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Category: Culture

The Networking Meeting That Changed My Life; And It Can Change Yours Too!

I remember when I was introduced to networking. It sucked! I was uncomfortable. I was actually shy and didn’t know what to say or do. Most people that know me today wouldn’t believe it. But it’s true.

Before I share with you what I consider the most important networking best-practice, I’m going to share the story of how I was introduced to networking. It has truly changed my life, personally and professionally.

Joe Made Me Do It…

Early in my career, I had a great mentor. Joe always looked out for me. One day, Joe asked me why I didn’t bother networking. I told him I didn’t know how and I didn’t know what was expected, so I was afraid.

Joe asked about the last work meeting I attended. I told him we were kicking off a project for the sales leadership team and we just had the kickoff meeting.

Joe sat in my chair and typed out an email to the VP of Sales that was in the meeting. The email said it was great having a project with him and I’d love to get a chance to network over lunch. Blah Blah Blah.  Joe sat me down and said the decision to send the note was mine.  After a few minutes, I pressed send.

About three weeks later, Joe and I were going to lunch. When he stopped by, he asked me if I ever heard back from the VP. I chuckled and said, “Of course not; I told you so.” Before we left for lunch, my phone rang. It was the VP’s secretary. She explained that his lunch date just cancelled and he wanted to know if I was free for lunch.

I put the phone against my shirt, so she couldn’t hear me. “He didn’t want to go to lunch with me, his date cancelled and I’m just a fill in!” Joe laughed at me and said, “Don’t be an idiot (he said that a lot), go to lunch.”

I lifted the phone back to my ear and heard the secretary laughing. She heard every word. “Barry will meet you at Friday’s in 15 minutes. Enjoy lunch.” I felt like such an idiot.

But Wait, There’s More

I met Barry for lunch. After the chit chat, he asked me “So what’s up? How can I help?” I told him I was learning to network and Joe suggested I ask him to lunch. “Joe gave me one rule. I was not allowed to talk about work, at all, unless you chose to do so.”

Barry laughed and told me Joe was very smart. He went on to ask about my background, my family, how I arrived at the company etc. He shared his background etc. It turns out we both loved magic and used the same magic shop in the city for supplies. We spent almost 2 hours at that lunch. And that wasn’t the best part.

The Payoff

Remember the sales project where I met Barry? A few months later, it was off the rails. We had another meeting with sales to discuss the issues. There were 8 folks from our team, including my boss and her boss. And there were 4 folks from sales including Barry. It was a painful meeting.  As everyone was getting up to leave, Barry looked across the room and said, “Bob, anything you can do to help us out would mean a lot. Let me know if you need anything from me.” And he left.

You could’ve heard a pin drop. We had our butts handed to us. And after what seemed like forever, I realized everyone was staring at me. My boss’s boss finally said “What the heck was that? How do you know Barry?” I simply responded: “I know Barry from Networking”.

Barry and I connected; I was more than just an IT dude that was frustrating him. I was “someone in his network” and he asked for my help.

There is a key rule that will make or break your networking meeting.
And so, I’m finally ready to share the rule:

The Rule…

It is the cardinal rule. On Shark Tank, Mr. Wonderful is known to say, “You’re Dead to Me”. If you break this rule, many new connections will feel it and you’ll be dead to them!

When Networking, You Are Not Allowed To Ask For Anything, Unless They Ask You Too…

Yup, it’s that simple. If you’re networking with someone in your office, you should avoid talking about relevant work. That would make it a working-meeting, not a networking meeting.

If you’re in transition, avoid bringing up that you are looking for a job. When they ask, you can share it. I can’t remember a time that the person across the table didn’t ask me “So what’s going on with you?” or “How can I help you?”.

When they ask, I emphasize, that’s not why I wanted to connect, but then I share. I make it clear that wasn’t the purpose of the meeting. And it really wasn’t! The beauty is that if they feel like we connected, they will want to help without my asking.

And if you’re in sales, this works as well. Don’t cold call or show-up-and-throw-up (I hate that slang). Network, connect and try to help! They will appreciate it.

