The therapeutic value of an unsent e-mail

Therapeutic value of an unsent email

I think the best ten minutes I spent this morning were ten minutes that were basically wasted.  I’ll never send the email I crafted in that time and it’s probably for the best but it certainly felt good writing it. So today’s unsent email happened because of a project we’ve been developing lately. We’ve been spending a lot of time working to develop an automated system with security and operational security capabilities for schools.  It’s something that I’m really passionate about and I believe there’s an opportunity to make a difference. I’ve got three kids and at the end of the day, job one to me for schools is getting my kids back home safely.  Of course I’d love it if they know their multiplication tables and their ABC’s but job one is just get them home safe.

One of the things that I’ve become a lot more aware of as my kids have gotten into school is I’ve become a lot more knowledgeable about what the statistics are around crime and safety in schools. It’s not the big incidences that you hear about on the news that should scare most parents because those are really unfortunate things that probably could have happened anywhere. Those are really difficult to prevent which doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try, it’s just that everyday there are lots of bad things happening that don’t make the news. Working to prevent those things is important too. So we’ve been trying to come up with a better way to have a conversation around the information in this space because there isn’t as much information as you would think.

We’re trying to help develop a mechanism to evaluate, across the board, the schools in this country for safety and security in a way that is economically feasible. If you know much about the schools in your community, you know that they’re probably facing some severe budgetary hurdles because the whole country is facing that issue. We saw this as an opportunity for the types of things that we’re good at in terms of being able to leverage the cloud to reduce costs, the development times, and to make things widely available rapidly. We saw this as a real opportunity for us to make a difference and we jumped into it. We basically jumped in and looked at many specific solutions. That’s part of what we do for a living whether it’s for large retail organizations, federal, or whatever it is, we bring our expertise in security, technology, information management, and performance management.

While we bring all our expertise in these areas we still look to other organizations to help make sure that we are looking at the problem all the way around. One of the things that I do not just with this school assessment but with every product that has been an outshoot of our services work, is reach out into that community and try to identify folks that may be able to help us ensure that what we are delivering is of the highest possible quality. So I’ve done some of that reaching out and you know at the outset of something like that, you’re going to get back some people who are going to take it as an attack on themselves. They will take it as attack on an area where they have their particular expertise. Essentially, you’re becoming competition.

So I’d sent a note to a gentleman and I’d spent a little bit of time trying to make sure that I emphasized the part explaining that what we’re trying to do is change the way that this space works in general. We want to make the economics work for schools and I got back a really nasty note. They basically said that they would never want to help a competitor and that we really didn’t know anything about the problem set. Like many other people, that type of response frustrates me.

So I spent about ten minutes putting together a response detailing all of the reasons why what we were doing is the right thing. I got to the end of it and realized that I would never send it. I didn’t send it because that response just adds fuel to the fire and it distracts from the mission at hand. So like I said that ten minutes was a waste of my time. I probably would have been better served to just say to myself, “You know what, this person is not interested in helping out, they don’t see the problem the way I see it, and they see what we’re doing as a threat to their livelihood.” It doesn’t help to get frustrated just because someone doesn’t see things your way. It’s probably a little bit childish. So it makes sense for me to not send that mail and that’s the bottom line but it was incredibly therapeutic for me to just put those thoughts down on paper. The simple act of getting those thoughts out of my head and into an email helped me to get over it even though I knew it would not be seen by anyone else.  I’m curious what other people think. Probably once every three or four days I write up a pretty good sized email and then don’t send it because I believe in the therapeutic value in authoring those emails. Word of caution to avoid unpleasant mishaps needs to be noted, make sure to delete them out of my draft folder to make sure they don’t get sent.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Friendly fighting fuels friendships

Friendly Fighting

I recently got into a pretty healthy argument with somebody I’ve known a very long time.  Afterwards I felt pretty bad about it but as I thought it about it more, I realized that we’ve had plenty of arguments over a long period of time and we’ve always ended up coming around. Either somebody would see the other person’s point or we would agree to disagree but I never really held onto any bad feelings for very long. As I think about it a little more, I think it’s probably a pretty healthy thing. A lot of the best friends that I have and the people that I’ve known the longest are people that really challenge me. That’s something that is healthy and something that you should maybe on some level look for.

