Comment Guidelines

Comments should be concise, constructive and applicable to the story. Comments that include personal attacks, racial, religious, or ethnic slurs are not permitted. Any comments deemed inappropriate will be removed.
If you reprint a post on this site or post it on your own blog or Website, please include the following attribution:

© 2008, Jeffrey Hurley. Used by Permission. Originally posted at

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Presentation on Structure

I spent the weekend completing a presentation for my Toastmasters club later this week and wanted to share it with you. It is also my first use of Slideshare which is an excellent site that falls under the Social Media label. Check out the presentation and let me know your feedback.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Improve your focus, give your brain a break

Have you ever found yourself in the difficult position of having to complete a task yet found the task to be less than exciting and wondering if there was some way to get through the challenge with your sanity still in tact. Often in work situations we are responsible for tasks and actions that are needed to be completed but these tasks are not fun.

One of the approaches that I have found when working on focus has been to use a 20 minute rule. This is a unique motivator I found while in college when I had to study for exams. The basic idea is to allow yourself to get into the groove and leverage your mind's ability to remain intensely focused for short periods of time. I have heard of studies that have found that our minds will start to wander after as short a time as 20 minutes (I couldn't find any specific one so I can just tell from my personal experience)

What I do is set a timer, I have a countdown watch that is set to 20 minutes. I turnoff the phones, blackberries, and email alerts; to effectively get into your groove you will have to be certain that there is no interruptions so that you can train your mind that it is okay to be focused. I have a small note pad nearby in the event something pops into my mind, that will need to be addressed but is not what I am focusing on, so that I can write it down to address later. Then I set the timer and am focused for the 20 minutes straight.

When the alarm goes off I stop what I am doing right then and there and move away from the project and reward myself for the focus time. The key is to reward yourself. I recommend do a little physical exercise and get your blood moving like take a short walk get outside for a brief moment. I keep the break to no longer than 5 or 10 minutes so that I can get back to focus on the task at hand.

After doing this for awhile I found I can focus and get into a flow quickly and the ability to complete my task lists improved noticeably.

Try it out for yourself and let me know how it works.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Everyone is an outsourcer

I am an advocate of the outsourcing model. That does not mean I believe companies should send all of their jobs to another country. Rather companies should focus on their expertise not on "all the other stuff." If you look at outsourcing they way the typical middle class family does you would see that they have been outsourcing for some time. So much is outsourced that many people no longer what they are doing as outsourcing. Here are some examples of family outsourcing:

  • Daycare or after school care
  • Tax preparation services
  • Dry cleaning
  • Gardening
  • House painting
  • Plumbing
  • Growing food
  • Dining out or buy ready made meals
  • Clothing (do you make your own?)
  • Entertainment (movies, TV, sports)

This is not sending jobs overseas, rather it is freeing up time for higher value activities (ones you would rather be doing instead of these)

All of these things are forms of outsourcing and yes some of them are done overseas but a vast majority are local. Why do we outsource so much of our family work? Some would say because both partners are working and don't have time for these activities. I would argue that both partners are choosing to focus on higher value skills and outsourcing the items that can be performed with better expertise or for lower cost by someone else.

This is the most basic of arguments for the outsourcing model. What is your business and how does your business make money. Doing taxes is not about making money unless your are a tax accountant. Writing computer software is not about making money unless you are a computer software developer.

Most organizations need to be focused on product innovation not on how to complete their tax return, find the best office space, or the bookkeeping. When a company is small much of these activities are outsourced; what changes as an organization grows that requires these activities to be done in house? What activities are you as an individual still doing that should be sourced elsewhere to free up your time?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Terra Cotta first YouTube video

Okay so I have been doing a lot of reading up on social media tools lately in preparation for a presentation I am doing later this week. Funny thing is between the research and experimentation I didn't have enough time to complete my Sunday blog post and then here I am on Wednesday and realized, wait a minute I can post on some of the cool stuff I am working on.

So here it goes, this is my first attempt at video following some of the recommendations I learned online, more about this later. So here it is a short, under two minute, video of the Terra Cotta Soldiers in Xian, China:

I hope you enjoy. Cheers

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How I use GTD to manage my email

I am a big fan of the David Allen getting things done system. His tips and tricks for time management are effective because they work whether you are paper based or electronic based in how you apply them. I have been able to achieve remarkable productivity increases use a combination of paper and electronic based tools to implement the GTD system.

If you go to David Allen's web site you will find some great tools and he has a free download that will explain how to set up a series of folders in your email system and mobile device. I use a blackberry connected to my office outlook, though this is a greatly reduced in capability blackberry for various compliance reasons. This is where mine is set up. The first thing I did was set up a series of folders in outlook to support the two minute drill.

In the outlook mailbox I have
1) @Actions folder where I drag any mail items that will take longer than the two minutes to process
2) @Waiting for folder where a copy of any request I have outstanding with someone else is placed. I review this file to determine what is outstanding and who needs to be followed up with.
3) @Touchbase here is where I place any emails that represent an ongoing exchange and though not a priority action or a waiting for I want to make certain to follow up with this person. This is a once a week folder versus everyday.
4) I then have a series of offline folders or in outlook terms "PST" files that I use to manage the large amount of emails and projects. These folders are set up by year and quarter
  • 2008 - Q1
  • 2008 - Q2
  • 2008 - Q3
  • 2008 - Q4

Under each of these folders I place sub folders to file all of the inbound emails

These are auto generated emails from the various servers that provide activities of the status of their performance and batch jobs. They typically require no action on my part, my team is responsible but they are important for service level performance measurement. So I keep them filed for future reference.

Every project seems to have some form of email trail and I am still, many years after completion, referring back to legal contracts or other documentation related to project in 2005.

each major project has notes/minutes, documents/presentations, and other

I try not to get carried away with excessive file and directory structures but when you have to find something quickly a year later this system sure helps.

I then have a personal folder with Transactions, Network Activity, Travel, and Other.

With this set up I am able to handle my email traffic very easily and then incorporate this into the rest of David Allen's recommendations in the book Getting Things Done.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Yes College Students Should Study Abroad

I just finished reading a great article titled, The New Global Skill Set by Don Asher. He outlines , how colleges are now requiring overseas study as part of their graduation requirement. I think this is great.

I have had the opportunity to work abroad fro the last four years and have enjoyed every part of the experience.

Don spoke with several global managers and one quote stood out to me and I paraphrase, Bradley A. Feuling , "strong project management skills and and diverse cultural knowledge" are essential traits of managers overseeing functions in multiple parts of the world.

The world is rapidly catching up to the United States, in technical know how, however, they are not giving up their cultural heritage. Thus the ability to have empathy toward our differences becomes a valuable asset in any global work we do.

I have met many individuals in Asia that speak a minimum of three languages, the language of their native country, English, and one other (French, Japanese, or Chinese). We as Americans should learn to speak multiple languages as well.