The Challenge:

You will have to do this on trust. I know this may go against every need or fear in your body, but I challenge each and everyone one of you to have 3 network meetings. Here are the rules:

  1. Meet someone new. An acquaintance or a friend of a friend.
  2. Don’t bring your agenda. Go with the only goal of connecting so you may be able to help them.
  3. Resist the urge to ask for something. Let them ask you.

Give it a try at least three times. I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

Silence is not agreement; Don’t let others hold their breath

speakup2It’s not often, but I believe we have all experienced the meeting that goes too smoothly.

There’s anywhere from four to eight people, trapped with each other for an hour, around our favorite conference table.

The 3 Great Interrupters: Meetings, Management and Drive-Bys

interruptors-300x199Recently, we’ve introduced Commitment Based Estimation  to a couple of our software teams. Typically, this helps a team provide highly-accurate estimates. These teams go on to deliver successfully by meeting these estimates.

So You Want A Promotion? “What Problem Are You Solving?”

So-You-Want-a-PromotionI recently had a conversation with a colleague about how to discuss career paths with employees. I had an “AHA” about a great way to eliminate the more painful conversations and how to focus on true opportunities for individual growth. It centered around the question: “In a particular role, what problem are you trying to solve?”

Before I share the insight, I want to share a few concepts about roles and their definitions.

Accountability vs. Responsibility

When I personally say that someone is ‘accountable’, I mean they own the results. When I say someone is responsible, they own an activity or  task.

The Vice President of Sales is accountable for delivering $xxx million in revenue to a firm.  However, the Vice President of Sales is typically not responsible for setting up individual sales calls. That responsibility sits with individual sales employees.

So, in your role, there are two things to consider: What are the expected results you are personally expected to deliver (accountability)? And, what are the activities and/or tasks you are expected to lead or participate in (responsibility)?

Now let’s revisit the original question:
“What Problem Are You Trying To Solve?”

Typically, the answer to this question is a result. A given outcome. That is your accountability. How you solve this problem is a list of your responsibilities.

I’ll share a quick story that I heard a while ago about a firehouse. Fire fighters were called to a six-story fire that had engulfed an entire building. They doused water on the right side of the building and were focusing on the sixth floor. They got the flames to go out on that floor and had almost won the war on the fifth floor.

All of a sudden the Captain screamed over the radios to stop and move all the way over to the left side of the building and put out a fire on the other side of the sixth floor. The fire fighters were frustrated. They said they just need another minute and the fire on the fifth floor on the right side would be extinguished.

The problem the firemen were trying to solve: Put out the fire.

The problem the Captain was solving:  Save the entire building and make sure the foundation wasn’t becoming brittle by too quickly changing the temperature.

The Project Manager Role

So as a Project Manager what problem are you solving? I believe you are accountable for clear visibility of progress, and enabling effective communication across the project.

Your responsibilities to accomplish these goals might include a Wall Gantt, daily stand ups, daily cycle testing and more. Keep in mind, however, that just performing these activities so you can cross them off your to-do list, does not mean you are being responsible. You still need to get the desired result.

 

How does the accountability vs. responsibility perspective help us understand opportunities for growth?  Let’s start by contrasting the role of the Project Manager with that of the Senior Project Manager.

The Senior Project Manager Role

A Project Manager recently asked me what it would take to get a promotion to Senior Project Manager. What skills would she need to learn and/or demonstrate? What conditions would she need to meet?

In my experience, this kind of conversation for many roles within a company is very common and often painful. This typically turns into a judgmental conversation, determining whether someone is ready to move up to a more senior role. For example, even if they learned a skill, there can be debate as to whether they have demonstrated it to the right level of proficiency.

But wait…

In my conversation with this Project Manager, I used a different approach.  I asked her:

“What problem does a Senior Project Manager solve?”

She answered that Senior Project Managers solve very similar problems to Project Managers. However, they can run larger, more complex projects.

AHA! After her answer, I was finally able to have a healthy conversation about the differences in roles, without the typical pain.

I started explaining that I expect Senior Project Managers to solve the problem of growing the PM organization to target staffing numbers and skill levels. That is their Accountability. They also are accountable to make sure the project delivers the expected results, but the “growing the organization” is something that this Project Manager never considered.

