Knowing How to Delegate Is a Productivity Plus

Those of us who work alone frequently need to at least maximize, if not increase, our productivity and hiring part-time or temporary help may be what it takes to get us there.  Sometimes, you need to ramp up to take on a big project for which you’ll need specialized competencies that are not in your skill set, prompting you to hire subcontractors.  In that case, you’ll lead a team and coordinate numerous tasks that drive completion of the project deliverables.  In other cases, you need administrative help to free you from routine tasks like bookkeeping and invoicing, or following-up with customer service requests.

In each scenario, the ability to effectively delegate will be instrumental in creating a positive working environment, where your hired help will strive to do their best work, so that desired outcomes are achieved.

Delegating can be considered both an art and a science and with practice, it can be mastered.  An unwillingness or inability to delegate indicates poor leadership.  Leaders who insist upon having their hands tightly on the wheel of every initiative are often perceived as controlling micromanagers by those who work with them. Such behavior telegraphs a lack of trust or even respect.  It is demotivating and ultimately counterproductive.  Here’s a checklist to help you perfect your delegating skill.

  1. Learn and assess the skills and interests of team members/ employees                                                                                                                        Consult with and observe your team members or employees when putting together a working group or assigning tasks and accommodate, to the best of your ability, their strengths and preferences, according to the project needs.  This could be a skills development opportunity for some and the wise leader will enable that process whenever possible and reap the benefits.
  2. Choose the right tasks to delegate                                                                                     You, team leader, are responsible for understanding and communicating the strategic, big picture view of the work.  Subcontractors and part-time help are responsible for their area of specialized skills.  You coordinate all tasks and ensure that milestones are met and the deliverables are provided within the project deadline and budget.
  3.  Provide the tools and authority to do the work                                                    Ensure that your employees or team have the resources—information, time, budget, equipment— and the authority to do what you’ve asked of them.  Don’t make them run to you whenever they need to take action.  Rather, empower them and let them apply their intelligence and creativity to making you look good.
  4. Be clear about expectations                                                                                           Explain the goals of the project or tasks and how they support short or long-term plans.  Explain how results/ success will be measured. Confirm that those who work for or with you understand their individual responsibilities and the collective goal. Make sure that the goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.
  5. Provide feedback, guidance and encouragement.  Acknowledge success.     Monitor performance and quickly correct any misunderstandings or problems. Find teachable moments and provide training or useful suggestions when needed.  Encourage and enable excellent work to keep people motivated and productivity high.  Team members and employees will appreciate that you recognize and diplomatically call out both superior and weak performances.

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: A Goldsmith in Baghdad (1901), Kamal al-Mulk (1847-1941) courtesy of the Islamic Consultative Assembly in Tehran, Iran

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Win Every Negotiation With These Tactics

Chris Voss is a former FBI lead negotiator for international kidnapping cases, founder and CEO of The Black Swan Group, a firm that provides negotiation services to law enforcement, businesses and governments and author of Never Split the Difference (with Tahl Raz, 2016).  When you are faced with a very important negotiation that you’ve decided is a must-win, Voss offers these field-tested tactics:

  1. Mirror words selectively

Validate your negotiating counterpart’s perspective by repeating back four or five of his/her words when s/he expresses something that is apparently important to him/her.  Do this and without realizing it, your counterpart will become more trusting and candid because you will have shown that at least somewhat, you hear and understand his/her viewpoint.

Furthermore, it will be to your advantage to slow down the pace of the conversation, to give yourself more time to think and ideally, gain more control over the process. While negotiating, speak in a calm and comforting tone of voice and a measured pace. Chris Voss suggests that you take on the vocal tone and pace of a late night radio disc jockey.

2.  Practice tactical empathy

Show strategic empathy for your negotiating counterpart by helping him/her to own and label fears or reservations. “It sounds as if you’re afraid that…” and “You seem to be concerned about…” will be phrases that you’ll employ.  Everyone wants their feelings to be recognized and understood.  Communicate empathy to neutralize distrust and emotionally disarm your counterpart.

3.  Get to “no”

Being pushed to say yes can make some people feel trapped and they’re liable to become defensive.  Make your counterpart feel in control by creating opportunities for him/her to say no.  We feel safer when in control and the ability to refuse a request will support that.  The smart negotiator will selectively present questions that will likely cause your counterpart to say “no.”

Start by confirming the negotiation meeting, once you’re both in the room: “Is this a bad time to talk?” S/he is likely to say “No, this is a good time to talk,” since the meeting date and time were mutually agreed upon.  If the negotiation becomes tense, ask “Have you given up on reaching an agreement?” Again, the reply will likely be “no.” Your counterpart sees benefits in reaching an agreement because if s/he didn’t, there would be nothing to discuss and no meeting.

4.  “That’s right”

The beginning of a negotiation breakthrough is signaled when your counterpart feels that you respect his/her position, priorities, concerns, fears, or feelings.  Lead your counterpart to say “that’s right” by confirming his/her feelings and must-haves, remembering to underscore your appreciation of his/her point of view by repeating back four or five of his/her words.

5.  Resist compromise

Prepare exceptionally well for the negotiation by researching and anticipating the expected motivations, priorities, strengths, weaknesses, biases and company culture of your negotiation counterpart.  Develop a list of your competitive advantages and use them to prevail.

Pay attention to your counterparts facial expressions, tone of voice and body language and use that feedback to assess whether or not s/he is telling the truth.  Use a deal-making deadline to create a sense of urgency that will encourage your counterpart to accept your terms and get what seems to be the most s/he can get out of you by reaching an agreement.  Make your counterpart feel that if s/he declines to accept your offer, it will feel like a loss to him/her.  Play to win.

6.  Create the illusion of your adversary’s control

Use what Chris Voss calls “calibrated questions” that are designed to allow your counterpart to bring his/her must-haves, concerns and goals and perhaps also biases or world view, out into the open and make him/her feel good about having the opportunity.  Voss suggests that you pose questions that start with “what” or “how,” which will open the door to a candid conversation and not be perceived as demanding. The answers to these questions typically reveal lots of valuable information that you can use to your advantage later in the negotiation.

“What’s the biggest challenge you face?”; “What are you up against here?”; “What are we trying to accomplish?”; and “How is that worthwhile?” are phrases to remember.  Should your counterpart throw you a curve ball question, throw one back with “How am I supposed to answer that?”  Then shut up and listen to the answer, which will probably be some incoherent sputtering, or blurted information that gives you an unexpected advantage.

When your counterpart pushes back on something that you’ve proposed, ask “What about that doesn’t work for you?” or “What would you need to make this work?” When you need to throw off a refusal of your terms but still continue to move the ball down the court, rebound with “Let’s put price aside for now and talk about what would make this become a good deal?”

Finally, let your counterpart make the first offer, because that will reinforce his/her feeling of control and it might possibly exceed your expectations.

7.  Confirm the agreement

Validate that your counterpart’s “yes” is real by leading him/her to reconfirm what’s been agreed to at least three times.  To reveal behind-the-scenes deal killers, ask “How does this affect the rest of your team?” Get your negotiated agreement in writing ASAP.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel by David Rabe, presented in New York City (l-r) Tisa Chang, Al Pacino, Anne Miyamato and Don Blakely (1976)                               © Afro Newspaper/Gado

 

 

 

 

The Smart, the Talented and the Lucky

The fickle randomness of the phenomenon called luck fascinates me.  I wonder why luck seems to so often reward people who don’t seem to deserve its favor and punish those who are good and hardworking people.  Luck is maddeningly capricious.  Who among us has not worked and planned and calculated the possibility for the success of a certain project, only to have it fall through and at another time, be amazed at the success of another project that has been given only casual thought and little effort?

I know quite a few people who’ve been very, very lucky in life.  Some have made the most of their good luck and others have squandered it (but they still do sort of OK, because they are lucky).  I’ve noticed that other than a man with whom I worked for a number of years, who was often very lucky and acknowledged his good fortune, people who are lucky do not believe in luck.  They actually believe that they can make all sorts of wonderful things happen all by their lonesome.  Some tell me that they pray and their chosen Deity answers their prayers.  Some tell me that they visualize what they want to happen and so it is given to them.  Still others claim that they always plan carefully and their plans yield the expected results, nearly always.  Riiiiight!

What my fortunate friends do not realize is that the answer to a prayer can be “No,” that plans can fall apart because they often depend upon certain critical factors falling into place, that is, good luck is an unacknowledged ingredient of the plan; and that one can visualize a future that seems fully attainable, not at all grandiose and yet the process can yield nothing but daydreams and disappointment.

My lucky pals are as clueless as The Fool pictured above, because they can afford to be.  I have seen certain of them (metaphorically) ready to step off a cliff when the ground somehow rises up to meet them so they do not stumble.  In my life, when in a similar circumstance, I’ve been thrilled to see a nice bridge appear to rescue me, only to be horrified when it turns out to have been built by the folks who engineered the amazing bridge at Florida International University.  Sigh.

In a 2017 study conducted at the University of Catania in Sicily (Sicilians absolutely believe in luck and if you are Sicilian or Italian—yes, they are different!— you will know this to be true).  Alessio Biondo, Alessandro Pluchino and Andrea Rapisarda created a computer model of 1000 virtual people.  Some of the virtual subjects were given more intelligence, talent, or money and others less, in an attempt to simulate real life.  During a 40-year “career,” certain virtual subjects received “lucky events,” i.e., opportunities to boost their careers that their intelligence or talent could help them exploit.  But some were made to suffer “unlucky events” that took away some of their career advancement and money.  At the end of the 40-year “career,” the scientists examined the characteristics of the wealthiest virtual people.

The results showed that while intelligence, talent and wealth play a role in the achievement of success, those who rose to the top were almost always the recipients of “lucky events.” Lead researcher Alessandro Pluchino wrote, ” It is evident that the most successful individuals are also the luckiest ones and the less successful individuals are also the unluckiest ones.” The study also reinforced the validity of the Pareto Principle, known as the 80/20 Rule, meaning that 80% of the wealth in the virtual society wound up in the hands of 20% of the population, as it does in real-world societies.

That 80/20 distribution does not correspond with the distribution of intelligence and talent. “The maximum success never coincides with the maximum talent and vice versa,” noted the researchers. “Our simulation clearly shows that such a factor is just pure luck.”  Pluchino and his team showed this by ranking the virtual subjects by the number of lucky and unlucky events each experienced in their simulated careers.  The most successful individuals had the most good luck and the least successful had the most bad luck.

So now what? Do those who are short-changed by good luck just roll with the punches? I mean, these findings, although most likely accurate, run counter to the American can-do, Horatio Alger spirit.  One must take charge of life and never knuckle under to unfortunate events or unsavory people.

I suggest that the best way to bring good luck, or at least minimize bad luck, is to introduce Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese system, into your home and office.  Eight years ago, I wrote about exploring Feng Shui.  You can play catch-up here.

In short, start by cleaning and organizing your home and office.  De-clutter and organize because qi, good energy, likes order.  Give yourself a harmonious environment and you are almost guaranteed to feel more relaxed, less frazzled and more confident.  Because you will become more calm and centered, you’ll function more effectively in your professional and personal lives.  I think it could be successfully argued that you’ll be positioned to more easily recognize both potentially good and bad events along your path.  You can then gravitate to the former and avoid, or at least mitigate, the latter.

Feng Shui will probably not replace an overabundance of bad luck with good fortune, but you’ll most likely be able to grab whatever good luck crumbs come your way and that’ll be about as good as it’s going to get.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The Fool, from the ancient tarot card deck. In a tarot card reading, The Fool represents one’s potential and abilities and also new beginnings.  He is young, lucky, light-hearted and blissfully unaware of potential limitations and danger.

Coaching Guide

Have you ever worked with a business or life coach? I worked with a business coach as I built the foundation of my consulting practice and the experience was useful.  When a significant life goal is on your agenda and you’re unsure how to achieve it, or you recognize that you’ll need some expert assistance to help you make a plan, consider checking in with a business coach.  Also, if you find yourself thwarted as you attempt to move forward in life and achieve goals that you find meaningful or essential, but now you’re stuck and at a loss for a remedy, seeing a skilled business or life coach may be beneficial.

If you’re not the type of person who feels comfortable sharing intimate information in a counseling situation, or if the necessary time or money are restricted, it’s possible to coach yourself.  The ability to coach (yourself or others) to success is a powerful professional development skill.  We’re all capable of giving ourselves and others a pep talk.  We’re all capable of creating a list of goals, with timetables for completion.  We are also capable of asking ourselves eight insightful questions that when we answer them truthfully can help propel us out of a rut and put us on the path to achieving our most treasured goals.

The Difficult and Troubling Situation Exercise questions below were developed by Jack Canfield, corporate trainer, motivational speaker and author of The 25 Principles of Success  (2007).  You can use the questions to either self-coach or partner with one or more friends or supportive colleagues and conduct a group coaching session.  When a question is asked, answer thoughtfully and honestly, but without elaborate explanations or equivocations.  Let the questions do their work.  What is the difficulty or troubling situation in your life?  How and when will you overcome it?

  1. What is the problem or troubling situation?
  2. How are you contributing to the problem, or allowing it to continue?
  3. What are you pretending not to know?
  4. What is the pay-off for maintaining the status quo, for keeping things as they are?
  5. What is the cost of not changing the situation or your behavior?
  6. What would you rather be experiencing in your life?
  7. What actions will you take and what requests will you make to bring the conditions or experiences that you want into your life?
  8. When will you take those actions and requests for guidance or support?

Question 1 asks you to state the problem, or if working alone, to write it down.  Admit the problem or obstacle out loud or in writing.  Acknowledge that you have a troubling situation on your hands—a roadblock or obstacle, a significant disappointment, or a run of bad luck that is thwarting your desire to attain certain goals and live a life that would make you happy and proud.

Question 2 asks you to accept responsibility for the existence of the problem, or  ignoring it, perhaps enabling it and at the very least, prolonging it, or allowing it to continue.  This question helps you pull the plug on playing the victim, poor pitiful me.  If the roadblock or bad luck in your life remains there for a while, it’s likely that you’ve played some role in bringing it there or keeping it there.  Here is your mindset switch.  Let yourself know that just like you’ve allowed this obstacle to appear or linger, you can remove out.  You have know-how and power.  You are not incompetent and helpless.

Question 3 shakes loose the denial that surrounds your difficult situation.  In every seemingly intractable problem, it’s likely that s/he who is mired in the mess is pretending not to know why the matter exists.  So if your daughter hasn’t spoken to you in 5 years, don’t pretend that you don’t know why she’s cut you out of her life.  It’s just that you find it inconvenient to admit to yourself that you know.  You find it easier to hide your head in the sand and deny what you know because if you admit to yourself that you know, then you’ll have to do something about it—and you’re probably afraid to do that.  There is some seemingly greater difficult situation that you’ll need to confront and resolve.  Oh, no!

Question 4 requires that you recognize and catalogue the benefits you receive from allowing the roadblock to remain in place, for the problem to fester.  Maybe you run from responsibility?  Do difficult conversations make your skin crawl? Might the probable solution to your obstacle cost more money and/or time and commitment than you think you can muster, or cause you to stand up and take charge of your life in a way you fear you cannot?

Returning to school to earn an advanced degree or certification is daunting.  There are classes to attend, exams to take, papers to write and all are uniquely costly, in some way.  Ugh, why do that when you can go shopping when you feel frustrated about not advancing in your career? Shopping is fun and so is going out drinking with your friends.  Many of us prefer to just settle in and become “comfortably uncomfortable,” as my late friend Chris Nieves used to say.

Question 5 compels you to calculate the losses that have piled up as you allow the problem to continue,  through your lack of action— a stunted career, diminished income, an apartment that’s not in the part of town that you’d rather live,  the inability to provide certain extras for your children, an estranged relationship?  Refusing to act has  consequences.

Question 6 urges you to love and respect yourself enough to envision the things in life that would satisfy you—a fulfilling relationship with a worthy significant other, a home that makes you feel comfortable, a healthy body, a business or employment that showcases your skills and pays you at a rate you find acceptable, the ability to travel.  What conditions or experiences do you want in your life? Verbally paint the picture.

Question 7 reminds you that the resolution to any problem or obstacle demands that you get out of your comfort zone and take action.  The action might require you to reach out and request physical help or advice.  It’s OK if you cannot take on the problem alone.

So if someone is violating your boundaries by doing any number of things that make you feel uncomfortable, then you must speak up and put a stop to that behavior and apply impactful consequences to those who disrespect you.

Question 8 requires you to establish reasonable target dates to move forward with your actions.  Develop a timetable, add milestones and chart your progress.  Success is waiting for you!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Telemachus (l) and Mentor (who in the coaching of Telemachus was actually the goddess Athena, who disguised herself as the wise old man). Illustration by Pablo E. Fabisch from Les Adventures de Telemaque (1699) a book based on Homer’s Odyssey by Francois de Salignac de La Mothe-Fenelon (France)

Intelligent. Trustworthy. Successful.

When advising Freelancers and other self-employed business professionals on how to increase their customer list and sales revenues, the usual recommendations are repeatedly trotted out: Exceed expectations. Network. Get referrals.  Price well.

Yet there is another way to continually, subtly, position yourself and your business enterprise as dependable and competent and that is to be well-spoken.  Whether you are in conversation with friends and colleagues, clients and referral sources, a good vocabulary is always noticed by the listener on some level.  Well-spoken people get more respect in life.  They are listened to and trusted. Expand your vocabulary and your client list may follow.

How can you add more words to your long-term memory? Read! Read for business and read for pleasure.  Read new books and explore old classics.  When you encounter an unfamiliar word, look it up and claim it as your own.  Eventually, you’ll sprinkle those words into your written and verbal communications, without sounding like a show-off. Below is a list of words that you might want to get to know and use in your life and work.

Adept

Definition: being highly skilled or well-trained in a particular discipline; an expert  Synonyms: capable, accomplished

Example: Grace is very adept at financial analysis and as a result, she was recruited by several regional and national banks.

Aplomb

Definition: self-confidence or assurance, especially when in a demanding situation  Synonyms: composure, poise

Example: Michael chaired what could have been a difficult meeting with a potentially hostile audience with aplomb.

Byzantine

Definition: devious and surreptitious operation                                                          Synonyms: complicated, troublesome

Example: Robert’s high personal ethics made it difficult for him to work for a company with such a Byzantine culture, so he tendered his resignation.

Cogent

Definition: well-reasoned, logical and compelling                                                      Synonyms: convincing, valid

Example: Yvonne and her study co-authors made three cogent arguments in favor of the proposed changes to the zoning laws.

Conundrum

Definition: a difficult problem                                                                                          Synonyms: problem, puzzlement

Example: Edward was charged with solving the shipping conundrum before the company lost money.

