Category Archives: Communication

It Depends is Always the Answer

I’ve heard people – mostly clients – that joke about the fact that you have officially made it as a consultant when you learn that the answer to everything is It depends.

There is a lot of truth to that. It’s not a matter of being evasive. And it’s usually not a matter of hiding behind the fact that the consultant doesn’t know the answer.

The answer always raises a client’s eyebrows, if not their blood pressure.

“It was a yes or no question. Can’t you just give me a plain yes or no answer?”

The answer to that is, of course, “It depends.” And there are several reasons for that.

Nothing is black and white – even with facts

Imagine that you are meeting with the CEO of a manufacturing client and she blurts out the question, “Should I invest in additional capacity?”

Continue reading It Depends is Always the Answer

Millennials May be the Next Greatest Generation

next greatest generation
Millennials: The next greatest generation?

I can’t remember whether it was on Facebook or Twitter that I saw it. It doesn’t matter. It was just another post slamming the millennial generation. They’re so full of themselves. They’re always staring into their phones. They have such a sense of entitlement.

Some of the posts approach it with pseudo-psychological theories. Social media has turned them into uber-narcissists. The “everybody-gets-a-trophy” syndrome has taught them not to succeed. They have a constant need for attention.

And for every one of those complaints, I can point out some from the millennial generation that fit the description. I’ve worked with millennials right out of college. As a parent, I’ve raised a couple and coached many. I’ve watched a lot of them grow up.

There are many that are major pains in the neck.

But more often than not, they’re great people. They’re responsible hard workers. And they don’t resemble the stereotype that so many people like to describe.

They’re lazy and not driven to succeed

In the 1960s, the old folks worried about the “hippie generation.” They just sat around and smoked pot on campuses to avoid the war. People asked, “Is this our country’s future?”

The answer was a resounding “Yes.” The world may not be perfect today, but we have survived pretty well. That generation brought us some pretty nifty inventions and a thriving stock market.

The millennials that I know are driven to succeed. They’re just driven to a different definition of success than many of us have. It might be a result of everyone getting a trophy. But they don’t see the world as a zero-sum game. They don’t necessarily believe that there must always have be a winner and a loser. They are very collaborative and don’t feel the need to compete with their peers at work. They’re focused on us all succeeding together.

They also see work-life balance as a big factor in success. They don’t necessarily believe that the guy who dies with the most money wins. They see success in quality, not quantity.

They have a sense of entitlement

I have seen this behavior in many millennials. I also saw it in me at that age. I believe it is a symptom that every generation learns once they face the reality of life. Growing up, my parents gave me everything I needed and a lot of things I wanted. It created the byproduct of teaching me that life was easier than it really was. At some point in my life, I started paying for rent, student loans, groceries, etc. I realized that I wasn’t as entitled as I might have thought.

Millennials need to mature in the same way. It may take them longer though. Their parents were more prosperous than any previous generations and bought them a lot more stuff.

They will learn. In the meantime, people tend to get mad at the victims rather than the culprits.

Their faces are glued to their phones

Correct. They do that. But I see people from every generation do it. I look around in restaurants and see middle-age couples dining out and staring in their phones. Although it is illegal in Illinois where I live, I see people of all ages do it while they drive. Many blatantly hold the phone out in front of them blocking their view of traffic.

Granted, I have had to tell some millennials to put their phone away during a meeting. But I see it as a maturation and education issue. If nobody in their past taught them not to do it, teach them.

They are disrespectful

Many years ago, child abuse was swept under the rug. It was rarely brought out in the open. Often, the victim was made to feel at fault.

Today, while it is not reported to the degree it should be, more people are aware of the issue. It is discussed more frequently. Millennial children were taught to speak out.

While some disrespect is attributable to developing some maturity, this generation was taught not to be afraid to speak up. They won’t be intimidated by the older generation. They may need to develop some diplomacy, but most of them will.

Necessity will prevail

In 1997 Tom Brokaw wrote “The Greatest Generation,” about the generation of people who grew up during the Great Depression, and went on to save democracy fighting World War II.

I remember an anecdote Brokaw told in the book about growing up in his small South Dakota hometown. His mother worked in the local post office and a resident came in complaining that some kids had tee-peed some trees in town.

His mother kind of laughed it off and asked flippantly, “Oh Bob, what kinds of things were you doing when you were eighteen years old?”

He looked at her and said, “Liberating France.”

Admittedly, that “Greatest Generation” set a difficult bar for the rest of us. But it was the necessity of the depression and then the war that they were required to step up. I thank them for doing such a great job.

Every generation and every human being reaches a point where they have to step up to survive and to thrive. I’m confident that the millennial generation, and most of the individuals in it, will do that.

Every generation also reaches an age where they forget how self-consumed and entitled they were in their youth. It’s a generational tradition to condemn the succeeding generation for much of the same things they did when they were the same age.

