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

Latest "Leadership" Posts

Whew! What a year it’s been. There’s nothing like a world-wide pandemic to put a spotlight on good (and bad) leadership. Here’s my list of 2020 leadership lessons and observations. How do yours stack up?

2020 leadership lessons

  • Be ready to pivot. Each day I’m impressed by the creativity we’ve seen from workplaces, restaurants, hospitals, schools, and families. We found workarounds in ways that were unimaginable a few months ago. Conferences have gone on, birthdays have been celebrated, work has been accomplished and businesses have adapted. We CAN dig deep for creativity. Let’s remember that.
  • Prove yourself wrong. Before COVID, I maintained that my speaking and training programs HAD to be in person. They were too interactive to be done virtually. I proved myself wrong. What belief did you hold before this that you proved yourself wrong? We can do a lot more than we think we can when we must.
  • Use the data. Science and data matter. They provide a foundation for decision-making. If you know my work on intuition, you may find statement surprising. However, we’ve seen the devastation when we don’t consider the science. Listening to the gut is also important but gut feel requires examination. Science, data, and gut feel are all inputs to a decision. None should be trusted blindly but all should be considered.
  • Words matter. In my work we talk about the importance of “tone at the top.” An individual can overlook that a single voice can sway an organization or jurisdiction, but, indeed, it does and always has. The words of those in authority positions validate us, educate us, inspire us, and move us to action. The words and tone coming from the top matter.
  • Communicate over and over. During periods of uncertainty, over-communicating is key. The brain’s threat response has a hair trigger and, in the absence of information, quickly weaves a negative story. We’ve seen leaders who communicate frequently and calmly. When there’s nothing new to say, they say, “There’s nothing new to say.” The lesson for leaders: Communicate over and over. When you think you’re done, start over.
  • Human connection matters. As an introvert, I confess that I’ve enjoyed working from home without the hassle of business travel. However, for me, human connection has always been within reach. For many employees, the remoteness over these months feels isolating. The top leaders I work with make a concerted effort to connect with their staff. Even with Zoom, Teams, Slack, people need to feel.
  • Appreciate the full ecosystem. Over and over, I’ve been amazed at the spider web of linkages that we share. Never had I considered the impact of a remote workforce on, well, everyone. The shoe repair person in the basement of the now-empty office building, the small take-out lunch counters, the food trucks, the security people, the toilet paper that’s no longer needed in offices but in homes. It goes on and on. No matter the area, our ecosystems are woven so tightly that small ripples impact many. “Supply chain” doesn’t do it justice. It’s more like a “supply web.” Let’s appreciate the effect of our interconnectedness.

2020 will be a year for the history books. Let’s learn from this year and keep the leadership lessons that will serve us for years to come.

What 2020 lessons in leadership did you learn this year?

The problem with most managers

Here’s a tale of two managers. Can you relate to either?

Shontelle: She was one of my top engineers. She analyzed each problem to the nth degree. She was thorough and logical. A real problem solver. That’s why she was promoted to a team leader position. And that’s when things started to go wrong. It didn’t happen at first. I began to hear disgruntled team members complaining. Eventually, they were at my door. “She disregards my input. I don’t know why I even try.” “She never tells us anything. She keeps everything to herself.” “She barks orders like we’re trained seals.” Ultimately people left for other positions or transferred to another part of the organization. We were left with those who had no other options.

Edgar: There was a key opening in my office. It was a high-level position in our engineering organization. Until now it was filled by an engineer with a background in our work. But the new hire wasn’t an engineer. It was the buzz of the office. Could a non-engineer be successful in this role? The answer was yes, a thousand times, yes. The staff loved him. He empathized with their work struggles. He listened to their dilemmas and helped them sort out project decisions. And he knew the names of all their kids. Everyone wanted to work for him and we drew in top talent.

This is not an unusual situation. What is unusual is that we replay it over and over and make the same mistakes. The core problem is a misunderstanding of the skills needed to be successful at management. There are three mindset shifts needed to transform from technical professional to manager.

Leadership attributes and competencies

Recently, I interviewed 18 leaders in the transportation engineering industry. Leaders came from private companies, associations, universities, and public agencies. I asked them to describe the skills that make technical staff (like engineers) good at their job and I asked for the skills needed to successfully manage in an engineering organization. While I will write more about those interviews in the upcoming months, I replicated their answers with several groups of technical professionals.

