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Listening

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


If you could create a shortlist of the most important skills that a manager must cultivate, what would be on it?  That is not just an idle question: please do offer yours as a comment, below.

On anybody’s list, I would expect to see ‘listening’.  It is a fundamental human skill and one that most of us take for granted.  It is even a skill the deaf can deploy, using different senses: listening means paying attention to what other people are saying.   So, no wonder it is a vital skill for managers.

So how can you do it?  Or, put another way,

‘How can we learn to do listening better?’

ListenYour exercise this week is to practise these seven steps.  Start with number 1, and practise this for a day.  On day 2, practise number 1 and number 2, and so on, building your skills as the week progresses. Keep a record of what you notice.

Day 1:  Care
Before you start to listen to someone, you have to care what they are saying.  So practise caring enough to really pay attention.

Day 2: Tune in
Carefully notice what the other person is saying.  Savour their words and the meaning behind them.

Day 3: Tune out
Tune out that constant dialogue that goes on in your head.  When you hear it, put it to one side and re-focus on what the other person is saying.

Day 4: Relevance
Listen for things that are particularly relevant, surprising, interesting.  What are the most important words that you hear and how do they relate to the substance of your conversation?

Day 5: Suspend
Suspending judgement is your toughest test so far.  Resist the urge to criticise, judge or react to what you hear.  There will be a time for that later, but when you let your opinions and prejudices get in the way of your listening, you miss what the other person says, thinks and feels.

Day 6: Notice
Notice what else is going on at the same time as they are speaking.  What are their speech patterns, facial expressions, gestures and movements.  What posture do they adopt and what is the quality of their movements.  All of this, when you really notice it, contains valuable information about the sub-text to their words.

Day 7: Pay Attention…
… to your listening process.  Put all of your Day 1 to Day 6 learning together and now keep aware of the quality of your listening.  When it starts to dip, notice it and re-assert the quality of your listening.

Further Reading

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Starting in Management

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


Beginning a career in management can throw the best of us.  You are probably excellent at the job you have just finished and, whilst you will still need some of your technical skills, they will play a far lesser role in determining your success.  You will naturally feel a draw towards the security and comfort of burying yourself in the technical aspects of your role, but almost certainly, this will be a mistake.  Your role is management and managing should now occupy the bulk of your time.

So, what are some of the things you will need to focus on now?

  • supporting and motivating your staff
  • setting expectations and assessing performance
  • giving recognition for achievement and corrections for errors
  • planning and preparing at increasingly strategic levels
  • maintaining an environment where your team can succeed
  • securing the resources your team needs – including new members
  • training and developing team members
  • reporting on progress and on setbacks
  • negotiating for opportunities, resources and funding
  • financial and personnel management

Exercise: Understand your Management Responsibilities

Using this checklist, speak with your boss and with your new peers to get a clear idea of what your roles are and also how you are likely to need to split your time among them.  Understand:

  • which are most important to your and your team’s success?
  • which are most time-consuming?
  • where are the pitfalls?
  • what are the annual cycles and how will the balance of priorities shift through the year?

What First?

As a manager, your role will be to manage resources: usually people, but sometimes materials or assets.

Step 1: Your first priority is to understand those resources: meet the people, inventory the stock and survey the assets.  As you do, make notes to help you remember what is important.

Step 2: When you have finished, write yourself a readiness memo, titled: ‘An analysis of the resources at my disposal and their fitness for the task at hand’.  You may want to conduct a SWOT analysis to help you with this.

Readiness Memo

Step 3: Next, use this as the basis for drawing up a two to three month plan of action.  At best, it will focus on stabilisation and incremental improvement.  At worst, it may need to be a turnaround plan.

Step 4: When you have done this, file your memo securely, where nobody else can access it or, better still, destroy it.  It will likely contain frank opinions about the people on your team that you will not want to become public.

Further Reading

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Personal Reputation

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


A career in management is built on the reputation you create for yourself.  This is not about arrogantly promoting yourself at every opportunity, but it is about managing the opportunities you seize and your personal PR.

