Tag Archives: Business

Changes Afoot to My Blogs

There is so much that I didn’t know when I started this blog on a Saturday morning last December.  I had been thinking about blogging for some time, but the actual start was a bit on impulse.  This means that there were a lot of details that I didn’t understand.  (Well, if we waited to understand everything perfectly before we acted, we would rarely act, yes?)

 

I’ve learned more about blogging by actually doing it than I would have in reading about it or asking bloggers vague questions.  (That’s the thing about learning, half the battle is knowing what questions to ask.)  But in learning, and formulating a better idea of what I wanted to do, I ended up with a couple of blogs.  One of which is branded (http://bareedwriting.com/).

 

public domain image

public domain image

I’ve made the decision to merge my blogging efforts to my branded URL.  I hope that all of you wonderful readers who have been following me here will come over and follow me at http://bareedwriting.com/.

 

Starting on Monday September 16th, I will move these essays from Practical Business over to my BAReed Writing blog and I do hope that you come over and follow me there.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved

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Black, White and Ambiguous All Over

Well let’s see if I can write about gray areas without using the term shades of gray, which while being a timeless phrase has been co-opted by a certain ubiquitous book series.  How about layers of gray?

 

Some of us are most comfortable in a clearly defined space; black is this, and white is that, and everything within the space is classified as one thing or the other.  But in our complex world it seems that more set ups, situations, and processes lend themselves to gray; plenty of room for ambiguity, fuzzy definition, unclear lines of responsibility.  Layers and layers of gray in which we must pass through, pour over, sift for many of our working hours.  What is the right thing to do here, now?  How about there?

Public domain image, 1920s office

Public domain image, 1920s office

 

Have the powers that be in your office been able to push through all this gray enough to provide you with a clearly defined job description?  This will help you to navigate through the gray, but if you are looking for a promotion at any future point you should not just stop at the borders of your job description.  You must continue with the task until you can find a natural hand-off point to the next logical person.

 

But what if I am in an office where ‘wing it’ seems to be the first bullet point of everyone’s job description?  I have an answering question – how comfortable are you with this wing it approach, this sea of gray?  If you simply cannot reconcile yourself to this environment and the anxiety is mounting, then your best answer is to carefully select a new more black and white environment.  (Yes, the market is still in turmoil, yes this is very gray – but this is short term gray with a big dose of anxiety but a payoff of a more structured black and white space at the end.  Or you can stick to endless layers of gray, you chose.)

 

What if your situation is terribly gray and you are game to be an agent to change it, to help create some structure?  Good for you.  Consider why there is so much gray – is it the type of business (say due to frequent change or growth and process hasn’t caught up), is it due to communication gaps, or perhaps there is a lack of cross-training and knowledge sharing?  Or any number of other underlying reasons.  Knowing why is crucial to improvement.  There is plenty of help available in many forms, and you will be in a better place to choose the right help when you understand the reason for the gray.

 

Your solutions will be found as you consider your whole situation – particularly your tolerance for layers of gray and your ability to control or affect the causes of the gray areas.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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When did Built to Last become Planned Obsolescence?

I could do a bit of research and find out the actual answer to my question from a marketing or product development standpoint, but that isn’t my objective.  (If you know, please do share.)  I’m more interested in this question in an esoteric manner; we seem to have started this idea with products, quietly and slowly (washers and dryers used to be built for 15-20 years, now 8 seems to be the norm yet they cost comparatively more!) and the idea has spread to other parts of business and life.

End of Child Labor is Progress (Cotton mill workers,1909.Lewis Hines, National Child Labor Collection-Library of Congress.)

End of Child Labor is Progress (Cotton mill workers,1909.Lewis Hines, National Child Labor Collection-Library of Congress.)

 

Now progress is different than planned obsolescence – I learned to type on an old manual typewriter (my pinky fingers will never forget the force exerted to depress those keys was nearly beyond their power) and am thrilled to now use Word on my laptop to create.  That is progress, new inventions to improve upon old process.  Calligraphy and quill pens are now lovely in living history settings and used for artistic expression, but we will stick with our gel pens, thanks.

