Published February 26, 2014 by

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Published February 24, 2014 by

Conference Calls, Meetings, Phone It In?

Recently I came across some comments from Seth Godin titled “Conference Call Hygiene.”  I’ve written before on the importance of face to face communication and on unnecessary meetings and calls, and Godin’s thoughts further my cause.

The first point he makes is in regards to conference calls, “When in doubt, don’t have one.” I completely agree, and I think this applies to more than just calls, just as much time is wasted in unnecessary meetings as well. A lot of information can be passed along by just “working the fields” and talking to people. Often there is no need to set aside a scheduled portion of the day just to share info.

Think about what actually would be gained by a conference call or meeting, considering the other work that could be done in that time.  I remember a blog post I wrote last year about how much time at work is wasted in meetings and how the least amount of work gets done at work!!  ( “Meetings, Meetings, Meetings” 10/08/13 )

 
Another point I agree with is “10 minutes is the maximum length of a conference call. In, out, over.” Most of the time, meetings and calls run too long because people like to hear themselves talk. I used to have a one hour max limit for meetings that I controlled.  Too many people are involved in conference calls and meetings, and everyone feels the need to add something, which drags things along to the point of being unproductive. Everyone should know what they want to say going in, and only those people who need to speak should be part of the call or go to the meeting.
 
When considering a conference call, I would also say to not forget the “Lost Arts:” actually speaking and physically meeting.  Getting people physically together trumps conference calls if there is a choice.

What I found particularly odd in one of my last positions in the corporate world was with people who were physically in the same location but most of them just sat in their offices or at their desks and dialed in to meetings.  Really?  Why spend so much money on real estate and furniture if everyone just wants to phone it in?   These are probably the same people who scold their children for using devices at the dinner table.  You tell me the how these two behaviors are truly different?

Son of a Postman

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Published February 21, 2014 by

How I Feel, Such Gratitude, Adding Value

I am in London this week preparing for the launch of my book “tour.”  I don’t really think of it as a tour but rather a celebration of a milestone in my life.  Ironically, today is also my birthday. 

These events provide an opportunity to have people from various parts of my life commingle to celebrate whatever.  Of course some of these former colleagues contributed to the “raw material” that made up so many of the entertaining stories in my book.  I am super grateful for my rich past.  (Be very mindful that I never kiss and tell!)

One thing about writing this book has been the feedback that I have gotten from people who are not my former colleagues.  Last week I was lying on a medical table with needles stuck in all parts of my torso. I was with my Acupuncturist.  She mentioned that both she and he daughter had read my book and that they both wished that they had had managers, leaders, or mentors who thought about managing people like I discussed in my book.   What a kind thing to say!

Just after the book was released, the wife of the superintendent of my apartment building in NY stopped me to tell me she read the book.  She mentioned that early in her career she was in the fashion industry and that she had a terrible boss.  She was sure that her life would have been different if she had had a “caring” manager like the one I describe in the book.  She was happy to give the book to her daughter to read as she starts out on her career.

And finally, one of the reviews that appear on Amazon from someone that I don’t think I know.

“Relatable stories and practical advice for the
novice or seasoned business leader. The author has an unpretentious and
engaging voice. I find most books of this genre to be
self-congratulatory and boring — Son of a Postman is a happy exception.”

Grateful Grateful Grateful is all that I can feel in addition to feeling warm and fuzzy.  Note that I am “No Mother Teresa” as I outline in Chapter 1 of my book so I am not claiming to be perfect in any way.  But I did have some success and I enjoyed putting my observations in my little book.  I am happy to help anyone who has time to read even a part of it.

Whatever you do, if you can add value to just one person you should consider it a success and cherish the moment.  I feel real happy today ( and pretty much every day!)

Son of a Postman

Available now in paper on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com and in Kindle format!


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Published February 19, 2014 by

What You Don’t Say, Glasses When You Don’t Need Them, Hair Extensions.