Cronyism

Definition: the appointment of friends and associates to jobs or other desirable posts, often evidenced by awarding promotions that are not deserved because the candidates are unqualified                                                                                                                           Synonyms: favoritism, preference

Example: It has long been said that jobs within city and state governments are obtained primarily through cronyism.

Delineate

Definition: to precisely describe or outline                                                                   Synonyms: describe, outline

Example: To ensure that things ran smoothly, the team moved to the conference room to delineate their plan on the whiteboard before beginning the project.

Deviate

Definition: to stray or depart (from a standard, course of action or the norm)    Synonyms: differ, stray

Example: If you deviate from your customer’s expectations, they may buy from competitors who offer a more consistent experience.

Dichotomy

Definition: a division into two parts, often contradictory or mutually exclusive  Synonyms: contrast, split

Example: By attempting to work half an hour on the production line, the president only further illustrated the dichotomy that exists between executives and factory workers in our company.

Disseminate

Definition: to spread or disperse                                                                                     Synonyms: announce, broadcast

Example: A downside of being a celebrity these days is that the internet makes it easy and fast to disseminate rumors about their alleged misdeeds.

Esoteric

Definition: difficult to understand except by a chosen few; a rare and special interest                                                                                                                                 Synonyms: unusual, sophisticated

Example: When speaking with prospective clients, it is recommended that you avoid using esoteric, industry-specific terms.

Fiasco

Definition: a total failure; a complicated situation that ends in failure                  Synonyms: calamity, disaster,

Example: My suit was wrinkled, my business cards got soaked in the rain and when I left, I found a huge piece of spinach in my teeth.  The whole thing was a total fiasco!

Galvanize

Definition: to propel a person or people into activity or inspiration                       Synonyms: inspire, motivate

Example: Leila gave a rousing victory speech, galvanizing her campaign volunteers to stay active on social media long after the election was over.

Incisive

Definition: penetrating, biting or remarkably clear (tone, words, etc.)                  Synonyms: clever, sharp

Example: Dan tried to counter the damaging points made by the defense attorney, but in the end, her points were too incisive and the jury sided with the defendant.

Juxtapose

Definition: place two items close together and side by side (often referring to objects that may at first seem to be in opposition or contrast)                                                       Synonyms: compare, differentiate

Example: To illustrate her point about how far the company had come, Mariam juxtaposed the image of the company’s original product with the modern version.

Leverage

Definition: to exert influence on to gain the desired effect (in business)                Synonyms: advantage, influence

Example: A buyer can limit the leverage of the seller if that buyer doesn’t seem overly anxious to acquire the product.

Litany

Definition: a long list or reciting of excuses, reasons, etc.                                            Synonyms: list, chant

Example: Jocelyn had a litany of excuses for her miscalculation — many were valid, some were not.

Mercurial

Definition: volatile or erratic; fickle; flighty, or lively and often quick-witted       Synonyms: changeable, impulsive

Example: The lead singer’s mercurial nature was well-loved by fans and the media, but brought lots of stress to his band mates.

Prudent

Definition:  wise and sensible in action and thought                                                   Synonyms: careful, shrewd

Example: Cate felt that it would be prudent to use 30% of the revenue from the sale to pay the organization’s debt and to deposit 30% into the endowment fund.

Quid pro quo

Definition: something given for something taken (you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours) Synonyms: trade-off, equal exchange

Example: Heidi and Larry had a quid pro quo arrangement — they swapped desks, so that she could sit near her friend and he could sit near the girl he has a crush on.

Sanguine

Definition: accepting even negative circumstances with a positive attitude         Synonyms: unflappable, composed

Example: While it would make his job more difficult, Omar was sanguine when he was told he’d have to complete the project a week earlier than expected.

Untenable

Definition: indefensible, usually in relation to a difficult or impossible situation  Synonyms: illogical, unwarranted

Example: Naomi was in an untenable position; she couldn’t continue to tell her  employees to cut costs while she stayed in five-star hotels when on business trips.

Wunderkind

Definition: a young person who succeeds, usually in business                                   Synonyms: genius, mastermind

Example: The late musician Prince was a wunderkind, a highly talented guitar player, song writer and recording producer who signed his first record contract at age eighteen, with Warner Brothers.

Zeitgeist

Definition: spirit of the times                                                                                            Synonyms: outlook, trend

Example:  Ideas of world peace, happiness and rock’n’roll music defined the Zeitgeist of the 1960s in the U.S. and Western Europe.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Marie Curie, winner of the 1911 Nobel Prize in chemistry (for her work with radium and polonium). In 1903, she was one of three who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics. She is pictured in her laboratory, circa 1900.

