Trust++

The importance of trust and the impact your actions have on the relationship between yourself and your co-workers is something I’ve written a fair bit about in the past. Taking this a little bit further (cause when am I satisfied leaving a topic 110% beaten to death… #email) I wanted to talk about the more nebulous “how” of trust establishment.

There are a hundred and one articles written on trust and trust establishment all over the internet (It might be closer to 270M actually, based on google’s results at the time of writing). I read about half of those while I was trying to figure out what I should be including in this particular blog post. It’s funny how as you start going through all of them they all kind of blur together and end up saying basically the same thing:

Do what you say, and say what you intend to do.

or even as vague as

Be trustworthy.

Good one internet … good one…

Once you get past the euphoria of drinking from the well of infinite knowledge that is “The internet”, you might end up feeling a little empty. I know I did. I knew that this was something that isn’t just a simple “A and then B” scenario or a checklist you can follow, but something a bit more fluid, something that requires a particular finesse, something that can’t really be taught. Or can it?

The same types of ideas all crossed my mind when I was thinking about developing the feedback approach I’ve written about on multiple occasions, or even the “If no one is looking are you still a leader” article, and many of the same concepts begin to show themselves.

You can come back to the same Simon Sinek quote regarding trust and how

Simply doing everything you’ve said you’re going to do doesn’t mean people are going to trust you, it simply means you’re reliable.

We all have an inherent feeling of what trust is. We all sort of collectively agree on what things do and don’t constitute being trustworthy, and yet so often there are situations, in both social and business settings that result in two parties completely missing the boat on each other and ending up feeling like they were completely let down. Resulting in the exact opposite of what you wanted.

In an attempt to prevent this exact situation from coming about, I pitched the idea of pulling together other people’s approaches from the internet and instead focused on the types of things I do on a regular basis. I ended up landing on a simple set of three progressively more intimate activities that (generally) lead to a trusting and balanced foundation for my work relationships.

I wondered if codifying these activities would make it feel like my behaviour was no longer genuine, or if by applying a formula it cheapened the relationships I had already established. I eventually decided that no, it wouldn’t / it wasn’t. Firstly, I didn’t even realize there was a method to my madness while developing these thoughts, and secondly, the spirit of what I was doing was still rooted in a genuine desire to do the right thing and create a bond between myself and the people I work with / for.

When you break it all right down, I’ve found that most of this is based on establishing positive communication and following through on expectations. Easy right? I think so, here’s the A, B, Cs and 1, 2, 3s of trust establishment as I see it:

Giving

Creating a connection with someone founded on trust when you’ve just been introduced to  them isn’t often the first thing we think about. Typically this takes time, effort, and energy to make something happen. If the relationship you’re looking to cultivate is work-based well now you’ve added the complexity of a mandatory or imposed set of restrictions on top of the usual social challenges. Luckily, there are some things you can do to facilitate this entire process.

One of the first things I look to do when conducting that first meeting is look for an opportunity to provide something to the other person. It doesn’t matter terribly what it is so long as it’s genuinely given and comes with no expectation of anything in return. The monetary value of the thing isn’t really important, and more often than not I’m actually looking to give something with little to no value. An idea, for example, a cool website I frequent, the location of a great restaurant, some knowledge of a work related process which the individual isn’t aware of are all good examples. The actual thing matters less than the fact that you provide it and provide it in a timely manner. This is where ‘say what you do and do what you say’ kind of matters. The most important thing in my mind is that you aren’t responding to a request, but instead responding to a need they weren’t aware was even there.

To further demonstrate this point, I wanted to link this youtube video I was introduced to by a colleague and found some of the points they made particularly relevant to this discussion (take note of the waiter example provided early on in this video):

Responding

The next two points are a bit more esoteric in terms of how to go about accomplishing them. My hope is that once you’ve been armed with the knowledge of their existence, you can anticipate what it is you should be doing and more readily deal with the situations that require them.

It may not be right away, it might come at a funny hour of the day, or it might come at a time when you’re absolutely slammed at work. Whenever the time, there will be a point in your newly fostered connection with someone that they’re going to need something. I’ve found that time and time again, one of the best things you can do to dramatically increase the level of trust someone puts in you, is respond to these requests as immediately as humanly possible.

There’s the old saying about first impressions which I’m sure you’re all aware of, and it holds true here as well. There’s a dramatic difference in the perceptions people have of you when you ensure you’re available to respond to this very first request in a timely manner. Keep in mind, this isn’t to say you need to solve whatever problem they’re bringing to your attention, or immediately write them a research paper they’ve asked you to provide, or what have you. The simple act of responding (quickly) to the request triggers a powerful, positive response in the person who sent it.

Your team member is providing you with an opportunity here to prove yourself, don’t waste it! Really this comes down to you sending the message to them: “You’re important and I want you to know that I’m interested, invested, and prepared to support you when you ask for it.”

Anticipating

This last point really relies on your ability to actively listen, and more importantly, remember. Dale Carnegie has been quoted many times for saying:

There is no sweeter sound to any person’s ear than the sound of their own name …

While I agree with the sentiment, I also think that there is no sweeter food for the soul than to know someone is thinking about you when you aren’t with them. As a leader of any kind, proving to your team that you’re thinking about them even when you aren’t together is one of the most noble things you can do to prove their value to you.

