Friday, December 10, 2010

They Needed Your Permission

While coaching a senior executive from a large corporation, she talked about managing her time better.  She said that she should delegate more effectively.  Her role had been recently expanded.  With that came, not only additional accountability and responsibility but also additional staff.  She complained that she is swamped with an exponential increase in emails and actions required of her.  In addition, the number of decisions she had to make increased too. She was busy, busy and busy.  What bothered her was that some of the decisions were rather trivial and she felt that her staff could make them.

It reminded me of a similar situation I was in.  I had just been assigned to lead a larger operation in the Asia Pacific.  Most of the staff had heard of me before my arrival.  But, they really did not know me as a as a person.   I was excited and eager to impress my new team and my management.

A senior manager from my Asia Pacific operation came to me to discuss an issue and to get a decision.  I listened, asked a few questions and without hesitation told him of my decision.  I felt good about my decision and the senior manager executed it flawlessly.  The manager came back some time later with another issue and looked for another decision.  Again, I listened, ask some questions and made my decision.  This time, I felt a little uneasy with the whole episode.  I thought that it wasn’t a difficult decision and that the senior manager could have made it.

The manager came to me for another decision.  Again I listened and asked some questions.  This time, I asked him what decision would he have made if he were me.  He looked surprised and hesitated.  At the end he told me what he would do.  I listened attentively and said, “That is wonderful! I would have taken the same decision.” So off he went and executed the decision.

He came back again for another decision.  I listened, asked some questions and asked him what he would have done.  He told me and I acknowledged it as a good decision.  This time I didn’t stop there.  We talked a bit more about decision making and what style he is used to.  It was then that I learned that he could have made all those decisions but feared making them as he was previously “burned” for empowering himself.  We ended the conversation with a limit of authority where he was empowered to make decisions.  He NEEDED MY PERMISSION to make those decisions and he got it.

After listening to the story, my coachee decided to try it out.  The next day I received an email that titled, “It Worked” from her.  She spoke to her staff about not requiring her approval for routine work and her staff said, “Oh! I didn’t know that I could do that.  I am just used to checking with the powers to be.”  In this circumstance, the staff is the power.  The staff was pleased and so was my coachee.  She received fewer emails, fewer routine things to review and can dedicate more time to envisioning and enjoying her other activities.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Disagree and Build

I have got over the discomfort of agreeing.  There are times I disagree.  I needed to find a way to disagree without creating bad feeling.  If the disagreements are handled poorly, I felt that I will be judged as not supportive.  I wanted them to know I disagree but will continue to find a way to meet the objective.
I observed the participants and their interactions in many meetings.  Everyone was focused on the topic.  There were times when an idea is attacked.  But the presenter of the idea did not feel attacked.  I looked upon this exchange with wonder.  My culture indicated to me that an attack is an attack.  If you attack my idea, you attack me.  Participants in these meetings can discredit an idea and debate to great length the merits of the disagreement.  At the end of the meeting after all the argument, the parties that were on opposite side of the issue were chatting and laughing together.  It amazes me that there were no ill feelings.

I learned much observing them.  At the end of their debate the original idea evolved into a stronger one.  The original idea was built into one that everyone accepted.  This was wonderful.  It looks like I am painting a rosy picture.  There were times when things don’t go well.  Usually it is when the proposer felt attacked and did not want to budge from the proposed idea. 

The key is Building an idea.  I started with agreeing.  Now I learned how to agree and build.  I learned to make statements like, “That is a wonderful idea and should work well in Asia.  It will work even better if that is translated into local languages.  Thus, providing a budget for translation will ensure a successful implementation.”  After a short discussion on translation, the conversation moved to which languages and amount to budget.  It is not a debate of the need for translation.

So how do we DISAGREE?  For me, Build is again the key ingredient.  My observations led to conclude that I cannot just disagree and stop at that.  People expect an alternative – a build.  If you can’t find a build, then you may have to drop the disagreement.  It could mean that your knowledge of the topic is not deep enough or your conviction is not strong enough.

