Effectiveness

What Creativity is Not

27 Mar
by Bridget DiCello

Creativity is not having unique and cool ideas that hit you out of the blue on a regular basis.  It doesn’t necessarily have to do with art in its many forms.  Dictionary.com defines it as “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, and interpretations.

Creativity in the professional business realm is firmly rooted in the ability to connect seemingly unrelated information, thoughts, ideas and strategies.  This requires a few key things:

  1. Expectations must be communicated.  If you ask people to be creative, they can interpret that in many ways.  Provide the framework.  Start with describing the situation – not the specific problem to be solved, but the situation – the destination in general terms, the constraints, the history, and the clear objectives.  To do this, you must make sure you do not solve 90% of the problem in this step.  Leave it open enough to allow for creative thought, while providing a framework with immovable constraints, company values and goals not up for debate.
  2. Describe the Creative Process.  If you ask people for ideas, and then don’t use any, tell them they are wrong or that their idea won’t work, you will stop the creativity from flowing.  “Yes, and…” is a good approach.  Explain that you want to brainstorm 100 ideas in 5 different areas.  Tell them what will happen next and how those ideas will be processed.  Involve others as much as possible in the steps of the process and the implementation.  You can elicit more involvement, especially from those you might think are not creative, by creating a safe and predictable place.
  3. Ask Questions to clarify.  The idea that someone puts forth first is rarely their best idea.  They are testing the waters.  If they are shut down, you will never hear the good idea.  Curiously ask them the How, What, When, Where types of questions to better understand their suggestion.  Most of us cannot clearly communicate what is in our head in 30 seconds or less, especially with a creative or unique idea or concept.
  4. Connect the Dots.  If you enter the creative process without ‘the solution’ in your mind, you have a lot better chance of combining seemingly unrelated ideas.  Group words on paper.  Create different categories.  Find multiple ways that different ideas connect.  Don’t jump too quickly to conclusions.  If you need an immediate solution, then have a meeting with your problem solvers and solve the problem.  If you want to stimulate creativity, give it time to grow and ideas to evolve.

No “Buts”

14 Aug
by Bridget DiCello

For the most part, when you are speaking with another individual, it is a good idea to remove the word, “but” entirely from your vocabulary.

You may be complimenting:

That is a great idea, but… [it’s really not a good idea, my way is better].

You may be concerned:

You’re doing a good job, but… [you stink! You are nowhere near good enough.]

You may be angry:

I told you to do this, but… [I wasn’t clear, but I don’t plan to admit it’s my fault].

You may be busy:

I’d love to spend time talking to you, but… [I do not consider what you have to say important].

“But” sends the message that the first half of your statement is insincere. We all say the word, “but” much more than we consciously know.

What to do?

Pause or use the word, “and”. It can make all the difference in the world. Don’t replace “but” with “however.” It softens the blow, but conveys the same harsh message.

When you pause, it also gives you an Opportunity SpaceTM to decide what you will say next, and how best to convey the message to you hope to convey.

The word “and” is inclusive, and while it provides you the opportunity to express your main point, it also allows you to acknowledge the current situation in the first half of your phrase.

You can also add small phrases to soften the delivery of your message such as “I’m wondering…” or “I may be wrong…” or “If I understand you correctly…”

For example,

“That’s a great idea, but what’s it going to cost?”

Instead, try:

“That’s a great idea, and I’m wondering what the cost will be.”

Another example,

You’re doing a good job, but your times are still way off.

Instead, try:

You’re doing a good job at [specific task], and I’m confident you can continue to improve your times.

Just for a day, track how many times you say, “but”. In a factual sentence, it may be very useful. However, in discussions with another person and about another person, it is rarely constructive. Replace “but” with a pause or “and”.

Getting Things Done

28 May
by Bridget DiCello
  • Do you manage your own time well?
  • Do you manage another’s performance successfully?
  • Do you finish projects or is the last 10% a struggle?
  • Is there just too much going on to maintain your focus?

 Commitment and Confidence

With demands from so many different directions, it may seem impossible to stay a course of action and finish anything.  New projects, different priorities and demanding individuals may continually pull you in new directions.

Create the Plan

Typically, even the most organized people fail to plan when they are overwhelmed with the amount they must do.  However, if you invest the time to plan, two important things happen.