The next time you get together with a member of your team, prepare something you know they’ll need or appreciate even before they’ve asked for it. The equity you’ll gain through this one, potentially small, act will pay dividends for a very long time. Sure this could all be written off as some ramblings of a nerd waxing poetic, but time and time again I’ve seen a discernible difference in the depth of trust you can develop in relationships both inside and outside of the workplace.

Michael Lopp has a fantastic discussion about active listening and giving some of his most precious commodity (time) to his team. Focusing on this basically free technique to connect with his people allows him to keep his fingers on the pulse of what they need, often before they know it themselves (it can be found here). I love the premise of his 1:1s. I especially like how dedicated he is to keeping his commitment to his team to meet. Honestly, if you don’t give your people the chance to connect with you, when did you expect it to happen? Oh, maybe during that annual meeting you scheduled to divulge upon them some sacred knowledge related to their performance that they weren’t aware of already … *cough* no … that’s not likely… but, I digress.

The point here is that the initial building blocks of trust can be laid down early and fairly easily, but it’s the continued commitment to proving yourself worthy of someone else’s trust on a regular basis that really allows you to level up.

Take the time to find opportunities to give your team something they’ve told you they need, respond to their requests promptly, and commit yourself to anticipating and positioning yourself to support them before they even know they need it. That’s where the real trust is built, the rest of it is just proving you’re reliable.

 

Speedy DELIVERy

Last week I took advantage of a pretty cool opportunity…

A few months ago I had submitted an idea for a talk to a local conference called PrDCDeliver. It’s the touchier, feel-ier, leader-ier side of another local technical conference (PrDC – Prairie Dev Con) that runs in my city every spring.

As with most things it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and being a friend of the conference organizer, I secured a spot “delivering” (see what I did there) a talk on Inspiring Team Growth Through Meaningful Feedback (you can download the presentation slides here). I’d like to think the presentation abstract I submitted had something to do with it, but who knows.

presenting
Pardon the graininess the room was definitely rocking mood lighting

Despite being a topic I’m more than familiar with (Post #1 Post #2), I had a fantastic support group backing me up in the weeks leading up to the conference.

While I’ve spoken at events before, I’ve never had an opportunity to speak to:

  1. A local audience
    It really changes things when you may never see the attendees ever again
  2. A group of IT Professionals
    Who can be an extremely critical audience (which is both good and bad)

… so I knew I had to bring my A game.

Thankfully, some of the fantastic nerds I work with offered to sit through a few dry runs of my content and offer up some feedback of their own. After three increasingly-polished attempts I felt as though I had refined a talk I had presented 5 or 6 times in the past into something of which I was much more proud.

Slides were scrapped, ideas were thrown out, jokes were dad-ified, and tons and tons of words were trimmed from the original version I had used multiple times in the past. In the end I produced the deck linked above and it was thanks to the efforts of that support group (thanks again @adamkrieger and the rest of you – who don’t have blogs I’m pretty sure)

The feedback I got on the talk was generally pretty damn good. Most of the attendees who submitted a few things that could still be improved, naturally, but that’s the benefit of putting your ideas out there … People can look at it, critique it, and generally tear you a new one without fear, cause hell, they don’t know you. The trick is, take what you learned and get better.

Here is a link to download the slides I presented at the conference

I’m leaving them just as they were presented at Deliver and I’m not going to edit them or update them as I think they represent a moment in time, just the way the blog posts I linked above do as well.

If you end up grabbing a copy, let me know what you think, I’m interested in gathering up some more feedback and continuing to iterate on something I’d like to continue to present about in the future.

Thanks for the read!

 

No one is looking, are you still a leader?

Firstly, I’m going to intentionally misquote Mark Twain here and tell you that “the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated”.

Secondly, Lets kick off the first post of 2016 with a quote Simon Sinek delivered during his First Why and Then Trust TED Talk (one of my favorites).

Leaders reminds us of why we’re here in the first place, they remind us why we came here. Authority tells us what to do and what goal to achieve…

Simon Sinek

When we talk about leadership, or leading people, or really just people in general, we’re dealing with a huge topic. When you consider the quote above, however, there’s a certain clarity that’s achieved in that one of the statements feels obviously like a goal and the other does not.

Here’s another quote, this one from my wife:

The person you really are is how you behave when no one is looking.

– My Wife

I love that last one especially. It just has this immediate resonance. You read it and immediately either sympathize or completely reject the notion (hopefully not the latter?). I think it can also be paraphrased to say that:

The type of leader you are is how you act whether or not your team is looking.

– No one (I literally am making this up as I go)

Unfortunately, there’s no checklist of things that can be followed in order, or some kind of habitual set of patterns you can apply to any or all team-based situations. You just can’t. It’s about individuals. Each one of them has their own “night-befores”, their “kids with colds”, their personal goals, and their own ambitions. You have to take into account that all these individuals are often representing just one of the facets of a team and then add to that the emotional intricacies that make up that team’s unique dynamic.

That’s a challenge for sure. How do you reconcile the delta (i.e. the gap) between applying cookie cutter management principles in real-life situations that are only marginally applicable, and devoting yourself to becoming completely invested in the outcome of every single interaction you have with your team? The latter would completely encompass your life and the former would make you feel like an automaton. I believe there’s got to be a happy medium. Some way of making those you work with feel comfortable without destroying your ability to do the other parts of your job.