I’ve got some good friends that I’m politically aligned with. Our thoughts on a lot of things are aligned and while that’s all great, too many of the same voice in the room can become a problem.  It doesn’t challenge you, doesn’t spur you to have any new thoughts, to come up with any new arguments, or really test you in any way. This lack of diversity in opinions around you probably doesn’t lend itself well to getting you somewhere as a person. Whereas the people that really push you to think about your beliefs or even simple decisions in a new way are incredibly valuable, from the sense of forcing you to think things through from different angles and understand them in a whole new way.

A lot of times, even things that you have as long held beliefs can get shifted a little bit if somebody comes at it from the right angle and I think that’s a great moment on some level. If somebody is able to make an argument that shifts your thinking on something even just a little bit, that is one probably a pretty good indicator of how good they are in terms of positioning their belief or their opinion. Maybe they brought something new to the table that you hadn’t considered before or whatever it is, I just think that we should welcome on some level people that push us to reconsider things. We should look for people who make us look at issues from new angles and we should really put a high value on those people in our lives. Those are the ones that force us to grow as people and not just stay wrapped into the same type of thinking that we’ve been able to get by with up to that point.

In terms of thinking of things from a how do I improve, how do I be a better me tomorrow than I was today point of view; those are the people that are going to help you get there.  I’m curious what other people think. I’d love to hear if there are any good stories out there about people that have forced you to think about something that you believed was an unshakeable opinion but they managed to change your mind. Those are always interesting when you hear somebody was able to bring somebody across to a new way of thinking or maybe there was a big decision around a project and somebody just got you to shift your thinking  based on how they positioned their argument.  So I’m very interested to hear those types of stories.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

The difference between keep pushing and being pushy

Being pushy

Being pushy probably won’t get you anywhere faster

I think everyone’s been there. Where you really want an answer or you need something done but you don’t have any real control or leverage over the person or organization on the other side. So you’re stuck in the position of essentially waiting until you get the information. I think it’s important when you run into that situation to remember the difference between keeping pushing and being pushy. From my personal experience, being pushy only succeeds in moving you further back in the queue. On the other hand, keeping pushing gives you that persistent reminder that you’re still waiting for an answer that doesn’t cross the line of being obnoxious.  Now I know that sounds like it might be a fine line and it is, but a lot of successfully walking the line is just about how you ask for things.

One of the number one priorities of walking the tight rope between pushing and pushy is how you phrase what you say. So leading with how long you’ve been waiting for something, pointing out where the holes in their process are, or anything else of that nature are probably things that cross the line into pushy.  Expressing that you understand that they’re busy, that there’s a lot going on, or anything that allows you to identify with them prior to making your request that’s already been made multiple times before, is almost always preferable. This is especially important if you are communicating with not an individual but an organization.

When the person you are dealing with is not consistent and your contact with that organization goes through several people, maintain the line between persistence and annoyance is especially hard. It’s important to be able to understand that that person you are talking to probably doesn’t play any role in the decision you are waiting on. They do, however, probably deal with people like yourself all the time; people who are frustrated with the poor processes that lead to this stagnation of business and is causing them to have repeated conversations about where things are. This is probably worth remembering because it doesn’t help you to take out your frustration on them.

If you’re dealing with an individual, the same principle applies. Most of the time they understand that you’ve been trying to contact them repeatedly. So you’re expression of understanding clears the way for them to have a response that doesn’t have to start with an explanation, which most people don’t like to explain why they’re late doing something or why they haven’t done something yet. So unless you have the type of authority where you can demand something and expect to get it, you’re better off identifying with the person. I think it helps too to put yourselves in their shoes if you can. I believe that most of the time people don’t ignore requests for no reason. They probably are genuinely busy or have some legitimate reason for not answering but again, forcing them to go down the explanation route and putting them on the defensive does not help the situation.  I think identifying with them enables them to help you without having to apologize to you and is probably your best bet.