Having just returned from a trip to Cambodia I was surprised to learn the Cambodian people have a fascination with learning other languages; I met nine year old children that could hold a full conversation in English and a basic conversation in Japanese (with my teenagers). After inquiring further I learned the Cambodians see this as the path to future opportunity.

Don's article goes on to recommend studying abroad for at least a semester. Again I strongly agree. When I have spent a month or more in a country I begin to appreciate the subtly of the cultures and truly appreciate the beauty of the rest of the world.

I sincerely hope this becomes standard curriculum for undergraduate and graduate programs throughout the US.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Meeting Dark Arts: Informational Meetings

The other day we had a global announcement call. This is one of those conference calls where everyone dials in from various locations to get an update on how the business is doing. A senior manager for the division then presents to a room full of people and everyone else on a conference call. These type of meetings have a unique challenge in that they usually have a very large attendance by people located somewhere else. Meaning they have to call in via conference line.

When I wrote in my earlier post, did we do enough, that the second most important task is communicating the situation to investors. management, and staff this is one of the communication mediums that I had in my mind at the time. This type of conference call has a particular etiquette that I wanted to share:

- Plan an extra 15 minutes on the front of the call
- Disable the inbound and outbound announcement feature
- Mute all dialed in lines during the presentation
- Ask that everyone attending place their mobile phone on silent
- Plant questions before the meeting
- Always repeat the question

Plan an extra 15 minutes on the front of the call to allow for phone line congestion. I don't know about you but as a presenter it is challenging to stay on the topic with a large number of people still on their way into the meeting. When you have a large attendance at these types of meetings it is better to just plan the extra time in. Especially when many conference call systems cannot handle the large number of simultaneous dial ins and back up the callers. So just wait for a few extra minutes to let everyone work their way through.

Yes I get the appointments that say dial in 15 minutes early also and I even used to do the same thing with my meetings. I stopped. Why? because if I am booked in meetings back to back there is no way I can dial in early. So yeah I have someone else set up the conference room. But the reality many staff members are in the same situation and they don't personal assistants that can do the dialing in for them. Therefore my recommendation is to go ahead and plan it into the meeting. This will also provide walking around the room time to meet various team members and suggest some questions, which I discuss a little later.

Disable the inbound and outbound announcement feature
. Most conference call systems have a chime that will announce when someone has joined the call and when they leave. This chime is important for most calls it let's you know if you have others listening in on your call. However, for a call of this type it is really annoying because you tend to have a lot of late comers and then early leavers.

Mute all dialed in lines during the presentation. As the administrator on the call you have the ability to mute all other attendees on the line. This is an important practice. Thus eliminating my biggest pet peeve the "heavy breather"when some undoubtedly has their headset microphone set to close to their nose or mouth. This is my biggest frustration on calls, ask any of my staff (I am known for sending emails to remind individuals to mute their phones even after I announce the rules for the call)

Ask that everyone attending place their mobile phone on silent. All of the external lines should be muted so there will be less chance of interruption. but I am a big "belt and suspenders" man and want to make extra sure that we have as few interruptions as possible. I often explain that out of respect for all attendees please place your phones in silent mode just like in the movie theaters.

Plant Questions before the meeting
It often takes some time to get a group to loosen up enough to ask questions. Which is why I recommend planting a few managers in the audience with some of the tough questions that everyone wants to ask. There are two reasons for this. First, in many cultures meetings are for updates only and thus most of the questions never get asked. Second for the culture where this is not an issue it let's the attendees know that it is okay to speak.

Always repeat the question. I have found that no matter what, even if I am in the main conference room I am not able to hear at least one question when it was asked. The presenter should always repeat the question that was asked so that all attendees can hear. If the question is a long then paraphrase the question before answering. This will give all of the attendees a chance to hear what the question was.

I have found these six guidelines are very helpful in running the large information only meetings. Hopefully they will work for you as well. If you have any additional ideas that will help meetings go more smoothly I look forward to hearing from you.

If you liked this post you might like:
Meeting Dark Arts: Meeting Management
Meeting Dark Arts: Conference Call Etiquette
Meeting Dark Arts: Publishing Minutes
Meeting Dark Arts: Taking Notes
Meeting Dark Arts: Video Conference Etiquette

written by: Jeffrey Hurley in Central, Hong Kong

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mentorship is about equality, respect, and empowerment

A good friend asked me this weekend why do so many mentoring relationships appear to not work? I had to think about this for a bit before I realized that a mentorship relationship should be built on a foundation of equality and mutual respect. If either the mentor or mentee is feeling superior or inferior the relationship is out of balance and ultimately will breakdown.

Yes the person you have as a mentor should have more experience, more seniority, or be in a place that you seek to achieve. However mentorship is about individual transformation and this must take place within the mentee.

If you believe yourself not equal to the one you are working with you will not be able to absorb their teachings and thus not transform yourself into the person you seek to be.

Mentorship, rather than a hierarchical relationship of superior and inferior, is a relationship of equality, mutual respect, and empowerment; it aims to free an individual from the sense of weakness or hopelessness preventing them from achieving their goals and desires.

You can learn much more from a mentor who shows you what is possible when you apply their practices. Therefore it is the belief that you have the capacity to achieve that which your mentor has achieved which will allow you to truly grow within a mentor/mentee relationship.

What I realized is that if as a mentee you don't believe you are equal to your mentor in your abilities then you won't take responsibility for your actions. If you don't take responsibility then you cannot change and thus the relationship starts to breakdown.

The mentee is in control and therefore is responsible for the relationship and its outcomes. The mentor is there as a guide and hence a guide can only make recommendations. The mentee decides how to act on the recommendations.

It is okay to look to a mentor without giving up who you are or becoming inferior.

It is really that simple, if you don't believe you can achieve the change you are seeking from mentorship (giving into the feeling of inferiority, powerlessness, or fear) then you won't. That is it, "mentorship relationships are not successful without equality".

If you liked this post you might also like:
Hit Fast Forward and Leverage Mentorship
8 Rules to maximize the benefit of mentorship
Mentoring Part III: The Mentor

Written in Xian, China

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Did we really prepare...

Terry Gross from NPR’s Fresh Air interviewed Donovan Campbell author of the book Joker One and as part of the interview she asked him to share the following quote about being in the heat of battle,

“You can only pretend that you're already dead and thus free yourself to focus on three things: One finding and killing the enemy. Two communicating the situation and resulting actions to the adjacent unit and higher headquarters. Three triaging and treating your wounded. If you love your men, you naturally think about number three first, but if you do you're wrong. The grim logic of combat dictates that numbers one and two take precedence."

I continue to read about the difficult economy and the unprecedented challenges many businesses are facing in their effort to survive in the wake of the financial crisis.

I feel like this economic situation is business warfare and I am thinking how would a leader in the business world make Donovan’s statement? I think it would be the following:

You must free yourself to focus on three things in business:
1) Generating cash and profits (not just revenue)
2) Communicate the situation and plans to investors, management, and staff
3) Protect and invest in your staff
If you care about your staff then you would think about number three first, but if you do; you are wrong. The grim reality of business dictates that number one and number two take precedence.

This appears on the surface to be very harsh and in some respects it is. However, if you are not focusing on making a profit you won't have a business for very long. If you are not communicating with your lenders and investors the situation and your strategy they may pull support or worse bet against you.

In almost every business it is our people that make the difference in our success. The military prepares their teams for intense situations where fear can paralyze an individual; have we done the same for our staff so that they are not paralyzed with fear?

Did we do the right training before the business situation intensified?

Are we communicating effectively so that staff members know what they should be doing?

Monday, March 23, 2009

I don't like bullies either..

Seth Godin in one of his latest posts Yeah, but he really knows his stuff... Points out that we should not tolerate workplace bullies and terminate them immediately. Yes they can be replaced and the value to the larger group far outweighs any perceived benefits the bully is providing.

Seth says it well, "...the bully knows this, and the only reason he gets away with being a bully is that he thinks he's got you bluffed. Call his bluff..."

Talent and skills are important in the work place and yes we need people more than ever that can get stuff done. But I remember a manager early on in my career who said, "The ends do not justify the means. I don't care if you were successful if I have to clean up dead bodies along the road." He was referring to the fact that though the project team was successful we did more long term damage by alienating core supporters in the organization.

Don't be a bully in the organziation and don't tolerate them either. Some individuals may not know they are bullying others so give them an opportunity to mend their ways. If they show a geniune desire then help coach them to success. But if they are unwilling to change then the organziation will be much better without them.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Meeting Dark Arts: Video Conference Etiquette

In the 1980 movie Caddyshack there is a scene where the caddy's bet on whether a caddy will pick his nose when he thinks no one is looking only to have him pick and then eat whatever it was he pulled out. Gross? Absolutely.

I hope that none of you get caught in a similar situation while sitting on a video conference call. I sure feel like I have observed just about every bad habit possible displayed by colleagues while sitting on a video, from biting their nails to popping zits. Sometimes I feel like I am watching an Adam Sandler movie. So here are few of my recommendations for Video Conferencing:

  • Sit close together
  • Zoom the camera to show your faces
  • Wear the right colors for your complexion
  • Watch nervous habits. (don't pick your nose)
  • Careful what your body language is saying
  • Your facial expressions matter
  • Be aware of camera location and sound

Sit close together
I know that some people are uncomfortable with personal space. It is important to understand that If we have everyone spread out in the room the opportunity is lost again and the call becomes more emotionally frustrating for the attendees.

Zoom the camera to show your face
If it is just you in the meeting zoom the camera to your upper half do not sit at one end of the conference table and then show the entire room. The best part of video is the opportunity to see your face, it is the best way to communicate. Video is different than voice conference calls in that the objective is to see the person on the other end. My teenagers use video chat on a regular basis to talk to friends all over the world. They set the video to show their face so that when a joke is told and it isn't any good the other person can see their scrunched up nose while hearing the laughter. I have video ability set on my office phone and have found that I prefer to talk to people via video because, I know if they are listening.

Wear the right colors
The other morning I was watching Bloomberg while at the gym and the host was wearing a white shirt and a light pink tie. The combination washed out under the lighting. If you have a light complexion wear darker colors. I know this may sound vain but more and more our lives are conducted via video and how you present yourself will be part of the measure. Remember the Boy Scout motto "be prepared".

Watch out for nervous habits
I am say this one straight out. Don't pick your nose, your ears, or other parts of your body! We all have a habit of some sort and we do it without thinking. Want to know what yours is? Take your video camera out set it up on top of your TV and record yourself watching it. Then review the video. There will be something there. One of our smarter engineers had this habit of pulling on his eyebrows while talking and until we showed him the video playback he wouldn't believe us. It took a lot of practice for him to stop this habit.

Careful what your body language is saying
Leaning way back from the table with your hands behind your head says you aren't interested in being in the meeting. Yes, I know you probably aren't. But it is probably not a good idea to telegraph that to everyone else. How you sit says everything. You may not think it is important until you sit on the other side of a call and see the guy lounging backward and with his hands behind his head while you are trying to make your pitch.

Your facial expressions matter
Ask any poker player. They can tell a lot about what a person is thinking by watching their faces. We all use facial expressions to know if you are happy, mad, or bored. You have the video use your facial expressions to aid the communication. It is a great way to help get your message across to the group on the other side.

Be aware of camera location and sound
I use all three types of video, listed below, regularly depending on the meeting or call being held:
  1. Small web cam on your computer or phone
  2. Single video camera in a conference room
  3. Multiple cameras in a conference room (usually aimed at the podium and audience)

A lot of us have been experiencing budget cuts and looking for innovative ways to save on costs and an effective way to do this is to do more video conference calls. I didn't really like video at first but now I have found video to be my preferred method of holding a distance meeting. It is an opportunity for face to face contact while not having to travel. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about video conferencing.

If you liked this post you might like:
Meeting Dark Arts: Meeting Management
Meeting Dark Arts: Conference Call Etiquette
Meeting Dark Arts: Publishing Minutes
Meeting Dark Arts: Taking Notes

Written by: Jeffrey Hurley, Location: Central, Hong Kong

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Meeting Dark Arts: Taking Notes

How many meetings have you sat through and looked around the table to see no one taking notes. If there is no need to take notes what is the point of having the meeting. Studies show if we don't write it down we will forget shortly after leaving the meeting.

I use three different mediums based upon situation or compliance limitations

  • Laptop Computer
  • Digital pen
  • Bound journal
For most of my daily activities I prefer to have the bound journal as the other two devices tend to distract from the personal connections that are such an important part of business. When conducting larger meetings around projects or business strategy we use the other tools for expediency. I have found that the simpler the method the more likely we are to do it on a regular basis.

First I use a modified version of the Cornell Note Taking System. I always carry a bound note book with me and start each meeting with a blank page on the left and right of the book. The right hand side of page is for the detailed notes and the left hand side I keep the action items and the meeting summary (which I write up after the meeting)

To make my notes as readable as possible, I expect to be referring to them at a later date, I use bullet lists marked by four different symbols:

- A dash for a general item of a statement made by someone
* An asterisk is an important fact
[ ] A square check box for a to do item assigned to myself
( ) A circle for task to be assigned to someone else, with responsible person

I indent my notes from the left edge of the paper allowing me to put my symbols in the left margin. For process flows or other visual diagrams I draw them right into the notes so their context is not lost. Because meeting handouts can be difficult to keep track of, I will also create short summaries or hold them to be stapled into the journal later.I also have a vocabulary of abbreviations that I always use similar to the following:

  • w/ with
  • w/w worked with
  • s/b should be

If you are a visual learner I would suggest incorporating differnt colors into your note taking either with "highlighters" or with colored pencils this is more a personal preference and I found that while I like using the multiple colors there was not enough time to effective take notes and engage in the dialog while trying to add color.

After the meeting I sum up each page on the bottom left section of the journal, often because there is not time to type up minutes right away. This way at the end of the day or when I had the notes to an assistant it is easy to add tasks to the calendar, send out the reminder emails, and follow up on the questions.

I take notes in every meeting I attend and go through a journal about every month.

If you liked this post you might like:
Meeting Dark Arts: Meeting Management
Meeting Dark Arts: Conference Call Etiquette
Meeting Dark Arts: Publishing Minutes

Written by Jeffrey Hurley in Stanley, Hong Kong

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Meeting Dark Arts: Publishing Minutes

Want to know how to write meeting minutes that get read? To get people to read your minutes ensure they are brief, easy to read, with all of the key points, and action items. Then use a format that can be read on a blackberry or other mobile device. I developed the following format focusing on summary points like this one below:

  • Topic 1 - Speaker
    • Item summary
      • Additional detail (only if needed)
    • Item summary
  • Topic 2 - Speaker name
    • Item summary
    • Item summary
  • Action items
    • Action - Assignee - Due Date
The upper portion of my notes consist of the topic, the speaker, and a summary of what they said in bullet point form. With the lower portion providing a list of action items. Most of us don't care who attended the meeting, what time it started, or what the dial in number was, so I leave them off of the minutes.

Not all fonts and formats translate well to mobile devices, I recommend the use of the dash (-) symbol to identify each item and indentation for supporting points. Because this can be read in a blackberry or other mobile device very easily I have found the minutes actually get read.

I then copy the entire minutes and paste them into the body of the email. I then print my copy and staple it into the notebook the original notes were taken in. If there is any question at a later date I have both the typed summary and the original detail. This has proven to be incredibly powerful in turning meetings into a meaningful medium for getting things done.

Meeting note taking is my biggest concern. If we are having a meeting and no one is taking any notes they there is a strong correlation that nothing will come out of the meeting and the next meeting will be a discussion of the same topic. It was with this in mind that I combined the observations of some of my best project managers and analysts work into a minuting system that gets read and acted on. If a meeting is minuted well those who were not able to attend will have what they need, and those that did attend will know their responsibilities.

I am a fan of taking notes on a laptop and know from personal experience that I can type much faster than I can write, plus it is already typed making the summarization process much easier. However there are few that view a laptop in a meeting anti conversational. Or you work for a company that does not allow laptops for fear of personal information being lost. I will cover the tools I use to take notes the traditional way in another post. I would also recommend looking into the Livescribe Digital Pen.

If you liked this post you may also like:
Meeting Dark Arts: Meeting Management
Meeting Dark Arts: Conference Call Etiquette

Written by Jeffrey Hurley, in Stanley, Hong Kong

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Meeting Dark Arts: Conference Call Etiquette

Okay, so how many of you have to sit on a conference calls on a regular basis? How often do you get the heavy breather? The dog barking in the background, or the all to often music on hold? Yes we live our lives on conference calls these days and we will be living more of them as we seek more ways to control costs. This next installment of my Meeting Dark Arts series will be the various conference call etiquette rules I picked up over the years. Make sure you share these at the start of every meeting to remind everyone on the call that we all suffer when someone isn't paying attention (yep, that is the keyboard you are hearing in the background)

First the list of etiquette rules for those of you not wishing to read all the details:

  1. Remind us in the beginning about the rules
  2. With large calls let people know you are waiting to start
  3. Run a call just like any other meeting
  4. Provide local dial in numbers
  5. Remember there are timezones
  6. Remember to mute your phone!
  7. Don’t put us on hold
  8. Watch the noise makers
  9. Don't eat while on the call
  10. Don't have side conversations
  11. Keyboards are a no no
  12. Say your name (when you enter, when you speak, when you leave)
  13. Don't be long winded
  14. Everyone has an accent!
  15. End the call

Remind us in the beginning about the rules
The host should remind everyone about these rules at the start of every meeting. I found that this prevented most of the problems from re-occurring and now everyone expects me to recite the rules before we start. Also I can quickly address those who forgot the rules while the rest of the conference laughs. Yes it has become a point of humor with my team. But everyone does agree the meetings are more productive and the attendees have more freedom because I encourage them to take calls from other locations so they are not always in the office.

With large calls let people know you are waiting to start
I know it is important to start the meeting on time and not to reward the late comers, however, when you have large calls it is often difficult to get everyone logged into the call on-time. I recognize these difficulties and therefore provide a couple of minutes of grace time when it is a large call. However, when it is a large call I make sure to mention it in the appointment and ask people to try to dial in early. Unfortunately when you have back to back meetings it is very difficult to do this. So I usually give it a five minute grace period. But this means that every 30 seconds or so I let everyone know we are waiting for others to join given the large size of the call.

Run a call just like any other meeting
See my post on meeting management

Provide local dial in numbers

Most conference call providers have local dial in numbers for almost all countries. If you are leading an international call be sure to include all of the local numbers for the call. This will greatly reduce costs and simplify the dial in procedures for the staff. Many companies have restrictions on international dialing from their phones so a local number will make it that much easier. I include all of the dial in numbers because you never know where an attendee might be. I have had individuals call in from a safari in Africa.

Remember there are timezones

Have the individuals calling from the late night timezone first on the agenda. if they are not needed for the rest of the meeting let them off the hook and give them permission to leave the call.

Remember to mute your phone!
The reality is that we are part of a mobile society and you will be taking calls from airports, taxis, and other loud locations. Mobile phones pick up background noise so if you are not talking, place your phone on mute. Most conference call systems have *6 to turn on/off mute. If you are wearing and headset for the call, it is a really good idea to have the mute on so that the rest of use will not hear your breathing. Mobile phones and heavy breathing are the two biggest complaints on conference calls. Muting your phone will help with the next couple of etiquette items as well.

Don’t put us on hold

We had just kicked off the conference when the music on hold came on. Someone had decided to take another call and put us on hold and they didn't come back on the line, the entire group was forced to sit and listen to music on hold. Fortunately I was able to close the conference and then reopen it so that we could get started. Getting the "music on hold" will stop the entire call. If you have to leave a call for some reason then leave the call and dial back in later, remember to tell people you are leaving. It will save everyone the challenges of trying to hold a conversation over the background music.

Watch the noise makers

If you are attending a call in a conference room I still recommend placing your phone on mute when no one is talking from the room. However, there are times when the phone must be open for the conversations to take place. Please remember that conference room microphones are very good at picking up the sounds in the room. Every click of the pen, shuffling of paper, turning of a page, or table tap is picked up by the phone. Sometimes these sounds come through much louder than the volume of the overall conference volume. but more important the sounds tend to be almost like a form of torture to the attendees on the phone.

