Tag Archives: Business

How to stand-out on a cross-functional team (and leverage that experience to grow your career).

Odd duck by Don Graham

Most of us build our careers as specialists.  We get really good in one area and then we get promoted to managing other people in that area.  But at some point, growing as a manager requires a shift from being a functional specialist to a organizational generalist – from being a subject-matter expert to a leader who can understand how the business functions as a whole.

Early in your career, being assigned to a cross-functional project team can put you on the fast-track to management.  It introduces you to new people, sets you up as the go-to person in your department and increases your visibility within the organization.  It is also a great way to start making the shift from specialist to generalist.

Here’s how to make the most of the experience:

Do good work.  This should be the foundation of all career advice and directly applies here as well.  Make sure you’re contributing to the success of the project.  Meet deadlines.  Do more than required.  You’re representing your functional area and will be the go-to person, so always deliver.

Learn from other team members.  Respect that the other people on your project team are the experts in their own areas.  Defer to their knowledge.  Ask questions.  Dig into what their jobs are really like and how they impact the company.  Use the opportunity to learn their metrics, process flows and problem areas.

Don’t complain (but be sympathetic when others do).  You’re using this project to build your career capital, so you should see extra work as an investment.  But others on your project team may not feel the same way.  Show them that you understand how busy they are.  Commiserate, and then use your new cross-functional knowledge to alleviate their pain points.

Be a meeting rock star.  Knowing how to manage a meeting is key to a successful project outcome.  Be attentive, take notes and ask smart questions.  Most importantly, don’t get bogged down in the details of your specific task.  Understand the higher level problem the team is trying to solve and stay focused on the company-wide impact.

Project confidence but stay humble.  You want to be seen as smart, capable and well-rounded.  But no one likes a know-it-all.  And no matter how good you are at your job, being liked is important.  You’re building relationships that you will draw on as you move up in the organization, so build them wisely.

 

How about you?  Has working on a project team helped you grow as a manager?

 

(Photo by Don Graham via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

A few thoughts on organizational culture.

Culture

Culture is the way we create solutions to shared problems.

Consider how human groups have evolved over the millennia.  Bands of individuals find themselves repeatedly faced with common problems – how to communicate, how to divide labor, how to show respect for one another.  Each group chooses to solve these problems in its own way.  And these unique combinations of beliefs and behaviors become the defining elements of human cultures.

At the organizational level, we can view culture in a similar way.  Organizational culture evolves as its members find solutions to everyday problems.  How do we interact with one another?  How do we best serve our customers?   How do we prioritize our time?

Your organization has a culture, whether you’re conscious of it or not.

Your people have been asking and answering these kinds of questions since day one, and in doing so, have established what is expected and accepted within your organization.

The big question, then, is how is this culture driving behavior that serves your mission?

Is it making your organization more effective or is it dragging you down?

 

Revised from original post – June 22, 2013

 

What is your management philosophy?

Week 1 of 52 2010 by F Delventhal

How many pennies would it take to fill this room?

Have you ever had an interview question like this?  Did it stop you in your tracks?

Employers use these seemingly crazy questions to see how well you can think on your feet and whether you can reason through a tough problem.  Here’s a more common, but equally tough, question that can stump both new and seasoned managers alike:

What is your management philosophy?

This one can be difficult if 1) you’re not sure what the interviewer is looking for or 2) you’re not used to articulating your core beliefs as a manager.

First, as with the penny question, the employer wants to know you can provide an organized and reasoned response.  They also want to know if your management style will fit with their organizational culture and whether you understand how your leadership impacts overall performance.

Second, it’s important to distinguish between management actions (what you do) and management philosophy (what you believe and why).  Rather than listing tasks, think about how your management style creates a more effective and efficient organization, and focus on the results of your approach.

Stuck on where to start?

Consider working around the 4 basic management functions: planning, organizing, leading and controlling. (Remember those from business class??)

Planning
• How do individual and team goals correlate to organizational goals?
• What’s your decision making style?

Organizing
• Do you have a preferred team structure?  Why?
• What’s your foundation for distributing authority?

Leading
• What do you believe drives individual motivation?
• What are major sources of conflict within a team and how do you address them?

Controlling
• How does evaluation relate to performance?
• What are your options when individual or team results are not in line with expectations?

 

How about you?  Have you ever been asked about your management philosophy in an interview?  How did you respond?

