A Not So Novel Approach – Use The Phone

Is it just me, or is the office getting a lot quieter? Part of that trend toward silence may be the fact that so many people are now opting for “Virtual Office” and are now working for home, or some other location. I have tried that. On occasion it works when I have very early morning, or late evening calls with other time zones, but for the most part I find that there are two reasons that I don’t like to work from home. The first is that there are too many other distractions for me at home. Games, TV, family, etc., all are within easy reach and can be a distraction. The second is that I like to think of my home as a refuge from work. I think that a home office would be an invasion of this refuge that I would not welcome.

Let’s get back to the quiet office. Its quiet because there are so few people talking. My computer beeps when I get an email. It does it quite often. It has a different tone when I get an instant message. There seem to be a lot of those as well. My mobile phone “pings” me when I get a text message. I think I need to find some way to coordinate these tones so that they make some musical sense because they go off so frequently.

I down loaded an application on to my smart phone that allowed me to create some specific ringtones for my phone using some of my favorite songs (late 80’s alternative rock, in case you are interested). I can’t remember the last time I actually heard the song / ringtone played.

We don’t talk to each other anymore.

Instead we have email chains that are 10-15 emails long where we conduct a slow-motion discussion back and forth over the course of several hours to several days. We “copy” multiple individuals whose electronic mailboxes are clogged with the ping-pong discussion, and the interjections of others on the copy list. When we ask about the topic we are invariable met with “It was in the email I sent you.”

We are blasting instant messages back and forth to multiple recipients, across the day. Some of the information contained in these messages can be quite useful. Most of it truth be told is not. It seems to be the electronic equivalent of meeting someone in the hall and saying hello and asking about the weekend activities, personal health, or plans for the next weekend’s activities.

I have a business phone on my desk. It is an amazing piece of modern technology. There are no less than 62 buttons on it, including the 12 used for dialing phone numbers. This is true. I actually counted them. Less than 20% of the buttons on my desk phone are directly associated with placing a call. I don’t know why I waited till now to make that observation. I have had this phone for a couple few years.

We buy the most advanced mobile hand held devices in history and we type out our messages and happy / sad faces –    using our thumbs or index fingers to our friends. We have a new generation of automobiles that will automatically link to our mobile phones using Bluetooth technology, so that we can speak hands free while driving to anyone on the planet, but texting has replaced drinking as the cause of most driving accidents.

Instead of taking all day to have an electronic conversation with someone in the internet arena, I have tried to take a small step back in time to a happier age, the age where when I needed something, or wanted to communicate something, I just called someone. I picked up the phone and I spoke to them real time. This may seem incredibly old school, but you know what? I seem to be getting more things done faster.

I now have a discussion on the phone, capture the key points and then send a single email, to those interested or effected parties, with only the salient information. There is no need to scroll through 4 – 5 screens to find the pertinent information that is being communicated. No more email discussions. If I think it will take more than one email, I call. It’s faster and more efficient.

If I am driving my car and have a need or a question, I call. I still get text notifications on my phone while driving. I ignore them. If it was important, and the vast majority of them (probably all of them) are not, or they can at least wait the 15 – 20 minutes that it will usually take me to get where I am going and have a chance to respond. If it was really important, they would call me, and I would use that snappy hands free technology I talked about earlier.

We should remember that phones, both mobile and business were primarily created to enable the real-time verbal / oral communication between people. That type of communication contains the most information for communication and provides it in the shortest time. If you want to try and gain back part of your day and be more efficient, try using the phone to talk to people, instead of typing at them.

Who’s Looking Good

Everybody wants to look good. I am pretty sure of this. Some people may want to look good more than others. Sometimes this is construed as some people wanting to look better than others. Although this may be the case in some instances, or if you are to believe that the world is truly a “zero sum gain” existence (for every “winner” there must be a “loser”), I think that in business everyone wants to do their best and have that performance reflect on them positively.  They want to look good.

I think that this precept may be part of the issues that businesses may be having today. I am not a total altruist. I keep a close eye on people who claim to be altruists, and make sure that I know where my wallet is any time I find myself around them. But when the focus on self takes on a bigger and bigger role when trying to quantify performance we have a tendency to lose track of the bigger picture of business success.

Please do not get me wrong. I am a believer in individual accountability and measurement. What I am looking at here is that we seem to have lost sight of the fact that one of the best ways to look good, is to make other people look good. We seem to be inundated with images of the sports figures “beating their chests” after an acrobatic basket, or performing various “dances in the end zone” after a touchdown. I thought these were team sports, but they seem to have evolved to more of a “look at me, I am an individual” mentality. Even individuals on teams that are losing by lopsided scores seem to be behaving this way.

What I am getting at here is that several other individuals on those various teams had to perform their assigned tasks well in order to enable that specific individual to perform their assigned task, which was to score.

I am not going to go into the idea of the coaches who drew up the plays, or the team mates who executed the blocks, or threw the passes, or whatever else. I went here to illustrate the point. Individuals who are part of an organization (or a team) do not need to jump up and down, or beat their chests to get attention for doing their job. If the job got done (the basket made or touchdown scored….to carry the allegory on out), chances are that more than a few people noticed.

