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

Latest "Decision-Making" Posts

I’m sure you all can relate to the fact that many of the goals I set for my business at the start of 2020 look nothing like where we’re going to land on December 31st  (just 106 short days from today). For the companies I work with, I know their 2020 visions also did not include anything remotely close to a cease to all travel, live events, and in-person meetings.

I believe the companies who have the best chance to survive this cataclysmic event, and any future global pandemics, are the ones that already have a set long-term vision for their organization. While your vision may not solve all of the urgent problems you are facing in the present, it will keep you focused on having a better future, even in the worst of times. This is because the vision serves as the guide for you and your teams, in good times and in bad. Think of it like a north star.

In researching this article, I found countless resources on “how to write a vision and mission statement,” “how to execute a vision and strategy,” and “why you should have a vision statement.” I found no articles on how to create a vision in the first place.  An organizational “vision” too often is a set of action items that preserve the status quo. The vision doesn’t simply show up. You have to take action and be thoughtful to have vision and create a vision.

Organizational Vision Connect the Dots

“What do you want your footprint to be?” That’s the question my friend, Susan, was asked when she started her position leading a key government agency in Canada. They went on, “If you were leaving this job in five years, what footprint would you leave behind?” Good question.

As Susan and I organizational vision, we realized that vision requires you as the manager or leader to connect the dots. That means you need to first see the dots and have time to step back and think about how they connect.

Let’s start with seeing the dots. In this case the “dots” are trends, organizational competencies and opportunities that are uniquely filled by your organization. The organizational vision is the place where the three intersect.

Trends. To consider trends necessitates that you zoom out and see the world through a telescope. Zooming out requires accessing and assimilating information from a wide variety of sources. Read news articles, trade journals, magazines, and books. Listen to podcasts, news programs, industry conference sessions, radio and thoughtful people. From that information, look for common threads, emerging issues, and high-level movements. Here are some questions to prompt your thinking.

  • What trends are impacting your industry?
  • What trends are shaping other industries that are tangential?
  • What’s happening at the fringe of the data that may foreshadow the future?
  • What are thoughtful voices talking about?
  • What data can you collect?
  • What is your initial impression of the data? What are different interpretations of the same data?
  • What threads shine through the articles you read in trade journals and the news?
  • For what products or services are clients and customers starting to ask?
  • What is happening in industries outside of your own that point to related trends?

What is the core competence of your organization? Whether public agency, private company or educational institution, your organization serves a function within the bigger industry. When I ran a government office, our role was to incentivize action in areas that would not be fulfilled by traditional market forces. A company I work with has a core competency in the manufacture of highly reliable electronics. Your vision lives at the intersection of trends, competencies and opportunities. What is it for you?

  • What is your organization known for?
  • Does your organization have a specific mandate? If so, what is it?
  • What special role does your organization play within the industry or within a larger organization?
  • What are the key skills that support your organization’s business?
  • How will these skills need to evolve in the future to keep up with the trajectory?
  • What makes your organization stand out from others?
  • How can the core competence be used in new ways?
  • How can core competencies be used for new clients or customers?
  • What niche does your organization uniquely fill?

Now, connect the dots. Project the trends along with your core competency to search for opportunities that your organization is uniquely positioned to fill. There may be a role to be played, a product or service to be created, or spokesperson who needs to speak out.

  • Where are the gaps likely to occur in the future?
  • What will be needed in the future that aligns with your core competencies?
  • Who will need it?
  • Where is leadership needed?
  • What should you do that makes the most impact in terms of revenue or influence?

Don’t constrain your thinking too much with the practical realities needed to implement the vision. That comes next as you refine the vision and the steps needed to create an organization that can execute every day drawing a little closer to your vision. With your vision in mind, consider these three factors that are necessary to implement a vision.

