Thursday, June 26, 2008

Engaging Gen Y

Lots of talk about engaging Gen Y, lots of time put into that issue. I wonder though, are we starting to get to the scarey part? (Scarey for some.) Will firms now have to not just worry about engaging Gen Y, but also making sure their firm is set up for Gen Y to take over?

I can't seem to get the Jedi Council from Star Wars out of my head. Yoda is off on some far away planet fighting with the Wookies, yet he, through the use of technology, virtually sits in on an importat "just-in-tim" collaborative Jedi council meeting. The decisions are not made by one person, but many. Ever heard of second life? Hmmm.

Millenials are now reaching manager stage. The way they will manage is completely different from the way Baby Boomers have traditionally managed, and slightly different from Xers. It will be more collaborative. It will be more virtual. It will also be shocking to firms who have not thought this through. For sure one thing is going to be exciting.

Your "In"box part1

How many emails do you receive a day? How many in a week, month, year? Probably lots. How do you process your emails? Do you have a system that helps you do it in an efficient way?

I have worked with many people one-on-one in their time management. Email is an area I focus on with EVERYONE. Why? Because EVERYONE I know spends a lot of time processing emails. Some process emails continually through the day. Others set certain times during the day to do it. Beyond that though, ask yourself one simple question:

Does your "In"box sometimes work as your "Indecision"box?

How many emails are currently in your inbox that have been in there since the last time you processed emails? How many have been in there since last week?! It's likely that if there are many like that, they are still there because you cannot make a decision on what to do with them or you are using your inbox for something else ... as a ToDo box or a I'll do it later box. In any case it has lost its real intention of being an input box. Now when emails stay in there, they are being re-processed by your brain continuously every time you open up your email. This leads to stress and inefficiency. Do something crazy today. Process all your emails.

To be continued.....

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Just-in-Time Training

In the 1999 hit movie the Matrix (Warner Bros), Trinity, the heroine who is one of mankind caught in a virtual world controlled by computers, is facing a dilemna. There is a helicopter in front of her, she does not know how to pilot it, and they are being attacked so she needs to learn fast. So, she makes a call and asks for a download of the military helicopter. The person on the other side of the phone loads the program and it is immediately downloaded into her brain. That sounds great in a movie about a virtual world.

Is it that far from what people are looking for today? The internet is making this kind of scenrio possible already for certain skills. Technical skills expecially, lend themselves to this type of training. The first and sometimes forgotten part of this is identifying the skill needs an individual (emphasis on individual) needs. Sure, company programs can be great training and can be great engagement tools, but they do not supply personalized customized just-in-time training that will be different from person to person. So you are going to need a mix of both to keep up with your ever demanding and evolving employees.

Always Letting Yourself Down?

How do you feel at the end of the day in terms of your production and accomplishments? Some days you probably feel fulfilled. Others, maybe not? We can be hard on ourselves. We all tend to have the never-ending ToDo list and that can bread guilt. There is always more we CAN do.

Try something tomorrow morning. Instead of focusing on your etire To Do list, choose at least one and at most two item you feel are most important.

For those one or two items, what specifically do you want to have finished? What does the end of your day look like? Paint the picture of what you want to have accomplished. Give youself a buffer in time. Things will come up, distractions will tug at you, and many things take longer than we project. Remember we can only work in the present but we can sure can worry about the future. Let go of everything else!

Personal integrity is an ongoing battle within all of us. Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly making implicit promises to our self about what we intend to get done. Stress can come from a lack of clarity in this area. We are pushing ourselves to get lots done, but we really do not have a handle on the promises we are making to OURSELVES. So, be clearer with yourself tomorrow morning. Promise to do those one or two things, and under promise!

Now at the end of the day, instead of focusing on what YOU DID NOT GET DONE, on how others held you back, etc. you are focusing on what you (1) set out to get done....the promise you made to yourself, and (2) the deposit you made in your own personal integrity bank, because you did get it done!

We are taught not to overpromise and under deliver to our clients, but how can we do that if we practice doing that with ourselves?! Basically DO WHAT YOU (under)PROMISE YOURSELF. Sounds simple, huh?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Do Mission Statements Matter?

Mission Statements. Most companies have them. Some have very long elaborate mission statements that sound really good. Problem is, as you probably already know, most employees either don't know about them, cannot remember them, or they don't care about them, i.e. it has no effect on their daily work lives.

If you study some of the most successful and well branded companies in the world one thing stands out about their mission statements. They are usually very short and obvious. Disney case in point: "To make people happy". Disney employees know their mission statement. They live it.

So let's say you are working at an accounting firm. Does your firm have a mission statement? Probably. Do you know it? Maybe? Does it matter to you? Possibly, but most likely not.

