Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Creating Your Career Graph Timeline

After creating mySWLD matrix, I will now discuss how you can create myTimeline – another self-analysis tool that I’ve invented to help my people professionally grow. This is for you to see who you are, what you have, where you want to be, and where you are heading…

Let me ask you something. What’s your Ambition in life? What do you want to be in your life? What is your professional goal? Few of us have no idea. Many of us associate our goals to certain designations or compensations or acquiring certain physical luxuries. And most of us do not associate/correlate our goals with our mySWLD matrix.

Knowing your Ambition is an integral part of knowing who you are. You are likely to board a wrong Plane, unless you know your destination. The ability to self-motivate and succeed in life is also rooted in one's level of ambition. So, have a date with your inner self and think (think deep) about it.

And when you know what your ambition or goal is, rewind your clock and cast you mind back Two years. Now think hard and note down who you were and what used to describe you at that point of your life. What were your strengths, skill-set and USP? What all were you known for? What was your value and reputation in your team/organization/college? Let’s call it the “starting point” of myTimeLine.

Now come forward 6 months on this timeline. And think and list down the Delta – what did you gain and what you lost (wrt the starting point on the timeline) with time. You may have learnt/gained certain new skills, and you may have increased both depth as well as width in certain expertise areas. And of-course you became more experienced and more mature (as you had become 6 months older in age). But at the same time, you may have lost edge/command over certain skills. Your expertise area may have gone thru revision or may have become obsolete (and totally replaced with newer technology/process/methodology), and your skill may have become outdated. You may have become rusty or you may even have forgot what you had learnt (and remembered) 6 months back. And as you grew older you may have lost some bit of your energy, enthusiasm, and spark/curiosity to learn new. With more personal responsibilities your way, you may have even lost some of the time-bandwidth available for your professional life. Note down all these +ve and -ve deltas on this point of myTimeLine.

Repeat the above step of identifying deltas for remaining 6-month-interval points, until you reach to the present. Then, starting from the starting point, draw a career skills/expertise graph line. This is your Career Graph Timeline (refer to it as myTimeline).

Now see if your myTimeline is actually moving towards your “goal point”. If not, take it as a wakeup call, and take whatever corrective actions are necessary to bring it back on track (might mean taking a U-Turn, or a simple diversion, or something in between). Remember your mission, your goal and your objective. And tweak your strategy and tactics to reach there. Sooner you realize where you wanted to reach, where you are actually headed, what went wrong, and how to fix it, the better (and easier) it would be for you achieve what you had dreamt for…

Creating Your SWLD Matrix

It’s fun to have date with yourself, your inner self. And when you want to find the Real You, you need to know Your Strengths, Your Weaknesses, Your likings and Your Disliking. In this blog, I will discuss a self discovery tool that I’ve invented to help my people professionally grow – Creating the SWLD Matrix.

Beginning with your strengths, make a list of five areas in which you excel, starting with the strongest. Maybe your strongest skill is number crunching, planning, execution, problem solving, making presentations, motivating or hiring, but whatever it is, it’s important that you know it inside and out. Don’t limit yourself to any specific area or field. You may be good in multiple areas – personal, technical, domain, managerial, etc. etc. Think about all of them. Try staying away from listing abstract qualities and be as specific & concrete as possible. For example, if you say that you are good in multi-tasking it really means that you are good in time management, prioritization of tasks and scoping of tasks in hand. If you are not really good in all of the above, list only the sub-areas where you are really good at. Similarly, instead of saying that I am technically good, try to list specific technologies, domains, programming languages, environments, platforms and areas where you have expertise.

Similarly, make a list of the five areas where you are the weakest (again starting with the weakest). This is important because you need to know what areas you need to stay away from, or need improvement on, or need to seek help (guidance, training, coaching, mentorship, etc. etc.) on. These items are the things that, if not properly handled, can wreck your growth plans before they even get off the ground.

Then again get in touch with yourself and think about tasks that you really like doing. Even if you are not told to do this, or even if it is not part of your primary job/responsibility, you end up doing it on your own time because you are really passionate and enthusiastic about doing these tasks. These are your likings. Most of the time, you would find a big overlap between your strengths and likings.

Finally, list the tasks and areas which you really don’t like getting into. You either never deal with them or, if forced to do, would do them half heartedly. Don’t be surprised if you find an overlap between your weaknesses and disliking. Knowingly or unknowingly, we get ourselves into one or the other comfort zone, where we feel secure and comfortable. We start liking areas where we excel. And we start disliking (and avoiding) areas where our inner-self knows that we are not strong at. The Idea here is to break out of your comfort zone to achieve success.

