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Thursday, January 31, 2013

How Much? By When?

My mother used to poke fun of my incessant list-making. It wasn't so much the exercise she scoffed at. Heck, she was the one who taught me the habit of writing out daily "to-do's." It was more my content, which always began with a hardy "get out of bed," which she found amusing. But who knows how much I would've accomplished if I wouldn't have been able to cross off my first task? Getting out of bed is kind of critical...

Okay, so early on my lists might have been trifling. But by performing those tasks, I began to learn the feeling of accomplishment. And as I grew older, the items on my lists became a bit more refined. I focused on activities like studying or piano. And as the mindset of of a list-maker goes, I was prone to monitor how accomplished I could become in my studies and piano. And as it turned out, I did okay.

Bill Gates most recently wrote a thoughtful piece in the Wall Street Journal about the importance of measuring progress in the plight to fix the problems of the world. Using the steam engine as the original innovation of measuring progress when energy output was used as a metric to hone the design of engine models, Mr. Gates suggests that by setting a goal, and by measuring results, and continuing to hone, true progress can made in just about any discipline. The article, effectively, presents how infant mortality has declined and how education could be reformed. I thought to myself, "Right on, brother."

At work, our management team was discussing 2013 goals at the end of the year. The question was posed, "Should we even set these goals for our staff?" The argument was that since staff was accountable to do their job, we should just see if we can achieve our overall goals without measuring specific progress. I have to admit, I froze upon hearing the idea. Not set goals for our staff? I didn't care for it at all. It was kind of like...not making a list for the day. I diplomatically argued against did a few other managers. Ultimately, we decided to trudge forward with team goals set in place, happily measuring progress on a monthly basis. Admittedly, I felt a tinge of guilt for not giving my staff a free pass for the year. Then I read the Bill Gates article. I don't feel so guilty anymore. As a matter of fact, I felt a bit emboldened by the article. I think I'll suggest to my kids that they need to start making daily lists. I don't even care if the list starts with "Get out of bed." Actually, I'd be happy with that.

Monday, January 21, 2013

At the End of the Day...

Some of you may or may not know, but I work for a bank. I also happen to be a manager in the bank. Most recently, my boss decided to conduct something called a "360 degree" assessment in which a few of my direct reports and other peers reviewed me. While I haven't been told of the results entirely, my boss hinted of one of my major performance weaknesses. And before he even spoke the words, I pretty much guessed it anyway. It's a bit analogous to getting my kids to do their chores. In the working world, it's called "holding people accountable."

My daughter's dresser
Here's the thing about accountability. There's a distinction between how well expectations are communicated and how much you can expect one to be accountable for. Take our kids, for example. How many times do I ask Cole to brush his teeth before an orange crust forms over his enamel? Or how many times do I ask Alex to put away her clothes before dust settles on the pile–necessitating another washing? (Maybe I'm just not asking with a gnarly enough timbre in my voice.)

But on to adults, where I don't think I need to worry about the pitch of my voice, nor do I think I need to worry about eloquence so much. But I've certainly encountered situations at work when I've questioned whether I've communicated my expectations with clarity. Some expectations, granted, seem obvious. Like showing up for work. Yes, I tend to be that manager who gives second chances. Maybe too many second chances. And while it's easy for everyone to judge, opining that perhaps I'm a bit too lenient, I can't help but wonder if this time will be the second chance that will make a difference to someone. Maybe it will. Maybe it won't.

I'm a strong believer that we, as individuals, are accountable for our own destinies. But I know, in my heart, we should all keep encouraging those individuals who perhaps are struggling. Maybe that encouragement comes in the form of tough love, of which, undoubtedly, I have not mastered. But I think the key word in that phrase is, "love."

A few years ago Seth Godin wrote an eBook called Graceful, with the subtitle "making a difference in a world that needs you." I scanned the book,  pondering this issue of accountability. And as I reflected on some of the themes of the book, I determined something. I probably wouldn't have changed any managerial actions I have taken in the past. And I'm not so sure my approach will change much in the future. If it does, I only hope it's because I am becoming more...graceful.

I'll wrap up this blog with a few these quotes from the book.  Certainly, they're worthy of more reflection...

