Question: I am looking to make a job shift internally sometime within the next 6 months. When I go to my company’s job postings, I see job descriptions that have a lot of good information but they don’t tell me how well I’ll fit on the team or the leadership style of the boss. For instance, it is hard for me to tell how much of the work requires long hours or weekend work or if I can telecommute for part of the time. How can I find out more detail about the job beyond the posted description?
Alice Waagen says: One of the most overlooked yet incredibly valuable tools in any job search is the informational interview. An informational interview’s purpose is in its name: you are looking to gather information, not to apply for any job openings. You can have an informational conversation with the current manager of a job that you may apply for in the future. You can also have information gathering talks with any person who currently holds the job you may want in the future. Because you are not applying for the job but are simply asking questions about it, it is a low-risk, casual conversation and ideal for asking the questions about working on the team or for the manager that are not on a standard job description. (more…)
There’s a small but persistent club of folks called life-long learners. I am a diehard member of this club. I can’t think of a time when I am not pursuing the acquisition of some new knowledge or skill. To me, learning is really about challenge. It is about starting from zero and trying to achieve some form of mastery. (more…)
Question: I need some immediate advice. My boss just had a melt down with me about a major project that I am leading. We meet every week and I give her detailed status at that time. A few weeks ago a key stakeholder asked me to make changes in a number of the deliverables and I agreed. He is a senior executive and known to be demanding. The changes I made shift the emphasis away from the planned outcome to be something a bit different. My boss had a fit when she found this out. She accused me of being a poor communicator and now wants to meet twice a week. What can I do to fix this mess?
Alice Waagen says: Your story is not as unusual as you may think. The biggest problem with communication is not frequency, it is focus. You are communicating status when you need to be talking about expectations and outcomes. Pardon my rant, but the biggest waste of time I see in the business world today are regular status meetings. Business leaders at all levels sit around conference tables and report on what they and their team are doing, their tasks and accomplishments. Yawn. (more…)
It is part of human nature to bring to any new situation our wealth of past assumptions, beliefs and experiences. As we travel down the various paths of professional advancement, we accumulate a hoard of internal rules and logic based on our successes and, more painfully, our failures. This lifetime of accumulated learning makes future decisions easier and easier – if it worked before, do it again.
Question: I recently completed a 360-degree feedback process at work. Everyone around me was asked to rate me on a list of leadership traits. I got a big thick report with my feedback and heard from a lot of folks that I need to be more assertive. I don’t know what that means. What I am supposed to do differently? Any thoughts?
Alice Waagen says: Oh boy, you just gave me another example of how NOT to do 360-degree feedback programs. Reading and understanding 360 feedback is not easy. Figuring out what behaviors to change to increase your effectiveness is virtually impossible to do without someone trained to guide your analysis and reflection. (more…)
Question: I consider myself pretty good at delegating work. I spend considerable effort figuring out who is the best person on my team for the assignment, based on their experience and interest and the skills needed to be successful. The feedback I get from staff is overwhelmingly positive, they feel challenged and are growing skills. So what’s wrong with this picture? My boss, she is a control freak. Every time we meet, she wants an in-depth update on all the work being done on the team. I am always up to date on the big picture but honestly don’t have the time or interest in knowing every detail on how the work is getting done. She bugs me for details; I bug my staff, a total waste of time and energy. Any thoughts on how to manage upward here?
Alice Waagen says: Start by realizing that these exchanges do not have to do with project work, they have to do with your boss’ level of risk aversion. I find that most high-control leaders that I know crave the detail because it gives them the comfort that risk and error is being mitigated. You need to determine how to feed enough information upward to keep your boss from anxiety attacks about possible doom and failure due to inattention. (more…)
Question: I am drowning in work and need to delegate more to staff. Once I hand off work, how often should I check in with my employee? I want to be supportive but do not want the dreaded “micromanager” label. Are weekly check-ins enough?
Alice Waagen says: Weekly? Monthly? Never? I will give the standard consultant’s answer: it depends. For a staff person who is early in their career, weekly check-ins on a high-visibility project will feel like they are swimming in the dark. For a highly experience employee, weekly check-ins will feel like a nuisance and a burden. One of the most critical steps in delegating work s to come to a mutual agreement on how much checking and guidance are needed. (more…)
Question: My boss is always on my case to delegate more of my work to my staff. Sure, I am carrying a big workload, but it will take me longer to train someone than to do it myself. Why should I waste time delegating it if I can do it faster myself?
Alice Waagen says: Because you don’t want to get stuck doing the same work over and over forever. If you don’t delegate work – reassign it to someone else and train them how to do – you will be doing it the rest of your work life. Then when exciting new projects come up, your boss will look at your workload and give the new experience to one of your peers. Over time, your peer will be identified as the up and coming heir apparent who will get promoted. And you? Stuck in job stagnation. (more…)
Question: I am a project manager in a professional services firm. Most of the projects I manage last between 6 to 18 months. As a manager, I have 6 employees who report to me as their administrative manager. As an admin manager, I approve leave and complete their performance reviews. Providing performance feedback is a challenge since they are all assigned to different projects under different project managers. To make matters more confusing, I manage projects staffed by people who don’t report directly to me and for whom I need to provide input into their performance reviews. What should I be doing to be a good manager in this system?
Alice Waagen says: Business gurus call this mess matrix management. In a matrix management organization, staff works on various projects and tasks, each assignment belonging to a different person. To keep the work all corralled one manager serves as a point person, the go-to manager who oversees all assignments and takes charge of the administrative employee duties like approving leave and overseeing administrative issues like payroll and HR. This makes sense on paper, but if all the working parts don’t do their job, chaos ensues. (more…)
Question: I always thought that I was pretty good at giving feedback but lately my employees have been telling me that what I tell them is pretty vague and confusing. Is there a trick to giving feedback that I am missing?
Alice Waagen says: Giving good feedback is so much more that dropping a casual hint here and there. Good feedback requires thinking about what you want to communicate and planning the best way to share that information. Here are my Top 5 Traits of Good Feedback. (more…)