The Subtle Art of Managing Up

“Managing the boss is the way to have a win-win situation where everyone, including the organization and the project, wins.”   Wayne Turk, management consultant and author of CommonSense Management  (expected publication 2018)

Management is about listening and observing, planning and training, encouraging teamwork, developing talent and communicating, all in service of consistently producing excellent results.  The exceptionally effective manager is astute enough to realize the benefits of managing both up and down the organization chart.

Freelance consultants, organization outsiders who must swiftly and expertly put together a plan for successful project management, are advised to learn to manage up as a way to understand the stated and perhaps also unstated expectations of your client.  Manage up and learn what to say and whom to say it to when you must get results that get you noticed by the right people for the right reasons.  Managing up helps you develop the insight and relationships to become an admired, trusted and respected professional who reliably produces the project deliverables and obtains referrals from satisfied clients.

There is also the process of managing down, which could be implemented when you hire Freelance subcontractors to assist with aspects of a project.  In your role as hiring manager, manage down to ensure that your subcontractors receive the information, tools and support to do their best work.  Describe the project mission in writing, along with the subcontractor project specs,  give them what they need to get the job done and then get out of their way and let them show their talent.

Never micromanage, praise and reward excellent performance, be an advocate and communicate always. Don’t keep them in the dark about what is going on at the organization.  Do this and you will be rewarded with a high-achieving and loyal team that makes you look good to your client.

Communication is the heart of managing up or down and when you manage up, be mindful that the client has more power than you and they can use that power to either help you or crush you.  Note the preferred communication style of your client contact and present information (and requests) accordingly.  What seems to make him/her most comfortable when communicating, or how can you make information, questions or requests seem clear to him/her?

If face-to-face talks are preferred, then ask to sit down over coffee or lunch and talk things through.  If your client is more of a reader than a listener, communicate by email.  If s/he is visual, use charts, graphs and/or photographs to tell your story.  Sell your client in the way that s/he likes to be sold and make it easy for you to obtain information and get approval for requests you may have along the way.  I cannot overstate this element of managing up, for it is a key element in relationship building and access to many oh-so-important benefits that can be awarded to those who can communicate effectively with the higher-ups.  You’ll gain their trust and confidence and doors could be opened for you.

Understanding your client’s perspective and his/her agenda.  You may not always agree with the point of view, but you are obliged to understand it and work within its parameters.  You will be unable to communicate effectively until you know where s/he is coming from, until you know what resonates or repels.

Packaging and presenting problems and solutions may be a necessary tactic for clients who only want to hear good news.  Part of managing up involves guiding the client to face reality and resolve an issue before it gets out of hand.  it will be to your credit if you are able to suggest one or two reasonable solutions to your client should a problem be discovered.

Don’t go over your client contact’s head. Speak to the client first if you feel that something is amiss, or change would be helpful.  If there is a serious problem with the project and your requests to confront and resolve the matter are continually rebuffed, then you may need to go around your primary client contact, discreetly and confidentially.  If there is illegal behavior happening, such as harassment or inappropriate handling of project financing, would also signal the need to go over your client contact’s head.

Ask for feedback and don’t get defensive if the brutal truth is delivered.  It could be the greatest thing your client does for you.  Listen, learn, incorporate.  The client will be thrilled to see his/her suggestions implemented in your working style and that will make you look responsible and dependable.

Be loyal and trustworthy.  Do not talk behind your client’s back and never betray a confidence.  Always do an exceptionally good job and if you don’t understand how to make that happen, then ask for help.  You want to be seen as dependable and highly competent.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards and Ed Asner as her boss, Lou Grant The Mary Tyler Moore Show CBS-TV (1970 – 1977)

The Right Way to Give Feedback

Even for those who are self-employed, everything in life is team work, am I right or what? When you’re working with others, at some point giving or receiving a quick progress report is a good thing and usually appreciated.  There is an art to giving feedback and if you want to reach and sustain a high level of productivity, to say nothing of preserving important relationships both business and personal, you may be interested in the recommendations that guide the process of giving effect feedback offered by Gwen Moran, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Plans (2010).

Integrate

When you are in the position to assess the quality of the project work, you have an obligation to speak up should you discover that something is amiss or the work is behind schedule.  Feedback should be instructive, timely and accepted as a normal part of management’s responsibilities.  Especially if assistance is needed, it is important that  the feedback is delivered in a way that is affirming of the worker, does not denigrate his/her skills or intelligence and effectively promotes appropriate actions.  Waiting to address insufficient work in a performance review is ineffective—-too late to help the worker understand and quickly make modifications that will produce what is expected.

Calibrate

Responses to feedback are individual and sometimes unpredictable.  The less secure are prone to becoming defensive and occasionally, combative.  A diplomatic approach is recommended, so that feelings are not hurt. Nevertheless, the manager or project overseer must alert workers whose performance is sub par and the sooner the better.

