Rewire your brain for 2016

January 10, 2016

Q: Each year I’m quite successful without a professional plan. I’d like to create one this year to see if I can improve my results. But making resolutions doesn’t work for me. What do you suggest?

A: You’re not alone. One-third of all New Year’s resolutions are abandoned within the first month, and the majority within six months. For a greater success follow these five simple steps.

Take stock of 2015. Record your successes, accomplishments and breakthroughs, as well as your failures, disappointments and misses. This focuses your attention on what is rewarding and lessons learned for the coming year.

Now write out three to five themes, intentions or categories to focus on for the year. Some examples: professional development/education, developing others/mentoring or strategic planning/systems thinking.

Next, reflect on who you need to “be” throughout the year to be come successful in your themes. Write the characteristics or qualities of that type of individual. For example: proactive, visionary, empowering others.

Create a list of goals you want to achieve by the end of 2016 and that you would expect of the person above. For example: delegating 80 per cent of the work below your role, spending 60 per cent of your day planning strategically rather than being a hands-on leader, coaching team members to find their own solutions 75 per cent of the time.

Finally, break the goals down into specific manageable activities with measurable targets such as: take a coaching course by March 31, bite tongue at meetings so team members contribute first.

Resolutions typically fail when you try to achieve too much too fast. This year, focus on rewiring your brain and implementing new habits to achieve ongoing success.

Reprinted from The Province, January 10, 2016

Take time to get back in the work flow

September 13, 2013

Q: I am returning to work after five weeks of vacation and am already feeling overwhelmed. Last time I had over 2,000 emails in my inbox. What tips do you have to get me back on track faster this time?

A: Believe that being rejuvenated and clear headed will help you accomplish more than you think. Be realistic and give yourself time to reacclimatize.

Keep your out-of-office message on and avoid booking appointments for one or two additional days so you can get reoriented and reorganized.

Perhaps change your out-ofoffice message to say you are back and if something needs urgent attention re-send it.

Get a status report from your boss and colleagues on key projects so you have a clear sense of the big picture and key priorities. A 15-minute standup huddle will keep things brief and concise. Where are things at? What are the highest priorities? Reconfirm timelines and deadlines.

After these meetings, create a new to-do list and block time in your calendar to accomplish them so you are in control of your time, not others.

Review and clean the clutter out of your inbox because the junk can obscure the critical ones. Only read and respond to urgent emails. Beginning with the most recent, file or delete unnecessary CCs, solicitations.

Resist the temptation of easy low priority emails that may give you an immediate sense of accomplishment but really put you further behind.

Use your positive holiday energy to boost your productivity. Don’t wear yourself out with long hours and taking work home. Returning the next day fresh and clear will keep your momentum strong.

Put the details into perspective by remembering the bigger picture and what really matters in your role.

Originally published in The Province, September 8, 2013.

Timely tips save effort

April 14, 2013

Q I’ve just been promoted to the C-Suite and the time demands are daunting. I am an effective time manager but I can’t stay on top of all the additional requirements of the role. What more can I do?

A Protect your most productive hours of the day to do your big picture strategizing and reflective thinking. Since 20 per cent of your efforts produce 80 per cent of your results, prioritize your tasks and stick to it. Delegate the rest. This is more effective than doing it all. Studies show that a 60-hour work week decreases productivity by 25 per cent and gets worse as the work hours increase.

Executives waste almost a day a week in meetings. Consider limiting meetings to between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Keep them on track by sticking to a clear agenda, beginning and ending on time with specific actions for each individual, following up on their accountabilities at the next meeting.

Email is often the biggest distraction. It helps to check email only at specific times of the day and to give your people guidelines on what you want to be copied. Have someone pre-screen and file items for you. Take the time to clear your inbox weekly. Additionally, the average leader is interrupted every three minutes – that is two hours a day. Instead of inviting intruders with: “How can I help” narrow their access by asking: “What do you need from me for you to accomplish this?”

Forget multi-tasking altogether. it takes 20-40 per cent more time to finish items when you multi task compared with completing the same tasks in sequence. Time lost switching among tasks increases with the complexity of the tasks diminishing productivity and quality.

Stay focused on holding the strategic vision, holding others accountable for operational details and keeping both in alignment.

Originally printed in The Province, April 14, 2013.

Plan project in four steps

February 28, 2011

Q: I tried to empower my director with an important project. Each time I checked in with him he said he was on track and didn’t need any support. But when he presented to the client, it wasn’t at all what I envisioned. When I told him how disappointed I was, he said that he felt set up because I didn’t tell him my expectations ahead of time. What should I do in the future?

A: It can be tricky anticipating how much support and clarity a seasoned leader needs. To spare future headaches, follow these four simple steps for every initiative.

1) Create a united vision. Begin by sharing both of your visions for the project. Have your direct report go first. Discuss best possible outcomes and what they would actually look like in reality. This minimizes the expectation gap.

2) Plan and strategize. Once you’ve reached mutual agreement, forecast potential obstacles and an plan to resolve them should they occur. Put three to four key expectations on the table so your director knows exactly where the goalposts are. Be specific and measurable. Share any wisdom, insight or mentoring you would appreciate receiving if you were in his shoes.