Here is where Gen Y comes in. These young kids have big dreams. They do want to be part of something special. They, however, are a little less trusting of big company initiatives. The mission statement was probably formed way before they arrived. Why should it matter to them? They had no part in creating it. You might say, well they chose to come work at this company so they should have been attracted to our ideas, mission, values, etc. Hmmmm, maybe, maybe not. Did you, during the recruiting process, have in-depth talks about their values and goals and look for an alignment?

The chances are you probably did not. Now what do you do?

You do it now, but at a different level. You do it at a more personal level. Get your small team together and discuss these issues. What are our convictions? What do we care about? You will need to get individual input, you will need to get individual buy-in from the team memebers. This is why I suggest you do it at a more micro-level. GET THEM TO CO-CREATE IT. GET THEM TO DOCUMENT IT. GET THEM TO BE CREATIVE IN HOW THEY CAN SHARE IT, AND REMEMBER IT.

Of course ... make sure the team mission statements and convictions you uncover are in line with the company's.

If you can do all this, your smaller team will co-own what THEY have created, and now you are getting somewhere!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Working out Helps your Leadership Skills? 3 Reasons

A well-defined and adhered to work-out regimen can help you develop your leadership skills. How do you ask?

First off, it improves your energy levels. Lifting weights on consistent basis, for example, has been proven to burn lactic acid, the very thing that tends to build up inside you during your day and drains your energy capacity. Aerobic activity gets your heart pumping and blood flowing. Have you ever completed a hard run and then felt better immediately after it than you did before it? How do you feel DURING the day at work when you worked out in the morning or at lunch? Do you notice a difference? An extra kick in your step? Positive effect on your ability to lead, sometimes simply by attitude?

Another reason: The discipline needed to stick to a plan (for example working out 4 times a week for 40 minutes each) help builds your self-integrity. We are all busy. There are hundreds of reasons and rationalizations we can use not to work out. It takes a disciplined person to get past all of those and make it a non-negotiable routine. Suddenly, you are dictating part of your time-blocking instead of letting others do it for you. You will feel good about yourself. Your colleagues will notice that, and they will notice your discipline. Remember the workplace is changing: People want to know you outside of work. It is ok to admit you invest in yourself every day. Tell people how working out helps your life overall and your production at work!

Third: It has been proven that it takes disengagement from left-brain activities to put yourself in your creative zone. Why is it most people say they get their best ideas in the shower or on vacation? It's because they are disengaged from all the daily and hourly tasks and responsibilities that flood their brain and keep them in the details. Using a work-out as REAL TIME to think big picture can be a real competitive advantage for you. Of course focus on the activities at hand! Be careful! Watch those machines! But use the time to refresh yourself mentally. You will be surprised about the positive and creative thinking that will flow from you. One idea is to bring a digital voice recorder with you to the gym every once in a while. Whenever you get inspiration on a really good idea, record it! Use voice recognition software to have it automatically dictated into your computer. Wow, now you are being productive. I guaranty you if you try this once, you will have more creative ideas captured during your 40 minute work-out than you did in the last week of your "office" time...ideas that will help you be a better leader both personally AND professionally.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Recruiting interview - Suprise Surprise!

You have been scheduled to interview a recruit. Something had to be moved last minute and now you will be the first person to talk to this aspiring professional.

You are introduced and something occurs to you....Why is there another person, an older person, with them? Who is this guy? This person could almost be their father. Oh my gosh he is! Their father came, totally unannounced?! Does he know how the recruiting world in accounting has worked for the last 50 years? Obviously not.

This scenario is becoming all the more familiar. Sounds crazy but Gen Yers are very attached to their parents and their parents are very attached to the careers of their kids. If you have not experienced this one, you will definitely notice more parental involvement in one form or another. Get ready.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mentoring Programs

One of my goals this year is to talk to many CPA firms. I like to know what has been successful and what has not. Mentoring Programs seems to be a hot topic. I need to talk to more firms because many of the firms I have talked to who have initiated such programs have, to date, seen the results fall short of their expectations.

Am I just being too skeptical in trying to draw some conclusions? When I see a firm who sees a NEED for a formal mentoring program, I wonder about their current INFORMAL leadership!

I also wonder how mentoring can be formalized? Think about the mentors you have had over your career who made a difference. Did someone start a formal program to get you a mentor? The best mentoring relationships I have experienced and heard about stem from the mentee making the choice (1) to search for a mentor, and (2) who that person is!

I cannot wait to hear about some of the successful programs going on right now so I can rebuke myself a little bit, which has happened before! To be continued ....

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Should You Be Totally Paperless?

PDA phones, blackberries, laptops and desktops with two and sometimes three screens to use, scanners, editable PDF files, voice recorders with voice translation software, etc. Between all the tools we have to make us paperless knowledge workers, one might think of you as a dinosaur if you keep track of any part of your time management system on paper. Most of us have seen the old Seinfeld episode where George is keeping every receipt, appointment, etc. that he has in his wallet that he cannot even close. He lost everything in a wind-storm!

