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4 Predictions for Post-COVID-19

At the time of this writing, many of us are still in the midst of a quarantine that could last, in some form, for several months. There still are more questions than answers. And that could be the situation for quite some time to come.

With such uncertainty, I wanted to make some key predictions on how our world will look when we come out on the other end.

Quarantine’s end will be gradual – and jagged.

Depending on where you live, you may be under some form of quarantine or work from home order. I have heard many say things like, “When this is all over…” or “When we come out of this…”

We talk about it like there will be a definitive end. And that makes sense, considering that most of the government orders have been for some specific time period. In Illinois, where I live, it started for a 2-week period. It was then extended to the end of May. Some states have opened up, with some form of restriction. There has been much debate throughout the world regarding when and how to lift the strict regulations. Many worry that opening things up completely will result in another, larger wave of COVID-19 cases.

There has been much talk about the research to find a vaccine and treatment. This is still in the early stages and most predictions are that a proven vaccine may be a year or more away.

We will not truly come out of the other end of this until a vaccine is readily available for anyone and everyone. So, we will continually ease our way back to work, testing our limits and backing off when necessary until a true cure is found and administered.

As we open up, we will probably start to see peaks in the number of cases and the number of fatalities. This will prompt states to reinstate restrictions. This uncertainty will of course, wreak havoc on our economy.

In the meantime, companies will realize that it is possible – and even necessary – to perform business remotely. The same conversations can take place over a video conference call as across a conference room table. As people become more accustom to it, it will become normal enough to do normal business.

Distance will be part of the new normal.

We have been hearing about pandemics all of our lives. And it has always turned out to be much ado about nothing. H1N1, SARS, and Ebola turned out to have a limited affect on our day-to-day activities, at least in the US. It was always something that took place in the movies, not real life.

Arguably, COVID-19 has had a greater impact on us than anything we have seen in generations. Greater loss of life than 911. Greater impact to the economy than the Great Recession or even the Great Depression.

The term “social distancing” was likely in the vernacular of very few when the year 2020 started. But now we work, play, shop, and exist from a distance.

For years, I worked from home while my wife joked that, as a teacher, she couldn’t work from home. Now we find that teachers – and many other occupations – actually can work from home.

It’s not the optimal solution. Part of going to school is the social aspect, being with friends, after school activities, sporting events, and simply chatting between classes. Many people are struggling through the lack of socialization, but everyone is figuring it out. As we return to normal, more people will seek ways to do what they must do remotely if it can be done effectively.

When we go to the grocery store or the pharmacy, we (most of us anyway) wear masks and practice the 6-foot social distance. This will continue to some degree. Why get unnecessarily too close to total strangers? Those of us who like our personal space will relish this one.

We will emerge smarter

Any time we face a challenge or setback, we generally learn from it. This will be no different. As experts work around the clock to find a cure, they will learn things that will be transferable to future challenges.

Now that we know the ease of contagion, I hope that every government and individual in the world is better prepared to deal with it early on, if this ever occurs again. Perhaps we will find cures faster for future illnesses and pandemics.

We will work better together. It will likely be more common for people to work remotely. If another pandemic hits, we will know how to have a smoother transition and continue down more of a business-as-usual road than we did this time.

A fair amount of the disruption to the economy occurred because companies were slow to adjust to a remote model. Even for organizations and individuals who go back to a full on-site model, we will have much greater experience in the remote model, allowing us to easily adjust.

We will get through this

Countless people will suffer, and many will die because of COVID-19. Millions of people have lost their jobs and struggle to pay the rent and feed their families. It has been devastating and will continue to be until we find a treatment to eradicate this virus.

When this is over – whatever that means – life will not be the same. Like going to war, we will all come home a little different. We will be changed people.

But most of us will come home. Someday, we will be able to socialize, to hug family and friends. While it’s clear that many businesses won’t make it through this, we will be able to continue our lives and dine at a restaurant someday.

Many of us will have lost loved ones without the traditional mourning process. Many of us will be permanently hurt financially. We will never be able to make up for missing the grandchildren, the missed weddings, funerals, graduations, proms, birthdays – name your milestone.