Remember when you’re involved in this type of situation that the focus is not on fixing their problem, unless, of course, it is. It’s on getting the information or the result that you need. Don’t drag yourself into something that’s not your fight.  Make sure that you’re able to say and do the things that are going to enable you to get your job done and move forward from there.  Way too often we hamstring ourselves with a need to be right that prevails over the need to get whatever it is we actually needed to do to get the job done. Personally, instead of just getting the information I needed and moving on I have tried too many times to be right and then having to deal with the consequences. I found over time that it’s sometimes easier to just to be nice, be persistent, but don’t be overly focused on being right.  I’m curious about other people’s experiences. This is a that I think often comes with some good stories whether it be personal stories of working with a vendor over the phone, from your house or work stories and dealing with other companies and things like that. Look forward to hearing from you guys.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Dealing with the oversaturation of your inbox

Email

I get a lot of email.  Between the different things that I’m involved in with my kids, friends, work and random other things I’m engaged in, it translates into lots of mail. It also sometimes translates into important things that probably should be kept track of but due to the sheer volume of emails incoming daily, isn’t always the easiest task. I was brought face to face with this reality again, not because I missed something but because of the effect missing someone can have on somebody.  That person was me.

Recently I’ve been working on getting a meeting with somebody that is fairly important to a business venture we’re developing. I’ve been trying to set up a mutually agreeable calendar date for a while and then finally I got an agreement for today.  I told him that I couldn’t wait to get together and how happy I was that he was going to be in DC.   The only times I couldn’t get together today were from 9-10 and 10-11. So a couple more email exchanges go back and forth then finally an email comes back saying the time he could and wanted to get together was from 10 to 11.  I read it and I was really disappointed because my current 10-11 meeting was a meeting that I couldn’t move. So I sit there and I spend about an hour trying to figure out if I should I try to move my current 10-11 which was also a very important and hard to get meeting.

I didn’t want to cancel the meeting that I already had.  It’s something that I just really hate doing. I think it’s really unfair to do that especially considering this was late last night at the last minute. So finally after much deliberation I decided to just write back and let him know that I just can’t do it at that time. I asked if there was any way to do it at the end of my current 10-11.  So after I had spent the better part of an hour stressing out and going back and forth over this thing and I send it back. Two minutes later I get and email saying, “Ok great! Love to do it and looking forward to seeing you at 11!”  So I had spent all this time being very concerned about something that my guess is, the person on the other end of the line didn’t put a whole lot of thought into.

There are a couple things you can take away from this. One of which is that it reinforces the point that if you have something really important, maybe you should pick up the phone an call them. What didn’t come through in the email is the nuance of it. I thought that the person was making a very serious point that that was the only time they had today so it was then or never. In actuality as I saw by the reply that was not the case. Maybe I could have said anytime during the day today and it would have been fine.  So it highlights the fact that while email is great for a lot of things, you don’t get all the nuance that you get from a phone conversation, Skype, Facetime, etc.

The other takeaway for me was making sure that I don’t miss any important facts due to skimming or skipping when trying to deal with the massive influx of digital communications on a daily basis.  I know that over time, you get copied on things all the time. Maybe as that continues to happen you read less and less details than you would otherwise and the tendency is to do a lot of skimming.  I’m sure that I’ve missed a lot of important things due to this trap. Basically I think that with email, especially when you get to the point where you’re cc’ed on so many things, you need some way of making sure that you don’t miss the important things. One way of doing that is to reduce the amount of things that you’re copied on and try to get people to let you know some way if it’s important.  If I’m on an email to keep me in the loop and there’s something that I really need to read, I need some way of knowing its importance.