Exercise 1: 15 Minutes of Fame

‘In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes’ said Andy Warhol.  What will you be famous for?  Take some time to note down what you are good at, what you want to become good at and how this can help you make a positive name for yourself.

When you have done this, keep an ear open for projects and initiatives that you can participate in at work and in your community.  To increase your chances of finding good opportunities, increase your network.

Exercise 2: Expand your Network

Make a list of all of the people you know in your organisation who could help you develop a strong reputation.  Classify each as a major or minor player (you will need to review this list and these classifications from time to time).  Now look at each and decide whether you need to strengthen your relationship with them, through meeting for coffee, offering support on one of their projects, or having lunch with them.

Exercise 3: Review your CV

We looked at preparing a CV in a blog called ‘New Job’.  It is time to review your CV and to give it a little more impact.  Work on your CV to make sure:

  1. It is absolutely clear what you do and why you are the best person to do it
  2. It demonstrates why I should trust you with the best, most challenging role
  3. The quality of its presentation, layout and production reflects the quality you want to portray for yourself

Exercise 4: Who are you?  What do you do?

These are two questions that often throw people.  Yet they ought to be the ones we really know the answer to.  So write each question at the top of a sheet of paper and start jotting snippets, phrases and words that will start to answer the question.

Gradually shape those gobbets into a coherent and concise answer.  Now word craft your answer to give it real impact.

Finally, practise it, until you can say it clearly and correctly without referring to your notes.  Make sure you have the final version properly recorded in your notebook and, from time to time, review and update it.  When you do that, always start from scratch.

Further Reading

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Being Organised

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


No matter how good you are at your job, you will never be as good as you can be until you organise your work effectively.  This means making time for things like filing and time management.  Here are ten top tips:

  1. Keep a To Do list, but never let it be your primary time management tool.  At the end of each day, look at the things on your to do list and decide which ones will be on tomorrow’s To Day list.  Put any things that are substantial in terms of complexity, duration or importance into your diary.
  2. Follow President Eisenhower’s advice and always distinguish what is important from what is merely urgent.
  3. Keep a day-book – a notebook that lives on your desk and in which you record any conversations in person or over the phone.  As soon as the phone rings, or as soon as you decide to make a call, open your day book, write the date and note the person that you are speaking with and their affiliation.  You are now ready to record any comments or agreements.
  4. Use a multi-part folder to plan your work a week ahead.
    Weekly Work Planning folder
  5. Periodically make time to clear the clutter and do your filing.  Better still, embrace the principles of the 5S Methodology:
    – Sorting – only what you need
    – Set in order – a place for everything
    – Shine-up – tidy and clean
    – Standardise – uniformity
    – Sustain – make tidying up a routine
  6. File papers in themed folders.  If your filing system isn’t working for you; start a new one.  But don’t waste time transferring all your old papers into the new system.  Instead, just transfer any papers you access in your day-to-day work.  Very soon, your old system will become an archive of the materials you don’t need.
  7. If you need to make a lot of calls, keep a call sheet, on which you record the person and purpose (and number if it isn’t in your organiser.  Fill gaps in your day with a call – or take the sheet with you when you travel.
  8. You probably keep a to do list.  Do you keep a list of things you have done?  Specifically, things you did that should result in something happening: a book you ordered should turn up, a message you left should be returned, a request you made should be fulfilled.  Keep a ‘waiting for…’ list so that you never drop the ball by forgetting something.
  9. Do one thing at a time.  Multi-tasking is not as effective nor as efficient as focus.
  10. Redundancy: if it’s important, have a back-up plan.  Have spares, have alternatives.  Stash a bit of spare cash in every bag you have – and spare pens.  Leave early and plan to have a coffee before a meeting.  Take reading or work wherever you go.

Further Reading

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Learning

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


  • Why do you need to learn?
  • What do you need to learn?
  • How will you learn?
  • What will you do with the knowledge if you do learn?

These four excellent questions put us in mind of Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT System for learning – a model that will help you answer the ‘How will you learn?’ question.  But let’s start at the beginning: Why?

The true answer to ‘why learn?’ will always be ‘because you can; because it is human nature to; and because learning is a joyous process.’  But I am guessing many readers will be more specifically career-focused.  You may be a new manager, perhaps hoping for a promotion, perhaps wanting a new role.

