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

Your Search for communication

Is your life hectic? It seems that everyone I talk with laments their frenzied life. Have you ever considered that your customer or client is also frenzied? You can add to their frenzy with uncertainty or create an oasis of calm certainty through proactive communication. Proactive communication is a simple technique that will set you apart because of the calming response of the customer’s brain to certainty.

Before we examine further, understand that uncertainty activates a threat response in the brain. Certainty activates a reward response in the brain. If your customer is stressed, that reward response will feel like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise hectic day. They will remember that good feeling. Wouldn’t it be nice for you to be the source of that feeling for your client? That’s why you want to master proactive communication.

Proactive communication is simply providing useful information to your client in advance of their needing it. Proactive communication gives them certainty about a meeting, a delivery, a job, a deliverable or whatever it is that you provide to them.  Take Krissia, for example.

My life is particularly hectic and stressful right now. I plan to sell the house my late husband and I shared for 17 years (he bought this house in 1981). Preparing the house to be on the market has been both stressful and emotional. It feels like a sea of uncertainty and I don’t need more.

To prep the house for the market, I’m having it deep cleaned. The first person I contacted agreed to the cleaning date and scheduled a time to stop by to assess the house.  She didn’t show or call. Talk about uncertainty.  That’s when Krissia was recommended. After looking at the house, we scheduled the cleaning day. Before I had a chance to worry if she still planned to show up, I received a text from her confirming the date, the arrival time of her crew and the duration of the work. She was ON IT. Yes, it’s simply good customer service but, it feels like more than that. I never felt a flicker of uncertainty. My brain never went into threat response. Her simple and short text was proactive communication that gave me certainty. The same happened with Oscar whose crew cleaned the yard and with Chuck whose company washed the windows. Each proactively communicated with me so I never worried.

It seems so simple and yet…it’s not. I see companies all the time who add to the client’s stress by creating uncertainty.

How well do you and your organization provide proactive communication?

  • Do you confirm meetings in advance (with the location, agenda and objective)?
  • Do you confirm your arrival time for a lunch meeting?
  • Do you confirm the delivery date for the report you’re writing?
  • Do you provide progress reports? (Once upon a time, I worked for a demanding boss who constantly phoned and emailed for project information. We began providing him a short email every Friday with the status of all the projects of interest to him. We gave him certainty. The calls and emails stopped.)
  • Do you confirm order delivery for products or services you provide?
  • Do you confirm late delivery of the order, report, or service? Proactive communication is even more essential when it’s bad news. The customer may not like the news, but your proactive communication demonstrates that you are on top of the situation, that you are monitoring status and that you are interested enough to let them know. All of that is certainty.

Whether Krissia, Oscar or Chuck, none of them knew my world was spinning wildly out of control. In the midst of my whirlwind, their simple proactive communication provided certainty. Certainty activated my reward circuit and provided calm. And I will buy calm from them again. That’s what proactive communication does.

What does proactive communication look like in your organization and how well are you providing it? It could be the very thing to your client needs to feel certain that they like working with you.



We were climbing out of the Denver International Airport on an overcast day with bumps typical of Denver.  I was flying from a speaking engagement in Keystone to another one in Atlanta and was engrossed in my work when…POP! Flash!  The noise and bright light came from the left wing. The response from passengers was immediate.

“Did you hear that?” “What was it?” “Did you see that flash?” Someone said, “Lightening hit the plane!” Lightening hit the plane? That can’t be good.  From across the plane nervous chatter erupted. Worried thoughts flooded my mind as I thought, “Be calm. Your brain won’t function correctly unless you’re calm.” Easier said than done.  And I thought, we need for the pilot to tell us what’s going on. As minutes passed (fewer than it seemed) I wondered, why isn’t the pilot talking to us? We were left in the dark.

Soon (but not soon enough), the pilot came on the speaker.  Lightening had indeed hit the plane, but, not to worry, the plane is fine.  And with that, he was gone. It took time for the nervous energy to settle, during which I couldn’t focus on my work.

