Collaborating in the Digital Realm and IRT

Collaboration is a soft skill that in the COVID era rapidly acquired big implications. Even more than in the recent past, the ability to achieve efficient and effective collaboration within work teams, and in fact within organizations, is recognized as a fundamental leadership skill. Collaboration today plays a defining role in driving successful business outcomes.

Because it is now common practice for team members to work from either home or office and to be scattered across city, state, national or even international borders, in addition to occupying various time zones, it is critical to ensure that all players are on the same page. Freelance consultants would do well to diplomatically encourage a collaborative environment on every project in which they participate. A project that yields less than stellar results will weigh most heavily on the Freelancers’, and not the employees’, reputation. The opportunity to receive referrals and repeat business sometimes rests on making one or politically savvy suggestions.

Collaboration is born of trust, respect, communication and, ultimately, sharing information and responsibility. These attributes and actions promote both camaraderie and good decision-making. Teamwork begins when team members understand their project mission; understand how their project supports organizational objectives; have the data, tools and authority to carry out their work; and know whom to consult when questions arise. Think about how you can advance those ideals on your next project.

Digital workflow systems such as Asana, Slack, Trello, or Microsoft Teams are excellent tools that provide access to all relevant documents, support continuity, allow all team members to view and contribute information as work progresses and document progress. Study the project specs. Visit the websites of the digital workflow systems mentioned here or recall your experience with other systems. In the kick-off team meeting, raise your hand (virtually or In Real Time) and suggest a workflow system that will both expedite the work and promote transparency and collaboration.

Virtual check-in meetings may find some team members in a makeshift home office, on a park bench surrounded by greenery, or in their familiar workplace office but nevertheless, if trust and respect have been properly seeded and nurtured, open communication that also allows for differing perspectives, will support candid assessments of project progress, about what may not be working and enable the wisdom of the team to devise solutions that all will support.

Follow-up is where the team pulls together to implement whatever useful suggestions for improvement that surfaces at check-in progress meetings. It is often said that half of life is about showing up. Surely, the other half is follow-up.

Follow-up moves the team and the outcome they produce from good to great. Top teams never assume that someone else took care of an important detail— they make sure it’s been done, the right way. Dot the i’s, cross the t’s and deliver excellence.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Nursery school students collaborate on their project (the morning walk).

8 Skills Everybody Needs

Whatever work one does, from start -up founder to pastry chef, automotive mechanic to chief financial officer, it is interesting that we all need the same short list of skills to become successful.

Consultants are often advised to hone and promote fluency in the skills listed here but everyone who works—-business owner, Freelancer, or employee—-taps into these skills on a regular basis. Your hair stylist and the guys who do your yard work use the same skills as your bookkeeper and your periodontist and if they didn’t, you wouldn’t have hired them. Let’s remind ourselves of what we really need to know in life.

Adaptability

Because when we wake up in the morning, we never know what the day will bring. One may learn, for example, that a potentially lethal and highly contagious virus, for which there is no reliable antidote, has entered our country by way of a meeting of executives employed by a prestigious biotechnology company.

When those who attended the meeting returned home and went about their daily lives, some of them infected people with whom they interacted. Very quickly first hundreds, then thousands, of citizens contracted the virus and many died. In an attempt to block the spread of the virus, governors in all 50 states ordered nearly half of commercial enterprises, plus all schools, government offices, libraries, museums and other public spaces, closed. So what did we citizens do?

We adapted as much as possible, that’s what. Grocery stores, the post office and other entities deemed essential were allowed to remain open. Many business owners and leaders found ways to keep their ventures functioning, with revisions.

Millions of knowledge economy workers used their personal computers to work from home, as department heads kept their teams united with videoconference meetings. Schools quickly switched from classroom to online learning (many colleges long ago added online courses).

Retail stores sold merchandise through their already robust e-commerce websites. Personal trainers and fitness instructors contacted their clients and followers and invited them to participate in outdoor workouts. We did what we had to do and we got by.

Creative thinking

Whether or not an out-of- the-box solution is needed, every once in a while it’s fun to bring innovative flair to a plain vanilla task. Whatever the motivation, resourcefulness and creative thinking are appreciated, because the need for an end run or a work-around can be part of daily life. Sometimes, one needs all of that just to get through the morning commute!

Creative thinking is often associated with the arts or architectural design. But during the COVID shutdown wedding planners, who were watching the ground give way beneath their feet, flexed their creative genius to reimagine weddings for panicked brides and grooms. That often meant broadcasting the ceremony virtually and rescheduling the reception for the following year.