  1. Staff. As you project the trends, consider the evolution of skills needed in the future. What staff skills are necessary to execute the vision? Will existing skills be obsolete or replaced by machines and artificial intelligence? How many staff will be needed? What shifts are necessary to position the staff resources to be ready and capable to drive the vision forward? Do the current staff have the core skills and interests to grow into the future? How can you start now to develop the necessary skills? How can you pique the curiosity of the staff so that they see the needs of the future and respond to them?
  2. Structure. By structure, I mean the processes, procedures, and resources needed to achieve the vision. Are the existing structures adequate to support the vision? Or, are they antiquated and designed for a time that has come and gone? Do they support the type of customer interaction needed for the future? What performance benchmarks will be important in the future?
  3. Culture. I no longer remember where I read it, but it stuck: Culture eats strategy for lunch. Basically, the best laid strategy is useless without a companion culture. As you consider your footprint five years into the future, what culture exists in your office? How does it feel to work there? How do the staff describe the work environment? Is it cutthroat, collegial, trusting, suspicious, collaborative, competitive, fast-paced, considered? What behaviors are indicative of the desired culture? What rewards exist that are tied to the behaviors that are tied to the culture?

Leaders are masters at connecting the dots. They see with a microscope and with a telescope. They are keen observers of their environment and are constantly thinking about the big themes and the implications on their organization. And, there is one more element essential to creating vision. That element is quiet time to consider, digest and think. Collecting and connecting the dots can’t happen in the midst of hurried days, jam-packed schedules and frantic work assignments. Thoughtfulness and creativity live in quiet places: a walk, mowing the grass, driving in quiet, sailing, running, cooking, or anything that allows your mind to wander. To create vision, you need reflection time to discover the footprint you wish to leave in your organization.

How do you ensure there is quiet time in your work for visioning?

 

Remember back in early March, when every single decision and idea we had was met with fear and doubt, because none of us knew for certain what to expect, or how bad things were going to get? Now, after several months of settling in to so many “new normals,” perhaps it’s time to reflect on what we learned and give consideration to what strategies worked best for us in the face of adversity.

I’m fortunate enough to have spent a lot of time on the water.  While COVID-19 may have been my first time ever in a pandemic, it was not the first time I’ve been tossed around by a violent storm and lived to tell about it – I mean this figuratively and literally. The good news is, bad storms can give us perspective. They help us to see what really matters and they force us to make better decisions. Here are four important things I learned…

It was supposed to be an easy cruise. That’s what they told me.  The  47’ Morris sailboat, sailed the Newport to Bermuda race and finished second in her class. We were part of the crew sailing her back to Newport.  And, it was my first sailing trip. To say that the trip didn’t go as planned is an understatement if there ever was one. We made it back safe and sound because of the quality of the boat and the experience of the crew – except for me. When we left I still didn’t know a jib from a halyard or port from starboard.

The trip, expected to be a little more than three days, took five due to adverse weather. The only thing calm was the crew. The seas were rough almost from the start and became even rougher when we crossed the Gulf Stream. The evening we hit the Gulf Stream, we encountered three 50-knot squalls in quick succession with 10’ to 12’ seas. Due to the rough weather, the boat had a series of issues. The auto pilot stopped working on day one, the engine stopped on day two, during the storm the reef line on the mainsail broke, the halyard on the jib broke, the furler jammed, the tack of the spinnaker let go and, later, the spinnaker artfully wrapped itself around the forestay. During the worst of the storm, lines fell into the water and promptly wound themselves around the propeller shaft. I’m told that none of this is unusual but to have them all happen on one voyage was remarkable. By the time we arrived in Newport, everything I brought to wear was wet. The quick-dry fabric never dried.  Collectively, we smelled like a 50’ wet tennis shoe. Are we having fun yet?

As I lay in the narrow bunk, heeled 30 degrees, I listening to the storm tear at the boat and sails. And, I listened to the crew tackle each adversity calmly, collaboratively, decisively and transparently. Do you do the same when adversity hits your organization?

Calm. It was one problem after another in quick succession in rough weather. It would have been unnerving except for the calm of the captain. With each calamity, he talked to the crew – no raised voice, panic, or exasperation. The intensity of the situation stood in clear contrast to his calm demeanor.  As an insightful leader, how do you manage stress and outwardly demonstrate calm?

Collaborate. When a problem was solved, something else broke. Each time, the captain collaborated with the crew. What happened? What are the pros/cons of each option? This was no dictatorship. Neither was it a democracy. It was informed leadership. How do you collaborate under stress to capture and objectively weigh all options? Our captain based his decisions on crew input. Do you truly listen to others?

Decisive. The conversations between the captain and crew were quick, succinct and decisive. The captain listened, made a decision, and that was that. Other ideas were dropped, and action was taken. Are your decisions crisp, clear and strong? Once you decide, don’t waiver. There’s time later to evaluate and adjust. For now, give staff clear directions to follow.