Now that I am teaching teenage kids interview skills, I often tell them what they don’t say could be more important than their grades or what they do say.  I tell them to sit up straight, make eye contact, don’t chew gum, and make sure you listen.  I also tell some of the girls to avoid playing with their hair extensions!   Many of these young woman show up for each meeting with a totally different look!  I am told that they are typically looks recently sported by Beyonce.  I suppose it is just irresistible for them to want to fondle their faux locks like they are in a music video.

Appearance isn’t everything, but a well-kept appearance can go a long way to making a good first impression. When I was hiring new people, meeting with them and doing interviews, I always appreciated people who had taken the time to look presentable. It shows that they put in effort and respected my time as well as their own.

 
One thing that I notice immediately is whether a man has shaved or not. The grungy, unshaven look might work well in a night-club, but I want to see that you’ve put in some effort. Mostly I find something like this distracting, and I found that I absorbed less of what a person had to say during an interview when they hadn’t seemed to dress the part.
 
I had a colleague once that would often give the advice to people his junior to wear glasses even if they didn’t need them. This might seem somewhat silly, but I do think the advice comes from a place of truth. For whatever reasons, glasses make a person appear more mature and knowledgeable. You might think it shallow, but having this little leg up can be a big advantage when introducing yourself to new people or interviewing for a job. Of course, you don’t really have to wear glasses specifically, the advice is about making the best appearances whatever the situation might be.
 
The big caveat to this advice is what I said in the very beginning. Appearance isn’t everything. You need to back up the appearance of maturity and knowledge with actual maturity and knowledge. It’s pretty easy to see through false appearances. However, if you do have the maturity, knowledge and respect, then putting effort into your appearance in the right situations can only do you good.

Off to London to day for my first book “event.”   I am opening out of town!

Son of a Postman

Available now in paper on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com and in Kindle format!

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Published February 13, 2014 by

You Decide, Be Mindful Of Perception, A Word I Don’t Like – Ignorant

Recently I wrote about what I call “doing whatever it takes,” and the importance of admitting when you do not know something. Even if it might be embarrassing, you should always admit to not knowing something, because that will open up the opportunity to learn it and learn it the right way. But what about when someone doesn’t even know when to say, “I don’t know?”

 
Seth Godin has a blog “Uninformed or Ignorant?”  which touches on this issue. In it, he writes, “Uninformed is a temporary condition, fixed more easily than ever. Ignorant, on the other hand, is the dangerous situation where someone making a decision is uninformed and either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about his lack of knowledge.”

I think this is worth parsing out a bit.

 
“Uninformed” is just what I have been saying before, admitting a lack of knowledge and doing whatever it takes to get the job done correctly. “Ignorance” is harder to overcome in yourself and in those you manage.
 
If you look at the quote above, there are two kinds of “ignorance,” one where someone doesn’t know that they don’t know something and another where they don’t care that they don’t know something. The former can be remedied by giving immediate and helpful feedback. Someone may (blindly) set to a task the wrong way, and in that case make sure to point them in the right direction or teach them the proper way. This is why it is important to ask for updates and also to give encouragement and kudos when things begin to go smoothly.
 
The trickier of the two is when someone doesn’t care that they don’t know something. This person may be a Fluffer, who talks a big game but fails to deliver. Or this person may be Entitled, and feel that they automatically deserve the opportunity or task. If the usual strategies of updates, feedback and teaching don’t work, it may be best to move these Types to tasks they already know better. 
 
Whether uninformed or ignorant or doing whatever it takes, this all shows the importance of “working the fields” and communicating with your team.

Son of a Postman

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Published February 12, 2014 by

Jane, Joe, Rupa

What’s in a name? Well, a lot actually. We find out a lot about a person when we learn his or her name, because names carry a lot of information about who we are. They are one key to our “differences.”

 
As the world becomes smaller and we encounter more people from around the world, the question of names becomes and interesting one. There seems to be two sides of the discussion. One option is the practice of adopting Western names to more easily integrate into Western culture and business. The second option is to have Westerners make the effort to learn about other people’s language and culture and to get comfortable with them. As you may have guessed, I prefer the latter option. I’d rather see cultural differences stay intact.
 
