I'm not sure now why I once thought travelling for business was fun. The idea of it is great but sometimes the reality is very different. The early morning starts; the rushed transits from the plane to the taxi to the worksite and back again; then the inevitable flight delays and hours in terminal buildings. I've eventually worked out ways to make the most of it and use dead time to best advantage. I now travel with some food (I always manage to be delayed on the return flights); some work to do (nothing too demanding over a cup of coffee and a tiny table) and contact details of the key people being visited, in several locations (in diary; in documents, in briefcase) to avoid the great surprise – having left them under a bundle of documents on the office desk. I still struggle with those crack of dawn flights and knowing that by the time I finally get to the domestic destination to begin the working day I've been on the go for about three and a half to four hours – no, there's nothing glam about business travel.
Problem solving is a key management function and a common trap busy people may fall into, is to go for the first solution that springs to mind and not spend much time identifying and evaluating a range of possible alternative solutions. The model to keep in mind is this: (a) identify the symptoms of problems – notice things like uneven performance, lateness, poor financial results etc then (b) define the problem – keep searching until you get to the real core problem(s), as this needs to be found before a solution can be found. Then (c) analyse the problem and get as many facts and information on it as you can. Consult with people, to get the biggest view and perspectives on things (d) develop a range of alternative solutions and consider several options for each one. Again, consult with others, to get the benefit of group think (e) that done, evaluate all the alternative solutions and consider the pros and cons of each one (f) then select the best solution to the defined problem, drawing on the experience and views of others (g) implement the decision and communicate the decision and what it may mean, to all interested stakeholders (h) then monitor and review the outcome of the decision carefully, to ensure that the solution has solved the problem. If not, go back to (a) above and start the process over again.
This myth – you need to have worked in a particular sector before you can coach in it – is often held by people who want a coach yet feel nervous about coaches who haven't worked in their particular sector. It has been said to me often enough over the years when I’ve spoken to prospective clients in non-profits, government departments, local government, quasi-government and private sector. What I’ve found over the years is that regardless of the sector managers, team leaders and supervisors are in, many of the issues they face are the same i.e. people management, constant change, time management, lack of operating systems, operating within severe resource constraints, lack of feedback or support, losing perspective, confidence or heart, self care or boundaries. The differences across the sectors tend to be in the language or terms used to describe particular functions and processes within organisations. You don’t need to have been a teacher to coach principals or deputy principals; you don't need to have been an engineer to coach business owners on improving areas within their engineering business. What you do need however, is an awareness of the different sectors and their general characteristics; research skills, so you can find out what you need to know about clients' organisations; and coaching skills, so you can support and guide clients to find their own answers.
It may seem a very strange thing to say, but sometimes thinking is just hard work. By this I mean sitting down, or walking about thinking about the business or a piece of work and doing nothing else but thinking about it, for a period of time. Have you ever noticed how easy it is for the mind to wonder off onto a million different things and go "off topic" in a very short space of time? Have you ever noticed how easily and quickly we want to get directly into "doing" mode, because it seems more productive and tangible than just thinking? And how often do we allow ourselves to recognise a "gut" feeling or instinct telling us about something, as opposed to what our conscious mind may tell us? Workplaces today are hugely busy places and often the pressure to "do" is at the expense of quality thinking time. We decision make with facts and figures and sometimes not on what may "feel" right, given a number of different variables. We're encouraged to think, plan and do – yet how different could things be if we allowed ourselves to think, feel, plan and do?
The tricky thing for employees in most workplaces today, is that aspects of the internal physical environment they work in, is outside of their control. The lack of or placement of windows; lighting; air conditioning or heating vents (someone always gets to work under them); the placement of desks in open plan areas; the choice of radio station on in the background – are all factors that may be fine for some employees, but not tolerable for others. For employees to be their best, the physical conditions around them need to be conducive so they can give their best without distraction from irritants such as: dirty, shabby or untidy offices or work areas; walls painted in overwhelmingly strong colours; inadequate lighting; flickering florescent lighting; non-ergonomic furniture; poor ventilation and noise from colleagues. Take a moment to run a critical eye around your work environment and ask yourself what works for you and what doesn't – and what you could do about the irritants you discover.