Exercise 1: Why Learn

Look at last week’s blog post, Career Development, and then ask yourself:  ‘What is my purpose in embarking on job-related learning?’  Write your answers in your notebook.

Exercise 2: What to Learn

To determine what you most need to learn, conduct a SWOT analysis.  Take a cold critical view of your personal strengths and weaknesses.  Then look at the opportunities ahead of you and the threats that may set you back.  Compare your strengths and weaknesses with the opportunities and threats and, from that, determine your learning priorities.

SWOT Analysis

Exercise 3: How to Learn

It seems likely that we all have our preferred learning styles: reading and analysis, experimentation and playing, reflecting on experiences.  Think about a time when you learned most easily and comfortably.  What were you doing then?  This is possibly a good starting point for designing a learning process that will work for you.

Further Reading

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Career Development

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


Do you have a career plan?  You should.  Even if you have not charted out the rest of your life, you should have a shrewd idea of how long you want to stay where you are now; doing what you are doing; and what next.

Here are some exercises that will help you to plan out this and the next stages of your career.

Exercise 1: Getting to Grips with a New Job

Answer these three questions:

  1. What is the true essence of your job?
  2. What is one thing you can achieve quickly to start to build a good reputation?
  3. Who are the people you most need to get to know and to influence?

Exercise 2: Getting Ahead in your Current Job

Set yourself three objectives:

  1. Three people to get to know during the next three months
  2. A substantial opportunity to be innovative, take the lead or make something happen
  3. Some training, development or learning that will position you for a step forward

Exercise 3: Refreshing your Attitude to your Current Job

In ‘Same Job: New Job’, we looked at how to spice up your attitude to your current job, if a move is not on the cards.  Read that blog and choose three petals of the Flower Model of Job Satisfaction.  For each one, decide on one action you will carry out, to boost the way you feel about your job.

Exercise 4: What Next?

You may not yet have a strategic vision of how you want your career to proceed and where you want to get to.  If this is the case, ask yourself the question: ‘what do I want from my career?’

Write this down as a heading on a sheet of paper one evening.  The next day, get up early, make a cuppa, then sit and write anything that comes into your mind onto the page.  Don’t censor or try to organise it.  Just get the ideas down.

Repeat two or three times and then, when you have a quiet hour to spare, go through it all and see what is there that makes real sense to you.

Now you will have the basis for deciding what needs to come next.  Put together a plan for:

  • on-the-job learning
  • continuing professional development
  • taking on projects
  • looking for new opportunities

Exercise 5: Continuing Professional Development

If you are a member of a professional or trade body, this will almost certainly come with your chosen career.  Even so, there will be discretionary modules and units, so make choices based on what you want to prepare yourself for.  If you are not part of such a membership organisation, then look at the training your employer can offer, maybe your trade union has some training you can use, and also look at local FE colleges and the courses they can provide.  You may also want to look at independent training providers who run open programmes.

The trick is to build a logical case that will show your employer what they will gain by investing in putting you on that training.  Be clear about the facts and ask the provider for help in identifying the workplace benefits of their course.

Exercise 6: A Career Change?

There is an excellent set of resources for this at the Open University careers advisory service site.

Further Reading

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Decision Making

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics This is part of an extended course in management.


In understanding decision-making, there are three key things to focus on:

  1. Using a structured process
  2. The role of intuition, gut instinct and hunches
  3. The effects of bias and automatic thinking

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Structured Decision Making Process

… like the example below.

Structured Decision Process

One of the most important choices in your decision process will be whether to go for an adversarial process of setting the options against one another – perhaps even having advocates for each, competing with one another to win the decision – or to go for a process of inquiry, learning as much as you can before assessing the options.

