Managing Up

August 4th, 2014

I’m almost finished with Stanford Manager Academy, a professional development program for managers at the university. Interestingly, many of our conversations during the classroom sessions commonly found their way to the topic of strategies around managing up – it’s an area where people find themselves at a loss and where work gets roadblocked.

Many definitions exist for managing up, and I like the one from Alison Green, the prolific mind behind Ask a Manager. She states that “managing up is about…working with your boss in the way that will produce the best possible results for your team, while at the same time making both your and your manager’s lives easier.”

I wanted to share a few resources I’ve recently run across in this area; a couple of my supervisors have let me know they appreciate my ability to manage up and it’s taken me awhile to fully grasp what that means.

Stanford Webinar: Managing Your Boss

If you work at Stanford, Learning & Organizational Effectiveness offers a free webinar on Managing Your Boss. Don’t let the 1990s appearance of the course fool you – the program is self-paced and has some gems in it. Particularly if you’re new to the workplace or figuring out why your manager seems to ask you about particular things with frequency – this webinar is for you! What I liked most was the concept of thinking about your supervisor’s communication style and how that should feed into your relationship approach – especially if the two of you fall into different categories.

Six Key Principles of Managing Up

Alison Green wrote this piece in Intuit’s The Fast Track blog centered on the following ideas:

  • Focus on what’s within your control.
  • Get aligned.
  • Make your manager’s job easy.
  • Pay attention to what your manager really cares about.
  • Ask for feedback.
  • Be emotionally intelligent.

Earlier in my career, I used to get incredibly frustrated when my supervisor continued to bring up something that seemed resolved to me. Now I’ve learned that means I haven’t closed the loop or made her feel comfortable enough that we can move forward. Overall, your relationship gets better when you try to see the world from your manager’s perspective and see how you can fit into their bigger picture.

How to Get Your Boss to Read Your Emails

Of course, sometimes you’re not focused on ongoing frustrations, and you simply want your boss to respond to an e-mail or deadline. Alison focused a short blog on how to get a good response – tips that can help you when you’re trying to get a reply from anyone, really.

In my job, I work with incredibly busy Stanford faculty and have 3 main principles for my e-mail correspondence with them:

  • Use obvious and action-oriented subject lines. For example: “Seattle: your availability for faculty meeting” and “Reunion CWOQ: your talk information” For co-workers, I always add “FYI:” in front of the subject line to let people know there isn’t an action item associated.
  • Make it easy to reply. If you are attaching a document, why not include it in the body of the e-mail? If you are going to a survey client with 1-2 questions, allow the respondent to reply with their answers in an e-mail. Sometimes it’s more work on your part, but you’re also more likely to get your answer. If you need a decision, have you clearly delineated each option? Also, always include a deadline!
  • Try to limit your e-mail to one request.  This is just good common sense in a world of short e-mails. I don’t always practice what I preach out of necessity, but when you really need particular information by a certain deadline, focusing on one thing will increase your chance of getting a reply.

Rise: 3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, and Liking Your Life

I’m currently in the middle of a great book by Patty Azzarello. On the subject of managing up, she focused on thinking about how your manager represents you to senior leadership. A lot of her concrete ideas are in the LOOK Better portion of her book around building credibility. She reminds you that doing good work isn’t always what moves you forward in the organization (especially if no one truly grasps your contribution!)

One of my big takeaways was around presenting to senior leadership. If you’re introducing a lot of new terminology and ideas, as opposed to speaking in their language around existing priorities, you aren’t communicating what they understand as core organizational values and business.

In GoodReads, you can find this book on my Working Smart shelf.

I hope these ideas get the gears turning in this area. I can’t emphasize enough how important this skill is – and the best part is that managing up isn’t only about making your manager’s life easier. When you do it right, it produces great benefits for you in the relationship (happiness and career trajectory), as well as your whole team.

summertime is great for reflection

June 13th, 2014

50 waysI found this great tool online around where you are in your job search. The title is a bit misleading, since I think the exercise of thinking about some of these questions isn’t just for people on the market, but for anyone wanting to take a moment to reflect upon where you are and where you’re going. That’s not an easy place for me to go. I’m constantly into self-improvement and thinking about what I want to grow, but not always about fixating on a goal ahead – my tendency is to stay in the day-to-day.

