Be Replaceable

January 31, 2010

What?

I thought the idea was to become so important and integral in your position that you are relied on?  I thought the idea was to be the fountain of knowledge?  Become the ‘Go-To’ person?  I thought I had to be irreplaceable?

But…

If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.

So –

Do become all those things mentioned above.  Definately.  You’ll show your talent, your skills and your importance to the organisation.  Here’s the thing though.  Don’t retain that knowledge.  Pass it on.  This can be tricky to older people within your team, but I’ve dealt with that in a previous post.  So in addition to being the subject matter expert (SME?), you’ll also show you have the ability to teach and communicate to your team.

Generally, it’s also important to realise that if you learnt it, it’s possible for others to learn it.  It may take longer, it may cost more etc etc but it can be done.  This blog entry shows the difference between some tangible work knowledge that you may think you’re unique in knowing and the intangible.

Have the knowledge.  But pass it on.  Then learn something new.  Keep on advancing.

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Explain It Simply…Please

January 25, 2010

Why?

When people are asking you to explain things to them, they are either testing you because they already know or they need to be taught.  If it’s the first case, they probably aren’t really listening to what you’re saying, but are just waiting for you to say something wrong so they can go on the attack.  If it’s the second case however, they legitimately want to learn from you.

Now I’m going to work on the assumption that you as the teacher and they as the teachee (Did I just create a new word?) are probably only going to want to run through things once if possible.  I know this personally bugs me.

So I suppose then it’s important to understand one of the most important things when teaching someone something new.

Obviously this guy knew what he was doing.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Albert Einstein

So ask yourself, do you really understand what is going on?  Before launching into an educating session, perhaps it’s best to re-evalute what you actually know and understand about the topic.  It will probably save you hopelessly confusing your poor victim.  But it’s tricky.  It’s what one blogger refers to as the ‘Curse of Knowledge‘.

So know your topic from the ground up, then teach in that direction.

By the very nature of a team, people will have individual roles but are (well should be) working towards a common goal.  The individual roles will be interdependent, that is each person relies on the rest.

So do you trust your team?

Do you really?  Can you work through your day without checking on them, safe in your belief that what you need them to get done will and it will allow you to get your own stuff done?  (Sorry about the long sentence.)  I guess I’m pretty lucky, because the majority of the time I do trust my team.  But I have had the chance during my chair hopping days to work around some people that obviously don’t trust each other.

Now I’m not talking about personality traits.  I’m referring to professional trust.  And I suppose I’ve been able to learn a couple of things.

  • Trust is built up over a long period of time, but can be knocked down in a matter of minutes.
  • Trust is two ways.  If you need to trust someone, let them trust you.

I did say a couple, so I’ll leave it at that.  So I suppose your mission, and mine too, will be to try and generate a bit more trust with your colleagues this week.  We may actually be surprised by the results.

It’s pretty well documented how important feedback is.  It’s also pretty obvious that it involves at least two people.  And besides the rare occasions when someone may ask for feedback, generally it’s the one giving it that will initiate it.

But how do you effectively give feedback?  I suppose it depends on what kind of feedback you’re giving and whether you’re even actively thinking about the type or not.  Check out this blog that shows some simple but detailed types of feedback.

I’d like to break it down even further.  Let’s go for two types.

  • Affirming – For letting people know that what they did was good.
  • Adjusting – When you need to get someone to do something differently.

Then the simple, structured way to give both.

Detail the exact situation.  People have poor memories generally in remembering their own actions.  Rather than say “You always send the reports late”, try saying “This morning the finance report was late by half an hour.”

Explain to them how it personally affected you.  Don’t make it general.  Continuing with my example, rather than “And it’s really annoying”, use “And so it impacts on me on delivering reports that I use your data for”.

Suggest a way to improve it.  “If you could let me know if they are going to be late, I’ll be able to then let the people receiving my deliverables know.”

The important points are to make it personal and to deliver it in a way that the person can take it or leave it.  It’s not an order or instruction.  It’s a suggestion.

Right vs Wrong vs Different

October 24, 2009

I was chatting with a good mate of mine the other day.  Some sort of harmless argument came up.  Now this mate is the kind of person that doesn’t really budge.

Me – “You don’t really like hearing different do you?”

Mr X – “Not at all.  I can totally admit when I’m wrong.”

Me – “But it’s not always right or wrong.  Sometimes there is different.”

So I hope you get my point.  In a lot of situations, people may be so focused on holding onto their argument/belief/train of though etc that they’ll only let go if they hear/see/find evidence to the contrary.  But is it possible for two or more ways of doing things to coexist?  Is there more than one way to skin a cat? (Putting aside the point why you would actually want to do this.)

Generally, (because there are always exceptions) ‘Yes’.

So why is this important for a young professional?

  • Opportunities to challenge the current situtation or to develop your own method.
  • When learning, be open to new methods.
  • When teaching, be open to new methods.

Recognise that in some circumstances, there is room, there is flexibility and there can be diversity.  Use it to your advantage.

