The Voice for Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row, P.E.

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According to a June Gallup poll, 54% of workers surveyed said they are currently not engaged, meaning they are “psychologically unattached to their work and company.”

Another 14% said they are actively disengaged, meaning they “have miserable work experiences and spread their unhappiness to their colleagues.”

The number of engaged workers dropped 7% from the month prior, which counted as the most significant dip in employee engagement over the last 20 years.

If you’re currently struggling to lead your team under strange new circumstances, you’re clearly not alone. Often times people think leadership training is learning how to manage or control what other people think and do – i.e. how to motivate them, how to get them to listen better, get along with each other and perform at a higher level.The truth is, a lot of the work I do is actually focused on getting individuals in management to better understand themselves.

Yes, leadership is being able to motivate a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. However, what most people often don’t realize is that we must get to know ourselves, first, so that we can understand how our own thoughts and behaviors are (or, aren’t) influencing the people within our organizations.

How do you behave at work? What work style and communication traits are associated with you?

There’s an African proverb, “The camel never sees its own humps, but that of its brother is always before its eyes.” Others see your style. Do you?

Over the years, I’ve found that technically skilled people (like me – an engineer) do not often have an innate ability to be self-observant. We’re like the camel. We see the humps of those around us but not our own. As a manager, you need to know your work and communication style. Thankfully, there are tools like DNA Behavior, DISC, Strength finders, Enneagrams, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator that provide insights into your behavior. If you don’t naturally observe your behavior, these tools can be particularly helpful. Even if you are self-observant, these tools still offer aha-moments about yourself.

Today, let’s examine your strength and communication style.

Strengths.

What’s your go-to strength? Your strengths come naturally to you. So naturally, in fact, that you may not even notice them. When I work with coaching clients, we do exercises to identify strengths and I frequently hear, “Wow. I didn’t know that was a strength! I thought everybody could do that.” Your strength is hiding in plain sight, but it’s hiding. Let’s find it.

Pretend that you are faced with a difficult work problem. It’s a dilemma. How do you approach it? When you get stuck, on which behavior do you consistently fall back? For example, when I’m perplexed by a problem I think, “Okay. Let’s take a step back and see the big picture. What’s the goal and the steps to reach the goal?” My ability to see the big picture and dissect the problem into core elements for action is a key strength for me. I thought everyone could do this but I was wrong. It’s my superpower. What’s yours?

What do you do when the going gets tough? Do you:

  • Dive into the research
  • Gather all the details
  • Collaborate so that all are engaged
  • Start with the big picture
  • Create a step-by step process
  • Seek to know the people involved
  • Network
  • Consider the personalities
  • Assess the office politics
  • Look for trends

Your natural approach to a tough situation likely reveals clues to a key strength. What is it for you?

Advanced consideration: Overused strengths.

For those of you who want more advanced consideration, take your strength to the next level. You should feel good knowing your strength as it is always available to you. That’s good news. However, you probably heard the saying, “If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” That’s the case with your strength. You will try to use it ALL THE TIME whether it fits or not. As I mentioned, my strength is being goal driven…every day. That’s been a formula for success most of the time but not all the time. I learned a hard lesson when a staff person came to me in tears thinking that I didn’t like her because I never spoke to her. I never spoke because I was wrapped up in prioritizing goals in my head each morning as I walked past her desk. I over-used my strength.

What about you? Are you a great collaborator but collaborate so much that you miss opportunities? Are you exceptional at managing office politics to the point that you can’t be candid? Are you skilled at gathering and analyzing data to the point of analysis paralysis? Where have you over-used your strength?

Communication styles.

Your communication style is another “hump” or trait that is on display everyday. What is your natural communication style? Here again, assessment tools (DNA Behavior and DISC, for example) give clues to your communication styles. Without self-awareness, you are likely to use this style whether it suits the situation or not because your natural style is the easiest for your brain to enact. In order to manage your approach, you first must be aware of it.   Consider a time when you were under pressure. How did you communicate to others or what type of communication worked best for you?

Are you:

  • Quick or cautious
  • Direct and candid or tactful and polite
  • Drawing visuals or writing words
  • Collaborative or in control
  • Quick to get to the point or prefer to chat first
  • Conceptual or data driven
  • Considered or hasty
  • Speaking your mind or holding your tongue
  • Intense or restrained

Advanced consideration: Your communication style from other perspectives

You’ve considered your communication style but how does that style come across to peers and staff? They experience your communication style every day. It may not be what you think.

You think you’re being succinct, and they see it as brusque. You think you’re being flexible, and they see it as wishy-washy. This is where 360 tools can bring compelling insight. Consider your last interaction. How would you describe your communication style? Now consider it from other’s perspective. How might they have perceived it differently? Is there someone you trust with whom you can ask – “How did that conversation come across?”

By examining your strengths and communication styles you move past the proverbial camel. You have a sense of your “humps” and that makes all the difference.

If you see the power in knowing yourself, you may be interested in my mini-coaching program. It uses a simplified self-assessment tool followed by an individual session with me. Clients walk away with a surprising amount of information about their strengths and communication style. As one client said, “The results…opened up new ways to see myself and position myself for future positions. The bottom-line impact is greater confidence and that’s critical.”

Click here to contact Shelley for more information

 

Reference

Harter, Jim. (July 2, 2020). Historic drop in employee engagement follows record rise. Gallup. Retrieved from: https://www.gallup.com/workplace/313313/historic-drop-employee-engagement-follows-record-rise.aspx

In times of uncertainty, be certain of what your team needs from you

As a leadership trainer and coach for over a decade, I can’t help but consider how significantly this ongoing pandemic has pulled back the curtain to reveal some of the most effective and glaringly ineffective fundamental principles of leadership.

