When you want to help with uncertainty

While I will never get political in any of my writing, our current circumstances seem completely out of balance. These circumstances are creating significant stress and uncertainty in people’s home, families and organizations.

I have noticed a general sense that we went from an attitude of “we can do this!” to extreme fatigue, frustration and even resignation in the course of 7 months. Our economy is okay (some of you may disagree with me) but certain industries are struggling.

We continue to move toward automation that can eliminate certain jobs but there are new skill sets that will create new jobs as long as we provide opportunities to learn them. Higher education is being majorly disrupted to the point that people are not sure if getting a degree is worth the investment. People are unsure which discipline to choose to pursue in these times. Inside the virtual walls of organizations, some can’t hire people fast enough while others contemplate how long can they make payroll.

Put all of this together and you get mixed signals and unclear directions. I am very unsure as to what the future holds and how we will all pull through this. I have to have hope because the alternative is something I can’t fathom. Whatever the source of change and stress, there are a few things managers can do for their teams right now…especially, if you are in budget-cutting mode.

Set clear expectations.

I could write a whole book on this. The simplest action managers, at all levels, can take is to set expectations with each team member so they know their scope of work and what they are responsible for. I am always amazed how many professionals I speak to tell me that they don’t really know what they are on the hook for at work. They can describe their role but when I ask how they are measured, I get blank, virtual stares.

I have worked for several organizations where I had no clue what I was going to be measured on or, even at times, what my role was. The number of times where I found someone else doing exactly what I was doing would make a long list. So, I would do what I think added value all the while guessing if it was truly the right thing to do.

In the setting expectations department, managers need to stop doing these 5 things:

  1. Stop assigning the same task to different people to see who will get it done first. This creates animosity and territorialism…not to mention wastes time and money.
  2. Stop speaking in generalities about a role and get specific. Set clear goals with targets, deliverables and dates.
  3. Stop avoiding the performance measurement question; tell people what they will be measured on. Is it only the completion of activities or is there another measure like client service? Quality? Reduction in a process? Saving money? Being on time? The worst thing that can happen is someone gets a terrible review for something they had no idea they were supposed to focus on!
  4. Stop letting your team decide who should do what. This creates a Lord of the Flies situation where everyone tries and takes the conch. I have been a part of too many of these exercises and they always end badly with someone dominating and someone upset. Get input from your team but, as a leader, make the decision. Don’t put that stress on your team to do that for themselves.
  5. Stop avoiding feedback sessions where your team member needs critical feedback. Be kind but honest. Avoiding giving feedback does NOT help them. It may not feel good to deliver critical feedback but that is to help them. If your team member continues to go down the wrong road, that could impact their career at the organization. Your job is to help them even if it is uncomfortable for you.

Share what you can even if it isn’t much.

I always respected a leader who told me even little bits during times of great stress and change. Even if this person said: “We are figuring some things out and while I cannot share confidential information, I will let you know information when I am able,” I felt like they acknowledged the situation.

I have been laid off once in my career due to a start-up growing too quickly that they couldn’t sustain their growth. It is a terrible feeling to lose your job be it from a layoff, a firing, an unsuccessful experiment.

When I was laid off, the head of HR delivered the message to 12 of us at once. He had great compassion, didn’t mince words and let us know what our options were. He was incredibly professional and open to even being a counselor of sorts. I will never forget what a class act he was in delivering terrible news.

Do your thing to create value.

In uncertain times, sometimes all you can do is focus on your work and create value, whatever that looks like, in your job. It is easy to give up, resign to everything being out of your control and go lay on the couch and watch re-runs of Law & Order (even though they are totally entertaining). I can joke because I have done this. When I lost my job, I was devastated. I, in no way, thought this could happen to me.

The truth is, if an organization is struggling, it may be out of your control. So, don’t get sucked onto the couch, get your resume together, connect with others but also re-engage on your job. Do what you love and show how valuable you are. That is so much better than giving in. As a manager, help your people do the same.

Take stock.

Sometimes, times of stress and uncertainty can create opportunities to look at ourselves and what we want to accomplish. It also is not a bad time to list what you are grateful for. Anything you can make “certain” in times of ambiguity; take those opportunities to help you have some security in something…even if it may not be your job at the moment.

I have given my team advice about making gratitude lists and thinking about their career goals. Times of uncertainty can create those moments where we can do our deepest thinking.

Demonstrate empathy.

Back to my opening, these times scream for extra empathy. Even if you are not good at this, get better. Start just by making time to listen. People need a ton of flexibility during these times if the organization can allow it. Not all situations can be accommodated for but we need to listen and try to come up creative solutions. Whether it is time off to visit ailing parents, a flexible schedule to help a struggling teen with virtual learning or more breaks throughout the day to walk the dog to mentally break from stressful work. Try and do those things.

Everyone responds to stress and uncertainty differently. One of my favorite thoughts from a book (I have this in my phone) is from Amber Rae’s book: “Choose Wonder over Worry” — Not knowing is not stressful; that fact that we need to know is (mic drop). I think many of us struggle to know what someone else knows or to have 100% guarantee of something but that is not possible. We need to breathe and try and take action during times where we just don’t know what will happen.

As a manager, you can help your team by following some of above. Psst….these things can help you too!

When you have to make a tough decision: 3 tips to help steer you

As a manager, you are faced with some tough decisions. Deciding on compensation, promotions, assignments, hiring, firing, and budget cuts (my least favorite) are all part of reality as a manager. Most managers try and find the most fair decision based on some criteria.

Determining what is fair maybe “should” be obvious but, oftentimes, decisions can get caught in a web of ambiguity. There is no black and white…only gray. What may benefit you, may not benefit your team. What might be best for the organization can hurt someone on your team.

There are many models and frameworks that can help you make a decision. Typical frameworks direct you to frame the problem, gather information, identify alternatives, collect evidence, weigh the evidence and choose the best solution. This sounds good as a process but determining “best” can be difficult to achieve as our definition will vary among all of us. It is also difficult to prevent our bias from creeping in when identifying solutions and choosing the right one.

In some circumstances, there may not be a “right” one. “Right” is in the eye of the beholder especially if there is a decision for the greater good that may impact a single person negatively. So, what can a manager do in these circumstances?