Maybe we didn’t have smart phones at that age. But we played our share of video games. We wasted incredible amounts of time just “hanging out” with friends. We drove around in our cars going nowhere, wasting unacceptable amounts of fuel.

I can’t imagine how we would have been with smart phones at that age. Or maybe I can. We’d be constantly glued to them, texting our friends and taking selfies. We would be kids.

Conclusion

I for one want to hand this world off to a generation that isn’t intimidated by me. I believe it will make the world a better place.

This generation is one of the most intelligent generations to ever exist. I learn from them every day. If the older generations would swallow their pride, work with millennials, and see their positive traits, we would get a lot more done.

If you think millennials are a bunch of no good, lazy ne’er do wells, you’re probably looking at the wrong end of the glass. Take a hard look at your own generation at the same age. You may be surprised at the similarities.

Kids!
I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today!
Kids!
Who can understand anything they say?
Why can’t they be like we were,
Perfect in every way?
What’s the matter with kids today?

– Kids (From the Broadway show and motion picture “Bye Bye Birdie,” 1963

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 Pong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Importance of Feedback

Importance of Feedback
Importance of Feedback

I have a friend who is one of the nicest and kindest people I know. Unfortunately, she gives off a bad first impression. Although she rarely has a cross word for anyone, she doesn’t always express her appreciation to people.

She’s friendly to them. But if she’s invited to a party for which she can’t attend, she’ll just say “No thanks,” without an explanation why or an explanation that she has a conflict. People sometimes think she’s aloof and distant.

Neither is true. She simply isn’t good at providing feedback.

Have you ever sent an email or text to someone and never got a response. Even if the message wasn’t asking for a response, sometimes it’s nice to get an acknowledgement from the recipient.

Acknowledging messages

People are busier than ever. Most people I know get more than a hundred emails a day. It’s a skill to scan our emails, find the important ones we have to reply to, and continue on with the rest of our work.

Many emails simply inform us that something got done. When we ask for a report and receive it, we read it and continue on. Put yourself on the other side of that situation. Imagine that your boss asked you for a report and you provided it correctly and on time. It was a great report that allowed your boss to give an excellent presentation to the board. Yet, there wasn’t so much as a “Thanks” in return.

That can be demoralizing. Some bosses are just like that. But sometimes, the boss is just so busy, he or she didn’t have time to even think about it.

When you send an email to someone requesting information, remember to take a moment to follow-up with a thank you. You might even comment about how quick they responded.

A job well done

Aside from reports, sometimes people do their job exceedingly well. You might have been hoping for and expecting them to do it exceedingly well. So you didn’t notice how well it turned out. They simply met your high expectations.

Take a moment to notice when people do exceedingly well. Even when people do something well, take time to give them recognition. It means a lot to the recipient.

Some people are uncomfortable lavishing praise on people. They feel like it’s artificial to always tell people how much they appreciate them. It can be awkward if it’s not something you do regularly. But it’s something to get used to.

You don’t have to go on and on so that it’s embarrassing. A simple “Great job” is often enough.

Make it public

People like to be praised in public as well. If you have a daily or weekly status meeting, praise your team members in front of the team. Again, it doesn’t have to be lavish praise. Say something like, “Mary, you did a great job on that presentation yesterday. The CIO was very impressed. Thanks for your efforts.” Gratitude like that creates gratitude and loyalty from Mary. It also demonstrates to the rest of the team that you appreciate good work. This will encourage them to perform well too.

Feedback in conversation

Listening is one of the most underrated forms of communication.  Some people are able to listen while they check their emails and read whatever they’re reading on their phone. Maybe they are able to get most of what somebody is saying. But that’s not the message they send back.

If someone is talking to you and you are listening to them, you both gain by practicing engaged listening. You get more out of their message by looking them in the eye. They provide better engagement and a better message knowing that you are listening.

Active listening is the act of focusing on the speaker. Look them in the eye. Nod in agreement when you understand what they are saying. Ask follow up questions when you’re unclear. Restate things in a different way to verify that you understand.

Practicing active listening will help you get better clarity and understanding. The speaker will get feedback from you and feel listened to.

Conclusion

We get caught up in our busy day and often forget about the effort involved from our team members. People go out of their way to help us get our job done every day. It is important to provide feedback to them to let them know you appreciate their effort and hear them when they speak.

It creates an environment of trust and gratitude that improves morale and productivity.

How do you provide feedback to your team?

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 Sira Anamwong.at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dealing with Your Nemesis at Work

Nemesis at Work
Dealing with a Nemesis at Work

One of my favorite televisions shows is Modern Family. I can’t think of a character on that show that I don’t like.  But one of my favorite characters is Cam. He was a college football player who now coaches a high school football team.

