The Lies We Tell Ourselves (and others) About Balance

None of us take the time that we need to find that balance that we are always talk about. I am sure that many of us would be hard pressed to name a person that we feel has that balance. Further, if we could, then I am almost positive that if we asked that person directly, they would say they are trying to find more balance themselves.

Most of us out there are just trying to keep all the balls juggled and stay as happy as possible a long the way. Like anything, however, balance is something that ebbs and flows with time, projects, and all of life’s wonderful adventures. Most of the time the scale of work life balance is tipped in work’s favor, at least in my experience it is. That’s ok, we all have to grind, but I want to give everyone a reminder of why it is important to tip the scales in favor of life every once and a while.

Take more time than you think you will need for life. Seriously, if you are in a position that allows you to take paid time off, then you should take advantage. Even if you cannot afford a luxurious trip, there are still many ways to recharge at home. Simply taking a week or two away from work can make all of the difference in the world to tipping the scales in life’s favor, for once.

Life will not wait. Seriously, work will always be there, but life will pass you by if you are not careful to take some time back for yourself. If you know you have a big moment coming up in your life, take the time to celebrate you or others around you, or just be with your family during an important time. My wife and I are getting a new puppy in a few weeks. I will be working from home as Wesley (yep, he’s named Wesley) gets acquainted with life with me, my wife, and our other pup, Otis. I am very much looking forward to this week with all of us together. I am extremely lucky that I have a role that allows me to do this. Again, if you have the same situation (paid time off) do not hesitate.

For those who are reading this saying, but I do not have paid time off, I empathize, I do. Unfortunately we life in a country that does not seem to believe that PTO for everyone is a basic human right (it is). I do have faith this will change…someday. But, we digress… A little over ten years ago I was still a barista in a coffee shop (a time I greatly value) grinding away both literally and figuratively. I was living hand to mouth, and barely making it. The thing was I knew my time would come if I worked hard enough and took advantage of some luck and a lot of help from others. Hang in there, I have faith that if you grind too, you will be in a similar situation.

True balance does not exist in my opinion. To me, life and work are more like a clock’s pendulum, though sometimes the pendulum gets stuck too much on the work side of things. We must, as individuals, take control of the life work pendulum and force the darn thing to sway in the direction of life everyone once and a while. Life is what gives us the power to stand up to the grind and carry on.

How Do You Always Stay So Darn Calm?!

It does not matter what I do, from refilling drink coolers at a gas station (first job) to designing and optimizing workflows (my current role), I have always been and always will be a passionate human being. It can be the dumbest thing ever, but if I feel strongly about something, folks will know my passion. It is who I am and how I operate, and, truth be told, it is that fire in my belly that is a big part of how I have achieved in life. This being said, folks misconstrue my passion for anger, most of the time, and sometimes my passion can lead me astray. Still, I have learned and am still very much learning how to control and channel the passion that is a huge part of my identity in positive ways.

Be self aware. There is nothing worse than a person who is clearly angry or feeling the passion stating that they are not angry. We can almost literally see the steam coming out of your ears, sir, you are most definitely angry. Learn to be self aware of the fact and times in which you have lost your cool in the heat of the moment. I reflect so much I have to actually remind myself to STOP after a time. I have to remind myself (over and over again) that I am human, and I am going to make mistakes. What is import is that I learn, and continue and try and be a little bit better every day.

Do not ever make it personal. If you are anything like me moments of passionate responses about work and other exchanges in life live rent free in our heads, it is personal. Now, as a deeply passionate person EVERYTHING is personal to me, but, it does not mean you have to make it personal for other folks by calling them out, cursing at them, or even saying negative things about them behind their back or to their face. Keep your passion focused on the issues clearly at hand, and not about the folks involved. If you focus your passion on the issues, usually a great outcome will emerge from healthy challenge and debate.

We make mistakes, so, recognize and apologize. Sometimes we as passionate people step out of bounds, so to speak. We make it personal for others, or, this is my personal favorite, we keep beating a dead horse. When it is over, it is over. While you may not be able to let it go, you do not need to constantly let others know that something is festering away at your brain. Your counselor or spouse cares, almost everyone else does not.