When I look to make a tough decision, I compare benefits and challenges. I think through risks and consequences. I solicit others’ opinions, if appropriate, to help me think through the implications of the decision as completely as I can. I also believe in transparency as much as possible. If people can voice their opinion in a decision, they will feel better about it even if the decision doesn’t go their way.

One time I had the responsibility to decide who on the team I had to cut. We were given a directive to trim staff and I had to decide whose position I would eliminate and how the work would either be absorbed, paused or stopped. Ugh. The worst possible decision a manager has to make.

In hindsight, I wish leadership would have been more transparent into the financial situation and enrolled the managers in HOW we could cut. Even though this was not done, I weighed by entire budget and looked at vendors, external programs and other areas to trim. I bundled together enough savings through other areas to avoid cutting my small team. Letting people go should be the absolute last resort a company should look to save money (in my opinion). Unfortunately, in tough financial times, this is the only way to go.

Decision-making can be complex to break down. I could list many factors here to keep in mind but the following three actions have helped me the most in making good decisions.

  1. Write it down. Documenting thoughts can be helpful in making a decision. I find I struggle the most when I just try to sort everything out in my head. Whether you are an ole Benjamin Franklin’er where you list two columns labeled pros and cons or whether you follow a more complex model, put it on paper or type it on your screen. This helps you get out of you head. Seeing something written down can spark all kinds of clarity.
  2. Find the middle. Some decisions are difficult because there is no win-win. Of course, I always look for the win-win, if that is achievable, but when it is not, I look for a compromise or what might be in the middle. I have read some leaders who think no one “wins” in a compromise because no party gets what they really want. I don’t think it is a win for anyone if someone gets all of what they want and someone gets zero. To balance fairness, I think it can be more effective if we can come up with a compromise that meets some needs of all parties. Finding compromise can take creativity. This can take more time, take more convincing, and take more influencing ability on your part. I have always found that the middle is more effective in a complex situation.
  3. Know your “why”. Thinking about communicating and influencing, it is important to know why your decision is the best one for this time, this organization and this circumstance. Sometimes a decision made at a different time or in a different group would not be the right one. Knowing your “why” will help you defend the decision and get others behind you.

There are many factors that can go into making an effective decision. Documenting, being creative, seeking middle ground and having a strong rationale behind your decision will help you gain confidence and demonstrate leadership. Some decisions are straightforward but others can be complicated and challenging to make.

My last piece of advice on this is once you make the decision, do not second guess yourself. Don’t keep re-visiting the decision. Know your “why”, write it down and share it with others. Stand firm. Second-guessing only leads to stress and can make you appear less confident, which will make others question the decision. And, sometimes, managers get it wrong. We are human after all. That’s okay. Learn the lessons and apply them to the next decision.

When you want to delegate but are afraid to: 6 pitfalls to avoid

As a people manager, there are a number of responsibilities we have that may seem challenging, not just when starting out, but at any time as a manager. Some of those include delivering critical feedback, communicating bad news, putting someone on a performance improvement plan, resolving conflict and delegating (among others).

Delegating can feel weird to some. The biggest challenge I see in new managers is determining when to delegate and when not to delegate. Some may not have the confidence to delegate; some may not know what is appropriate to delegate. Some may be concerned with how it looks to others to delegate and not to do all the work themselves. Some, quite frankly, may have control issues or suffer from perfectionism. In that case, delegating may seem out of the question to them.

There is certainly a level of trust that must exist between a manager and their team to delegate appropriately. This trust goes both ways. The manager needs to trust that the work will be completed and completed in a way that supports the objectives of the effort. Team members also need to be able to trust the manager to delegate interesting work that fits their skills or even stretches them from time to time.

Delegating meatier projects is an excellent development opportunity for your teams. People want purpose in their work. People, usually, relish a challenge. Whenever you have the chance to delegate an interesting project instead of taking it on yourself, try it. Your team members may surprise you. And, when they perform well, you perform well. After all, you are a team.

There are several pitfalls I have seen managers fall into; I have fallen into them myself early in my career. Keep these in mind when assigning work.

  1. Don’t hoard work. This may seem obvious but the short note is…delegate. I have known managers who keep all of the work to themselves to appear valuable to their leadership. Unfortunately, some cultures still support and reward those who put in extra hours and are the “doer”. In those cultures, the role of the manager is under-appreciated so managers don’t manage; they don’t delegate. I encourage managers to think before they hoard. If the culture is really one that rewards hoarding of work, or what I call the “hero syndrome”, try and nudge the culture. Get a group of leaders and managers together to try and change that.
  2. Don’t delegate all of the work. On the flip side, people don’t respect managers who do nothing but assign work and not roll up their sleeves from time to time. I once had a peer several years ago who did nothing but “manage”. The problem was she started to appear that she had nothing to do. All she did was act as a traffic cop assigning projects to the three people on her team while she engaged in, what appeared to be, nothing. Unfortunately, this did not bode well for her because she was asked to find another job.
  3. Don’t just delegate tasks. One of the biggest mistakes I see is when a manager delegates simple tasks but keeps the broader project to herself. Instead, share the overall objective and context as to what the work is and why it is important to the organization. Try delegating a work stream or even the entire project instead of just a few tasks. I learned in my very first management class to delegate goals and not tasks. Delegating goals empowers the team member to do a complete job and feel a sense of purpose. To only get tasks piecemeal is not very motivating. Once again, I ask you to put yourself in their shoes and practice empathy. How would you feel if that is all you got from your manager?
  4. Don’t micromanage. Once you delegate, whether it be a project or part of a project, let it go (to some degree…see below). Don’t stand over your team member and make sure they do everything the way you think it should be done. I have written a bit about micromanaging before. Definitely set deadlines and have project status updates but don’t hover. “How” someone does something may not be important if they get to the same end result. Catch yourself if your team member is not doing something the way you would do it. This can be especially difficult for those new to delegating. The old saying: “If you can’t get something done right, do it yourself” does not apply. Resist that urge.
  5. Don’t disappear. Delegating certainly means to assign work and empower others to manage an effort but you should not be too far away. Your team members may need feedback or they may need you as a sounding board. As a manager, you need to be that person. Providing feedback and coaching is part of effective delegation. Some managers struggle with giving feedback and, therefore, avoid it. This is one of the most important roles a manager plays. Delegation does not mean you, as the manager, has no role to play. I have senior managers on my team and they run their projects but we discuss the goals, the approach, the change management components of what we are doing. That is the role I play on the team.
  6. Don’t let accountability slip. Delegating does not mean to assign a project and forget it. Setting deadlines, reviewing their approach and checking in are all a part of managing effectively. As the manager, you are accountable for certain work to get done. I had a friend new to management say she was just so nervous to delegate but she knew it was the right thing to do. She would delegate a project and then had knots in her stomach for weeks while she got out of the way. Getting out of the way doesn’t mean you can’t check in, ask questions and brainstorm with your team member. None of this is micro-managing. This is effective management.