I suggest you explore the site, 50 Ways to Get a Job That Makes Good. It reads like there is a path from starting to happy (who wouldn’t want to get there?)…yet, it’s easy to pick a square and see where it leads you.

I haven’t gone through them all, but some of my favorite rectangles include:

I think Friday’s a good day for you to start playing around with it, so get going!

Sad Desk Lunch: does this describe you?

May 19th, 2014

I’m mildly obsessed with The Atlantic’s new video series, If Our Bodies Could Talk. They describe it as an off-beat perspective on health topics, and that’s pretty accurate.

See for yourself and watch this less than 3 minute video:

If Our Bodies Could Talk: Sad Desk Lunch

I’m really against the idea of not taking breaks and have seen a trend since I’ve been a working professional where people try to shift hours so they are taking no lunch or a 30 minute lunch and they can leave earlier.

I think it’s a big mistake. First of all, it’s totally unreasonable. Humans aren’t robots. We can’t come in, clock time, put our heads down without working and leave. It’s important to build in time to socialize with others, read, exercise, walk on a stressful day or do something else to stay focused and centered. I’d argue that taking that time actually makes you more productive and appreciate for your work.  If you work on a college campus, you’re especially lucky (and have no excuse!) not to get out and take a stroll around campus every so often.

I sometimes do eat a sad desk lunch or have a day where I can’t escape from my cube…but I make sure that two long lunches are scheduled during that same week. Or those of you at Stanford know that I’ll walk over to Coupa Cafe for a popsicle break in the afternoon. Are you only interacting with co-workers on your same team, or are you taking the time and space to connect with colleagues you loosely work with? All of those relationships can be immensely gratifying – especially if you avoid the subject of work at lunch. If not, seize the day and start taking time for yourself. You’re worth it, and I know it will pay off in the long run.

(My excuse for the delay in posting is really that I am focused on getting to 45 and I think I’m pretty close to it. Congrats to me in 2014!)

getting to 45

February 7th, 2014

45did you miss me, readers? it’s been a few months and the main reason for that is that my area of alumni education has become a priority in our organization, which has the gift of more work. it’s been difficult to do these things that give me energy like blogging, and in the new year i’ve been more focused on trying to get myself to yoga and zumba.

so i just turned 35 last month and when i’m talking about getting to 45, i’m referencing my ideal number of work hours a week, not my age. this fits into the 2014 resolution of working less (quantity, not quality!) i’d like to practice what i preach on work-life balance more and have more time to grow myself outside of work – do more crafts and find time for creativity. so how am i going to accomplish this feat? i think if i put some standards out on the world wide web here, it will make me more accountable.

stop myself before i say yes to everything. whenever there’s a new initiative or project, i almost cannot stop myself from raising my hand. i love to say yes! i’m getting better for a couple of reasons – one to allow other people to step up and gain new experiences and also to give myself a break. for example, i was asked to head up a brown bag series for a group of departments and knowing that it would involve less of my time if i had free reign on topics and took it on my own, i set those terms from the beginning. also, i reluctantly stepped down from our fun force to take on this new responsibility.

plan out vacations far ahead of time. last year, i still planned vacations, but they mostly happened around work trips and organized in a stressful manner at the last minute because i felt like i needed them. we also stayed pretty close by. in 2014, i started the year with a calendar highlighting off-limits dates because of work travel and i’ve proactively put some stakes in the ground (yosemite, pinnacles, grand canyon and new zealand!) having something to look forward to and knowing i’ve carved out this time for myself and my family already makes me happier at work each day.