I do often think that annual business plans are a stunning waste of time. You know the sort of thing – lots of people involved, a whole day or more out of the workplace, heaps of work, enthusiasm, good intentions and careful word-smithing of the final document – that once written, sits in the bookshelf, unopened, from one year to the next. And the pity of this situation when it happens (for it is quite common), is that the "management tool" isn't used as intended which is, to clearly define goals, specify the actions needed to achieve them, set deadlines for achieving the tasks and establish processes for monitoring, reviewing and adjusting the plan, as needed. Business plans are intended to provide a clear focus in order to achieve desired results and once written, need to be used and implemented. If they're not implemented, despite the work that has gone into them, then it may be more useful to stop the pretence of planning sessions and have a coffee instead. The old saying "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail" is true and I would add if managers don't use the management tool at all then perhaps it is time to brush up on their management knowledge and skills.
I've been greatly moved watching the television programmes and tributes about Sir Ed. I am amazed at how one person's determination, energy and drive focused on a particular goal, enabled an entire region to have education and health care facilities. A story he often told was when at school a particular teacher once assessed him as being physically inadequate and overall, in general, pretty well useless. I like the story because it illustrates how we were at school isn't an accurate marker to how we are going to be as adults and what we are capable of. Many adults have had school experiences that have knocked their confidence, shaken their self esteem or given them limited beliefs regarding their abilities. The gift Sir Ed has given us, should we wish to accept it, is that we are all capable of great things, if we have personal energy and drive, clear goals, determination and a will to succeed.
What is the ideal amount of time to be in a role? I suspect the maximum amount of time may be 2-4 years for maximum learning and beyond that, familiarity and comfort zone factors kick in and the lure of any "golden handcuffs" becomes too strong. People who stay years and years in a role may believe they are accruing years of valuable experience, but is it really new experience or merely 1year of experience, simply repeated five or more times? Many people stay in roles far too long and only realise that when they hit the wall or realise suddenly one day, that their heart is no longer in it; or find themselves restructured out of their job. Some people may not recognise the signs at all, but others around them might see some of the early warning signals e.g. a resistance to change; controlling behaviours; avoiding pieces of work; failing to deliver work on time; increased use of sick leave; always knowing "what's best". There is no right or wrong answer to the question, but it is one worth considering. It really is up to the individual to truly know themselves and to listen to what their heart and body is telling them, because operating only from a head level is limiting and can keep us stuck in the status quo.
I've had people tell me that "to do" lists are for sad creatures who really need to get a life. Moreover, I've heard lists are boring, stifle creativity and stop people being "in the moment". Do they really? I think not. To do lists are a key time management technique for busy people to use and give an effective way to record what tasks need to be done and also the priorities within them – the A's, B's or C's. Lists are a great way to ensure important tasks don't drop off the table or become buried amongst other competing priorities. And keeping lists of things to do in one's head isn't the best idea, because the mind is typically packed full – and may get forgetful, under pressure of work, stress or hormonal changes. For me, "to do" lists are the domain of people who want to achieve the most they can in the time available and get their results in the most time efficient way possible – and still have a life!
Well yes, I'm kidding, because no amount of training in time management will eliminate procrastination in procrastinators. I say this because the reasons why people procrastinate are many and varied. They may not know what to do; they may be waiting for additional information to come to them; they may lack the necessary skills to do what the task requires; they may be waiting for the issue or task to mysteriously disappear out of their inbox and into another's inbox; they may be waiting for motivation to strike them. One key to conquering procrastination is to know oneself and what is in our control and what is in others. It requires knowing the difference between work that is legitimately held up for good reasons (actions or events external to self) and knowing one's personal reasons for avoiding doing things that may never be openly declared, such as a lack of skill, a lack of interest, a loss of confidence, a lack of motivation (all internal). An other key to eliminating procrastination is to know the deadlines and deliverables required and the possible consequences if they are not met. This may galvanise some, but not all, however. At the end of the day though, it all boils down to oneself because time management is about self management. Motivation for some things may never strike us, yet the work will still need to be done. Masking a lack of interest or skills behind excuses is a short term tactic, yet the lack of interest or skills lack will remain and will be obvious to others. Learning about time management techniques from training programmes or books will only work if the individual wants to improve their skills in this area; the learning is directly applied and used consistently by the individual; and any underlying skill lack or other limiting factor is identified, addressed and eliminated.