The trick to delegating is to strike the right balance — don’t delegate too much but delegate enough. Don’t hover but don’t disappear. Finding this balance takes time and experience. Through trial and error, you can figure out what your team is capable of and what you are capable of. This is how trust gets built.

There is no denying that delegating, holding accountable, providing coaching and feedback instead of doing the work yourself takes more time. But, this is the crux of people management. Your job is to develop others so they can grow and add value to the organization. Delegation allows your team to achieve this.

When you want to please everyone: 7 tips to be a respected manager and let go of needing to be liked

One of the hardest parts about being a manager is that sometimes you have to make an unpopular decision, communicate bad news or take action that benefits one of your team members but not another. These can be difficult tasks to undertake but may be necessary to benefit the greater good or make financial sense.

The end result of these actions is that some or all of your team may not “like you” in the moment or may not like you period. This can be a blow to our self-esteem or confidence when we find out that someone is not a fan of our work. We can start to wonder…did they not like the decision or do they not like me? For some, it is hard to separate the decision from the person.

Many of us have the people-pleaser gene. It can feel daunting to gain the trust of people if you aren’t liked by them. I find there is a direct parallel between parenting and managing. If you are parent, of course you want your children to like you but, honestly, who likes someone who makes them eat broccoli or clean their room? No one. But, do you insist they do these things? Yes. Because it creates good habits and self-sufficiency and that matters more than being “liked”.

As a manager, I am sure you don’t care if your team member eats broccoli or cleans their room, but you do care if they meet deadlines, manage their budgets, and deliver on objectives. Sometimes, questions need to be asked, feedback needs to be delivered and directions need to be changed.

We should look at this the same way as running a household. But, I have known managers who cave and don’t deliver critical feedback because it is too hard or let things go without correction because they are afraid they won’t be liked anymore or they will hurt the employee’s feelings. This does no one any good….including your team member. Allowing them to go down a path you know will not result in the best outcome to spare their feelings is irresponsible.

Managers need to make hard decisions and share critical feedback. They need to staff projects a certain way and cut budgets when necessary. None of these actions may be popular but they sometimes need to be done. There are 7 actions you can take as a manager to execute the difficult things and not be seen as a bully, heartless or unlikeable.

  1. Show empathy. I hear people confuse “sympathy” with “empathy” often. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from their point of view. It is to display understanding. Sympathy is to show pity and sorrow for the other person. Sometimes, that may be warranted, but, most of the time, in business, start with empathy.
  2. Communicate the why. If a decision is unpopular and may not be received well, you owe it to everyone, including you, to share why the decision was made. Reasonable people will understand. When you don’t have a reason is when people will start to question your motives. Be sure to have a reason and, definitely, don’t keep it a secret.
  3. Listen. Tied to empathy, if someone is unhappy with you, make time to listen. Now, there is a difference between listening to reason and listening to griping. However, as a manager, you may need to listen to some complaining. People need to vent. There can be a point where it becomes too much or too often, but allowing people to get their feelings or objections off of their chests can also help to build trust. If it becomes a habit, then you may need to ask them to change their behavior.
  4. Apply the rules consistently. Two traits you can display to your team to gain their trust and respect include integrity and fairness. Integrity means following through and doing what you say you will do. Fairness is to apply rules and frameworks consistently. Do not favor one person over the other. Do not favor one project over the other. If you are fair and even, people will then even be able to predict what you might do or say in a situation, which means they can be prepared. People don’t like surprises (except on their birthdays). Do your best to be above board.
  5. Don’t apologize. My personal favorite. DO NOT (yes…I put this in caps) apologize. I had a manager in my early years on the job who apologized every time someone challenged them. I then found myself doing the same thing. I am really sorry but I think we should go the other direction. I am sorry you disagree so let’s do what you said. Ugh! Then, I had a mentor tell me that apologizing all the time takes away from your confidence and expertise. He told me that I am on the payroll for my opinion. Be polite and professional but don’t apologize for having a different opinion.
  6. Stay the course. Stay true to the decision. A short walk from apologizing is to actually change your opinion or direction. Don’t fold to pressure by your team unless you truly feel they are right and you are not. Integrity also means having the confidence to say you’re wrong and try a new way. Assess each situation to see what you should do.
  7. Debrief. One way to build team and trust is to debrief a situation or project

One of the hardest parts about being a manager is that sometimes you have to make an unpopular decision, communicate bad news or take action that benefits one of your team members but not another. These can be difficult tasks to undertake but may be necessary to benefit the greater good or make financial sense.

The end result of these actions is that some or all of your team may not “like you” in the moment or may not like you period. This can be a blow to our self-esteem or confidence when we find out that someone is not a fan of our work. We can start to wonder…did they not like the decision or do they not like me? For some, it is hard to separate the decision from the person.

Many of us have the people-pleaser gene. It can feel daunting to gain the trust of people if you aren’t liked by them. I find there is a direct parallel between parenting and managing. If you are parent, of course you want your children to like you but, honestly, who likes someone who makes them eat broccoli or clean their room? No one. But, do you insist they do these things? Yes. Because it creates good habits and self-sufficiency and that matters more than being “liked”.

As a manager, I am sure you don’t care if your team member eats broccoli or cleans their room, but you do care if they meet deadlines, manage their budgets, and deliver on objectives. Sometimes, questions need to be asked, feedback needs to be delivered and directions need to be changed.

We should look at this the same way as running a household. But, I have known managers who cave and don’t deliver critical feedback because it is too hard or let things go without correction because they are afraid they won’t be liked anymore or they will hurt the employee’s feelings. This does no one any good….including your team member. Allowing them to go down a path you know will not result in the best outcome to spare their feelings is irresponsible.

