Effective Postmortem Discussions

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Problems come in all shapes and sizes. Don’t get mad. Get learning!

Sure, proper planning, resources, and discipline, can prevent many problems from ever happening. But no matter how hard we try, some will slip through, anyway – that’s just reality.

So how best can we learn from the bad things that happen?

Mistakes are the Stepping Stones to Wisdom

It starts with realizing that once whatever issues are resolved, we need to learn what we can from whatever just happened.

So it’s not a time to get mad. Or retributive. It’s a time to get smarter. And an important and helpful, but often overlooked step to bringing that learning front-and-center is something called the “postmortem.”

The Postmortem Process

For those of you not familiar with the term, let’s define the term as an analysis or discussion of an event after it is over.

Here are the steps I’ve used to great success with postmortems in the workplace:

1. Gather everyone together. Include staff, vendor personnel, and customers, if appropriate and thank them all for the being there. Focus on trying to put everyone at ease so they know it’s not an inquisition and it is okay to for them to relax. Assure them, if necessary, that “no heads will roll,” as that would lead to a quite different type of postmortem, if you get my drift!

2. Review what happened. Ask those most directly involved to retell the story, in their own words, of what happened. Encourage everyone to add pieces of information no matter how big or small their role was or the information is. Look to understand, not to blame, by asking questions like, “What then?” and “What else?” Show everyone the utmost respect and a true curiosity in recreating circumstances. And keep probing until everyone who has something to say, says it.

3. Ask for the learning. When you’re satisfied that everyone has spoken, shift to asking about what people have learned from what happened. “What did we learn from all this?” “How are we smarter?” “What changes should we make to plug any vulnerabilities that have become apparent?” Keep asking until, again, even the ‘quiet’ people speak. And if they don’t, invite each to share their thinking with the group…because the quiet people often have the best insights.

4. Assign follow-up tasks and due dates. Likely, some pretty good ideas will surface, many of which will require some planning, preparation, or processing. Follow-up is key, so be sure to have someone put these assignments in writing and distribute to everyone within one business day, and determine how best to insure these open items are properly tracked to completion in a suitable time frame.

5. