The Productive Professional
The report in the Wall Street Journal about the General Services Administration's Head's resignation, says that the report condems, amongst other things, the $75,000 spent on a team building exercise involving bikes. (The WSJ article is behind a paywall, but there is another similar one here: http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/03/politics/gsa-fallout/?hpt=hp_t2)
It struck me as another blow for team building sessions. Not only do they not work, they're expensive too. You can't 'build' a team, off-site, doing something unrelated to work in one day. A team I used to work in had been together for years. They started when the company had less than 50 people and when I joined them, they had 8 people and had just been bought by IBM. If you listened to them, you'd think that the reason they worked together so well was because the company threw regular parties.
These parties were epic. There were photos locked in safes. There were things on people's desks that were from the parties. The truth though, was that the parties had nothing to do with it. These people had worked together for more than 5 years. Day in day out, through the growing pains of the company. They knew each others' strengths and weaknesses. They arranged the work and their conversations accordingly. That's what made them a team.
In this week's Career Tool's cast - Email and The High D - Mike says something that I thought was worth repeating. The discussion is centred around looking at your emails and deciding what profile your correspondent has before replying. And the point that is made, and it would be easy to miss is, that you don't have to wait until you've worked it out to reply to the email.
When we discover a new method for doing something, and we think it's better, we often don't want to do the thing until we can do it in the new method. We get this all the time with feedback. People say, I understand the rollout, I understand the reasons for it, I can't give negative feedback for months, what do I do when someone does something wrong?
The answer is, do what you always did. It's not as effective, you know that now. But since you felt okay doing it for the past however long, another few hours, weeks or even months won't matter. Far better to go slow, get it right and not ruin the new thing by doing it too soon, than the opposite.
There's an article in Bloomberg Businessweek about that most prosaic of thing, the wooden pallet. Ikea uses 10 million pallets around the world, and it's replacing them all with cardboard. Yes, you read that right. They've created a corrugated cardboard design which is 2 inches high, 5.5 pounds and can support 750 kilos. They estimate it will save $193M a year.
The article goes on to discuss some drawbacks with the pallets (they're not as weatherproof as wood for example) but for a potential saving of $193M, it's worth trying, don't you think?
It's easy to think of the risk when discussing change, and to focus on that rather than the potential upside. If you're wondering why there isn't enough innovation in your team, it might be because you're more risk averse than necessary.
First Job Fundamentals, the podcast series designed to help you be most effective in your first role is now available. Buy now to benefit from this knowledge, or to share it with someone who needs it, BEFORE there's any chance to make the mistakes that hold you back.
What's in it?
13 shows, each of which shares a piece of what it takes to be successful at work. From the definition of success to maximising your time by minimising administration, from professional communication to the right attitude.
13 detailed, specific, actionable casts to make your first job a success. Every one of them tells you exactly what to do and say, helping you develop into an effective professional and a valued member of your bosses' team, FAST. We also tell you what NOT to do and say - you won't be falling into the traps that others fall into!
In addition, we explore and explode the myths of the workplace - the things you've been told, which executives know to be false.
This is what we'd tell our mentees. Now you can have all that knowledge too.
Over the last few days, I have been sent several links to different articles discussing employers asking candidates for their Facebook passwords during the interview process. As far as I can tell, all of what I have been sent comes from one article which is getting a lot of traction, rather than a sudden epidemic of this behavior. So that's point 1 - just because everyone's talking about it, doesn't mean it's happening to everyone.
As a recruiter, I wouldn't have gone this far. I think asking for people's passwords for anything, when they don't work for you, is going too far. That doesn't mean I'd automatically condem or condone the behavior, just that I personally wouldn't have done it in when I was in that postion. So, that's point 2, if you wanted my thoughts.
And point 3 is, that in the US at least, it's not illegal to ask. (There's some discussion about whether it's against Facebook's terms and conditions, but they are not necessarily enforceable in law anyway). So, you have the choice, if asked. You can say yes, knowing you have nothing to hide. Or, you can say no, on principle, knowing that you may risk losing the job. That's what a free country is all about. I understand that some people will say, 'but I can't get any other job, so they are forcing me to say yes'; but you are still making a choice. It may be paying your mortgage over Facebook privacy, but it is still a choice and it's yours to make.