Managers need to make hard decisions and share critical feedback. They need to staff projects a certain way and cut budgets when necessary. None of these actions may be popular but they sometimes need to be done. There are 7 actions you can take as a manager to execute the difficult things and not be seen as a bully, heartless or unlikeable.

  1. Show empathy. I hear people confuse “sympathy” with “empathy” often. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from their point of view. It is to display understanding. Sympathy is to show pity and sorrow for the other person. Sometimes, that may be warranted, but, most of the time, in business, start with empathy.
  2. Communicate the why. If a decision is unpopular and may not be received well, you owe it to everyone, including you, to share why the decision was made. Reasonable people will understand. When you don’t have a reason is when people will start to question your motives. Be sure to have a reason and, definitely, don’t keep it a secret.
  3. Listen. Tied to empathy, if someone is unhappy with you, make time to listen. Now, there is a difference between listening to reason and listening to griping. However, as a manager, you may need to listen to some complaining. People need to vent. There can be a point where it becomes too much or too often, but allowing people to get their feelings or objections off of their chests can also help to build trust. If it becomes a habit, then you may need to ask them to change their behavior.
  4. Apply the rules consistently. Two traits you can display to your team to gain their trust and respect include integrity and fairness. Integrity means following through and doing what you say you will do. Fairness is to apply rules and frameworks consistently. Do not favor one person over the other. Do not favor one project over the other. If you are fair and even, people will then even be able to predict what you might do or say in a situation, which means they can be prepared. People don’t like surprises (except on their birthdays). Do your best to be above board.
  5. Don’t apologize. My personal favorite. DO NOT (yes…I put this in caps) apologize. I had a manager in my early years on the job who apologized every time someone challenged them. I then found myself doing the same thing. I am really sorry but I think we should go the other direction. I am sorry you disagree so let’s do what you said. Ugh! Then, I had a mentor tell me that apologizing all the time takes away from your confidence and expertise. He told me that I am on the payroll for my opinion. Be polite and professional but don’t apologize for having a different opinion.
  6. Stay the course. Stay true to the decision. A short walk from apologizing is to actually change your opinion or direction. Don’t fold to pressure by your team unless you truly feel they are right and you are not. Integrity also means having the confidence to say you’re wrong and try a new way. Assess each situation to see what you should do.
  7. Debrief. One way to build team and trust is to debrief a situation or project especially if people don’t agree with you. They may not have had a chance to influence the decision or feedback but invite them to tell you how it went. Again, show emptily and listen. Engaging them in a post-situation debrief can help demonstrate that.

For some of us, not being people pleasers can seem impossible. I suffered from this for a long time but I believe in integrity and inspiring trust and respect over “being liked”. The real secret is…(drum roll please….) the more you are strong, open and consistent, the more you will be liked and respected as a leader. Professionals actually respect managers that can make tough decisions, communicate effectively and be fair even if it doesn’t go their way. That boss I had that always apologized made me question her values. I never knew what she stood for as she was always flip-flopping to please the person in front of her. She wanted me to like her but I had a hard time respecting her, which ultimately led to my departure from the organization. Don’t let this happen to you!

When you want to pivot your career: 9 things to consider

Perhaps during these times, some of us are considering a new career path. This could be in response to external factors happening to us, like a job loss or a change in daily schedules and responsibilities, like kids being home for school.

Sometimes, it comes from within. We find that we spend so much time “working” that what we are spending 40+ hours a week doing is not aligned to our values or interests. Perhaps during these times, we are getting to know ourselves and reflecting on what matters. We might find ourselves thinking that we are not putting our time and energy where we want it to go. Whatever the motivation, we might be thinking about trying a new line of work.

As an aside, I have written about this before…focusing on your Ikigai – the ultimate Venn diagram of what I like to do, what I am good at doing and what I can make money doing. In case you don’t think so, now is the right time to do this self-exploration to make sure you are living in alignment with yourself – values, interests, skills, principles and philosophy. I highly encourage you to take time to reflect now.

If you find yourself wanting to pursue a different path, it may feel overwhelming to figure out how to start anew. Here are some things I have learned along my career journey.

  1. Don’t quit your day job. Some may give different advice here. Some may suggest to quit corporate life and start your own “thang”. This has worked for some; I cannot say this never works. However, if you are a tad trepidatious about leaving a job for something else, don’t do it. There are many things you can take action on to crystallize a new path without sacrificing a paycheck. That paycheck can give you some security while you are exploring your new adventure. If you want to make a big switch, you may need savings to do this.
  2. Do your research. One thing you can do is a little research. If you know what you want to do, do some research to find out what those people do, what education they have, what organizations need people doing this work or, perhaps, this is about being independent. If so, then what is the market like for independents in the area you want to pursue. If you want to become a lawyer, what is the market for lawyers. If you want to move into technology, what is that market like (which I think is pretty good today!).
  3. Connect with others. The best way, outside of a good Google search, is to try and use your network to find people who actually do what you want to do. Perhaps you are in marketing but want to shift to education. This shift is a lot easier to make as there are many transferrable skills. But, if you’re in finance and want to become a doctor…well, this is a much bigger shift to make. Connecting with others is the best way to assess if this is a life and career you want. I know a couple of doctors and they are rewarded by what they do but it was a long road in terms of time and money to get there. Learning this will help you determine if you’re willing to jump in. For the longest time, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Then, I worked in a law firm early in my career and decided…mmmm, maybe not.
  4. Get smart. If you want to pursue a vastly different path like finance to doctor or sales to architect, you will need to pursue external education. Even if you want to move from HR to Technology, acquiring new skills will be important to make that shift. Luckily, today there are so many options for education. Unless you need an MD or JD, you can consider other options than a university, like Coursera or Udemy, or an online degree that will equip you in a cost-effective manner that is designed for working adults.
  5. Start where you are. If you want to shift from Marketing to HR or HR to Technology, consider trying to make that shift with your current employer. They know you best. They might be more supportive of this type of switch because you have knowledge of the company and culture. Look at your internal job boards and talk to Recruiting. You’d be surprised how committed a number of companies are to seeing people move across departments. This type of movement can be very valuable to a company. Moving from the field to HQ or from being client facing to a support function ensures different knowledge and experiences gets transferred from one group to another. Recruiting can also tell you, specifically, what education or experience you need to qualify. This can be invaluable to helping you to get started.
  6. Begin on the side. If part of the reason you want a change is to try something completely new, try doing it on the side. Do you want to freelance in writing, editing, web design, app development, life coaching? All of these areas and many more can be “tried out” on the side while working. Find one group or person you can do this for at a discounted rate to not only build your portfolio but see how you like it. Connecting with others is a great way to get an idea of what that career is like but, obviously, there is no substitute for real, first-hand experience.
  7. Consider pro bono. One of the best ways to get real experience in something new is to do it for free. If you want to write, write your blog or write an enewsletter for the animal rescue down the street for free. If you want to move into finance, help your church finance committee. If you think you want to move into health care, volunteer at a hospital. If you want to become a programmer, design something for a not-for-profit and see how you like it. There are so many groups who need services but can’t afford them. This is a mutually beneficial way to explore your desire. Even if you want to move into archaeology, which was one of my loves, you can try this out. I did a day trip with the Field Museum once to see what that was like. Turns out it was very tedious work reliant on grant funding and donations, and it wasn’t for me.
  8. Go part time. Companies are moving more toward flexible work arrangements. This was happening before our current circumstance but is becoming more heightened now. I know many friends who have gone to a part-time work schedule while they took care of their kids or pursued what they love. I had a friend go to 4 days a week so Fridays could be spent writing her novel. I had another friend flip to be a part-time consultant so he could spend two days a week building his life coaching business. More than ever, people want to diversify their income streams or have time to try out something new. Take advantage of that, if you can.
  9. Go in eyes wide open. I have read many a tale of people quitting corporate life, moving to Montana and starting their own not-for-profit that is highly successful and rewarding. I am not saying these stories don’t happen. They certainly do. But, the majority of switches may not go exactly as planned. I had a colleague quit his job to become a real estate agent and he struggled to build a clientele. He found himself going back to what he liked (but didn’t love) while he figured out his next move. I have had multiple friends go independent to find out they hated business development and went back to being internal to a corporation. This is all okay. How do you know until you truly try something?