While this is a dramatic example, we leave our staff and teams in the dark all too often.  Something happens in the workplace – a new boss arrives, a big client leaves, technology melts down, there’s a personality conflict between key staff – that are the workplace equivalent of a lightning strike. The team is agitated and thinking is disrupted. Here are ways we leave our staff in the dark:

  • No feedback on performance
  • Limited information on company strategy
  • No context for where a small task fits into the bigger picture
  • No reassurance during leadership transitions or mergers

You see, uncertainty triggers the brain’s threat response. We imagine bad options before good ones. When the brain registers threat and unease, cognitive functioning is impaired and we lose productivity.

What can you do?

  • Communicate what you know even if it isn’t much. You don’t know anything…you REALLY don’t know anything about the situation at hand.  What’s the point of saying that?  For your staff, the difference is that you KNOW you don’t know anything; they don’t. Tell them what you don’t know and give regular updates. At the federal government, every four years the administration changed. Months passed before all the leadership was in place. During that time, staff were uneasy: What would the new boss be like? My leadership team reassured staff, “We don’t know who the new boss will be or when they will arrive. But we do know that we’re doing quality work. Let’s prepare now to bring the new boss up to speed when she arrives.”
  • Over-communicate. As leaders, we are exposed to information that others aren’t. We hear discussion; see emails and network with people that our staff don’t. Share what you can (without violating confidences or proprietary information) and more often than you think necessary. It will create trust, keep your staff at ease and performance at a higher level.
  • Give feedback even when you’re over-whelmed or don’t think it’s necessary. Managers tell me that they’re too busy to provide feedback. Staff, on the other hand, tell me that they are left in the dark not knowing if their work is good, bad or indifferent. Don’t be that manager who, like the pilot, provides scant information.  Put “give feedback” on your to-do list; set a goal to give feedback once a week.

Toward the end of the three-hour flight, the pilot returned with more information.  “Planes,” he explained, “are designed to dissipate the energy from a lightning strike. The pilot and I went through the checklist and all systems are working fine.”  Good to know. Wish I’d known sooner. A little knowledge would have calmed me and everyone else. And I would have been more productive because of it.

Photo copyright:  Igor Zhuravlov



Photo credit: Aleksandr Davydov

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

Use this checklist to plan your connection strategy.

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

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

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

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

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

For office productivity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

For personal connection:

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

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

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

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

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


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

photo credit: rawpixel

 

The world has shifted and here we are – at home – working. Having worked out of my home office for years now, I can say with assurance that there is a difference between working at home for a couple of days a week and working at home for an extended period.  Extended periods at home offer two challenges: productivity and connection with colleagues. Particularly for technical professionals like me, working from home is a chance to dive into those project details that require uninterrupted time. But don’t underestimate the need for connection (and people who feel connected are more likely to be productive). While our current situation is driven by the response to COVID-19, we are likely to see long-term shifts in our work patterns. Start now to develop the habits you will need to work productively from home and keep connections alive and well.

 

Here are four areas to master to remain productive and connected when working from home.

Manage Distractions at Home

Drop-in a load of laundry, pick up the Amazon package, make a grocery list, put the laundry in the dryer, order an item from Amazon, pay a bill online, do a quick check on social media (okay…so that wasn’t so quick), plan dinner, and, in your spare time, entertain your kids. Before you know it, the day is chopped into bits and productivity disintegrates. Instead, bundle the day into productivity pockets that give you focused spurts for designated tasks. It takes will power but you will be rewarded with that good feeling of a day well spent. Use these bundling tactics to your own productivity pockets.

  • Identify the key tasks that need to be accomplished today. What is the task and what is the outcome for each? Approximately how much time will each take?
  • Align the tasks with your energy. If a task requires significant focus, slot it into your high energy period. For choppy tasks, like emails or phone calls or checking in on staff (see below), slot these into lower-energy parts of the day.
  • Balance work tasks with home tasks. Inevitably there are a few tasks around the house that I want to weave into the day. Identify them, too. Slot them into the space between your productivity pockets. For me, that momentary break is a reward for achieving the task goal. Yes, unloading the dishwasher is a reward. Not because I love unloading the dishwasher but because it’s a brief brain break that allows my mind to rest. Use these personal chores strategically in the day. Otherwise, you break concentration, lose your train of thought and spend more time getting back into the groove.