From world leaders to business leaders, one’s ability to provide empathy, patience, decisiveness, focus and transparency – which, by the way, are all qualities that my research indicates are the most desired and least common traits among engineering leaders –has never been more needed.

Right now, many employees are being asked to juggle a lot and still perform at the same high levels. This after some have experienced pay decreases, have no access to childcare, are feeling “Zoom fatigue ,” social isolation, and much more. Plus, we’ve all become heavily reliant on digital communication tools instead of traditional face-to-face contact, which always increases the risk if false assumptions and misinterpretation of one’s intended tone.

It is in these times that your staff needs you to be all of the things that make the best leaders great.

So, I have to ask…How are YOU making an effort to stay engaged with your virtual teams? And, do you know what it is they wish you knew about them?

When you download a new app, buy a new phone or acquire the latest cool technology like Alexa, you learn to use it. You explore its capabilities, you learn how it works, and over time you learn how it can assist you.

Do you make that effort with your staff? Do you learn their capabilities? Do you know how they work best? (We explored that in the last newsletter.) Do you know what they enjoy? Do you know what gives them joy? Do you know what makes them tick?

Your staff work better in an environment that values their humanness. That means working with people who know more about them than the due date for their next deliverable. Like learning a new app, it takes time, but it doesn’t take THAT much time if you have a few astute questions at your disposal.

Here are five questions you can use today to give you more insight into what makes them tick.

  1. What’s new with your kids (grandkids)? Most people love to talk about their kids or grandkids. Use this as an intro to learn about them. If the child excels in math, ask, “Did she learned math from you?” If the grandkid plays baseball, ask, “Did you enjoy baseball as a kid?” This opens a conversation that gives you more insight about your employee. For example, early in my career, as a young woman engineer, I needed to work with an older gentleman known to be brusque and grumpy. No matter the topic, it was like working with a stone wall. One day we met in his office and I noticed photos of children (see question 5). Without thinking I said, “Who are all the kids?” His demeanor transformed instantly. He relaxed, smiled and even glowed. “Those are all my grandkids!” Thirty minutes later we started our work conversation but, this time, it went smoothly and achieved results. Our professional relationship was better from then on.
  2. What are you doing for a vacation? Why did you choose that? One staff person tells you they went on a Carnival cruise to the Bahamas and another person says they went to Tibet and meditated with the monks (my last vacation). That information alone gives insight into what makes them tick. Your next question is, “Why did you choose that?” Or, “What was your favorite part of the trip?” This peeks into the attributes they value. The Bahamas cruiser they might say, “I loved traveling to a new place without worry.” The Tibet traveler might say, “It recharged my soul to sit quietly and reflect.” You hear hints of the inner clock that makes them tick.
  3. How did you decide to work here? If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? The answer may tell you that this person stumbled into the job, or they had family connections, or they passionately pursued the position. In any case, there will be an interesting tidbit. Your follow-up for more information: “If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing.” And if you’re really curious ask, “If you could do anything, what would you do?” You may be surprised at the answers! (Broadway performer, for me…in case you’re wondering!)
  4. What’s your favorite thing to do outside work? One of my staff was an acclaimed lacrosse player in college. Who knew? I didn’t until I asked about her hobbies. She coaches girls lacrosse. What do your staff outside of work? One of my clients participates in a mud run every year. It’s a connection to his Marine Corp roots. This is a simple question that opens new lines of conversation and indicates a sincere interest in a world beyond work.
  5. Tell me about these photos (or anything you notice in their office). It looked like a black and grey lump on the corner of my bookcase. The occasional astute observer would notice it and ask, “What’s that?” It was a chunk of asphalt. “Why do you have a chunk of asphalt?” It was a going away ‘gift’ when I left my highway job in North Carolina. In that short exchange, the guest gained insight into my background and knowledge they never expected. What do you observe in the office of your staff? Ask them about it. Even the décor will spill the beans about what makes them tick. Maybe there’s a Ravens ball cap, a photo on a mountain top, a beautiful lamp positioned just so. All are conversation starters to give you more information about your staff.People aren’t that different from a well-designed, intuitive app. Clues about what makes your staff tick are in plain sight if you ask. Ask, so that they know your interest in them goes beyond businessClick here to download a pdf checklist to learn about your staff and others.

It seems like a good idea to use your existing senior staff to develop and conduct leadership training for mid and up-and-coming engineer managers. After all, you’re already paying them and they have proven leadership skills. Why not use them to train others?

They may be proven leaders but are they proven educators? Are they trained in designing content to achieve specific behavioral goals? Are they skilled in creating a program that is engaging, memorable and “sticky”? Do they have time to provide follow-up?

Interviews with dozens of senior leaders shows that most companies – if they provide leadership training at all – provide training developed and delivered by their own staff. While it sounds good on the surface, it’s a bad business decision.

  1. Consider the cost of time invested in the participants. The time spent at the training program by attendees is pure overhead. There are no billable hours for the participants or in-house instructors. The attendees are not billable neither are they doing business development or client relationship development. What is the cost of their time alone? Go ahead. Add it up. It’s big. Now, add in the lost opportunity costs. You need the time spent in this program to be high impact with high retention and real-world application.

  2. Consider the opportunity cost of the instructors. You likely have senior staff with deep experience in the company conducting the training. These are some of your highest paid people. Instead of focusing on business development, client relationship management and billing out their time, they are pulling together a training program that isn’t part of their core job, creating materials and taking time from their day to conduct the training. Better for these talented, experienced people to inform the leadership program development using their years of experience and familiarity with the organization. With a smaller outlay of their time in training development, you keep them focused on the work that pays the bills.