Any leader will attest to considering a million different variables at any given opportunity you have to interact with the people with whom you share a work space. There are behavioral heuristics and habits that will support your ability to succeed here for sure, but which ones are relevant and when? Everyone has their own take on what a “good” leader is. While this is a topic that I’m passionate about, I don’t consider myself to be an authority by any means, I’m just a dedicated learner trying to pick up the good habits and drop as many of the bad ones as I can.

Part of our reality is that we’re working in a world that’s even more connected now than ever. Your work day may be 9-5 but do your colleagues expect you to completely disappear after you proverbially “punch out”. You’re dealing with a double edged sword in that the number of chances you have to rise up are ever increasing while at the same time the frequency with which you can be required to rise up are also commensurately increasing. So even now, when no one is looking, are you still a leader?

Consider another quote from Simon’s Ted Talk:

The survival of the human race is fundamentally based on the ability for each of us to surround ourselves with people who believe what we believe. When we’re surrounded by people who believe what we believe, something remarkable happens … trust emerges. Make no mistake of it, trust is a feeling, a distinctly human experience. Simply doing everything you’ve said you’re going to do doesn’t mean people are going to trust you it simply means you’re reliable. Our very survival depends on our ability to surround ourselves by people who believe what we believe

… We are more confident to take risks
… more confident to experiment (which requires failure by the way)
… more confident to go off and explore explore

Simon Sinek

And here we are back at Trust once again … granted we’re back based on another quote by Simon (see my other post for context), but still, I think it’s relevant. Especially since the other day I was asked a “pointy” question while out for coffee with a colleague:

What do you do when you are starting out with a new team (or project)?

Now that’s a biggie for sure…

See, everyone has their opinion on what qualities make a good leader both as a team member or as a leader themselves. Thinking about it, I could have copped out and said “Just be yourself” but then what kind of a leader would I have been in that scenario? That was rhetorical; I’d have basically been leaving him out to dry. He wasn’t asking for a pep talk – he was asking for a strategy. Dropping a top 10 list on him without any real grounds for action wouldn’t be helpful either (those usually fall back into pep talk territory).

I know I have a tendency to go on just a little bit (maybe more than a little bit), so let me get right down to it. Keep in mind my response was geared towards a software team, but I think most of the answers hold true in other industries as well.

Here is what I said:

First and foremost, you can’t tell people what/who you are or aren’t. Behave in a way that you want to be perceived (even when no one is looking) and people will understand what’s up. Your actions are pretty much the only thing that will define your team’s perceptions of you.

Period.

2

There’s a corollary here in that I believe you should jump at every opportunity to prove to your team that you are trustworthy. I think Simon would agree, no? A year or so ago I was preparing to speak in front of something like 300 prospective computer science applicants who were currently in high school. My co-presenter and I were creating some slides including one with some descriptions of who we were. I remember editing his content specifically removing “all-around-fun-guy” from the description and telling him:
“<Name>, if you have to tell people you’re a fun guy, you most definitely aren’t.”

At the start of a project you need to be confident enough such that your team believes, “Hey, this guy has got this. Whatever I need, he’ll take care of it”. Demonstrating your uncertainty or making a mistake may be okay in the future, but especially when everyone is getting used to the new dynamic it’s especially important to crush it. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have all the answers, but it does imply that you maintain a cool head and start proving to them who you really are and what you are about. This can literally imply that you keep your mouth closed a good portion of the day, but there’s two reasons for that:

  1. Listening is the best way to get to know the dynamic of what’s going on in the team
  2. That old saying about keeping your mouth closed and having someone suspect you’re an idiot or opening it and proving it to them.

You’re in the role you’re in for a reason. Take some time and feel out what’s up before flapping your lips and throwing your weight around. Granted it may be the project you’re joining is in trouble and they’re looking for some fast or direct guidance, however even then you can trust that the team you’re on has many of the answers you need – you just need to listen to hear them.

Now, it seems like it should be obvious, but it’s important to quickly recognize and come to terms with the fact that your team members will potentially deliver things in a different way than you would. You need to deal. No one likes a micro-manager, not you and not your team. So don’t, just don’t. Acknowledge that everyone will bring something different to the table and that’s a really great thing. Embrace it. Like the A-Team (#datingmyself), having specialists in different areas while still maintaining a consistent level of skill across the board makes for a great environment for everyone involved – and a great environment for collective improvement.

Your decisions should always be made with the project’s success in mind. “What?”, you say, “Put the project’s needs ahead of the team’s?”. Well no, not at all. When I talk about the project I’m talking about every aspect of it. Defining what makes a successful project is a difficult thing not only for a client, but for companies as well. Is turning a profit enough of a factor to claim a project was a success? If the project comes in over budget is that still true? What about over time/deadlines? Whatever the group determines is the basis for a successful delivery should be used to guide the decisions to make throughout the project life-cycle. Furthermore, if you don’t know how to define success, that’s probably something you want to sort out sooner rather than later.

This all leads me to “Do it first and be recognized for it afterwards”. One of the tenets I strongly stand behind is that aptitude is a fantastic metric to use for hiring, but not for advancement. Either someone has done something, or they haven’t. It’s up to their leaders / managers / executives / whatever to provide them with the engagements they need to prove their capabilities, and not just talk about their aptitude. It would be a disservice to someone who possessed an incredible amount of aptitude if they were promoted without the opportunity to demonstrate it. In my experience, really great people don’t want their accomplishments cheapened by promoting them before they’ve had a chance to reveal their prowess and be properly recognized for it. Your job is to help provide them with that chance.