It is the start of a new year and we all know what that means: Annual Reviews. I have to conduct them. I have them conducted on me. As leaders we have our teams, and on the bigger scale are usually parts of bigger teams. No one can achieve their objectives by themselves. When I review my team members I usually look at and ask how they worked with other team members, as well as members of other teams to achieve their goals. When I am reviewed I try focus on the work that the team has done to help my bosses achieve their goals. I do not need to take a bow.  I need to focus on how well my team performed, because it was primarily my responsibility to get them to perform. If we scored, they should take the bow.

I think that the approach should be to look for those that give the most, and get the most out of others. If they can do that well, you can be pretty sure that they are also getting the most out of themselves. That invariably translates to and can be seen through the attainment of objectives, both individual and team oriented.

Individuals that have not been able to demonstrate their success as part of and in terms of the team’s success may not have actually or ultimately attained all of their goals. (If the team failed to achieve its goals, it may be difficult to position or defend any individual in positive, quantitative way. An exception to this could perhaps be in the sales realm where quota attainment or lack thereof is measured quantitatively on an individual basis.) In this way as a leader you can look at both the individual and the team, but more importantly how that individual performed with respect to the overall performance of the team.

So, yes there will be individual measurement. It is a business, not a socialistic environment where only the collective is measured. But it should not be just about the individual who made an acrobatic basket and then decided to beat their chest. Some individuals should and will be recognized, both positively and negatively, but it should be from within the scope of the overall performance of the team. In this way, everybody who should look good can look good. Not just those that decided to dance in the end zone after they, and everybody else did their jobs.

You Can Take Some Things With You

As we start out on a new year I was looking back at the past one(s). There is no doubt that we have been in, and continue to work through unsettled times. I have several friends that are in the employment market. Some for the first time, and others are repeating the process. I too have been through multiple position changes over the past several years. As I said, I think it is a sign of the times.

When people ask about these multiple positions, I think the reasons for the changes are clear. Companies and businesses are making changes and adapting to new environments that are requiring them to adjust their resource plans at ever increasing speeds in order to deal with the financial demands that they face. Simply put, businesses are increasing staff much more slowly, and reducing staff much more quickly in response to the market pressures than they have in the past. As a result, many of us have had the opportunity to work in multiple environments over this period.

While it has been unstable, challenging and sometimes stressful, it has also provided many of us with the opportunities to work in, and experience different business models and cultures that can’t help but assist us in future business opportunities. Below are some examples of what can be learned and taken away from different and varied assignments.

Many of us have spent the majority of our business careers in a General Manger type environment and structure. This seems to have been a favored structure for North American companies. This structure puts significant value on the performance of the individual and business as the primary metric functions. While it was a very good model for each discrete business unit in the structure, it does create an insular and competitive environment where there is very little cross unit communication or assistance. While it was also very good for rapid response and action (after all there is ultimately only one person making the final decision for the business), it also did not openly foster the need for contribution and buy-in from the entire team.

As Matrix organizations and structures become more popular, a greater emphasis is now being placed on the communication and cooperation between business units that is needed to now get jobs done. Since there is now in effect multiple entities that are required to concur before a decision can be finalized, multiple inputs and contributions are both needed and invited. This structure generates a concurrence and consensus orientation to decisions that reduces the internal conflicts associated with the General Management model, but may take longer for those decisions to occur.

The future will require business leaders to be equally at home and adept at managing in both the General Management decision making / responsibility structure and Matrix management communication / consultative structures. Being comfortable or good in one structure will not be enough. Leaders will have to be able to understand and work well in both structures, probably at the same time.

These times have presented the opportunity, and in many instances demanded that leaders who have been involved with large multi-national organizations to work in and learn how smaller and entrepreneurial organizations function. Understanding how to help small organizations act big, and how some big organizations may need to learn from and in many instances emulate the smaller and more nimble businesses will probably also be a requirement of the future business environment. Since almost all competitors will compete in almost all markets, the ability to be “big” when necessary and “small” when required will be a flexibility key to success in the future. As businesses opportunities will evolve to be situational by market, the ability to recognize, vary and change business approach and behavior to take advantage of them will be a key to future success.

Another opportunity that these times have presented is the opportunity to experience both sides of the “Head Office – Remote Office” divide. The problems, perceptions and bias’ that occur from prolonged involvement in one office structure or the other can affect future performance and views of a leader. Being able to understand and live the different and discrete issues associated with trying to manage remote offices, or being in a remote location managed by a distant head office, can provide the perspective needed to understand the forces driving particular behaviors at both locations.

Few of us “like” to have to transition from one position to another. In many cases it will take us out of our comfort (or familiarity) zone. By understanding that when we step into new organizations and structures we not only have the opportunity to contribute from our experience set that may be external to the current business culture, and thereby strengthen them, we also have the opportunity to learn and take away new experiences that will increase the breadth of structures and situations that we can and have dealt with, and thereby strengthen ourselves.

Over the past while we have seen the business world focus on each individuals “depth” of knowledge in very narrowly defined responsibilities. As the business environment hopefully begins to improve I can’t help but think that the leader who has come through these times and taken with them an increased breadth of perspective and experience will become more in demand.