  3. Consider the quality of the material. Your senior people are skilled leaders but are they skilled trainers? And do they have the time available to create a thoughtful, impactful, and memorable development experience? More likely they are pulling together word-filled slides in their spare moments or dusting off their session from last year. It takes a lot of dedicated, uninterrupted time to craft a program designed for lasting behavior change. A quality program worthy of the investment in your staff deserves a pro who knows how to create and deliver training that matters. Afterall, you wouldn’t use a geotech engineer to do hydraulic design. Use the right professional for the right job.

  • Separate business process training from leadership development. Use your in-house staff to provide business process training including everything from filling out the time sheets to writing a proposal in your style. Your managers know these issues better than anyone. It’s important information that suits them perfectly.

  • Use a leadership development expert for leadership development. A skilled outside person will talk to your senior staff to gain perspective on your unique needs. They then bring objectivity, experience and skill to the leadership development program.

  • Ask specific questions to get the right person. It pays to be picky. There are lots of people who provide leadership development. You don’t want just anyone. Ask questions and look for these attributes:
    • Experienced. You want demonstrated background in leadership training and with real-world experience leading an organization. Plus, look for someone with experience in your field. Their examples and information will be more relevant.
    • Customized. Your staff isn’t cookie cutter. Your professional development program shouldn’t be either. Ask if they will customize the program to meet your goals.
    • Engaging design. Ask about the level of engagement. You want a learning experience not a set of slides and a lecture.
    • Captivating speaker. What is their speaking background? Have they studied speaking and training? Tip: Ask if they are members of the National Speakers Association. That will tell you if they have expertise in their field.
    • Follow-up. How is follow-up built into the program? One-and-done won’t cut it. The brain doesn’t learn that way. Behavior change takes repetition. How is repetition and practice built into the program?

At the end of the day, for the money and opportunity costs you incur in your professional development time, you can’t afford not to make that time count. Separate business development from leadership development. Let the professional support you, your staff and your clients deserve for future leaders.

Think a leadership development expert with these qualifications doesn’t exist?
When you choose to work with Shelley Row, PE, CSP you get:

  • Experience. Ms Row is a former senior executive for the US Department of Transportation and former association executive. Today she is the CEO of Shelley Row Associates.

  • Custom. Shelley Row works with you and your staff to define your goals and create an interactive learning experience that your staff will remember and apply.

  • Science-based. Shelley’s programs are grounded in neuroscience and informed by dozens of interviews with respected leaders in the transportation field.;

  • Certified Speaking Professional™ (CSP). As a CSP, Ms Row captures and holds the attention of your staff so that they are attentive and engaged.

  • Follow-up. Shelley’s programs include follow-up so that the learning is applied, practiced and remembered.

Want to know more? Contact Shelley Row now.

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Exhausted after a Day of Zoom Calls? Four Tips to Manage Your Energy in a Virtual Environment

Meeting after meeting after virtual meeting. It’s exhausting. Have you noticed that meeting online all day is more exhausting than if you were meeting in person? How can that be? You’re calling in from your home or an almost-empty office. You may even be in jeans and flip flops. And yet, all this virtual exchange is draining. 

A few weeks ago, I shared the Over-Thinker’s Guide to Working at Home Effectively. This week we’re adding a new installment to that Guide. We’ll explore techniques you can use to manage your energy so that you are less fatigued by online meetings during the virtual workday and reserve energy for the work that really counts. 

 Let’s start with an understanding of why a day filled with virtual meetings is draining. Think about a typical meeting you would have in your office. Everyone sits around a table. You glance at your papers, your phone, you look casually around the room at the people. Some sit nearby and others farther away. Without realizing it, your eyes focus up close and at a distance. You make eye contact with one person than another.

Now consider a virtual meeting. Instead of looking around the room, near and far, you stare into the screen at faces within a 14” inches of each other. All this staring tires your eyes and contributes to “digital eye strain” including eye fatigue, dry eyes, headaches and more. Did you know that when staring at a screen, you blink less frequently – only about one-third as often as normal – and many of those blinks during computer work are only partial lid closures. 

Those weary eyes contribute to your feeling of weariness. Plus, without glancing around, you tend to be hyper focused on the image on the screen. Your brain is continuously at attention. This part of the brain is the highest energy part of the entire body and it’s not designed to operate at attention all day. But that’s what you’re demanding of it with on-screen meetings one after the other. Your brain drains your energy leaving you even more tired than usual at the end of the day and bleary-eyed. 

Here are four tips you can incorporate into your day to assist with online meeting fatigue. 

  • Use a phone instead. That’s right….a phone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the extra connection that video provides; however, if you a) know the person and b) you’re having a day filled with Zoom meetings, switch to the phone. I bet you’ll notice the mental relief immediately and your eyes will thank you. 
  • Take notes during the meeting. Taking notes (on paper) or doodling your thoughts about the meeting (on paper) require you to look away from the screen. You’re still listening but your eyes have a chance to change their focus away from the screen. The back and forth, up and down between the screen and the paper exercises the eyes and helps your brain process differently and stay more present.
  • Give your eyes and brain a break between meetings. You may not always have control over your online meeting schedule but when you do, intentionally plan a break between Zoom, Webex, Teams or other sessions. During your break relax your eyes by walking away from the computer and gazing outside into the distance. Eye care professionals say to exercise your eyes by looking away from the screen at least every 20 minutes and gazing at a distant object (at least 20’ away) for at least 20 seconds. Looking far away relaxes the focusing muscles inside the eye to reduce fatigue. This gives your eyes a break. To give your brain a break, do something mindless for a few minutes. Put clothes in the dryer, step outside to feel the sunshine, walk around the block, bring in the mail, or, my favorite, close your eyes for a 2 to 5-minute meditation. These small tasks give the brain a break and revive your energy.
  • Keep the meetings short. This may not always be possible but if you can, keep meetings at 45 minutes or take short breaks throughout a longer meeting. Even though you wouldn’t typically take a break during an in-person meeting, on-line meetings are different. Short breaks help maintain attention for everyone and keeps eyes more rested. Both help you feel less fatigued. 