  1. You test against reality.  The target date is three weeks from now.  In order to make that happen, we break the project into bite-size steps.  We determine that in order to meet our deadline, we need to complete three steps of the process each week.  Each step takes 10 hours.  Given our other commitments, we test whether or not we do or do not see time to schedule 30 hours each week for this project.  When scheduling the three 10-hour steps, take into account the typical interruptions, emergencies and schedule changes that routinely happen.  Do not ignore your history, or expect history to not repeat itself unless you’ve made significant changes of some sort.
  2. Test your “If…then’s.”  Look at the people involved in the process, the obstacles you expect, the variables that are most ambiguous, and the probable outcomes at each step of the process.  For example, every time you interact with Bradley, he gives you the information you need, but then thinks about it for a few days, and comes back to you with additional valuable and correct data that is important and must be considered.  You know this will take him two or three days from the date of the original conversation.  So, plan for it in the schedule.  “If Bradley is involved, thenhis input will arrive over three days time.”There may be multiple “If…then’s” in each step of the process.  When you know they may or will occur, take them into consideration both in your planning and in your reality checks.

Commit to the Plan

When obstacles come into the picture, don’t be surprised; have a course of action discussed by your project team ahead of time, “When [obstacle] occurs, we will [course of action].” You cannot think of everything, but you can think of a lot of the problems that reoccur.  A majority of issues that occur in any company have occurred at a point in the past in one form or another.  Pay attention to those patterns, plan for them, and commit to moving through them, staying focused on the plan to which you have committed.

Confidence

The main obstacle to getting things done is often not the processes, obstacles or situational factors.   It is the way the people react to what happens.  Confidence is not an egotistical reaction that ignores reality.  It is a determination and perseverance that we can and we will get it done.  It is not a conversation of if we can, but how we will.  There are plenty of excuses why things do not get done, do not get done completely or do not get done to the level of quality they could have.  The fact is that most of us, given our workload, will accept one of those excuses and let a project stop short of its potential.

What are you working on right now that you are ready to give up on?

For what project do you need to create a plan?

Best Meetings – Small Scope, Big Expectations!

10 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

Have you ever been to or led a meeting that ran really long in an effort to make it through the whole agenda?  Or one that ended on time but most agenda items, including the ones you were interested in, were never addressed?

Every time you have several people in a room, you have multiple priorities, opinions, preferences and styles which will ensure that nothing will get done as quickly as you might be able to do alone.  However, the richness of those dynamics is worth the tradeoff, but your expectations must be realistic.

First, you must expect people to want to share their opinions and concerns, and time must be built into the agenda for that to happen.  If they are expected to simply sit and listen, then that must be communicated ahead of time to avoid frustrations.  If you’d like to guide their participation, add specific bullet points to the agenda to do so.

Then, you must define the scope of the meeting to be small enough to realistically be completed.  People like to walk out of a meeting feeling successful.  If your expectation of what you can complete in 45 minutes is always too high, and nothing ever seems to get resolved, your participants will get frustrated and productivity will decrease further.

Consider what you expect to accomplish; then break it into parts.  You wish to discuss Project A.  Project A has many parts.  Maybe the scope of the first meeting is to identify the main parts of the project, the key activities, define the milestones and the responsible people.  The responsible people could get together at a future meeting to discuss their individual accountabilities and timeframes.  Keep the scope manageable within in your meeting timeframe.

Small scope does not mean small expectations.  When you discuss Project A, your expectation may be that it is approached from several new directions, everyone contributes to identifying key activities, each person excitedly accepts a key role and milestones are clearly defined – which is a challenge in many companies.

In order to realize those expectations, they must be communicated prior to the meeting in a written agenda, and possibly an invitation phone call; must be reiterated in the agenda and at the start of the meeting, and revisited throughout the meeting as they are accomplished.

A small scope in no way means that very little will be accomplished.  It simply means that you will do an amazing job of discussing, brainstorming and working on results relating to a small piece of a larger puzzle.

If your meetings appear unproductive, remember Small Scope, BIG Expectations!

When the Conversation is Not over…

16 Mar
by Bridget DiCello

Hey!  Has anyone ever wrapped up a conversation you were not done having?  Have you felt like you were making progress in a discussion only to have the person to whom you were speaking decide the results were good enough and leave?

Results.  A good conversation has great results.  However, you cannot stay in a conversation forever, waiting for those great results to happen.  People wear out.  Some people will talk forever and never get to a solution.  Others will talk for a minute or two and be done discussing a situation.

Personalities.  Depending on which of those descriptions more accurately represents you, you might find yourself either ending a conversation when the person with whom you are speaking is not done, or needing a longer conversation than the other person is willing to tolerate.

If either person in a conversation is not done, that need must be identified and acted upon in order to bring about the long term results that you want.

What to do?

It’s okay to wrap up the conversation if time is up, either person needs to go, or one person is done.

It’s not okay to ignore someone’s need to continue the conversation at a later time.

It is a good idea to take a break if one person needs it, and acknowledge you are doing so in order to ensure productive use of everyone’s time.

It is not a good idea to leave without some type of summary.

It is a good idea to determine next steps for each meeting participant.

First, ensure you start the conversation with a clear goal in mind.  That goal can be referenced to keep the conversation on track, identify next steps, and if needed, determine the need, and the agenda, for a follow up meeting.