When asked about the skills that make technical people good at their job, I hear:

When asked about the skills of successful managers, I hear:

The difference is The Gap. Technical organizations continually misunderstand and underestimate The Gap. To better understand and mitigate The Gap, the interviews pinpointed three areas where technical professionals need a mindset shift if they are to become successful leaders.

How to become a successful leader

Mindset Shift 1.

Get the right answer becomes get the best answer for the circumstances. Engineers, in particular, are taught to be precise, thorough, and analytical. That’s what it takes to get THE right answer. After all, whether it’s surveying, concrete beam design, water system design, statics, or dynamics, there IS a right answer. Find it, we succeed; get it wrong, we fail – literally. But in management, there is rarely a single, definitive right answer.

Management decisions – which are riddled with people issues – are seldom that precise. Non-technical factors must be considered with equal importance as factual information. The successful leader integrates factual and non-technical factors to find the best answer for the circumstances. It requires letting go of the need for THE right answer.

Mindset shift 2.

A structured approach becomes a flexible approach. Technical professionals are taught to use a logical, analytical approach to problem-solving. We define the problem, gather the data, do an analysis, evaluate results, determine the answer. Then we craft an equally logical, step-by-step briefing approach. We assume that everyone will want to know ALL the details about each step because it’s important (and, to us, interesting).

Frequently, clients, elected officials, citizens or the big boss have little tolerance or need for that level of analytical detail. Eyes glaze over and they say, “I only want to know what time it is, not how to build a watch.” The successful manager reads the room and adapts to meet the interests of the audience. They may need to spin on a dime to reorder the briefing, skip the analytics, and get to the bottom line. It’s tough for us engineers to “skip the analytics” when that’s the part we love best. It’s another tough shift in mindset for the tech professional.

Mindset shift 3.

Just the facts become consider relationships, too. Technical professionals come with an internal operating system that understands, craves, and values factual information. We can logically organize complex issues and get to sound, rational recommendations. We love this stuff. And we sometimes forget about people. We don’t entirely forget them but we overlook them because our heads are elsewhere.

Managers on the other hand flip that approach. “Empathy” was one of the most common words I heard in describing a good manager. Managers learn to value and cultivate relationships with others. It’s not that tech professionals don’t want relationships but in an over-subscribed day, something has to give. That something is usually talking and connecting with colleagues to learn about and support them. One engineer who successfully bridged the gap into leadership said, “I had to learn that spending time developing relationships isn’t wasted time it is invested time.” This, too, is a big mindset shift and one that is critically important to becoming a successful manager.

Technical people can be great leaders

In the coming months, I’ll write more about bridging The Gap and I’ll share the wisdom of these leaders. For now, consider the big three mindset shifts that an individual technical person must work on to be successful in management. These shifts are not trivial. Each requires rewiring brain patterns that are long-standing and have, in the past, led to rewards. These existing patterns must be replaced with new patterns that, over time, develop a new track record for success.

Technical professionals, we can do this. And we need to start now.

If you need support with these shifts, call or email Shelley.

Leadership development is about applied learning that lasts. When I shifted to applied learning techniques, I saw increased impact, transformed behavior, and lasting change.

Why leadership development trainings don’t work

· Does your organization provide periodic in-house leadership training that is developed and delivered by senior staff?

· Does your organization rely on on-the-job-training to develop leaders?

· Does your organization give employees an opportunity to select online training?

Interviews with technical leaders show that most training programs fit into one of these models. However, even those with in-house programs are likely to waste time and money. Why? Because they are either hoping that lessons will be learned, or they are focused on delivering content. Content-based training is an old-school approach unlikely to yield real impact.

How do I know? Because previously, I focused on delivering great content. But delivering great content misses the point. Leadership development is about applied learning that lasts. When I shifted to applied learning techniques, I saw the increased impact, transformed behavior, and lasting change.

It began with a footnote. I’m not one to read footnotes but this one caught my attention. The footnote was to L. Dee Fink’s book, Creating Significant Learning Experiences. Fink’s approach starts with the question, “One year after this training, the participants will be able to …..” In one statement, Fink brilliantly shifts attention to both behavior change and retention.

Think about it. You intend for your leadership development programs to shift behavior and last. However, when you really examine results, at best you get small, short-term changes. After a couple of weeks, everyone returns to earlier behaviors. What have you really accomplished with your training time and money? Not much.

