Category Archives: Management

Flexibility breeds flexibility

One of the most difficult balances to achieve is the balance between work life and home life, especially for moms. Maternal guilt is real! We internalize all the looks we receive when the pie for the bake sale is store-bought. I at least buy well. While I grocery shop at Rainbow, I buy pies at the boutique bakeries. This assuages the guilt somewhat.

As a manager I try to remember that people had lives outside of work. While in theory it would make sense to keep work life and home life separate, I would argue that the traits people exhibit in their home lives are part of the reason you hired them in the first place. I am a results oriented leader. As long as we hit our goals and the work gets done, I am happy.  I truly believe that flexibility, within reason, breeds flexibility.

On a calm weekend in 2010 someone decided to commit news and shoot a St. Paul cop. It happened to be a weekend when we only had one day time shooter. I came into the office to direct news coverage. I began thinking of whom to call to cover the shooting and my phone rang. It was a staffer who was off that day asking if I was alright coverage wise. I was just about to call them, because I was not OK! I needed bodies fast! I shared this and they made a plan and hit the road to cover the story. A lot of journalists understand the fast-paced unpredictable nature of news and are ready to pitch in, this was different, it was  an unspoken agreement.

This particular staffer had a busy home life with two active children and a traveling spouse. I often made sure they could start their day from home, make it to sports games etc when their spouse was out of the country. As long as the work got done, I was not going to mandate that this responsible member of my staff were sitting at their desk, just for the sake of making them do it. This respect for their family meant that they were willing to help me, the way I had helped them, by being flexible and helpful.

It may not always work, by no means should you allow people to take advantage of your kindness, but flexibility can be extremely useful.

How to be more fascinating!

I’m currently reading Sally Hogsheads book Fascinate. It is an amazing insight on why certain ad campaigns do not work and why others do. Her website that just recently launched allows you to find your own personal fascination triggers.

For example Ms. Hogshead discusses why teen drunk driving ad campaigns based on the fear of losing their life, generally don’t work. Most teens are still at an age where they feel invincible. The fear of death at their young age is not nearly as effective as the fear of public embarrassment for teens.Ms Hogshead suggests that a campaign based on the fear of losing their license and being driven to the prom by their mother is far more effective. Studies have proven she is right.

Her website and book walk you through both how to be more fascinating and how to use the most effective fascination triggers for your target audience. The power of persuasion maybe easier than you think.

The feedback sandwich

As a manager, one of the hardest things to learn is, what performance issues to discuss and how. While being the taskmaster is part of being a manager, learning to weigh items that need necessary correction with those inconsequential flaws is an art form. I have had both the manager who points out every error and the one who is so buried that they give no correction at all. While the former seems annoying, I prefer that to no feedback at all.

I like to write out all the negative things I need to discuss with an employee and then ask four questions about each issue.

  • Is this a procedural issue? Is this simply an error of not following the right steps.
  • Is this a critical behavioral flaw? Were they rude, harassing or socially inappropriate for the workplace.
  • Is this a clash of personality? Are people simply not getting along and needing to learn to play better in the sandbox.
  • Lastly I ask what will happen if I don’t address this now? If the answer here is nothing, I toss it!

Statistically employees who receive feedback will multiply the bad feedback by three. They are also more likely to forget the positive feedback if it is delivered first. I have found an extremely productive way to give feedback is the sandwich approach. I sandwich all tough feedback between two positive comments. I also do so in writing so that when people are rereading my comments; they can actually see that there is more good than bad, literally, twice as much. I also do this regularly. When you share both good and bad feedback on a regular basis, at a ratio of two to one, it is both easier to take and more believable.

Have you met TED’s app?

Streaming TED talks is now easier than ever.  First if you don’t know what TED is you need to. TED is an idea consortium. They offer great talks and presentations for free and motivating workshops for a membership. Memberships are not cheap but are beneficial if you want to allow your business to incorporate TED talks into training. TED now has an app that allows these presentation and talk videos to be shared on mobile devices and tablets. It also allows you to save and organize your favorites so you can easily get back to them for reference.  I have used TED talks to shape the ideas behind what kind of leader I want to be, how to maintain happiness as I work and how to motivate others to do their best. Check out if you want really great resources for effective leadership and team building.