Then, when there is either 10% of the meeting left or when one person gets fidgety, start to summarize what has been accomplished, identify any unmet needs and schedule a follow up meeting if needed at a future date.  The steps each person will take before the next meeting, and the agenda for the follow up meeting should both be clearly identified, committed to and agreed upon.

Simply escaping a conversation does not mean it has finished, and could cost you a lot more time in the long run.

A Strength or a Skill? Which is which?

07 Mar
by Bridget DiCello

Janice is a whiz at taking notes, summarizing what happened in a meeting of 20 people going in all directions, and pinpointing not only the most important points, but the action items upon which everyone agreed. Strategically, she asks key questions throughout the meeting to clarify points, expand conversation to alleviate confusion and isolate what needs to be acted upon. Because of her brilliant abilities to do this tough task, Janice is often asked to act in that role.

The problem is, Janice really does not like to take the notes, is worn out by the process and gets bored in that role especially because it prevents her from actively sharing her opinions in the meeting. She is skilled, but taking notes is not her strength.

What is a strength? A strength is something that energizes you.

Think about the times you are excited to be at work, times you really feel full of energy for what you are doing and despite difficulties, you can keep working at a task that is truly challenging. Those are the times you are working with your strengths.

You may not be exceptionally talented in your areas of strength, but the fact is that you are energized by doing the task, by working to get better at it, and have much resilience to push forward.

On the other hand, a skill is something that you are good at doing. Maybe through innate ability, or lots of practice or hard work, you have built up this skill. And it certainly feels good to be successful at something. But, it is not necessarily exciting for you and you don’t look forward to it.

Each individual needs to identify their strengths and pinpoint their skills. Then, the greatest part about a strength is that you are eager to work very hard to get better at it because you enjoy the process. And you have enormous potential to significantly improve your performance in an area of strength. Seize that opportunity and ensure your employees do the same!

Did you ever wonder why difficult conversations occur?

Turning “Yeah, buts…” into “A-ha’s!”

26 Jan
by Bridget DiCello

Does it drive you crazy when you have a good idea, an original approach or a unique solution and the first thing someone can say is, “Yeah, but…”?  It’s time to eliminate those words and turn them into “Yes, and…”

Before we jump ahead, those who routinely offer the, “Yeah, but…” are probably the individuals who ground those of us with wild, crazy and risky ideas.  So, it can be a good balance.  And their caution may be for good reason and may bring up a valid point of view.

First, open your mind to listen to the objection and ask a clarifying question or two.   They say, “Yeah, but what happens when the customer says no?”  You might respond, “Let’s look at that for a moment.  Which customers do you think would most likely respond that way?” and “What is it, do you think, that would make them feel that way?”

Then, address the elephant.  The elephant is the problem or roadblock that is preventing the conversation from continuing in a positive direction in order to explore possibilities.  “I hear your concern, and it’s good to hear why you feel that way.  Now, I’d like to continue exploring my idea a bit more.  Let’s start by looking at the benefits of what’s been suggested.”

Too often, a “Yeah, but…” ends productive discussion because the person who brought up the idea feels shot down, may not continue and may get defensive.  The “Yeah, but…” team member who brought up the objection gets defensive in return.  They get stuck defending themselves because they haven’t been given any credibility and have not been able to explore their concern at all.

When the clarifying questions are asked, the elephant addressed and the original idea explored, both people are more open to the discussion and good things happen.  With both team members engaged in productive conversation, you’re on your way to an “A-ha!”  such as, “A-ha!  I’ve never thought of it that way!  The idea may only apply to the top 20% of our customers, but those are the ones who we’d like to duplicate.  My concern was valid that we’d lose some customers, but if we lose some of the bottom 15%, that may be worth the trade off!  I’m glad we had this discussion.  Let’s do it!”

The Confrontation Conversation

26 Oct
by Bridget DiCello

The Confrontation conversation is dreaded by many because it may appear to start a “fight” that may or may not be necessary.  You may be tempted to “leave well enough alone”.  However, if you are forward looking and have a brighter future in your mind for what is possible, it’s essential.

With that said, start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Do I need to address this issue?  Choose your battles carefully.  A problem ignored can blow up later.  However, nitpicking every detail will wear out a relationship with an employee.
  • Am I the right person to address it?  Is there someone else to whom the employee reports on this issue?  Is there someone who has a better working relationship and is in an appropriate position to address it?
  • Is now the right time to address it?  Are they as open and receptive as they ever will be?  Will waiting let the situation get worse or the impact of the conversation be less?