speak up when projects feel under-resourced. working on this new organizational priority, i’m speaking up a lot when i’m feeling overwhelmed or if i can see the road ahead looks bleak with staffing. it’s just the beginning of the project, and i hope that raising my concerns early on will help relieve late work nights down the road. i’m currently hiring right now, which is a great sign for our team to expand with the work.

make it to evening exercise classes. i feel most productive in the afternoon, which makes exercise tricky. my position requires too many midday meetings for me to exercise at lunch time and so that leaves the evening. having a 6:05, 5:40 and 5:00 class three nights a week can sometimes be challenging to make, yet i’m committed to at least making two per week. i did not take yoga last quarter and my body clearly missed out on the quality of breath and relaxation that guided yoga provides. the physical and mental release helps me come to work the next morning a whole person. thanks to stanford VPN finally working well with linux, i can at least access shared folders.

make sure i preserve the time and well-being of my own staff. as a manager and mentor to others, i must practice what i preach. it’s important that i can protect my own staff from unreasonable demands to keep job happiness factor as high as possible. employees should approach their supervisors when work feels out of control, and it’s just as important for managers to pay attention to these kinds of things.

when it comes down to it, work is work and we have lives outside of our cubes. the work i do at stanford feels incredibly fulfilling to me, yet it is not all i am. who wouldn’t feel amazing putting together amazing experiences such as stanford+connects? in 2014, i’m committing to topping out my work hours at 45 per week when possible and i hope you keep me to it!

on likeability and having a yes attitude

August 6th, 2013

Regular readers of my blog might be surprised to see the word yes, since in a past post, I focused on saying no. It’s a reminder that there’s always a time and a place for everything! I came across two of these articles by Guy Kawasaki in the same week, so I knew it meant that I needed to cover the topic.

First, he focused on how to achieve likeability – mostly on accepting others and smiling. He starts with an Oscar Wilde quote, “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” 

I met one of these happiness causers during my Stanford interview more than 8 years ago and we remain good friends to this day. If you work at Stanford, you might know who I’m talking about – NaSun Cho. When I first moved to California, I didn’t know many people. NaSun is known for taking new people under her wing and making introductions and connections to everyone she comes across. She embodies this idea of accepting others, always bringing out the best in people and finding commonalities. I’m glad we’ve remained close, as she’s a constant reminder of how that positive energy feels infectious.

I like to think of this idea as expecting the best from people. If a colleague misses a deadline, doesn’t return a phone call, doesn’t understand what you’re requesting from him/her…the best response is always to expect the best from your team. That moment where you choose how to respond to a misstep is very important in building relationships. We all have bad days and each of us makes a choice on how to respond in various situations, let’s make the choice to be positive.

Smiling is a no-brainer for me. I’m lucky because I tend to smile a lot when I’m nervous, uncertain, etc – it basically covers my bases!

In my organization, the yes attitude certainly means you’re more liked and perceived as someone willing to partner on new ideas and it signals you’re a team player. We’re a matrix organization and it’s easy to put up walls or act defensively as a default during times when you’re short on resources or the scope of an idea feels overwhelming.

I wouldn’t call myself a yes lady, but I strive to embody the idea of “yes, tell me more.” Of course, I can be cautious in the beginning, but when it comes to action, I try to maintain a positive attitude and not say no from the beginning. If you keep saying no, people will stop coming to you with ideas.

In his LinkedIn post on a Yes Attitude, Guy Kawasaki notes that, “A “yes” buys time, enables you to see more options, and builds rapport….By contrast, a “no” response stops everything. There’s no place to go, nothing to build on, and no further options. You never know what may come of a relationship, and you will never know if you don’t let it begin.”

So let’s all try to say “yes” more often this week.

consider a meeting checklist

July 27th, 2013

I recently finished The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, which focuses on creating and implementing medical checklists for surgical procedures to increase success rates. It’s interesting timing since this week I attended a training on Leading Effective Meetings, essentially based around a checklist.

