Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Setting Clear Expectations Prevents Fly-By's

The other day before leaving for a hike I asked my boyfriend if he had his water bottles with him. He said “Yes, I have my water bottle.” I said “No, water bottlesssss. Plural. Do you have them with you?” “Yes”, he said.

We drove for a couple hours to the Summerland trailhead in Mt. Rainier National Park. We laced up our hiking boots, and I swung on my daypack. He fished a bottle out of his car trunk and stuck it in his pack. “Where’s your other bottle?” I asked. “It’s in the back seat, but it’s empty.”

Now, did I make a point of asking him if he had more than one water bottle before we left the house? Yes.
Did I ask him if he had filled both water bottles? No.
Stupid me. I thought it was understood that water bottles would be filled with water before an 11-mile hike up the side of Mt Rainier.

I had two full bottles of water. He had – one half a bottle. Yes, that’s right, the bottle he stuck in his pack was only half full. It had been sitting in his car for a month. Before we left the house he had not bothered to bring his bottles in and fill them. Apparently, it was too much trouble to wait for my Brita pitcher to refill after I had emptied it into my water bottles. On the Summerland trail, there is a bubbling creek, Panhandle Creek. His solution was “I’ll get some creek water and boil it for tea.”

I was livid. “You can’t drink that on the trail! I’m tired of holding back on my water intake! The last 5 or 6 hikes we’ve been on you haven’t brought enough water and I feel like I have to ration myself! And so do you! Why do you think I asked you specifically if you had water bottles with you???!!!”

He was extremely apologetic and for the rest of the hike made a point of thanking me every time I offered him a drink from one of my bottles. (Making me feel small and mean, especially when I had water left over at the end of the hike.) Since then, he's always brought his own two full bottles of water on our hikes. He learns quickly. Plus he’s the best man I know.

So did we have a “fly-by”? Was that “unclear expectations”? Or was he just not listening to me? This last possibility was the one that made me the angriest. The first two possibilities implied that I was partly to blame too, which I really didn’t like to consider.

But, hard as it is, I have to admit: I didn’t make my expectations clear. He answered my question truthfully: yes, he did have two water bottles. I didn’t explicitly state that I expected them to be full of water. Difficult as it may be to understand how my question could have been misinterpreted, this kind of thing happens all the time.

What’s obvious to you is obvious to you. You know what they say about making assumptions. You may not have the best man like I do, who takes the blame, accepts the feedback, and says “You’re such an amateur when it comes to getting mad.”

So be proactive: be clear. Get confirmation that what you are expecting to happen is understood the way you understand it. Make your expectations crystal clear.

Without expectations that are understood and bought into there is no basis for coaching. No basis for asking for accountability. And certainly no basis for blame, recriminations or punishment.

It is the team leader’s responsibility to set clear expectations and ensure that they are understood. And it is the team leader’s and the organization’s responsibility to provide the resources, training and support needed to carry out those expectations.

Here are Effectiveness Institute’s steps for setting clear expectations:

Clear Expectations…

1. Are understood
• Tell the why, what, how, when, where and who
• Clarify the discrepancy between what there is now and what is wanted.

(I should have done this at the house. “Do you have two full water bottles? The last few hikes I felt I was rationing water so I want to make sure we each have enough. This is going to be a fairly long hike and it’s important to be well-hydrated. Ten essentials and all that, you know.”)

2. Are specific and concrete.
• Isolate the desired behavior and results.
• Clarify the measurement.
• Establish time frame.

(“Let’s fill up all four water bottles right now before we go.”)

3. Are realistic.
a. Provide a challenge
b. Can be achieved
c. Are within the control of the employee

(“I know you have to go get them out of the car and wait till the Brita refills. Kind of a drag, but we have time. Or, you can just fill them up with tap water.”)

4. Are confirmed.
• Ask the individual to verbalize what he or she understands the expectation to be.

(“I want to make sure we don’t have any fly-by’s. I want us each to have two full bottles of water for the hike. Are you with me?”)

As a trainer and consultant, I know how important it is to explain the “why” behind an expectation or request. I do it at work. I explain to clients how to do it, and of course, why to do it.