Set yourself up for success by clarifying expectations for response times.

  • Clarify the expected response times with your boss. We tend to believe that responses are needed faster than they really are. Discuss this with your boss to negotiate reasonable response times that balance promptness with productivity.
  • Clarify your expectations on response times with your team or staff. They probably think you expect an immediate response when that may not be necessary. You should think through the same balance between promptness and productivity. Every time you ask them to break away to email, Zoom or call you, they are distracted from other work. What’s most important?
  • Be transparent about your productivity pockets. Tell your boss and staff that you expect to be focused on THE big project from 10 am until noon. You will be off your phone and off email. You’ll check messages at the end of the window. If need be, coordinate with another person to cover for you during that time so that you alternate productivity pockets.

Once you define your productivity pockets, protect that time from the time vampires that suck away the day moment by moment.

  • Turn off the sound on your computer and phone. Turn off the sound. (Caveat: you may have a family situation like a sick child or elderly parent with whom you need to always be available.)
  • Turn off popups. Every time that tiny envelop popups up that indicates a new email in your inbox, your brain is momentarily distracted. It breaks your focus and time drains away as you regain your focus. Simply turn off the popups.
  • Move the phone outside of view. I confess. To truly focus during my productivity pocket, I do best if I move the phone physically out of the room. It’s simply too easy to pick up the phone to check the time, the weather, text messages, Messenger and more. My level of productivity soars when the phone is out of sight.
  • Execute the plan. Sure, something unexpected may happen (actually, something unexpected will happen). When it does, deal with it and get back on your plan and protect your productivity pockets.

Stay connected to employees

It’s tempting to take a deep dive into focused project work; however, as a manager, your staff need your attention now more than ever. Even if you supervise highly technical people who enjoy working alone, they are human and they need a connection. If you have high social people on your staff, they definitely need connection. How will you help them feel connected when everyone is sequestered in their homes away from the watercooler chitchat?

Touch base just because. Call your staff or team members. If need be, put these calls on your to-do list. Plan them into your day as a productivity pocket. I know…this doesn’t feel productive to those of us who go-go-go. But, bodies of research show that you increase productivity when people feel engaged and cared for. When you place these calls, you are actively contributing to productivity.  Call (not email) to inquire about them (not the project). Ask the impact this pandemic situation is having their life with kids, older parents, and canceled vacation plans. Show interest in their personal well-being. That matters to an isolated person with limited contact.

Offer your support. Whether on a phone call, FaceTime or on a virtual meeting platform, ask how you can help them be more productive.  What would make the experience better for them? What do they struggle with? What is it like for them to work from home? How can you help? Ask how you can help them stay connected to you, staff and the organization. Don’t forget to thank them for adapting to this strange environment.

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

Connect visually. Use video conferencing services for visual connection. Adding the visual component immediately makes discussions feel more alive and real.  Leverage the visual element by providing a virtual “tour” of your home office or the view from your window. Have you noticed that it helps you feel connected when you have a visual image of someone in their home or office? Give your staff a visual context of you at work in your home office. Plan to connect visually on a regular basis to fight the sense of isolation.

Conduct effective virtual meetings

You’ve probably had more virtual meetings in the last couple of weeks than in the last month. Virtual meeting platforms (I use Zoom) are remarkably good at simulating an in-person meeting environment. But, they are not the same. To get the most from your virtual meetings you need a different approach. 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. Virtual meetings like a “real” meeting benefit from the same principles. Have an agenda with defined times. Identify the specific goal for the meeting (“By the end of this meeting we will….”). Review action items, the responsible party, and due dates. As in an in-person meeting, you want to be aware of the communication preferences for each of your team members and adapt your style accordingly.

Engage everyone. Virtual meetings, more so than an in-person meeting, benefit from pre-defined roles. Set expectations for their engagement upfront (Keisha will discuss the project x update and Jose Luis will discuss program y). Giving everyone a role also ensures their attention throughout the meeting.