Creative thinking can also reach back into the past for an innovative solution. This year, the New York Film Festival, barred from using shuttered movie theaters, will debut its contenders at drive-in theaters in the Brooklyn and Queens boroughs.

Credibility

Dependability, judgment and expertise are the three pillars of professional credibility. These attributes add up to trust and trust is what gets one hired and motivates customers to give referrals. People do business with people they like. They do more business with people they trust.

Communication

As it is often said, it’s not necessarily what you say, but how you say it. You’ve got to know how to talk to people.

One of the best ways to communicate with someone is to not talk (much), but tlisten. Use nonverbal cues to demonstrate that you are following the narrative. Ask questions to clarify or confirm what you think you’ve heard. Pay attention and let others know that you value them and their opinions (even when you see things differently).

Decision-making

Here’s the reality—-when a big decision is on the table, we seldom have access to as much information as we feel would be helpful as we weigh the possibilities. It is frustrating, to be sure, and we’ve all been there. The thought of taking the wrong path makes the stomach queasy.

But at some point, one must make a move and travel to the left or right, say yes or no, or leave well enough alone. Or, one can elect to put the matter aside and revisit it within a certain period of time.

If a decision carries impact, it cannot be ignored. The fear inspired tactic known as analysis- paralysis, where information is considered and reconsidered ad nauseum, is counterproductive. The best way to improve the quality of information to use as a guide for wise decision-making is to ask the right questions.

Problem-solving

Nearly every purchase one makes is intended to solve a problem, from a bottle of juice (thirst) to calling Lyft (door2door, on-time transportation). Whether the items your company sells are products or services, you’ll make more money when you 1.) understand the business you are really in, by thinking through the underlying motive for the purchase, beyond the obvious, and 2.) design your marketing strategies and sales pitch to reflect item #1.

Teamwork

Many hands make for light work. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Teamwork and collaboration lie between those warring poles and a real professional will persuade others to join him/her in the sweet spot.

Someone must step up and take the lead on a project of any magnitude. Those responsible can draw up an action plan, complete with due dates. Milestones or a mid-point check-in will help to keep everyone on schedule and ensure that mistakes have not been made.

If everyone holds up their end and the project is completed on time, you’ve got a team. If a mistake is discovered and corrected in a timely fashion with the help of your colleagues then congratulations, you’ve got a high-functioning team.

Time management

The ability to prioritize and organize, enabled by an action plan that includes target completion dates, are the three pillars of time management. Understand and get agreement from stakeholders and decision-makers regarding mission- critical tasks. Confirm that team members and other collaborators have the time to produce what has been asked of them within the desired time frame.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark, February 2019. Choreographic Objects, installation at the Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston by William Forsythe (a choreographer who works with world- class ballet companies)

What Scientists Know About Virtual Meetings

Experience has shown us that video meetings and face2face meetings are not interchangeable. Videoconference meetings, while very appealing in ways too numerous to list, nevertheless come with some noticeable drawbacks.

Video meetings are often a little stilted and sometimes borderline awkward. Participants can have trouble signing on. Wavering WiFi signals will cause one or two people to drop out for a couple of minutes, leaving them to struggle to reconnect, maybe by walking to another part of the room in search of a better signal.

Still, video meetings are great for remote team check-ins and board or committee meetings. We are social creatures and enjoy being able to see who we’re talking to. But as the meeting progresses it becomes clear that communication does not flow nearly as well as in our face2face meetings.

On top of access and connectivity issues that interrupt the meeting pace, normal conversation rhythm is also stymied, because video signals are slightly delayed. We try to compensate for unnatural pauses that cause people to talk over one another by waiting (usually too long) to respond.

Scientists who study human perception say that aside from the technical annoyances, the big problem with video is that it disrupts normal eye contact, especially how long and how often we look at each other. In a study led by Isabelle Mareschal, PhD, Psychology Department Chair at Queen Mary University in London, and her colleagues at their visual perception lab asked experiment subjects to watch a video of a face that turned to look directly at them. Study subjects initially found the gaze enjoyable, but after as little as three seconds most found the gaze to be unsettling.

Now consider the protocol at a virtual meeting—- we are expected to maintain unbroken eye contact with the speaker or risk being considered inattentive, if not rude. It’s just that our brain is uncomfortable with this practice. No wonder we find more than one videoconference per day to be draining.