Yet, here in my personal life a simple why up front could have prevented a whole lot of grief, mainly my own!

Why was I asking if Bart had more than one water bottle?

Only I knew. If I had cared to make the effort to share why, I’m sure Bart would have gone the extra few steps to fill his bottles. The same rationale applies to your employees. For a more productive and happier workplace, don’t forget the 4 steps.






Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Got Vision?

“Most leaders undercommunicate their vision by a factor of 10 (or more)…” 
 -John Kotter, Leading Change

“He lacks vision,” said the Vice President of Organizational Development. I had just asked him if there was anything in particular that he thought my new coachee needed coaching on. Hmmm, I thought. Coaching a leader to “get vision” is like teaching a rhythmically challenged person to dance. It’s certainly possible, but they will never be a natural. It will always take a lot of concentration and conscious effort.

Being forward-looking is an essential leadership quality. Your leadership position is an indication of how far ahead you need to look. The more strategic your role, the further out you should be looking. All leaders should develop their abilities to look forward a minimum of five to seven years. For senior leaders, it should be at least ten years. Leaders responsible for large organizations need to be able to envision twenty years and beyond.

If you have vision, you can create a vision. According to John Kotter and Kouzes and Posner of The Leadership Challenge, “one of the most important practices of leadership is giving life and work a sense of meaning and purpose by offering an exciting vision”.

Without holding a strong vision and communicating it, a leader ends up expending energy prodding people forward instead of inspiring them. Without a vision, employees don’t have a guiding light, and like a boat without a star or lighthouse to guide it, they are bound to meander into undesirable waters, wasting more time, making more errors, and feeling more frustrated, than is necessary.

Coming up with a vision involves asking important questions such as what does my ideal organization look like? What are we passionate about? What do we want to create? What legacy do we want to leave; what impact do we want to have on our customers and our community?

It takes time and thought to create an exciting vision, and no doubt you will continue to fine-tune it often. But once you have it, don’t keep it to yourself. Learn how to convey your vision in stories, in verbal images, and for sure, in graphic images too. Invite conversations about the vision. Find new ways to communicate it. Get others talking about it. 

If you think vision is not a strength of yours, you can exercise your vision muscles. Ponder others’ visions, study visionary leaders, keep informed about future trends. Develop a vision for yourself personally, and for your family. If your organization already has a vision, figure out ways to engage your employees so that they are truly inspired by it. Show your employees how their individual work connects directly to the vision. Mention it often.

Speak from your heart, and spark imaginations with your stories and emotions. Sharing a vision engagingly and often is one of the most fun things a leader has to do. Don’t miss out!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Ten Essentials for a New Career

Not feeling fulfilled at work? Tired of the day-to-day grind? Ever dream about owning your own business or “following your passion”?

If you think you want a new career, it’s time to do some serious preparation. As an “outdoor enthusiast” (thank you, REI Marketing) and former REI employee, I am very familiar with the Ten Essentials - a list of essential items recommended for outdoor safety in the backcountry. As a career coach and a career changer myself, I have taken the liberty to compile my own list of Ten Essentials for embarking on a new career.

Now, sometimes people are forced to change their career whether they want to or not. Just ask anyone who has spent their life devoted to the newspaper business how they feel about changing their career. I had several ex-newspaper clients who had a tough time with the process. They were traumatized and understandably so after spending a lifetime – many of them twenty or thirty years – in a profession they loved and then being forced to find a new way to make a living.

Whether you choose it or not, a career change is an adventure and like all adventures, you want to be as well-prepared - physically, mentally and emotionally - as you can be. In these examples of famous career switchers see if you can find some common themes that may give you some tips for successfully changing your own career:

Alton Brown, the Food Network host of Good Eats and Iron Chef America and creator of two food mini-series, has received numerous awards and recognition as a food guru. Brown started out his career behind the camera as a cinematographer. He decided he could do a better job than the cooking show chefs he was filming. He enrolled in cooking school and at age 35 graduated from the New England Culinary Institute. A year later, no doubt building on his connections in the TV world, Brown aired his pilot show for Good Eats on PBS. It was picked up the next year by Food Network and continues to air today.