Put above identified strengths, weaknesses, liking and disliking in four quadrants of a matrix – and call it mySWLD matrix.

Now focus on the entries in the “strengths” quadrant of the matrix which are not getting used (at all or on consistent basis). And then work closely with you team and management to create more opportunities for yourself (within given reality and limitations of the business you are in) to play your strengths. When you focus on what you CAN do, opportunities arise and people flow into your life to help you. The more you play your strengths, the more you flex your strong muscle, the better you would be able to convert your potential and abilities into productive output. And more you will be able to add value to your team, project, division and organization. Yes, I said that your growth is your responsibility. But if you play your cards right, you may make your Manager co-responsible for your growth (and may get more chances to play your strengths).

Then focus on the in the “weakness” quadrant of the matrix which are impacting your day-to-day performance (quite often or on consistent basis). And then work closely with your team and Manager to “do whatever it takes” to improve in these areas. It may require a change in your aptitude as well as attitude. This is your opportunity to seek help (coaching, training, mentorship, etc.) to fill in missing tools (skills) in your toolbox.

Discuss your “liking” quadrant with your team and Manager and see if it is possible for you to take on more tasks/responsibilities falling in this category without deviating from your organizational goal. Be ready to take extra additional initiatives – it can’t be at the expense of your primary responsibility or deliveries that you are accountable for.

And then also discuss the “disliking” quadrant with your Manager. Who knows maybe it was never important for your Manager and the business for you to own or participate in tasks that you didn’t like to do. And if the task is critical enough for the business for you to continue doing, at least making it known to your Manager will make the situation better for you. May be it was one of your weaknesses that was making you dislike this task. And when you overcome that weakness, you may move out of your comfort zone and this particular item might move from your “disliking” quadrant to your “liking” quadrant.

Note: When I discussed the SWLD concept with one of my MBA friends, he pointed me to a similar concept, called Johari Window. The johari window is like a pie chart and it is divided into 4 sections, the open self, the hidden self, the blind self, and the unknown self. The whole point of the Johari window is to help you understand who you are. It is a communication model that can be used to improve understanding between individuals within a team or in a group setting. You may find many links on this when you do googling for it.

5 Minutes Self Analysis a Day Keeps Professional Diseases Away

How many hours do you spend daily at the Gym or Exercising or doing Yoga to keep you physically fit and healthy? When I asked around, I got responses varying from half an hour daily to as long as 2 hours a day. It’s great to see general awareness around physical health. But when it comes to Professional health, generally people tend to be lazy.

I urge you to spend 5 minutes daily in the evening/ after-hours (while relaxing on the back seat of your car while your driver is taking you back to your home, or while taking shower before going to bed, or whenever you can spare 5 minutes for your own self) to do self analysis – Rewind your day and think about how it went and where your Manager can help you.

Think about:
  1. Tasks that you feel you performed very well and you were satisfied/ happy after executing them. These are either your accomplishments/achievements, or your strengths or your likings. Your Manager should know about them.
  2. Tasks where you don’t really know how you performed because either requirements or the expectations were not clear to you. You need more clarification from your Manager for next iteration.
  3. Tasks where you know you didn’t perform your best, and you yourself were not satisfied with the output. These are your weaknesses. You need coaching/guidance from your Manager to do it better next time.
  4. Tasks that you didn’t really like performing. These are your disliking. You need to discuss them with your Manager.
  5. How well do you think you managed your time that day? Do you need your Manager’s help in doing better multi-tasking/ time management?
    • Did you spend too much time on not-so-important (according to you) tasks? Or, Did you not get enough time to spend on really important (according to you) tasks?
    • Did you complete all assigned tasks for the day? Did you work on additional tasks as well?
    • Did you come up with any new innovative idea/approach?
    • Did you learn anything new?
Now, put down 2-3 points in your diary and come with the complete weekly list in your weekly 1:1 with your Manager. This will create enough constructive and productive discussion agenda for the meeting. This will also help your Manager to help you better, and he would be able to take timely corrective actions.