I think one of the problems that has occurred over time is that in a lot of organizations the easiest thing to do is to add people to the email and allow people to opt into conversations if they so choose. This way people are eventually able to keep themselves in the loop if they want to be. The problem that this causes is over time it becomes harder to separate the things that are really important from the things that aren’t.  So this is one of the areas where it’s really nice to have a sort of collaboration capability in place where you’re able to opt into things. This is something that Salesforce excels at. If you look at chatter, it allows you to opt into ongoing conversations that are coming through the newsfeed. At the same time if you really need to get in touch with someone specifically, you can direct an email or something like that to them. It helps creates another tier in your communications strategy that allows you to keep people from dismissing things that might be important because they assume it’s part of this large stream of communications. So I’m curious as always to hear about anyone else’s ideas for how to manage the everyday overflow of digital communications.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

What’s important to you?

Whats important to you

I started this blog without any great concept for where things would go down the road.  I just wanted to have a place where I could put down the little thoughts I had here and there without losing them. If in the process I was able to get feedback and a little bit of a better understanding of how other people were thinking about the same things, so much the better.  I think as far as being something that works from an outreach standpoint it’s been good. I’ve met and gotten to learn from a lot of great people along the way. It’s also been great as an outlet in terms of allowing me to have a place to park things that I’ve been thinking about that maybe aren’t something I have the time or energy to put into a full blown article or paper.  I’ve actually really enjoyed going back through and getting an opportunity to comb through those ideas a second time and see where I might be able to expand on them, see where my thinking has changed, or learn from somebody who’s posted a comment that made me think about things in a little bit different way.  It’s really been exceptional.

One of the things that I haven’t done yet is reach out with regard to things with what to write about because so much of it has been outlet driven. It’s been things that I’m thinking about that are important to me right now that I want to get out there. I’m wondering if I’m not missing out on an opportunity to understand what other people are thinking about and develop a better sense of where things are going in terms of the big picture. So I wanted to use today’s post to ask people for those ideas.

  • What are the things that you are thinking about?
  • What are you are curious about?
  • What topic would you appreciate hearing what myself and others have to say about it?

I know for myself that I’ve stayed away from all things political like sequestration and things like that. I only avoid it because I feel that so few of us have any ability or influence that would allow us to change the path of something and we are more likely just going to have to deal with living with the result of it. So I think in the case of something like that I’d be more tempted to write towards how to survive under the given circumstances and I’ve generally stayed away from all things political for those reasons. I think that there’s less opinion shaping than to be done then there is to be talking about dealing with the results.  Outside of the political line I’m very interested in hearing more about or getting anyone’s opinion on what are things that haven’t been discussed as much as they should.  So I’m curious what’s on other people’s minds and look forward to covering some of that in the not too distant future.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Sales: Shedding the used car salesman image

Used car salesman

One of the things that most people in the knowledge work force do every day now is sell.  We sell ideas, viewpoints, or particular positions on how to move forward and I think there’s this leftover negative connotation around sales from an era that’s long gone.  I think a lot of people when they hear “sales”, think used car salesman and all of the negative imagery that sort of comes with that. It’s really not appropriate anymore because a lot of that stereotype was built up around the unevenness of information. In the case of the used car salesman he knew a lot more about the history of that car and the current state of it than you did, so when you got one that didn’t work out you tended to feel that you got the shaft.

Now even in that particular business the information awareness has evened out because of things like Carfax and just the ability of the customer to communicate dissatisfaction with the product and thereby affect future sales.  So I think it’s changed a lot of how sales are transacted and a whole host of other areas. With this vast amount of information now available a premium has been put on honesty, customer service and delivery. By falling down in any of those areas it can have real and immediate consequences for an organization.

Now getting back to the idea that almost all of us are in sales and if you’ve ever read Thomas Pink’s book To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, that is the kind of sales that I’m talking about.  It’s an excellent book and I think everybody should read it but one of the things I want to key in on is this idea demonstrated in the book. It was the idea that if you agree or believe that a lot of your job revolves around your ability to sell things like your ideas to coworkers etc., in order to perform you spend a lot of time thinking about how to communicate things. Your performance is predicated on getting those ideas into the implementation phase and I think one of the things that everyone finds themselves trapped in, myself included, is overcomplicating things or simply struggling to communicate things that are very complicated.