Videoconferencing also disrupts what is known as synchrony, the unconscious call and response speaking rhythm that we lapse into when communicating face2face. Synchrony also persuades us to unwittingly mimic the body language and posture of the person we’re speaking with.

So we smile when we receive cues that our conversation partner will respond favorably if we do, or we’ll put on a serious facial expression when people in the room look worried or upset. “People start to synchronize their laughter and facial expressions over time,” says Paula Niedenthal, PhD, a psychologist and expert in the science of emotion at the University of Wisconsin/ Madison. She continues, “That’s really useful because it helps us predict what’s coming next.”

The ability to unconsciously and accurately predict our conversation partner’s emotional state is crucial to feeling connected, research shows. The problem with videoconferencing is that so many facial expressions—-that sparkle or cloud in the eyes, or subtle posture and hand gestures—-are obscured. We cannot consistently predict and validate the nonverbal cues of virtual meeting participants. We become vulnerable to feeling awkward and eventually, alienated.

Andrew S. Franklin, PhD, a psychologist at Norfolk State University in VA, says the first problem with Zoom is that the platform is programmed to continually show the user an image of him/herself, “So you’re trying to get out of the habit of staring at yourself.” That fascination, or discomfort, breaks the participant’s attention, drawing it away from the speaker and disrupting the transmission of whatever facial and body language cues one might otherwise pick up. Worse, that Brady Bunch Zoom meeting line-up, whether shown in a horizontal or vertical configuration on your device, brings in too many pairs of eyes to confront.

Daniel Nguyen, PhD, a scientist and director of (the global consulting firm) Accenture Lab in Shenzhen, China, investigated how people bonded (or not) while videoconferencing. For the experiment, Nguyen and his team divided study subjects into pairs: some conversing pairs used a video set- up that showed only faces; another video pairing set- up displayed face and upper body; the third conversation design was an in-person chat. As revealed in observations, the in- person pairs developed the strongest bonds and the face and torso set- up elicited bonding that was fully twice that of the face only set- up.

Furthermore, Nguyen prefers the vertical screen view on our phones over the horizontal screen view that desk models, laptops and tablets give us because the vertical view showcases more of the body and less background scenery.

Guided by the results of their experiment, Nguyen and his co-authors now sit a few feet away from their keyboards when in video meetings, so that their upper body will be visible. Providing your videoconference partners with a more expansive view of you helps them achieve synchrony with you and the potential for mutual bonding will be enhanced.

Nguyen and colleagues also have recommendations for your videoconference vocal style. “Ramp up the words that you’re saying,” he advised, “and exaggerate the way you say it.” To be honest, I don’t know how to interpret that bit of stage direction. How about we just avoid speaking in a monotone and add a little energy to our speech, taking care to speak a little more slowly and remembering to enunciate clearly?

Probably the most formidable obstacle of videoconference communication is how to develop trust when doing business. It’s not easy to build bonds, to truly get to know someone and develop lasting rapport through online encounters, even when you see who you’re talking to. Nguyen said his research found that, “In a videoconferencing situation, trust is quite fragile.” He and his team demonstrated that in video, “Trust is diminished overall.” Nguyen suggested that when building trust is critical, opportunities to meet in person at least some of the time will help build bonds that make remote collaboration more successful.

Elena Rocco, PhD, in a 1998 study at the University of Michigan Collaboratory for Research on Electronic Work, demonstrated that groups that connect solely online (in her study email was the online format) do not collaborate effectively. But when her study subjects were able to meet face2face for brief periods, their willingness to cooperate and collaborate rose dramatically. Face2face meetings make a difference and opportunities to allow in person meet- ups should be made, even when online communication is more convenient.

I feel that although working from home is all the rage now, in two or three years companies will move to reverse the trend and bring employees back to the office, at least for part of the week. Without reading any studies, I knew that virtual meetings can never adequately replace face2face interactions.

Ben Waber, President and co-founder of Humanyze, a company that creates software that allows organizations to map internal communications, understands very well how employees communicate and how their communication correlates to their company’s health.

Waber suspects that in the long run, a company’s culture and creativity risk declining in a heavily remote-working structure. Employees can’t get to know one another as well when they don’t regularly interact face2face. He predicts that profitable companies will initially continue to be profitable despite their significant dependence on virtual communication but damage will become evident a year or two down the line, when the quality of new ideas become less bold and innovative. He concludes, “I think we’re going to see this general degradation of the health of organizations.”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Doorway of the original location of the Forsyth Dental Infirmary for Children.