But we will come out of it. We will be stronger and wiser. And we will be better for it.

How do you see us post-COVID-19?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms. 

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com 

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Lost Art of Hallway Conversations

Hallway Conversations
Hallway Conversations

The work from home trend has taken off. According to CNN Money, the number of people telecommuting has increased 115% in the last decade.

A number of indicators show that that will only increase. Organizations have moved on from the trust issue and realized just how much hosting a worker on their own real estate costs.

Additionally, the nature of many jobs doesn’t require people to be face to face for many – if any – of their responsibilities. I worked in a large corporate environment just last year. It was on a campus of about a dozen buildings. When we scheduled meetings, we would usually include a call in number for any remote folks. Invariably, we would get one or two people in a large conference room, with everyone else calling in. Some worked at home. Some were in the next building and didn’t want to walk over. Some were seated adjacent to the conference room but simply wanted to multi-task at their desk.
Continue reading The Lost Art of Hallway Conversations

Quantitative Measurements and Gaming the System

Quantitative Measurements
Quantitative Measurements

I had a friend start a new job. Once he got acclimated with his surroundings, he developed a daily routine once he got to work. He would always be there by the required 8:30 am. He would hang up his coat, stop at the restroom, grab his coffee cup, and get some coffee in the breakroom.

If someone he knew was in the breakroom, he might spend a few minutes chatting.  He would then go to his desk and power up his laptop and get to work.  His routine was very similar to that of his coworkers. He even noticed that his peers usually spent more time chatting than he did.

After he had been there a couple of months, he was called to his boss’s office. She asked him why he was habitually late to work.

“I’m here by 8:30 every morning.” He replied.

His boss gave him a look of disbelief. “I have a report here that says you don’t log in until after 8:40 on a consistent basis.”
Continue reading Quantitative Measurements and Gaming the System

Ethics of Personal Branding

Personal Branding
Personal Branding

In marketing, how you brand your product is the most important aspect you consider. Virtually everything you do affects your product’s branding. The brand is essentially, how the public views the product. The packaging, where it is sold, its price, advertising: everything affects the product’s brand.

The same is true in your personal branding. Everything you do can affect it. How you dress, how you act in public, what you post on social media, and how you perform. They are all inputs that make up your personal brand.

Truth in advertising

The point of branding a product is essentially to put it in the best light for the optimal number of people in the market in which you’re selling. If you’re branding toothpaste, you want the most people with teeth to think your toothpaste is the best.

You could do that by making it more whitening, better tasting, and more convenient to use. You could massively advertise these benefits to plant in consumers’ minds that you have the greatest toothpaste on the market.

But if those benefits don’t actually exist, you can get into trouble from the government for false advertising.

The same applies to your resume or what you tell people about yourself. If you tell them you have experience that you don’t, it can come back to bite you in a couple of ways.

First, an organization that is hiring you may very well do a background check. They may request and call your references and ask them about your claims. If these prove to be wrong, or even questionable, they may not hire you.

A second way this can hurt you is if they hire you under the assumption that you have the experience you touted as part of your brand. Just as the toothpaste didn’t whiten teeth, it won’t take them long to figure out that you can’t do that job. This can result in an embarrassing and awkward firing and a long-term scar on your brand if future employers talk to your past employer.

Think long term

Advertising toothpaste for benefits it does not have could increase a company’s profits for a temporary basis. But making false claims will result in much lower profits over the long term. It could even put a company out of business.

Lying about yourself to inflate your personal brand will do the same. Who you really are will come out. And misrepresenting yourself as something you’re not is a great way to limit your career opportunities.

Inconsistency in your personal branding

When you seek a position in consulting, certain things are implied. Consulting firms generally hire people to work for clients. They must hire people who are intelligent, capable and professional. These characteristics are often implied. The firm will interview people to verify that each person they hire has these characteristics.

You may interview with them and demonstrate your intelligence. You may have many accomplishments and act professionally. The caveat is that the consulting firm wants people who consistently demonstrate these capabilities. They can’t place people in front of a client that is professional only part of the time.

