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Posts Tagged ‘client management’

my-funny-valentine

The monkeys learned the song My Funny Valentine at preschool for Valentine’s day. (I love the monkey’s preschool!) They’ve been singing it for a few weeks now, and I’m finally learning the words. But between the three of us, we all mess up the song almost all of the time. Tonight at dinner, the wrong word led to screams and shouts.

I don’t know about you but screams and shouts are two of my least favorite things to have for dinner. So I decided to put a stop to the arguing by listening to the song on You Tube. We listened to this version by Chet Baker, this one by Etta James, and this really great oneby AJ, who I’ve never heard of.

Listening to different variations, we heard different singers use a few different words and treat the vocals very differently. I tried to tell the monkeys that these variations are what makes music interesting. I talked about how different singers interpret the song differently, and that’s what makes it interesting. How you can learn from each version, or listen to them all and decide which one you like best. I promoted this approach to listening to and making music over their current approach, which involves screaming and fighting over whether the words are “is your finger less than Greek” or “is your figure less than Greek.” 

But I have to admit I was  talking for the sake of pleasing myself, instead of actually teaching them anything.

As music novices, they’re still sticklers for rules. They learned the song one way and that’s how it goes. As they get better at singing, and learn more songs, they’ll become more comfortable trying varying approaches. But not until then.

It’s kind of like how it’s often harder to work with a client who is new to an organization than it is to work with someone who has learned the rules and knows which ones can and should be bent. Or like how a seasoned researcher can divert from textbook research methodologies and still get insights that are interesting and valid, because she knows the rules that underlie the methodologies, and therefore can alter the way the research looks without altering how it works. But someone who is new to the field will tell you that things  MUST BE DONE A CERTAIN WAY.

With experience, comes appreciation of variation and diversity. When you’re still learning something, that variation is confusing and consistency reigns. It was fun watching all the videos, and the monkeys did enjoy them. But I’m still going to have to weigh in and resolve the argument: it’s figure, not finger. Go figure.

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I like to think of myself as open minded. But sometimes I realize that, well, my mind isn’t as open as I’d like.
Over the course of several weeks, I read several mentions of the same book, Momma Zen. I’ve been writing about parenting and yoga and how one informs the other in my life, and the book seemed perfect. So I bought it, and loaded it in my suitcase to take with me to California. It was to be my treat, my pleasure-escape reading during a business trip.
After a long week planning the meeting, a long flight sitting in the middle seat, some long conversations, a quick dinner, and a long drive, I arrived at a gorgeous hotel in wine country. It was 3 AM my time, but I was determined to take advantage of my location and end the day with a relaxing book and bath. I cranked on the hot water, poured in the bath salts, and cracked the spine.
Within minutes, I was seething. Another book about how hard it is to be pregnant. Another book about how hard it is to have a newborn. Another book about how hard it is to transition from a person to a parent.

“Ugh,” I thought, “this writer has no bleeping clue what hard feels like.” I was thinking, of course, of how hard it was for me to be pregnant. How hard it was to carry two babies, not knowing if they would both survive. How hard it was to wonder if the in-utero death of one would cause birth defects in the other. That was hard.

Even as I continued to read the book, I was having a mental conversation with Karen Maexen Miller, the author, in my head. You know what’s harder than having one premature baby, Karen? Having two premature babies. And you know what else is hard, not being able to …

The mental comparisons went on and on, even as I continued to read the book. I’m not even sure why I continued to read it, but I did. And as Karen’s descriptions evolved from the early stages of parenting towards the toddler years, that little voice inside my head finally quieted. I began to enjoy the book, to see myself in it, and to learn from it.

I am, of course, very open minded. Except for when I’m not. And I now know that I have a very particular mental block: I can’t relate to folks writing about how hard it is to have either a healthy pregnancy or a single healthy baby. Now I know that it’s not really fair. I know that even one healthy baby can be challenging. But my situation with the monkeys was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through, and often, those stories look to me more like best case scenarios than like a reasonable cause for angst. The little voice is pissed about people complaining about these situations, and angry that I never got to experience a ‘normal’ pregnancy. It feels unlike me, but it is, in fact, me.

If I had listened to the little voice in my head, and left the book in the hotel room, like it really wanted me to do, I would have missed the chance to hear a voice filled with reason, warmth, and enlightening thoughts on raising kids. 

I would have missed a reminder to take care of the present without worrying so much about what’s already happened or what’s to come. I would have missed the challenge to step into what’s most frightening and most exciting to me. And I would have missed the realization that there are times when my mind is not open.

We all have our mental blocks, these inabilities to listen to a particular topic. They come from areas of feeling that we know we must protect, even if we’re not sure why. And it’s OK to protect those feelings, and allow them to exist, for a time. But it’s important to recognize them, to know where they are, so that when you’re ready, you can engage with information that challenges them, pokes them, and loosens them.

I’ve obviously got to work through some feelings of anger and frustration that I have about my pregnancy and the monkeys’ infancy. But until I do, I can at least know that it’s there, so that the little voice doesn’t prevent me from hearing some really important stuff.

It’s funny, to be on this side of the fence. Often, what I do for a living is to poke at and challenge an organization’s mental blocks, or a team’s. I help them see something that they were blocking out with their own little voices, unable to process, because it touches on something that’s sensitive to them or questions something that’s core to who they think they are.

Since I do it to others all the time, it’s only fair to do it to myself, and to open myself up to similar challenges, similar opportunities to grow and create something entirely new. But it’s not easy. The little voice is insistent. And loud. I’m glad, Karen, that your voice was louder. And sorry about the cursing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Part of my job is to understand what’s going on inside my client’s heads, figure out what they really need from us, and help our teams deliver something just right.

On a pretty regular basis, people behave in ways that I can’t quite make sense of. Often, I take it personally, as if their behavior is a reaction to something I’ve done, something my team has done, or to the work. When I do finally get to the bottom of what’s going on, I often find out that it has nothing to do with me or my team. Factors outside of the project are influencing people’s behavior. Stuff going on inside the company is impacting how our project is perceived.

The most extreme example of this happened several years ago. We had just completed our second project for a client who was really excited about the work. During the course of the second project, we were able to see how the team was making changes to their channel strategy based on the results of the first project. This second project had gone well, too, and my team traveled to the city where the client was based to deliver the final presentation. Oddly, when we got there, instead of ushering us upstairs, the security guard asked us to wait in the lobby. We were puzzled, tired, and cold, so we sat. And sat. And sat. And sat. And worried. Did they hate the work? Had the project not gone as well as we had thought?

Finally, about an hour after the presentation was supposed to start, our client came downstairs to deliver the news. Just before our presentation was about to start, the company announced layoffs that affected the team we were working for. The presentation was, of course, postponed. We flew home, in the midst of a winter storm, and took the rest of the afternoon off.

Sitting there in the lobby, we just kept asking ourselves, what have we done wrong. Of course, it wasn’t about us. We were, in fact, the only ones even thinking about ‘us’ until our client remembered to come downstairs and tell us that we should go home. But it’s so simple to remember that it’s not about us, and that we need to look beyond ourselves into our client’s worlds for an answer to what’s going on.

It reminds me of when the monkeys were very little, and they’d cry and cry. My first response would be to think, what am I doing wrong? But of course, even then, it wasn’t about me. It was about them. Them being hungry, them being tired, them being babies. Not about me.

Even now, when sleep gets bad for a few nights in a row, we start to wonder, what are we doing wrong? We ask ourselves, what could we be doing better? It’s taken several tries at ‘doing better’ for me to realize that nothing I do actually makes a difference. Sometimes, the monkeys don’t sleep well. Always, it resolves itself after a few long nights. And if it doesn’t something might be wrong with one of them. An ear infection. A bad cold. But it’s not about me.

It’s oddly freeing, when I remember that it’s not about me. It helps take the burden of responsibility off of my shoulders, and it allows me to look for answers the only place I can really find them: in my client’s world, in my kid’s world.

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One of my Strengthsfinders strengths that I’ve always identified with is input, which means that I’m a collector of information. In my case, it means that I’m an information addict, filing pieces away in my brain, overloading on data, never shirking a web search when more information might be out there that might be able to help me in some way that I can’t even imagine.

When I was pregnant and a new mom, it actually started to feel less like a strength and more like a weakness. Especially since the more books your read about getting your babies to sleep, eat or play, the more perspectives you can find about the ‘right way to do it.’ Ultimately, after consulting 6 different books about gas and finding 5 different answers ranging from it’s all in the parent’s head to your child could be seriously ill, I made a clean break and decided not to rely on books to help me rear my children.

Instinct, I decided, would be a way better teacher for me than information, and I vowed to stop reading the baby books. Oh yes, every once in a while I can’t resist, and still consult a chart that tells me what my kids should be able to do by now or an article that helps me decide whether they’re really sick or just have some evil cold. But for the most part, my husband and I have been going it alone since sometime before the monkeys’ first birthday.

Enter the era of the tantrum. Lately, my kids have been really stumping me. The whining. The crying. The defiance for defiance’s sake. It makes my head hurt just thinking about it. And while every once in a while I find myself coming up with an inspired way to handle their behavior, for the most part I have no freakin’ idea what to do.

So today, I read that Dr. Harvey Karp has come out with a new book, The Happiest Toddler on the Block. I’ve heard about his first book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, but never read it. And while I’m still really into the idea of parenting by intuition, I’m wondering if it has it’s limits. I mean, how many times can you use the same approach to address behavior and find that it doesn’t really work before you start questioning that approach.  

I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve already learned something from reading the review of the book in the New York Times. The article goes into a bit of detail on Dr. Karp’s method for talking a toddler out of a tantrum. Instead of reasoning, or trying to soothe through calming adult language, Dr. Karp suggests talking toddler speak, mimicking your children’s language and phrasing. In response to a child’s wilful demands for a cookie, “Dr. Karp adopts a soothing, childlike voice to demonstrate how to respond to the toddler’s cookie demands. “You want. You want. You want cookie. You say, ‘Cookie, now. Cookie now.’ ”

Talking directly to toddlers in their own language shows them that you’re listening to them, and, Dr. Karp suggests, reinforces that you’re acknowledging their point of view. My guess is that it may also surprise them enough to shock them out of their tantrum. Gotta try that one.

