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Posts Tagged ‘Managing Expectations’

As I reflected on the past year over my long staycation, what struck me most was that I’m entering 2009 in the same work/life situation as I entered 2008. I was a little surprised. At first, I worried that I’d made no progress in the past year. But after thinking about it for a while, I realized that things aren’t exactly the same. While technically my situation is the same, my attitude about it has changed, and that does make a difference.

As someone who agitates for things to look and feel different, it’s a big deal to shift to a mindset where growth doesn’t always mean that you’ve changed a situation, but it can mean that you’ve changed your response to the situation.

Happy New Year, readers! More soon.

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If you’ve ever read anything about giving feedback at work, you know that we all should be giving more of it. In particular, we should all be giving more positive feedback. And we should be giving more concrete feedback, to help people really understand what they’re good at and know exactly what they can do to get better.

But if you’re a regular person, while you most likely try to give more and better feedback, you probably don’t always hit the mark. Why is it so much easier to give specific comments when someone has messed up than when they’ve succeeded? I say, ‘the title of this slide doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t capture the main point?’ or, even better, ‘this diagram is confusing because of these three things.’ And when I like someones work, what are they likely to hear? ‘Great job! I love this!’

It’s no wonder our people aren’t growing as fast as we’d like, or aren’t as satisfied in their jobs as they’d like to be.

Yesterday, Monkey #2 gave me some very specific feedback. He was sitting on the potty, deep in thought, when he announced, ‘Mommy, I love it when you take us a bath.’  Tired, responding to the spirit of the comment if not his exact words, I replied, ‘I love you too, honey.’ ‘No, Mommy,’ he insisted, ‘I love it when you take us a bath.’

So there. This was not some general ‘great job’ but a concrete, specific piece of feedback intended, I’m sure, to make sure that I continue giving him his baths. And guess who ‘took’ him a bath tonight?

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If you search for women and domestic life and overwhelmed on Istockphoto you get a bunch of stereotypical parenting images. Like this one.  Funny.

Or Sad.

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It’s critical for your sanity and for the sake of work actually getting done to establish clear boundaries for the home office. This pertains to space – where is your workspace and who is allowed access to it – and to when you’re ‘at the office’ and when you’re ‘at home.’

I’ve highly recommend having a dedicated workspace, whether it’s a desk, an alcove, or an actual room. Right now, I’m lucky enough to have a room, with a door that closes. The monkeys, Mr. Daddy, and our former nannies all know that if the door to my office was closed, they should act like I’m not home. Even when I didn’t have a door to close, I made it clear to everyone in the house that when I was ‘at work’ – sitting at my desk – I was unavailable.

I never really have had auditory privacy, which means I know what’s going on in the house even when I’m at work.  Sometimes I would hear stuff going on and help out, especially when the monkeys were tiny babies. But I found that as they got older, it became really hard for them to see me pop in and out of their day but not have me to play with. So it was better for them and for me that when I’m working, I’m working and when I’m done, I’m done. When they’re home while I’m at work, I keep water and snacks nearby so they don’t have to see me while I’m working.

One thing I’m less good at is evening boundaries for when I’m at home. It’s almost impossible not to dip in and out of email in the evenings to see what’s up in my West Coast office. Ideally, I’d cut that out and make the boundaries even more sharp – perhaps by setting aside 15-20 min to check and respond to email once in the evening so I can have some regular down time. But I haven’t quite gotten there yet. It’s a work in progress.

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A colleague of mine had a former life in community organizing and development. In that role, he spent much of his time running meetings and getting organizations with various agendas to cooperate for the greater good of the community. He is an expert facilitator and one of the best people I know at working an idea through an organization.

One of the things I’ve learned from him is to pre-wire my meetings. He’s taught me when I need to get buy-in for an idea from a management team, I should make sure that all the players are on board with the message before we meet about it. 

Typically, if you have an idea you gather the group that needs to hear it to discuss it. But I’m sure you’ve all been in meetings where new ideas are met with resistance, fear, territoriality, and suspicion. All of which can be great responses to strengthen the idea and push it forward. But if all those issues come up in a public setting, the idea is more likely to get killed than adopted.

Pre-wiring the meeting involves meeting with stakeholders as individuals before you meet with them as a group, to hear and respond to objections in private. With those conversations out of the way, the idea has a chance of succeeding in the meeting. Instead of a heated debate, the meeting can provide an opportunity for consensus, collaboration, and moving forward.

It’s true that the presentation of insights loses some of it’s ‘wow’ factor if many people in the room have heard the findings before. But in exchange for drama, you’re more likely to walk out of the room with action and implementation. A worthwhile trade-off, I assure you.

I also use my colleague’s advice to manage the monkey’s expectations. Toddlers respond well to routine, so we use consistency of routine to do a lot of our expectation setting. They know what’s going to happen next, because it always happens next, and I don’t have to say anything. But there are, of course, times when we can’t or don’t follow the routine. Special activities or holidays come up or I get completely bored and we do something out of the ordinary.

When I know we’re going to break the monkeys’ routine, I ‘pre-wire’ them, setting expectations about what’s going to happen long before it happens.

A few weeks ago, my parent’s came in town for Passover. I was thrilled about hosting a Seder, but a little anxious about how the under 3 crowd would handle the long ceremonial meal. I started talking it up about two weeks before the night. ‘Nana and Far Far are coming and we’re going to have a special meal. We’ll sit around the table together and read and sing songs and tell stories’. Getting them excited about some of their favorite activities really worked. In addition to talking about it, we started singing some traditional Seder songs together. And they were into it. Between setting their expectations and incorporating some toddler friendly activities into the Seder, we got the monkeys and a friend to sit through about 1/2 an hour of ceremony at 6 PM. A major triumph.

I also pre-wire them to get them excited about things I’m excited about, so that an activity is actually likely to be fun for all of us. Tonight we made pizzas for dinner. The monkeys love to help me cook, so I knew that they would be into the activity. But I wanted to make sure we had a whine-free evening, with lots of participation. So I started talking it up early this morning, singing Louis Prima songs and telling the monkeys we would turn the house into a Pizzariea for dinner. Their excitement helped get them motivated to come with me to buy a new rolling pin and helped me get them to leave the park to come home to make dinner. And not only did they help me cook, they ate their pizza and salad.

I’m always a little bit surprised when I see such similarities between my toddlers and adults in the business world. But it shouldn’t be that surprising. At our core, we’re all creatures of habit. Breaks from the routine can be scary and intimidating to two-year-olds. And trying a new idea, or agreeing to a new way of doing things, can be scary and intimidating to adults. Giving everyone a chance to respond to an idea in private, and time to get used to it, can go a long ways towards reassuring this anxiety. And that can turn Seder, pizza night, or an imporant meeting from a whine-fest into a successful event.

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