This 5 minutes daily self analysis will also help you utilize your mySWLD matrix for your professional betterment. Tick all those entries in your “strengths” quadrant that correspond to the strengths/abilities which you were able to utilize while performing your assignments in this week. Tick those “weakness” entries which blocked you from showing your best in the assigned job. Similarly map your this week’s tasks to the “liking” and “disliking” quadrants of your mySWLD matrix. Now take this filled matrix to your Manager in your 1:1, and take his help on:
  • How your current/future responsibilities, tasks, ownerships, or the mode of execution can be planned/tweaked, so that not only your currently used strengths (ticked items in the “strengths” quadrant) but also your unused strengths (unticked items in the “strengths” quadrant) can be utilized.
  • How you can improve in the areas where your weakness is impacting your performance (ticked items in the “weakness” quadrant). This will lead to creation/updation of a training/coaching/development plan for you.
  • How you can come out of your comfort zones (some of ticked items in the “disliking” quadrant), and how you can take on additional tasks to pursue your liking/passion (some of unticked items in the “liking” quadrant) without deviating from your organizational goal.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine : For Managers

Management is not sexy - its a boring and routine job. Its also not an adorable role. A Manager is generally not perceived as an interesting or friendly figure. In the role of a “Project cum People Manager”, you mostly end up playing the role of a Bad cop. You are accountable for Results, you have to enforce Processes to achieve the Results, and, in between the “Result” and “Process”, your “Relationship” with your direct reports starts suffering damage.

A good Manager is the one who influences his team to attain desired objectives. He can get things done (through his team) today and tomorrow. He is collaborative, he is flexible, and he is receptive. He demonstrates that he cares about his team members – Engagement is the key to success. And to engage, he conducts regular 1:1s with his team members.

The 1:1s are a very structured format and framework for maintaining robust communication and strong relationship/bonding with your direct reports. Regular 1:1 (preferably 30 minutes every week) with your direct reports is one of the most effective management tools. It will keep you connected and informed. Remember that you control their organizational success and they’ll feel miserable if they think they are not getting enough of your time.

You may argue that you talk to your team members all the time; OR you don’t have enough time to have individual 1:1s with all of them; OR there won’t be enough agenda to discuss everyweek; OR this will be boring; OR etc. etc. But, as a Manager, investing your time in your people is one of the safest and most profitable investments you can ever make – low risk and high gains. When you start spending dedicated time for individual 1:1s, you’ll start receiving lesser unplanned interruptions and will actually have more time for Strategic thinking. You may think that there won’t be items to discuss in weekly 1:1s, but you will be surprised to receive Too Much Information from your direct reports. Also, just think about it - When you currently talk to them on daily (or hourly) basis, don’t you just talk about nuts and bolts of work? The purpose and focus of weekly 1:1 is different. It is (should always be) – Your Direct Report, His development/growth plan, his myTimeline, his mySWLD matrix, and, last but not the least, Establishing stronger relationship/bonding between the two of you.

Schedule in advance. Book 30 minutes weekly slot (avoid Monday morning and Friday evening slots). Design specific agenda for your 1:1s – 15 minutes for employee, 5 minutes for you, 10 minutes for future. Agenda should be result oriented and focused on things which are valuable for the Direct Report. Help him play his strengths (fill his “strengths” quadrant of mySWLD matrix), help him maximize the conversion ratio between his potential/abilities and his productive output, help him improve in the needed areas (empty his “weakness” quadrant of mySWLD matrix), help him get opportunity to contribute in his liking areas (address his “liking” & “disliking” quadrants of mySWLD matrix), and help him come out of his comfort zone. If you don’t know who your Direct Report is and what’s most important for him, you can’t inspire him because he won’t believe that you care about him. But if you can demonstrate that you care about him, he will do anything for you. He will become more loyal, more disciplined, more efficient and more effective.

Prepare for five minutes before the 1:1 starts. Ask yourself:
  1. Was there any action item for me from the last 1:1?
  2. What positive feedback can I give?
  3. What adjusting feedback am I going to give?
  4. What checkpoint(s) am I going to discuss against his quarterly goals?
  5. What is one thing “new” that I am going to coach/mentor/guide him on?
If you observe that your Direct Report is not interacting enough in the meeting (and the meeting is becoming more of a monologue/lecture/preaching than the desired two-way-communication/ interactive dialogue), you may encourage him to come prepared with the notes to take full advantage of this session. How? Encourage them to use the tool I have provided in my next blog, “5 Minutes Self Analysis a Day Keeps Professional Diseases Away”...

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine : For Managees

When is the last time you got sick or broke your leg or cut your finger? How long did you wait before you visited a Doctor? One day? One week? A year? Sounds weird, right? You don’t wait to get worse, and rather rush to the Doctor to seek help. But when it comes to your professional sickness (i.e., “weakness” quadrant of your mySWLD matrix - you may call them limitations or shortcomings or areas of improvement), you generally forget to follow this practice. Instead you opt to wait for the appraisal period, scheduled at the end of the year. And in doing so, you end up wasting 52 precious weeks of your professional life. With this article, I would like to put emphasis on you having regular 1:1 (weekly 30 minutes) with your Manager, and discuss how it’d keep you professionally healthy.