Transparent. We were in a tough spot. Some of us were not experienced sailors and the situation was a wee bit unnerving (to say the least). It would have been easy for the captain to sugar-coat our predicament under the pretense of not alarming us.  Instead, he was honest and transparent. In a matter-of-fact manner, he shared the realities of each situation and decision. The transparency was reassuring and created trust. Are you being transparent with your staff about difficult situations? Yes, some topics can’t be discussed openly, and it is not constructive to publicly debate every option.  However, once a decision is made, it is helpful to share the decision, the rationale behind the decision and the implications. People understand that not everything goes as expected, but people don’t like to be in the dark. That creates suspicion and erodes trust. Transparency does the opposite.

I confess that I’m not ready for another cruise like this one, but I’m grateful for the crew and for the lessons: be calm, collaborate, be decisive and transparent.

Have you been able to weather the storms that hit you both professionally and personally, this year? What about your finances or your relationships? The good news is, bad storms can give us perspective. They help us to see what really matters and they force us to make better decisions.

Next time you’re dealing with the raging winds and powerful waves of the storms surrounding your business or your personal life, keep these four anchors in mind!

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.

Sign up for the newsletter!

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

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/

Whether your technical expertise is in engineering (like mine), law, finance, technology or science, we technical folks don’t have good reputations as managers.  When a technically accomplished person is promoted into management, suddenly the old skills that made us successful are not as relevant. 

I’ve seen technically talented managers become perplexed by people issues, stymied by office politics and mystified by seemingly illogical decisions made by “management”. You don’t have to be perplexed, stymied or mystified. Here are the top ten skills that I learned the hard way when I became a manager. Now, you can eliminate the frustration by learning from my mistakes so that your management competence matches your technical competence.  

  1. Know your staff. Take the time to get to know each of your staff individually. 
  • What’s their background? 
  • What are they passionate about in their work and life?  
  • What are the skills that they love to use? 
  • What type of work makes them feel fulfilled? 
  • What is something that you have in common? 
  • What do they need from you to be successful? 

     2. Know your skills and preferences. If you haven’t already, now is the time to become self-aware. You need to see yourself clearly and honestly. 

  • What are your strengths – those behaviors that you do so easily that you didn’t realize it was special?
  • How do those characteristics support you at work? When do you overdo them at work? 
  • What are your communication style preferences? How do you respond to those who communicate similarly to you? How do you respond to those who communicate differently from you? 
  • What are the stories in your life that color your perceptions? 
  • What are the filters through which you see the world? 
  • How do you prefer to work? When will you have that in your management role and when will you not? 
  • What people and situations trigger you and why? 
  • Are you coachable? 

      3. Know your boss. You need to know the motivations, stresses, and strains that your boss is under. 

  • What makes your boss tick? What does she care about? 
  • What’s his career and personal background? 
  • What’s his pet project? 
  • What frustrates her? 
  • What is his biggest time waster? 
  • What keeps her up at night? How can you help alleviate some of that stress?

     4. Know the influencers. Regardless of position, there are people inside and outside the organization who count.

  • Who are the power players who wield influence? Whose opinion carries weight in the office and with your boss?
  • What can you learn about their background, interests, headaches, and passions?
  • Who are the deep thinkers who everyone respects? What do they think? What are they worried about?
  • Where is an area of commonality that allows you to connect with them?
  • How can they become your ally?

5. Know the factors other than the data that are influencing organizational trajectory. Organizations are impacted by factors that can’t be measured.

  • Are there political factors that will impact your organization? If so, what are they? 
  • What are the societal trends that you should attend to? Global trends? 
  • Are there relationships outside the organization that impact its success? 
  • What can you do regularly to remain attentive to these forces?

6. Know the person who can get things done in the office. There is someone in the office who is a skilled networker and sleuth.  She knows everyone! This person has informal power and knows where the bodies are buried. Everyone probably owes him a favor. She will know about birthdays, anniversaries, family illnesses, staff worries, hopes and fears.  Because of these connections, he will have an uncanny way of getting things done. 

  • Who is it? Find out and make friends.

7. Know a broad range of information sources. We all have a natural inclination to seek information from sources that are comfortable and familiar. 