3

Everything mentioned here is leading you towards the ability to empower your team and have them feel like you trust them as much as they (should) trust you. Lots of these ideas stem from the Lead People, Manage Expectations post I had done last year, but it’s all still relevant and it all paints a bigger picture. The team will rally behind someone that has their back and their best interest at heart, especially if you never ask them to do something you wouldn’t personally do (again, prove this to them – point #3 in the post linked above).

So with that lengthy and wordy diatribe we’ll end this round of discussion and head back to our respective desks, hopefully feeling a bit more enlightened and ready to face the challenges ahead.

Sometimes writing this stuff down acts to give me a bit of clarity as well, so thanks to everyone who reads … you guy’s give me a reason to keep writing…

a reason to stay motivated …

even when no-one is looking.

#ProjectSnowfall

This is a post I couldn’t imagine I’d be writing when I first came up with the name Project Snowfall. It was sometime mid-2014 and at that point end-of-the-year-2015 seemed like forever away. Also, I wouldn’t have started this blog for almost another full year. The sheer number of things I’d have to learn, refine, and eventually, become proficient in hadn’t really dawned on me at that point. I knew I wanted to do something I’d never even come close to doing before. Like most of the things that I’ve accomplished that started off in the same category … 

I jumped in with both feet…  plugged my nose …and ended up way over my head, barely treading water (Luckily I had help). 

For those of you that know me, this will come as no surprise, but for the rest of you … I have a tendency to get into stuff. Hobbies are never just interests, but rather more like a set of sequential obsessions. I’m never in half-way. It’s either a soul-encompassing-full-tilt-dedication-to-every-detail, or it’s a passing interest I’m never too invested in.

After a little more than a year and a half of effort, the results of my most recent of obsessions was about to be put on display for a group of roughly 200 people.

The plan was simple.

Every year my company puts on a Holiday Party for the 120-ish staff and their guests at a really nice hotel. Every year the MC’s at the party stand up, tell a few jokes or stories, and generally move the party along with your more typical corporate event type fare. This year, Brian and I were going to change that. Rather than kick off the night with some awkward (yet naturally charming) banter between the two of us, we were going to create a short film documenting our preparation for the big night and finally our arrival at the hotel (think Billy Crystal’s entrance videos at the Oscars). 

Here’s my memory of how that all went down just a week or so ago…. 

I’d been pacing back and forth in a too-small hotel room for the past two hours when my co-master-of-ceremonies-and-general-partner-in-crime (Brian McKay) and I looked at each other and knew it was go-time.

Photo 2015-12-05, 5 36 46 PM
Brian and I moments before leaving the hotel room – It’s Go Time!

We received simultaneous text messages from our company’s head of marketing as well as my wife saying the audience was almost ready for us. The gears were turning and there was no stopping the machine at this point.

There’s no describing the feeling I had as I walked down the hallways of the Hotel Fort Garry, up the stairs to the 7th floor, and then waited in the overly-decorated hallway outside the grand ballroom.

It was a moment I’d planned for over a year and a half ago.

It’s that feeling you get when you realize you’ve put so much of yourself into a piece of work and it is about to be well and truly judged. It becomes less about your work at that point and more about all the pieces of yourself  you’ve invested that are actually being evaluated. Sure, we’d run all of our ideas past our families, but were they actually any good? Would this mixed group of colleagues, friends, and strangers have an appreciation for everything that went into making this whole thing possible?

I read an article once that drew a comparison between a software developer’s code and their own intelligence / insight into the workings of their mind. The author was trying to reason out why developers are so hesitant in sharing their code / admitting to flaws / what-have-you. At the time I actually quite enjoyed the article, but now that I have some understanding of the more traditionally artistic side of this equation, opening your code to review / criticism feels trivial by comparison.

If you’ll allow me to wax poetic for just a moment, sharing your art is more like sharing a small part of who you are and not only your mind. It feels deeply personal – or at least it did to me anyway.

It’s a commonly quoted statistic that the number one fear most people have is public speaking (it’s not by the way – apparently that one is closer to #13, who knew?).  Yet there I was, about to stand in front of 200 people, on stage, telling a few jokes Brian and I had worked out a couple of days earlier, and I wasn’t even remotely worried about it. The 15 minutes preceding our arrival on stage, however, now that was scary.

Looking through a small section of beveled glass in a pair of french doors, I only had a partially distorted view of the room inside. Two of the executives from our company were on stage welcoming everyone to the holiday party. They spoke for a few minutes, toasted the employees in the room for their hard work throughout the year, and then explained to the crowd there would be a short movie presented before the rest of the night got underway. Not even the two of them knew what Brian and I had in store (they had asked not to review it prior to the party so they could enjoy it at the same time as everyone else #awesome #trust).

The lights in the grand ballroom went down further, the projector I had carefully set up a few hours earlier glowed brightly with the all-too-familiar frame of Windows Media Player taking up most of the screen. The screen blackened … and then sparked back to life with images of myself nervously flipping through a phony set of notes I was pretending to need for the rest of that evening’s festivities.