This new virtual work world requires adaptations large and small. Make the effort to manage your on-screen meetings so that you, your brain, and your eyes are rested and at their best.

 

 

Use This Checklist to Evaluate Your Program! (agency)

Trust is the currency of public agencies. You need trust to work effectively with elected leaders, to successfully argue for your agency’s funding, and to build relationships with citizens who pass judgment on your performance. While it is essential to have technically proficient staff and technically sound recommendations, it is equally or even more important to have staff who listen with empathy, speak succinctly and clearly, and make the boss/citizen/politician feel that they “get” them. These are the skills that staff use to create trust. These are the skills that need your professional development investment now.

The current environment foreshadows a future for public agencies with tighter revenue, constrained travel, and stressed staff. When belt-tightening the budget, professional development is often the first line item cut. That’s a really bad idea. Here are ways to effectively make the case to keep those funds in your budget.

  1. Stressed staff don’t create satisfied customers. When uncertainty abounds and resources are constrained, staff can feel stressed while trying to provide essential services to citizens. Stressed staff will not be exceptional public servants. Now more than ever your staff needs to know that you care about them and believe in their professional development.
  2. Listening is calming. Uncertainty activates the threat response in the brain. That’s why you see over-reactive bosses, citizens and elected officials. Listening and empathy sooth the brain’s threat reaction. Powerful interpersonal skills like listening and empathy can be a game-changer when dealing with an agitated community leader. That community leader wants to feel heard and know that staff can put themselves in their shoes.
  3. Technical data needs clear, concise communicators. During this unprecedented time, you want your leaders making decisions using available data. To do that, you need staff who can articulate technically-sound recommendations without sounding condescending or spouting mind-numbing data laced with jargon.
  4. Read between the lines and adapt. There is always a message under the spoken message. To be effective, staff need to see beyond the data and adapt to the unspoken messages. The most technically-sound argument can go down in flames if the staff person doesn’t pick up on subtle clues and adjust immediately.

These points can help you make the case for your professional development funding provided that it grows self-aware, high-functioning communicators. 

If you already have a professional development program, use this checklist to assess how it’s working for you.

✓ Is your professional development program designed specifically to meet your goals with engaging and interactive material?

✓ Does it use science-based content to transform touch-feely interpersonal issues into practical, logical technique?

✓ Does it convert number-crunching engineers into high-functioning communicators who write and speak like pros?

✓ Is the program designed to use neuroscientific learning principles like engagement, experiential learning and reminders to enhance retention?

✓ Is the program designed and conducted by a professional who led an engineering organization rather than someone who just talks about the theory?

✓ Is the training leader technically proficient AND a certified speaking professional™ (CSP) with the skills to maintain participants’ interest through real-life examples rather than a series of lectures with word-filled slides?

✓ Do you see tangible results that lead to practical, real-world applications?

 


 

If you are not getting the results you expect, now’s the time to make changes. There’s too much at stake. A sub-optimal professional development program leads to sub-optimal results. Is that what your citizens expect?

If you don’t currently have a professional development program, look for one with the attributes above because this is what your staff and clients deserve and what today’s environment requires.

Above all, keep the funding in the budget! Invest more now and you’ll be the agency who comes out of this on top.

At Shelley Row Associates we meet all the requirements above and more. Shelley is a professional engineer, former USDOT executive and a Certified Speaking Professional. Here’s what clients have to say about the impact of her custom-designed programs for public agency staff.

“Excellent presenter. Got me to think about a different way to approach how we present materials to the decision makers.”
Jon Fitzkee, Lebanon County Planning Department

“Excellent! Perhaps the best and most valuable presentation I’ve heard in four years of elected office.”
Mary Ann Gill, Woodford County Fiscal Court

 

Talk to Shelley now about your custom professional development program.

Other Resources:

Top Management Skills for Technical Managers: A Ten-Part Webinar Series

The Over-Thinkers’ Guide to Working from Home Effectively

Use This Checklist to Evaluate Your Program!

Your staff is working and serving clients because your organization provides an “essential” function. That’s great…for now. But you foresee a future with tighter revenue, constrained travel, and stressed clients. When belt-tightening the budget, professional development is often the first line item cut. Here’s why that’s a really bad idea.

When resources are limited and uncertainty abounds, clients want to work with organizations they trust. Now more than ever your technical managers need enhanced interpersonal skills so that you are the trusted company with whom clients want to work. After all, there are plenty of architecture and engineering companies with highly skilled technical staff, but not many have high-functioning communicators who can relate to clients, listen with empathy, speak succinctly and clearly, and make the client feel that they “get” them. Those are the skill sets worth investing in now more than ever.

You need technical managers whose interpersonal skills are equal to or greater than their technical skills. You want managers who can:

  • Create client relationships based on trust because your managers are good listeners and can put themselves in the clients’ shoes.
  • See beyond the data to sense the unspoken needs of the client.
  • Articulate your firm’s technical competence without sounding condescending.
  • Be clear, concise communicators without spouting jargon and mind-numbing data.
  • Delegate to build skilled staff so that more work gets done with more satisfied
  • employees.

