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Archive for January, 2010

This past week I realized that there CAN definitely be too many cooks in the kitchen.  I don’t cook very often so for me to even use that analogy, it is way too crowded!  I believe in everyone having a role and everyone’s role having value, but when the line gets fuzzy between the two, I find myself getting uncomfortable and having to trust my gut.  Enough is enough, time to trim some fat!

What is fat in a team project?  To me, it is anything that is unnecessary, overindulgent or undefinable.  But how do you cut what you cannot see?  You have to make an honest evaluation of your team’s strengths and weaknesses for starters.

Like any good recipe, here are the necessary ingredients for a good end result where no one goes away hungry.  First ask  a few necessary questions in your team self-evaluation:

  • What’s working right about your team
  • What’s not working the way it should
  • What weakness can be developed into a strength
  • Can this team get you from where you are to where you should be

The next step is to re-evaluate your teams’ structure:

  • Shared team vision
  • Clear team goals
  • Clear team roles
  • Effective and clearly defined leadership

Lastly, you have to ask hard questions like:

  • Is every member giving their personal best
  • Are the personal objectives of one member stronger than the objectives of the group
  • Does every member of the team have a designated and valuable role
  • Is the responsibility and dedication commensurate with the compensation

One positive way to get the answers to these questions is in the form of peer evaluations instead of self-evaluations.  Devise a system in which the participation of each team member is anonymous as to not put the group under pressure. They are more likely to be honest about their feelings if the others won’t know it was them who had a specific concern or doubt. The greatest way to do all of this is a survey that the group can fill out. It is then that you can address where to trim and by how much.

These days, in this economy, fat is fat and facts are facts.  And it doesn’t always mean completely cutting out an element or team member from the process; it can mean realigning and reassigning tasks that are more appropriate.  One thing that is important to remember: one weak link can undermine a project or even the reputation of the group.  It is important that each team member feel strongly about the others’ role in the success of the project.

While cutting back through self-evaluation sounds like a rogue form of corporate fat-trimming, it really is the quickest way to stop, take inventory and evaluate the direction of a project and the effectiveness of each member of the team; something every team should be willing to do for the good of the whole.

So whether it’s a company project or a t-bone steak dinner for 20 you’re cooking up, make sure there is one chef, many capable cooks and an abundance of servers and dishwashers on hand to see that it, in the end, is fit for a king…or queen!

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Last week I had six meetings over a nine hour work day.  I also attended one single meeting that consumed the better part of my day.  I spent more time meeting and less time actually doing.  This is my plea for the “meeters” of the world to break from the pack and start becoming “doers.”  Many studies find that 70% or better surveyed said their meetings are very often time-wasters and could be more productive.  Others have referred to the workplace meeting as the “black hole.” 

For most, it’s one to eight hours, but a hardy 11 percent of men (men are far more meeting-prone than women) somehow survive 13 or more hours of meetings a week. I have learned over the years to make meetings meaningful and productive, but it has become a developed skill over time.  Almost everyone has suffered through too many meetings that take up too much time and accomplish too little.

Why do people call meetings that aren’t prepared?   Why do people call meetings that never needed to take place?  Because for so many, meetings are a good way to either look busy or sound important.  But because we are busy women with our eye on the prize (which is usually fewer hours in meetings, less time at the office, more time with our families and all at a higher profit margin), we can be part of the solutuion.  Meetings can be very powerful tools, but you have to plan them out long before they happen.

If you learn to plan, structure, and participate in meetings effectively, you will be able improve your own time management and productivity as well as that of other participants.  You first have to determine the purpose of the meeting. The best way to do this is by writing down the purpose of the meeting in one clear sentence, and the expected outcome in another. For example, ‘To decide on a marketing plan and determine the next steps for everyone in the group. To be completed by March 31st.’ This is just the beginning, but if you follow my “Six Under Sixty Rule,” you can plan and keep a meeting productive and under an hour:

  1. Articulate and justify the reason for the meeting
  2. Present an agenda by key topics to be addressed and estimated duration.
  3. Stick to your agenda and time schedule if at all possible.
  4. Establish a follow-up time and date to meet again.
  5. Assign tasks and ask if there are questions.
  6. Wrap up the meeting with a summary of accomplishments and next steps action items.

It’s not rocket science, but it is surprising how many CFO’s and managers don’t stop to evaluate the effectiveness of their meetings.  You can be a positive influence on your next meeting whether you called it or not.  Here are a few ideas:

  1. If invited to a meeting, request an agenda if one is not provided
  2. When attending the meeting, help to keep it on task by politely asking, “where are we in the agenda?”
  3. If a point is being belabored, help to paraphrase and move the meeting along
  4. Be willing to announce a time-check at ten minutes before the scheduled meeting end
  5. Ask for clear, concise next steps
  6. Make sure there is ample time between meetings to accomplish goals

If you continually find yourself in the never-ending cycle of never-ending meetings, be prepared to hold your meeting planner’s feet to the fire of efficiency and productivity.  Everyone will thank you for your efforts and you may even effect positive change on meeting frequency, length or content. Be the change you see in your meetings!