While not every situation ends happily ever after, I have seen a lot of success stories too. I had a childhood friend move out of sales and become a lawyer in her 30’s and she loves what she does. Another friend left a high-level corporate job to go back to school to become a Physician’s Assistant in her 40’s. She is thrilled with her life choice. It can be done. If you focus on the tips above, your chances of success are good. The above will help you learn a lot about your new career path before you cut the cord from your current one.

If you do make a change, do your homework and upskill yourself to prepare. If it doesn’t go the way you want, you can always go back or evolve into something new. I made a change in my career from Learning & Development to Knowledge Management back to Learning & Development. I missed Learning. Developing people and helping them find their career is what I am committed to do. I carry my lessons from my Knowledge Management days with me. They have only helped me. Sometimes, a change can help you figure out what you really want or not want. Sometimes, this clarity can only come from action and trial runs.

When you need to get out of the way: 7 mistakes to avoid as a leader when your team needs to shine

As a leader, sometimes we think we need to have all of the answers. Being that go-to expert in everything we manage makes us feel valuable. We sometimes think the way to really shine is to be the one answering all of the questions, delivering all of the presentations, being the face of everything your team is working on.

Unfortunately, some cultures can reward this behavior. The one out in front is the one that gets recognized through awards, pats on the back and even promotions. However, being a good leader also means getting out of the way – giving your team their day in the sun. Good companies and healthy cultures support this behavior and reward the manager for being a coach, mentor and advisor to their team members. When a team member shines so does the manager.

This behavior is especially hard for those new to management. When you are used to being the doer, you are the one representing the project. When you transition to management, you need to become less of a doer and more of a coach. It can be difficult to move from being the star on stage to directing behind the scenes.

This is why I caution people who want to become a people manager. It can be very rewarding but the role of a manager can be quite different. You now orchestrate instead of doing. You coach instead of play. You assign work and hold accountable instead of doing it yourself. You delegate and trust instead of depending only on yourself. These are tough switches to make.

But even seasoned leaders have a hard time letting their people deliver the message to senior leaders instead of delivering it themselves. This can create bad feelings for your team. Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you put in lots of time on a project only to have someone else share it with the world? Maybe you know this feeling. It is tempting….but resist the urge.

Here are seven mistakes to avoid when you think you should do something yourself as a manager:

  1. Don’t respond for them. We still communicate quite heavily over email. While we have tons of virtual tools today to communicate, we still rely on email to deliver one-way messages. If someone asks you a question about a project your team member is leading, either respond and copy them so they can add to the response. Or, respond by stating that Bill on your team is the expert and he can answer their question. Let the expert field the question.
  2. Don’t make up an answer. When someone asks you about a project your team is working on, it is okay to say you need to check with them to get the answer. Some leaders think it is a weakness to say I don’t know. It isn’t. It is weaker to make up an inaccurate or half-complete answer because you think the asker believes you “should” know the answer. As managers, we juggle a lot. Sometimes, we juggle our own projects as well as help manage projects others are working on. You can’t possibly know the details of everything. Admitting you don’t know, but that someone on your team does know, is much more helpful.
  3. Don’t hoard work. Most of us are high performers and perhaps it is our performance that got us promoted in the first place. The key to being a good manager is to spread the work. This is the most classic challenge I see with new managers – going from doing all the work to assigning, coaching, steering, managing the work. If this is a problem for you, start small. Start by giving your team member a chance to lead one project. Have status updates with them but let go of one thing to start.
  4. Don’t steal the spotlight. Like above, perhaps being in the spotlight is what got you promoted to a manager. If so, it will be tempting to remain there. My favorite book title of all time is Marshall Goldsmith’s: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. He has a lot of points in this book about driving your career and being successful. But, one theme is you need to do something different to continue growing. Moving into a people manager role is one of these career changes that requires new skills and mindsets. Resist the urge to steal the spotlight. Share it with your team. They will be engaged in their work and loyal to you.
  5. Don’t put your ego first. Ego is tricky. Even the most humble of us have a little ego that can get bruised or puffed up from time to time. We may feel threatened by a star team member who gets lots of attention. This is normal. This is human nature. We need to put our egos in check here, however. Remember: When your team member shines so do you. Also, if your team member does a good job, your team may be handed more work, trusted to take on more, asked to lead the critical project. These are all positive outcomes. It is even possible, that you are recognized as a great leader, which could mean more promotability for you as well.
  6. Don’t be afraid. One manager I had years ago felt if he wasn’t the star of the team, he would be let go in deference to his right hand, which was my peer at the time. Unfortunately, when we move into a sense of fear, we get desperate. When we get desperate, we fall into old patterns and go into survival mode. Try and identify if this is your circumstance and head it off. I have always said, no matter where I work, that there is significant work to be done. There is more than enough work to go around to keep people busy. If you live in fear of losing your job, you may not make the best decisions.
  7. Don’t be absent. All of this said, you should not be absent either. I have come to learn that there is more than one solution for every circumstance and that the one in the middle, the compromise, is usually best. So, instead of choosing between yourself, as the manager, and Bill, your team member, to deliver the presentation to senior leadership, do both. As his manager, you can set the stage, kick it off and be present while he delivers the crux of the message. There are many ways to be present and to be seen as part of the winning solution but not hog the spotlight.