Below is what Brian and I had worked so hard on over the past 18 months. It was the culmination of days and days of planning, weeks of filming, and literally hundreds of hours of editing (major props to BMac’s proficiency with FCPX).

<< the video was muted by youtube due to copyright infringement – because of the audio tracks we used.  I’m looking for an alternate way to share the video without causing a similar issue – stay tuned>>

Let me add here that if I never have to hear the first minute of Uptown Funk ever again it would be too soon (#ISaidHundredsOfHoursOfEdits)

We could hear dull thumping through the doors as the music started up and … the room felt …

Silent.

Standing in the hallway Brian and I couldn’t hear a thing going on inside the room. For all the feigned nervousness we had scripted into the short film, we were now dealing with the impending reality of having an answer to the question:

What if nobody likes it?

The next 4 minutes are a complete blank in my mind. Rather than pacing around the hotel room, we basically stood on one foot or the other waiting for some kind of positive acknowledgement of our efforts. Finally, the following image came on the screen and we could hear the audience erupt into loud and genuine applause. It was at that moment Brian and I finally released the breath we didn’t realize we were holding.

theplan.png
“The Plan”

The mural above was graciously hand-drawn by a super talented co-worker of ours (Arik Petrov) and we are so fortunate to have had his support in the planning and execution of this wacky art piece. As it turns out, it was crucial to the success of the entire montage which culminated in this detailed mural being visible for only a few (extremely important) frames.

#SpoilerAlert (stop reading if you haven’t watched the video)

By the time Brian shows up in the dress we were both feeling pretty confident people were digging what we’d put together and at the very least we didn’t need to be embarrassed when we walked in.

The timing was perfect, the end of the film faded to black … Brian and I strutted confidently up to the doors of the ballroom … turned the handles … and found ourselves … locked out.

Lucky for us the goofy feel the rest of the movie had left the entire room laughing along with us only we didn’t realize how well this “gag” was going over until afterwards. Two of our colleagues tried opening the doors from the inside but they were locked from that direction as well (#firehazzard).

Thinking quickly we darted around to the back doors of the ballroom and were greeted with an amazing response. Roaring applause and a full-on standing ovation left me humbled and positively grinning from ear-to-ear. I was high on that moment for at least the next two days (OK, so maybe I’m still just a bit pumped about it :)).

Being recognized for something great is always a good thing. Being recognized for something you invested an emotional part of yourself towards completing is nothing short of incredible. The non-stop barrage of congratulatory messages, back-patting, and general kudos has been phenomenal, and at the risk of repeating myself, incredibly humbling.

With the big unveiling finally behind me, I’m glad I can consider this whole thing called ProjectSnowfall a huge success, move forward armed with the new skills and knowledge I acquired during the production, and start keeping my eyes open for my next big obsession.

Direction Sense

First off, sorry this post was so late. #LifeHappens

I wanted to start this post with a question I drop around the house … a lotYou know what the problem is?

I’m sure my wife thought the name of this blog was initially going to be You know what the problem is? (that’s a far cry from Zen of Zero #paynoattentiontothemanbehindthecurtain). She’s affectionately mentioned (more than once or twice) that I need to write a book where every page is a different thing that frustrates me to which I obviously have a clear, effective, and concise solution.

I haven’t gotten around to actually writing that book, so I’ll just pose the question again, this time to all of you:

You know what the problem is?

Well, I suppose you have your own ideas (we should collaborate on that book by the way) but I’m thinking about all those times you’ve been asked for something without being given any real direction regarding what’s expected of you. Think about how many times you’ve worked through something and then ended up getting feedback like:

You’re close, but that’s not quite it

or

Less of what you’ve got there and more “something else”

It’s the worst, right? I agree.

There are going to be many times you’re working on a project and someone isn’t quite sure what needs to be done, but they’re engaged and working with you to accomplish a common goal. That’s ok, in fact, it gives me the warm and fuzzies. However, it’s the times you’re left adrift without a paddle and no idea which way is up that become especially frustrating.

It would be nice to hit the ground sprinting every day, wouldn’t it? Come in, have a clear understanding of what it is that needs doing and off you go. The challenge most of us savor in our day-to-day comes not from an attempt to divine what someone else needs, but instead from our ability to use our creativity to solve an issue that’s been revealed to us (if only it could be this clear every day).

orienteering

As a leader, there’s a balance between providing enough information to know what direction someone is supposed to move in and, at the same time, allowing enough freedom for someone to figure out exactly how they’re going to get there. It’s the reason why orienteering is fun and following the instructions from a GPS is annoying (albeit sometimes necessary). You can draw a similar comparison between providing guidance and straight up micromanaging your team.

Focusing your communication on providing clarity with regards to your goals (not solutions) and really just knowing what you want done is paramount. It feels like a simple thing (knowing what you want), but its critically important to the confidence your team will have in you and the resulting benefits to their efficacy. To pull a quote from the book Scaling Up:

We have the answers, all the answers; it’s the questions we do not know

I recently had an opportunity to work with a co-worker with whom I don’t normally collaborate. In all honesty I was looking forward to it. This guy is known to be a real performer and knows how to get things done. He is a complete ass-kicker when it comes to getting results and consistently delivers great work for us. Who wouldn’t be excited to have a chance to work with someone like that, right? The scope of the work was right in the sweet spot, come up with some prelim ideas for implementing a solution, contrast a few different approaches, and suggest a potential way forward. I love this stuff!