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Actually, you have an obligation to remain silent…the right is in the speech.  On this day of celebration of our inalienable rights, I can’t help but think about our freedoms.  Unfortunately, speaking doesn’t come with an owner’s manual or license, so anyone, anywhere, anytime can say what’s on their mind…therein lies the lesson.

Just because we have the right, does not mean we should not use discretion when we open our mouth.  Sometimes, especially in a customer meeting, NOT talking is the best form of communication.

Statistics show that people want to talk about themselves; no surprise there, but there are further studies that go on to say that no one likes to do business with a know it all.  And friends don’t either.  Do your friends think you’re oblivious, self-absorbed, narcissistic, selfish or egocentric? A conversation is not a monologue — it’s about sharing and paying attention to the needs of the person you’re talking to.

Here are some great tips from an old Kiplinger article: Do You Talk Too Much?

  1. Adopt the traffic-light rule when you talk. During the first 30 seconds, the light is green and your listener probably isn’t bored. During the next 30 seconds, the light is yellow — your risk of annoying the listener increases. Look for a place to stop. After 60 seconds, the light is red. There may be rare times when you should run a red light — for example, when you’re sharing a fascinating anecdote — but, usually, you’d better stop.
  2. When you pause, pose a question, such as, “What do you think?” or “Am I being clear — really?” Adding really gives your listener permission to admit that he or she didn’t understand or wasn’t paying attention.
  3. If, in any conversation, you’re speaking more than 60% of the time, you’re talking too much. Fifty percent is better. Thirty to forty percent is usually best.
  4. Always remember you’ll learn more by listening; at that 30 second mark, look for a place to stop and then engage your ears.

I’m a talker…come from a long line of talkers…and we have to very consciously STOP or even slow down!  It does take conscious effort and a true interest in what others have to say.

And all of this is just to say that today, on this celebration day of our civil liberties, that listening may prove to be a much more coveted trait than speaking ever was.  And sometimes you have to practice at being an active listener…or at least you do in the beginning.  Here are a few tips from The Positive Way on listening as a form of caring:

Active listening is a vital part of good communication.  Mirroring, paraphrasing, and clarification are examples of active listening skills that have been demonstrated to be effective for reaching understanding.  Most communication experts recommend some variation of these skills.  Use them to bridge the gap in your listening differences.  To listen effectively you should CARE for those you’re listening to:

  1. C – concentrate – focus on the speaker
  2. A – acknowledge – through body language – nod your head occasionally or say uh-huh
  3. R – respond – ask questions for clarification and interest
  4. E – empathize – share in their emotions and feelings.  Validate your partner

This may seem fake or insincere, but every habit requires repetition.  And making an attempt beats not trying every time.  At least until it becomes a constant the “fake it ‘til you make it” rule applies.  Practicing to be a good listener will only lead to positive interaction at the negotiating table…and the dinner table!

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As Michael Buble’ croons from my iPod, “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me. And I’m feeling good,” I smile!  One because of my fantasy that Michael Buble’ is personally serenading me and two because I’ve ended up with a Plan B that has outperformed Plan A by a mile! Yes!  A new year, a new beginning and a new direction laced with old skills and old-fashioned excitement!

Meet the new Director of Festivals and Fairs for Rockhouse Partners (me)!  Today I announce the big move from director of marketing for one fair to the director of fairs and festivals for one new-breed entertainment agency focused on interactive marketing and sponsorships within the music and sports industries.  How cool is that?  How fortunate am I? VERY is the answer to both questions. In an economy battling a 10% unemployment rate, not only having a job but creating the job I wanted is an anomaly.

You see while many are job-seeking I began a process of job-creating; while many are un-employed, I developed a plan to become self-employed.  Self employment scares a lot of people, but really, it is the gateway to melding who you are to the core with what you do for a living.

How do you begin the process?

  1. Start a list of what you’re good at professionally
  2. Narrow it down to what you enjoy doing
  3. Re-write your resume to highlight those attributes
  4. Interview for jobs giving you the opportunity to share the list with potential employers (whether you want that job or not, the lesson is in the practice)
  5. Hone your “spiel” until even YOU believe it
  6. Enlist your personal board of directors (Andy Andrews) for feedback and encouragement
  7. Hunt and peck until you find an opportunity that fits YOUR criteria

For me, it was a conscious decision to make the move from “working for the man,” to working for myself (the woman)!  But for you, it may be that you’d like to reach a new income plateau or pursue an area of personal interest.  For example, back in 1989 I sold computer aided design work stations in Southern California.  It was very ordinary.  I was a geek among geeks reporting to a hum drum office every day.  Having an interest in the entertainment industry even back then, I decided to see if I could infiltrate some entertainment-related companies to add some excitement to my day.  By the end of 1991, I not only worked with Walt Disney Imagineering, I had my own office, email and a regular monthly order.  In addition, we landed Universal Studios and their animation and ride design teams.  It doesn’t happen over night, but it NEVER happens if you don’t try!