I recently asked few people at random how frequently they have 1:1s with their Managers and why. Many of them actually didn’t have any regular 1:1 setup. And they also gave me interesting reasons for not doing so – “My Manager may be very busy, and I don’t want to waste his time”, “I anyways talk to my Manager on daily basis to discuss project status”, “We won’t have anything to discuss if we meet regularly”, “I’m not missing anything by not having regular 1:1”, “I’ve more interesting things to do”, “How would it make any difference to my life”. And the most shocking comment was - “I will come under closer watch and my weaknesses would be more exposed, if we meet regularly. I don’t want to take this risk with someone who controls my organizational growth.”. I sensed two different emotions emerging out of this last comment – Fear of the consequences of exposing one’s weaknesses to his Manager; and Lack of trust between the direct report and his Manager.

Let’s first analyze the lack-of-trust part of the concern…

Have you ever thought what kind of people you interact with on a daily basis? These people would generally fall in one of the following 3 categories:
  1. Those who you know are your well wishers. They have proven this again and again. Your family, your close friends & relatives fall in this category. This is the reliable and trust worthy category. They are caring, they are affectionate, they are appreciative, and they always speak high about you. They generally ignore and unsee your shortcomings. You may have heard your mother saying, “My son is the brightest among all his cousins”; or your wife consoling you on your falling hairs saying, “You have most beautiful hair in this world and I love’em”. You trust them blindly.
  2. Those who you know are NOT your well wishers. They have proven this again and again. Some of your competitors, some of your colleagues, some of your neighbors, some of your cousins, etc. etc. will fall under this category. No matter what you do and how you do it, they will always criticize you. They will always try to find and highlight your limitations. They are jealous of your success. To humiliate you, to demotivate you and to make you fail is their sole mission in life. You never trust them.
  3. The third category is the most rare and precious one. And it is many a times difficult for you to identify people falling in this category. Chances of you wrongly putting them in the second category is usually high. These are the people who actually are your well wishers but they show you “mirror” time to time. They try to show you the Real you. They, when required, will criticize you – but criticize with positive intent. Generally your Teachers, Coaches, Mentors, and Manager fall under this category. They will encourage you, appreciate you, but would also give you timely candid feedback. To keep you going, to improve you in needed areas, to take you to the next level of accomplishments, and to make you successful in achieving your goal is their sole mission in life.
The problem is that sometimes you trust third category people (aka your Manager in this context) but sometimes you don’t. But in reality, it is even more important (and critical) for you to trust them than trusting the first category. These are the people who will show you the vision, help you set your ambitions, and help you achieve them. These are the people who will help you professionally grow, and grow in multi-dimensions. They are your growth catalysts. They help to convert your unutilized potential and abilities into productive output. You need to assume (though I always believe that “When You ASSUME, You make ASS of U and ME”, but in this context I myself am requesting you to assume this) that these people also care about you and that their intentions are pure. Give your Manager a chance, and trust me giving him this chance will open lots of new chances for yourself. Yes, sometimes they are little hard on you, but it’s all for your own good. When you go to a Doctor, he either gives you bitter pills or an injection. But you thankfully accept his treatment (and also pay him heavy fee) because you understand that it will cure your physical sickness. If you have enough trust in your Doctor, why can’t you have trust in your Manager? If you start coupling your Manager’s intent with his actions, the most of the things (perception and trust) will start falling into right place. Unless you couple a Judge’s intent with his action of ordering to execute a hardcore criminal, you won’t find any difference between him and a murderer. So, remember next time when your Manager is giving you candid feedback or forcing you to come out of your comfort zone that he is trying to cure your professional sickness. A noble profession… isn’t it?

Now let’s come to the “I am scared of exposing my weaknesses to my Manager” part of the concern…

When you visit a Doctor (yes I am very fond of Doctors :-)), you tell him your symptoms to help him diagnose your problem. So, if you don’t hide your symptoms of physical sickness from your Doctor, why would you hide symptoms of your professional sickness (i.e., “weakness” quadrant of your mySWLD matrix) from your Manager? When seeking help, it is always helpful to be open and honest with 3 categories (yes, again 3 categories :-)) of professionals – Lawyers, Doctors, and Managers. Unless you really open up in front of them, they won’t be able to use their experience, expertise, tools, and tips & tricks to help you come out of your problem.