Give yourself grace. You are a human person. It takes time to channel energy that is naturally fuel for a cranky fire in a positive, healthy way. If you follow the advice above, you will quickly find that you are growing as a person, and recognizing those moments when you allow your passion to flow, but under control. Give yourself time to grow. You have most definitely got this!

Sometimes You Just Gotta Put Something Out There

As someone who pivoted early career from educational non profits to the tech for profit industry, I know what it is like to feel intimidated by being new. It can be really tough to ramp up on a new team, or project, or job. Further, a lot of us work in contexts in which the path forward on a project is ambiguous, with little or inconsistent framework. It is likely you will encounter this experience at some point in your career, if not, quite frequently. This post will give some advice on how to just put something out there, especially in the context of a new team or project.

Ask TONS of questions. Seriously, I have asked, in hindsight, some of the silliest questions, or questions with obvious replies. I have no shame when it comes to asking questions and having an eternal thirst for understanding. To pave a path forward, it is a really good idea to understand your surroundings. When diving into something new, it will not take long before you recognize and know subject matter experts, or even find yourself becoming one by simply being curious and asking questions.

Chat through concepts and ideas. Have multiple potential solutions in your head to solve problems. Pitch them to colleagues, gather feedback, and quickly reiterate the options. Weigh the pros and cons of each option on the table. Sometimes politics play into which option becomes the solution. In an case, find colleagues on your team or project that you trust to bounce and share your ideas with–it will make your work all that much better in the long run and provide perspective of which you have not thought.

Think about questions you will be asked. What are the risks of this solution? What are the rewards? What is the impact? What is the easiest option or solution to the problem you are facing? What is the best option? Sometimes we are lucky and these things intersect. Sometimes we end up using ideas from multiple solutions. What are the timelines on the solutions? Pay attention when others ask you questions. If you do not have the answer in hand, be honest. Name that you maybe have not thought of everything, but that you will investigate and find an answer quickly.

Put it out there–what is the worst that can happen? You get some valuable feedback and have to reiterate again? Oh no, I have to strengthen the solution, what terrible news! It sounds silly when stated like this. We all have this image of ourselves being publicly shamed by putting together a terrible project or solution. The simple fact is that if you follow the advice outlined above, chances are you are going to have some fairly great knowledge about the project or team or problem, be a subject matter expert yourself, and have some pretty clever solutions in your pocket that will address the problems at hand. The truth is most people will not shame you or criticize you for this. Most will praise you.

The folks that forge ahead intelligently and sensibly on ambiguous projects and team, these are the folks that become the most trusted members, the leaders (even if the title is not there). While they may seem fearless, the simple fact is that most of these folks, the competent ones anyways, have simply trained themselves on all the ins and outs of the project, its problems, and have been the spearhead on designing solutions. When I am in this position, I still get the nervous energy, I simply know I have not and cannot think of everything. BUT, I know that I have been following the advice of this post, and that I will keep grinding so that I can just put something out there. If folks like my solutions, they can take. If not, they can send it right back, but I am going to use this an an opportunity to integrate feedback for a stronger solution. You should, too.

How I Have Broken Trust

Through my prior experience as a coach (I am currently in an individual contributor) I found many ways to break trust amongst the folks that I coached. Granted, it is my belief that trust is not a binary thing. Positions you hold, reputation, relationship with the person you are coach, these all lend to a certain trust fuel tank fill level in a relationship. Break the trust too much and you will find yourself sitting on empty, and the trust tank is tough to refill once it is empty. This post is a quick guide on how to break trust with folks and empty that tank quickly. Avoid these pitfalls as best as you kind, and find your trust fuel tank full in your relationships.

Do as I say, not as I do. If you are asking folks to do things or practice things, or build skills in things for which you yourself do not practice, or for which you would not be willing to practice, then you are asking for trust trouble. Everyone does things differently and operates differently, but do not ask folks that you coach to do things that you yourself would not be willing to roll up your sleeves and do. Nobody likes a hypocrite.