When you address a situation that you expect to be confrontational, take a moment, which I call the Opportunity Space (the moment between when someone does or says something and you respond) and ask yourself The Three Questions:

  1.  What do I really want to accomplish in the long term?  Keep in mind your long term objectives and don’t be side tracked with emotions in the moment.
  2. Where are they coming from?  Why is it that they are doing the things they are doing?  What is their perspective?
  3. How am I making them feel?  However they are feeling is okay, so avoid telling them not to feel the way they feel.  It’s what they do as a result that can become unacceptable.

If the confrontation goes badly, you might need to take a break and come back and address it when emotions have calmed down.  If the employee gets worked up and emotional, keep in mind it might be a defense mechanism to avoid having the conversation.  In that case, any break taken should be short and have the specific purpose of giving everyone time to calm down and come back to finish the conversation productively.

Getting People Engaged

23 Sep
by Bridget DiCello

Engaged people are those who are interested enough to do something.  Engagement means movement.  Action.

What makes people act?  A desire to act usually comes from a desire to reach something greater than where they are either because of discomfort with the current situation or a vision of what’s possible beyond the current reality.

What does that mean for you in trying to get team members, peers, associates, and employees engaged?  Create an Invitation and find Common Ground.

Create an Invitation:  I’ve heard it often said that people will act because someone asked them to.  Will you help someone who asks?  Will you get involved because someone you trust invites you to?  Will you respond when someone explains what they need you to do?

Too often, people may not get engaged in a process, in planning, in executing and in implementing because it is easier not to.  Easier not to put themselves out on a limb, extend beyond their level of confidence, assume their help or involvement is not needed or assume what they are currently doing is enough.  If you see possibility beyond where your team is currently operating, invite others to see what you see, and ask them for their specific participation.

“You’ve put a lot of time and effort into this.  I appreciate all you’ve done.   I can’t help thinking that we could make it even better if we…  Will you help me by …?”

Find Common Ground:  People act because there is something in it for them.  I don’t mean people are self-centered and selfish.  I mean that each of us operates from our own point of view and when something is exciting, important and valuable to us, we tend to get involved.

Have you ever learned something new or gained more in depth knowledge about a cause, a problem or a challenge, and then decided to get (more) involved?

Finding Common Ground requires that we have a conversation with whomever we are trying to get more engaged.  It means we share some of our passion, and let them respond and determine for themselves what it is they are excited about.  There are often many facets of a project, problem or situation and the specific reason we get excited may not be the same as another person, and yet we both can become avid workers towards the end goal.

“I was thinking about the reason we started working on this project and how exciting it will be when we achieve the goal of…  What is it that you are most excited about?”

Who on your team needs to be more engaged?  Who do you wish would be of more help to you in what you are trying to accomplish?  Have you issued the Invitation and do they see the Common Ground?

The Coaching Conversation

14 Sep
by Bridget DiCello

Coaching is having a series of conversations with an individual in order to help them access their hidden potential to achieve greater levels of success.

-          Bridget M. DiCello

It is essential that you have both “Conversations on the Go” as well as “Undivided Attention Meetings.”  When you see acceptable or unacceptable behaviors, sometimes you need to address them immediately for greatest impact.  Other times you need to get both the employee and yourself focused on their improvement in a planned meeting where you have each other’s undivided attention.  In which meeting you bring up an issue depends on the urgency of the needed change in behavior.  If you wait as an unacceptable behavior continues, your frustration increases as does the employee’s resistance to change – which makes the conversation more difficult when it does occur.

Conversations on the Go:

1.  You bring up the unacceptable behavior and get them talking.
“I’m concerned about… because…  What Happened?”

2.  Then you talk.  Explain current unacceptable behaviors describing them specifically.  “Your bad attitude” and “your lack of initiative” are not specific behaviors.

3.  Get commitment to precise, doable action from the employee.

4.  Determine a follow up date – it may be your monthly meeting with them.

Undivided Attention Meetings – Monthly meeting where each of your direct reports prepares for and attends a meeting with you.

This is not about how you can help them or what they think you or the company could do differently.  This is about them reporting on their progress and challenges.

According to set agenda both you and they have prior to the meeting:

1.   They report their successes first – according to goals you have set

2.  They report on set metrics, projects, goals, status

3.  They identify the areas where they have fallen short and what they will do differently.

4.  You compliment them on successes you’ve seen

5.  You comment on their performance that can be improved. (using specific examples of unacceptable and acceptable behaviors.)

6.  Get commitment to precise, do-able and measurable action.  Help them come up with action items and strategies.  This is not easy and may take time.  Dig in and really find a do-able action.  Use Clarifying Questions like, “Can you give me an example?” and “Can you be more specific?” and “What have you tried in the past?”  Watch for Smokescreens and Tangents. 

7.  Determine a follow-up date and follow-up.

The only way you can help your team to really access their potential and therefore move your team to a higher level of performance is if you coach them.  Even the best employees need your coaching.  Michael Jordan had a coach who pushed him to excel!

 

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