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Alicia Blain

Archive for March, 2011

 

So the next type of batty boss I’ve observed is Mr. Schmingle. I have to admit that I had another name for this type but the Gen Yers I spoke to suggested other names & I chose this one.  I love what it means & how it sounds.  

According to Gen Yers, a schmingler is someone who spends his time schmoozing and mingling – schmingling with everyone.

Mr. Schmingle wants everyone to feel good and so he tells you what you want to hear. The problem is everyone is hearing something different. Things get so convoluted you don’t know fact from fiction. His inability to be straightforward makes people question his honesty and intentions. You simply don’t know where you stand with him.

Have you worked for a Mr. or Ms. Schmingle?  Probably.   I have and it’s one of the most annoying & difficult types for me to work for.  When you find yourself working for a batty boss, the first thing you need to do is get your venting out of the way. It’s a natural reaction for all of us to rail against a batty boss especially if he really rattles your cage.  It’s okay to vent – just don’t vent with your coworkers.  If you want to tweet about the latest bonehead thing the schmingler did… think again. If you want to throw darts at his picture & post it on your Facebook wall, it would probably be amusing to your friends but not a good idea either.

If you have to vent, call or text a friend (after work on your personal cell).  Just don’t do it at work near coworkers who are plugged in to the Gossip Network.  You know the Gossip Network, right?  It’s the rumor mill, the juicy stuff people love to spread around & gossip about.  It’s amusing to listen to the Gossip Network,  just don’t be a contributor.

Once you get the venting out of the way, it’s time to fight back but in a smart way not a belligerent one. If you don’t want your career to be derailed, then you need to figure out this particular breed of batty boss & work with him.  First thing you need to do is put your emotions aside. It’s hard to do at first but with practice, you can do it.  Next you need to be observant.  Who are the people in your team that get along with the schmingler or other batty breed?  What does batty like about these coworkers of yours? How do your coworkers handle batty? 

Make a point of observing your batty boss for the next few days.  Keep an open mind & see what makes him tick.  See who works best with him. In the next post, I’ll tell you why that’s important.

So how about you? Do you work for a schmingler?  What winning strategies have you used to get around the schmingliness & make the relationship work?

Next batty breed: Mr. Sleepless.  Can you guess what floats his boat?

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Gen Yers lately & so many of them are telling me how shocked & disillusioned they are when they enter the workplace.  I think that we can all relate to how surprised & often underwhelmed we were when we started working as young adults. I know I can.

With Gen Yers specifically, I think the shock is greater because they’ve always had a lot of support & guidance from their parents, educators & career counselors. In talking to Gen Yers who have made the transition from college to a career and have been working for a number of years, I find that a few things particularly shock them when they start to work.  One of the biggest is the expectations they have of  their boss.

Like  many of us once did, Gen Yers believe they will work for a boss who cares about them, wants to mentor them and helps them advance their careers. Yet the reality is that there are whacko bosses in corporate America – and they often prevail over the good ones. It’s one of the hardest & most disappointing realities we face as employees.  I remember how disillusioned I was when I worked for my first whacko boss.  Can you?

What I realized is how important it is to understand what types of crazy bosses are out there so you can spot them & learn how to deal with them.  Another hard reality of being an employee is that you will always have to deal with batty bosses.  It doesn’t matter what company you work for – the names will change but the battiness will remain.

In my experience I’ve found that there are 5 types of Batty Bosses. The first one that comes to mind is Mr. Scheemy. Of course, it can be a Ms.  or Mrs. Scheemy as well.

Just like the name implies, this boss is a schemer. He says he’s your champion and sees you going far in the organization. You work hard to show your commitment.

When the annual review arrives, he describes all the things he tried to do “for you,”  how he went to bat for you but couldn’t get you what he promised or what you had hoped. The truth is he never went to bat for you or anyone else. He’s no one’s champion but his own.

Sound familiar?  I’ve worked for a Ms. Scheemy & at first, the experience was not pleasant.   I complained, I was angry & was ready to quit.  Then a wise person in the company asked me this: “Do you think this company has exclusive rights on crazy bosses? So you quit & go work for another company.  What makes you believe you won’t find another Ms.Scheemy there?”