If you already have a professional development program, use this checklist to assess how it’s working for you.

✓ Is your professional development program designed specifically to meet your goals with engaging and interactive material?

✓ Does it use science-based content to transform touch-feely interpersonal issues into practical, logical technique?

✓ Does it convert number-crunching engineers into high-functioning communicators who write and speak like pros?

✓ Is the program designed to use neuroscientific learning principles like engagement, experiential learning and reminders to enhance retention?

✓ Is the program designed and conducted by a professional who led an engineering organization rather than someone who just talks about the theory?

✓ Is the training leader an engineer AND certified speaking professional™ (CSP) with the skills to maintain participants’ interest through real-life examples rather than a series of lectures with word-filled slides?

✓ Do you see tangible results that lead to practical, real-world applications?

If you are not getting the results you expect, now’s the time to make changes. There’s too much at stake. A sub-optimal professional development program leads to sub-optimal results. Is that why your clients hired you?

If you don’t currently have a professional development program, look for one with the attributes above because this is what your staff and clients deserve and what today’s environment requires.

Above all, keep the funding in the budget! Invest more now and you’ll be the company who comes out of this on top.

At Shelley Row Associates we meet all the requirements above and more. Shelley is a professional engineer, former USDOT executive and a Certified Speaking Professional. Here’s what clients have to say about the impact of her custom-designed programs for technical staff.

“We saw immediate results the first time Shelley worked with our leadership team. She created a program uniquely suited to our company that worked for individuals and teams and was grounded in science. We’ve seen improved relationships, reduced volatility and a resulting increase in productivity. Her ongoing personal and group reminders are an essential part of the program’s effectiveness. If it worked for our team, it’ll work for yours.Bill Russell, Former CEO Eberle Design

Talk to Shelley now about your custom professional development program.

Other Resources:

Top Management Skills for Technical Managers: A Ten-Part Webinar Series

The Over-Thinkers’ Guide to Working from Home Effectively

In case you haven’t noticed by now, an effective webinar isn’t simply a regular presence on a screen. Webinars should be designed differently…well if you want them to be impactful. Particularly now with everyone participating in webinars, yours can stand above the rest for its content, engagement, and memorability. Here’s a checklist to show you how to up your webinar game in a few easy steps.

The first big difference between a webinar and an in-person program, briefing or discussion is that it requires a technology interface. Get the technology right first.

  1. Use video. We forget how much connection comes from being in a room with other people. That’s why it’s essential to use your video. It’s not the same as in-person engagement but it’s a lot better than talking to a black screen. Now that you’re on video, consider the background. We all understand that people are working from home. This is not a normal situation. Even so, do what you can to ensure that the background is reasonably professional or, at a minimum, not filled with distractions.
  2. Make eye contact. If you were in-person, you’d make eye contact with the people in the room. Now, the screen is filled with little squares of people and some are black boxes with just a name or, worse, a phone number. But there is a way to make eye contact with each of them. Look into the camera. Your natural tendency is to look at the faces on the screen. Don’t. Instead, train yourself to look directly into the camera. For those on the other end, it will feel like you are talking specifically to them. Warning! This takes practice because it doesn’t feel natural. It’s worth the effort for audience connection.
  3. Have good lighting. It doesn’t do any good to have your video on and make eye contact through the camera if they can’t see you! Because I do a lot of webinars and virtual workshops I invested in an inexpensive light. (If you’re interested in that, I’m happy to share information about the one I bought.) A special light isn’t necessary if you take a little care. Backlighting is the biggest problem. It might be tempting to sit next to a window but the bright light from the window will render you too dark. Consider your location and use lamps to even out the light so your audience can see you. Most importantly, test it. See how you look on camera with your lighting and background.
  4. Have good sound. Depending on your needs, the speaker in your computer may be adequate. If not, there are external microphones that will enhance the sound quality considerably. After all, it won’t matter if you have great information if they can’t hear you, your voice is garbled or cutting in and out.
  5. Hardwire for reliability. Wi-Fi is great but for a webinar or any online program of importance, hardwiring your computer is the way to go.

After technology, the next significant difference with webinars is the challenge of keeping attention and engagement. You’ll want to redesign your presentation specifically as a webinar. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Move slides often. Movement on the screen is like a shiny object for the brain of your audience. Use more movement in your slides than you would during an in-person briefing. By “movement” I don’t mean animation like bouncing, flipping or sparkling text. I advise using animation sparingly and only when it helps make your point. Consider doing more “build” slides where each point comes in as you discuss it. That’s more interesting for their brains than talking for 5 to 10 minutes about a single slide. That’s too long for your participants’ brains to stay engaged.  Images are another way to engage the brain. Use real photos (not clip art!) that illustrate your points in a vivid way. Visual images or visual language engages the vision center in the brain which helps embed memory.
  2. Simplify your slides. While it’s never a good practice to have numerous words on a slide, it’s even worse in a webinar. The screen size is small, and the distractions are big. PowerPoint (or other presentation media) are a visual Simplify your presentation with large fonts conveying key points only. You don’t have to write in complete sentences. Plus, if you only have keywords on the screen, their attention is on you. Instead of all that text, use photos instead. Oh…. did I mention photos already? I’ll say it again. Use photos instead of text.
  3. Get engagement immediately. Intentionally look for ways to engage the participants. Tell them upfront that you’ll be asking questions, encouraging “chat” and other forms of interaction. That makes them more attentive. They now have a job to do. Then, ask a compelling question immediately. Ask them about why your topic is of interest or relevant to them. This gets them thinking and they make their own case for why they care about your subject.
  4. Use other engagement tools. Depending on the webinar platform, there are other types of engagement tools you can use. Know them. Use them. It may be a poll, a raised hand, a yes/no button, or thumbs up/down button. Review your presentation or briefing and identify places where you can ask for a response in chat, insert a polling question, ask for raised hands or unmute for real-time discussion. Plan interaction throughout your presentation so that people are engaged, listening and learning.
  5. There’s a good chance we’ll see more webinars and remote programs even after COVID-19 issues scale back. Now’s the perfect time to up your game so that you are the person people are pleased to engage with online.