The practice of adopting Western names is most often seen with people from East Asian countries. Sometimes they are given this Western name at a young age, and it usually is rather arbitrary. I had a colleague from Hong Kong whose first grade teacher brought out a book of English names and went down the list giving them to students. He happened to get an “I” name and from then on was known as “Ian” (in this story at least, I’m not giving his actual name). I think that as we go more global, people ought to make an effort to learn and understand other people’s names in any language. This will really level the playing field.
 
India is a country, however, where the changing of names has been uncommon, and as a result, Indian names are much more familiar worldwide. You probably know an Archana or an Anjali, a Ravi or a Rupa. However, there is a growing concern in India that the recent success of business is resulting in the seeping of Western names into their culture. To most Indians I know, this is a worry. I agree.
 
Why go in a direction that will homogenize the globe in the long term? It is our differences that make us stronger, more creative, and frankly make life more interesting. Let us not forget that not too long ago names like Kevin, Ryan and Shannon also had a foreign ring to them.

Son of a Postman

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Published February 11, 2014 by

Jaw Working, Eye Contact, The Language Of Silence

            

In previous blogs, I have talked–well written–about talking too much. There are “oxygen burglars” who consistently talk and talk, and there are times when all of us work our jaws too much (I know I certainly have, and people have told me such!) I feel that it is really important to stop talking sometimes, pause, and listen to what others have to say or even just enjoy the silence for a little while. However, not talking does not mean that you are not still communicating. Non-verbal communication, whether done consciously or not, is critical in conveying your thoughts and attitudes, and the right non-verbal communication can mean that you don’t have to speak at all.

 
First, you have to be aware of the non-verbal signals you give off. Do you fold your arms at a meeting? This could give the impression that you are being defensive or are close-minded. Do y
ou look around the room when someone is talking to you? This could imply that you are not listening or are not interested. What is your facial expression, and what might that convey to someone looking at you? And perhaps you do want to express these things, but it’s all about being aware of what you are doing and how that could be interpreted.
 
One non-verbal communication that I believe is critically important is eye-contact. Look at me when I’m speaking to you! Eye-contact says that you are confident, interested and present in the moment. Good eye-contact can foster trust between strangers. I recently found a blog by Leigh Ashton called “The Language of Silence” that gives more good advice on non-verbal communication.
 
Overall, non-verbal communication is about including the other person or other people in the conversation and not just caring about what you have to say. It also is a way to express yourself clearly without having to do all the talking!

Son of a Postman

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Published February 7, 2014 by

Acknowledge It, Make A Plan, Do It

Nobody enjoys letting someone go or removing someone from their team. In addition to the potential for professional and personal conflict, there is also the self-doubt in making a decision that is so absolute. What will the other team-members think of the decision? What will your own managers think of the decision? The truth of the matter is that some people are simply unmanageable and everyone, including the person you are letting go, benefits from that choice.

 
You may have already encountered an unmanageable person. They like to complain loudly and adopt a negative attitude about most things. They tend to have a distorted idea of who they are and what they need to get ahead. Unmanageable people are always a difficult challenge for parents, teachers, coaches, managers and other leaders. To make matters worse, it is usually very hard to discern who is unmanageable in advance. It takes conflict to figure out that something is wrong.
 
I recently found an article called “Firing an Employee–Even a Bad One–Is Hard to Do” by Janine Popick. She makes the point to not hesitate when you really feel like someone is detrimental to your team. She writes, “They may have harmed the company morale an culture, not to mention they’re probably miserable themselves. Why? By the time you let them go, the employees who work directly with them may be beyond aggravated.”

And also, “If you’re thinking that you need to rid your company of someone who isn’t a fit, it’s probably too late, so just do it and allow everyone to move on.” It’s important to remember that the person you are letting go or removing from your team probably isn’t very happy either. They will move on and find success with something where they are a better fit.