Sometimes what I try to do when faced with a challenging communication problem is I think about what an advertisement would look like for what I’m trying to sell.  We live in the age of YouTube, digital shorts, and TV advertisement. Figuring out how you would get your message across in 30 seconds is sometimes a good way to think about how you might get your meaning across in a 30 minute meeting.  I know for me, I trend towards talking more. If I’m given the time, I could spend an hour, hour and a half on any one idea. While that’s all well and good if you can’t sum it up in that 30 second period probably right at the beginning of that hour, then you will probably struggle to convince them no matter how much time you have.  So a lot of times I will try to step back and think if this was a 30 second commercial how would I do it?  No holds barred.  You know you can have the James Earl Jones voice talking, open up to a clip that looks out across the pyramids or some other type of fantastic venue, but just open your mind up to that level of creativity. Press down what you’re trying to convey into that short little time space. If you can just run through that little mental exercise I really think it could help. Even though it may seem silly, especially if it’s a serious topic and you’re trying to work to make schools safer or trying to pull cost out of large IT portfolio, whatever it is, try to distill it down into that basic short format. I think you’ll find it helps you to connect the dots on how to convey things.

So I’m curious what other people think. I’d really love to hear what other tricks people use to help them come to that summation point where they’re able to quickly give the elevator pitch of the project or idea that they’re trying to convince their team, organization, or even an outside organization to partake in.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Make somebody’s day and show your appreciation

Make soebodys day blog

No matter who you are I think it’s always nice to get a compliment especially if it comes out of the blue and you weren’t expecting it. Somebody says something nice and it can just change your whole day.  For the better part of the last week or so I’ve been working pretty hard on things and I’ve had my head down. So when I had somebody kind of unexpectedly say something really nice it just completely brightened up my entire day and it’s sort of carried forward the rest of the week. It’s amazing; you can have all the self confidence in the world, you can believe in what you’re doing, and it’s still nice to hear someone say, “Hey you’re doing a great job” or “I believe in what you’re doing.”  A simple compliment can make a lot of the time and effort that you spend worthwhile.

I think the biggest reminder in that for executives and managers is that sometimes you got staff that work really hard all the time. It’s not that they’re not doing anything extraordinary they’re just doing the great things that they do all the time at all times. It’s easy to forget that what they’re doing really is exceptional.  So I think you almost have to file a reminder away somewhere to make sure that you don’t overlook the everyday excellence. You need to take time to compliment people for the great things they do every day.  I know I’ve talked about it a few different times on here about making sure that you give credit and provide feedback both positive and negative. Particularly making sure that you provide positive feedback where it’s applicable but I think it’s something that’s really easy to forget the power that a quick little bit of positive feedback or compliment can have on a person.

Having that occurrence the other day just reminded me of how important that is to everybody, no matter who you are. It makes a difference, raises your performance, re-energizes you, and I think it’s something that everybody should try to do on a regular basis. So if you haven’t done it recently and you’ve got people sitting in your office today that really deserve a compliment for all their hard work, make sure you take the time to walk by, pick up the phone or get on a conference line and say thanks for all the hard work. Make sure to shoot them a quick note because it really makes a difference for people to be recognized for all the hard work they put in every day. Anyway I’d love to hear back from people and get their thoughts on things and if you want to call out somebody in particular for all their hard work and effort feel free to here.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Closing in on Crunch Time: 3 Things to think about

crunch_time_colour_skin_riproarrex_by_sr71abcd-d4vskt1

As your projects get down to deadline there are three things that can cause major problems as you get down to the wire. If a team has problems delivering at some point, they can probably trace back some of the issues that they had in achieving their goal to these things.