When you are on the phone be aware that heavy sighs are heard very clearly. It is best to keep the headset away from your nose and mouth until you need to talk.

If you are calling in from home, it is best to find a quiet location where you can close a door to avoid being interrupted. Hearing children playing, barking dogs, or getting interrupted while you are on the phone can create the wrong impression.

Don't eat while on the call

Never eat while you are on the phone! The microphone picks up almost every sound that is made and the noise canceling ones are even better at their focus. If you are chewing gum or eating your lunch it will sound throughout the call and muffle your words. You don't talk with your mouth full (at least I hope you don't). Beside being very impolite we often can't understand what you are saying. A note to others in conference rooms do not bring food to these meetings even if you have enough to share (I know that some people have the rule that if you bring enough then it is okay).

Don't have side conversations

I was on a budget call the other day. We had multiple attendees and some very senior managers attending. When one of the staff leaned over to a colleague and started discussing where they were going to go to dinner after the meeting. I happily invited myself and the rest of the attendees as the two perpetrators sat red faced. Some phone systems have amazingly strong pick up and your conversation will heard, often without you being aware of it.
Even if you hold your side conversation in another language others may not understand what you are saying but they will be aware the conversation is going on. If you want to talk about something other than the meeting wait until afterward and if you want talk about the meeting but do not want to share with the broader group; wait until afterward.

Keyboards are a no no
I understand that the call may be of informational nature, but the rest of us learn quickly that you are not paying attention when we hear clicking away on your computers keyboard. If you are there only to listen then please place the phone on mute. If we ask you a question you will have plenty of opportunity to ask that we repeat the question if you weren't paying attention.

Say your name

When you enter a meeting, even if you are late (apologize for being late too) say your name and your location. This is important so that we know we have all of regions represented but also because we cannot see the people on the call and do not recognize everyone's voice. Please say your name each time you speak so that we can have a point of reference when taking notes. Finally if you are going to leave a meeting early please say your name and let us know you are leaving. This way we will know not to direct any questions your way.

Don't be long winded

Many phones are designed with noise canceling features that cut the inbound sound to avoid microphone feedback. Thus when you are talking no one else on the call can interrupt. If you are going to make a statement try to be as brief as possible. If you are presenting, stop after each slide so that people can ask questions. This is especially important when you are on global calls which leads nicely to my next point.

Everyone has an accent!

I don't care what country you are from you have an accent and those of us from different countries may have difficulty understanding you. I am an American and thought I spoke English until I started working with the British and Australians and found out I had no idea what their slang words meant. Slow down, speak more slowly and enunciate. The phone magnifies the challenges of listening and it is important to allow the listeners to process what you are saying. This is a reason to stay away from being long winded in your talks. Be aware that often we cannot understand what you are saying with your accent and then aggravated by a poor phone connection. If you keep your statements short then others can ask for clarification.

End the Call

When you wrap up the conference call remember to use the host's "disconnect all callers" feature to avoid any lingering charges from leaving a call open.

The important message here is that each of these rules should be shared at the start of your call. I am amazed at how often these rules are forgotten. My teams are global and therefore almost all of our meetings are conducted via telephone or video. At the start of each meeting I remind everyone of the etiquette so that we can be as productive as possible. I am curious of your thoughts.

If you liked this post you might like:

Meeting Dark Arts: Meeting Management

Written by: Jeffrey Hurley in Central, Hong Kong

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Meeting Dark Arts: Meeting Management

With all of the modern capabilities there is little excuse for not making a meeting. However, there are more meetings than ever and often we spend more of our time in them than actually accomplishing real work. What can you do to make your life easier. Just follow this series on Meeting Dark Arts and you won't need attendance from everyone all the time yet will get better results than ever before. Why? Because these tips and tricks will actually result in improved productivity through better communication.

Seth Godin in his post Three kinds of meetings, broke down the meeting types nicely:

- Information
- Discussion
- Permission

This post will focus on the D
iscussion type of meetings, these are the meetings held most often by business teams. When you are managing a team of multicultural, geographically diverse members you are often holding meetings with a different perspective than that of the typical westerner. Group meetings are run differently in each culture and these differences manifest in strange ways. An insightful approach to your meeting will result in better meetings and hopefully translate into better results.

Set the rules early
I start most of my meetings off identifying the time limit of the meeting for the consideration of many who must attend other meetings. I then let everyone know we may have to use a parking lot for issues that cannot be resolved quickly and that if we are spending to much time on any one topic on the agenda then a separate meeting will be held to review that item. If there is not a direct answer in the meeting then there is additional work that must be done on the subject and there is no point in continuing the discussion anyway, most of the discussion is people talking to sound important only.

  1. Remember Time Zone Differences
  2. Provide More Than One Way to Attend
  3. Send out an Agenda
  4. Make the Appointment a Complete Request
  5. Stick to Your Schedule
  6. Stay on Topic
  7. Assign Action Items
  8. Take Notes and Send out Minutes
  9. Discourage Interruptions
  10. Senior Staff Should Hold Their Tongue
  11. Request mobile devices be turned off (ok, just put them in silent mode)
Remember Time Zone Differences
First, remember that today's meeting may be happening tomorrow in Hong Kong, Singapore or another Asian country. Time zones become all the more important as you set up your meeting. I would recommend the use of a website like World Time Server to perform time zone calculations. Yes, most calendaring software will convert the appointment to the local time but it won't warn you that you have booked your 2:00 PM meeting at 3:00 AM my time. Please be considerate of your partners in other time zones.

Provide More Than One Way to Attend
With the advent of mobile devices it has become much easier for people to attend meetings from anywhere. Thus it is important to provide multiple ways to attend a meeting: in person, via phone, or via video. With the multitude of Internet tools available conference calling and video conferencing is very easy to set up. Remember to include the access phone numbers and pass codes (As a policy I always include the complete list of toll free numbers for all countries) so that the meeting can be forwarded and benefit those who are traveling. Unfortunately, with all of the access capabilities there is little excuse for not making important meetings. As a manager and meeting planner you will need to become comfortable with having team members on the phone or video and adjust your approach accordingly, I will cover the various rules and etiquette of these mediums in additional posts.

Send out an Agenda
And I mean send an agenda for every meeting. This may seem trivial but you and I both know that it is very rare to see meeting agendas. If you are going to have a meeting and go to the trouble to set a time and seek availability then take the time to write out an agenda. The agenda represents your goals for the meeting and if you expect to get these goals accomplished you need to write them down. Please let the attendees know the agenda before the meeting so they can come prepared. It gives attendees a chance to prepare. Springing your agenda on the attendees at the last minute demonstrates a lack of organization and ends up wasting time when needed information is not prepared for the meeting.

