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I have always been a believer in resolutions.  Looking at how I’ve approached my projects and assignments in the corporate world, I usually go into each new project with at least one or two things I resolve to do differently.  It could be something as simple as “doing a better job of documenting my accomplishments” to things more complex like “learning to better manage coworkers who have different collaboration styles”.  Either way, I think it is good to approach new situations with renewed spirit while keeping your eyes on the prize.

One caution though…  Make sure when you set goals or resolve to do things differently, that the stated objective (i.e. new behavior, added skill, altered approach) is attainable and realistic.  If you are setting yourself up to fail right out of the gate, it will do nothing but put a damper on your morale and ultimately have significant negative impact in the long run.  Nobody likes losing, and the moment you see that you are trailing on the scoreboard, that can psychologically create a scenario where you are racing to try and catch up or throwing Hail Mary’s to try and win the game.  And people that are operating under that umbrella or playing the catchup game are often cutting corners or not putting forward their best product.  If you’re a football fan, I am sure you’ve noticed how most of those plays end up.  Not well.  I’m not trying to say “Don’t reach for the stars”, but I think it is most fair to dream big while also giving yourself the shot at quick wins or more near-term success by carefully setting reasonable goals or making sound resolutions that can actually be achieved.

So – as we wrap up 2013 – what are you resolving to do differently personally or professionally?  Here is a light-hearted take on resolutions via Deadspin (CAUTION: beware of some rather foul language used for extra comedic effect though which is likely not safe for your work browsing unless you’re self-employed and roll like that) that I found rather humorous which may help you clear your mind and approach the activity with a bit more of an open mind.  And, whatever it is that you choose to do, best of luck!

Til Next Time,

Michael

Merry Christmas

A very Merry Christmas to you and yours!  It is my hope that you have a relaxing and enjoyable holiday.  May you also find some time to reflect on the year and identify opportunities and growth areas heading into 2014.  Most importantly though, cherish the time you have with your family and try to put some of the typical daily noise on hold.

Best wishes!

Til Next Time,

Michael

I polled my friends last week asking for a topic to blog about to kill some spare time over the holidays, and one of my close colleagues actually had a great idea for a piece on how to differentiate yourself in the workplace (whether you are fresh out of school entering your first job or perhaps heading to a new company or project).

If you think about it, people stand out in the workplace for many reasons.  There are physical attributes that may catch the eye as well as personality traits, work behaviors, collaboration profiles, among others.  At the end of the day, though, it is tremendously important to have self-awareness of these areas of uniqueness among us, as each of them generally pushes our needle in one way or the other among our colleagues: either more in their favor, or further away from them.

So what’s the right way to ensure you differentiate yourself as quickly and effectively as possible, without rocking the boat too much or creating a closet full of skeletons or enemies?  Well, I will be honest with you and say that I have nowhere near all the answers (or at least necessarily the right ones), but I’ll put down a few behaviors that I think may at least drive useful discussion or provide opportunities for self-reflection on the issue.

Good Behaviors for Differentiation in the Workplace:

  • Networking Downward in Addition to Upward: Often times, the people who are shaking hands and rubbing elbows up the food chain are the people who the rest of the workforce resents or considers “brown nosers”.  That is why I like to make the distinction that networking “downward” is equally as important as networking upward.  I have long held that the single most important person to be friends with in any organization is the administrative support staff.  They are really the people who run the business.  They are responsible for scheduling time on the higher-ups’ calendars, often times have shortcuts to navigate tedious or difficult procurement processes, and are generally nicer people to bounce ideas off of because they typically don’t have any sort of personal agenda or thoughts on deep functional matters over which they have zero responsibility or investment.  Building rapport with everyone throughout the organization is paramount to making a name for yourself, and often times lets you have a better attitude when roaming the halls because you always have someone to chat with.
  • Composing Polished Communications (EVERY Time): I thought about rephrasing this to be “…polished, concise communications…” but then realized I would be pointing a loaded gun at my own foot.  Either way (long or short), communications of all types must come across as polished, well-thought-out, and appropriate for the audience in order for the message to be received in the best possible manner.  Emotions like stress, pressure, bitterness, apathy, or even hatred stick out like a sore thumb in communications, as much make-up as you try to apply.  That is why it is really important to always think before you speak (or write) and proofread/polish often.  Whether it’s your spoken word, written notes, emails, or phone conversations, it is entirely too easy to be misunderstood.  So – take the time to eliminate that threat – and be sure to compose polished communications at all times.
  • Participating in Extra-Curriculars: Programs outside of your day-to-day 9 to 5 responsibilities are a great way to add character to the volume of work that would otherwise adorn your internal resume.  Joining charitable causes, assisting with internal initiatives, or scheduling and participating in work (or non-work) functions such as subject matter expert societies will not only increase your own competency, but it will expand your network and reach as well.  Pick something you are otherwise passionate about (e.g. helping children, feeding the homeless, caring for animals) and use it as a springboard to engage the support of your colleges by spearheading an activity for your coworkers.  You will be surprised at what the power of positive actions will do not only for your psyche, but also for your personal brand in the workplace
  • Dressing Properly: As I have mentioned before, dressing the part is critical to ensuring you are well-regarded in the workplace.  Even if you work in a dress casual work environment, taking the extra time to look just a bit better than the rest of the workplace will cause people to look at you and assume you are prepared, polished, and ready to work each and every day.  Doing the little things like dry-cleaning or ironing also help with coming across put together.  I will stress again, though, that it is not beneficial to take it too far.  Wearing a suit in an office place where jeans and button ups are the norm will make you look overdressed and out of place.
  • Selectively Opting in to Fire Drills: I am certain I will revisit the topic of fire drills in the future, but suffice it to say I generally make a habit out of avoiding them at all costs.  I think that they largely are created by people who are unprepared or indifferent towards doing real work, or onset by people who have the propensity to procrastinate (no offense to those people – I have been known to put myself under extraneous pressure by intentionally waiting until a moment’s notice sometimes as well…).  However – there are circumstances where stepping in to help in these situations will make you look like a great team player and give you the opportunity to provide leadership in order to help achieve a required outcome.  Stepping in to help on high profile projects that are critical to your business or functional area is something your colleagues and superiors will remember for a long time to come – especially if you made a significant contribution to arriving at something great.  Just don’t make a habit out of it – people will form a dependency on people like you and ultimately take you for granted.  And that’s the quickest way to ruin work-life-balance: always being the person going the “extra mile”, working the weekends, and maintaining late nights just to help someone who didn’t do an effective job of planning their project in the first place.  We should all agree to stop rewarding poor planning when it becomes the rule rather than the exception.
Just remember that in everything you do in and around the office (or even outside of it), you are adding to your work profile in one way or another.  If you don’t want to be adversely judged for your actions – think about doing something different.  It may not always seem “fair” to be judged for some of the things you think are petty or inconsequential, but I’ve always believed one thing to be true: life’s not fair.  Not trying to be pessimistic – just realistic.  Welcome to Corporate America.  Knowing and playing by the rules is a huge part of your success, and the ability to act appropriately within those confines is something that will leave you prepared for the next level in any endeavor you choose.

Til Next Time,

Michael

Time Management

How you manage your day is paramount in your ability to have a long a fruitful career.  That being said, we can often get clouded on a daily basis by distractions such as continuously checking email, double and triple threading ourselves on meetings, and generally using work time to accomplish anything other than work (Facebook anyone?).  So how can we take steps to more effectively manage our time?  What tips or tricks are available for increasing productivity while also allowing ourselves time to breathe?  Is Work/Life Balance really possible?  That’s up to you.

I found a good article today that tackles the concept of time management and wanted to share it with you all.  Michael Wolfe (serial entrepreneur) takes the opportunity to share some of his secrets on managing his day, week, year, and even decade in this piece and gives some great feedback for pursuing the ever-evasive sense of accomplishment.  While it is written from more of the entrepreneurialism lens, I think it provides a good framework for looking at your life and your career through defined lenses and keeping your attention focused on your main goals.

I’m sure I will revisit the topics of Work Life Balance and managing your time from the professional services industry point of view in many posts to come, but thought this was noteworthy enough to at least drive some candid conversation and reflection.

Til Next Time,

Michael

A new non-profit called code.org has recently completed an “Hour of Code” benefit as part of the Computer Science Education Week (CSEW), whereby they attempt to engage as many students as possible to take a 1 hour tutorial on coding.  Endorsed by big names such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Chris Bosh, this is the first year that the CSEW has really hit the mainstream media with such big names thanks to the sponsored coding tutorial.  Big props to everyone involved for taking this step as I continue to believe this should be our single greatest priority for all education platforms of the future: continuing technical education for today’s youth.

So, apparently there are a few other people out there that believe the same way I do from my previous post on Technology in Society!  It  was actually really cool to see around 15 million students learn 1 hour of code.  Let’s hope that this may have captured even a small portion of those kids to pursue studies and careers in coding and technology.