As with many areas, being a manager is a delicate balance between so many things, including doing the work, getting recognition, and being the one to present/be seen as the face of an effort. Deciding what works to give fair credit to everyone involved will be the best path for your career and your team member’s. Find ways to compromise and balance your needs and your team’s. Success lies in the middle.

When you want to influence a change: The 5-part model that works for me

Getting others to buy into your idea, plan or pitch for budget is a regular occurrence in the corporate world. Especially, if you are in a corporate support group, you are constantly striving for people to love the product, process or service you provide and continue to see value in what you are doing.

For years, I have tried to influence higher levels to agree with or adopt my proposal for many different projects. Some involved investing money; some did not. But, all involved changing something – either a process, technology or behavior. In order to get “buy-in” or support for your proposal, I highly recommend viewing this exercise in influencing as a change management project.

There are many change management methodologies you can choose. I am certified in PROSCI and believe in their ADKAR model (Awareness of the need – Desire to support change – Knowledge of how to change – Ability to demonstrate skills and behaviors – Reinforcement to make change stick). I have used this model to help craft my change management plans to work through this fairly linear path in changing behavior.

I am not huge on models. There are models for everything these days. Just pick up any article on business and you will stumble on another model to organize a strategy, philosophy or process. However, I do put stock in the PROSCI model and another “model”, or really acronym, that I learned years ago when studying change. It is called the SCARF Model created by David Rock, the head of the NeuroLeadership Institute.

The SCARF model, like ADKAR, is an acronym that stands for: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness. Rock’s model focuses on how to use this in managing teams and working with others pretty broadly. I have applied this model in a slightly different direction toward managing change.

When I try to influence for change, I think about all of the decision-makers and what matters to them. If I don’t know, I find out. At least one of the above five areas matter to your decision-makers. So, understanding how to lessen concerns in these areas, will help you manage the change and combat resistance.

  1. Status – This one can be important. If someone feels like their status in the organization is being threatened by what you are proposing, they will resist the change. This may be inevitable but if a leader feels this way, your job is to provide real assurance to their status. Give them a large role in the decision or review of your project milestones. Get them involved.
  2. Certainty – If your change leaves things uncertain for them, you need to educate around the why and spend more time on sharing details to help them feel more comfortable and turn the uncertain into certain for them.
  3. Autonomy – Not everyone, but many of us, value our autonomy. If your change threatens that, you will get resistance. Look at what you are proposing. Does it create more oversight that might “pinch” someone? If so, is that necessary? If it is, then help manage this resistance by involving that leader in the oversight tasks. No one likes bureaucracy. But those who value autonomy really don’t like bureaucracy. Re-visit your solution to see what can be tweaked. If nothing can be altered, then communicating “the why” and the impact of the change will be most important to get this leader on board.
  4. Relatedness – Some people greatly value connection and collaboration. If your solution somehow cuts them out of the solution, you may see resistance. Think about how everyone may play a role. Think about how teams can work together. For someone who values relatedness and feels this is being challenged, it will be important for you to focus on the people side of the change. Explain, as part of your pitch, how people will receive rewards or gain huge benefits as part of your solution.
  5. Fairness – If your change creates a sense of inequity for employees, your leaders may push back. Especially now, equity and inclusion are essential to a healthy working environment. Leaders are growing more and more conscious of this. Pay attention if your solution inadvertently creates inequity and address it. Talk about equity as part of your pitch to proactively address this.

The goal is to know what your leaders value and what they might resist if they perceive their values are being challenged. When you uncover that, either make some changes to even out the imbalance of your solution or spend time on educating and addressing these concerns proactively. You will be more influential if you appeal to what matters most to the people you are pitching to.

And, above all, remember that people support what they create. So, if you think you may have a high resistor to your idea, involve them early and throughout the solutioning process. You will have an ally for life if you are more inclusive.

When you feel stuck: 6 tips to get unstuck

When COVID first hit, I think a lot of us either felt doomed or some level of motivation that we could get through this. For those of us who felt like we could ride out the storm, I am not sure many of us (although I think there were certainly some) who thought this might last a few months or possibly through the end of the year.

I was one of those people who thought we might see this through the end of the year but now it seems like we may be in for multiple years of a new way of working and living. It seemed unfathomable to me how this could have happened but since it was not in my control, I decided to set myself up for success as best as I could to endure new times.

As I talk to some of my friends, some of them are feeling a bit stuck. We have gone back to texting and talking; we have abandoned Zoom at this point. I mean how many of us who sit on video calls all day for work want to do this for personal reasons? We are stuck in our routines, stuck in our houses, stuck in our relationships, stuck in our jobs, stuck in endless loops of job applications and still not finding work. Whatever your “stuck” is, someone else is feeling that too.

I have to admit there have been times, and will be times in the future, where I have felt like I am in a holding pattern waiting for something external to change. I miss theater, I miss travel, I miss going to restaurants on a regular basis, I miss shopping, although I am doing this a little bit more behind my mask. At least this way, no one knows who is buying the latest motivational quote to hang on my office wall. I have surrounded myself with inspirational words on my walls but there are some days, I don’t feel it.