Intuition

Although Malcolm Gladwell received a lot of attention for his book Blink, his work leans heavily on the research by Gary Klein and his books, The Power of Intuition and the more technical Sources of Power are first rate.  Klein shows how, in domains that are very complex and in which you have extensive experience, your intuition can quickly get you to the right understanding, well ahead of your ability to explain why or how you reached the conclusion you did.  But, if you don’t have sufficient experience, then your hunches are likely to be wrong, due to the existence of…

Bias and Automatic Thinking

Two psychologists, Daniel Kahnemann and Amos Tversky, were responsible for overthrowing the crude assumption that economics is based on rational decisions.  In fact, they showed that many decisions are a result of automatic thinking and biases.  The automatic thinking is a short cut that works well in the domains in which humans evolved, but leads frequently to wrong answers in a modern world context.  An example is the ‘horns and halo effect’ and another is our bias towards noticing examples that confirm what we believe to be true, whilst being blind to counter examples.  Daniel Kahnemann wrote the wonderful ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ to summarise a life’s research and it is, without a doubt, one of the most important and stimulating reads of the last few years.

Further Reading

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Manage Stress at Work

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics This is part of an extended course in management.


As a manager, you have two stress management responsibilities:

  1. To manage your own stress levels
  2. To manage the environment to avoid subjecting your team members to inappropriate levels of stress

Let’s scamper through the basics.

Exercise 1: How to spot the signs of stress in your team?

Make a list for yourself of all of the outward signs that suggest that a team member may be experiencing stress.  These are the things you could observe in their demeanour, appearance and behaviour.

Part of your responsibility is to monitor your team’s collective performance.  What if stress were an endemic problem?  What would be the indicators and behaviours that would signal this problem? Note these down.

For some examples, click here.

Reducing Stress

To understand stress, you need to focus on one thing: control.  We feel stressed when we do not feel we have enough control in our lives.  Therefore, to reduce stress, we must increase control.

Supporting your team

Look for places where stressed team members feel robbed of control.  Where you can, restore some of their control.  Where that is not possible, help them to find other areas where they can take control.

Points of Control

The five key points of control for all of us are:

  1. Our environment
    How can you or your team members make changes to the environment to feel a greater sense of control.  Often, very little things are enough.  Personalisation is an important driver.
  2. Our use of time
    Where can you use your time more effectively (you may want to look at the time management tips in an earlier blog)?  How can you give team members more control over the way they use their time to get their work done.  Autonomy is another important driver.
  3. Our physical response to stressors
    Simple choices like what to eat, getting enough exercise and prioritising rest and relaxation will make a big difference to stress levels.  Poor physical health will reduce our resilience to a stress response.
  4. Our mental response to stressors
    ’there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’
    Hamlet was spot on when he understood that it is the meaning we attach to events that determines our response to them: elation, contentment, boredom, or stress for example.  When feeling stressed, take control of your mental response and start focusing on what opportunities there are, what resources you have, and what there is to be grateful for.
  5. Our values – what is important to us
    A mismatch between what we are told is important at work and what we fundamentally believe is important to ourselves is a major cause of stress.  Examine your values – they may be out of date and you may want to shift, for example from: ‘it is important I work hard’ to ‘it is important I do great work’.  If your values are still out of sync with what your employer requires, you are in the wrong job.

Further Reading

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John Adair’s Four-D System

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog is going back to basics. This is part of an extended course in management skills.


Time management is a vital part of your personal effectiveness.  As a manager, you will face greater time challenges than you did as a team member; but you will also have additional resources and greater flexibility in how you use your time.

One of the simplest and most powerful time management approaches is John Adair’s Four-D System.  This is documented in his (now out of print) Handbook of Management and Leadership.

Adair starts with a standard Eisenhower Matrix putting urgency against importance.

Urgent&Important

Adair then identifies starting time management strategy for each class of activities:

  1. Do it now
  2. Delay it until you have some good quality time
  3. Do it quickly
  4. Drop it or Delegate it

Critique

As always, John has identified a powerful model with real practical application.  Yet I can’t help feeling we must modify it a little.  Here are three ways you can make it even more effective still:

Priorities

Although the urgency suggests that box 1 is top priority, this creates a high stress, low sustainability work style.  Prioritise box 2 and you will find yourself planning and preparing ahead of urgency and so find less work falls into box 1.

Drop or delegate… Really?

