Tag: Setting Expectations

Something that has long frustrated me about the professional services industry in particular is the thought that recruiting can be done in a silo, separate from delivery teams.  Sure, it is nice to have headcount dedicated to this activity as it can be incredibly tedious and time-consuming, and really doesn’t fit into most typical delivery models as far as bringing in the front-line teams to assist with much of the burden of recruiting.

It is really frustrating, though, to talk to recruiters who have a bulleted list of skills that are tied to a given role, position, or opportunity.  It is not a knock against the recruiter.  I know that they will only have surface level information at best.  But since their KPI’s are generally tied to ensuring those positions are filled (or a given budget/target is met for positions), they are likely going to severely embellish the opportunity and oversell the opening to the point where it seems like you’d be a fool not to jump on board with it.  And that is a horrible waste of everyone’s time.

It is highly important to take everything that is said in the recruiting process with a bit of caution, and be sure to discuss roles and responsibilities for the position with people who are well-versed in the needs (i.e. the front-line delivery teams that are working on that project or similar ones).  I have seen too many people jump ship from a great place just to find out that what they were sold for another position or company was way off base from what the expectations they had were.  One of the people I trust most in the industry said it best when she said “After all these years, I can confirm the grass isn’t greener on the other side; it’s brown everywhere”.  Now, before you indict this person and claim it’s blasphemy that green grass does exist, consider the fact that what they have effectively said is that there are pros and cons to every situation.  If you leave one company for more money, sure you may get a great pay bump – but maybe you’ll be pigeon-holing yourself into a technology/project phase that you loathe (ever had a “Testing Manager” role that made you swear you never wanted to execute another test case in your life?).  Or, perhaps you take the job at the sleek and sexy new startup with the local delivery model where you don’t have to travel.  I’ve seen a lot of people who do this get really frustrated with their roles on projects becoming merely staff aug for large in-town clients where they feel as though they get stale or lose their focus on continued advancement of skills and knowledge.

Regardless, I think there are tons of opportunities to improve the recruiting process.  And I think it all starts with putting the focus on the delivery teams.  Nothing is more frustrating than talking to a recruiter who claims to have insight into “what it’s like” when you’re staffed on a “typical project”.  No offense, but they 1) aren’t delivering projects, and 2) there is no such thing as a “typical project”.  So please – in the absence of more robust recruiting – please be cautious about who you talk to when shopping for roles, projects, or companies.  Do your own homework and talk to the right people.  Only then will you start to get a good feel for whether you will enjoy yourself as you try to acclimate to the new spot.

Til Next Time,

Michael

So – approaching a topic I mentioned previously, I wanted to make a couple quick observations about 2014 planning.  Everywhere in Corporate America, productivity takes a dip over the holidays (starting with Thanksgiving, culminating at New Year’s).  There’s no avoiding that.  What is interesting is how quickly people try to get back from 0-60 MPH right after 1/1.  Perhaps this is why the volume of my posts has subsided in the last couple weeks.  I’m totally fine with everyone having the “uh oh” moment realizing how much was supposed to kick off 1/1, but I still felt compelled to document some of my observations in the interim:

  • I think as people wrap up a year – there should be an extended blackout on activities such that nothing kicks off in earnest until 1/15
  • I realize this may be delaying the inevitable (turning the third week in January into the firestorm that is usually reserved for the first/second), but strongly feel that overloading everyone in the first full week after the holidays is useless because everyone is still mentally in vacation mode
  • Having to rework any of the items you half-mindedly try to tackle over the holidays into the first week of the new year is a huge risk and I see it happen far too often; and, you know how much I dislike rework :)
  • For a lot of people, “sorting through mail” is a huge chore; that’s not to say that people shouldn’t be better at it – but we really need to be aware of the fact that it will take many people at least one full week to get back to even 80% up to speed on activities (so please, stop the “Did you see my note?” discussions – nobody likes those pests… I really feel like we all have an opportunity to be smarter about how you approach people in this limbo period)
  • As far as financial activities go, professional services firm have an all out blitz on cash collection approaching 12/31, so we need to be mindful of overflow cash collection that happens in January and not immediately start grilling people for January collections on 2014 work; surely people in finance can be smarter about setting realistic expectations and navigating the year end better (even though I wholly agree that the burden needs to be shared by front-line and their role needs to be clearly communicated so they can share that insight with the buyers)
  • It all comes back to project planning; I don’t want to say that we should expect no work to get done between Thanksgiving and 1/15 (that’s just not realistic) – but sequencing activities so that some of the more tactical items can be accomplished in this time frame would be of best benefit (nobody wants to have the mega strategy session of the century with half of the leaders/stakeholders on Christmas Eve – as “great” of an idea as it sounds to “get it knocked out before kicking off the new year”)