Do not be reliable. Be late for meetings, be irrationally delayed on responses, or do not show at all. Constantly ask to reschedule and then be late for that meeting as well. There is no faster way to lose someone’s trust in my opinion than not being in a place you say you are going to be, or being absurdly delayed in responses for those you coach or mentor. Nothing communicates to a person more that they matter when you are an ultra reliable human. Now, I am not saying the occasional slip will not happen, we all get sick, or encounter emergencies that require us to reschedule This should be the exception, however, and not the rule.

Provide long sermons and diatribes when coaching. Be a crappy listener and interrupt. Nobody wants, or deserves, your sermon. Regardless of how smart you are, you will not always have the answers. Sometimes direct reports do not want the answer in the moment, just a trusting relationship where they can share their perspective. People being coached want to be heard. Please, take the time to listen to what your mentee or direct report has to say, and what they thing. This is the area in which I suffered the most as a coach. While folks do need to be pushed sometimes into areas in which they need development, they should have a say in what they want to be coached in. I promise, once your mentor or direct reports see that you are invested in them as a person they will be way more receptive in the areas in which they may need to be pushed. Put the time in.

Take the time to really look over the three ways in which I feel folks most often break trust. Trust me, as I am truly a subject matter expert when it comes to breaking trust using the above tried and true methods above. I will part with one final piece of knowledge to fill that trust fuel tank. Apologize when you have made a mistake. Without excuses, just apologize. I am sorry that I missed our meeting, I will reschedule. Just remember, if you make too many mistakes you may find your trust fuel tank runnin’ on empty.

Misconceptions of Introverts

If you have never taken a Myers Briggs personality assessment, I highly recommend it. While these assessments do try and fit who we are in a nice clean compartment may minimize the complexities of what make us truly unique creatures, these assessments can tell us a lot about ourselves. I have always been fascinated with the fact that I ALWAYS come out as an introvert. ALWAYS.

My colleagues are always so surprised by this, swearing that they always thought I was an extrovert. Then, one day someone told me something that has really stuck with me, “Competency and proficiency do not mean preference.” I was blown away by this statement, but it makes so much sense. I am an introvert that has just so happened to garner skills most associate with extroverts.

The thing is, like any reasonable person, I found myself garnering skills through opportunity. I found myself in roles and situations to learn skills like public speaking, coaching, professional development, and I took advantage. Additionally, like others, I took the time to hone these skills and was lucky enough to have amazing coaching along the way. What I am trying to communicate is that introverts can be extremely ambitious people, just like extroverts. We as introverts hone our leadership skills and do enjoy the aspects of leadership that deal with an introvert’s stereotyped worst nightmare…PEOPLE! (scary music).

Misconception 1: Introverts hate people. Introverts do not hate people, nor do we necessarily shy away from social opportunities, we just need some alone time (ok, a lot of alone time) to recharge our batteries, so that we are our best selves we are in front of others.

Misconception 2: Introverts are always so quiet. NOPE! NOPE! Leslie Knope! I have taken many personality tests and while some things change, one thing is consistent about these assessments and me, I am an introvert. I am also quite loud, and will speak up. Introverts are not necessarily quiet people.

Misconception 3: Introverts want to be individual contributors. Heck NO! Introverts, like me, are ambitious, and want to coach and manage and actually enjoy coaching and managing others. As an introvert, for me, this means simply coming home to my wife and doggo after a long day instead of going to happy hour.

There are so many misconceptions about introverts, and the above are three fairly standard assumptions I find that folks sometimes have when thinking of introverted vs. extroverted people. At the end of the day, we are all human and want and desire remarkably similar things. Stop assuming that introverts cannot do, will not do, or do not want to do the things that a lot of people categorize and professionally extroverted skills.