So off I go to get started. We have some napkin-level-of-detail discussions to get going and eventually I realize I need to find out:

Am I supposed to provide level of detail A, or level of detail B for this effort?

After some failed attempts to get additional information I was left with no clear understanding of either the content I was supposed to be providing, or the format in which it should be provided. Not exactly a shining moment.

The biggest issue I was dealing with had nothing to do with development or arch. The question I needed an answer to was more about understanding how I’m supposed to deliver the content and not what the content was (as it turns out, that was also unclear, but I digress…)

I was sitting on the other side of the table. I was in the shoes of any frustrated colleague I’ve worked with over the past little while. Most importantly, I was being provided with some reinforcement in terms of the types of things that I do, and don’t want to do when I’m running a project of my own. I wouldn’t allow the blame to fall at the feet of anyone other than myself when it comes to work I’m supposed to be doing, however, sometimes the feeling of uncertainty or the lack of clarity that I was feeling on this particular project is the exact kind of thing I strive to remove when I’m working in a more typical role as a lead or architect.

As an aside, the most frustrating piece of the entire engagement wasn’t that I was a bit lost trying to figure out what I was going to deliver, but rather that my deliverables were eventually tossed out never to be seen again by anyone.

Solving problems is the fun part of my job, it’s the reason why I get up and go to work every day. However, the challenge of solving those problems needs to start with an understanding of the problem I’m trying to solve. Furthermore, when I’m leading a team, making sure that the people on my team know what they’re supposed to be doing on a day-to-day basis or that as many obstacles as possible are removed from the front of them is kind of the only thing that matters when it comes to the value I’m delivering.

  1. Telling people what you want in enough detail to give them a strong sense of direction

    and

  2. Providing so much detail that you completely hamstring their ability to flex their creative muscles and, you know, actually enjoy the work they’re doing.

Balancing this level of direction isn’t really all that challenging per se if you have the right people working on the right projects. Aligning those two things is a really key factor in any project’s success; take the best ruby developer you’ve got and force them to work on a Java project without support and see how that goes (answer: not good – if that wasn’t abundantly clear).

threethings

So, back to that question: You know what the problem is?

It’s some combination of…

People are too busy to properly delegate …

People don’t actually know what it is they want…

and

People haven’t been given enough direction themselves to know what it is they’re supposed to be asking for.

I say that we, as a group of proactive, engaged, and supportive leaders, we collectively try and change these trends, shall we?

Let’s start with a few simple tricks to keep us on the right track:

  1. Understand and track your capacity to take on additional work (Inbox Zero Shout-Out)
  2. Make sure you have an understanding of what it is you’re trying to get accomplished before you bring other people on-board
  3. Clarify when you need additional direction before simply agreeing to complete some nebulous task

To paraphrase the great Louis C.K.

Of course!

Of course I would get clarification before starting … of course I would have a good idea of my goals before I was floundering around in the dark … of course I would only accept new work when I wasn’t bogged down with 100 other things… of course…

but … but maybe … Maybe since the opposite of all these things happens on such a frequent basis we’re back in the familiar realm of common sense isn’t that common.

This leads us to the problem really eager people have when it comes to just saying no. Saying no isn’t always the easiest thing to do and it’s made even more difficult when a request comes from someone you respect. We read about this all the time when “experts” tell us not to attend meetings if there’s no value, not to agree to deliver something against a timeline we can’t possibly meet, and not handing out development estimates on the spot. “Just say no”

Granted, we understand that it is not always easy, however we also understand how immensely valuable it can be. Having sat on the other side of the table for this one engagement, I was on the receiving end of a really good reminder of why that is. There’s always a next time. Next time you can be sure that I’ll be mentally reciting those three points above and making sure I’m getting the direction I need before I sit down to start working. After all, you wouldn’t go orienteering without a compass and a map, so why treat your projects any differently?

 

Blissdom Logo

Blissdom Canada 2015

Blissdom 2015 … This is what your conference wants to be when it grows up.

So all of you who are regular readers here at zero know what a complete newbie I am when it comes to knowing social anything. You’ll also know that the fabulous women (and man – I’m looking at you Dai), that were present at the ROAM conference (for social media influencers) I attended back in April, are a big reason for this blog existing at all. I’ve always said the internet is a big, wonderful, weird place where any niche interest (no matter how big or small) can form a community around it to support and form deeper engagement between the content creators and the consumers. As it turns out … Blogging is a thing. As it turns out … everyone knew this but me, I think.

I had the pleasure of joining this blogging community, chaired by the extremely dynamic Jennifer Powell, at a conference (or was it a festival?) called Blissdom.

Blissdom Logo

I was invited by Jenn to join herself and somewhere around 300 (three hundred) of Canada’s most engaged social influencers to talk to them about one of my favorite topics (if you’re new here I’m talking about Inbox Zero, natch).