If you act like a true professional in all of your interviews, that’s wonderful. But if they check your social media accounts and see that you’ve posted inappropriate pictures and posts, it will hurt your personal brand.

We’re all a little less professional when we’re out with our friends having a few drinks. But posting inappropriate pictures and other content socially shows a lack of intelligence and professionalism.

Applying ethics to your personal branding

The essence of personal branding comes down to honesty. You want to convey the most positive image you can of yourself. You want to promote your greatest strengths and downplay your worst weaknesses. But you must be honest.

You have an ethical duty to yourself, to your profession, and to your employer. Ethics can be taught. Ethics can be regulated. But more than anything, ethics should be part of your core. It should drive everything that you do.

Decisions on your behavior should not be calculated based on whether you get caught. Setting and following a standard of ethics will ensure a long, happy and successful career.

How much does ethics play in your decision making?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do your orders create confusion?

Do your orders create confusion
Do your orders create confusion

I had a boss once who was incredibly smart. He started his career in technology as a developer. He worked his way up to team lead, manager, director, and eventually VP.

While he maintained his technical knowledge, he also developed a deep level of business acumen. The combination of the two led to a fast-tracked career for him. He was well known and admired throughout the company. He advanced quickly.

Despite his esteemed reputation, he had one serious flaw. When he gave direction, people often didn’t know what he wanted. I would sit in meetings with him and he would ask someone in the room to follow up on something. After he left, the person he spoke to would ask the room, “Do you know what he wants me to do?”
Continue reading Do your orders create confusion?

Take Time for Leadership

Take time for leadership
Take time for leadership

I once worked on an engagement where the president of the company flew in for the monthly steering committee meeting. He would schmooze the client, take them out to lunch, and assure them of their importance to the firm.

And that was true. This was one of the largest engagements we had in the firm. This was a very important client.

We had many consultants on the project. While some were offshore, more than half of them were in the same building in which the steering committee took place.

The first couple of times, we convinced the president to meet with the team. We felt it was important for the president of the company to give them some of his time and say thank you in person. They worked hard and we thought it would be a good morale boost.

It was. The team felt good meeting with the president of the company. They liked being thanked.

We did it again the second month he was in town. Once again, it made the team feel good.

On the president’s third visit, we suggested meeting with the team. He demurred. “They don’t seem to like it.” He said. “Nobody asks any questions.  It’s just awkward.”

It’s true that nobody said much in these meetings. Many of these people were lower level team members. Some were just a few years out of college. They’re also technical folks. Many of them are more comfortable writing code than dealing with people. Many were probably a little intimidated by him.

Regardless of their response, they enjoyed meeting with him. That twenty-minute exposure to the brass made them feel appreciated. It made them feel important. Many went home and bragged to their spouse about meeting the president of their company.

The president continued to fly in every month for the meeting. But he never met with them again. The team members knew that he was on site. They knew he didn’t meet with them. We tried to explain that he had an early flight for some other meetings. But they still felt blown off.

These meetings made the president feel awkward. There was uncomfortable silence after he thanked them for their work. He missed the point though. That meeting wasn’t designed to make him feel comfortable. It was designed to boost morale. The meeting was about the team members, not the president.

Leaders have two jobs

I’ve seen many examples of this from people in leadership positions through the years. A leadership role is really two jobs. One job is the day-to-day work that has to get done to achieve the organization’s goals. Reports need to be reviewed. Meetings need to be attended. Decisions need to be made.

The other job is the leadership part. A leader has to make sure people are happy and motivated. A leader needs to communicate the vision repeatedly to make sure everyone is working in lockstep to achieve the organization’s mission.

If a leader only focuses on the daily task work, but doesn’t take time for leadership, they really can’t claim to be a leader.

Long term effects

Time management experts talk about the difference between important and urgent tasks. When we prioritize our to do list, we tend to focus on the urgent issues, putting the important tasks on the back burner.

The here-and-now forces us to be tactical. Leaders need to look forward strategically to make sure that the organization is going in the right direction.