So, come out of all your fear zones, and be in regular touch with your Manager thru your regular 1:1s with him. The 1:1 is a powerful platform, where you can discuss anything and everything with your Manager. There are many other forums to discuss project schedules, technical issues and red flags. You might be talking to your Manager on hourly basis. But the purpose and focus of weekly 1:1 is different. It is (should always be) – You, Your development/growth plan, Your myTimeline, Your mySWLD matrix, and, last but not the least, Establishing stronger relationship/bonding between the two of you. The 1:1s are a very structured format for maintaining robust communication with your Manager. When you talk, perhaps you’d get to know some information/facts that will justify few of his past/current actions. Perspectives would become clearer and perceptions would come closer to reality.

And you please don’t worry about wasting weekly 30 minutes of your Manager’s time. They get paid to invest their time in their people. Just think about it - You can get weekly 30 minutes of your Manager fully dedicated to think and discuss about you and just you! This is the most effective way of reducing the turnaround time for taking needed corrective actions to put your career graph line back on track. In most of the cases it will be reduced to just one week (vs. a long wait period of 52 weeks). Yes, I said that your growth is your responsibility. But if you make good use of your 1:1s, you may make your manager co-responsible for your growth. So, reach out to your Manager, setup your weekly 1:1 with him, and make most use of this opportunity and platform.

I will discuss and address other concerns I heard (like, “periodic 1:1s would become boring”, or “there won’t be enough agenda to discuss”, etc.) in my next blogs, "5 Minutes Self Analysis a Day Keeps Professional Diseases Away", and “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine : For Managers” where I would try to help you set agenda for these meetings, and try to make them interesting for you and your Manager…

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Who am I?

Have you ever asked yourself, “Who am I?” If not, you better ask it. And ask it sooner than later…

Effective management starts with self management. And self management starts with self discovery. Each manager is his or her own best resource. As with any resource, managers should put sincere effort into the development and improvement of that resource. But, unless you know who you are, you won’t know what you can do and where you need help. Knowing your strengths as well as your weaknesses can help give direction in life, can make you much more effective in setting and reaching goals, and will make you a more well-rounded person.

You may argue that it is your Manager’s responsibility to identify (and provide you feedback on) your strengths and weaknesses. But is your life so insignificant for you that you’d throw it on mercy of someone else? Remember that your growth is your responsibility. Also, how many hours do you spend with your Boss every day? Every week? Every year? You spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year with yourself. So, who else can know you better than yourself? Once a while having a date with yourself, your inner self, could be an eye opening experience. Your Manager can just provide you few pointers, mostly generic ones. But you are different from any other person who has ever lived in the history of the universe. You are the only one in the whole of creation who has your particular set of abilities. Finding the Inner You is something that only you can do – Who else but you can know which abilities you possess and what kind of limitations you have. You know for sure that you are your well wisher; you know that you are not jealous of yourself; and you know that you are on your side. So, you can’t go wrong in judging yourself.

Knowing who you are means knowing what you can do (your strengths) and what you cannot do (your weaknesses). But identifying your strengths and weaknesses won’t be an easy task for you. It is really hard (and requires total truthfulness) to be completely honest with yourself about yourself. We think that we know right off what our strengths are. But trust me, mostly we don’t. We think we do, but we don’t. Unless we make a conscious effort to know, we won’t. Knowing your weaknesses is even harder to come to terms with. It’s easy to get confused between what you don’t like to do, versus where you’re actually the weakest. Knowing who you are also means knowing what you like to do (your likings) and what you do not like to do (your disliking). I will be talking more on all these in my blog, “Creating Your SWLD Matrix”.

After you know what’s there inside your toolbox, it is important for you to know what you want to do with your tools. A life without an aim is lame. Unless you know where you want to go, you will never reach there. Ambition drives motivation, determination, and all the ingredients to achieve success in your life. No matter how successful you are or a big loser you are, your dream or goal is there inside your mind. You might just hide it from everyone (including yourself), but it is there. And when you know who you are, your goal becomes crystal clear. I will be talking more on how to reach your professional goal in my blog, “Creating Your Career Graph Timeline”.

After you know who you are, help your team members also to know who they are. Encourage them to create their mySWLD matrix and their myTimeline. Remember that your organization invests money in you (the Managers), so that you may invest your time, your experience, your passion and your soul in your people (your team)! Ask your team to use these self analysis tools, and bring the notes to their 1:1 with you. Also explain to them how it would help you to help them even better. I will be talking more about this in my next blogs, “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine : For Managees”, and “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine : For Managers”…