3) Empower him to take action. Set up realistic targets and timelines for progress reports. Then turn him loose to meet the expectations and desired outcomes in his own way. Schedule regular meetings to ensure the project stays on track or to allow for course correct if the project requirements change

4) Debrief each project for the key learning. Grow your director by hearing what he thought was successful and why. Then share what you found successful and what you want next time.

Empowering your employees does not mean abdicating your responsibility as their leader.

Originally published in The Province, February 27, 2011.

Outlining expectations will save headaches later

June 1, 2008

Q: I’m an independent contractor and my largest client continually squeezes me for more services for the same fee. How do I stop the bleeding without jeopardizing the deals or the client altogether? 

A: First, don’t compete on price. Promote the value you are providing for the fee charged. Managing client expectations may be even more imperative than delivery of the service itself. 

As an existing service provider, you have the competitive advantage of meeting the client’s evolving needs — even shaping them. Track this vital information by summarizing your progress, reporting results and highlighting achieved outcomes to the client after key milestones.

Here’s your opportunity to elicit feedback from the client. What are they satisfied with? Where are you exceeding expectations? When the client articulates this, it reinforces the return on their investment. The most challenging yet noteworthy question to ask is, “What would you want different next time?” Their responses enable you to refine your service to more closely meet their needs.

When pressed to include additional services, refer the client back to their stated satisfaction levels.

If they insist on bundling more services for the same price, hold firm. Fees that appear negotiable run the risk of being ground down by the client.

Instead, explore what’s motivating their need to discount. Determine what services they are willing to take off the table in order to reduce the price. Alternatively, offer to exchange, reduce or remove other components to maintain your fee.

Originally printed in The Province on June 1, 2008.

Questions can quell surprises

April 27, 2008

Q: I interview for jobs that look great until I get into them and usually end up hating them within a year. How can I ensure I make the right choice this time?

A: Couples tend to spend more effort on the wedding than they do on the marriage. Similarly, candidates can get side-tracked by the thrill of landing the job without considering the day-to-day role.

Take an honest inventory of what tasks you love to do, the type of environment you thrive in, and the career goals you are aiming for. Then search for organizations that meet your criteria.

Many candidates just focus on their role; however, a company’s culture influences everything it does.

Research the company’s business practices, industry reputation and track record. Its website, marketing collateral, and annual report provide insight into its attitude, values and work style. Get firsthand information from past or current employees about what it’s like to work there. Ask suppliers or customers for their perceptions and experiences.

The interview contains a wealth of information for the astute candidate. The questions indicate what’s important and how employees are evaluated. Before leaving the session, ask questions to determine how well you fit together. For example, what characteristics do they value most? What investment will they make in your professional development? How do they support work-life balance?

At the short-list stage, ask more specific questions about the expectations and work style of your prospective supervisor, team and role. A job is like a marriage. Short-sighted choices that lead to divorce can be costly.

Originally printed in The Province on April 27, 2008 .

Preparing to cast off the safety net

October 28, 2007

Q:  I want to leave my job to start my own consulting business, but I’m nervous about paying my monthly bills until I am up and running. What tips do you have for making a smooth transition?

A:  Doing market research, setting up business systems, even creating a financial nest egg can provide you with a solid foundation that will save you migraines later.

Actively test-market your service immediately. You’ll quickly learn what the demand is for your services, how much people will pay and which marketing approach results in a sale.

Gage people’s reaction to your message and fine-tune it until you can say it with confidence — and people are saying, “Sure, I’ll buy from you.”

New entrepreneurs tend to grossly underestimate the time and effort it takes to secure a new client, complete the work satisfactorily and get paid.

By taking on manageable contracts now, you will have realistic expectations based on experience.

Experiment with what to charge to cover your time, meet the client’s expectations and net a profit after expenses.

Aim to accurately forecast your marketing and sales cycle so you are not caught off-guard later.

This is a perfect time to create business systems. Standardizing will keep you from being overwhelmed when customers are knocking down your door.

Beta-test your business with a low-risk trial run. You’ll recognize when you have worked out enough of the wrinkles to smoothly step into self-employment without a safety net.

Originally printed in The Province, October 28, 2007.

Leave your work at the office

January 14, 2007

Q: By Sunday evening I start dreading going back to work. I don’t sleep well worrying about all I have to do Monday morning. Then I begin my week tired and unproductive. What can I do?

A: Imagine an airplane on the tarmac with its jets revving at full throttle all weekend in anticipation of a Monday morning takeoff. It needlessly stresses its delicate instruments, drains its precious fuel and prematurely wears out its high-performance engines. 

That’s exactly what goes on in type-A, driven personalities who cannot turn off their work motor.

De-clutter your mind before the weekend begins. Take the last 30 to 60 minutes Friday afternoon to map out the following week. Write yourself a to-do list and block out time in the upcoming week to deal with it. Committing tasks to a calendar will free your mind to relax, now that details won’t be forgotten.

Start your week with wins. Spend the first 30 to 60 minutes on Monday mornings tying up loose ends, answering e-mails and completing any tasks you can from your Friday list. These small victories will create a momentum of accomplishment right out of the gate.

During the weekend, leave work behind and have a life — truly. Balance is critical in order to be fully engaged at work, rather than being resentful of it and burning out.

Originally printed in The Province on January 14, 2007.