Make the Appointment a Complete Request
When booking the meeting include the meeting purpose (usually the subject item in the appointment), the location, conference call information and most important the agenda.
How often do we schedule meetings with a subject of: Catch Up? What do you want to catch up on? Is it business or do you want to discuss the latest sports scores? At least place a few word agenda in the appointment, that is why the space is provided for. If you want to pitch a project then include the project pitch as an attachment to the meeting. I really like Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/30 rule for PowerPoint. If you build your presentation around his recommendation and send it early there will be an opportunity to provide more information.

Stick to Your Schedule
Timeliness is a sign of respect. Start the meeting on time; do not reward late comers by going backward on the agenda or restarting the meeting. If late comers ask for more information, politely let them know that the minutes will be distributed after the meeting. Your colleagues may be angry at first but they will come to appreciate the respect that all are given for showing up on time. I know this may be difficult at first but it is an important message that must be given. If not enough people show up, then reschedule the meeting or do namawashi to get your answers.

Stay on Topic
Don't wander into tangential areas. Use a parking lot to place items for later follow up and assign them as action items. There is no better way to kill a project's progress than to spend your time in a meeting talking about something else.
Use a whiteboard for idea generation and tracking of parking lot items.

Assign Action Items
Most meetings cannot accomplish everything and undoubtedly will have action items or items needing follow up. Make sure that all action items are assigned and have a due date. Preferably the task assigned should be able to complete in two weeks or less. Anything longer will be to high of level for the assignee to be able to work on it. I will have another post on action items.

Take Notes and Send out Minutes
Every meeting needs to be minuted to provide attendees the opportunity to review the message that was heard and correct any potential differences. This practice also allows anyone who came late or missed the meeting to understand the action items, the discussion, and decisions. I will do two posts on meeting minuting and note taking to explain these further. The bottom line is there are many reasons why individuals cannot attend a meeting so give them the important information.

Discourage Interruptions
In some cultures it is not polite to interrupt the speaker so staff will wait their turn to talk. This also means that as the moderator of the meeting you have a responsibility to encourage other members to speak and make sure that all have their chance within the allotted time of the meeting. Remember to keep track of who has spoken. If you have a few people dominating the meeting then you will have to ask that they let others talk. It is important that, regardless of who you have in the meeting, you are careful not to allow any one individual dominate the conversation.

Senior Staff Should Hold Their Tongue
The more senior staff should wait to talk if they want genuine dialog to take place. In many cultures the senior staff are to give direction and the junior staff are to follow the direction. Thus if the senior staff lead the conversation the meeting will go in their direction, this is not bad if it is the meeting objective. If it is not, you may have to have a separate one-on-one meeting with the Junior staff to understating what is going on and then have another one-on-one meeting with the senior staff. This is commonly referred to as namawashi.

Request mobile devices be turned off (ok, just put them in silent mode)
A meeting is usually for a short period of time and is best when everyone is focused on the topic. Unfortunately many of us believe that we have to pay attention to email and instant messages all the time. Therefore always ask that devices be turned off. If someone is responsible for mission critical activities then ask that they set their device to vibrate and employ a special chime for emergency messages (BTW you should have all of your mobile devices set up this way) and yes I will post on this too.

When you are holding global scale meetings be aware that you have people attending from many different cultures. Yes, they can forgive your lack of understanding of their needs. They will be much more appreciative if you make an effort. This is by no way an exhaustive list of recommendations. I would welcome feedback from those of you who can share your first had experiences.

Written by: Jeffrey Hurley in Central, Hong Kong

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

6 Lessons From Slumdog Millionaire

Let me start by saying that Slumdog Millionaire is outstanding; I can say this with conviction after I had the opportunity to see Slumdog Millionaire over the weekend. Being in Hong Kong the movies are not available on the same time frame as in the US and when Slumdog millionaire walked away with a whole heap of academy awards it was time to go see a movie. The story telling was well done and because it was so well done I waled away with several messages:

One of the first scenes of the movie that introduces the main character, Jamal, has him jumping through the latrine to get an autograph, something, most of us would never do but he did and it got him the autograph. The entire movie is a demonstration of persistence and overcoming life's challenges. As long as you persist you will achieve. Things may not always go the way you want them to but never giving up even when it all goes in a direction you had not wished for.

Others will Take Advantage of You
Right after Jamal got the autograph and while his mom cleaned him up his brother took the autograph and sold it for a "good price." As the movie progresses we learn that beggars who are blind singers get double the handouts; so the orphanage intentionally blinds them. Finally watch as Jamal's girlfriend is taken from him. Jamal does not let this hold back what he seeks for that matter it is core to the storyline. But each of us has felt that others have taken advantage of us. Unfortunately , this is part of what happens in life it is not a matter of if you will be taken but when. Thus there is no reason to be angered but rather learn from the lesson and the lesson of others. Which brings up the third point I learned.

Hold no grudge
I mentioned above that it is not a matter of if you will be taken but when and that this is part of life. When I watched Slumdog I struggled as I watched the pain and suffering of so many; but what stayed with me afterward was that being angry at the life you have will not help you. If you harbor hatred and a grudge you cannot move forward toward your goals but also you cannot appreciate the wonders of this life. Individuals will always act in their own self interest. This action may result in bad things happening to you, sometimes they will do things intentionally because there is a desire to pull others down. In each instance Jamal did not let a grudge or anger toward his persecutors hold him back from his desire, yes I am sure he had doubt but he did not give up.

Sometimes You Must Work with People you Don't Agree With
Jamal chose to stay with his brother even though he could never forgive him for what he had done. I agree his brother was not one worthy of forgiveness, however, Jamal wanted to find Latika. This desire necessitated staying with his brother. The Game show host lied and attempted to set Jamal up for failure, Jamal stayed on the show. Again he had a mission

This one I found the most interesting and difficult to deal with personally but the lesson is very important. There are times that you must swallow your principals and your pride so that you can accomplish what it is that you truly seek. Yes principals are important but do not let your principals be an excuse for failing to accomplish your goals.

Money is Not a Pure Motivator
While Jamal was on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" he was presented with more money than he had seen in his lifetime. But he chose to continue the competition. He chose to continue because he was not there for the money but for the hope that Latika would see him and they would find each other. Yes, money is important however we all know from experience even if you are paid well it is not enough to put up with being miserable. For Jamal winning or losing the money was not his motive. We should look carefully at what it is we are doing and ask what are our motives?

You Make Your Own Happiness
Jamal grew up in the slums and overcame many difficulties: the torture, beatings, hunger, loss of love, and death of his mother. Wherever you are in life right now is exactly were you are supposed to be. It may not feel good to be there but you are. When you are dealing with difficulty you learn quickly that there is little that you can control. The question is what do you do now? Do you choose to be unhappy or will you choose to be happy. After all it is a choice within your control.

You are the sum total of your life experiences. These experiences are neither good nor bad they are just experiences. How you react to these experiences make you who you are. Jamal and his brother had many of the same experiences but they both responded differently to them. Jamal, as the movie depicts, chooses a path of non-violence; His brother, one of violence, that ultimately consumes him. I believe people can experience the same event differently and that is what makes us unique.