 

For more thoughts on the interview process, try these posts:

To Hire, or Not To Hire: Evaluating Sales Skills

To Hire, or Not To Hire: Evaluating Cultural Fit

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

 

(Photo by F Delventhal via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Revised from original post – July 4, 2013

Advice for the new manager.

advice for new manager

Over the weekend, I helped throw a baby shower for a good friend, and as I watched folks gather to offer their support and congratulations, it occurred to me:

Wouldn’t it be great if we threw a shower for a new manager?

Like parents-to-be, new managers are embarking on a new stage of their lives. They’re taking on unfamiliar tasks and new (terrifying) responsibilities.  Wouldn’t it be nice to shower them with gifts and good wishes?  Shouldn’t we come together to give them the tools and support (and cupcakes) they need to embark on the management journey?

While fun to imagine, it’s probably not going to happen.  But one element of the baby shower that did stick with me was the opportunity for guests to share a piece of advice for the new parents.

“Sleep when the baby sleeps”         “Always carry two of everything”

As I wrote down my words of baby wisdom, I considered what I would write if I could only give one piece of advice to a new manager.  Here’s what I came up with:

It’s okay to admit you don’t know everything.  Your team knows you’re new to this.  Be confident in your abilities but ask for help when you need it.  Your team will respect you for it.

How about you?  What singular piece of advice would you give to a new manager?

 

My Best Possible Workplace

green grasses

I am surrounded by organic textures and natural light.  The space is modern, open, and well-maintained.  The design reflects our organization’s core values and there are visible reminders of our shared mission.

My personal workspace is comfortable, and the tools I need are readily accessible and in good repair.  I am able to interact with those around me, while still having a private space for deep work and thoughtful downtime.  I am surrounded by things that inspire me.

Community areas are flexible, offering distinct spaces for private conversation, casual interaction and team engagement.  The atmosphere is professional but relaxed.  I am proud to welcome visitors.

This is my vision of my best possible workplace.

What is yours?

 

You might also like: My Best Possible Team

 

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

 

How to fight job burn-out.

up in smoke

I have two friends who are struggling in their professional lives.  One loves his job.  One hates her job.  But both are feeling much the same: overwhelmed and burned-out.  They can’t seem to get on top of everything they need to do and they’re starting to feel that work is controlling their lives.  Perhaps you’re familiar with this feeling?

Here’s the advice I pulled together for both of my friends:

Keep work in its place.  Are you on your laptop right up until the time you go to bed?  Do you use your iPhone to check email before you get out of bed in the morning?  Stop that. Now.  I know, you need to do some work at home.  Most people do.  But give yourself some time to wind-down and turn off your work brain before climbing into bed.  It will help you sleep better and be more relaxed.  And yes, I know that occasionally you catch an issue before it escalates by checking email first thing in the morning.  But I’m willing to bet that most days everything can, and will, wait until you get to the office.  Buy an alarm clock so you can leave your phone outside your bedroom.  And buy a watch so you won’t be tempted to check-in every time you check the time.

Make lists.  Having a targeted task list is key to feeling in control of your work load.  Most productivity advice recommends keeping your list short- say 5 or 6 of the most important things you need to accomplish.  Adam Wik from Road to Epic lays out a brilliant strategy for beating apprehension and indecision (the twin demons of procrastination).  Read his post, then start taking time at the end of the day to prep your to-do list for the following day.  Then spend another 5 minutes listing the things you are grateful for.  Okay, I just heard you groan.  I know, I know.  But trust me, whether you love or hate your job, noting the many good things in your life will make work problems seem smaller and more manageable.  And, although it doesn’t always seem like it, time passes swiftly, my friends.  Keeping a gratitude journal will help you mark that passing and remember who you were at this point in time.

Practice mindfulness.  Being overwhelmed at work can make you feel out of control in all the other areas of your life as well.  Take time to center yourself and reclaim your sense of calm.  If a daily guided meditation isn’t your thing, maybe it’s a walk through the woods or listening to Coltrane in the dark.  But as Britt Reints beautifully points out, “the world spins no matter what we do”.  All we can truly control is how we respond to it.  And everything works better when we respond from a place of calm.

How about you?  What advice would you give to a friend struggling with job burn-out?

(Photo by Robert Bieber via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

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?

 

The fast-track from entry-level to management in 5 (sort of) easy steps.

5 steps

Many moons ago, I started my career in business by taking a temp job at a tech company.  I had a degree in Anthropology and a limited background in museum administration.  I needed a job and, although it wasn’t exciting, this basic admin gig paid pretty well.  After a few months as a temp, I was hired on as an AR Specialist, and when I left the company 5 years later, I was an MBA leading a successful team.