Here’s the full story.

Til Next Time,

Michael

Priorities

A wise person once told me to eliminate “I don’t have time for _______” from my vocabulary and replace it with “_______ has not yet become a priority for me”.  And if you think about it, they’re right.  Every time we say things like this, it’s usually as a crutch to hide the real truth.  If I say “I don’t have time for going to the gym”, what am I really saying?  I am saying “Going to the gym has not yet become a priority for me”.  We have time to do anything we want – it may just mean foregoing other opportunities or planned activities.

Bringing it back to the workplace, let’s talk for a minute about how we fill up our calendar and spend our time via prioritization.  Prioritization sounds like something extremely simple and straight-forward.  If I have a list of ten things, I simply need to put them in order or sequence for completion and start knocking them out.  Some of them may be big, some small, but all in all – they have to get done in a certain order in a certain amount of time to satisfy a colleague, a boss, a project, or some other external factor.  And that’s how I prioritize them (or, often times, how I let someone else prioritize them for me).

But, I have found that prioritization always seems to be a lot more difficult than that or yields a poorly prioritized set of tasks.  At a minimum, in my experience, the ability to effectively prioritize things (whether they are projects themselves, tasks, or effort/focus as a whole) is something that is widely lacking across the majority of Corporate America.  Everyone likes to think that they are masters of prioritization, but they usually land on prioritizing the wrong things at the wrong time to drive expected results.  And, once you start chasing your tail, it’s really hard to course correct or reset the clock.

So what’s the answer?  How should prioritization be approached in order to ensure, at a minimum, a greater chance of prioritization occurring accurately enough to fulfill originally stated objectives/mission in a relatively appropriate timeframe?  As with most things, I don’t claim to have all the answers.  But, in my overly-logical and methodical approach to life (at some point I’ll reveal my Myers-Briggs/DiSC/etc profiles and my wider thoughts on those programs – it will be wildly anti-climactic, trust me), I think I can provide at least a blueprint or skeleton of things to consider in your own quest to reach an accurate prioritization:

  • Consider the size, schedule, cost, and complexity of initiatives: Sure, it may sound great to do the hardest, most expensive, longest project first because it has the greatest return – but is there opportunity to knock out a few shorter-term or easier projects to give quick wins back to the organization/team in parallel to kicking off a wider effort with the massive project?
  • Consider your senior leadership and the organizational landscape: What will make the senior team happiest?  What will have the best benefit for the business as a whole?  Asking these types of questions ensures you are keeping your leadership happy and likewise considering yourself and your efforts in the context of the larger group, which may very well already have corporate strategic goals in place that make certain efforts of yours more important (at least on the perception side) than others.
  • Consider your peers and business partners: What types of projects are they completing or taking on sooner which may have synergies or ties to your efforts?  Does sequencing your projects in a certain way make more sense to align efforts and consolidate integration/change management/rollout efforts?  Killing two birds with one stone is always preferable to reinventing the wheel in my experiences.
  • Consider seasonality and planned downtime: Does your organization typically have lots of down time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s?  Will it be really difficult to hit a January 1 launch given all that time off?  Are other people thinking the same as you and trying to cram everything to hit a specific date in which case it might not make sense to have everyone launch their new projects/processes at the same time?  Are there scheduled events which need to be considered prior to developing a roadmap/implementation strategy/plan
  • Consider the existing pipeline: Similarly, it is extremely rare that we get to prioritize new initiatives or develop roadmaps in a silo.  There is almost always already some set of planned activities that are non-negotiable (or, at a minimum, will need to be a lens while reviewing your own priorities), and those have to be taken into account when embarking on any new greenfield set of priorities.
  • Consider the morale of the team: Lastly, and (in my opinion) most importantly, how will the people who are directly (or indirectly) impacted by this event or effort receive the project/task?  Change for the sake of change is never a good thing – people need to know WIIFM (What’s In It For Me – another topic I will revisit many times I’m sure in the not so distant future).  There are projects that boost morale, and those that drain it; be sure you aren’t piling on too many of the draining ones in your sequence, and ensure your prioritization is manageable on the people side.  If you’re unsure of how your project or task may be received – ASK!  People love the opportunity to spill their own ink on plans; it creates a sense of ownership in them (and I have found that people will work much harder if they know they had a hand in the recipe).

Again, I know these may seem to be basic and largely common sense tips, but you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve seen prioritization fail even with the brightest of teams.  So, next time you go to roadmap or prioritize a set of efforts, please have some consideration.

Til Next Time,

Michael


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