To conclude I recommend seeing the movie, "Slumdog Millionaire". The story telling is well done and the message of hope is there. I look forward to hearing of your Slumdog experience.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mentoring Part III - The Mentor

In an earlier post I wrote about the responsibilities of the mentee, but what about the mentor? How as a mentor can you ensure that you are helping the mentee to grow? Will the relationship work? I have applied the following guidelines to my successful mentoring relationships and hope that by sharing them you can build a great mentoring relationship.

Have Reasonable Expectations
Have you ever thought about what you might expect from someone who comes to you for advice? Are you expecting to much from yourself? The best part of a mentoring relationship is that it is an opportunity for everyone to grow so you do not need to know all of the answers. It also means you will be asked questions that might be insightful, angry, simplistic or even naive; this is okay, your job is to be a guide. A young mentee is looking to grow and will have an immature view of the world but will be confronting with very difficult questions. You are not the mentee's manager nor sponsor; you are a teacher, a coach, a friend, and a confidant who will help them shift their paradigm or way of thinking. Just remember that most of the time the mentee will not implement your suggestions properly assuming they follow them at all. Why the warning, it has taken years for some of the advice I was given to sink in to the point where I could apply.

Be a Good Resource

Yes, there is Google for most of our questions, however, Google is only one type of resource (the one I use when I am trying to help with homework). Most management and career challenges involve the subtle intricacies of people relationships and these can only be worked through with the help of others who have experienced them. When issues and challenges arise please use your network of contacts to help the mentee learn to seek out advice. Encourage them to use critical thinking skills to assess the validity of their statements, arguments, and actions. Bring together different sources of information to serve or challenge an argument or idea you are working through and then work with them to make the logical connections. How can you be a good resource? Show them how to leverage the knowledge of others.

Use Active Listening

The best mentorship I have have provided is when I was able to admit my lack of understanding and then had the sense of curiosity to explore the conversation further. You may think why would I admit to not understanding; because it made the relationship more real, we stopped pretending to be what were not and focused on the challenges the mentee was facing. The mentee is expected to drive the relationship but it is important that they learn to look at all the various angles of the challenges they are facing.

So then how do you actively listen? Ask pertinent questions, assess the statements and arguments made by the mentee. I always have the objective to be a mirror and not add new content to the conversation until I confirmed I understood the message correctly, however, that also means that I do not let the mentee "move on" until we have explored their challenges. I make sure to suspend judgment until all facts have been gathered and considered; without being critical of the events or actions. Active listening allows the mentee to better express what they are looking for from you. I found that the concepts of repeating, paraphrasing , asking clarifying questions and summarizing work best for me. For example I often ask, "Let me make sure I understand you correctly..." or "What would your next step be...". Work at setting aside your other thoughts and business/personal priorities so you can concentrate on the message, ask the questions and paraphrase.

Provide Constructive Feedback

The mentoring relationship is to help the mentee to learn and grow, they don't need to be criticized or disciplined. Be direct and to the point when giving your feedback. Remember that criticism attacks the person to which it is directed, is negative, judgmental, labeling, and accusing while constructive feedback is collaborative, informative, specific, and actionable. If you are providing feedback in a straightforward manner it will be much easier for the mentee to absorb. The best feedback is sincere and not a mixed message. If you are giving negative feedback it is important to express concern while avoiding anger, frustration, disappointment, and sarcasm which tend to send a message of criticism. Provide your observations to back up your feedback; avoiding characterization of behavior. Observations are what you see occur; interpretations are your analysis or opinion of what you see occur. Share what you've noticed, not what you think of it, and report the behavior you notice at a concrete level, instead of as a characterization of the behavior. Observations have a far more factual and nonjudgmental aspect than do interpretations.

Explore the similarities and differences between the ideas you are are discussing. Allow the mentee to examine the problems closely and reject information that is incorrect or irrelevant

Allocate Time

If you are going to be a mentor then this should be a priority. Allocating time for a mentorship means hard choices will have to be made and some things will have to be postponed or not done at all to allow for mentoring to happen. In this age of fast fix sitcom solutions Mentorship stands out in stark contrast. This is a journey and will develop over time; when time is given for the relationship to mature. Mentorship is a very rewarding process and allows you to give back by sharing your successes, failures, and life experiences. Keep your commitments and be certain to follow up on agreed actions. I am a dedicated note taker even in my mentorship relationships I keep notes and after each session summarize how I thought the session went. It is amazing to see how the mentees progress from when they first walk into your office to their next level and beyond. But to observe this progress will require a commitment of time.

Leverage Learning Opportunities

Each experience is a learning opportunity. Share stories of the struggle, challenge, and setbacks and how you were able to overcome them to get to where you are. Show how you leveraged challenges into opportunities. But most of all share when no matter the effort but in sometimes things don't work out. Life is a harsh task master but also willing to reward you with anything you ask of it. The mentee is here to learn how to ask of life and receive while dealing with the challenges placed before them and not get off track. To often we are taught that failure is bad, however, it is the failures we learn the most from. So that when the challenges of life start to confront them they will be well equipped to deal with them.

Keep Discussions Confidential

I cannot stress this enough. The worst thing a mentor can do is share what was discussed outside of the relationship. Being a mentor should be treated on the same level of confidence as a doctor or attorney. Don't pass judgment and don't share outside of the relationship. If there are activities or potential actions that could lead to someone getting hurt then yes you should act in the appropriate manner, however, I have yet to have a single mentorship relationship that ever put me in this situation. When a foundation of trust is built the mentorship relationship will grow and prosper.

I have found these guidelines to be very effective in my relationships. Even when i am working with my own mentors we take the time to discuss these guidelines as part of the goals for the relationship. In my next post on mentoring I will provide the guidelines to manage mentorship meetings for maximum results. Mentoring is one of my passions and years later it is great to look back and see how effective the times spent together resulted in incredible outcomes. I hope that by using this guideline others can have successful mentoring relationships also. I look forward to your comments.

Related Posts:
8 Rules to Maximize the Benefit of Mentorship
Hit Fast Forward and Leverage Mentorship

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I just got a new HP Mini

I just got the new HP Mini net-book after doing a lot of research on possible candidates for highly mobile laptop. In Hong Kong there is a large selection of net-book manufacturers and when I was researching this small form factor devices I found that they all had roughly the same features and were the same price range. After careful consideration I chose to go with the brand I was most comfortable with HP (they provide the machines for the office and the rest of my household).

