes those little brain-breaks are healthy.  Instead, pick a topic you want to learn more about – creativity, happiness, design – and allow yourself a daily 10 minutes to explore it.  Getting your brain out of its normal routine will give you fresh perspective and inspiration when you return to work.

“A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.”

~ Anthony Trollope

 

(Photo credit: Microsoft)

Three tips for managing creatives.

pencils


Today I’m excited to have a guest post from the amazing and talented Monica Garcia

Monica is a freelance writer and marketing consultant.  She’s a native of the Columbia River Gorge, and mom to a three year old Star Trek nerd.

I’ve had all kinds of jobs in my life.  I’ve bussed dishes in a cafe, made espresso drinks, and had countless customer service gigs.  I even had a brief stint as an obituary writer.  More often than not, being able to do use design software and having a talent for writing has landed me what I’d call “part-time” creative work, or a job where I get to use my creative skills in addition to more administrative duties.  What I’ve learned over the years is that using your creative skills flexes very different muscles than other types of work, and sometimes managers don’t seem to grasp the differences.  With that in mind I came up with my top three tips to keep your creative staff happy by showing you understand the unique challenges that creative gigs present.

1. Output requires input.  I think it is pretty widely accepted that you can’t be a good writer without being a dutiful reader, but somehow folks fail to see the direct connection when it comes to an employee on the clock.

Even creative people can’t always tell where inspiration will come from, so when managers start looking over our shoulders to see if we are “wasting time” it can put undue stress on an already stressed out person trying to pull something artistic out of a hat.

Design is everywhere.  Words are everywhere.  Inspiration abounds and creative people require huge amounts of input to churn out new and interesting work.  A walk in the park, thumbing through magazine, reading an interesting science article – any of these can prove inspirational.  Rather than trying to decide for a creative person what is applicable to their process, I think most of us would prefer that our managers build in some time for us to gather the input we need, and have the effectiveness of our time use be evaluated by our output.

2. Creative work isn’t made for multitasking.  A creative person may like to have several creative projects going at the same time so she doesn’t get bored, but I’m talking about asking your creative professionals to accept duties that require frequent interruption like answering phones or helping customers.  Can it be done?  Sure.  Is it a recipe for madness and mediocre results?  Certainly.  For most creative people concentration is key to getting desirable results, and a barrage of frequent interruptions not only slows down the process, it can completely stifle it.

3. A lot of us creatives don’t take criticism well.  Ever see the posters made by designers to illustrate the worst client feedback they ever received?  Yeah, well, sometimes the most well intentioned feedback comes across like a customer telling their mechanic which wrench to use to fix the car.  Still bosses and clients have to give feedback, and my favorite managers were the ones that gave me lots of information up front and less as the project progressed.  More information in the initial planning stages of a project is almost always preferable (and more efficient) than endless revisions.

Once a creative employee presents their work for review, think about giving feedback like a book editor.  Skilled editors know the difference between a sentence that is tragically ungrammatical, and a sentence that is soundly written, but perhaps just phrased differently than the editor would have written it.  A great editor will hold back comments that would alter the author’s voice and style without offering clarification.  I think this philosophy can be expanded to cover most creative work.

Changes cost time, and by extension, money, so with any change it seems prudent to weigh the costs to the benefit.  Will a quick change clarify the message or make it more accessible?  Probably worth it.  Spending time adjusting the color scheme to match the bosses personal preferences?  Maybe not so much.  That’s a good time to take the role of editor and say to yourself, “it might not be my favorite color, but it gets the job done.”

Recognize too, that sometimes creatives knock it out of the park on the first try*.  If you want a happy creative staff, recognize and reward those home runs.  It might feel like you haven’t done your job unless you made a few changes, but believe me nothing makes a creative stop trying to hit one out of the park like the realization that no matter what they produce, the boss just has to tinker.

*Rarely does a creative person show their manager or client an actual first draft, so when I say “knocks it out of the park on the first try,” of course I’m talking about the first polished draft.

 

(Photo credit: Microsoft)

 

Three ways to help your team navigate their careers.

ladder In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg notes that she prefers the jungle gym over the ladder as a metaphor for the modern career. A jungle gym lets the climber move in a variety of directions, trying different approaches and learning new positions. And it offers better views for everyone:

“On a ladder, most climbers are stuck staring at the butt of the person above.”

What kind of view are you giving your team? Can they see the whole playground? Or are they staring at your butt, hoping you fall so they can move up?

Here are three ways to insure everyone has a place on the jungle gym:

1. Hire smart people and encourage them to work themselves out of a job. Reward system and process improvements that minimize repetitive tasks and free your team to take on more challenging opportunities.

2. Offer cross-training and professional development opportunities. Insure your team has deep industry and company knowledge so they can add value at a higher level.

3. Understand each individual’s long-term career goals and encourage them to explore their interests. Utilize your cross-functional knowledge to identify opportunities for your team outside your workgroup.

 

You might also like:

Are you meeting your team’s needs?

 

This post contains affiliate links to Powell’s Books.

 

(Photo credit: Microsoft)

 

Plans are nothing; planning is everything.

“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.”

– Dwight D. Eisenhower

or, more succinctly:

“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”

The delightful Whit B Nimble recently posed this question to her readers:

“What’s your business mantra? (Your go-to quote or inspiration that drives you toward greatness)”

The Eisenhower quote is my mantra.  It’s something that I come back to time and again. Managers must be able to adapt to evolving situations. If we adhere to a plan too rigidly, we risk missing unexpected opportunities or falling victim to unexpected threats. But staying flexible doesn’t mean that planning should be abandoned altogether. The planning process forces us to seek information, anticipate costs, and prepare our team. It allows us to think through potential scenarios and fully understand our capacity.

You can find Whit B Nimble’s 9 other questions, as well as her responses to my own here.