Here’s what I learned in those 5 years:

Get good at your core tasks – fast.
Assuming you’re smart and willing to work (and I truly assume that most people are), this isn’t hard to do.  Basic efficiency goes a long way.  Show you can work quickly and effectively, then ask for more challenging tasks.  It helps if you can make a visible impact in some way, even if it seems super basic.  When I took the temp job, my office was in the file room, where mountains of paper was left unfiled, causing everyone to spend way too much time finding what they needed.  I’m a fast worker and I quickly tackled the problem, taking a very visible roadblock out of the my team’s way.  And I was quickly given more interesting things to do.

Join a cross-functional project team.
This introduces you to other areas of the organization and lets you get to know people on other teams.  Representing your area on a project makes you the default subject matter expert.  To use myself as an example again, when the Marketing team or the IT team needed something from AR, they came to me because they knew me from a project.  It’s actually startling how fast you can become the go-to person and subsequently, how rapidly your visibility within the organization increases.

Be a dependable problem-solver.
This is really a component of all the other points but I think it’s worth reiterating.  Being the go-to person on your team means being willing to help everyone.  Be a team player, be accountable and always follow-thru.  You’ll quickly become known as someone who gets things done.

Take a management position, even if you think you’re not ready.
Subject matter experts, who are known company-wide as dependable players, get promoted to team leaders.  Now, from an organizational standpoint, I don’t think this is a great idea.  Being good at what you do doesn’t mean you’ll make a great leader.  Particularly without proper training and mentoring.  But it happens, and as an individual, it’s worth capitalizing on.  Once you’re in the role, do your homework, figure out best practices and help your team achieve.  And help them both as a group and as individuals.  You’ll look extra great if your team members are fast-tracking their careers too.

Continue your education.
I’m often asked if I recommend pursuing an MBA.  My response is always “it depends”.  Should you jump into grad school right after college?  Maybe.  Should you go to grad school if your company is paying for it?  Absolutely.  I got my MBA while working full-time, which was exhausting, but I also had a ton of fun with a bunch of people going through the same thing.  And more importantly, I got more value out of both work and school because I was able to apply what I was learning every day.

The next question is always whether an MBA opens doors.  Again, “it depends”.  It probably won’t get you a job but it might get you an interview.  And if you’re looking to move up at your current company, and you’ve done everything I’ve outlined above, it’s priceless.  You’re already visible across the organization, you’re proving yourself as a leader and you’re working your butt off to get an advanced degree?  People will notice.

 

How about you? I’d love to hear your experiences on the path to management.

 

(Photo by Chris Wightman via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

My favorite management movies for a chilly holiday.

film reel snow

Are you looking for some smart entertainment over the holidays?  Something to make you laugh while still honing your management chops?  Well, you’ve come to the right place.  Here are a few of my favorite, light-hearted business movies.

9 to 5 (1980) is a total classic, obviously, with a great cast and a great soundtrack.  From a management perspective, it’s a window into the typing pool era, with its rampant sexism and low glass ceiling.  When Judy, Violet and Doralee are forced to take action against their sleazy boss, they take the opportunity enact some much needed change in the office.  Their use of colorful workspaces, flex hours, job sharing and on-site daycare prove these ladies were way ahead of their time.

When a Japanese company takes over an American auto plant in Gung Ho (1986) both cultures have to learn to adapt.  This is an 80’s comedy, folks, so the cultural differences are played a bit over-the-top, but the film addresses the reality of Japan’s influence on the domestic automobile industry at the time.

A more recent cult classic, Office Space (1999) explores the depths to which a bad boss, clueless consultants and a temperamental fax machine can drag us.  “The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.”  There is a management dissertation in that sentence alone.

If you’re looking for a series-binge, as I often am, Masterpiece Classic’s Mr. Selfridge (2013) is a good choice.  I love my Edwardians, so I was into this one immediately.  The series follows the adventures of American retail tycoon Harry Gordon Selfridge (played by Jeremy Piven) as he opens a one-of-a-kind department store in London in 1909.  This period piece has the expected romantic dalliances and family melodrama but also offers an interesting look inside the beginnings of the modern department store.  Selfridge’s marketing ideas and charismatic leadership are worth noting, as well as the burgeoning role of women in the workforce.

 

How about you?  What’s your favorite management movie?  I’d love to add it to my must-watch list.

 

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)