Does your organization have the right skills to compete in the future? Time should be spent assessing that concern. If it doesn’t, how will you deal with it.  It could involve training of your existing staff. You may need to bring in the right people with the necessary skills. It may require some of both. But neither will be addressed if you don’t take time for leadership.

Communication avoidance

I’ve worked for leaders who avoid communication with lower level folks. Leaders are busy people. They don’t have time to answer every question from every person in the company. That’s what the chain of command is for, right?

But when someone talks to you, it doesn’t take that much time to listen to them. If you look at your watch every thirty seconds and do whatever you can to end the conversation, it sends a message. The message is that you don’t care about the concerns of someone in the organization that serves you.

It’s common to have a monthly or quarterly meeting to communicate updates to the team. In consulting, team members are often scattered about at various client sites. This periodic update meeting is a rare chance for consultants to feel a sense of a home base. It’s a chance to catch up with people they don’t see often and to hear what’s new within the firm.

There are many reasons for management to cancel a meeting like this. There are a thousand other commitments. A meeting like that takes a lot of time to prepare for.

But when they do cancel that meeting, the consultants miss a chance to connect with the firm. Regardless of the reason the meeting is cancelled, many will immediately assume the worst. They must be avoiding the announcement of bad news.

Communication is important within any type of organization. It’s even more important within consulting firms. When people are spread out at many locations, they need the connection that communication provides.

Meeting in person is important. If that can’t be done, a weekly newsletter providing critical updates allows people to at least know what is going on. It’s not the personal touch, but it’s better than nothing.

Conclusion

People in leadership positions are busy people. They need to do everything they can do to keep the lights on. But they also need to take the time for leadership. They need to be focused on the future and make sure they are navigating the ship in the right direction.

The people in the firm want to be led. The personal touch of a brief meeting and saying thank you means more to them than most leaders realize. Communicating regularly with your staff can make a world of difference in their effectiveness and their level of morale.

How often do you take time for leadership?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Personal Weakness Assessment

Personal weakness assessment
Personal weakness assessment

I remember the performance evaluation I received after the first year of my career. My boss was a great guy. I liked him personally. But he was a bit non-confrontational.

The review was outstanding. Anyone reading it who didn’t know me would think I was going to be CEO in just a couple of years. I was great at everything.

But I knew that wasn’t the case. I had one year of a professional career under my belt. I felt like I did well. But I had a lot of things to learn. I walked out of his office with a nice feeling. But more than anything, I felt a little empty.
Continue reading A Personal Weakness Assessment

Do you copy the right people?

Copy the right people
Copy the right people

Most of us get more emails in a day than we would like to admit. Most of us have at least two email accounts: work and personal. As a consultant, I have an account for my firm, my client, and two personal accounts.

I have a daily routine of going through and killing all of the junk items. I unsubscribe when appropriate.

Then I have to go through all of the remaining emails that may or may not apply to me. Some I have to act on. Some are just sent to me as an FYI. Many of them I look at and wonder why I was included. This can be more annoying when it becomes an on-going thread.

On the other hand, I learn in meetings and side conversations that an email thread was sent around to a group that I should have known about, but I wasn’t included.

Removing people from an email thread

Often, an email is sent to a large group of people because the sender is unsure who can resolve an issue. As the thread evolves, it develops into a conversation with only a few critical participants.

Any remaining people may see the on-going thread as noise. At that point someone, preferably the original sender, should ask who on the thread would like to be removed.

Other times, it may be obvious that some people should be removed from a thread. Make sure the email isn’t being sent to unnecessary or inappropriate recipients.

Adding people to a thread

It is also imperative to make sure the right people are involved. Some people need to be involved to help resolve an issue or participate in a conversation.

A critical manager may need to be involved so that he or she is aware of an on-going issue. The best way to add that person is to “Reply all” to the email, add that person to the recipient list, and add a “+ Bob”. This helps make it explicit to everybody that the person(s) has been added to the thread.

If a manager just needs to know the outcome, it may be better to wait until the thread comes to closure. At that time, you can forward the final email of the thread to the manager. Provide a short summary of the issue and its resolution. Make sure to copy anyone who needs to know that this person has been informed. If the manager wants additional detail, the entire thread is below for their reading pleasure.