The HP Mini is feature rich for its size and after testing the machine for some time these features were the deciding factors in my choice:
  • I Like the light weight and small form factor, that allows me to take this net-book where ever I go. The beauty is it isn't much bigger than an average book. I wanted was ultra portability after hauling a laptop around the Asia Pacific region every time I travel I recognized the importance of having as little weight as possible.- It has a nice keyboard. I am finding that the keys have a nice feel to them and am able to type easily. Many of the other net-books I tested did not have a nice of a feel especially when you "touch type".
  • The screen is 10.2 inches and is remarkably easy to read. The competition had a less "glossy" look to the screen and I was a bit worried about glare but have not had any issues.
  • The battery is a six cell model and should provide about five hours of usable time. I does stick out of the casing giving the net-book a slight angle when sitting on a table. I originally thought this would be a problem, however, the angle works well for table top typing.
I really look forward to the increased productivity brought on by the use of this small factor machine. I am writing this post on it now and expect to write many more. I definitely recommend the HP Mini series.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

There is Abundance Don't be Afraid to Share

Paul Zane Pilzer says that we should not look at our work as a scarcity of resources, one person's gain does not have to be someone else's loss. Success should be scene as an ever abundant, expanding pie with enough for everyone. If we are all working together for a common goal and we share our findings and abilities so that others can then expand their productivity we all benefit from the success.

I had an excellent project manager who worked from me a few years back, she produced a project summary document that was very good and it was quickly adopted throughout the organization. However this project manager was not happy and came to me to express her displeasure with everyone using her self developed tool. Now we would have developed a project summary document anyway. The summary would not have been nearly as nice or as easy to use as the one she developed; at the very least she got to continue to use her very effective solution rather than one created by committee. As many of you are aware the ones developed by committee are far more complicated and much less effective.

I happily explained that a solution was badly needed within the organization and we were using hers rather than assigning a committee to develop one and how I thought it was a great to see so many people using her summary document and getting great results. Unfortunately this project manger did not see it the same way, which was too bad because her knowledge and skills in delivering projects were outstanding. If our business and technology mangers adopted her techniques for project delivery it would have resulted in one of the more successful technology delivery organizations.

This project manager made a major contribution to the organization by showing the effectiveness of good project management and reporting. Why was she so upset? This was a win/win situation and everyone in the organization benefited. Rather than seeing abundance she only saw scarcity and pushed away other managers. Ultimately she left the organization and explained her departure saying that it was not a good fit for her. I was deeply disappointed to see her go, however, she was right: we wanted abundance from our managers and this did not fit her world view. Today I still keep in touch and she continues to manage projects as an individual contributor.

Abundance versus scarcity in the workplace, what are your views?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

8 Rules to Maximize the Benefit from Mentorship

In my previous post, Hit Fast Forward and Leverage Mentorship I said, "effective relationships happen when the mentee is actually initiating and driving the relationship with a set of personal goals in mind." I believe that high achievers need mentors; a mentor will help channel a high achiever's energy in the right directions, avoiding having to learn through the school of hard knocks. Mentoring provides a powerful resource for personal and professional growth by facilitating development through the sharing expertise, skills, perspectives, experience, and knowledge. To maximize the benefit of a mentorship relationship I recommend the following eight rules for the mentee:

1) Identify your mentorship goals
Before entering into a mentorship relationship determine what your goals are. Ask the question, "what do you want from the relationship?" Are you looking to better your career, make better decisions, achieve better results, increase your capacity, develop your leadership skills, or just guidance, support, and advice.

2) Be realistic

Don't enter into a mentoring relationship expecting to get a job offer or find the solution to all of your problems. Mentorship is about you as an individual taking a journey of self discovery; a mentor will act as a guide but cannot walk the path for you. Your journey is your own and it is for that reason that you should be realistic and recognize that the responsibility for your goals is yours. This may include changing much of what you have learned or already done. Be open to suggestions and let go of the past so that you can internalize the advice you will receive. The best part about mentorship is you don't have to have the solution figured out. There are many ways to get to the top of a mountain so don’t lock yourself into only one path before you have a chance to understand the other options; you may find a much easier solution than the one you were considering.

3) Initiate and drive the relationship

It is your responsibility seek out a mentor, you are the one who has the most to gain and you know what you are looking for. I do not recommend looking to your immediate relationships for a mentor.
I you work for a relatively large organization ask your manager and the human resources department if they have a formal mentorship program. If you are not able to find the right person or your goals are outside of your current workplace then these following websites may be of some help:

Academy of Achievement
International Mentoring Network
Gotta Mentor

4) Take an active role
Mentorship is about personal growth and to achieve growth requires effort. After each meeting review your notes and write out your actions and next steps. If your mentor gave you names of people to contact or items to research put them on your schedule and make sure to make the effort to complete them before your next session. Before each meeting set aside time to review your goals and objectives and write new ones for the meeting. Then review your notes from the last session, check the work you have done and the research. It is also a good idea to summarize your work from the last session, showing your mentor that you are applying her advice.

5) Allocate time and effort

Making time for a mentoring relationship when your schedule is already full can be difficult and the tendency is to let a relationship drift after a few meetings. This is I recommend that you review your goals, take notes, review them, and act on the advice. By continuing to review your goals you are reminding yourself of what it is you are looking for. Remember you seeking expertise, network contacts, and ideas. When a mentor provides these things it will often require additional work; from researching information and reaching out to contacts. After each session summarize your notes and action items. Much of what you will be working on might not come natural and to realize the value of the relationship set aside time to work through the guidance you are receiving.

6) Be articulate in what you want
Remember you don't have to know all of the questions you should ask, have all of the answers, or a solution when you walk into your meeting; this will allow for a dialog to take place. Make sure that you are clear in what your objectives are for the session, as the saying goes, "if you aim at nothing you will hit it". Start each meeting outlining your goals with your mentor. Don't expect to get all of the answers or to have said the right things that is why you have a mentor to work through your challenges, opportunities, or decisions in an interactive way.

7) Follow through
It is important that when you make commitments you follow through on them. If you are unable to follow through in a timely manner renegotiate. A mentor is volunteering their time to help you and one of the more frustrating mentorship experiences is when advice or commitments are not followed through. The power of a mentorship relationship is that it is a risk free environment to learn and grow; if you are not good at follow through you will not realize these benefits. This does not mean you have
to get it right all the time.

8) Engage in a Dialog

A mentor is not your boss and should not be a person you are looking to get a job from, therefore, be open and candid
in your relationship. A true mentorship relationship is about working through your goals and challenges and being able to learn and grow. What makes this all work is your ability to be open and honest, share what you were thinking when you made particular choices, saw the results, or planned your next step. Talk about how you arrive at decisions, deal with office politics, or negotiate with vendors. A mentor, by being far enough from the situation to not be clouded by it, will bring a third person's view. However, don't expect to get all of the answers, some things will require that you work them out on your own.

leveraging these eight rules will allow your mentoring relationship to be one of the more rewarding professional relationships. I am planning two more posts in this series, the first on what a mentor will gain from the relationship and finally on how to manage your mentorship meetings.

Do you have mentor relationships? Are you actively managing them or passively? I look forward to your feedback and comments.

Related Posts:
Hit Fast Forward and Leverage Mentorship