Connecting with our audience has always been really important to the Manager Tools team. You've often heard us give out our emails on air and at conferences. We've got so busy though, that it's now difficult to sustain our response - we're getting emails all over the place! And, we're sorry to say, that sometimes your emails have gone unanswered because one or more of us thought the other was responding.
We've just instituted a new email response system on our customer service and show emails, which is helping us respond more quickly and make sure that no email slips through the cracks. To help us, please would you send all your emails to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, rather than to our personal emails?
We love to hear from you, and we don't want that to stop. We just want to make sure that you hear from us too.
The problem of when to fit exercise into busy lives seems to be almost universal. My cousin posted on her facebook page today, that she'd cycled to work for the first time this year - one of her solutions. There's the before work, during work and after work solution. There's the Mike Holmes solution - he said on a tv program I caught 5 minutes of last week: just become a contractor - it's a job that'll work you out.
But here's two solutions I hadn't thought of, taken from an article in Fortune: "He’s come from an intense cardio workout with a Navy SEAL he hired to move in with him and Sara for a month. (This is more efficient than hiring rickshaws from his office, as he used to do, and paying the driver to be a passenger while he hauled the vehicle all the way home.)"
The article is about Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, and is talking about her husband. You could say that money solves all sorts of problems - but even if I had all the money in the world, I wouldn't have thought of driving the rickshaw myself. It's more about inventiveness than cash. So, given this is an almost universal problem - what's your solution?
In an article in Inc Magazine, Jason Fried (co-founder of 37 Signals), talks about working with a remote team. He describes mostly the upsides, but there was one part which particularly caught my eye. He says he's often asked 'how do you know work is getting done if you can't see people doing it?' His response is: 'Observing work take place is not the same as seeing work get done'.
I noticed it because we're often asked a similar question about feedback. Where employees are remote, people ask, how do I give feedback? A simple answer is: you can still see their work. You know what they're supposed to be doing and to what standard and it's easy to give feedback on that.
There's a multitude of other things you can give feedback on, even if you're not in the same office. Take phone calls. Are they on time to conference calls? Are they prepared? Do they contribute to the discussion? Do they support others? Do they sound like they're listening? Are they available when you call outside of scheduled calls? What's their voicemail like? Do they return your calls? Do they return other people's calls? How do they sound on phone calls? One subject, ten reasons to give feedback.
There's an article in Inc magazine about Tim O’Shaughnessy, LivingSocial CEO, in which he describes how he works. There were a good few things where you I wondered how effective they could be, and then I got to a description of 'Ignite' presentations.
An Ignite presentation, I discovered, is a five minute Powerpoint presentation with 20 slides. Yes, that's 20 slides in 5 minutes. Apparently, it's supposed to 'ignite' the audience. The thought of 20 slides in 5 minutes made me quite dizzy. It's one every 25 seconds. I'm not sure I read that quickly - and I read quickly.
It seemed to me, that it's the wrong answer to the question. How to get the audience excited isn't answered by more powerpoint, it's answered by being a better presenter. Connecting with the audience and allowing them to connect with your passion.
Has anyone seen an 'ignite' presentation and want to talk me out of this view?
In February 6th's Fortune, there is an extract from 'The Startup of You' a new book by the founder of Linkedin. To be clear, I haven't read the book, just this extract, but two things struck me.
First, the extract says building a genuine relationship with another person depends on amongst other things: "being able to think about how you can collaborate with and help the other person rather than thinking about what you can get...start with a friendly gesture and mean it". Sounds pretty close to our guidance :-)
Second: the best networks are "wide and (selectively) deep". "The best professional network is both narrow/deep (allies with whom you collaborate regularly) and wide/shallow (weak-tie acquaintances who offer fresh information and ideas)". And, as Career Tools tells you, since you can't know early on who you'll need, just add people to your network, without thinking about their value.
The article offers an action tip which might be helpful: "Imagine you got laid off from your job today. Who are the 10 people you'd email for advice? Don't wait - invest in those relationships now".