Month: July 2011

Know Your Options: Yes, No and “24 Hours”

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We’ve all worked with the person who never, ever says “No.”  You know the guy; he cheerfully says, “Yes!” to every request….then finds himself snowed under and in a terrible mood when all the bills come due, working long hours, not responding to emails or voice mails and all too often, not delivering.  This career-limiting approach damages your reputation and the reputations of anyone who needed you to keep your commitments in order to deliver on their commitments.

When you get a request, you have three options: “Yes,” “No,” and “Give me ’24’ hours.”  Let’s take a look at each:

OPTION 1: “YES!”

All of us want to say ‘yes’ to most requests.  Part of this is the drive to add value and the other is the desire to be seen as someone who is part of the team and who doesn’t play “not my job.”  However, “Yes” is a one way answer.  Once you’ve said it, you now have to deliver and there will be little that your boss can do to get you out of the particular corner in which you’ve painted yourself.  This doesn’t mean you should never say ‘Yes’; rather, this means that when you DO say “Yes,” make damn sure you have the bandwidth, resources and knowledge to deliver on your commitment.  You, your brand and your stakeholder(s) are all at stake.

For those of us with teams, a “yes” often times means committing your team to work that THEY may not have the bandwidth to deliver.  In this case, go with the “24 Hours” approach, letting the requestor know that you will talk with your team and get back to them on if/when you can deliver on their request.  Don’t “yes” your team into a commitment on which they can’t deliver (and thanks to Morgan Hunter who posts at Lotus MBA for this important reminder).

OPTION 2: “NO”

We rarely like to refuse a request at work.  As above, this comes from our desire to add value and to be viewed as someone who is an active contributor to the business.  However, sometimes “No” is the right answer – particularly if you don’t have the bandwidth or resources to deliver.  This is where having a clear, strategic agenda pays off.  You can ask yourself if fulfilling the request will also provide an opportunity to move the ball forward in advance of your or your team’s strategic goals.  Further, you can always backtrack from “No.”

When you have to say “No,” include a “but.”  Here’s what I mean; if you cannot fulfill the request yourself, you have the option of connecting the requestor with someone else who can fulfill their request.  This way, you add value by connecting the requestor to a resource who is able to help out.   Now, please don’t make the mistake of saying something like, “I think Joe can do that – let me check with him.”  Although you didn’t necessarily make a commitment on Joe’s behalf, you DID mention his name in relation to the request and if he can’t deliver…..well, you get my point.  No names until you’ve checked with “Joe.”

Make a point of following up with the requestor to make sure your referral was able to help.  Also, if “Joe” says “Yes,” follow-up with Joe, too.

OPTION 3: “GIVE ME ’24 HOURS'”

If you think you may be able to deliver on the request, but you don’t have enough information to give a definitive “yes” or “no,” ask if you can get back to the requestor in a specified amount of time (“24 hours” is just an example).  Keep the timeframe minimal and make sure you remember to get back to the requestor within the timeframe that you have set.

Refer to Options 1 or 2 once you give your answer, and be clear if there are any contingencies in your response (especially if your “Yes” relies on someone else to deliver something first).

SUMMARY

Ultimately, we all want to add value at work and to enjoy a well-earned reputation for being a reliable and consistent member of the team.  This doesn’t necessarily mean saying “Yes,” to everything, but it does require you to clearly judge your ability to fulfill a request to meet or exceed the requestor’s expectations and being very clear about your answer.  Also, “No” and “24 Hours” provide your boss with some options if you run into trouble, but “Yes” is “Yes;” you have to deliver.  Be honest, be practical and be consistent.

© 2011, Mark E. Calabrese

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The Responsibility of Judging

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One of my pet peeves is when someone says its wrong to judge.  Apart from the fact that the statement itself is a contradiction, I would challenge anyone to go for more than five waking minutes without making some kind of judgment.  Judging in an inescapable part of being a conscious entity and in the end, we all have a responsibility to judge.  Therefore, it is essential that we learn to judge responsibly.

Leaders must be willing and able to make difficult decisions that are fair, reasonable, consistent and in the best interests of the business and the people who make up that business.  This doesn’t mean that we anoint ourselves as judge and jury about everyone in the office, but it DOES mean that we have a responsibility from time to time to make judgments – sometimes difficult ones – as part of our role in protecting the organization’s culture.

Some things to consider in applying this principle:

  • Fairness: First and foremost, your standards must be fair and reasonable.  Holding oneself and others to unattainable standards makes no sense.  At the same time, you’re doing no one a favor if your standards are too lenient.  Expect the best out of yourself and others and act accordingly.
  • Consistency: Apply your standards consistently, irrespective of the individual or situation.  Consistency is not only the right thing to do, but it also builds your personal brand as someone who has integrity.
  • Tact: There’s no need to hold forth on your standards or how you view the act of judging.  Let your actions speak for you.  This isn’t about branding yourself as ‘the judgement guy’; it’s about fidelity to your principles.
  • Learn: While its essential to maintain integrity and consistency, you also need to be open to one very important fact; you could be wrong.  In the end, it’s better to BE right than to APPEAR right, so always be open to assessing your own thinking.  Wanting to BE right, means you have to be open to being straightened out from time to time.

We get into trouble when we judge others in a way that isn’t fair.  We also get into trouble when we take it upon ourselves to judge unnecessarily.  As leaders, we need to make judgments about people when we hire, coach up, coach out and promote our teams.  Accept the responsibility of judging and do so with integrity, consistency and tact.  Exemplary leadership demands consistency, leadership by example and fairness.

© 2011, Mark E. Calabrese

The Value of Daily ‘Stand Up’ Meetings

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In reading Patrick Lencioni’s “Death by Meeting” a few years ago, I came across a simple and effective idea: the daily ‘stand up’ meeting.  Often employed in Agile development, the concept is a simple one; the project team meets for 10 minutes each day for a quick meeting where everyone literally “stands up” and the focus is on three simple questions:

  1. What did you do yesterday?
  2. What are you doing today?
  3. What do you need from me (the project manager, business sponsor, etc.)?

I’m currently working with some great clients who are making good use of this approach.  We meet every morning, knowing the agenda (above) in advance.  After about 5 minutes of respective prep work, the participants are ready to go.  Everyone understands that issues that only impact several members of the team are to be addressed after the meeting in a smaller group, made up of those stakeholders.

I think there are several benefits of this approach:

  • Teaches participants to collaborate to conduct highly efficient, content-rich meetings
  • Allows everyone to hear each other’s expectations of the day and each person’s take on what they believe they did the day before, providing a great opportunity to catch any problems, miscommunications, accountability issues or potential risks
  • With strong leadership of the meeting itself, the team remains focused (the leader will need to work hard to enforce the ground rules while at the same time not taking a dictatorial approach to running the meetings)
  • Significantly reduces the chances of unpleasant surprises

If you choose to employ this method, a few tips:

  • Prepare ahead of time and insist that all participants do the same
  • Everyone should be on time
  • Minimize distractions – make sure everyone is focused on the speaker and not sending emails, texting, making/taking calls
  • Stay focused, but make sure that any topics brought up that aren’t appropriate for all participants but that are critical to the project are acknowledged and dealt with as soon as possible after the meeting

While the ‘stand up’ meeting isn’t a substitute for a more comprehensive weekly project team meeting, its great way to manage expectations, make sure the team is communicating, and to manage risk.