  • Where are you getting your information? Is it from people you know and trust? The people who are like you? 
  • Are you reaching outside your comfortable circle to those with different backgrounds and demographics? 
  • Are you seeking input from the people who make you uncomfortable or who are likely to disagree? 
  • Do you need to expand to a bigger reach?

8. Know how to challenge your initial impressions. It is easy to make and hold initial impressions but there is usually more to the story than that. Our mental shortcuts – the impressions we form – can be heavily influenced by biases of all sorts. 

  • What immediate impressions have you formed about the people on your staff and the people you will work with? Now, challenge those impressions. 
  • Ask yourself why you immediately like some people but not others. Why are you impressed or not? You will likely discover that you naturally connect with people who are like you in some way such as a common background, work style, or value systems 
  • Are you listening more to them and discounting input from those with whom you don’t naturally connect? 
  • Are you allowing this human tendency to skew your perceptions and decisions? 
  • How can you challenge yourself to look beyond initial impressions of people? 

9. Know your vision for the organization. As a leader and manager, you need a vision that charts a clear course for your organization. This creates confidence and certainty for the staff. 

  • Do you have enough information to have a vision? 
  • What are the trends? 
  • What data can you collect? 
  • What is your initial impression of the data? Now, what are the different interpretations of the same data? 
  • What other intangible factors need to be considered? 
  • Combine the data with the intangibles. What’s the trajectory for the organization and the factors you need to watch?

10. Know your leadership philosophy. Like having a vision for the organization, your leadership philosophy guides decisions about the investment of time, money and creation of the office culture. You need clarity about your leadership beliefs.

  • What do you believe about leadership and do you behave in accordance with your belief? 
  • Do you believe in transparency? 
  • Are you willing to allow others to see that you don’t know everything? 
  • Do you trust your staff? Do they trust you? 
  • How much control are you willing to relinquish? 
  • How much do you believe in coaching and staff development? Do you believe in staff development enough to invest time and money? 
  • How do you invest in your leadership growth?

If you found this helpful, there is a ten-part, interactive webinar series based on these skills. Click here for more information and to register. Or, email kerry@shelleyrow.com for details. 

Contact Shelley Row at the Insightful Leadership Institute to assist you and your staff to grow your skills as an insightful leader.

 

What’s your leadership philosophy?

What’s your leadership philosophy?

What’s your leadership philosophy? I’ve asked that question to interview candidates and it has been asked of me. Frequently, the candidate is stumped as was I the first time. Don’t let that question stump you.

Perhaps you’ve worked with people who were especially good or bad leaders. Perhaps you are a reader of leadership books that fill-in-the-blanks around your belief system. Whatever the sources from which you draw, your leadership philosophy is essential to guiding your work every day. It is your North star, your guiding light, the keel that keeps you upright, the rudder with which you steer, your boundary within which you work … and live. What do you believe about leadership? What are the leadership principles that guide your behavior?

This article encapsulates key considerations that formed my own leadership philosophy even though I haven’t successfully embodied all of them all the time. Without them, my work was fraught with indecision, suffered from wishy-washy direction and drifted due to lackluster communication. I offer these ideas as you develop your own leadership philosophy.