I could go on all day, but wanted to share some of these thoughts in the short term since we’re all undoubtedly stuck in the rat race to get 2014 activities underway ASAP.

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

No, not the cool stuff you get at beer festivals or vendor conferences.  Rather, the “Scientific Wild A** Guesses” we all make sometimes in order to provide a somewhat-reasonable estimate when asked a seemingly difficult question about something’s progress, cost, or effort.

I am not fearful to admit: I’m a big proponent of SWAG (see my post on BS).  Not because I think it’s usually highly accurate within a great percentage of confidence, but because it starts to draw a line in the sand.  It gives a baseline to work from.  It gets everyone talking in similar terms.

I fear that far too often, everyone is afraid to quantize things in a manner that allows for healthy conversation.  People’s reluctance to SWAG (believe me, in the professional services industry, it’s practically a four-letter word…  wait…  bad #UnintendedPun?) leaves us talking in generalities, with no real sight on the prize or the end goal.  As long as you set the expectation that what you are providing is only an educated guess at best, clients and colleagues will (for the most part) be receptive of your guess.  Because, guess what?  You’ve been there before.  You know it.  They know it.  That’s all they are after: your professional opinion based upon year(s) of experience dealing with similar situations at similar clients in similar organizational circumstances.  The elephant in the room should be revealed – we all know there will be roadblocks.  We know there are setbacks.  It’s on us all collectively to manage through those and figure out ways to mitigate risks and work through issues.  That’s what we are all paid for.

So – next time someone asks you something that may be difficult to forecast – please don’t give them a traditional “Well, uh, you see, uh, it depends on a lot of things” (my least favorite consulting jargon ever).  It doesn’t help anyone.  You are losing credibility with your boss/coworker/whomever, and you aren’t helping set expectations and drive forward progress.  Just do it (apologies to Nike?).  Take a SWAG.

Til Next Time,

Michael

Hey Team!

Before I get too far down the road sharing life’s lessons, reflecting on positive and negative experiences, and generally blabbering much more than I should on topics you may never care about – I figured it would be appropriate to set expectations on where I see this blog going in terms of content and ideas.

After brainstorming for some time, engaging a couple colleagues and friends, I have come up with a quick list of topics I hope to tackle in the coming months and years. It is your job to keep me honest and let me know if I’ve missed anything (or not gone deep enough) in certain areas.

Strawman Topics:

  • Interpersonal Behavior (Developing Executive Presence, Collaboration with Teammates, Leadership, Sucking Up, Dealing with Status Monkeys, etc)
  • Meeting/Communication Etiquette (Effective Meeting Facilitation/Techniques, How to Compose Great E-Mails, Presentations/Powerpoint Decks, Status Reporting Essentials, etc)
  • Company Processes (Internal HR, Red Tape Rodeo, Operations Management, Performance Management and Reviews Processes, etc)
  • Company Policies (Time and Expenses, Technology and Device Management, Paid Time Off, Leaves Of Absence, etc)
  • Company Politics (Ability to Schmooze, Laddering, Career Progression, Understanding Organizational Design, What-To-Do vs What-Not-To-Do, etc)
  • Compensation (Salary, Variable Compensation, Commissions, 401k/Roth IRA & Employer Match, Raises, Negotiations, etc)
  • Travel (Air, Car, Hotel, Mileage, Dining, Points Optimization, etc)
  • Clients (Types, Locations, Industries, Cultures, etc)
  • Tools/Competencies (Microsoft Office, Collaboration Tools, Project Management, etc)
  • Technology (Functional, Technical, Certifications, etc)

As always, feel free to chime in or sound off – I’d love to hear your feedback!

Til Next Time,
Michael

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