"Kindness creates connection. It generates respect (on both sides) and it scales."

"People seek meaning. Will you offer to them?"

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Now that's a Blog!

I came across an article on how to make a successful blog. (They provided Ana White's blog as an example. It's pretty awesome, isn't it? I was suspicious though. One woman created and managed this? Really?) As a business person, I felt a teensy bit silly for not thinking of it before. Really, to attract a million followers, you only need to present stuff people want to see. Brilliant! So, I started to brainstorm products that might be useful just in case my followers have grown tired of hearing about my kids, husband and dog. Admittedly, nothing was coming to me at first. (Should I discuss the movie we watched last night? Star Wars I? I just don't think anyone would care...)

Okay, so here's what I came up with. My two product picks of the week...

  1. The Wall Street Journal: My favorite daily paper. The Journal teaches me words like inimitable, bonhomie and superannuated...even if I don't ever use them, or remember them by next month. The journalism is pure poetry. I often find myself smiling upon a sentence...even if the message being delivered was bitter. It will also make you super duper informed. Or, as a journalist from WS would probably say, you'll reflect a certain air of erudition.
  2. ZUM soap and lotion. With ingredients like goats milk, and other organic elements, I feel like I'm at a spa whenever I dab a bit of lemon grass, eucalyptus or sea salt on me. Amazingly enough, the stuff is sold at my mother's store,  rubi j. (How's that for a plug, Mummy?)
Okay, now that I feel a bit like a used-car salesman, how about a quick story from the home front. So, we got new furniture. In the process, we transitioned the old sectional to the basement to make room for the new. Of course, it's always interesting to see what wrappers, toys, ponytail holders, etc. will rise up when a couch is moved. What you don't usually expect to find is a complete sloppy joe. So, once again, I declared the living room FOOD FREE. I felt this would be particularly critical now that we've just spent a small fortune on furniture. Guess how long it lasted? As I was snapping a photo tonight, I noticed Cole was slurping up a plate of mac-n-cheese. Well, at least it wasn't something that won't spill all over the place...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Life...a little after 40

A couple of weeks ago, we went to see This is 40. I didn’t really care if the critics raved about it, I just had a feeling the show would resonate. And it did. I loved it. It validated the fact we all tend to muddle through the same, intimate, terrifying, despicable, lovely, hilarious, monstrous, adorable, awful and mundane issues of everyday life. The themes of the movie I liked best? (Anti-spoiler alert...the rest of the blog contains no information about the movie.)

Parenting: Even if you ever pictured yourself as a June Cleaver or a Claire Huxtable, by the time you turn forty, your parenting style turns a bit lax. Ideas of organic feeding troughs, or unadulterated PBS are tossed out the window. Oh, sure you have spurts of ambitiousness, banning sugar and declaring family game nights in lieu of the TV. But it only takes a few days of Parchesi before you're curled up with the kids, eating zebra cakes, and watching Ted for the third time. Okay, maybe that's just me.

Romance: Not too many years ago, I’d put a fair amount of thought into my New Year’s Eve attire. And I still do! But my thoughts have taken an Eddie Bauer approach. I choose the sweater that will keep me fairly warm and select shoes which will have the least likelihood of me falling. I'm not to the hip-breaking point, but I certainly don't want to trip. And if I would’ve had just an inkling of romance in me this year, I wouldn’t have chowed down on the yummy Brussels sprouts that commanded me to the ladies room and left my stomach spinning, spinning, spinning. I didn’t even get to eat my dessert! (Only someone over 40 would be pissed about that.) My lucky husband. We were home just a few seconds before the ball dropped. In central time, that means 10:59:50.

Money and In-Laws: In the interest of time, I think I'll leave these topic for another time. They deserve their own post.
You know what? I kind of like this juncture in our lives. We certainly are more interesting…i.e., this time when our morphing body parts seem to be taking a life of their own. Who knows what mole or whisker we'll wake up to find growing on our face or back? The only certainty? My husband and I will be the only people vaguely interested. And we'll probably discuss the protrusion, with a sense of glee, for the entire morning.

Yep. This is 40. Wonder for 50 will have in store?