Wow.  Good questions and tough to answer.  He was right.  From what I could tell batty bosses were everywhere at work.  I had nightmares where I saw myself  job hopping from one company to another in search of the good boss that might never appear.  Not a good visual.

So I decided to take control of my career instead of putting it in the hands of Ms. Scheemy.  I’ll share how I did that in the next post when I talk about Batty Boss #2: Mr. Schmingle.

What about you?  Do you work for a Ms. Scheemy? Are you giving her control of your career or taking control back?

Hey, college grads… What questions are you asking in your  job interviews to find out if your boss is batty. Stay tuned to find out more about that, too!

Over the last few months I’ve been interviewing Gen Yers all over the country who have been working in corporate jobs spanning 1 to 5 years.  The chats have been unbelievable & as always, I love how open Gen Yers are about  things. It didn’t surprise me to find a large majority of them  – over 80% – were frustrated & disillusioned with the corporate experience. 

That’s a big number but I think that anyone who has worked in corporate for any amount of time can relate to how they feel & isn’t surprised by it. Through the interviews I began to hear a theme being repeated by the Gen Yers.  There were about 5 things that kept coming up as the most surprising for them to find once they were on the “inside”.  They believed there was a big disconnect between the perception they had of the company as an outsider through websites, brochures,etc & the reality of working as an employee.

Many of them repeated the same thing:  I wish I had known what to expect before taking the job.  They admitted that the  tight job market would have probably forced to take the job anyway . However, knowing what to expect, the “shocking truth” so to speak, would have spared them from spending so much time & energy trying to understand why .  That wasted time could have been better spent focusing on advancing their career & other important priorities.

The interviews led me to write the first of a series of ebooks.  I have just finished it & officially sent to my editor yesterday (Who-hoo!).  It’s called “The Top 5 Lies Told to Gen Ys“.   More on the book in future posts but for now, I’d like to hear from Gen Yers out there who have been working for some time.

What did you wish you had known about corporate life before you took your first job?  What shocked you the most about corporate when you took your first job?  Thanks for sharing…

Yeah, sounds great BUT we’re not R&D…  I don’t have the luxury of experimenting to see whether or not an idea will fly”  That was the response a corporate colleague of mine gave when I approached him about collaborating on an idea.   It also highlights the last Yeah But of the series – Not my Yob, man.

When it comes down to it, most corporate leaders today are so swamped with their day to day responsibilities that it leaves them little time to do, much less think about, activities that don’t contribute to those specific responsibilities.  They practically freak out when someone approaches them about working on something new.  The response is to always try to get out of it or put the least amount of effort into it.  Their job is to carry out the specific deliverables they committed to delivering this year during the goals setting process.  That’s it & as far as they’re concerned, that’s plenty.

The problem with that type of thinking is that it immediately rules out innovation & experimentation.  New ideas don’t conveniently pop up when you have time on your hands. In fact, I’ve found that they usually manifest themselves when it’s most chaotic, when you are knee deep in a problem & trying to find a solution or a workaround.  Those hectic situations get people focused on thinking creatively for an answer.  The problem is that in the heat of the problem, a lot of the very creative ideas get thrown out because there is no time to put them into action. Instead of holding on to the idea for further investigation, most teams just forget about them. The spark of an idea is allowed to fizzle into obscurity.

Years ago I conducted an experiment as I began to grapple with all 5 Yeah-Buts keeping me from pursuing innovation in my team.  As my team & I were in the throes of solving an issue or finding an answer to a problem, I began to pay attention & look for instances where someone said “I wish we could do xxx” or “Too bad we don’t have time for xxx” or “Does anybody know how to xxx”.  Those phrases carried the spark of a possible great idea.

As I heard these phrases, I began to write them down. Pretty soon I had accumulated a nice list.  Any one of the ideas on the list could potentially lead us to a new product, a new service, a more efficient way of doing things.  The only thing is that we needed to fuel the spark.  That’s what ultimately led to the creation of the Idea Incubator.  With the help of my team, we purposely & purposefully looked at ways we could carve out time to fuel the spark of those ideas.