Ways To Share Your Knowledge Without Irking Your Colleagues

Trying to share your genuine knowledge and skills with others can be tricky in a professional environment. You have worked hard to acquire the skills that make you the professional beast you are, why not teach others? Unfortunately we are not yet at Matrix level technologies, and we can just Neo our way to learning, nor can we simply share a file from one mind to another. No, unfortunately we still live in a time where skills must be acquired through deliberate learning. Still, helping others learn skills through effective and efficient teaching is a fine art. Through this post I hope to share some thoughts on lessons I have learned to be a better teacher and coach through the years.

For me, I sometimes question knowledge sharing with others and ask myself, was that person even asking for advice from me? I constantly find my self going into situations headfirst, trying to help without even being asked. I reassess what I have communicated to reaffirm the fact that I did, indeed, sound like an idiot. Other times, I finally look up from my 20 minute brain dump diatribe only to find the folks that are trying to learn from me are mystified at what I am sharing. So, what gives, how can we do a better job in our professional lives teaching others what we know in efficient and effective ways?

If you ain’t learnin’, yer burnin’. If you don’t listen to teach then you have no right to preach. Take away whatever mnemonic device you need, but cultures of learning and curiosity start with YOU. Model what you expect others to do. It is really that simple. I have found that learning and teaching is a two way street in the professional sense. If your colleagues see your learning and growth from others on a daily bases, they are going to, themselves, start feeling the need to do so themselves.

ENGAGEMENT!!! This is the second piece of advice I want to share on how to make teaching and coaching others more effective. You did not learn to read by someone only telling you about the concepts of reading. Nope, you stayed engaged in that journey, practicing the concepts in engaging ways. I ask you to think back on ways in which you most effectively learn–most of us need engagement when learning new concepts. This can be as simple as making the learning experience an engaging conversation where you posit interesting questions to the person across the table in a means to get them to the learning objective, or as complex as you want it to be for the person learning. Please, don’t just talk at folks (I realize the irony of a blog lecture articulating this point).

REFLECT–if you are a person that is truly passionate about helping others learn new skills, then this is critical to success. Basketball stars would never play a season without analyzing their game tape. The same should be true of you (while filming can be highly effective, it’s just one means of reflection) and your coaching of others to learn and acquire new skills. What are you doing to fine tune your coaching skills? How are you deliberately reflecting on your teaching habits?

Talking at the person you are coaching is so easy to fall into, but it is also not very effective. Take time to deliberately plan the coaching and learning sessions that you provide to others. Refine these skills constantly. The difference between a good manager and a great manager is, quite simply, the ability to coach and motivate others to achieve business objectives. Great managers are better coaches.

Learn Some Gosh Dang Data, Scaredy Cat

Whether it is google sheets, excel, or Power BI, or inquiry based SQL, the importance of being proficient in their data analysis capabilities is critical to professional success. Sure, these platforms are going to take a bit more time to learn than other software tools, like presentation software or word document software. But it is so very worth it. With so much data being collected today, it only makes sense to learn how to analyze this data in a meaningful way. Data without thoughtful interpretation is just useless gibberish. Using the tools above and more to analyze data is critical to business success in today’s world. I promise, proficient use of these tools will become invaluable to you and your everyday role, and in pretty much any profession.

I hate having to have another fish for me. I love the act of learning to fish, because I know how amazing it feels the first time you have that new rod in hand, and you successfully get something on the hook. Of course, I am using learning to fish as a metaphor for learning new skills. When it comes to data analysis skills and using tools like the ones, I mention above it comes down to one big secret. Everyone who knows how to use these tools…(gets quiet) they all have had…PRACTICE!

That is it, that is the secret to learning these intimidating platforms, is practice. Sure, for some, learning how to use data analysis to their advantage is easier than it is for others, but I promise you, if you put in deliberate practice at learning these skills, they will quickly pay off. Luckily you are not in this alone. I actively saw that the folks that have these skills were and are the folks at work that were sought after every day by others. There are so many free and cheap ways to learn any of this stuff, and very good lessons on each.

