Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Your Plate That’s Full of Stuff to Do? Break It.

On second thought, don't break it. Trade it in for a different kind of plate - I'll explain.

Plates are flat but we put our projects, with different dimensions, priorities and timelines, onto the same surface. They can mingle together like the turkey gravy, cranberry sauce and mashed sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving. While putting those together on one fork may not be tragic, dropping projects onto the same pile can create confusion, delay and lost opportunities.  

Using the “plate” for our to-dos is a two-dimensional fix for our four-dimensional problems. We need tiers, like those multilevel plates stacked with petits fours, little cookies and tiny tarts that we see on the buffet line. This metaphor only takes us so far, though. We won’t be successful if all we do is group seemingly like projects into different stacks. This is about how to first think about the assignments.

It’s a given that all assignments require us to operate in both the trenches and the wide-open skies. Vision and execution are sometimes difficult to balance but the big picture is not mutually exclusive of paying attention to the details.

With all that as the backdrop, I offer a top-line approach to evaluating what’s on your plate – the 4 R’s of Realigning Workload:

1.     Risk – potential impact of doing, not doing
2.     Range – short, medium, long term issues and influences
3.     Requirements – data, time, money, personnel
4.     Return on investment – financial, reputation, safety/security

Perspective and flexibility are crucial to finding success with this or any other methodology. The values placed on any of these components may depend on where you are in the organization, your responsibilities and their scope, and what you have to lose or gain. In addition, the way we approach various projects will require different combinations of thinking processes along a spectrum from concrete and narrow to critical and analytical to inspired and visionary.

In fast-paced environments, we’re often driven more by deadlines than the importance of the task or issue. Using the 4 R’s, we can make more informed decisions and apply resources more effectively. So let’s not be too put-off by a little process; it’s not a dirty word. Discipline is needed in finding creative solutions to our challenges and opportunities.

Between posts, I invite you to follow me on Twitter @pauloestreicher.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Find the Courage to Ask and Receive

The Surprising Power of Questions, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, is great but not surprising. It’s well accepted that asking questions “spurs learning and the exchange of ideas, it fuels innovation and performance improvement, it builds rapport and trust among team members. And it can mitigate business risk by uncovering unforeseen pitfalls and hazards.”

So, if asking questions is so important and productive why aren’t people more inquisitive? Why don’t more leaders create a culture of questions?

The HBR authors share some answers including egocentricity, apathy, overconfidence and not understanding the value of good questions.  But the most important reason, from my internal and external consulting experiences, is fear: Fear of the answer; fear of being wrong; fear of looking foolish; fear of having wasted time and money, fear of having to spend time and money, and fear of losing power.

It’s not only learning to embrace the question that’s important, it’s learning to embrace the answer.

Yes, we need the courage to ask, to have the inquisitiveness to learn more, and to take the initiative to interact with our stakeholders. But we need the courage and ability to put the organizational needs above our own; we need to identify the anxieties and work our way through with an “eye on the prize.” Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Fear has come into play when I’ve been asked to help fix a problem concerning corporate or brand reputation. The expectation is the delivery of a new public relations program, story placements, or an advertising campaign. It’s the “stuff” of communications and marketing that is wanted. Unfortunately, there is often less of an interest in first determining the issues – asking and answering the questions – underpinning the problem. Leaders must not be intimidated by what research might uncover.

Future leaders must also learn to question; it’s an essential element in a mentoring relationship. Good mentors know this, even in legend. When the future King Arthur asked, “Would you mind if I asked you a question?” Merlyn answered, “It is what I am for.”

In the workplace, we need to be open to Q&A from those above, below and beside us. But seeking questions and answers is also of personal importance. There’s no way to fix or foster a relationship unless one is open to an exchange, and hearing and acting on the information.

I’ll end it here with some questions: Was this helpful? How do we move this forward? How have you found success in this arena? What other articles, resources on this subject have you found valuable? When have you encouraged others to seek questions and answers? I welcome your answers.

Between posts, I invite you to follow me on Twitter @pauloestreicher.