Recently in Management Category

On making presentations

November 15, 2010 10:48 PM | Comments (0)

Lately, we’ve had lots of food for thought about making presentations. It made me look back at what I was doing, just over a year ago, and wonder whether things have really progressed for me since then.

Recently, I and others have observed, with a mild sense of bafflement - and subsequently, bemusement - a certain pattern of behaviour that seems to be increasingly pervasive among the new Generations Y and M, who feel they are entitled to things which others have had to work very hard (and smart) for.

How shall I put this across? Perhaps, in the form of a story. Almost 10 years ago in a very different place, I knew a younger person who felt she had been short-changed by her organisation. It didn’t help that she would complain about it openly - to coworkers and sometimes her bosses. Her work was very good, and she was a bright girl with lots of potential. However, she would sometimes vent out her frustrations on others whom she felt were getting better benefits - including myself.

While we got along socially and even became best buddies, her tendency to compare the workloads and the rankings we received made things awkward at work. She always felt she deserved better. Yet, when given more responsibilities, she would comment that she was not being compensated enough. She felt that she had to be paid more and promoted before she took on a steady increase in work, and advised me to do the same.

Being new to the working world, and relatively idealistic, I decided to disregard that piece of advice, and immerse myself in the projects I was given. My focus was on contributing all my creative talents to the organisation’s work, and I don’t recall ever complaining to my boss doing my performance review about not getting a good deal. I even felt that I could see myself working in this place for a long time. Also, I made it clear from the start that I was capable of doing many more things for the organisation than what was in my official job description.

Within my first year, before I knew it, I was given assignments way outside of my scope as a web designer - writing full-page columns and getting my bylines, producing music for video clips. I also got along with my bosses. One day, I was called up to undergo training to be a multimedia producer. My colleague remained as she was. There’s more to the story but that’s besides the point.

The point of this story being: You usually have to make the first step yourself, before others are willing to move you up. No two situations are exactly the same, so you cannot calculate and make comparisons between one success case and your own personal situation (frankly, if you did, you’d probably go mad - there are many who have forged ahead, and many others who have been left behind). Also, there could be things going on above and around us that we aren’t privy to, and have little control over.

Don’t take your frustrations out on other people who have a different outlook, and don’t spend so much energy calculating and thinking of what could have been. Instead, channel these efforts into something more productive for the team and the organisation.

While observing the interactions of different groups over the years, I have hit upon an answer as to why:

  1. Some Asian parents provide a lot for their children but wonder why they are unable to bond with them (I know this isn’t in all cases but it’s happened in enough observations to warrant mention on this blog)
  2. Some Governments may provide a lot for their citizens and may have much higher standards than Governments of many other countries, yet are criticised more often than complimented
  3. Restaurants may provide decent food and good value, but customers are still unhappy
  4. Project managers may be good at getting the job done but wonder why their team members do not support them fully…

After a buildup of thoughts, experiences, discussions and observations, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

Even if you’re very busy at work, always set aside some time to:

  1. Stretch, take a drink of water, get some fresh air, look at far objects through the window
  2. Pop by to talk to a colleague face-to-face instead of calling him/her (especially if you’re only 3 cubicles away!)
  3. Smile at the person who clears your trash and vacuums your floor. Say ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ to everyone who helps you.
  4. Get some exercise every week, or at least, use the stairs instead of the lift (you can combine this with having face-to-face discussions with colleagues on different floors)
  5. Have lunch with other people, not by yourself with a takeaway box at your desk all the time
  6. Get to know someone in another department or division better, even if you don’t work with him/her directly
  7. Have dinner with former colleagues to catch up with their lives
  8. Make people laugh
  9. Keep on learning. Read up on areas of interest (even if you only have time to skim), send relevant articles to people and if you can, sign up for a short talk or seminar
  10. Clean up your desk from time to time, or come up with a new way to organise things so that your cubicle feels new and different. Give it a personal touch so that visitors feel welcome

It does help if you’re a people person, of course, but no man is an island. Knowing people better, and likewise, having people know you better, makes your job easier. You won’t need to make cold calls anymore; people may be more flexible in making arrangements with you; the vibes are better and you’ll go home feeling a little more lifted than if you behaved like a hermit.

The work will always be there, but if you’re spending at least a third of your day in the office, you might as well make it a bit more enjoyable, no?

A plethora of management thoughts

February 27, 2010 8:59 AM | Comments (0)

It’s difficult these days to blog about work, but work is what I’ve been mainly caught up with. Perhaps I can refer to general ideas which many of you may identify with, without being very specific.

My concern, as always, is about doing work that isn’t strategic or scalable.We could very well be doing work that can actually be delegated to others, or outsourced more completely. Apply a little managerial accounting (activity-based costing + opportunity cost) and the truth will out. But there are many other factors coming into play, such as our own uncertainty, our newness to the role and the need to be in control, and a limited budget (which is usually an issue for everyone isn’t it?).

The other thing I’ve noticed is that people tend to conform to whatever system has been designed for them. Systems are not meant to sit around for years, untouched, becoming increasingly irrelevant as needs change.

For instance, a system may capture generic information when it can actually pinpoint the needs of specific customers or segments. Why don’t we fine tune that further, just like how the market-oriented MNCs do it? Don’t tell me “we can’t do it because we are not an MNC” - I need a better reason than that.

I’ve also noticed there is usually a fear that IT will fail, and changes take time and money. Improvements are seen from a short-term, cost perspective far more than from a ‘benefits’ perspective, because costs are immediately visible, but benefits take place over a longer period of time and are harder to quantify.

Others who do see the need for change may not have authority to do so. But, the world around us is changing and we must adapt to it. Not all the time, of course, for that would be more effort than it’s worth, but surely it can be done in strategic phases. Look at it another way - we probably spend more time servicing and upgrading our cars and other gadgets, than the valuable systems we use at work to serve our customers better. Isn’t that a shame?

Another area of neglect which I’ve noticed through my various work experiences, is the user interface. Ah, not a very important or strategic area, you may think? Well, think again. Think of the time spent by each employee figuring out an inherently confusing interface, as well as the hours spent giving training, and the fact that many employees use the systems only when absolutely necessary because they are such a pain to update.

I’ve used other systems, mainly the Web 2.0 offerings, which do not require a thick instruction manual. I enjoy using them, and keep coming back. It’s much easier to spread knowledge and keep track of things when it feels almost effortless.

I challenge all internal systems providers to think of your internal product as if it would be sold to the market. Would anyone buy it, or would your rivals outclass you? What would you do to make customers want to use your product more? And what is stopping you from doing it?

Beyond these knowledge management and operational efficiency aspects, another challenge I’m throwing will be to bosses. What makes you a boss? Is it purely your rank, your extra years of experience, your qualifications? Or should the title of ‘boss’, ‘manager’ or day I say ‘leader’ be also conferred upon you, by those above, around and especially, below you?

In the words of my dean, Frank Brown, are you a LINO - a Leader In Name Only?

How often do you make the effort to mentor your team members, if at all? Or do you come in mainly after the work’s been done, because it is easier to judge then. and you’re too busy to guide them at the beginning? Do you also look at potential rather than where things stand, presently? Do you have a big vision that can be articulated to your team, or are you merely following orders? How do you deal with top performers and poor performers? How do you set a good example, foster a healthy, open work culture and incentivise your team to focus on the right things?

These are all questions I would ask before making a decision to stay or leave. And the jury’s still out on that.

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