Shelley Row, P.E. explains why NOW is probably the best time for technical managers to work on improving their leadership skills (and earn PDH credits!).
Registration & more info -> https://ilinstitute.teachable.com/

Photo credit: Aleksandr Davydov

 

This is the fourth newsletter based on the Over-Thinkers Guide to Working at Home Effectively. You can find the original guide here. Each week, we’ve written more information on one of the topics in the guide. This week’s virtual work topic is on the effective use of email. 

Email is More Important Than Ever. Learn Four Tips to Make Your Emails More Effective

Our virtual work environment is creating a heavier-than-ever reliance on email. There’s no more walking around the corner to discuss an issue with a colleague. Our inclination is to zip off a quick email. Zipping off an email is rarely a good idea and that’s even more true now. With fewer opportunities to connect in person, we rely on email even more. Now’s the time to learn tips that enhance your email writing skills. And, let’s face it, we need this skill no matter our work location. 

Tip 1. Use clear language. We dash off a quick email without much thought. We type a response in the last minutes of the day or while rushing to the car. We send off instructions without rereading them. Then, we are perplexed that there is miscommunication. Email is not fast. It is crafted and careful.

  • Remove ambiguous words. Words like “it,” “that,” “this,” “those,” and “them” leave room for ambiguity. Search for those words and replace them with the noun to which it/that/this/those/them refers. 
  • Assess acronyms. Will all readers understand the acronyms? If not, spell them out.
  • Reread the email for clarity. Will someone less familiar with the situation understand the nuances? Since the reader can’t read your mind, how could the email be interpreted differently? Adjust your text to ensure clarity. 

Tip 2. Structure for easy reading. Have you ever received a long email with big, rambling paragraphs? You feel overwhelmed before you start reading. Instead of rambling, structure the body of the email so that the reader isn’t intimidated. Plus, the structure allows you to cater to the communication styles of different people. Some want a summary; others need background. For important emails, you can provide both with good structure. 

  • Prioritize the messages. Start with the most important and work your way to the least important. 
  • Put the action step first. What action step do you want from the reader? Do you want their input on a big decision, participation on a doodle poll, or to send an update on the project status? And, when do you want their action? Make the action the first part of the email.
  • Use bold, italics, underline and highlight to focus attention. Visually identify the key points or sections in the email using bold, italics, underline and highlight. These visual tools allow the reader to quickly skim the email and find the most important bits of information. I know…you don’t want them to “skim” the email. But they will. Make sure they pick up the key messages by making those points obvious to their eye.
  • Provide a bulleted summary. Bulleted points are also useful to visually identify key points and provide white space in the email. White space gives the brain a break and allows it to more easily process information. The summary allows the person short on time to glean the information she requires immediately. 
  • Provide details below. Following the summary points, add detail for those who crave detail. Detail may include the background of the issue at hand, the research that supports the points, the factors that contribute to the decision. Providing details serves those who crave research and data and it documents the rationale behind your thinking.
  • Reread the email for ease of reading. Before you hit Send, take another look at the email. For those who skim, can your eye easily pick out the main points? Is there a clear organizing structure?

Tip 3. Tone. Unless you are writing to someone you know well – very well – strike a professional tone. No sarcasm, no dry humor, no witty comeback as this writing style is heavily dependent on the readers’ interpretation. Plus, email is an official document. Always consider that someone else may read it. Be professional.

  • Consider the reader. What tone do you “hear” in their emails? Is it light and friendly, serious, to the point, formal? Match that tone in your response. What do you know about the sender’s situation? If they have a sick child at home with COVID-19, that’s not the time for, “Hey! Don’t you love working from home!?!” 
  • Weigh the use of exclamation points. An exclamation point can convey lightheartedness (Are you as stir crazy as me?!). Sometimes I see an exclamation point used to convey urgency such as, “We need this proposal finished now!” Personally, I shy away from the latter as it comes across like yelling. If there is a problem with timely performance, that’s the time to pick up the phone. 
  • Prohibit emojis in a professional email. When in doubt, skip the emoji particularly if the email is to a key person (client, boss, elected leader) or the email will be shared widely. However, if the email is to a close friend or is unlikely to be shared with others, an emoji may be fine. (FYI. There is no consensus on the plural. It can be either emoji or emojis. I checked.) 
  • Reread the email for tone. Go back and read for tone. How does the language come across? Is it too cutesy, too stiff, too familiar, too businesslike? Is the tone appropriate for the receiver’s situation? If you don’t know his/her situation, tread even more carefully. Almost everyone is impacted in some way by the pandemic. Be sensitive to the possibility that all may not be well.

Tip 4. Details. Details matter with email. Have you ever hit Reply All when you meant to hit Reply? I’ve seen terrible situations result from a Reply/Reply All mistake. Take a few moments to scroll down to reread and recheck everything before hitting Send. 