 

And as for applying the concept of obsolete to people, well skills might get a little stale, but not a person.  A person who has learned how to navigate a changing world always has something to offer.  We might have to slow down our hurry just a bit, sit down and have a chat, and then cull through the conversation for the good stuff.  But there will be good stuff; solid knowledge on making a life, earning a living, solving problems.

 

Older people might not know their way around all of these devices, but should your GPS break most would be capable and happy to show you how to read a map.  To tell you a story or two about the area where you find yourself.  How it once was, how it came to be what you see before you.  Sometimes this means a place quite different as the story progresses, but since nature is cyclical sometimes it means returning to something similar to what it was before.

 

One of the answers to my question might be, ‘that’s progress’.  Hmmm.  It seems to be more about pure commerce to me, which is what it is; but then we should carefully consider what parts of the world to apply the concept.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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Cultivating Your Professional Garden

Periodically you have read reference here in this blog to sowing seeds, cultivating ideas, fallow and fertile ground for thought so how fitting that we talk about a full-fledged garden of your professional being.  (A nod to contact Bob Podgorski for this phrase.)

 

Gardens, vegetable or flower, must be tended regularly or their character will change entirely.  Some plants will run rampant and strangle out others, some are too delicate to survive in a wild environment and will die, weeds will take advantage and push out more valuable plants by depriving them of nutrients.  So to must you tend to your professional life in an intentional manner.

DSC03395

I like to take walks around my neighborhood and check out how the plantings in various yards change with the seasons and the years.  There are so many different styles and predilections starting with absolutely no plant adornment, through no time to spend on the previous owner’s efforts, all the way to showy designer planned installations.   And of course in these days there are the houses that fell victim to the crash and are awaiting loving care.  Some of these had beautiful yards and I watch with interest to see if new owners will coax the garden back to glory or will rip it all out and start fresh.

 

My point is that it is easier to find a means to maintain than to bring something back or to give up on it and start fresh.  I know that you don’t have enough hours in a day for all your tasks – work, family, etc.  How could you possibly squeeze in a to-do or two to plot out the state of your professional garden?  You don’t know the first thing about what is growing there these days.  Well, finding yourself suddenly in job search is not the time to start taking inventory except that this seems to be the standard prompt.

 

What is in your professional garden?  First there is you – do your skills stack up against others in your position and industry?  How aware are you of the trends within your industry?  Then there are your contacts – who are they, where are they, and when was the last time that you were in touch?  It is a whole lot easier to get a recommendation from someone right after a successful mutual project than months or years later.  What have you done for them lately?

 

I know that it just sounds exhausting, and it is work to maintain any garden.  But judicious effort on a regular basis is warranted and prudent.  And a whole lot less work than bringing a tangle back to order or replanting an empty lot.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved

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Some Random Thoughts on Networking… Please Add Yours

I went to a networking event recently, held quarterly by a LinkedIn contact.  It was my first time in attendance because I am putting pressure on myself to network more, and farther outside of my comfort zone.  I will benefit, but it does take energy.

understanding

My thoughts:

  • It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert, you don’t live in a box so you need to figure out how to keep your contacts fresh.
  • Most people have as many and possibly the same reservations that you have about going.
  • Follow up matters – but is also dependent upon your intent for starting the contact in the first place.
    • How many people do you know that just go through motions because they have been told that they must?
    • One person I know went to coffee with a new contact and was frustrated when the new contact didn’t seem to understand the point of the coffee meeting follow up.  (Hint: it isn’t a coffee klatch.)
  • You need to spend a couple of moments before the event getting your thoughts together about your own expectations for the event.
    • If it is your first event, your objective can be as simple as getting through the event.  Be yourself – your most vivacious self that you can muster.
  • Some people will be there just to collect cards – these are probably the folks who had the most yearbook signatures in high school and a lot of trophies.  Don’t spend too much time with them.
  • This is social, so have some fun.  But remember appropriate behavior for the occasion.