Set aside deliberate learning time. Find a trusted coach in data analysis. I have two folks that I reach out to ALL THE TIME for help on how to help me learn these systems better, because I know it will lead to better analysis, and a stronger version of myself as a professional. Further, for me and others, data analysis skills are always being honed. I look up excel and SQL syntax on a daily, and there is TONS upon TONS of information out there to guide you on your journey. From blogs to videos to LinkedIn classes, learning new skills has never been easier to access than it is today. Today, right now, is the best day to learn something new. Go out and do it!

The Devil is In The Details

A someone who is in process improvement I can tell you with certainty that a process improvement expert must also be a process design expert. One simply cannot improve upon a process until they know the ins and outs of the existing process. It sounds simple, but, so often folks with a bird’s eye view forget, the devil is in the details.

The first thing that I do when I am assigned a new project for process improvement is, and bear with me here, I know this will be a revelation, to learn the existing process. And when I say learn the existing process, I mean, in the trenches you could create a detailed process flow, with sub processes and multiple triggering events and other complexities level of learning. The point is, how do you know what you are approving upon if you do not know or understand the current foundation? So many process improvement change issues could be mitigated with a fundamental understanding of the existing ways in which things are done. You cannot design a good solution or a right solution with a limited understanding of the fundamental problem.

A lot of process improvement is centered around designing of new processes. So often I feel people are centered around one solution that will be the to be solution. I have hardly ever found an area for process improvement for which only one solution is available. This is not math, nor is it Highlander (though I do LOVE Christopher Lambert), there is no, “there can only be one” solution. These are business problems. Business problems tend to have many solutions. As a process improvement designer, the second step, after understanding the existing process, is to think of MULTIPLE solutions to the same problem. Think of and understand the pros and cons of each solution, and be ready to pivot to full development once the right solution is found.

Do not, under any circumstances, design a process improvement solution in a silo. There are always many stakeholders when it comes to these sorts of business problems. Use this diversity to your advantage. Build relationships with folks that will enable you to bounce solution ideas off one another. Be open and objective to feedback. Be ready to answer tough questions.

Lastly, be courageous. In my experience, process designers are sometimes timid at the start of projects. I know it is very intimidating to put a creation out there, and process design solutions are often a very creative experience and process. BE BRAVE and BE BOLD.

What’s the Business Case For Your Process Improvement Idea?

We all know the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In
my time in business process improvement, I have been left scratching my head on if the business case justifies the end goal. Sure, automated solutions look
fancy and new, and tell a great narrative, but are they always the right
solution? No, of course not. We are not quite in the Matrix…yet. This may
seem so apparent, but I have been the one left developing a complex solution
that will have little impact and seen many others doing the same. In this post,
I will discuss lessons that I have learned in my process improvement journey
that will hopefully help all you “Slings and Arrows” readers out
there prevent some of the mistakes that I have fallen into in the past.

What is the data telling you? I have found that, for me, this is always a
starting point for creating a business justification and story. My sincerest
advice here is to either learn excel, inquiry-based SQL, learn how to use Power
BI, or find a trusted colleague you know who can reliably pull the
data. Truthfully, the best approach here is a combination of the strategies. In
today’s age we are surrounded by so much big data at our fingertips. To be a
savvy developer and process improvement expert, you should know how to use
data. Further, how you explain the data matters. Can you do it in a simple way?
What is your denominator (overall target of work)? What is your numerator (your scope and impact)? Statistics in this regard are very easy to manipulate, so be honest, and dig deep.

Where are the actual pain points in the process for which you are investigating?
Are you sufficiently addressing these pain points? Are you speaking to the
folks in the trenches, so to speak? This is where, aside from the quantitative
impact, the business narrative lives. Will your solution simplify a complicated
process? Will it standardize it? When looking into process improvement, these
are important questions that must be able to be answered quickly in a develop
cycle.

Finally, what is your 30 second “elevator pitch”? Can you articulate what the process improvement will be and how it will impact the existing legacy process in a positive way? That is, is this process standardization, simplification, or standardization, a mix? These suggestions may seem obvious, but I assure you, dearest readers, they are probably the most often overlook concepts in my experience of process improvement.