While all of these missed happenings have helped my pocketbook, it hasn’t helped my mental health. Feeling stuck is one of the worst feelings. You feel your situation, mood or even your life is not in your control – that things are happening to you and not because of your decisions and actions. You feel you have no options sometimes.

But, during a pandemic, what can you really do? I have thought about this quite a bit and here is what I have come up with that I am trying out myself.

  1. Feel stuck. I know…huh? My partner is a very optimistic and positive person but even he has days where he doesn’t smile. Sometimes you feel stuck or bad. Feel it. It is okay to feel stuck one day. Feel it and then let it go. I learned this same lesson in dieting. Denying yourself chocolate or ice cream full stop only leads to binging. Emotions are the same way. If you deny yourself a bad day then every day can become a bad day, which may lead to too much chocolate or ice cream, incidentally.
  2. Make to-do lists. Not everyone derives a great pleasure from making a list and then crossing things off of that list. I do. I get an insane amount satisfaction from drawing a line through text with a stroke of my pen. Even if you are not a list maker, become one. We always have so much to do if we think about the possibilities. Make daily, weekly or even monthly lists and take action. Actions can be simple. Go for a walk 3 times a week. Try meditation once this next week. Outline a new work proposal. Attend that virtual networking event. These do not have to be grandiose actions but even little ones can help us feel accomplished.
  3. Do something for someone else. A friend of mine who felt stuck in her rut told me once that she was sick of herself. Let’s face it, we see ourselves everyday. You try and get away but there you are. When you find yourself feeling this way, then go do something for someone else. There is nothing more satisfying than helping your fellow people. A neighbor of ours is building desks for schoolchildren in need for free. He is making a huge difference in our neighborhood. I am mentoring someone who has just entered the workforce find her path. Like our actions, acts of kindness can be simple as well. People are feeling pretty disconnected lately, what could you do to help people feel better about themselves? That will only lead to good things for you too.
  4. Discover something new. The best way to get unstuck is to throw ourselves into something new. Don’t have a clue what that could be? Read an article on Ikigai. I have written about this in context of finding your career but the same principles apply here. Find out what you love to do and what you’re good at doing. The intersection of these two items will help you discover what you can try. This can be for money or not for money. I know time may be slim for some of us juggling kids attending school from home, our jobs and homes but there is always time for those things that are important.
  5. Get started. I can’t think of a better time to write that book, paint that oil painting you have been thinking about, restore that piece of furniture, start that side hustle or kick off a new project at work. Our world will bounce back. It may look a little different but stop waiting for the world to come around because that may take a while. This is the perfect time to create something new and be ready when the world is ready.
  6. Stop and reflect. I am a learning and development professional and what I see missing from our lives is taking time to reflect on what we have learned and accomplished. We are so rushed to cross off the things on our to-do lists that we don’t take the time to think about the impact of what we did or think about other things we could do as a result. Taking some time to reflect on our actions and new projects will only lead to other ideas of what more we can do, what we can change or even what we can stop doing, which is also a healthy outcome.

Feeling stuck is natural especially in these times. It is up to ourselves to figure out how to break the stickiness of our situations. I never liked it when I received the advice that you need to just do it. Adopt the Nike slogan. Yeah, okay. “Just do it.” I would roll my eyes and felt I needed more than that.

If you have trouble with the “Just Do”, try helping someone else first to get your mojo going. Or, make a short list of to-dos just to get started on anything. If you have trouble with the “It”, read something on Ikigai. Listen to Cathy Heller’s podcast: “Don’t Keep Your Day Job”. Cathy and her guests have phenomenal advice for getting jumpstarted in a new direction. Listening to others’ stories can sometimes help you find your inspiration better than a pithy quote. Although some days, a “Let’s do this…” quote on a wall can make a difference too.

When you disagree with your boss: 7 things not to do

It is uncomfortable. It is irritating. It is even upsetting. It can make us tie our stomach in knots. What am I talking about? When the boss makes a decision we think is wrong. These decisions can range from your boss assigning work to someone else all the way to jumping into your work and changing the direction or philosophy of what you are working on. (This is particularly hard.)

I have had both happen and everything in the middle. When the boss makes a bad decision from our perspective, you want to scream at the wall or pour a glass of wine. Either way, disagreeing with your boss can be frustrating if not flat out maddening.

This is a tough situation to be in. If you are comfortable and have a good relationship, there are times when you need to manage up and disagree. Position your point of view. No one says that that boss can’t be wrong after all.

Good managers will listen to different opinions. Some even welcome it. Those are the secure leaders who appreciate when people push back on them. Then, there are managers who believe they are right 100% of the time. Those leaders are not only difficult to hold a discussion with but, oftentimes, there is no discussion.

Even if your manager is open to dissenting ideas, there are some things you want to stay away from to continue to be professional and to influence them to see your point of view.