The entire thing was DONE UP. Similar to ROAM, you could really feel that every aspect of the weekend was thought through. Here’s how (it appears) Jenn’s conference is structured:

First off, you can’t just host a conference appealing to forward thinking residents of the internet in some stuffy hotel, right? Of course not. Jennifer booked out the fantastic Blue Mountain Resort

Day 0: For those arriving slightly early (or those who weren’t attending one of the sessions on Day 1), you were greeted at the truly enormous Vaughn Mills mall in a specially setup VIP area where you were treated to gift bag which blows the doors off of any shirt, trinket, stress ball, or other useless conference schwag I’ve ever received. You’re at a mall, how about a wallet made of what looks like serafino leather stuffed full of 10 dollar gift cards to tons of the retailers available. There was literally like 70 – 100 dollars for each person who stopped by. Crazy! Keep in mind … that wallet was ON TOP of all the typical trinket fare you’d expect: rubber bracelet, branded portable phone charger, coupons, etc.

On top of all the loot, a few vendors were in attendance to show off their stuff, provide refreshments, and pose for pictures. Not a bad greeting … or at least better than the ones we nerds seem to be able to scrounge up (take notes literallyeverynerdconference… ). Here’s Dai and I showing up to this VIP greeting space.

Of course since we were shopping at Vaughn Mills and the event center was 2 hours away, we needed some way to get up there. No worries if you were an attendee, because Chevrolet Canada had us covered in their fleet of #ChevyBliss-decaled-2016-OnStar-equipped-wifi-onboard-Equinoxes (WITH Drivers to boot). Talk about sponsorship!

2016 Chevy Equinox

We rocked tunes all the way up to the resort and the drive was comfy as can be … nicely done!

Day 1: All day sessions deep diving into one topic to completely revamp your understanding of a particular area.
For this incarnation of the Blissdom conferences (there have been 6 thus far), you had the following options:

  1. Pro Blogger Mastermind (I attended this one) – A soup to nuts breakdown of everything it means to create your blog from a monetization standpoint. Not just if / when you should have ads, but where, when, and why you should have them. Common plug ins and tools, motivation behind selling to your readers, products products and more products, and all sorts of other tips and tricks to dump into your own blog’s Mr. Fusion. It’s not where my head was at while flying out, but after having dinner with both the wonderfully sardonic Dan R. Morris (twitter, facebook, site) as well as the genuinely wonderful Rachel Marie Martin (site, facebook, instagram, twitter) of Finding Joy fame, I was intrigued by some of their ideas and was glad I had decided tag along.
  2. Advanced Writers Workshop – This workshop was designed by three bloggers who have been there / done that when it comes to knowing the challenges associated with the freelance writing lifestyle. They discussed things ranging from relationship building to editing your content. As an added bonus you could also bring your own pitch (and laptop) and work through some of the challenges you might have been having (after attending you’d have solved those right up).
  3. Advanced Media Training – Not sure how to get traction on your site? Need help working through the perfect interview approach? Unsure if you’re doing the right things to pitch your book? Look no further than the advanced media training workshop. Split into two parts you had a chance to learn the tips and tricks needed from 3 experts and then put all that new found knowledge to work after a short break.

Once we were finished with the learning, it was time to chill out and walk through the meet and greet area before heading down into the main exhibition hall for some entertainment from Choir!Choir!Choir!

Day 2: Where do you go when you start with a full day deep dive? Time to chill and start the day off by opening up with a Yoga session en masse. The yoga session was sponsored by a company called Bravado (they make nursing bras) and seemed like an appropriate fit for a conference that, while not marketed specifically to women, really only had a handful of men in attendance (50% of them once again shown in this picture). Seriously, there were maybe 6 dudes in total, and Dai and I were getting #Bromance shouted basically throughout the entire weekend.

With the yoga session completed the conference started in earnest. After a solid keynote by Sara Critchfield (site, twitter, facebook), everyone was off to attend one sessions held in multiple rooms all of which were nearby (and near to each other too). There were micro-sessions (think speed dating but for knowledge instead of awkwardness) as well as full length talks and workshops all morning.

Never satisfied to be just status quo, Powell then had the attendees take the afternoon off (after a delicious lunch) for some excursions hosted by the Blue Mountain Villiage. There were 14 excursions in all, two of which were spa related. Coincidentally, but not surprisingly, the spa excursions were attended by all the men. Not a single guy (out of 6 of us) went out on any of the adventurous hiking, rope walking, or trail running. Nope, we all had our feet up and enjoyed the afternoon in the Spa like #realmen, dammit.

A few hours later we were all pampered up and cozied back in the village … call it a day? Uhhh no … Call it Mardi Gras …

Mardi Gras

Lights, food, musical entertainment, activities and contests, even fortune telling. This was seriously next level!

Are you not entertained?

and call it “most people stayed up waaaay too late”. #ButInAGoodWay (not me, of course #wetblanket)

Day 3: Full day workshops, sessions from breakfast till after lunch, excursions, parties, how do you top that kind of start? You keep the train rolling with another day chock full of content, that’s how.

I was up for presenting today (first thing) and had the mis-fortune of being un-scheduled. That is to say that my session was opposite the very-well-known Scott Stratten (you know, just this guy & this guy), in addition to a panel of serious social heavy hitters, and another series of microsessions (you can check the complete schedule out here). That being said, I had a pretty good turn out if I do say so myself 🙂 puffs out chest. I had around 20 or so people in a room that fits around 35 so I was pleased with the turn out. The session itself was great with some really active participation and engagement in the Facebook group after the fact (am I really talking about Facebook? Who is this guy anyway?)