I didn’t have all the knowledge, but I had the passion; I didn’t have all the connections, but I had determination.  People bought from me over my competitors because I created an opportunity where it did not previously exist.  Why not create an opportunity for yourself based on your true talents and desires?  What have you got to lose by at least knocking out steps 1, 2 & 3?  The answer is: EVERYTHING if you’re not happy in your current profession or job.  Or NOTHING if you just want to imagine what your new day would look like.  Take 30 minutes; start your list then start your new day.  Great things happen when you step outside your comfort zone!

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Integrity has become one of those “buzz” words businessmen and politicians have run so far into the ground that there’s barely a recognizable remnant of it left in society.  It’s one of those words I use when describing the things within me that I feel are non-negotiable.  It’s also one of those words I have trouble articulating, especially to a teenager.

I was recently stumped when faced with addressing a friends’ son who is unfortunately having to learn the word (or the anti-definition of the word) through observing the actions of his own father.  There are many young men whose fathers give extremely poor examples for becoming men of character. There are many young men whose fathers live different lives at home, at work, in the community and in church.  How do you teach a boy about truth, promise-keeping, and concern for others when the most prominent example in his life is doing the exact opposite?  This is my journey for the month; I’m going to start with truth and build from there.

Truth is the stem to all things good.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” Mark Twain suggested that, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”  And one of my favorites from Thomas Jefferson is, “For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead.”  You see we, as a society, have forgotten to always lead with the truth even if we do not have the satisfaction of knowing how things will end up…we should, and we can…but it ain’t easy.

We have allowed truth to have attributes such as “stretching,” “circumventing,” or “little white lies in lieu of.”  Attributes we’d like NOT to teach our children. Why is truth so difficult?  What do I teach my young friend about integrity; and how do I speak in terms he can fully understand?  Am I setting the right example? Is what I say and do enough? I don’t have all the answers, but trying to teach and failing beats not trying at all.

In order to teach it, I must first define it.  Integrity; from the Latin root word means “soundness, wholeness or completeness.”  By Webster’s definition it means “the steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code; incorruptibility.”

I shall teach my friend about that kind of integrity; one of incorruptibility!  As I researched the topic and definition I found some great guidelines and best practices that I’d like to share with you here.  In an article about integrity, savvydaddy.com does a great job in outlining key components to teaching integrity as I’ll extract:

  • Be the example. If you’re doing questionable business deals, cheating on your taxes or not practicing what you’re preaching, your children will see that and pick it up as one of their traits as well. Even everyday things like running red lights when nobody is around, leaving a small tip for your waitress or taking the extra change that the cashier at the grocery store gives you shows a lack of integrity, too. Of course, infidelity is the ultimate cheat that many parents do not consider the circumstances before making a decision to violate a marital contract.
  • Keep your promises. A child’s memory is unbelievable. Keeping your word is part of showing integrity, so be sure to follow through with your promises at all costs. If it’s just impossible to keep your promise, discuss the situation with your child and see if they’ll let you “off the hook.” But make sure this is more of the exception rather than the rule.
  • Teach friendship skills. Teach them the differences between being a “good friend” who has concern for others and being a “bad friend” or an acquaintance. By using friendships as teaching moments, your child will learn that a huge part of integrity is to treat others the same way they’d like to be treated themselves.
  • Instill empathy and compassion. These are two main characteristics of integrity because it teaches children to put themselves in “someone else’s shoes.” If you catch your child making fun of another child on the playground, try to get them to understand how that other child feels when they get ridiculed. By doing this, your child might have a totally different perspective on their actions.
  • Don’t turn the TV off. Watching TV with your child provides a plethora of teaching moments for teaching your children integrity and character-driven values. When your son sees his favorite ball player being questioned about steroid abuse, it’s a great time to explain why drugs are dangerous and unacceptable. You can also find everyday examples all around you if you just look for them.
  • Teach individuality. Many kids will get into trouble by simply following the crowd. They don’t want to be different because they want acceptance from their peers. But you can teach your child that being different is also a great character trait. They don’t have to be like everybody else to have integrity and they certainly don’t have to break the law or get into trouble to be “cool.”

The Savvy Daddy site was a great resource, but I will tell you that this is just the beginning of what I believe is my ongoing conversation with my friend and with myself about integrity.  It’s one of those things that you can’t merely explain you must “do!”  The lesson here is that there should be no difference between who you are at work, at home or at church—whether your kids are watching or not!

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