This idea really resonates with me because it reflects the attitude I try to take when having conversations with clients and colleagues. When folks are frustrated or upset, the first thing I do is repeat their concerns to help them fell heard. Of course, when I do it with my kids, my instinct is to rephrase what they say in my own words. But I really like Dr. Karp’s suggestion of using their words and their phrasing to really drive home the point.

 So I’m intrigued. I probably will even buy the book. And it makes me think about the limits of intuition. As a consultant in an emerging field, I am often asked to solve problems that go beyond my area of expertise. Most of the time, that’s OK, because something that I’ve done before prepares me for what I have to do now. Even if I don’t have the exact experience of doing something, I have enough related experience to figure it out.

But any good consultant knows that some things lie directly outside of their area of expertise, and therefore require bringing in other people who do have the knowledge, or figuring out how to learn really quickly. As much as I think relying on your intuition is a good thing, its also critical for me to know when I’m outside of your zone of effectiveness, and when I need to consult outside experts to get the job done — whether that’s with my children, my colleagues, or my clients.

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After the monkeys went to bed tonight my husband and I had an invigorating, um, discussion. I learned a few things.

One – not having a nanny is hard. Two careers, two kids, one dog and one preschool schedule, not to mention dinner, household repairs, laundry and a delightful 5:30 AM wake-up call this morning, leads to two very tired parents.

Two – sometimes, I need to be as thoughtful about entering into a conversation with my husband as I am with my colleagues and clients. Here are some techniques that work well when facilitating a meeting at work that I should have used tonight with my husband.

 1) At the start of a meeting, let everyone know why you’re there and what you hope to accomplish. We don’t have formal family meetings yet, but when broaching a sensitive topic of conversation with my husband, I think he’d really appreciate knowing why I’m bringing it up before we get too far into the conversation.

2) When you share information, let others in the meeting know what you expect from them. Are you telling them something just so they know what you’re up to or what’s on your mind? Are you looking for input into a decision that you’re going to make? Are you looking to make a shared decision? Clarifying this can help the other person be in the right place to give you the kind of response that you’re looking for, and can prevent ‘what do you want me to do about it?’ defensive attitudes that can take a conversation down a wrong path when all you really want is for someone to nod, take note of what you’re saying, and move on to the next topic.

3) Try a trial close. Sometimes, conversations continue far longer than they should because everyone wants to say their piece, and minor details are debated, discussed and debated again without much progress being made. Sometimes, you’re at an impasse and there’s real disagreement between the parties to a conversation. And sometimes, it’s hard to tell which situation you’re in. At those times, it can be useful to stop the discussion with a question: what can we all agree on right now? In my meetings at work, we suggest a way to resolve the topic and have everyone vote on whether they agree with that course of action. If we agree, great, we’re done. And if we can’t agree, we either continue talking or put the issue aside for when we have more information to make a decision. My home is also a place where we like decisions that are made by consensus, not decree. I think it would help some conversations end faster and expend less of our energy if my husband and I made an effort to call it and see if we could agree on a resolution to a conversation instead of over-discussing an issue. Best case, we resolve the conversation. Worst case, we pause it and move on to the things we really want to be doing. After all, there’s dinner, laundry, the house, the dog…

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One of the things I’ve learned from work is around setting expectations. The work that we do is often ambiguous and we often take our clients through a process is is scary, uncontrollable and unlike anything they’ve ever been involved in before. And we need to get through that process so that we can generate ideas that are both truly new and really good business ideas. (It turns out its easy to come up with ideas that are new and bad, but that’s a whole different post.)

One way that we address the issue of clients calling in a panic about the process is to set expectations as soon as the project begins. We share a document called The Emotional Rollercoaster that gives them a sense of what they’re likely to feel, when. It highlights ups and downs that we’ve seen clients go through time and time again. This is a great opening into a conversation about the emotional side of innovation. It also provides a tool for us to talk about during the moments when people really begin to panic. Reminding them that it’s common and necessary doesn’t ease the pain, but it makes the pain more bearable.

The conversations I have with my kids are, of course, a little less heady. But kids require the same kinds of expectation setting so that they can be emotionally prepared for what’s coming next. That applies to little things: I always have to warn them in advance when I’m about to cut a bagel in half and give them each half a bagel instead of a whole one. And it applies to the big things: their nanny, grandmother, father and I talked a lot about what would happen when they started school and developed an entirely new routine. While helping them anticipate what they’re going to experience and potentially feel doesn’t always mean I can help them avoid feeling it, it does leave the door open to helping them make sense of their emotion and, ultimately, get past it. Which means we can spend less time focusing on the emotional cost of an activity and more time doing it.

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