  1. General time wasters – By this I mean all the conversations at the front end and back end of solutioning activities. It’s the hallway talk that’s more interesting than staying focused on the task that you’re trying to grind your way through.  I think there’s a tendency in crunch time to reward small victories with the type of social interaction that most healthy working environments have on a day to day basis. It’s the 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there, snippets of conversation.  Certainly you can’t pull all of the social out of the sprint to the finish because then it just becomes a miserable death march but I think you do need to be careful about trailing into things that are counterproductive that are ultimately going to set the whole team back. It’s really easy to do because oftentimes when you’re working in those sprints within a project team you’re required to have more interaction. This is because you’re having to solve more problems faster so you get this sort of cumulative effect.
  2. You need to be more focused on how you pursue your communications – This one is directly related to the first in the sense that you need to schedule your communications explicitly and better. One of the things that falls apart as you charge towards the finish line is that the framework for project execution that may have been sustaining progress for weeks and months prior to the deadline can sometimes start to fall apart. As people take on individual challenges that need to be run to ground in order to get them finished in time, they can become so wrapped up in them that they become hard to access by other members of the team. All the sudden you’re creating choke points because you aren’t enabling the types of solutioning activities that need to occur person to person.  So as each person tries to complete their piece they’re effectively holding up everyone else’s progress on their pieces by virtue of not participating in answering a question that somebody has or whatever other type of interaction that is required to get it to the finish line.  So I think making sure that productive team wide communication is kept up is crucial.
  3. Perfect is the enemy of the good – This is all too common with teams of high performers and the types of cultures that are often found in high performing environments. You end up with a collection of people, each of whom is focused on delivering their piece to the absolute best of their ability, and sometimes what the team would really benefit from is if that person would sacrifice their personal standards just a little bit to deliver something that’s good enough to achieve the requirement that the team has.  This is something that you see all the time. Someone will obsess over a detail, specification, piece of a writing, or presentation in a way that is completely out of line with the value that that piece has to the final product. This is an absolute project killer because you need to, particularly as you’re trying to function against a deadline, have a common understanding of what good enough looks like. This gets back to what things needed to be identified at the beginning of the project but are really important in crunch time. You need to be able to identify: What are we focused on achieving here and how does what I’m dong play into the big picture?

So those are the big three things that I think get project teams in crunch time.  Two of them are very clearly social communications sort of things and I think the third one is related to that as well. There’s oftentimes a sort of self-imposed social pressure to deliver these exceptional work products when maybe what the team needs is just to get an acceptable work product across the table.  I’m curious what other people think and love to hear more.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Vanilla Ice had it right: STOP, Collaborate and Listen

Vanilla Ice

One of the things that I’ve realized over the last few years is that despite the fact that I’ve gained more experience, I’ve done more formal educations, taken trainings, and built a lot of personal capabilities, I seem to have trended towards more collaborative decision making. I now spend more time talking to people about decisions before I make them then I ever had previously. On some level I think that this is counterintuitive. You would think that as you gain more skill in something and you begin to understand some things better that you would probably spend less time speaking with others before you make a decision. My assumption would be that you have the expertise to make those decisions yourself but that hasn’t been the case.

What I’ve found is that as I learn more, I’ve also learned more about what I don’t know. I’ve come to value other people’s perspectives a lot more. As you get into making complex business decisions, I think you have to fight continually against your own biases. I for one thing know that I have a tendency to be extraordinarily optimistic about everything. If I don’t have other people there to balance me, I might make decisions that are based on my tendency to look at the big picture and make a decisions that maybe doesn’t take into account some of the things that might go wrong. So I need people to help balance me in that sense.

It’s amazing to me sometimes how differently someone will look at a problem just based on their past experience and I think that’s something that people really need to recognize. So much of our own decision making framework is influenced by decisions we made in the past and the results of those decisions. I think it’s important to be really careful about the lessons that you’ve learned from past decisions because you don’t really have the scope of experience to understand if you’re taking away the right things. If you, based on a set of factors, decided to invest in a project and that project turned out poorly, you might say that if presented with those facts again you won’t make the same decision. The problem with this is that the last time could have been a unique set of circumstances where things didn’t work out. It could be that in most cases those same set of circumstances would have led to a smashing success. So I guess what I’m saying is that you’ve got to be careful about the lessons that you’ve learned  from the past because they’re based on very unique sets of circumstances and not always going to lead to the same destination.  This is where having a strong collaboration base comes in handy.