Although not life-saving, the meeting checklist is certainly time-saving – for yourself, your colleagues, and the organization as a whole. Here it is in full:

BEFORE

  • Do I really need to call a meeting?
  • Am I clear on the purpose of the meeting?
  • Have I thought through who needs to be there?
  • Have I considered the best time, place and other logistics?
  • Do I have a clear agenda?
  • Have I sent out effective meeting notifications?
  • Have I planned how I will lead the meeting step-by-step?
  • Have I planned how I will manage meeting “derailers?”

DURING

  • Am I following my step-by-step meeting plan?
  • Am I managing “derailers” to keep the meeting on track and on-time?
  •  Are decisions, action items and open issues being documented?

AFTER

  • Have minutes been distributed?
  • Have I followed up on my own commitments to meeting members?

Now that you have a snapshot of the meeting checklist, I’ll comment on a few relevant to my experience at Stanford. In the training, our facilitator stated that the average worker is in meetings 5.5 hours per week, so poorly run meetings can be a huge wasted expense for companies in terms of salary. I’ve time tracked an average work week for myself and I can be in meetings between 10-20 hours, depending on the time of year. I know you are now wondering how I get anything done, but let’s move onto some tips…

Thinking about the purpose of your meeting is so important.

It’s easy to be complacent and continue to attend standing meetings without wondering if they are still effective or why they exist. When I get invited to random meetings and I’m not sure why I’m there, I don’t hesitate to go back to the meeting organizer to find out the purpose. As an aside, how much time do you actually need for it? I have a regular meeting for reunions I attend, and I find we expand to fill the time allotted. Sometimes our 30 minute meetings feel much more focused and useful.

Who need to be there?

Have you ever attended a meeting and the clear decision maker is late or not present? It’s such a frustrating experience because the group can go nowhere without basic information from this key person…and it essentially leads to another meeting. It’s important to make sure that key stakeholders/decision makers are present for particular meetings. And if you have someone in the room just as an FYI, let him/her know it’s optional. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t want an hour back.

Did you plan the meeting?

If I’m running a meeting, you had better believe that I put 10-45 minutes into planning that time wisely. A one-hour meeting with 6 people is 6 hours of organizational time. It’s worth the investment to consider your goals and it’s respectful to your colleagues’ time. It’s obvious to most people in the room when the meeting organizer hasn’t brought an agenda or clear outcomes to the table, and also frustrating.

Meeting Minutes

My two cents on minutes is that they are essential for project meetings and not in a long form. Honestly, if someone sends you two pages of notes, are you going to read them? And…if it’s an attachment and not in the body of the e-mail, forget about it – that’s an extra click! The best kinds of minutes come out within 48 hours and just include bulleted lists of decisions, topics discussed (overall) and action items with the assigned person. They shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes to type up, and brevity increased the chances that your meeting attendees will actually read them.

Follow up

After a meeting takes place, when I see co-workers actually follow up on their action items, that separates the wheat from the chaff in the workplace. It shouldn’t be impressive since that’s our job, but nowadays with overflowing work plates, getting deliverables to colleagues before a deadline can be a rarity. I usually have a side column on my agenda with my to dos. Some of those are from the meeting and others are just items that pop into my head when I’m in the room. At the end of the day, I make sure to tackle those items, add it to my calendar to block out time to work on it or write it down on my primary task list so it doesn’t fall off my radar.

Final thoughts

I talk a lot about meetings (since I’m in them all of the time!) It’s not that I don’t like them. I actually think they can be highly productive and brainstorming meetings are especially fun. I do get frustrated when lack of planning or purpose wastes the time and talents of people in the room. It’s great practice to scan over this checklist – especially when running large meetings – so we can all grow to love them a little bit more.

the lost arts of closing the loop, saying i’m sorry, handwritten notes and sleep

June 19th, 2013

Lostclearly, it’s been awhile since my last post, so with that, i thought i’d focus on lost arts in the professional world.