 

Ultimately, networking should help each of us to find people to expand our community.  What do you have to say?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved

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Praise in Public, Chastise in Private

public domain, Wikipedia

public domain, Wikipedia

A good little bee is buzzing happily all about, spreading the word that employee engagement is a fine thing for a company, any company, all companies.  Go little bee, go – spread your engagement pollen and make them believe it, stay real and not all buzz speak on us.

 

A friend sent me a link which prompted this post.  Oh dear, the little bee isn’t happy at all about this – Public Firing.  It isn’t entirely clear from this snippet, but this is taken from a meeting where changes are being discussed and it is meant to help employees understand both culture and expectations in this company going forward.  I can only imagine what the intent was regarding senior management when they planned this meeting, but the unintended consequences of this are going to be huge.

 

We’ll just leave this sound snippet and its repercussions behind.

 

Both of my parents spent time in offices at various stages of their working lives and I learned this from them.  It is an ethic that was clearly important to them, and is not something that I ever questioned, even during my questioning teen years.

 

A workplace is a community of people.  People with varying levels and types of experience, differing types of knowledge and personalities.  There is a constant flow of intended and unintended activity – things go right and things can go wrong.  (Frankly, with so many variables it is interesting to me that things go right much more often than they go wrong.)

 

How a company, and any leader within that company handles the things that go really right and anything that goes wrong speaks volumes.  I think my parents got it right when they followed the praise in public and chastise in private principle.  The little employee engagement bee agrees.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Travelling for Work

The economic malaise has mostly put the kibosh on travelling for work, a boon for many because most of us aren’t fond of business travel.  But I keep hearing that business travel is on the upswing.  We should all be prepared to accept the challenge of a business trip as a great chance to grow.

travel

I remember the first trip that I took for work, thinking back now the expense must have been hefty – 3 of us travelled from the office in the Midwest to Pittsburgh for a same day meeting, with the sales fellow flying in from his home office on the east coast to meet us, and then on to the customer’s office together.

 

This meeting was with a large customer, one that had the potential for increased business so the face to face meeting made sense from a big picture perspective.  Each operational discipline was represented and I now understand that the objective was to build rapport and make a strong showing to this customer that they were an important account for our company.

 

At the time, I had just taken over this account from another rep, I didn’t know the right questions to ask therefore I didn’t know the reason for the meeting, the objectives, or much of anything else.  I went in pretty blind, but trusting that I was one part of a strong group.

 

It was true that I was an unseasoned member of a very seasoned team – each member of this team would later become an ally, a mentor, in some manner a guide to me as I learned more about the corporate world.  This was my opportunity to see each of them up close and in a different setting.

 

I’m not sure that I contributed much more than another body in our show of force, but I learned.  I showed a willingness to go beyond my comfort zone that became a building block going forward.  Based on this experience, I would say to jump on a chance to travel for work.

 

Additional thoughts:

  • Accept the challenge if it is offered – get a sturdy understanding of the expectations, though
  • Change your filter, but don’t lose it – people have slightly looser rules outside the office, but there are still rules and you will see them back in the office
  • Be a sponge while on the outing – look at dynamics and process – but store some questions for later

I admire folks that travel all the time for work, I think that I would find regular travel wearying – and would have need to leave myself a note on the night stand telling myself where I was in case I woke up disoriented.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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My CANDLE Concept and the Candle Problem

There is a psychology test developed by Karl Duncker in the 1940s called the Candle Problem where a test subject is at a table with a box of tacks, a candle and a book of matches and told to fix the candle to the wall so that wax won’t drip on the table.  The solution is to take the tacks out of the box and affix the candle to the box and the box to the wall using the tacks.  This solution requires creative thinking because literal thinking will not allow for an alternative use for the box holding the tacks.

 

When the test is conducted with all the same items, but the box and tacks are laid out separately, the correct solution is deduced more quickly by most test subjects because the preconceived use for the box is not established.

 

candlesYes, you say but what does this have to do with my work day?  Plenty if you work with any level of complexity because problem solving in a complex environment requires the worker to engage in conceptualization.  The best solution is not always readily apparent with the information at hand.