Copy the right people from the beginning

When sending an initial email, it’s hard to know if it’s going to be an epic thread that goes on for weeks, if not months. But when you send any email, consider the fact that it might. Stop for a moment to consider the list of people you are sending the email to.

Do you need to have everyone on that list or can you add people later if it evolves?

Are there others who should be on this distribution that can lead to a faster resolution?

An additional consideration is multiple people with similar names. I once sent an email to someone named Chris when I meant to send it to Christine. This leads, at a minimum, to delays when you send to the wrong person. You also could be intending to send sensitive information within your organization. If you accidently send it to the wrong person, it could be a major security breach.

Be careful with “Reply all”

Sometimes someone will send out an email asking a group of people to provide them with some information. This usually warrants a simple reply to the sender. Does the whole distribution list need to know your lunch order for that meeting next week? Reply All only when it’s necessary.

Conclusion

Email has become the communication mode of choice.  It’s quick and easy to send an email or reply to one that has been sent. But in our need to be quick and efficient, we often don’t stop to think about what we are sending and to how many people we’re sending it to.

Take a moment every time before you hit Send to think about the distribution list. You may begin to save people a little unnecessary time out of their day.

How often do you copy the right people?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do You Take Time to Save Time?

Take Time to make time
Take Time to make time

I saw a great cartoon the other day. It was drawing of two cave men pushing a cart with square wheels. Another cave man is offering them round wheels to replace the square ones. To which they respond “No Thanks. We are too busy.”

It’s easy for us non-cave people to sit in our third person realities and ridicule this irrational behavior. But if you didn’t see yourself in it, you may be in a little denial.

As humans, we are usually victims of routine. We get into habits and don’t like to change them. I often catch myself doing things out of habit. If I step back and think about it, I may rethink my actions and figure out a better approach.

More often, this happens when someone else observes my behavior and asks, “Why are you doing it that way?”

I usually respond with something intelligent like, “Well that’s how I’ve always done it.”

Even after someone explains a simpler or more efficient way to do things, I sometimes resist. Even when people offer me round wheels, I like living in my comfort zone.

Taking a different approach to something usually involves additional thinking. If you drive the same way to work in the morning, you usually can do it without much thought. You habitually turn where you need to turn. You probably park in the same general area every day.

If someone tells you an alternate route that might be faster, you’re suddenly out of that comfort zone. You have to concentrate a little more on where and when to turn.

The same happens at work when we do something routinely. You may do it that way because it’s the easiest and most efficient way. But the situation may have changed. There may be a better way now.

Changing the way we do something often requires an investment in time as well. If we changed the wheels on the cart, we would have to stop what we’re doing, take the square wheels off and put the round ones on.

Sometimes I don’t feel like I have the time to invest doing all that work. But if I’m honest with myself, I’m probably just too lazy to change my ways.

I’ve caught myself doing intense manual work to make changes or find data in a large spreadsheet. And I’ve caught myself saying that there has to be an easier way.

I’ve had to force myself to investigate the many Excel commands that I’m not familiar with to find the easier way to do it. I not only find that easier way. But I also learn a new Excel function that I can use later. (I usually learn a couple of functions just finding the one that works best for that situation.)

Routine is generally good. It can make you more efficient when you can do things with little effort. But it’s important to frequently stop and analyze what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. Is there a better way?

You might just find some round wheels.

Are you using square wheels anywhere?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Roll off: Sudden Death or Drawn Out?

Sudden Death
Sudden Death

Like most rational human beings, I hope I don’t die for a long time. But without being too macabre, I do think about death occasionally. Every once in a while someone will ask the question, “How do you want to die?”

I’ve never been able to come up with a specific way to die that sounds, I don’t know, desirable. But I’ve often said something like, “suddenly,” or “without any suffering.”

About three years ago, I lost two childhood friends. One died instantly of a heart attack in his sleep. One day here, the next day gone. The other died after a long battle with cancer.

I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to my friend who died of a heart attack. But I rationalize that he didn’t have to suffer.
Continue reading Roll off: Sudden Death or Drawn Out?