The Senior Project Manager’s responsibilities to grow the organization, I explained, include helping to figure out what gaps exist with the existing organization, how to train and close the gap, what is the required succession strategy for growth, and so on.

When we discussed the Senior Project Manager role in these terms, the Project Manager genuinely appreciated the new view and understood what she should work on. In fact, she said the first thing she needed to spend time on is getting a better understanding of what problems a Senior Project Manager is expected to solve. After she ‘got it’, she could focus on understanding what skills were needed.

This approach can help in any role discussion. For example, in subsequent conversations with developers, it gives us a framework for understanding what it means to be a senior developer or architect. They solve entirely different problems.

Going back to the fireman example, if any fireman ever wanted to get a promotion, they need to understand the problem(s) the Captain solves. It is different than “just putting out a fire”.

If you’ve been thinking about your own role at work lately, how does this perspective help you understand potential opportunities in different roles?

10 Ways to Create a Culture Where People Feel Valued (part 2)

10-2-300x162Last week we looked at maintaining consistency between your mission statement and daily execution; dealing with unexpected changes in your business; the importance of transparency; and the need for each employee to uphold corporate values. This week, we’ll look at six more culture building practices:

  1. Hold management accountable: Empower everyone to protect your corporate culture. Create an environment that is safe for employees to raise concerns, voice opinions and challenge threats to your strategy. Test management’s ability to withstand challenges and put away the egos. Common vision means we all want the same thing: To maintain corporate culture and insure the ongoing success of the company.  The best decisions are made through open dialogue and exploration of diverse ideas.
  2. Set yourself up for success: In every project, business commitment, or customer engagement, set yourself up for success. If you don’t believe you can take on the work without compromising your corporate values and quality of outcome, then restructure the project, the approach, or turndown the business. Strive to make death marches a thing of the past. Nothing is more demoralizing then being set-up to lose.
  3. Be willing to make hard decisions: You’ve found the perfect candidate from a skills and experience perspective. You’ve been looking to fill this position for months but the candidate is not a cultural fit. Do you hire them? Alternatively, the deal-of-a-lifetime has presented itself. You can take on the work but an aggressive “go-live” date means you will have to burn-out several key contributors and maybe even sacrifice some quality on delivery. Do you take on the business? Every time you make a decision that doesn’t support your culture and values you widen the gap.
  4. Raise the bar: Never settle for “Good-Enough.” Whether it’s you products, your people, solutions, service, or corporate strategy, set the expectation and demand excellence. Every individual in the company should be empowered to expose and eliminate mediocrity.
  5. Create awareness: From the individual to the board of directors, being aware of how actions, interactions, and decisions impact people and culture is key to success.  Make awareness habitual; remind yourself and your organization to ask repeatedly, “How does this impact our peers and employees, the quality of our products and services, or our reputation with our customers or market place? Do the decisions and actions we make support our corporate culture and values?”
  6. Don’t panic: There are many things that can force an individual or organization to panic: Changing economic times, a set-back on a project, a challenging customer, or the everyday demands of the business. It’s in the midst of these pressures that people most often panic and revert to their old bad habits. Don’t panic. Take a step back. Look at the problem in the context of your corporate culture and values and take action accordingly.

People and Principles Come First

Valuing your corporate culture has to be systemic. It has to be a strategic objective and it has to be reinforced with people and systems that insure culture is preserved. Both the company and the people need to invest in and commit to maintaining the culture.  Will you be challenged to break old habits? Sure. Will you have to be reminded from time to where your cultural “true north” is? Absolutely, but building culture into the way you do business means you have checks and balances that allow people to correct course before it damages what you value most…your People.

Does your organization “walk the walk” when it comes to corporate culture?  What practices have worked best for your company?

Photo Credit: thomas nicot

10 Ways to Create a Culture Where People Feel Valued

I have always rankled at the much over-used corporate phase, “People are our greatest assets.” I’ve heard the words pass the lips of senior executives in both large and small companies, across industries and geographic boundaries, yet  time and again I witness that quiet sigh of contempt and disbelief from the listeners.