An engaged manager remembers

Remembering the little things is often key to earning the trust of your staff. For me that meant knowing what types of assignments people preferred, handling their pet peeves (the work related ones) and letting people you don’t see everyday know you are thinking of them and wishing them well. You see photographers spend the most time out of the newsroom. They need to be out and about for the best news coverage. There is no real way to phone-in the photos for a story. You have to be there. This can lead to people feeling disconnected from the office and sometimes forgotten. I tried to get in the habit of sending regular birthday acknowledgements in the form of e-cards. It is hard when you have a department of 20 or more to keep track and remember to select and send an e-card so I used a service called Birthday Alarm.

Birthday Alarm is a neat service that allows you to load people’s birthdays and e-mail addresses and then starts sending you reminders for birthdays 10 days in advance. You can then click on the link select a card, add a personal greeting and it will send the card on the recipient’s birthday. It remembers every year and makes the task super simple by suggesting age appropriate and often hilarious options for cards. So it allows you to add a personal acknowledgement in a few minutes. It doesn’t add hours to your day and it makes a great statement to that employee you rarely see but who works hard and let’s them know you’re thinking of them.  Birthday Alarm remembers which cards you’ve sent to whom, so duplicates don’t happen and it offers every type of occasion card. There are thank you cards, a great way to say “Job well done!,” holiday cards, nice for sending a holiday greeting to those working abroad. They even have just funny animations to share with colleagues and staff to add a little levity on a slow day.

Today is my wonderful mother-in-law Jan’s 73rd Birthday. She is a woman of great humor and grace whom I love and respect. You can read more about my wonderfully loving and funny relationship with Jan in today’s “Raisin in Minnesota” column on Happy Birthday Jan! Check your inbox, today’s card is a hoot!

How good a leader are you?

One great way to measure your success as a manager is to look at whether or not the ship will sink without you! It is now Eight months since I was laid off from my previous employer. Yet, I am proud and happy! You see succession planning begins with you. The young man I hired as the deputy is a rock star! I am proud because I was able to see that when I hired him. He did not have the wealth of experience I had when I was hired, but he was smart and resourceful and a hell of a photo editor. He found me when I was hiring. We all know finding the hiring manager is a tough task!  He made a simple and clear case for how he wanted to both learn from me and move closer to his family in Minnesota. This was both honest and necessary for taking a job in the tundra.

During my interview with him I asked him an interesting question,  “Do you want my job?” He paused, I assume searching for clues about what I wanted his answer to be. Then he said with rising intonation “Yes?” When I smiled, he realized, this was the right answer. You see the staff I led had been through horrible turnover in managers. It was almost a soap opera of poor decision makers and mal-tempered micro-managers of the past. The department had been through nine directors in 15 years. I wanted to be sure I gave them stability and an honest to goodness succession plan. I was not planning to leave them for a while, a commitment I made to myself when I took the job. It actually took 3 years of me being there before their shoulders relaxed.

It is important to be a good shepherd of the flock you are leading, make sure they will be cared for and have their needs met even after you are gone. So, if you are hiring someone to lead with you, make sure you teach that person how to keep the flock safe. This means getting outside yourself, and actually looking to hire that person who both wants your job, and will be able to do it. Don’t get me wrong, I was nervous at taking this approach, as we all think of self-preservation, but I did it anyway.

I shared this story on a recent job interview that is looking for a creative manager that can really come in and both lead and teach the creative staff as well as set them up to succeed. I made it to the next round and I’m convinced this story was the one that put me over the top. If you put the needs of your staff before your own selfish desires, you will know that you are in fact a good leader.

The staff is talented and producing great work!  That is in part because they are in good hands. Eight months out the ship is sailing and the staff has an excellent leader, it’s not me and I’m proud!

Are you creating a succession plan? Do you ask the question during your interviews? Do you know who wants your job and will be able to do it? Do you give them the tools to replace you? Do you set people up to succeed? Why or why not?



Help them keep their dignity!

A dear member of my virtual family who writes the blog ManageBetterNow recently wrote about interview karma.  He touches upon the fact that we have all been on the interviewee’s side of the table and how there are so many uncontrollable emotions going on at that moment for the job seeker.

As I prepare for interview #2 this week I hope the person on the other side is aware of this. There is nothing more humbling than needing to be at the top of your game while wondering if the person interviewing you is at least present (mentally) and focused during your interview. The feelings of discouragement, competition and embarrassment at needing a job, are already there.

So, if you are conducting an interview in the near future, put down your phone, tune in to the person walking on the high wire in front of you and give them every opportunity to shine. It is your job to evaluate them, so ease the test anxiety and make them feel welcome. There is usually a good reason they made it on your list of candidates. After all, karma is a bleep and pretty much dictates that the places will change at many points in your life!

Performance reviews, a great goal opportunity!

I worked in a union environment where compensation was automatic and not tied to performance. A number of my direct reports shared with me that prior managers of my department rarely performed annual evaluations. Most assumed it was because they were not tied to compensation. I realized that this meant a number of people on my staff had not been regularly informed how their supervisor thought they were performing, nor were they having annual measurable goals set for them. I set out to change this by reinstating the performance review and letting people know where their strengths and weaknesses stood with me. I also invited them to help me set measurable goals for them to achieve over the course of the next year.

The evaluations I provided were frank and honest and provided specific examples of their triumphs and trials. It is important to include both praise and observation in what people do well as well as where they struggle. It shows them that you are aware of their work in good times and bad. All too often people feel as if their bosses don’t know what they do. I made a point to make electronic notes on my personal calendar under the name of each direct reports sort of a “Sainted &Tainted” bulletin board of their yearly performance. So not only did I give examples of successes, I could even provide the dates. For poor performance, this also allowed me to know whether they had a pattern for a certain behavior all year or if it was just a fluke. When it comes to the good, include it all is my view. When it comes to the bad, I only include the troubling patterns and let the flukes go. This was my Mary Poppins approach; I found “a spoonful of sugar” really did help the medicine go down. To my surprise not only was this effective, it actually helped me turn lower producers into top performers. First, they knew I was watching. Secondly, they intrinsically wanted that sainted list to be long and the tainted list to shrink. Last and most importantly, at the end of the review, I would ask them to help me write their goals for the next year. I knew that even if they didn’t mind letting me down, they might think a little harder about letting themselves down.

Want to learn more but don’t have the time?

I’m still in learning mode after finishing my MBA in December, 2011. So I take the time to read all the leadership and new/social media books I can find because my WPM, words per minute, is still in overdrive. You may not have the time to go back to school or read a tone of the latest books but what if you could listen to a lecture series from a top University over your lunch break? With iTunes U you can. You know you have seen the link in your iPhone or iPad for iTunes U , Have you ever clicked on it? I’m currently watching a series of business leadership lectures from MIT, free! Sadly, these great lectures only have 52 reviews because so few people know they can literally go back to school on their phones, with no tuition. Pick a topic and learn from the best academics in the world. I may not matriculate from MIT but I can be as sharp as their grads! Isn’t getting the knowledge the real point?

So much more than a To Do List!

As a new media consultant the occasion arises when I need to hire sub contractors. When I do I assign tasks with HiTask. It is a to do list, organizer and project management software in one. It features a mobile application for my iPad and iPhone and allows me to send assignments, set deadlines and track the progress of jobs for minimal cost. It’s only 5 bucks a month or 42 dollars a year, the longer you use it the cheaper it is. They also offer a high security business version. HiTask is also a great business solution for companies that are no longer investing in high cost assignment systems. Photo assignment editors at newspapers around the world, this is so much better than a database and email system. I only wish I had found this when I was still running a photo department. Enough listening to me go download your trial, you won’t be sorry.