At first, we could only find small amounts of time & were very selective about the idea (s) we pursued.  What we discovered is that we all really enjoyed that small sliver of time away from the day to day grind to focus on what was possible. That laser focus on the idea gave us incredible momentum & results. Amazingly, one of the results was to really examine our daily activities & where we spent our time.  We all found time wasters in our daily activities. 

But here was the best part.  We quickly acted on eliminating the time wasters.  Why now & not before? Because everyone got a lot of satisfaction from experimenting with the new ideas & helping them take shape.  Everyone was engaged in the process & learning a lot from it.  The goal quickly became to find a way to make the Idea Incubator a part of our daily schedule.  With time, we accomplished that goal & it was a game changer for the team. 

Not all of the ideas we pursued led somewhere but all of them made us learn, challenged our comfort zones & contributed to finding solutions for other ideas.  More importantly, everyone - from Gen Yers to Boomers – was engaged & motivated to come to work.  What I realized as I battled the 5 Yeah-Buts is that I, as the leader of my team, had to find a way to integrate innovation into the daily fabric of the team or else it would never get done.  The reality was that it wasn’t another team’s responsibility to experiment with new ideas.  It was my responsibility as well.

I can’t argue with the fact that completing our day to day activities takes priority if we are to accomplish our annual goals & priorities. But we sacrifice our future if we only focus on the tasks at hand.  Building a framework that allows experimentation  to stand beside the day to day is the key to staying competitive in the future.  Ensuring the company stays innovative & pioneers new ideas is every leaders responsibility & should never be assigned to one department or one function. Our jobs as leaders are to ensure our companies stay competitive,  relevant & financially viable not just today but into the future.

So what about you?  What are you doing today to fight the 5 Yeah-Buts to innovation?  What framework are you building in your team that allows experimentation to thrive alongside the day to day? Remember, it starts with a baby step & it’s up to us to take the first one…

Did you know that there’s a museum dedicated just to the history of computers?  Well there is. It’s called, aptly enough, the Computer History Museum  . I bet you can even guess where its located.  If you said Silicon Valley, you’d be right, duh!

Well they just opened a huge exhibit (25,000 square feet!!) which they named Computer History: The First 2,000 years.  That was also the title CIO Magazine used to give us a sneak peek at some of the exhibit highlights. Click here to see the article by Lucas Mearian & the slideshow featuring some of the technologies on display.

Talk about back in the day!!   Two thousand years is really going back.  I loved looking through the exhibit highlights.  It just shows you how far we’ve come with respect to technology.

Even if you’re not a geek, you’ll enjoy looking through the slideshow to see how far innovation, creativity & experimentation have taken us.  And of course, as always, I encourage you to share the slideshow with your Gen Yers to really freak them out!

Happy Friday, everybody

“I’ll have to run that by my senior management”. 

When you hear that, you’ve just heard Yea-But #4:  To seek management approval before the pursuit of an idea.

Really? Seriously?  I can’t tell how many times I’ve heard leaders say that when someone in their team or from the outside pitches an idea he or she thinks is worth pursuing.  Now I can understand if the person is a new or first level manager but these are VPs in charge of multi-million dollar budgets with a team of people reporting to them?  They’ve got to check in with their boss?

When I hear that response I always think to myself  “Why does your boss need you when you have to check in with him for every little thing”.  But usually something else is going on.  The person, let’s just call him or her the VP,  getting pitched the idea is not comfortable with the idea.  Instead of digging deeper & trying to better understand the idea & the intended results, the person just finds it easier to blow off the idea by saying it has to get vetted by the boss. 

The VP is hoping the person pitching the idea will just back off & forget the whole thing so he doesn’t have to even talk to his boss about it.  Most the time he gets his wish.  Everyone knows that getting another management layer involved in a decision will complicate & slow down the process.

That is what the VP is counting on.  He doesn’t care that he looks like an ineffective leader by relinquishing his authority to the higher ups.  He doesn’t care that he may be squashing a great idea from taking root & blossoming to a great product or service for the company.   The nurturing & growth of ideas puts more work on a VPs plate.  It also puts him at risk of failure.  What if the idea is a dud?  What if a lot of time is invested & it goes no where?  What’s going to happen to his bonus & raise then? 