Rethink the Customer Experience

Well now this seems obvious, doesn’t it? Like the divide between BC and AD, the au courant paradigm shift is Before Coronavirus and After Coronavirus. Navigating life and business will change in ways that we cannot necessarily anticipate.

It is safe to assume that our clients are anxious to get back to the office and into the driver’s seat, to work on generating profits. But it’s probably also safe to assume that clients are uncertain about how to make things happen again.

In the After Coronavirus world, their reliable golden touch business model may no longer make the cash register ring. What were once considered business best practices may no longer apply. There may be new public health regulations to follow, such as the number of employees who can work on site at a given time, or the number of customers who can enter the premises, all in observance of social distancing.

Many businesses have lost a great deal of money as they simultaneously paid employees, rent, insurance, utilities, software licensing fees and other fixed expenses. The owners/ leaders are relieved that the doors are open again but there can be confusion about what “open for business” will look like now, at least in the short term. Added to the list of worries may be the possibility that certain employees might continue to work from home until further notice and the impact that will have on productivity, work flow and team communication.

In the After Coronavirus business environment, nearly every operation will undergo a shakeout and no one can predict the length of that period or the needs of the business as the new normal unfolds. As a result, the client experience that your organization has dependably provided will have to shift in response. The usual benefits linked to the usual client touch points have already lost their relevance and luster.

As noted in previous posts, trust, dependability and communication will be among your most valuable intangible competencies and may I also suggest that you add good listening skills to your toolkit? Listening, empathy, trust, dependability, flexibility, agility and big-picture thinking are the qualities and skills that will help you to help your clients rebuild. Listen actively and figure out your strategy.

Face2face meetings I think will be most useful as you refresh client relationships, but there are also ways to make virtual meetings both fun and profitable.

Surprise and delight your client by adding a personal touch to a virtual meeting with a take out order that arrives 10 minutes before the meeting start time. Send over something tasty, be it afternoon tea complete with scones or gourmet pizza and Italian sodas. Deliver the same menu to yourself and your team. When the videoconference goes live, tah- dah! everyone will share a meal and a memorable experience, whether simple or elaborate.

Your services may also need to adapt to the new universe that your clients now inhabit, so do your best to customize your offerings. Furthermore, your usual payment payment schedule, if not the pricing itself, may need to be adjusted. While keeping an eye on one’s own revenue and cash-flow needs, do what is possible to encourage sales and make pricing attractive.

As your clients rebuild, they bring you with them. None of us will get through these trying times alone. Collaboration and cooperation are the way.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Bank of America office on Washington Street in Boston, MA 02111.

Harnessing the Cloud: You’ve Got an App for That

Freelancers and other business owners are nearly always pressed for time and we need to get things done, quickly, efficiently and accurately. Advances in technology have yielded many apps that can make our lives easier and make us look good as we take advantage of their features. Below is sampling of free to low cost apps that will help your business.

 SIMPLIFIED GRAPHIC DESIGN

Canva. If you’re in need of professionally-designed marketing materials for your business but don’t have the budget to hire a graphic designer, you can successfully DIY with Canva https://www.canva.com. This useful app features attractive design templates that allow you to create beautiful visual content for the images that are the core of social media marketing. You can also design logos, brochures, infographics, business cards and templates for Instagram, Twitter and Facebook posts. Canva will also allow users to crop images and enhance photos. The website provides good support, including tutorials on how to use Twitter for marketing. The free version of Canva offers most of the features a Freelancer or business owner will need and an upgrade to the Pro version costs $9.95/ user/ month.

MANAGE RECEIPTS AND EXPENSES

Expensify. All those who travel for business must collect and organize a stack of receipts very soon after returning, whether you’re a Freelancer who must save them for quarterly taxes or an employee who must submit receipts to your boss.  Expensify makes an onerous task much more bearable by automatically scanning the printed paper receipts and adding them to pre-designed templates that facilitate a seamless transition into your electronic records. Other features include reimbursement calculation based on the number of miles travelled, hourly billable amount or wage, a choice of four currencies for calculation and synchronizing directly with your bank account. Free  – $4.99/ month for most users.