 
Over the years, I have dealt with my share of unmanageable people and what I remember most is the sense of relief when they are gone. Many of them found great success in their endeavors after leaving my teams, whether in different parts of the same firm or in other fields entirely. This is a really good result! Life is too short to allow everyone to suffer toxic member of the team, so it’s best to go with your gut and make the tough decision.

Weed Them Out!

Son of a Postman

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Published February 6, 2014 by

Not Just White Guys, Mix It Up, Make It Work

In a previous blog, I talked about differences and the best ways to embrace them as a manager and a colleague. I think it is important then to point out this: YOU define different.

In order for something to be “different” there has to be another that is “normal.” I pointed out that the financial industry, for example, remains dominated by straight, white, married men. In this case, “normal” is a rather narrow category, and “different encompasses a wide range of people. But this does not necessarily have to be the case. It’s best to remember that differences are a matter of perception.

 
I can think of one example of this in from the mid-1990s when I was hiring a new employee for my former firm. I sent out 20 resumes to my interview team. They sent me back only two resumes of people they recommended to interview, and these were the only two men in the initial batch of twenty! In response to this, I developed a technique for the interview process. I deleted the name and extracurricular activities on the resumes before sending them out to the interview team, and this usually obscured the gender and ethnicity of the candidate
s. This resulted in a more diverse range of candidates that were considered. When the obvious markers of difference were taken away, the actual differences between good candidates weren’t that large, and they were the differences that mattered.
 
Another example of the perception of differences is age. For some industries, the average age of people is in their 40s, in others its their 20s. What could be considered “old” or “young” can vary greatly. And it usually is a good thing to have that range of experience. “Older” people (whatever age that may be) typically have more experience  can use their knowledge to teach others. “Younger” people have fresh takes on issues and different ways of thinking about them. It’s best to have a mix.
 
Much progress has been made in accepting and embracing difference in the workplace and beyond, and there is still more we can all do. This will involve understanding the complexities of difference, and remembering that it is you who defines what difference is.

Its one thing to be good at hiring a healthy mix of people and yet another thing to stay close to the team to make sure all are working well together.  As you may remember, I refer to this as “working the fields.”

Son of a Postman

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Published February 5, 2014 by

Differences, White Guys, Always Be Aware

The world is changing and now there are more opportunities for groups of people who are “different” from the established norm. Women and people of all ethnicities and races are more and more being accepted as part of the workplace. However, the business world remains run in a very large part by straight, white, married men, and having people who don’t fit that narrow category merely “accepted” is not enough. Instead, differences should be embraced.

The strengths of different groups ought to be played up, and the other differences catered to, just as the current workplace is mostly catered to a particular group. This is not just an altruistic sentiment; this is and will be the way to get the best out of people now and moving forward.

 
There was a time when many different groups were completely ignored, but in the past couple of decades there has been a ton of progress. For example, in the mid-1990s, I was appointed as the first head of the Diversity Committee at my firm. We started with a pilot program to allow some people to work from home (back before technology had made this as easy as it can be today). Our committee consciously chose more than just women with young children, in part to be “inclusive” and in part so our bosses wouldn’t see it as some kind of baby-sitting replacement program. We learned a lot about the need and desire for flexible hours for people with children and those without.


My philosophy is that we need to move beyond being only “tolerant” of people other than straight, white, married men. Tolerance is passive, and it fails to acknowledge that the systems already set in place may not be ideal for many people entering and in the workplace now and that in fact these systems may be unsustainable in the future. Acknowledging difference, knowing the people you work with, work for and who you manage, and tailoring your approach to people with that in mind is a good first step to working well with “different” people.

 
This is an issue that I care about deeply, so I will have a lot more to say on it. But I will leave you now with this: being sensitive to people, promoting teamwork, giving timely feedback, managing expectations, communicating effectively, and making sure you are in touch with those you manage are very far-reaching skills that go beyond culture and ethnic groups and are as essential to life as breathing.

Son of a Postman

Available now in paper on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com and in Kindle format!

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