In a meeting on a development of a learning program that will be rolled out globally, there was a discussion of what motivates a person to act.  The case example was that both the TV set and the fridge broke down at the same time.  To make matters worse, the Super Bowl is televised live the next evening.  You had enough money to replace one.  Which one would you?  I disagreed with the example to be used.  I said something like, “I think a case study to force a person to a difficult decision is important to the program but to the audience in most countries in Asia, Super Bowl has no significance and an overwhelming number will select replacing the fridge over the TV.  This defeats the intent of making a difficult decision and a deeper understanding of the person’s need.  I suggest that we redesign this portion to enable local customization.  For instance, we may use a situation of a fridge and buying tickets home for the Spring Festival family reunion. In another country, we may use the World Cup with the fridge.

This conversation turns out to be more pleasant than just saying it doesn’t work without offering an alternative.  So, to DISAGREE, I learned to AGREE; then AGREE and BUILD; and finally DISAGREE and BUILD.

Friday, November 26, 2010

To Disagree, First Learn to Agree

When I was growing up, there were two aspects about speaking that I thought were important.  One is that you spoke only when you had something important to contribute.  Secondly, it is impolite to express your disagreement directly.

In the beginning of my USA assignment, I applied this philosophy to my meetings.  The sound levels at these meetings were much higher than those I had experienced.  The conversations flowed from one person to another without much pauses.  At times, a new conversation started before the previous one ended.  My ability to say anything was drastically limited.  I couldn’t find a break point to make a statement.  I comforted myself saying that it was all right. At the end, the problems were getting solved and the actions plans were becoming concrete.  So, although I didn’t say much, I was happy with the outcomes of the meetings and committed to the actions.  Saying anything, I justified, would just lengthen the meeting and added to the decibel.

My manager, after observing me for a few meetings, called me aside and asked me why I was so quiet in those meetings.  I told her that the meetings were going well and I didn’t need to say anything to disrupt the flow.  I agreed with their good suggestions and actions.  She listened and then asked me if I was really happy with the outcome.  I reaffirmed that I was and therefore didn’t need to say anything else at the meetings.

What she said next surprised me.  She asked me why I didn’t say that I agreed with the outcomes and supported the plans.  I argued that I took good notes and even showed her all the actions items for me.  In her collected tone, she said, “You really must say something in a meeting.  The participants need to know that you are there, not only in body but in mind and spirit.  If you agree with the outcome, tell them.  Tell them you will support the actions. I know you are committed to the actions and have always completed them.  But you must TELL them.”

It wasn’t an easy task.  I am not used to making such statements.  The words don’t fall neatly into place.  Taking her advice, I began to practice various phrases to state my agreement and support.  I wanted to ensure that what I say carried the message with SINCERITY.  I leaned to say words like, “That’s a wonderful idea!  I think the team in Asia can support that.”  I practiced many other statements, for variety, so that when the time came for me to use them, I have them handy.

Some may argue that making those statements make one shallow and superficial.  It may not enhance or even maintain the self-esteem of the person making them.  On the contrary!  I felt good making those statements.  More participants came up to me after the meeting thanking me for my ideas, contributions and support.  I felt great!  I meant those statements and my actions showed.  I am now a member of meeting – not only by association but also by contribution.  I am no longer perceived as a bystander.

My philosophy on speaking out has changed.  I am comfortable agreeing.  But, I must still be able to disagree when needed.  Is there a proper way?  Everyone has their own.  For me, I needed one more step – AGREEING AND BUILDING, before disagreeing.  That will be for my next posting.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thank You for the Encouragement

I am overwhelmed by the responses to my first blog.  Your comments are encouraging and valuable.  Some have written directly on the blog while others have replied to my email.  I am deeply honored that you took the time to read the posting.  Most of you thought that the blog is fitting.  In his humorous way, Yongwoo faulted me for not advising him early in his career.