ACCOUNTING AND INVOICING

FreshBooks. If you operate a B2B knowledge economy service business that doesn’t need a high-powered accounting solution, then FreshBooks  will give your organization a user-friendly option that offers a lot of functionality. You can track billable hours here as well and also log receipts and send invoices from your smartphone or tablet. The service integrates with several others, including Basecamp, PayPal, Google Apps and ZenPayroll.  The basic plan starts at $15 a month and allows management of up to 5 clients. More fully featured versions allow unlimited clients for up to $50 a month.

NEWSLETTERS AND EMAIL MARKETING

Mailchimp. This easy-to-use email marketing tool is a go-to for Freelancers and small businesses. It offers easy-to-use templates and intuitive drag-and-drop email building that anyone can use to create a professional-looking email that will enhance your company’s reputation. It also allows you to automate your email campaigns and track subscribers, so you can make the most of your communications campaign. Plus, Mailchimp https://mailchimp.com offers easy integration with many popular e-commerce tools. The basic service is free, but many will want to upgrade to either the $9.99/ month plan, which provides custom branding email design or the $14.99/ month option, which gives users custom newsletter and email templates and marketing automation.

SCAN BUSINESS CARDS

ScanBizCards.  Rather than taking a card from someone with whom you’d like to follow-up, it’s much more efficient—and cooler—to scan the business card or even a conference name tag and know you have that important person’s information will be saved automatically in your phonebook. ScanBizCards

VIDEO CONFERENCES

Skype for Business. The classic video conferencing app is owned by Microsoft and the functionality of its infrastructure is versatile, powerful and seamless. The service offers free online meetings for up to 10 participants, set-up from any device, PC or MAC, Android, iPad, or iPhone and PowerPoint upload capability, Instant Messaging and a white board feature. Unlimited free video conferencing, instant messaging, conferencing and audio calling are also offered and  Skype for Business runs ad free and without interruptions— excellent for a business interview or discussion.  Explore the premium features through Microsoft Office 365—$6.00 / user/ month – $15.00 / user/ month.

TEAM COMMUNICATION AND COLLABORATION

Slack. There are several real-time messaging and file-sharing apps available, but Slack prevails as a result of its simplicity. It has DropBox, Asana, Google+ Hangouts, Twitter and Zendesk compatibility built into the app and the platform is very responsive and user-friendly. Every message is archived, so searching is quick and easy.  Free – $15.00/ month / user for premium services.

BILLABLE HOURS MANAGEMENT AND INVOICING

Toggl.  This timer tracks how you spend your time, making it an ideal support system for those who must record billable hours in order to accurately and quickly prepare invoices so that they will get paid, Freelancer friend. You can track as many projects or clients as you want and assign your hourly rate to each project, so that you can quickly calculate what you’re earning, export timesheets and sync your numbers with several project management apps. Toggl is priced from $9.00 / month /user for the basic service to $18.00/ month/ user for team time tracking and other premium services.  

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark September 7, 2018. Fog x FLO, a “fog sculpture” installation by Fujiko Nakaya (Japan) that appeared in five Boston locations from August – October 2018. Every hour from dawn to dusk, a blast of steam would be emitted by a special mechanism and the fog would appear—and disappear in a minute or two, depending on how the wind blew. The fog sculpture pictured here was across the street from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Email Writing Perfected

Now that you’ve completed your business plan, you’re ready to put it in motion. Here’s the guide that will make sure you know how to get your entrepreneurial groove on! In Be Your Own Boss, Part 2: The Implementation and Beyond, you’ll learn to recognize the strengths or weaknesses in your proposed business model and develop an effective customer acquisition plan. You’ll get insight into what you should consider when choosing the right legal entity for your venture. Learn to implement savvy marketing, branding and social media strategies, get real about business financing options and build a solid financial strategy that will sustain your dream. Thursdays April 18 & 25 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Register here.

Every day, the typical professionally employed adult sends and receives an avalanche of emails. In response, dozens of articles that address the challenge of email management have appeared in business targeted media outlets. Those articles are all somewhat helpful but my feeling is, when emails are effectively written fewer of them are written, because writers express themselves clearly and recipients understand how to respond.

As luck would have it, an amazing and highly organized polymath named Kabir Seghal, who is a U.S. Navy veteran, former Vice President at J.P. Morgan, Grammy Award-winning producer (Afro-Latin Jazz) and author of seven books in both the children and adult genres including Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How its History Has Shaped Us (2015) has stepped up to guide mere mortals in the fine art of email writing. Seghal applies lessons he learned while in the military when advising us on how to write the ideal email communication.