closing the loop

i’m not sure where this has gone, but i find that an inordinate amount of time is spent in short back and forth e-mail conversations, because someone has left something out. for instance, you run into someone in the hallways who says, we should have lunch some time. if you say yes and s/he emails you asking if you want to grab lunch, it’s not closing the loop if s/he doesn’t throw out some dates that work so you have a starting point. that’s a pretty simplistic situation and answer, but it’s worth thinking about when you need something at work, how you are approaching it that helps close the loop. that’s just being a solid project manager.

read more: What Great Bosses Know About Closing the Loop

apologize when it’s important

acknowledging a problem at work is vital. it helps build trust in relationships, can red flag a problem before it gets too late and builds a communication pipeline. if you know you’re going to miss a deadline or truly messed up on the job, calling it out shows maturity and the acceptance of responsibility. pretending like there’s something wrong or making excuses for yourself is not want people need from you in a professional environment. saying “i’m sorry” can feel like a difficult task, but it’s really quite easy. you are vulnerable for about 2.5 seconds and most colleagues will respond positively to your admission.

read more: The Most Effective Ways to Make It Right When You Screw Up

sleep! really, you need 7-8 hours

i’m not sure that i’ll ever be a morning person or get to bed before midnight – it’s just how i’m wired. at the same time, i am surrounded by highly productive morning people, and many of these strategies work for them. we’re all more productive and pleasant to be around when we’re getting enough shuteye on a day to day basis. there are some great tips to help you jump start your day or move towards being a morning person in this lifehacker piece. my favorite is the last one: J.F.D.I. (click through to find out what that means)

read more: Why You’re Not a Morning Person (and How to Become One)

the importance of handwritten notes

i really don’t believe in using a lot of paper at work and try not to keep files, since everything should be saved on shared drives or scanned so we don’t have paper accumulating in our offices. despite that fact, i firmly believe in the handwritten note. i personally hand-write all faculty thank yous for stanford events where professors speak on behalf of the university. even if it’s something quickly discarded, a handwritten note these days is a gesture of the thought and time you put into considering that person. i wouldn’t hand write something when i’m expecting a response, since that puts a burden on the letter receiver to go out of his/her way – if you want a reply, e-mail away.

read more: Handwritten Notes Are a Rare Commodity. They’re Also More Important Than Ever. 

focus, focus, focus

March 25th, 2013

Stanford has a BeWell program here that tries to build healthy physical and emotional behaviors among staff. A huge focus for their efforts is around mindfulness to reduce stress and increase clarity. In fact, I just attended a stress workshop this week around being more present. The facilitator defined stress whenever our minds are out of our body – when we’re doing one thing and thinking about the next task at hand.

The Chronicle of Higher Education had an excellent long article today called, You’re Distracted. This Professor Can Help. I was pretty blown away in the first place by his approach. Many instructors have banned laptops in the classroom as a way to combat the distracted nature students bring into the lecture hall. Instead of removing the temptation, Professor David Levy actually teaches students how to build focus through meditation at the beginning of each class.

I’m not a meditator myself (but I’d like to be). This goes beyond the actual practice of meditation and brings up the idea of a ritual to get yourself focused on the work ahead of you. How to you start your morning? If you are good and don’t let e-mail run your day from the get go, what is that gets you “in the mood” for big thinking around work projects?

I schedule out time for projects, which maybe works for me about half the time (I work in a place with many interruptions). Others might put on headphones to block out the world. I know some colleagues that remove themselves from their cube and work in a conference room to plow through work that needs to be interrupted. If you don’t have a work ritual for big work, it’s probably worth thinking of good strategies that might work for you.

Are you a really amazing employee?