Once Is Enough Thank You

October 13, 2009

I get frustrated when I have to be told things twice.  If it’s a complicated thing maybe I’ll let myself off.  But generally I really get disappointed in myself if I have to be shown the same thing multiple times.

But as a young professional, especially during the early times of a new position, you’ll spend more time learning than reviewing.  This leads to what I call (but probably has a more technical name) as learning fatigue.  There is definately a limit to what you can take on board.  There are two ways to address this problem.  One is from the perspective of the learner, the other from that of the teacher.

The Teacher

  • No one is going to get it all right, the first time, ever.
  • There is more than one way to do something.
  • Know what is important to teach and what is important to learn.

The Learner

  • Actively pay attention – ask questions, take notes
  • Try something yourself before asking again – the same question asked differently can help
  • Know that you can’t know it all at first.  Patience!

I’m not talking about knowing how to tie knots or make a raft (though I’m sure somehow these skills could come in handy to the young professional).  No, I’m talking about that old motto “Be Prepared“.

I wanted to follow up on a great comment by Lance on a post of mine.  He refers to a few techniques he’s developed to deal with both time poor and less guiding managers.

  1. Regular meetings with preparation.
  2. Multiple solutions to any problems.

Which leads me to the reason behind the title and a story from personal experience.  A long lasting problem that no one was aware of surfaced at work.  I was tasked with finding and implementing the solution.  The ultimate results though weren’t going to be immediately visible by myself.  Sure enough, a couple of days later I get a phone call.

“Um, Anthony, we’re not to sure about the results.  Can you explain these numbers?”

So I’m pulled into a meeting a fair few floors above my own.  But I had unknowingly followed the above advice.  I had two solutions to the problem.  So in the meeting I was able to accurately explain what had gone wrong and what corrective steps were required.  It worked out so well that the senior manager commented later on that he was impressed with how I had handled the meeting.

I suppose it went alright; I never heard of the issue again.

Teaching those older than you

September 20, 2009

By definition a young professional is probably not going to be as old as our colleagues.  Der. So there will be times in the workplace when we know something these other guys (or gals) don’t.  They’ll need to get taught.  And here the difficulties can arise.

I can find it difficult to teach something to someone who has been doing the basics of my job for years.  10 plus sometimes.  Wow…10 years ago I was running around high school playing barefoot soccer at lunch.

Here is an example.  The other day at work we got a group email inbox set up.  I know, not mind blowing technology but a simple step we’d been missing.  Everyone in the workplace knows how to use email.  I work at an investment bank, so we live on email and spreadsheets.  Anyway, I had to run through the basics of how to use it and the strengths of it.  Then a couple of days later I ask

“So <insert manager name here>, you haven’t been filing away your emails I see.”

“Oh yeh, how do I access it again?”

So obviously I need to work on my teaching skills a little.  But it leads me to my important point.

How to teach without patronising.

  1. Use simple terminology but not dumbed down.  Unneccesary a.c.r.o.n.y.m.s and explaining how to turn on the PC aren’t required.
  2. Use analogies.  My favourite is for explaining hotmail to my mum –  “It’s like a Post Office Box which you can access from any computer in the world.”
  3. Understand that they won’t get it completely the first time.  Who does?

So go to it.  Teach away readers.

Ok, so which one is it?  First in best dressed?  First the worst, second the best?  Surely all these age old cliches have come from somewhere?

As usual, I’ll take some type of middle ground and mention how important context is.

  1. One of my earlier posts spoke about getting in and having a go.  If there is an opportunity to gain some early ground by being the first to move in on something, then being the first can’t be the worst, can it?
  2. Grabbing that idea and taking it all the way…then discovering that perhaps it wasn’t the best move.  Hindsight.  What a wonderful tool that you’ll never have until it’s too late.

So what do I think is best?  Personally I don’t mind option 1.  But as I mentioned earlier, it’s definately depending on context.  The important thing is to know the consequences.  Once you understand the possible outcomes, it’s a lot easier to make a more balanced decision.

Young professionals generally aren’t the boss.  We’re at the start of our career and have to follow the instructions of those in charge.  I’m involved in a graduate program which has a couple of rotations over two years.  Over this time, I’ve had the opportunity to experience several different management styles.

  1. The Phantom Manager – They are there, but not there.  These managers are it in name only.  They don’t control you, don’t guide you and generally don’t make their presence felt.  Approach – Continually and actively seek feedback.
  2. Outcomes Manager – “Get it done.”  I’ve had managers who seem to not worry about how you get it done, as long as it is.  This can be dangerous.  Don’t break rules that may get you in trouble.  Approach – Explain and justify why you don’t feel comfortable doing it.
  3. Manager Manager – This manager loves to manage.  Got an issue?  Meeting.  New week?  Meeting.  Meeting?  Meeting.  Approach – Refuse meetings without a purpose.  Focus on short term outcomes.
  4. Worker Manager – Are they your boss?  Sometimes it can be hard to tell with these managers.  They do your work, don’t delegate and generally fail to manage. Approach – Seek guidance from them to encourage management of you.

There are numerous posts, research, textbooks and university courses about the different types of management styles.  Over the next few weeks I’ll talk about the different approaches and my experiences of them in the work place.