How do you assess and revise your program to pay off rather than waste time?

Two basic principles are fundamental to successful retained learning. If your training misses either, you are not getting the value you need from your leadership development.

I. Shift from delivering content to enabling behavior change

Even great content can be forgettable if delivered in an old instructional style. You know that your program is content-driven when the instructor says, “Next, we’ll cover….”, or “we have a lot of content to get through.” The learning-focused instructor says, “Next, you’ll learn to apply….”, or “how would you apply these principles in your work?” Hear the emphasis on using knowledge in a real application. Application is the foundation for behavior change.

Drawing from Fink, these three steps shift from content to behavior change.

          A. Define behavior goals. What behavior will you observe when successful? For example: “The participant will be able to engage in difficult conversations without procrastination and with successful outcomes for all.

          B. Identify foundational knowledge needed to support the behavior change. Foundational knowledge includes listening, self-management, empathy, and the ability to adapt communication styles.

          C. Determine metrics. How will you know they can execute the behavior change? What exercises provide practice in the application of foundational knowledge? The class may discuss approaches to a difficult conversation, write their own script for a real encounter, do mock discussions in class, and commit to one real conversation in the workplace.

When my instructional design switched to applied behavior change, I discovered students’ true level of learning (which was less than indicated by quizzes that regurgitate facts), actual student learning increased, and their confidence soared through application.

II. Shift from one-and-done training to retained, long-term learning.

Rarely does new learning embed in the brain after one course. Learning takes practice, but most training isn’t designed to support the long-term. There are, however, several strategies that, when designed into leadership programs increase retention.

          A. Design training to be memorable. Memory is enabled with application-based training (rather than “stand and deliver”), use of compelling visuals, and interactive, tactile exercises. For example,, participants assemble a small cardboard box, put the names of “difficult” people inside the box, seal it and write the nasty labels that they’d like to use on the box. And they feel terrible afterward. That feeling is the motivation to learn techniques for difficult discussions that open the box. They practice conversations in class to build skill and confidence.

         B. Provide time to reflect. The brain embeds memory better if there is time to digest new information and consolidate information that is most relevant to the individual. At the end of the program, participants are given time to write down the top three take-aways that they want to apply to their work.

         C. Create follow-up activities as reminders. The brain is lazy and needs reminders to practice a new behavior. Reminders can be a simple drip email campaign on key applications. Homework assignments with follow-up are also useful.

Leadership training whether in-house or outsourced is a huge investment in time and money. Assess your training for application and retention to ensure you get the impact you expect. If you aren’t convinced that your leadership training is meeting your expectations, contact us to create a solution that does.

I started with a footnote and I’ll end with a footnote. For more information about excellence in learning design see:

· Creating Significant Learning Experiences by L.Dee Fink.

· How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching by Susan Ambrose and others.

· The Science of Making Learning Stick: An Update to the AGES Model by David Rock and others.

Is learning something new the best way to combat “pandemic fatigue?”

I don’t know about you, but since mid-March I’ve now seen, heard and read at least a gazillion advice columns and podcasts from “experts” all telling us ways in which we could be improving and enhancing our lives during the pandemic. Whether it’s by organizing the garage or challenging ourselves with new and better habits like baking bread or launching a new career path, these lists of what we “could” be doing are seemingly endless.

As a coach and business mentor, I do find it interesting that experts think the best use of our time in lockdown is to go “outside-of-the-box.” While discovering if you’re good at kneading dough or brewing your own beer will pass the time, it’s not likely going to change who we are as people and our view of the world (Because, are you really going to stop buying bread at the store now?).

On the other hand, what I teach clients to do in their “down time” is a different kind of exploration. It’s one that doesn’t require you to seek out brand new ways of doing things or embracing a totally new way of life. What my coaching program does is it teaches you how to look inward to bring about real change. Neuroscience shows us not only what filters are clouding our view of the world, but also how removing these filters can change everything.

What are the drivers behind your behaviors?

Imagine a Ferrari. It looks sleek and fast. Now imagine a Ferrari with a Ford Focus engine. It still looks sleek but its performance is impacted by the mechanics under the hood. It’s not so different for you. The influences “under your hood” dramatically impact your performance, your work style and communication style. Assessment tools give insight into your workplace behavior; however, they are less helpful for identifying other factors that exist under the hood particularly your stories and filters. Values also have a key influence on your behaviors and are linked to stories and filters. We aren’t going to work on values today, but you can refer back to my previous article to refresh your memory.