March 8th, 2013

I don’t think everyone should be amazing, since we all come to work each day with different perspectives about what that 40 or more hours means to each of us. That said, a recent post in Inc. on the 10 Things Really Amazing Employees Do got me thinking about the subject.  I like their list and there are 4 standouts for me that I try to exhibit:

  • Enthusiastically Learn All Aspects of Business
  • Demonstrate High Standards, With Low Maintenance
  • Grow Themselves, and Others
  • Stimulate Happiness

Learn it All. When you show up to work, putting in the time is a given, and striving to learn more about the current context and future direction of your industry is very important. For my job in particular, this means staying attuned to what’s happening at Stanford across the board from the student experience, major sports, university priorities and understanding my primary audience, faculty and their world. I regularly read university publications, look for Stanford in the news beyond, pore through every set of Faculty Senate notes and stay current with the makeup of the student and faculty bodies. Beyond Stanford, checking in with colleagues at other Ivy Plus institutions and keeping tabs on the latest in content and online learning is incredibly important. Knowing this background helps inform my work and honestly, it keeps me energized and full of purpose.

High Standards, Low Maintenance. I have incredibly high standards and find myself having to dial it back and pick and choose my battles. In managing staff, it’s very important to hope for the best and motivate others to maintain a similarly high level of excellence so you don’t have to micromanage their efforts. Despite the high standards, the low maintenance part is key. How many times have you been a part of a project where you aren’t the most senior person related to the decision – you do a huge amount of work and it can be derailed when it’s brought to decision makers? For those with certain expectations, especially leaders and decision makers, it’s paramount to articulate must haves from the get go so that others can be on the same page, or build in check-ins before others have gone down the wrong path.

Grow! It’s an expectation in management-level positions to grow others around you, but I’ve found it’s one of my favorite things about work. This doesn’t even have to be a formal mentor relationship, but taking the time to get advice from senior-level staff or peers can be invaluable. Asking for feedback in tough situations can only help your job to better, and let’s face it, people love to be asked for these kinds of things. Don’t devalue the impact of little things, like providing feedback to peers, or just being a listening ear when a colleague needs to vent or work through a difficult situation. Regular readers know from my blog that I am a voracious consumer of all things learning. The more professional and personal development you can do from productivity to technical skills to exercise/nutrition will all make you a better and happier person.

Exude Happiness. We work more than we sleep, more than we spend time with our loved ones…more than anything. In some ways, that means that work is life. I don’t say this in a negative way at all, but when you do the math around your day and factor in your commute, it’s a lot of time. You are valuable and you should enjoy what you do and why you’re doing it. If not, find something else. We all have some level of agency in choosing our careers, so find something you love and show up with a smile and ready to connect with colleagues and tackle projects. This isn’t only important for really amazing employees, but for everyone.

E-mail by consensus? Avoid Reply All

February 28th, 2013

The Chronicle of Higher Education posted a great opinion piece last month, Radical Academic Advice: Think Before Hitting “Reply All.” When it’s not the best method, this happens to be one of my office pet peeves. I mean, didn’t we all learn from #replyallcalypse last year?

Some tips I would offer up, especially in this age where we deal with hundreds of e-mails a day:

  • Are you actually trying to make a decision using reply all over e-mail? If so, do you think this is the most effective method?
  • If you don’t want people to reply all, explicitly mention that s/he should only reply to you.
  • If you simply want to notify someone, BCC instead.
  • Do you want feedback from everyone on the e-mail? Sometimes I’m copied on e-mails asking if anyone sees errors and it’s unclear if you should reply if it’s approved. It can be more effective to send to 8 people and add something like, “If you have any changes, please send them to so-and-so by March 8 at noon, or otherwise, I’ll consider this copy final.”

I’m not sure that there’s a way to stop the madness of replying all. I am on a small listserv for a staff organization board of about 30 or so people. I noticed that in asking for RSVPs, everyone was constantly replying all. One e-mail was sent and I would suddenly have 15 pointless e-mails in my inbox. Instead of hitting delete, I first contacted the list administrator to see if that was the listserv setting. It turns out that wasn’t the problem, and I simply sent a polite e-mail to all asking folks to only reply to the sender. The behavior immediately stopped and hasn’t started up again, which was a huge success in my book. It was just a bad habit that people weren’t thinking about.

And I’ll leave you all with that note for all work matters in general. Working smart is about promoting best practices across the workplace, and a big part of that is providing feedback when a collective behavior isn’t working. Seize the day and take the time to make the workplace better for everyone!