  1. Don’t disagree with everything. I once had a team member that disagreed with everything I decided. I dreaded our weekly one-on-one meetings because I knew everything I brought to him would be rejected. The problem with this attitude is you can start to get labeled as someone who is negative or high maintenance. Even if you are a high performer, people will start to wonder if you’re worth “dealing with” if everything is a disagreement. For a manager, this is exhausting behavior. Pick your disagreements. Some are worth it and some really aren’t. Decide what matters most to you.
  2. Don’t make it personal. It can be very difficult to see that a decision that doesn’t go your way may not be personal. Admittedly, taking things personally has been something I have struggled with in my career. We can be comparative as human beings. If a decision favors someone else, we can think that person is more appreciated or I am not as good as that person. Don’t let these type of decisions define your self-esteem or shake your confidence. More than likely, there is another reason behind the decision that has nothing to do with you.
  3. Don’t get upset. Depending on the decision, it can be upsetting. Fight the urge to get upset. I have found nothing good comes from this in the workplace. This doesn’t mean you can’t make an impassioned plea for your theory or perspective, but don’t get visibly upset. One time, my boss pulled his 5 direct reports together to try and re-structure the group. First, I don’t know that this is ever a good idea. Someone’s feelings will always get hurt. The way the structure exercise was going, my colleague was having a significant chunk of work taken from her and moved under me. She started to cry because her entire career seemed to be taken from her with a make on the whiteboard. My manager had a challenging situation on his hands. We needed to stop and she was counseled off to the side. She told me later that she wished she could have made a business argument why that wasn’t a good idea instead of displaying her emotions.
  4. Don’t preach. Some of us have the urge to use our words to beat someone down. No one likes to be lectured…especially not our managers. When some of my team members need to influence me to choose a different direction, I respond much better to solid arguments without tears and without being preached to. Preaching means you aren’t listening and are not having a dialogue. Store your soap box and make a business case with open ears for hearing what your manager has to say.
  5. Don’t be passive aggressive. Then, there are those of us who don’t cry or lecture but say nothing. Early in my management days, I had an employee who would just clam up and refuse to say anything when she disagreed with me. She would then tell others how she disagreed with me but never told me to my face. This is behavior I just couldn’t endorse. Most managers don’t want to hear from someone else what your employee thinks of you or the decision you made. If you disagree, have some courage to present your point of view. This will get more respect than clamming up and gossiping to others.
  6. Don’t continue to bring it up. If your manager holds to his decision after a good discussion, don’t keep bringing it up In every meeting. And, while it is really tempting to say “I told you so” if your solution would have been better, resist that urge. Stay professional. I had a team member who would not let a decision go. He was like a dog with a bone if you’ll pardon the metaphor. Back to point #1, this can be exhausting for a manager. Let it go. Let decisions be made and work to make them real. Don’t keep revisiting the decision unless there is new evidence to open it back up. Sometimes, it can be okay to check in on a decision if the execution is bringing up new factors to consider. Most of the time, let’s the decision lie and move on.
  7. Don’t let it ruin your day. To the point above, let it go, for your own sanity. I used to get wrapped up how bad a decision was. I knew I had a better way but I was unable to convince my manager. I would carry this around with me. Through time and experience, I learned to not let these conflicts ruin my day. By all means, get a little irritated at the wall for a few minutes but then find a way to cut it off and move on. Remember, the boss has a right to be wrong.

There is usually an opportunity to respectively challenge your manager on a decision with a solid business reason delivered unemotionally. Most managers will be open to listen to your opinion. Keep in mind you don’t want to die on every hill. Pick the important ones to disagree over and go scale that hill. If you can’t influence your boss to go your way, find a way to accept it and execute against that decision by doing your best.

When your team member has capacity: 3 actions to take

In our current environment, people are either swamped or they have some free time for some or part of their work week. Some projects have been delayed or even cancelled due to our current circumstances. Some efforts are not needed anymore (at least for the near-term), such as those roles who support live events or travel.

Managing capacity is one of the hardest tasks a people manager has. It is a complex jigsaw puzzle positioning people to the projects they want to do and will excel at – the sweet spot for productivity and success. Much like a puzzle, getting the edges in place first – that is getting people anchored in the major part of their job helps – then, you can focus on other peripheral or unplanned projects in the middle that come up.

When someone feels they have capacity to take on more, they can be reluctant in sharing this with their manager. They may feel their job could be in jeopardy if they don’t appear busy or if they aren’t aligned to projects that matter. Here are more tips to help when a team member is afraid of losing their job. In times when no one is sitting next to one another anymore, it can be difficult for a manager to assess if someone has free time.

How do you know when someone has capacity if they don’t tell you? During one-on-one meetings I hold every week with each member of my team, we review status of current efforts, which usually gives a clear indication of capacity. I am always shocked to learn when I hear from professionals that their managers don’t meet with them. Or, they hold team meetings only and never talk to their team one-on-one until they have a performance review conversation required by HR.

In any time but especially in these times, one-on-ones are critical to staying connected and staying on top of capacity. I ask my team members to be Goldilocks and tell me about their workload. Is it enough? Is it too much? Is it just right? I don’t ask this every week as that would get old. But, when I get a sense that they are starting something new or more when they are tying something up, I ask the question.

When asked directly, most people will share the real picture. It is important for a manager to create a safe place for their team members to say that they may have some capacity to take on something else.

So, what do you do when someone says they have time on their hands?

  1. Understand current work.

If you’re not meeting with your team one-on-one, it is difficult to understand everything they are working in some detail. My team often tells me about requests that have come in, projects that are stalling due to various reasons – some in our control and some not, and times where work is getting to be too much. The first step is to know the current work your team is working on. Believe me. There is always something your team is doing that you are not aware of. I have also learned when my team member doesn’t have a lot to do. Seek to understand. Ask the Goldilocks question. You may be surprised at what you hear.

  1. Tease out other options.

When a team member tells me we are done with a project, this is the perfect time to review the scope that was originally documented to ensure everything has been accomplished. Most project-type work should have a start and end date. But, once the project is completed, there is always maintenance and continuous management and improvement efforts. Work with your team member to list these activities and determine who and how they can be executed. Nine times out of ten, I have found that when a team member thinks something is complete, it is not.

It can be effective to review the completed project with stakeholders to measure its impact – measurement is one of those areas I find can get skipped! Stakeholders will tell you when something isn’t completed or that a situation would be even better if we fixed “x”. To accurately improve and manage projects, products or processes, the work is continuous. If your team member feels something is done and dusted, challenge them and brainstorm what else is missing or can be accomplished.

  1. Get creative.

If someone is truly untapped or not busy, then it is time to think about how to re-direct their role. We just had such a case where someone was brought on to manage a project that has been delayed indefinitely. Instead of thinking about letting that person go, the management team is coming up with other projects this person can participate in and add value while the other project is delayed. Consulting firms are very skilled at re-deploying or maximizing people who are “on the bench” – not deployed on a project. They will align consultants to internal projects while new external business gets developed. The same principle could be true here. While other projects are on hold, what other internal efforts could be pushed forward. Now is a great time to focus inward.

The more people that know someone needs work, the more likely that person is to be engaged on something meaningful. For every team member that may not have a lot to do, there is a team member who is drowning. Looking at a broader department, not just your team, allows creativity in how to use someone. Sometimes, we become too siloed to think outside of our team but many people have transferable skills and getting creative about how they can be aligned helps to retain good talent and accomplish what the organization needs.

In these volatile times, it may seem counterintuitive to shout out when someone has capacity. As a manager, this is critical to keep someone talented on your team. To ignore the situation could ultimately to lead to that person leaving or even potentially being let go. As a employee, letting your manager know you have free time could open doors for you. You never know what project or opportunity can come from speaking up. It is time to be brave and ask for more opportunity.