Today we dive under the hood to identify and learn about the impact of your filters and stories.

Filters. Filters are the screen through which you see the world. They come from your background and provide your context.  Filters color your perception and impact your decisions, judgements and connections. For example, I’m from a small farming town in Texas, the oldest daughter of a disciplinarian father and polite mother. We attended the Baptist Church every Sunday and always did our homework. Some of these filters showed up early in my engineering career when I worked for the Texas Department of Transportation. An engineer from New York State came to Texas to learn about our projects. As we drove from project to project together, I politely answered his questions, “Yes, sir…” “No, sir….” After a few exchanges, he grew agitated and said, “Why do you keep saying, ‘sir’?  Are you patronizing me?”  I was stunned. When viewed through my filters, I was being respectful by saying “sir” but viewed through his filters, I was patronizing.

What are your filters? Consider your background, family norms, your geographic area and more. All those factors color your perceptions and judgements. Without your awareness, they work from under the hood to sway your view of the work world.  Here are questions to aid you in identifying a few of your filters.

  • Are you from the big city, small town or countryside?
  • Are you the oldest, youngest, middle or only child?
  • What religious tradition were you raised in (if any)?
  • What educational background does your family have?
  • What cultural background were you surrounded by?
  • What hobbies were your family involved in – sailing, camping, music?
  • What hobbies are you passionate about?
  • What did your parents or family do for work?
  • What type of work did you do early in your life?
  • What was your family community involvement like?
  • What political philosophy you were surrounded by?
  • What other environmental factors color the context of your life?

How do these filters impact your world view, your perceptions of others and, possibly, even your decisions? Pay attention to notice their subtle – or sometimes not so subtle – influence.

Stories. Stories are our perceptions of “truths” we internalize from parents, family, teachers, friends or other influential people in our life. The stories stick in the brain and, sometimes when we aren’t even conscious of them, they sway your behavior. Here are a few of my stories:

  • Be nice
  • Work hard
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Play fair
  • Don’t impose
  • Do as you’re told

Stories are powerful influencers from under the hood. For example, I struggled to terminate an under-performing employee because “be nice” echoed in my head. Jumping into a high-energy conversation to express my idea was hindered by the “don’t interrupt” soundtrack. I couldn’t ask for help from a colleague for fear of “imposing. Stories like these get in my way until they are identified and  you develop the skill to consciously choose if, when or how they apply.

One of my coaching clients struggled to overcome his story when applying reflective listening skills. Reflective listening is when you reflect the content from another person to ensure that you understand correctly. You use a phrase such as, “What I hear you saying is….” This client had a strict upbringing by a mother who tolerated no backtalk at all. When he reflected a statement back to a colleague, it sounded like backtalk to his brain. His “no backtalk” story created a block to his communication skills until he diagnosed the story and neutralized its power.

Many stories sit just under the surface so don’t be surprised if they don’t quickly pop to mind. Here are some techniques to aid you in uncovering your stories. Let the questions sit with you and then observe your behaviors and thought processes. What stories or rules are at work under the hood?

  • What “truths” that you were taught by parents, teachers, family or other authority figures stuck with you?
  • What personal “rules” do you adhere to in everyday life?
  • What beliefs do you hold that put boundaries on your behavior?
  • What situations trip you up needlessly? Why? (An example: I couldn’t ask my neighbor to feed our cat while we were on vacation because I didn’t want to impose.)
  • In what situations do you hesitate for seemingly no good reason? Why?

What stories live inside your head? Some may immediately come to mind as mine did. Others take quiet observation and insightful questioning.

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. If you seek perspective on your unique needs from an outside source (such as Syte Consulting Group), someone from that company could talk to your CEO and senior staff to gain more clarity on how to tackle most of the problems you face.

  • 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 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. It’s no wonder that, even after getting eye surgery from https://sharpe-vision.com/austin/ or similar providers, many will opt for glasses or eye drops when using their PCs for added comfort. 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. Although your organization might have experts who have qualified nse4 exams and professional degrees, that tend to be not enough. Because now more than ever your technical managers and other employees 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. There is no longer a need to schedule an important meeting with someone who could make our work-life easier, as an email finding service (look here for more information) can give us all the contact details we need to do this from the comfort of our own desk. Our inclination is to just 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/