Test technology. Don’t waste the start of the meeting with technology that doesn’t work correctly. Test the link, the webcam, the sound quality, and the connection well in advance. If needed, have participants download the software before the meeting. 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.

Set virtual meeting guidelines. You need clear, explicit guidelines to get the most from your virtual meeting. 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, you need more structured interaction. Use this 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.
  • Mute everyone on entry into the meeting and keep them muted except when speaking. This is particularly important with large virtual meetings. But even small virtual meetings are disrupted when the dog barks, doors slam, or the lawnmower starts up.
  • Raise your hand (visually or on 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.
  • Mute cell phones and no multi-tasking. Be clear that phones are not to be used during the meeting. Attention is expected to be on the discussion in the virtual meeting. Participants are not to walk out of the room during the meeting.
  • 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.
  • Have a good connection. Ask that everyone be in the best location they can for Wi-Fi or cellular reception or hardwire into Wi-Fi.

Write clear emails

Clear communication is a challenge, particularly when working virtually. Email is heavily used (too heavily?) communication medium on a “regular” day in the office. With staff isolated in their homes, email becomes an even more important communication tool. And, email is routinely handled badly. Now’s the time to enhance email writing skills. And, let’s face it, we need this skill no matter our work location.

Clear language. We zip 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 dash off instructions without rereading them. And, then, we are perplexed by miscommunication. An important email is not fast. It is crafted and careful.

  • 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? Make adjustments to ensure clarity.
  • 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?

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

  • Prioritize the messages in the email. Start with the most important and work your way to the least important.
  • Put the action first. What action do you want from the reader? When do you want their action? Make the action the first part of the email.
  • Use bold, italics and highlight to focus the readers’ attention. Visually identify the key points or sections in the email using bold, italics and highlighting. 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 points you intend by making those points obvious to their eye.
  • Provide a bulleted summary of key information. 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 be the background of the issue at hand. Detail may be research that supports the points. Detail may be factors that contribute to the decision. Providing details serve those who crave research and data and it documents the rationale behind your thinking.

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.

  • Reread the email for tone.
  • No emojis in a professional email (FYI. There is no consensus on the plural. It can be either emoji or emojis. I checked.)

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 mistakes. Take a few moments to reread and recheck everything before hitting Send. Email is not a fast-medium. To use it well requires thought.

  • Reread the email for the details.
  • Check the people and conversation on the entire email thread before you forwarded it.
  • Imagine that the email was forwarded to someone else without your knowledge. Would it be received in a professional way?
  • Review all the names in the To and CC lines before hitting Reply All or Forward Are your comments and the comments throughout the chain appropriate for everyone on the email?
  • 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 if you want others to see your participation if you want to register your agreement or disagreement with the group, They don’t if there is no added value such as cc’ing everyone only to say “Thank you.”

We are in unusual times and everyone is adapting to the temporary situation. Even after the COVID-19 threat recedes, I believe we will 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.


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.

 

Insightful Leadership Institute Seeks a Dynamic Social Media and Website Manager

Job Description: Part Time (for now) Social Media and Website Manager

A fast-growing, woman-owned business seeks a goal-focused and creative Social Media and Website Manager who gets things done and who wants to contribute to having an impact on others through the Insightful Leadership Institute (ILI). The goal for the Social Media and Website Manager is to develop and execute a social media, newsletter and website strategy to grow the reach and message of the ILI. Responsibilities In collaboration with the founder, Shelley Row,and the ILI Business Manager this person will be responsible for developing and executing a social media, SEO, newsletter and website strategy to expand the message and enhance the positioning of the ILI brand.

The Social Media and Website Manager will develop coordinated messages and keywords to be used across all social media, newsletter and website platforms. The successful candidate will have skills in virtual marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) and will apply those skills to creatively develop, design and implement messages across LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook as a minimum for an intentional social media strategy.

The candidate will also be responsible for creating and implementing a newsletter platform that expands the impact of the ILI to targeted audiences. The candidate will manage contact lists through MailChimp and KarmaCRM and leverage the lists for use in marketing ILI products and services. The Social Media and Website manager will also have responsibility for leveraging and updating the ILI website for consistent messaging and SEO.