I was there at the beginning of some of the paperless initiatives. Back in 1996 at Ernst & Young, our audit team was selected to be part of a pilot team tasked with implementing the firm's paperless package ahead of everyone else at the firm. I was young, a staff at the time. I felt privileged and very committed to the cause. Our audit team was ACTUALLY PROVIDED WITH 15% more hours in our overall budget because of the implementation.

That audit was a struggle. Some of us were very on board with our plan, while others were not so much. (Probably some teaming issues!)

I still remember the day, when after a pretty heated argument about how to best clear review notes, the partner decided from now on all review notes would be printed off and signed off on by the reviewer. I lost that argument :) We took a few steps back before we took a few steps forward. The experience was very informational. It also had me intrigued with the potential for accountants to utilize technology!

Now, 12 years later, I am going to ask you to consider something that goes against my love for technology: Consider printing out your weekly calendar on Sunday night. That's right, open up Outlook or whatever you use, and print out the upcoming week. This might seem like a big departure from your current system if you are paperless.

I have heard too many of my coachees tell me even when they get all their “To-Dos” completed in a week, they are not sure what they really accomplished. A hard-copy view of your week may do two things: (1) It allows you to see the bigger picture. It allows you to view your time commitments versus your goals. You can reflect on your time-blocks before your week and compare them to your goals. (2) It also allows you to cross things off your list as you get things accomplished during the week. Yep, use a pen or pencil.

Could you do both of these things on your computer? Sure. However, doing it in hard-copy for one week will teach you some things about yourself, it will be new and force you to think about your day more versus the auto-pilot mentality we can get from looking at the same computer screen every day. And if you do want to go back to the electronic way, I bet you will change up your system a little bit....for the better.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Tackle the Most Difficult Items on your List First

We naturally avoid the most difficult things on our ToDo lists...

> Auditors enjoy doing "cash" first on audits. It is easy. It gets us warmed up. we feel good about getting something .... anything done.

> Consultants sometimes jump right into the work without gathering all the important requirements and doing proper planning.

The problem with that is usually the easiest thing is also one of the least important things. It is easy for a reason. There isn't much judgement involved. It's fast. It can be done with little thinking.

Here is a link to an excerpt about Brian Tracy's book Eat That Frog! where he gets a point accross about tackling the most difficult thing first in your day....

A senior manager who I talk to at Hein and Associates in Houston Texas ... he was using this term before I even heard of the book. "Eat your frog in the morning" he professes. Simple but very good advice....and a catchy term! Discipline is sometimes about doing things we do not like to do, so we can do the things we enjoy. Getting that one thing done that you have been avoiding, which many times is impotant, out of the way first thing makes the rest of your day down-hill!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Time Management for Knowledge Workers

There are some good tools, resources, authors, etc. out there on time management. David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology, Mission Control, and the Franklin Covey methodologies just to name a few...

I like to listen to successful people I know talk about time management. They are usually hard on themselves in that area. But they must be doing something right! Time Management is not a science, it is definitely an art.

So there are a lot of good systems, tips, electronic tools, and blogs out there on time management, but there is not a one-size fits all time management system. What I thought I would do is list out some of the characteristics I see consistently in the good time managers I observe and coach....Here are 7 to begin:

1.) They protect their time .... They do not allow others to distract them. They work privately when they need to, they demand others request time from them, they demand a good reason for someone else to get time from them, etc. The best time managers in many respects can SOMETIMES be the hardest people to get a hold of and there is a reason for that.

2.) They time-block .... They proactively set time aside in their calendars to get the most important things done. Not only do they block their calendars, but they know exactly what they want to come out of each block they make. What is the end product of that meeting? Do we have enough information to even hold the meeting? Good time managers will challenge poor ones in ways that may make them feel uncomfortable.

3.) They respond to less important matters on their time .... It's difficult to proactively manage your time if you allow others to dictate your responses. Email can be a great example if this. Are you allowing email to suck you into responding to unimportant emails just as fast as the most critical matters?

4.) They are continual students of time management .... they learn from themselves. They find out when their peak periods are during the week for getting certain things done. They understand you cannot engage your left and right brains all the time at the same time. They separate activities that utilize different parts of their brain. They also combine activities that are synergistic, such as working out with listening to an important podcast.

5.) They value the power of important routines .... they do things like daily planning of their time. They do that consistently. They do it religiously. They use routines in other ways also. They check in with key colleagues on a consistent basis. They reach out to clients on certain days, etc.

6.) They have a formal time management system .... They might not all be the same, but they all have one. It is always evolving.

7.) They are fully engaged. While it may be difficult to get a hold of them (see #1), when you do have their attention, they are fully engaged in the activity at hand. They are not checking email at the same time. They are not thinking about other things. They are fiercely focused on the activity at hand.