After that I was free to do whatever and ended up connecting with some of my favorite peeps from the ROAM conference earlier in the year and chillin’ with some Starbucks coffee. I probably shouldn’t have missed the next session, but I needed a walk and the company was good, so I couldn’t pass it up.

The day continued with loads more learning, interactive panels, discussion groups, and some pretty powerfully emotional presentations. If you were involved in any kind of social engagement, there was definitely value to be had somewhere – in any one of the concurrent sessions. How do you wrap up this kind of event of epic proportions? Well with another damn party … of course? You’re new here aren’t you?

That evening … a PJ party!

Before you ask, not PJs, but Plaid and Jeans. Music, drinks, good peeps, and something I havn’t really had a chance to discuss just yet, but Networking Networking Networking.

Despite being a complete newcomer to the scene, it was great connecting with some seriously energetic people. Some of them I was meeting for the first time and some I had an opportunity to reconnect with for a second time this year. Regardless of what their business was, I learned something from everyone (One of my favs being from Periscope guru @1AlexKhan who introduced the idea of KLT – People won’t engage with you if they don’t Know you, Like you, or Trust you – I couldn’t agree more). It was really invigorating to see the things so many different people were doing and it’s given me a boatload of ideas for things I can attempt to either improve on or venture into in the coming months.

Thanks for sticking this long post out. I wanted to get all my ideas down before they melted away (like the snow we woke up to on Sunday at Blue Mountain). Good times were had by all and it left me stoked to see what possibilities were in store for The Zen of Zero in the future.

Lead People, Manage Expectations

Lead people, Manage expectations

So, we’re going to go on a quick departure from the Book Report post I had put up a few weeks ago in favor of something a little more personal (we’ll include a few obligatory tie-ins, natch).

So, right around the time I had published the last post I was prepping a presentation for a client with two other developers. We had received a fairly open request to help get them up to speed on what basically amounted to “give us the lay of the land regarding web development”. The business relationship manager that initially connected us (the team) with this particular request also hadn’t really provided us with much direction other than “Just answer the questions they put fowrard”.

It was your textbook definition of “consulting” – Little to no direction, big expectations, short timelines. Nothing the group of us couldn’t handle, of course, but as the date drew a bit nearer, people were on edge, content wasn’t ready, and the pressure of the rest of our responsibilities started to creep in.

The evening before we were due to present I was chatting with the guys in the slack channel (if you don’t know what that is … you probably need to – more on that in another post) we created to manage the effort and make sure we were all aligned in terms of what needed doing (with no useless meetings cause #thatshowweroll). Bouncing some ideas back and forth resulted in frustrations getting voiced regarding the aforementioned lack of direction. Blowing off steam is something that we all do from time to time, and one of the guys was exercising his right to do so.

A few messages later and a couple of direct shots directed at me and I realized the conversation wasn’t going to be productive… time to switch mediums. We moved the discussion to an Appear.In chat room and started to hash it out. We took the opportunity to refocus, zoom in on the things that mattered, and put together a plan that allowed everyone to finish up in time keeping the amount of extra curricular effort down to a minimum.

There was a visceral difference in the way he was sitting, holding his posture, and discussing the solution we came up with by the end of the conversation compared to the beginning. We were past it. Moving the convo back to the slack channel we wrapped up the night’s discussion with the following two emotes:

[11:55pm] Team-Guy: is feeling less stressed

[11:55pm] Me: is happy. 

It got me thinking.

It actually pulled me back to the book that was sitting beside me on my computer desk (a.k.a. Teams are Worth It). That discussion, that’s what teamwork is all about. That’s what leadership is all about, really. My job wasn’t to write or deliver the content, it was to make sure everything the team needed was in place so they could do their job effectively. It’s so much like the the six messages Barbara suggested you should communicate to your team on a dialy basis. It also reminded me of an email I had written to my management team over a year ago discussing what real leadership looks like and the 10 items I felt were most important.

It’s basically the guiding set of principles I keep with me and remind myself of as often as I can when running any kind of team or group effort. It was my Leadership Mantra and I figured now was as good a time as any to share it with you all.

My Leadership Mantra (a.k.a. my Leadership Top 10 – but TopX lists are played out)

Leadership Mantra

  1. If you’re not five minutes early, you’re late.
  2. If you need or want something to happen, own that responsibility and make it happen.
  3. Never put yourself in a position to have to take something away from your team. Never ask for something from your team you aren’t prepared to give / do yourself.
  4. Do not be self-deprecating to ease tension. We are here to raise each other up, not pull each other down.
  5. Act in the interest of and with the intent of protecting the team. Remove roadblocks and sources of friction. Advocate for your team.
  6. Really listen. Don’t just wait for your turn to start talking. More often than not there is value in hearing perspectives other than your own.
  7. Be open to new ideas / different opinions. Everyone should have  an opportunity to provide value in their role. Our different experiences all bring different benefits to the team. (i.e. Don’t place too much value in titles and org chart positions)
  8. Empower each team member to be as autonomous as the project / project schedule can allow. Strive to understand individuals’ perspective or motivations will go a long way towards getting buy-in from your team.
  9. Always be looking for growth opportunities for your team members. People should leave better and stronger than when they joined.
  10. Lead People, Manage Expectations

Shout out to all the leaders who have contributed towards my growth and helped me create this list (Major Winters, Brian McKay, Craig Plysiuk, Ria Neuendorff, and my wife Jessica)