  • Review the entire thread. Check the people and conversation on the entire email thread before you forward it.  Otherwise, you risk sending information that was not intended for the bigger audience. 
  • Review all the names in the To and CC lines. Before hitting Reply All or Forward review the names on the receiving end. Are your comments and all comments throughout the chain appropriate for everyone on the email?
  • Review for email overload. Think about the relevance of your message to everyone on the email. Do they all need to see your response? They do if: your comment adds substantive information to the conversation; you want others to see your participation; you want to register your agreement or disagreement with the group, They don’t if: there is no added value to the group (such as cc’ing everyone only to say “Thank you”); there is nothing in your response that furthers the discussion (such as “Received”). We all receive plenty of emails. Don’t copy everyone if it isn’t necessary. 
  • Reread the email for the details. It is no coincidence that each of these four tips concludes with “reread the email.” That practice is worth learning and using every day. Think of it this way. The time it takes to reread the email and make adjustments is small when compared to the time it takes to unravel a misunderstanding due to a poorly worded email.

We are in unusual times and everyone is adapting to the temporary situation. Even after the COVID-19 threat recedes, we will likely see an uptick in virtual work and the use of virtual meeting platforms. Be the manager who is on top of this shift and create the skills for you and your team to be both productive and connected. Learn effective email techniques. And, remember, email is not a fast-medium. To use it well requires thought.


Shelley Row, P.E. explains why NOW is probably the best time for technical managers to work on improving their leadership skills (and earn PDH credits!).
Registration & more info -> https://ilinstitute.teachable.com/ 

 

 

I bet you have been on more virtual meetings in the last couple of weeks than ever before. Locked in the house avoiding COVID-19, we’re all working on virtual meeting platforms. Take Zoom, for example, the company added more users in the first two months of 2020 than in all of 2019. More than 10 million people join a Zoom meeting every day. Whether you use Zoom or another virtual meeting platform, these platforms are the best option we have to simulate an in-person meeting environment. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to hone your virtual meeting skills and train your team in the protocols that make a virtual meeting most productive.

 

 

Follow good meeting protocol. The basics of a well-run meeting are the same whether the meeting is virtual or in-person. Defined goals and agendas benefit any form of meeting. Here’s a short checklist to ensure that you covered the basics.

  • Have an agenda with defined times.
  • Identify the specific goal for the meeting (“By the end of this meeting we will….”).
  • Review action items at the end including the responsible parties and due dates.
  • Be aware of the communication preferences for each of your team members and adapt your style accordingly.

Engage everyone. Involving everyone in the discussion can be a challenge on a good day where everyone is in the office. Virtual meetings can allow a person to sit quietly and not engage or multitask. It can be tricky to assess the dialog and jump in appropriately until you create virtual meeting norms pertaining to engagement. Instead, take a proactive approach that more consciously engages everyone in the virtual meeting. Giving each person a role also ensures their attention throughout the meeting.

  • Define a role for participants and set expectations for their engagement upfront (Keisha will discuss the project x update and Jose Luis will discuss program y progress).
  • Give everyone a heads-up about their participation (After Keisha tells us about her project, Dave, I’ll be particularly interested in your marketing perspective).
  • Use casual conversation to kick start engagement. You can go around the virtual “room” and ask about their work-at-home experience (What do you like best about working from home? What do you miss that surprises you?)

Test the technology. You’ve been there. You log into the virtual meeting only to discover that the sound doesn’t work properly, there’s screeching feedback, the meeting host struggles to share their screen, and a key participant can’t find the video button. Don’t waste the start of the meeting with technology that doesn’t work correctly. Check everything in advance and be prepared for the unexpected.

  • Test the link in advance. Encourage everyone to download software in advance. Some platforms are sensitive to the browser. Test it before the start of the meeting.
  • Test the connection in advance. When the virtual meeting link is critical, hardwire your computer to the Internet. If that option is not available to you find a way to make it available to you. If the meeting is critical, so is the connection. If the meeting is not as critical a wireless connection may do. If problems develop turn off the camera.
  • Test the webcam. One of my laptops has the camera at the bottom of the screen near the hinge – yes, the hinge. It provides an excellent visual image of my nose! Know that in advance. I’ve been on calls where the speaker’s head is cut off or only the top of their head is visible. In another call, the camera dropped so that we saw the participant’s lap. Check the webcam and the video image beforehand. We don’t need to see what we don’t need to see.
  • Check the sound. Sound is the most common problem I encounter in a virtual meeting. I’ve seen issues with computers defaulting to a headset so that sound won’t come through the computer. If you are the main speaker, test a headset. It may provide greatly enhanced quality. Sound quality is a key determinant of a successful meeting.
  • Know how to use the basics. Make sure that you, as the host, know how to mute/unmute, raise electronic hands, manage a chat function, use the whiteboard, record if needed and share your screen. It’s not hard. Learn these skills in advance, not in front of busy staff.
  • Zoombombing. Yes…Zoombombing. Like photobombing, an uninvited person arrives in your Zoom meeting and may share unwanted, unwelcome and potentially obscene images. You don’t need that! Here’s a link to an article that provides the settings to use that will impede Zoombombing. https://www.adl.org/blog/how-to-prevent-zoombombing

Set virtual meeting guidelines. To get the most from your virtual meeting provide clear, explicit guidelines. Develop and enforce virtual meeting norms such as the use of cameras, muting, and multitasking. The guidelines may vary based on the size of the meeting. Small meetings of 4 to 6 people have more flexibility. As the number grows, use more structured interaction. Here’s a checklist to develop your own guidelines.