If it is not worth your time to do it, why is it worth someone else’s time?  Yes it may be important enough for someone else to do it, but don’t just Dump it on someone to avoid an assertive NO.  Indeed, get in the habit of delegating Box 1, 2, and 3 tasks too, to develop the people who work for you.

More Ds…

We’ve already added Dump, but I don’t propose to honour it with emphasis.  But Diminish is a powerful strategy.  Look at the task and ask: ‘do I need to do all of it?’  If you can reduce the work required and still deliver all or most of the value, you will save valuable time.  And there is another D: Decide.  You need to decide which strategy to adopt.  Unless, that is, you Defer your decision.  If you do that as an example of purposive procrastination* it is a sound approach.

Exercise

Make an Eisenhower grid on a whiteboard or on the four panels of a door, or in your notebook.  Use post-it type notes to jot down all the tasks facing you (big for the whiteboard/door or small for your notebook).  Allocate the notes to one of the four quadrants.  If everything is at the top left, re-calibrate your mental scales for importance and urgency.

Further Reading


*Purposive Procrastination: putting something off because there will be a better time to tackle it.

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Type A and Type B

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog is going back to basics. This is part of an extended course in management skills.


Are you a ‘rush-rush-got-to-get-things-done’ sort of a manager, or are you a ‘take my time; want to get things right’ type?  Or are you nicely balanced.  Doctors Mike Friedman and Ray Rosenman identified these two styles as, respectively, Type A and Type B personalities.  When I tell you they were cardiac specialists, you might start to worry.  There is no need.  Take the test and then I’ll explain.

Exercise

For each of these nine statements, score yourself 0 to 10 according to how close you lie to the first statement (a low score) or to the second statement (a high score).

Type A-B Thermometer

.

Casual and relaxed 0 … 10 Often feel on edge

Slow and deliberate 0 … 10 Always rushing

Dislike deadlines 0 … 10 Love working to deadlines

Patient 0 … 10 Impatient

Express your feelings 0 … 10 Suppress your feelings

One thing at a time 0 … 10 Lots of things at once

Ready in advance 0 … 10 Just in time

Plan and prepare 0 … 10 Just do it

Enjoy relaxing 0 … 10 Feel guilty when relaxing

.

Interpretation

Friedman and Rosenman predicted that strong Type A personalities would be prone to heart disease and die young.  They were wrong.  Many of their patients did have a cluster of personality traits that they characterised as Type A, but only a few of them were truly predictive of illness – and not the ones relating to rushing about.

However, both Type A and Type B personalities each have their own challenges in operating in an organisation.  Let’s look at some.

Dealing with other People

Inevitably, we deal best with people who are like us.  We find them easy to understand and their habits agreeable.  Type As readily get impatient with Type Bs.  They want the B to hurry up and despair that the B has no sense of urgency about things.  Type Bs find Type As’ hurry annoying; they would rather the A would slow down and do things properly and are concerned about quality standards.

Dealing with Admin

Type Bs will take on the organising and admin tasks as another thing to do carefully and well.  Type As – unless they really value it – will rush through it, wanting to move quickly onto ‘proper work’.  They will then get angry when they can’t find what they need or get what they want.

Dealing with Interruptions

Type Bs may not welcome an interruption – especially when they are engrossed in something – but when they accept it has happened, they will turn their whole attention to you.  This is great for the interrupter and can lead to positive outcomes.  But when the interrupter has a non-critical issue, Type Bs can lose valuable time on the work they were doing.  Not so Type A’s.  The interruption may be unwelcome or a welcome distraction when they are starting to feel bored, but the Type A will soon be tapping their foot, keen to get on.

Managing Time

Type A personalities get masses done; often just in time and at breakneck pace.  Quality can suffer, especially when they try to multi-task, but it is Type As who are at the heart of the (perfectly true) cliché: ‘if you want it done; ask a busy person.’  Type Bs focus on one thing at a time and do it well.  They plan well and execute effectively, as long as they don’t get held up by an interruption or by finding a problem and working deliberately to solve it.

Exercise: Balance is Everything

The most successful people inevitably balance both personality types.  Look at your weak points and note them down.  What strategies can you use to neutralise them?

Further Reading

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