  1. Align behavior and strategy with vision (see my last blog). Once she has her vision, a strong leader constantly verbalizes that vision and ensures that her behavior is fully aligned. Nothing torpedoes a compelling vision than a leader who doesn’t walk her talk. Similarly, nothing cements an organizational vision like a leader who aligns her behavior and language while rewarding the behavior of others.
    • Strategy aligns with vision. I’m a believer in vision but vision is nothing without strategies that become actions. I like to identify the three to five critical success factors needed to achieve the vision. Strategy flows from them. For example, when I ran a research program for the US Department of Transportation, our critical success factors were: Money (funding from Congress); Staff; Engaged community (organizations and people with whom we engaged); Impactful projects with a clear federal role. Our strategies flowed directly from these critical success factors. In my current business, there are three critical success factors: 1) Compelling, useful content, 2) Interested, engaged audience 3) Methods to connect the content with the audience (newsletters, books, webinars, keynotes, consulting, coaching). It’s that simple. What are your critical success factors? Do your strategy and activities flow directly from the vision?
    • Budget aligns with strategy. Your strategy should be visible within the budget. Can you see your strategies in the funding within your budget? If not, you don’t have an achievable, sustainable strategy.
    • Communicate, communicate, communicate. The leader is the chief representative of vision and strategy. He must be an artful and constant communicator outside the organization, across the organization and to staff. A mentor taught me that your message is only beginning to get through when you are exhausted communicating it.
    • Staff should “feel” their role in the vision. Leaders frequently assume that staff “get” the big picture. Experience tells me that is rarely true. Staff need support to explicitly understand where their work fits within the organization and vision. With that knowledge, their work is grounded in relevance and they feel more fully a part of the organization.
  2. Work is about people and people have feelings. As an engineer who became a leader, I naturally gravitated to data and strategy. Consequently, my biggest realization was appreciating that all work is inherently human and humans function on feelings, not data. Don’t underestimate the importance of feelings at work.
    • Create a feel for the organization. What’s the feel of your organization and culture? Do people feel good about their contribution? Is there fun at work? Is there humanness and caring at work?
    • Treat others well. How do people feel when interacting with you? One of my barometers of a leader is to observe their treatment of the lowest service staff: janitorial staff, cashiers in the cafeteria, wait staff. Do they make them feel seen and valued?
  3. Tone at the top. What you say and how you say it matters. You, as a leader, are contagious. I’ve worked for a leader steeped in integrity and another leader who bullied and fostered fear. In both examples, overall behavior in the office shifted to mirror the tone at the top. What tone do you set?
    • Transparency. Staff don’t have to agree with your decisions, but it helps if they understand your thought process and considerations. Inevitably, leaders have more information and factors to consider than staff realize. Transparency into your decision-making process broadens understanding and creates trust. Of course, not all the reasons can be disclosed, but the more transparent you are about small decisions, the more likely they will trust you with the big ones that, by necessity, must be less transparent.
    • Provide immediate, constructive feedback. I’m astonished by the number of staff who have no feedback about their performance. One person said, “I have no idea how I’m doing.” There’s no reason for that. Research shows that the best performance motivator is immediate, informal feedback on performance or behavior. Give specific, useful feedback in as close to real-time as is feasible. Specific is key.
    • Be appropriately fair. The brain likes fairness, but a workplace isn’t always fair. My goal instead was to be appropriately Being appropriately fair allowed me flexibility to consider the individual, his circumstances, his past performance, and the context of a specific situation. Frankly, I think this is more fair than the blind application of a generic policy.
  4. Have high expectations. Expect top quality performance of yourself and staff (this doesn’t equate to long hours). Don’t tolerate consistently poor performance. If termination is needed, terminate. Even as a government leader, I terminated employment for several staff (it can be done in government but it’s not easy). When discussing the termination of staff on a panel of leaders, I was asked, “Aren’t you afraid people won’t want to work for you?” My response, “You’re right. The poor performers don’t want to work here, but top performers do.”
    • Support staff in development. “How can I support you?” That’s the question my boss asked me. It was the first time a boss specifically asked how they could be of service to me. Have you asked your staff? What can you do to support their professional development and what can you do to support their current work?
    • Reward the behavior you seek to create. Be crystal clear on the behavior that supports your culture, its tone and the vision for your organization. Then, watch for it, recognize it and reward it – visibly and vocally. The hardest part is having clarity on the behavior you seek to create. Oh…and say “thank you.”
  5. Be thoughtful. I wrote last time about the importance of connecting the dots (read here).  To do that you need time. Not just any time but quiet time for thinking, observing and connecting the dots. Some of the most visionary, compelling leaders I worked with made time to think and reflect. I call it taking a brain break. How do you take a brain break and ensure that you have that thoughtful time? Being busy is not the same as being important.
  6. Be focused. It’s easy to be pulled in a thousand directions at once. As a leader, focus is key. You need clarity on the important work when the urgent work strives to derail your attention. Guard the time to work on the important activities for you and your staff. Prioritize ruthlessly. Stick with the priorities.
  7. Share control. The brain feels comfortable when it has control. Consequently, you will be uncomfortable as you enable your staff to be comfortable that they have control over their work. The biggest problems I’ve had with giving control to staff stemmed from my lack of clarity about expectations and priorities.
  8. What are key attributes of your leadership philosophy? Share them with Shelley here so we can compile a more complete list to share with others. Whatever your leadership philosophy, have one and live it.