Subject line

Subject lines are crucial. They can determine when or even if your email is opened. The wrong subject line can result in your email being ignored or deleted. A powerful subject line communicates the purpose of the email and the action the writer would like the recipient to take. A sampling of subject line verbs include:

Action                                 Meet

Decision                             Request

FYI                                      Sign

ACTION:  The recipient must do something, usually within a certain time frame.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         frame.

DECISION: A decision must be made by the recipient, or a decision that impacts the recipient has been made.

FYI: For Your Information messages keep the recipient in the loop. Action is not required (choice of the recipient).

MEET: Consult your calendar and reserve time.

REQUEST: The writer seeks approval or permission from the recipient.

SIGN: The recipient must read and sign a document and return it with a certain time frame.

Bottom line up front (BLUF)

Begin the body of the email with a short statement that concisely answers Who, What, When, Where and Why to explain the purpose of your email and what you’d like the recipient to do. The BLUF distills the message and allows the recipient to easily digest the information you share and how s/he will be impacted. Seghal suggests that the writer lead with the heading Bottom Line to call attention to your email’s core messages.

Active voice

Seghal recommends that we use the active, rather than passive, voice when composing emails. It’s important to be clear about who has or is taking action, or who will be required to take action (and when) and the impact of that action.

Cut to the chase

Short emails are preferred by military personnel, but sometimes longer communications are unavoidable. Should your email exceed three paragraphs, follow-up your Bottom Line (BLUF) statement with bullet points, so the recipient can quickly focus on critical information.  Rather than adding files as attachments to the email, embed hyperlinks to the files and enable faster access.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Typist, circa 1930s.

 

6 Conversation Starters for Your Next Networking Event

At last! You’ve been thinking about going to a chamber of commerce meeting for three years and you’re finally doing it.  The speaker will address a relevant topic.  The weather forecast is good.  You know where to park.  The only downside is that you probably won’t know anyone in the room.

You’re not shy, but neither are you keen on ping-ponging around a roomful of strangers, in search of your next client, or at least someone to talk to.  You have no fear of meet and greets, but wouldn’t it be great if you knew some conversation starters that can steer folks away from the usual sports talk and “how’s business?” Let’s learn how to sidestep mindless small-talk and get into conversations that can launch a relationship.

  1. What subject has your attention right now?

When you’re meeting someone and searching for ways to connect, this question can open the door to a discussion about business, family, extracurricular activities, a much-anticipated vacation, even home renovations.  The person to whom you put this question will light up and be happy to talk and you’ll be on your way to building a relationship.

2.   What are you looking forward to?

This question opens the door to the person’s hopes and plans for the future.  Again, this makes it possible to start a real connection as the conversation progresses.  You communicate your genuine interest in that person and what s/he feels is important.

3.  What’s the best thing you’ve done this year?

Or what’s the smartest thing, or the luckiest?  Here, the person gets to distinguish him/herself and has the pleasure of boasting a little bit.  You’ll get to know what s/he values and what makes him/her proud.  You’ll gain some insight into the person’s past in this question.  You’ll get to know what makes him/her happy and also one of the sources of his/her self-esteem.

4.  What’s your story?

I’m careful with how I pose this question, to avoid appearing as if I’m looking to invade boundaries.  Maybe showing a bit of humor when you ask will make it go over well? Now you’ll give the person you’ve just met a chance to do what most of us adore—talking about ourselves! Here, you allow your new acquaintance to take center stage and discuss his/her past successes or challenges, reveal how s/he has overcome obstacles or taken advantage of opportunities and share his/her aspirations by shedding light on the road ahead.

5.  What are you currently reading?

Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Edith Wharton, or Stephen King? Getting to know someone through his/her choice of books is wonderful.  You’ll learn something important about your new acquaintance.  It’s possible that s/he seldom read books and instead prefers business journals and blogs and watching a lot of movies. Whatever.

While in conversation, you may be pleased to learn that you both enjoy certain authors (and actors) and that opens the door to an engaging conversation and the perfect opportunity to build a relationship, business and/or personal.

6.  How can I be most helpful to you right now?

An offer to help your new acquaintance to take a step closer to achieving a goal or objective is the highest compliment that you can extend and demonstrates that you trust him/her enough to put your reputation on the line on his/her behalf.  The building blocks for a relationship are about to be put into place.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Rosalind Russell as party hostess extraordinaire Auntie Mame (1958). The film won Best Picture and Best Actress (Rosalind Russell) Academy Awards.

 

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

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