The candidate will post blogs with targeted links and keywords and implement payment platforms via the website. The candidate will also provide routine website maintenance and updates to ensure efficient loading, security and constant availability.The Social Media and Website manager will work with the Business Manager to use social media, the newsletter and website to launch new programs (such as online programs, webinars, podcasts, speaking events) and ensure clear consistent messaging across all platforms.

Skills and Attributes

The candidate should have the following skills:

•Application of social media platforms (specifically LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter),

•Design of social media graphics,

•Creating and launching newsletters,•Basic video editing (for YouTube),

•Managing contact lists via MailChimp and Karma to support marketing goals,•Use of Karma (or similar CRM platform) for lead tracking and follow-up,

•Creating auto-marketing responders for consistent follow up with client leads,

•Skill in WordPress for website updates and routine maintenance (website design and extensive maintenance work would be done through other contracts as necessary),

•Proficiency in Microsoft office products such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint,

•Graphic design fundamentals.

This position is for you if…

You want to bean active collaborator in a dynamic environment that gives you the creative freedom to apply your skills to reach goals. In addition to being an exciting opportunity with tremendous growth potential, this position allows you to learn from Shelley’s leadership experience, participate first-hand in growing an entrepreneurial business that makes a difference in the world and allows you to participate in a dynamic business from the inside out.

Work Environment

The position starts at 20 hours per week and is likely to grow. During the trial period of three months, the Social Media and Website Manager will be an hourly contractor. Once we determine that there is a mutually beneficial fit, the position becomes an employee with a salary. The Social Media and Website Manager may work remotely much of the time but should plan to be in the ILI offices in Annapolis, MD a couple days per week when Shelley is in town.

The Insightful Leadership Institute was founded by Shelley Row, PE, CSP and is based in Annapolis, MD. Trained as an engineer, Shelley is passionate about helping technical professionals transform their technical skills into management and communication skills. These are skills that Shelley had to learn to become a senior executive in the federal government. Today, she is a sought-after speaker and trainer. And she consults for leadership development particularly to technical companies. To learn more about the ILI, see our website at www.shelleyrow.com.Interested candidates should send a cover letter, resume, references and relevant work examples to shelley@shelleyrow.com.

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.



We’re learning about the ten skills that technical professionals need when they become a manager. Today we’ll talk about the importance of knowing the influences outside your organization that can shift its direction and how you can stay on top of them.

Look Up and Out to See the External Factors Influencing Your Organization

Be super-duper cautious. Don’t rock the boat. Keep it under the radar. Send up no red flags. Milk toast all the way. That’s the environment my boss wanted and needed. It was, you see, an election year. His strategy: No news about his department was good news. Those factors impacted the projects selected, the reports released, events attended and briefing points (which was the art of saying something without saying anything).

The political environment is only one outside influence beyond the data that impacts your organization’s trajectory. For example, within the growing cannabis industry, understanding how the best trade associations may affect your sales output is vital, as their strategies in marketing can directly affect your reach. While these influences may seem tangential, they are serious business to others and impact your organization in a very real way. What are they for your organization? And how are you tracking them?

In order for your organization to stay relevant, here are five factors to consider, along with methods to keep you on top of the game.

Political factors. If you work in a public agency, you already know that your world shifts during an election year. Even so, I saw staff taken by surprise when their project was swept up or swept out during the election season. There’s no reason to be surprised if you’re paying attention. Those outside of the public sector aren’t immune. Is your company affiliated with a headline-grabbing project or policy? Does that visibility work to your benefit or do you need damage control? Do you need to shout your involvement from the mountaintop or hide under a bushel? You can only answer those questions astutely if you’re paying attention, looking up and out and adapting accordingly.

Questions to ask yourself about political factors include:

  • What are the local hot topics?
  • Is there a high-visibility project that’s been in the news?
  • Is a large-scale development pushing through the process?
  • Is there a controversial policy up for a vote?
  • How do you need to position your organization to account for these issues?