  • Everyone uses their camera. This increases the feeling of connection and it discourages multitasking during the meeting since everyone can see each other. Note the point above about having a strong Internet connection. You’ll need that.
  • Manage the mute function. I prefer to mute everyone on entry into the meeting. For large meetings, you might consider leaving them on mute except when speaking. This is particularly important with large virtual meetings. But even small virtual meetings are disrupted when the dog barks, doors slam, the Amazon delivery person literally drops off a package, or a lawnmower revs up.
  • Raise your hand (visually or through the platform) when someone wants to speak. This allows you to moderate the discussion and ensure that everyone has a chance to speak. Unlike a real meeting, this method ensures that people don’t interrupt or talk over each other. It also means that the meeting may take longer.
  • No multi-tasking during the meeting. Be clear that cell phones are not to be used during the meeting. The participant’s attention is expected to be on the discussion in the virtual meeting. You wouldn’t walk out of the meeting to grab a cup of coffee or answer the door if you were there in-person. Don’t do it during the virtual meeting either.
  • Introduce everyone. Request that everyone login under their own name so that it appears on the screen. If there’s no video and people are on the phone, request that they state their name before talking.

During this COVID-19 period, virtual meetings are the norm. As you gain proficiency with the virtual meeting platforms and master these tips for conducting effective meetings, you may find this tool to be a valuable option even when we all can go back to the office for real.


Shelley Row, P.E. explains why NOW is probably the best time for technical managers to work on improving their leadership skills (and earn PDH credits!).
Registration & more info -> https://ilinstitute.teachable.com/

 

Particularly for those of us who work on technical projects, it’s tempting to use the time working from home to focus project work; however, as a manager, your staff need your attention now more than ever. Maybe you supervise highly technical people who enjoy working alone. Or, perhaps you have a team filled with social butterflies. Likely, it’s a mix of the two. In either case, they are human and they need connection – some to a greater degree than others. Plus, for productivity sake and collaboration, you want them to stay connected to each other. How will you help staff and team members feel connected when everyone is sequestered in their homes away from water cooler chitchat? Think about connection for the sake of productivity to keep projects moving forward. And think about connection for the sake of mental health, general well being and to create a sense that you care personally. As a leader, you need to provide both.

Use this checklist to plan your connection strategy.

Know your staff or team. Think about your team or your staff. What do you know about their communication styles?  If you participated in my webinar last week, Know Your Staff: Know Their Superpowers and How To Use Them, you have a good idea of who your detailed data people are and who needs the stimulus of other people. If you weren’t on the webinar, why not?  Just kidding. If you weren’t on the webinar take a mental assessment of your people.

  • Who likes to focus on their project with minimal interruptions?
  • Who likes to chat with colleagues?
  • Who is the person who networks with everyone?
  • Who are the data-driven researchers?

Now, consider their environment. You may need to adjust your expectations based on the realities of personalities, communication styles, and home care logistics.

  • Who has small kids at home?
  • Who has other responsibilities that will challenge the at-home work environment?
  • Who has support at home to help with the kids?
  • Who may be lacking a support system?

With that mental map of your people in mind, consider your plan for keeping you and they connected.

For office productivity:

Have regular meetings. If you had regularly scheduled meetings with your team or your managers, keep them up virtually. Include a few minutes at the beginning of the meeting to chat about the COVID-19 situation. Continue with:

  • Staff meetings
  • Project team meetings
  • Working groups
  • Task forces
  • Committee meetings
  • Office happy hour
  • Office lunch and learn or just lunch and chat

Connect visually. Use video conferencing services for visual connection (I use Zoom). Adding the visual component makes a virtual meeting feel more conversational and alive.  Have you noticed that you feel more connected when you have a visual image of your employee in their home office? Leverage that natural tendency by providing a virtual “tour” of your home office or the view from your window. Give your staff a visual context of you at work in your home office and offer them the opportunity to share their home workspace (if they wish).

  • Determine the video conferencing service for the team
  • Ensure that everyone has the equipment and information to successfully connect.
  • Test the functionality that you are most likely to use.
  • Provide a virtual tour of your work environment.
  • Offer that option to others.

Weekly summaries or meetings. Consider sharing a brief weekly summary of the status of work across units. It doesn’t need to be long. Bulleted points are enough. The goal is to keep everyone in sync with the big picture and each other. You can also request that a short summary of status be sent to you weekly. This keeps you up to date on the work of your dispersed office and conveys your interest in their work.

  • Would a weekly status summary assist in keeping the team on the same page?
  • Could you manage the work better with a bulleted update from staff each week?
  • Are you receiving adequate information for decisions and informing your boss?

For personal connection:

Touch base just because. Call your staff or team members even if you need to put these calls on your to-do list. Plan the calls into your day. For those of us who go-go-go, this may not feel like a productive use of your time.  But research shows that people who feel engaged and cared for are more productive. You are actively contributing to productivity when you place these calls.  Call (not email) to inquire about them (not the project). Show interest in their personal well-being. That matters to an isolated person with limited contact.

  • Ask the impact this pandemic situation is having their life with kids?
  • Do they have older parents?
  • Have vacation plans been canceled?
  • Have they tried any virtual parties with friends or family?
  • Are there any health situations with family members or friends?
  • Is there a funny story about working at home?

Offer your support. Whether on a phone call, FaceTime or on a virtual meeting platform, ask how you can help them be more productive and feel more connected.

  • What would make the experience better for them?
  • What do they struggle with?
  • What is it like for them to work from home?
  • How can you help?
  • How you can help them stay connected to you, staff and the organization?
  • Don’t forget to thank them for adapting to this strange environment.

These are strange times and they call for unique management considerations. Make sure your staff feel connected for productivity’s sake and for a sense of caring during an unsettling time. Your efforts to provide connection will pay off now and will pay dividends with goodwill when this is all behind you.


Shelley Row, P.E. explains why NOW is probably the best time for technical managers to work on improving their leadership skills (and earn PDH credits!).
Registration & more info -> https://ilinstitute.teachable.com/