Thank you all.  Your comments bring out the fact that our situations are different and you have to manage your career conversations in a manner that is appropriate to the circumstance. For instance, TN stated that knowing your audience well is critical and that we have to assess the situation before entering into the discussion.  CL used a different strategy for her conversation.  She discussed her goals and objectives with her managers regularly.  In this manner, her managers got to know her better.

Many organizations encourage career conversations.  Unfortunately, there are some that don’t.  Even for organizations that encourage them, Mathia advised that they have to be done in an open and non-threatening manner.  The bosses and the associates need to play their parts.  It cannot be a one-sided affair.  According to SC, high potential talents must display some courage in taking on assignments given.  Taj did just that.  He had his talent spotted constantly and took on all the opportunities given.  Otherwise as VS suggested there will be missed opportunities and, as Jason said, one can end up as an “unpolished gemstone”.

Preparation is key to a successful conversation.  It may also make the conversation more comfortable.  Anjum knows its importance even when he dislikes having them.  Jason attested that communication and persuasive skills are needed.  In preparing for the conversation, Mariam mentioned the importance of a personal vision.  Tsui Chern’s “elevator speech” is a great way to get a clear and succinct message across.  In addition, Mathia asked us to take advantage of tools that can assist us in career discussions.  Anuraag reminded us to be sincere in expressing our feelings.   Finally, timing is important.  Bil noticed the need to find an opportune time to have these conversations. For those who organizations have scheduled time, you are fortunate.

I am grateful to all of you and I am encouraged to continue. So be on the lookout for the next posting -- “To disagree, first learn to agree.”

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tell Them If You Want It!!

I grew up with the notion that parents know best when it comes to what is good for me. They do in many instances.  When I wished for something, I never expressed that desire.  I took this philosophy into my work.  I expected that excellent performance is all that is needed to see me grow in my job and career.  Many times it did.

In my 32 years as a corporate manager, I lived in 4 countries, visited 48 cities, and worked in 20 functional areas.  I reported to 26 bosses and had 66 direct reports.  For most of these moves, I was presented with the opportunity which I evaluated and took.  They were good for me as well as the company.

When I returned to Asia after my assignment in the USA, I had the responsibility for South Asia.  The sub-region includes India, the ASEAN countries, Australia and New Zealand.  The Asia Pacific division comprised of North Asia, led by my peer and South Asia.

After excelling in that position, another opportunity arose.  My boss wanted to return to the USA.  I knew that I had a chance for his job.  I also knew that the management is also considering someone else.  That person was performing equally well.

When I weighed the various factors, I had many advantages.  I am an Asian on local payroll.  So from a cost standpoint, I would be more effective.  Considering all the factors, I thought that I would be a "shoo-in".

Little did I know I had to fight for the job.  My mentor, a member of the management team, told me that I had to tell the president that I wanted the job.  I was surprised!  I argued and tried to rationalize that the president should know.  In her wisdom, she said, "If you want the job badly enough, you will tell him so.  He needs to hear that commitment from you."  Her words set me thinking.  I realize how right she is.

My chance came when my president came for a visit.  He had a busy schedule and the only private time that I have with him is driving him to the airport.  It was going to be a half hour ride.  I rehearsed and rehearsed my conversation.  Despite the fact that my president is a good listener and an easy person to talk to, I am not familiar with this type of conversation.  I plan to tell him that I am the best person for the job, that the role means a lot to me and why I am an asset to the organization.  It wasn't the most comfortable dialogue I had with him.

The rest is history.  I got the job.  The conversation during the drive to the airport must have helped.  

Good performance is a given.  It is very important to get your stakeholder to hear your commitment and desire.  Some may argue about my arrogance in telling my leader that I am the best candidate.  It is still an interview.  SO TELL YOUR LEADER IF YOU WANT THE JOB!!