Although admittedly the pursuit of ideas is a toss up in terms of success, it rarely happens in vain.  All is not wasted & in fact usually, a lot is gained.  The team gets to try out different techniques & theories, they learn from what goes right & even more by what goes wrong.  They are engaged in the idea & seeing where it goes.  Engaged employees mean happy employees that are learning & contributing to the company. Experimenting with new ideas raises the bar in their performance because they see what’s truly possible when they try something new, something that pushes them out of their comfort zone.

But none of that can happen if the VP doesn’t choose to get uncomfortable first.  If he cops out & uses the “gotta run it the boss” card, all is lost.  Another idea is not allowed to take root.  How many times does this happen in our existing corporate environment on a daily, weekly, yearly basis?  A lot!  But we don’t even realize it. Yeah-But  #1 – being too busy  is so engrained in the way we work that it’s hard for anything to penetrate it.  Often we push back on new ideas without even thinking about what we’re doing or the consequences.

That resistance keeps innovation from sprouting & weaving its way into the very fabric of the organization.  The day to day grind, the push to meet deliverables & focus on reactive activities never lets innovation shine through.  On the rare occasion that it does, it’s not allowed to flourish by any means.

How many times have you relinquished your authority to your boss to avoid the pursuit of any idea presented by people in or outside of your team?  How many times have you delved deeper to an idea being pitched to you to see if it had any legs?  How many times do you take the easy way out so you don’t have to get uncomfortable?

We are all guilty of passing the buck to our boss to get out of doing something on some occasion.  The problem occurs when we make it a habit & refuse to take ownership & live up to the position & authority we have been given.

“So you’re saying you want us to do more in less time so we can free up time to work on our own ideas?” Marty always went straight to the point.

“Yes”. I said.  It had taken me weeks to frame the message I was now conveying to my team.

“You realize we can’t keep our head above water with all the projects we’re working on”.  This came from Ted, who was succinctly voicing Yeah-But #3 to innovation: Overworked Staff.

Ted was the realist in our group and his opinion carried a lot of weight with the team.  He continued.

“Yet, you want us to find time to work on those priorities AND leave time for pursuing “ideas”.  What ideas? I’m missing something.”

I knew that if I didn’t win Ted over with my proposal, the chances were slim that the others would accept it. 

“I’m glad you asked, Ted.  For the last 3 months, I’ve kept track of all the ideas, suggestions & sketchy concepts we’ve kicked around in our meetings & casual discussions.  Guess how many ideas I wrote down?

Silence from the team. “I’ve captured 20 ideas & they came from all of you” I said to sea of shocked faces.

Ted was incredulous & asked “20 ideas? We haven’t had 20 ideas”.  I could see the others agreeing with Ted.

“Ted, let me use you as an example”, I responded.   “Did you know that you alone have come up with 3 of the 20 ideas”.  I let that sink in a moment.

Ted came back with “3? I can’t think of one”.

“I know”, I said. “That’s because we’re always focused on the immediate priorities & we don’t pay attention to the ideas that spring up spontaneously”.

Ted appeared confused so I continued.

“The reason you don’t think you’ve had any ideas is because you preceded them with passive statements such as “ Wouldn’t it be great if we could…” or “Somebody should come up with a way to” or “There’s got to be an easier way to…”. 

I could see Ted slowly nodding his head as if he could hear himself say those words.  I look directly at him & said,

“We frame the ideas in hope not action and we don’t pursue them to determine their plausibility. We’re sitting on 20 possible breakthrough solutions that are going undiscovered and untested. They may not lead anywhere but imagine if just one did?  Imagine what we’d learn by acting on just one idea?

“Wow”. Ted said.  “I never really thought of it that way.  You’re right.  One of those ideas could be a big deal. It can have an impact on the bottom line. Think of the learning process!”   

And with that, Ted excitedly jumped on board with my new initiative: the creation of an idea incubator in the team.  His coworkers quickly followed his lead.

Over time, the Idea Incubator produced many effective solutions that had a bottom line impact & increased efficiency in the team & the organization.

But can you relate to Ted?  Do you let your existing priorities keep you from pursuing opportunities to experiment or try new things?  Are your framing potential solutions in hope & not action?

It’s very difficult these days to rise above the hectic noise of our deadlines & workload.