Bill Gates founded and led Microsoft full-time until 2006, when he began transitioning into working at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2008, at age 52, Gates began working full-time as a philanthropist devoted to health and education research, quite a change from computers and software development. Gates, an avid reader, studied philanthropists and schooled himself on issues such as third world health challenges, taking advantage of his access to those most knowledgeable in the world on the topics.

French artist Paul Gauguin initially worked as a stockbroker. He spent his free time painting, visiting art galleries, purchasing art, and befriending other artists such as Paul Cezanne. At age 37, he decided to follow his passion and began to paint full time. Although his career change broke up his marriage, he ended up becoming a leading post-Impressionist artist.

Famous career changer Martha Stewart was also a stockbroker. However Martha started out as a model, and became a broker at age 26. Growing up, Stewart learned cooking, sewing and canning from her parents and grandparents. She found she had a knack for domestic arts and at age 35 she began a catering business with a friend from her modeling days. Martha was contracted to cater a book release party by her husband who was president of the publishing company. At the party, Martha met the head of Crown Publishing, who was impressed with her talents and asked her to create a book, Entertaining. Entertaining was released in 1982 and became a New York Times bestseller. Stewart was contracted to produce many more books and her career blossomed from there.

A few others:

Championship heavyweight boxer Jack Dempsey started a restaurant at age 40. A celebrity attraction, Jack Dempsey's Broadway Restaurant in New York City stayed open for nearly 40 years.

Josie Natori worked at Merrill Lynch, where she rose the ranks to become the first female vice president in investment banking. After about ten years as an investment banker, Natori changed her career to fashion and in 1977 founded the Natori Company in her living room. Today, the Natori Company sells upscale fashions, home furnishings and perfume to department stores in at least sixteen countries.

Greg Mortenson was a nurse with a passion for mountain climbing when in his late 30’s he started raising money to build a school in Pakistan. Mortenson is now founder and executive director of the non-profit Central Asia Institute, as well as a writer and speaker.

These are just a few of the famous career changers. There are thousands more, but just looking at these examples, there are some similarities which are important to take note of:

• They each had a cushion of money to start with. And if they didn’t (like Greg Mortenson), they were adept at raising it. Because it takes time to get established in a new career - and often you are starting at the bottom - you need to have the financial wherewithal to sustain you for a couple of years at least. You may need money to take classes to gain skills or certifications. It’s important to do some financial planning before making the switch.

• They each used their connections to help launch and sustain them in their new career. Jack Dempsey, for example, was not known as a great cook. But he did pal around with a lot of celebrities, who all wanted to be seen at his Times Square restaurant.

• They each did what it took to gain the skills and knowledge required to be successful in their new career including going back to school, taking classes and finding mentors. Besides studying third world diseases and education, Bill Gates read up on philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller and used their work as benchmarks for his own organization.

• They each made a commitment to stick to it, and that wasn’t difficult because their new careers consumed their interests, made good use of their natural talents, and inspired them. Josie Natori was so impassioned with being an entrepreneur that she tried other ventures such as owning a McDonald’s franchise and reproducing antiques before she found the perfect business for her.

• They each took a while to transition to their new career, usually a few years.

And now, what you’ve been waiting for, the Ten Essentials for embarking on a new career:

1. Guts
2. Persistence
3. Self-Discipline
4. Patience
5. Humility
6. Hard Work
7. Planning
8. Financial cushion
9. Connections
10. The right skills and knowledge necessary for your chosen career.

Do you have anything to add? If you’ve changed your career, let me know what you think of my list.
The process of changing your career should be something you are looking forward to doing almost as much as the actual new career.  To a mountain climber, the hard work and focus of the climb itself is what creates the sense of fulfillment.  And like a mountain climber, when you have become successful in your new career, you’ll have accomplished quite a feat, one I think comparable to summiting a challenging mountaintop. If you’re well-prepared for that climb – with my handy Ten Essentials as your checklist – you’ll be able to handle any  'rough weather' along the way.