As a former athlete, Cam is uber-competitive. And he always seems to have a “nemesis.” It may be another teacher at the school where he coaches. It might be someone in his social circle. But he always seems to find someone who he must compete with.

I think we’ve all run into that in our professional lives at one point or another. It could be the insecure boss who has to find fault with everything you do. It could be the peer that is competing with you for the next promotion.

It doesn’t matter how competitive you are. The other person may just be the type that has to beat someone at something. If you are the competitive type, it will definitely fuel the fire.

Recognize the situation

Some people are so non-competitive that they don’t even realize they have a nemesis. They assume that since they are both on the same team and they will naturally work together.

When something goes wrong for you and the other person gains an advantage, the first assumption is that that’s just how it works out sometimes.

At some point, you must recognize a trend. If the other person is not so subtle about it, it may be a blatant competition. Even the most trusting person in the world needs to keep their eyes open to people who will take advantage of their good nature.

Are you being singled out?

Once you recognize a nemesis at work, you need to find out what drives him. Is this person just out for himself and competing with everyone that gets in the way of his career advancement? Or has this person singled you out? Maybe you made him mad about something in the past. Maybe you have something that he wants, like a title or position, or control of a primo project. Sometimes, having access to a high-ranking executive is enough for someone to try to bring you down.

What is driving your nemesis at work?

So you have identified a nemesis at work and determined that he has singled you out. What now? You want to find out why this person is suddenly your nemesis. Does he want something you have? You may not think you hold all that much power. But if someone sees you as a threat, they at least perceive that you have some form of power.

Take an inventory of what you have. Do you have a unique relationship with someone in power? Even if your nemesis saw you laughing and joking with the boss, he may perceive that you are extra chummy with the boss.  And he’ll want to bring you down. He may bad-mouth you behind your back, or point out some of your errors or weaknesses.

You could simply be a threat because you are successful. There is an old saying that there are two ways to have the tallest building in town. Build the tallest building, or tear all the taller buildings down. Some people who are incapable or insecure may not be able to compete with your success. They will resort to tearing you down to make themselves look better.

Dealing with the nemesis at work

Build the tallest building. When people resort to tearing you down, it is best to continue to build the tallest building. Take the high road. A good manager should see your nemesis’s negativity and the fact that you are adding legitimate value.

Promote your value. It’s great that you add value to your workplace. And few managers like self-promoting people that always brag about their accomplishments. But managers need to be made aware of the value you are adding. Instead of telling the manager everything you’ve done, promote it in terms of the value you are adding to the manager’s area.

Be honest about your mistakes. Nobody likes to point out when they make a mistake, especially to their boss. But you have to realize that if you don’t report it, somebody else probably will. Informing the boss of your mistakes gives you two advantages. First, you can put it in the best light. Report the error and diffuse it by also reporting how you plan on fixing it. Secondly, it preempts your nemesis. By the time he gets to the boss to report your screw-up, the boss already knows about it. You’ve stolen the thunder away from your nemesis.

Conclusion

Perhaps nemesis is a strong word. But every once in a while, we run into someone who plays politics and works against us. You need to always have your guard up for these people and know how to deal with them to avert their schemes to defeat you.

How have you dealt with your nemesis at work?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of Geerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Getting Things Done (and Stuff)

Getting things done and stuff
Getting things done and stuff

I have a friend who seems to refuse to use anything but vague nouns when she speaks. Out of the blue she will say things like, “I talked to that guy about that thing.”

I usually look at her with a blank stare and say something prophetic like, “Huh?”

She will then get frustrated with me for not understanding and give another description laced with imprecision. It usually takes a few back-and-forth exchanges to understand who and what she’s talking about.

False assumptions

I see similar communication styles at work. If you remember Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla from Schoolhouse Rock, you will know that pronouns were created so that we don’t need to repeat the same proper noun over and over again, once it is mentioned. The key words there are “once it is mentioned.”

I once had car trouble on a trip. The timing chain broke while I was driving. A tow truck came and got me. While we were heading to the shop with my car trailing his truck, I asked him what the timing chain is.

He began to explain it to me, “Well, you’ve got your overhead cam, right?”

Right there he lost me. If I didn’t know what the timing chain was, I certainly didn’t know what the overhead cam was.

Sometimes we get lazy and don’t want to provide critical details for what we are talking about. Sometimes, when working with professionals at the same level, we tend to assume that they know everything we know and we forego critical details.

Getting rid of “stuff”

I’m a big “stuff” guy at times. I don’t always want get into details that aren’t necessary. I say things like, “We completed a lot of stuff last week,” or “We finished the software deployments and got some of the technical stuff out of the way.” I do this assuming the people I’m talking to already know the stuff I’m talking about. Either that or I know they just aren’t interested in the gory details. They just want to know that, in general, accomplishments got done.