To promote a positive team spirit and sense of inclusion, it will be helpful to allow team members who are not performing well to “save face” and if that means you, the project overseer or department manager, must blame yourself because mistakes have been made, then so be it.  Avoid being labeled as either unsupportive and harsh, or a micromanager.

Educate

If ad hoc feedback is not bringing about the desired improvements, then invite into a meeting all who are working on the project.  Explain how the project is critical to the achievement of interdependent  company objectives and goals and why it is imperative that the work must be done in a certain way and completed within a certain time frame.  Team members will be able to ask questions in a nonjudgmental environment that will clear up misinterpretations and help them to understand the purpose of the project and their value as professionals.

Motivate

Strive to communicate positive observations about the team members’ work, because feedback is always necessary.  Do not fall into the habit of speaking up only when there is something negative to say.  Thanks and encouragement go a long way in motivating enthusiasm and excellent quality work.  Feedback contributes to the development of cohesive and high-performing teams. It is the responsibility of those in management positions to promote and support this outcome.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph courtesy of the New York Public Library                                                  Vandamm Theatrical Photographs Collection 1900 – 1957

On Conducting an Interview

Because you are an ambitious Freelance consultant, you regularly provide content marketing that showcases your expertise and reinforces your brand with current and potential clients and, when good fortune intervenes, motivates them to give you some much-needed billable hours.  As you plan your activities, you may at some point reach out to a fellow Freelancer, a good client, or another expert and ask to include that individual in your content marketing by way of an interview.  Featuring another perspective every once in a while keeps your marketing content fresh and more interesting to the audience.  I’m thinking of doing exactly that sometime soon, if my target interview guest is willing to speak with me on the record.  Stay tuned.

At some point in your professional life it is likely that you may decide, or be asked, to interview someone, so you would be wise to learn the process.  Successfully conducted interviews hinge on good preparation.  While some of us may feel that interviewing is an intuitive skill and that we should be able to manage the process spontaneously, that will not be the case.  You could probably muddle through, but why not take a couple of hours and learn how to get it right?

Think first of an interview guest to invite.  Who do you know who might tell a good story, or share some useful information that will be appreciated by your audience and does it seem possible that you’ll be able to convince that person to speak with you? 

Second, consider the basic interview format. Will your guest agree to a face-to-face Q & A that will be required for a video, or will it be a phone interview that is suitable for your podcast, blog, or newsletter? Email interviews often do not produce the best results according to many journalists. 

Third, brainstorm questions or topics that might be interesting to your audience and play to your guests’ strengths. You may want to write up a list of potential questions, or make note of possible topics. Visit the Twitter feed, Facebook page, LinkedIn profile and conduct an internet search to find out what may have been written by or about your proposed guest.

Invite your potential interview guests in a phone call. Some requests require a more personal approach than email.  Immediately upon reaching an agreement with your guest, send a confirmation email.  Two or three days in advance of the interview, send a second email to confirm the interview time and place and specify whether a phone call or in-person meeting will take place.

In all formats, introduce the guest to your audience and give a brief bio. If your interview will be video or podcast (audio), welcome your guest warmly and thank him/her for agreeing to appear. Your audience needs to hear, and see, this greeting. If the interview will appear in text you will still give a warm welcome and thanks and that exchange will appear in print.  

As you ask questions be friendly and upbeat, to help your guest to feel comfortable and safe.  Avoid “gotcha” questions designed to make the guest feel judged. Keep your mouth shut and practice active listening as you take notes as the guest speaks  (you can record as well and if you plan to do that, ask permission).  If you hear a particular word, phrase, or aspect of the topic that piques your curiosity or seems to give unexpected insight into the question, enter it into your notes and then ask a follow-up question. In this way, your interview will become a conversation, rather than a stilted Q & A session.  The best interviews are what seem to be a relaxed and intelligent conversation between the host and guest.

FYI, it is sometimes necessary to ask the same question two or even three times, in different ways, to persuade your guest to give a complete answer. It’s important to build rapport throughout the interview to make the subject feel comfortable sharing information.

You may need to nudge the interview back on track if your subject goes off on a tangent, in particular if this is a video or podcast conversation.  A useful phrase could be, “How does that relate to the big picture”? Conversely, you might draw out more information from a reticent guest when you ask, “Do you have a story that will illustrate your point”? At the end of the interview, thank your guest for participating and enlightening the audience.

If the interview will appear as a podcast or video, your guest may appear for 15 – 20 minutes, unless his/her topic is especially compelling.  If you are interviewing for your blog or newsletter, 15-20 minutes is probably still a good time limit for the conversation. Overwhelming your guest or audience is to be avoided.