Methods to track political factors include:

  • Read the newspaper (for local and national news)
  • Listen to a variety of news sources with different perspectives
  • Subscribe to trade-specific newsletters (Politico e-newsletters are one example)
  • Read trade magazines
  • Participate in local clubs (such as Rotary)
  • Be part of the local Chamber of Commerce

Outside relationships. What outside relationships is your organization courting? Maybe your organization has a strategic partner or a key client. If so, that relationship likely influences decisions, projects, and resource allocation. It may require extra effort to make them feel special. That relationship may move them to the head of the line for product delivery or service needs. Your responsiveness and tone may need to be extra accommodating when working with them. Or perhaps your industry is going through consolidation so that mergers and acquisitions are common. In my exposure to this type of external influence, the organization may choose to closely manage cash flow that could impact funds flowing to travel, training and other supportive features. How might this external influence impact you? You may want to keep your ear to the ground so that you can adapt your approach to external relationships.

Check out this article from The Globe and Mail about making the most of organizational politics.

Ways to stay informed on your organization’s relationships.

  • Read the company newsletter (if there is one)
  • Talk to people throughout the organization
  • Notice where your organization spends its resources
  • Create and use an internal network
  • Attend trade association meetings and talk with other organizations you work closely with

Societal trends. If your organization is composed of people and serves people, then you are impacted by societal trends. Take a step back and consider the trends you observe. What has shifted? How has the way you live your life changed? What do these changes mean to your organization, the people in it, the people it serves? Will the societal shifts impact hiring practices, will your marketing messages change or the services you offer to staff transform? Societal trends may be anything from shortening attention spans, the rise of visual communication, shared-ride services or even the shift in legality of cannabis. All of this and more have potential implications for your organization. What are they? And, are you anticipating the implications?

For example, if your organization carries out drug tests as part of its pre-employment screening process, it is in your best interest to advertise this fact. A large number of employers in diverse sectors such as healthcare, transport, and government now require employees to complete a 7 panel drug test as part of the recruitment process. This is often due to federal regulations and safety concerns. It is therefore important to keep changing attitudes towards drug use in mind when recruiting.

Review this Forbes article for a shortlist of societal trends.

You can stay on top of societal trends by:

  • Paying attention in general
  • Noticing trending topics
  • Reading/watching/listening to articles on current trends

Technology trends. There is no doubt that in today’s world, technology impacts every aspect of life and business. What technology trends will influence your organization? In my world, connected and autonomous vehicles are changing everything. What’s the equivalent for your industry? Consider the impact of voice control like Alexa and Siri. How are you staying on top of these new technologies and their implication? I confess, I’m not an “early adopter.” Now, however, I’m intentionally investing in new technology to force myself to stay reasonably up to date. Without it, I will lose relevance. How are you staying relevant? How are you adapting your organization for these and other coming trends? You can’t afford to be lax where technology is concerned.

This article from SimpliLearn has a summary of some of the most relevant technology trends.

Here’s a short list of technology innovations to watch:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Blockchain
  • Cyber Security
  • Internet of things
  • Connected and automated vehicles
  • Robotic process automation

Stay up on technology trends by:

  • Reading/watching/listening to popular press
  • Read about the latest technology at the Consumer Electronics Show
  • What technology is new on the market?
  • Buy new technology when you can to gain personal experience.

World trends. Now take a step way back. As you scan the horizon what global trends will influence the trajectory of your organization and how? Admittedly, these may be high-level trends, but they arise from the consolidation of local trends. These may be long-horizon issues that require consideration of long-term positioning for your organization and industry. You don’t want to be last but you will be if you’re not paying attention.

Here’s an excellent McKinsey article on world disruptive trends.

World trends are easy for some, less so for others as it requires an ability to assimilate information from more sources. If this is not your skill set, identify and follow people who do this well. Consider:

  • Futurists (like Jude Foulston)
  • Columnists or authors (such as Thomas Freidman) who are particularly skilled in assimilating trends.

All of these factors influence your organization now and into the future. The question for you is: Are you paying attention? Are you making time to stay in-the-know? If not, you may need to adjust your information sources.

An executive once told me to see through a microscope and through a telescope. Are you doing both?

Share your stories about external influences and how you’re preparing with Shelley here.