Here are some ways to bring down the volume & listen to the ideas that are being passively pitched & going unnoticed in your team.

  • Listen closely when team members are discussing a problem or issue on a project
  • Keep a log of wishful statements made by the team such as “I wish there was a way to” or “I wish we could find a way to” or “There has to be a better way”.
  • After capturing over 5 ideas, discuss them with your team.  Remember to give them credit for the ideas.
  • Let everyone weigh in one which ideas are worth pursuing
  • Together develop a process to free up time so every team member can dedicate to the idea. At first, this can be as little as one or two hours a week & build from there.
  • Reward team members for their ideas & the action they took to turn the idea into a solution.
  • Voila.  Your idea incubator has been launched.

Like me, you’ll find that when the staff has an opportunity to take time to work on a project or an idea that has potential benefits for the team, they light up and get excited.  All of a sudden, the employees you thought were swamped with work can get their work done PLUS work on the idea incubator. 

People like having the independence and time to work on viable ideas. As leaders, it is up to us to give them the time & trust to do that.

Can you believe that in 154 years, Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans have only been canceled 13 times! According to the Numerolgy columnof the March edition of Fast Company titled “Mardi Gras Mambo” & written by Margaret Rhodes, some of the reasons for canceling have been Yellow Fever & riots during the Reconstruction.  Not even Hurricane Katrina stopped the festivities.  I had no idea Mardi Gras had been celebrated so far back in the day.

The article has some great facts & figures.  It’s a fun read. Check it out.  Mardi Gras is next Tuesday.  How are you celebrating Fat Tuesday!

Happy Friday & Happy Mardi Gras everybody!

 ”Ideas cost money & I don’t have extra money lying around in the budget”

Jim got that response from his boss when he pitched an idea to automate an internal process that was time intensive & manual.  It highlights Yeah-But #2 – no budget for innovation.  Jim was one of my Gen Y interviewees sharing the good, bad & the ugly of  his corporate experience.

“I didn’t even get a chance to give details about my idea.  I was shut down before I even started”  Jim explained. “I didn’t even know if my idea would cost money or not but the answer was loud & clear. Ideas cost money.  But what if they saved money, too?”

Jim continued “At lunch, I told my friend, Neil, in finance, about my idea to see how much he thought it would cost. Neil liked the idea & could see how the solution could be used across the company.  He texted his friend in IT to ask him to meet us & brainstorm possible solutions.  John from IT, revealed that his team had worked on something similiar that could probably be tweaked to solve this issue in my team. We decided to work together & see if we could come up something using the tools the company already had in place.”

Excited about the possibility of pursuing an idea that could save his team a lot of time & money, Jim discovered that his idea it would not cost the company additional funds except for the time Jim, John &  Neil invested in it.   At the end of 2 months, they had automated & tested the new solution & Jim was ready to present the solution to his boss.

“My boss was blown away by the demo I gave him”. Jim explained.  “Even still he asked me 4 times if I was 100% sure this was not going to cost him money to implement.  I assured him the only thing it had cost us was our time & effort. He was skeptical right through the end.  He stopped being skeptical when he saw how much more efficient the team was with the new solution. He stopped when other teams saw the improvement and wanted to piggyback off the solution.  He stopped when the CEO praised him for the solution he almost shut down.

“I guess I was wrong about ideas costing money” Jim’s boss confessed. “They can  make money, too, if you give them a chance to sprout”.

Can you see yourself in Jim’s boss?  How many times have you not pursued an idea because of possible budget concerns? Did you try looking at creative solutions with what was already available in-house?

Sometimes we make things more complicated that they need to be.  The next time you find yourself shutting down an employee with a good idea because of cost implications, try this:

  • Listen to the idea & see if it has bottom line potential.  If it does, it is worth pursuing
  • Encourage the employee to come up with creative solutions if you have no budget to spare for seed money
  • Find ways to partner with other teams that the solution could benefit.  The effort & cost can be distributed among various departments instead of bearing the brunt of the cost yourself.

Don’t be shortsighted like Jim’s boss about trying out new ideas.  Innovation often just requires a creative way of seeing & using the tools, information, people & resources that you have at your disposal. All you need to do is give it a chance to sprout.