You have a very strong tool at your disposal if you maintain a network of people that you can talk with about things and you’re able to bring in their lessons learned and their decisions making frameworks. I know that when I look at a problem or decision that I’m making I immediately begin to narrow down the field of approaches to solving that problem or addressing that decision. Again this process is based on the things that are in my personal tool kit, what my experiences have been, and the types of approaches that have been successful for me.  I don’t narrow down my approaches by explicit decision, but simply because I don’t have them. So I end up leaving out a whole host of possibilities that otherwise would have been there had I spoken to people who had a broader experience. So having the opportunity to collaborate with more people has allowed me to take in a much greater set of possible approaches than I would have otherwise considered.

So all of those things have pushed me to develop this more collaborative decision making process than I previously had. Even though on the surface at least with my growing experience and expertise I should be able to make more of those decisions without outside help, I’ve actually trended more towards that collaborative process. I really do think that there are a lot of great things that come with experience, a better understanding of situations, and issues but one of the things that you can lose if you’re not careful is that broader spectrum of experience. I think that’s a real trap that senior executives need to avoid.  They need to be careful on how heavily they weight their own experience because you may be closing off a world of possibilities that otherwise you’d be able to take advantage of.  So I’m a big believer in reaching out to your personal network, establishing a group of trusted advisors within your circle of friends, and colleagues so that you can have somebody to bounce things off of and get access to that broader range of experience. As always I’m very interested in what other people’s experiences are in this area and what they think.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Think before you send: 3 ideas for better communication

Think before you send

I spoke recently about the power of personal communication. I’m a huge believer in the value that anyone can get from taking a personal approach with somebody because it can give you flexibility to adjust the things that you say, how you present yourself, eye contact, and body language to convey a more complete story.  Obviously though for a lot of reasons we don’t get to do that type of personal communication as often as we would like. As a result of that, a lot of our day to day communications ends up being via chat, text, email and such because that’s the way of the modern age. So much of our daily work is done with colleagues that we can’t see and we aren’t able to walk down the hall and visit with them. I don’t want to ignore video conferencing and things like that because those are great ways to get as close to that personal interaction feel that you’d like to have for most of your communications.

Since most of us spend a good portion of our day communicating with others and writing in emails, chats, and texts, I think it’s worth mentioning a couple things to think about before you hit send. These are just a few lessons that I’ve learned over time that I think are important.

  1. The power of spell check- Over the years I’ve had some embarrassing things slip through the cracks because I either didn’t spell check or did spell check and failed tor reread.  If you missed it, I ended up having to write a blog post about apologizing for your mistakes because asses and assess are two different things which I had to learn the hard way.
  2. Consider an email tagline for messages that come from your mobile device- A tagline from your mobile device should convey that those messages may not be as verbose as what you would usually put forward. I’ve seen things like, “Message may be terse sent from mobile device,” something like that that allows people to understand that you’re maybe not giving them the full breadth of communication you normally would. It warns them that maybe your tone or words may not have the formality that they normally would.  I think this is sort of expectation setting.  I’ve gotten lots of four and five word emails and I think while its becoming more common, some people will see that and think, “wow not a lot of effort was put into this.”
  3. If it’s really important get somebody else to read it- Just because you can’t walk down the hall and go see that person doesn’t mean that you can’t walk down the hall and ask somebody else to read your message. That way you can make sure that when a normal third party is reading it, they read the same thing that you’re reading.  A lot of important business gets conducted via email these days and you cannot be too careful with the really important items that go out in email.  I think something that’s happened to a lot of people is that maybe they don’t put the same care into an email that they would into a document and mistakes happen.  They might say something in an email that comes across poorly and it changes the dynamic of the discussion or the negotiation that you’re having. The scary part about that is that you may never know that it happened because there is no visual cue. There is no way to see that somebody has become less interested and that something you said has offended them.

So those are three very simple ways to communicate in a digital age with hopefully fewer misunderstanding.  I’d love to hear feedback and if anyone has anything they else they might want to add to the list.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.