 

Ok, that provides an overview of the second half of today’s title, so let’s backtrack to the first half: CANDLE, which is an acronym that I developed, standing for:

  • Communication
  • Active Listening
  • Negotiation
  • Decision Making
  • Lead the way
  • Education

 

The business model where I spent my corporate time was a complex one and newer people were at a bit of a disadvantage because the learning curve was pretty steep and the consequences for making a bad decision could be harsh.  So I developed my acronym to help the people on my team to focus.  These were their main skills, or tools in their mental tool box.  If you can name the tool that you need, then you have started to put some familiar context to a potentially unfamiliar situation.

 

Context and identification of familiar parts get your brain headed in the right direction for a solution.  Who knew candles were still so useful?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Mise en Place, Not Just for the Kitchen

I’m getting ready to make a presentation to a fairly large group, one that I had offered to make some weeks ago and have been refining since.  (I want to use a theater phrase in my intro that simply won’t come to the forefront of my mind, but that is a story for another time.)  I enjoy presenting (remind me I said that just minutes before I go on, would you?), and like to be prepared – shooting for that sweet spot where it can be interesting and clear without seeming practiced.

 

Anyway, I wanted to go into Chicago to the Lit Fest to watch other presenters and got my son interested by showing him the list of activities in the Good Eating tent.  I have cooked since my pre-teens and occasionally managed to do it well, but I have learned much more about the art of cooking since he became interested a few years ago.  It is his interest that brought me to DSC03390the French phrase in the title, which literally means everything in its place, relating to completing all prep work before actually starting on a recipe.  (You know when the chef just easily pours this little bowlful or that into the big bowl and tells the audience what is in the bowl.)

 

Put in terms for the rest of us:

“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.”

~A.A. Milne

 

The carpenter who takes care of his tools and puts each one carefully back into a dedicated section of his tool box after wiping it clean from each use spends more time on the actual carpentry, purportedly the part of his (or her) work that is most enjoyable.  The same for the cook, and the office worker.

 

Not liking to do the clerical filing type tasks of keeping templates, manuals, etc. in the proper place means spending more time thinking about them and searching for them, in the meantime possibly losing the stream of the project or idea that is your actual task.

 

Our skill at managing these thankless mise en place tasks deeply affects our effectiveness at the tasks we were really hired to complete.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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You’ve Got Skills

I went to the library on the advice of a new contact looking for a book called Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It by Peggy Klaus, and drat it all my library doesn’t have it.  But I did get a different useful book from Peggy, The Hard Truth About Soft Skills.  (I love to support my library, and also get a chance to try out books before I decide whether I should buy them.)

 

We all know the importance of our thinking skills as knowledge workers, but it is good to actively think about the state of these skills, how current they are and how best to cultivate them to keep them relevant.  This is a nice quick read, and broken up so you can dip in over the course of your library’s borrowing period.

think

“While hard skills refer to the technical ability and the factual knowledge needed to do the job, soft skills allow you to more effectively use your technical abilities and knowledge.  Soft skills encompass personal, social, communication, and self-management behaviors.  They cover a wide spectrum of abilities and traits: being self-aware, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability, critical thinking, attitude, initiative, empathy, confidence, integrity, self-control, organizational awareness, likability, influence, risk taking, problem solving, leadership, time management, and then some.”

 

In other words, technical skill and knowledge being equal between two or more people, the levels of soft skills between the people are what set them apart in a spectrum.

 

Taking that even a bit further, it behooves each and every one of us to keep these skills polished up at all times, on our own time and with our own money if necessary because this is an investment in self that will pay off.  (Investing in you starts with you – and often these days, ends with you.  Believing that you can’t increase your skill set because your employer is unwilling or unable to foot the bill is self-limiting.)

 

Plus, just like checking this book out from the library, the investment can begin just with your time.

 

Peggy is on my list of smart women I would love to meet, and Brag is on the list that I carry around with me for that off chance of time to wander a book store.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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