I often get away with it. Some people don’t want to get into the details. Some people aren’t confrontational enough to ask for clarification. But every once in a while, someone will ask for clarification. And every once in a while, I can’t provide the details. I’ve glazed over the details because I don’t really know them.

Have the details ready

Some people aren’t specific because they don’t know the details. They say “that guy” because they don’t remember his name. When we give status, we know the big things that were accomplished but don’t know a lot of detail around it.

When you give a status update to a client, they often just want a summary of the major accomplishments. Sometimes they want to know the details behind it. I’ll often try to write details down that they might want to know. Writing it down helps me to remember the detail better if they ask. And if I don’t remember every detail, I’ve got it in written form.

Using pronouns or generic terms

Like the Schoolhouse Rock example, using the same proper nouns and full names can get monotonous. When you mention someone’s name, repeating it over and over just sounds stranger than saying him or her for the rest of the conversation.

That’s also why we use nicknames and acronyms. Imaging saying International Business Machines every time you talk about IBM. But if the audience you’re talking to doesn’t know who IBM is, you might as well be talking about an overhead cam.

Conclusion

Everyone seems to be in a hurry. And our everyday language can be cumbersome if we force ourselves to be specific about every detail. To make it easier, we use pronouns and shortened versions of bulky terms. That makes communicating more convenient. But when we try to make it easier to communicate, we can make it murkier.

It is important to make sure that the audience you are talking and writing to understand all of the terms and terminology that you are referring to.

Have you ever made false assumptions about what your audience understood?

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 pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Effectively Reporting to the Client Executive

Reporting to the Client Executive
Reporting to the Client Executive

For any consultant, reporting to the client executive can be difficult. Clients don’t always specify what they want and how it should be reported. Even when things are agreed upon early on, it sometimes takes time to refine status and other reporting to a point where it satisfies the client.

Although it takes some time and effort, the more you learn about the client, the clearer your reporting becomes. You also eventually develop a better relationship with the client.

Understand what she wants when she makes a request

Clients, especially busy executives, often give what I like to call iceberg instructions. They expose just a little bit of what they want. They can envision the entire thing – at least to some degree. But the consultant listening to these directions only can see what is provided.
Continue reading Effectively Reporting to the Client Executive

Throw the Client Under the Bus at Your Own Risk

throw the Client Under the Bus
Don’t throw the client under the bus

It happened almost by accident. Jim was presenting his change request to the change review board. He had to expedite it to make the deadline. He needed approval from Paul, his client manager, in order to expedite it. He tried calling Paul a few minutes before the meeting but he didn’t answer.

He decided to attend the meeting anyway.

“Why don’t you have Paul’s approval for this?” one of the board members asked.

“I called him, but he didn’t get back to me.” Jim responded.
Continue reading Throw the Client Under the Bus at Your Own Risk

Are you a bridge for the client?

Bridge for the client
Be a bridge for the client

I’m very fortunate to work for a consulting firm in which my engagement manager and client communicate on a regular basis. That hasn’t always been the case. Engagement managers get busy. They assume that you as the client-facing consultant are there to provide communication. The client also gets busy and doesn’t have time to meet with the engagement manager. The EM is usually just trying to sell more services anyway so they often just avoid them.

Maybe so. Engagement managers are often motivated to increase sales at their existing clients. And when that gets in the way of providing the best client service possible, communication breaks down. That is when the consultant that has daily access to the client is most needed.

Providing information about the firm

The client doesn’t usually care about the inner workings of the consultant’s firm. But every once in a while, there is information the client should be made aware of.
Continue reading Are you a bridge for the client?

How to Balance Priorities for Your Client

Balance Priorities
Helping the Client Balance Priorities

When a consultant begins a client project, there is a desire to keep a laser-beam focus on that project. It seems logical. Whether you are managing the project or simply a cog in the great wheel, that project should be the one and only thing to focus on.

However, it is likely that that client project is one of many efforts in progress for your client. And those efforts almost certainly are interrelated with your project.

The division you serve

The client manager that you report to has a vested interest in the project you’ve been assigned to. And she wants you to keep your attention trained on your project. That is after all what you were hired to do.
Continue reading How to Balance Priorities for Your Client

The woman who could communicate

Woman who could communicate
Woman who could communicate

I once knew a woman who worked as a client relationship manager (CRM) for an IT consulting firm. The CRM’s role was to be a liaison between her clients and the candidates that we placed with those clients.

Her job was to work with the client and understand their resource needs. She would then communicate those needs to recruiters who would identify IT workers to be candidates for those positions.

After the recruiters submitted the candidates to her, she would talk to those candidates to verify their abilities. She would negotiate rates with both clients and candidates. If the candidate was rejected, she would communicate it to the candidate. If selected, she worked to help get the new employee on-boarded.
Continue reading The woman who could communicate