Interviewing a guest for your chosen content marketing platform will build your audience and enhance the brand of your guest as well.  Create a win-win situation for you and the guest by carefully considering the benefits that will accrue to each of you through the proposed interview and be sensitive also to the interests of the audience.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

The Power of Listening

Recently, I attended a reception at the women’s club where I’m a member.  When I attend programs, I make it a point to circulate and talk, usually joining three or four tables over the course of an event.  I’ve been fortunate to participate in dozens of conversations, meaningful and superficial, and I’ve formed some good relationships.  When in conversation, ideally, I listen more than I talk. That ebb and flow is the subtle dance of communication.

While in conversation, learning to keep one’s mouth shut and ears open, so that you can focus attention on the person who is speaking, requires mindfulness and discipline.  So often we do not really listen, we only pause, to formulate an answer that will help us win a debate or demonstrate expertise in the topic.  Conversation can become a game of one-upmanship, when we’re more interested in being clever, or seeming to be very wise or au courant.

When you take the time to listen, the ego must be set aside as you signal the unique value of the other person by allowing him/her to express thoughts and feelings, insights and knowledge.  You may appear to be passive but in reality, listening well is quite active.  When we listen with intention, most of our senses are activated.

We watch facial expressions and detect happiness, distress, interest, or boredom in the eyes and mouth and even the posture.  We hear the cadence of speech, the choice of words used and the tone of voice.  In this way, we take in the story as it is told and we begin to understand the other person’s values, worries, joys, competencies and humor.  Listening with conviction is the highest compliment that one can pay to another human being.  When we listen, we get to know people and build relationships.

Careful listening also allows you to grasp what a person does not say and that could be very revealing.  Hone your listening skills and learn to “listen between the lines,” so that you can more fully understand the motivations and perhaps hidden agendas of those with whom you interact.  Listen and get a sense of who is telling the truth and who is hiding behind a facade.  Whether you are in a negotiation with a client, interviewing a job candidate, or at dinner with someone you wonder if you should see again, listening well will guide your next steps.

Listening skills are a key ingredient of selling skills.  Listen carefully to your prospect and learn what is most important to him/her and then describe how your product or service will resolve the need and eliminate difficulties.  If you are a Freelance consultant who is interviewing with the hope of winning an assignment Dave Mattson, CEO and president of Sandler Training, the sales training firm, recommends that you get straight to the point and ask what three criteria define success for the project and then listen, and truly hear, the answer.  You will quickly discover whether you are a good fit for the project and what you must say and do to win it.

Finally, listening will allow you to adjust your style of communication to align with the person you are speaking with and that is a very important part of building trust, demonstrating proficiencies, telegraphing empathy and being persuasive, the building blocks of both good relationships and effective selling.  Essentially, your heightened listening will allow the two of you to speak the same language and that is the heart of effective communication.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Consulting: This Is How We Do It

There are millions of Freelance consultants in the U.S. and our numbers continue to climb on a steep upward slope, fueled both by the reluctance of employers to offer stable full-time, benefits-paying jobs and the desire of workers to have more flexible schedules, whether single and childless or married with children.  There are different levels of Freelance consulting, from the one-off hourly paid short-term project to ongoing client relationships that may endure for several years.

Some Freelance consulting projects are very limited in scope: you are hired to design a brochure, build a website, facilitate a meeting, provide special event PR, or redecorate a living room. Other projects might start with a change management process that would benefit from the perspective and expertise of an external  professional and segues into implementation and training for impacted staff.

It is useful to break down the components of the consulting function because it will encourage us, its practitioners, to think about the sum total of what we do— the value that each component brings will remind us that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Further, when we speak with clients or generate our content marketing information or traditional advertising copy, having the components of our work and good sound-bites at the ready will keep marketing messages and elevator pitches fresh and relevant and help us to communicate to clients that we understand their needs and priorities and we would make a good hire for their mission critical project.  Below is a list  of a consultant’s core duties.

  1. Provide information.
  2. Diagnose (and maybe redefine) the client’s problem.
  3. Provide recommendations for the short and long-term based on the diagnosis.
  4. Propose one or more effective solutions that will resolve the client’s problem.
  5. Assist with the implementation of the chosen solution to the problem.
  6. Suggest how the client can encourage and sustain internal support for the solution.
  7. Facilitate training or learning, to allow impacted staff to resolve similar problems in the future.

When we Freelance consultants are called in to discuss a possible assignment with a client, we may want to ask a few questions of the project team or leader, to allow us to gain insight and context; to help reveal one or more potentially useful solutions; and to make it more likely that the client will accept and approve your recommendations:

  1. What solutions have been implemented or proposed in the past and what was the outcome?
  2. Which untried steps toward a solution does the client have in mind?
  3. Which, if any, related aspects of the client’s business operation are not going well?
  4. When a reasonable solution is recommended, how and when will it be implemented?
  5. What steps can be taken to encourage buy-in for the solution, to assist its successful implementation?

Thanks for reading,

Kim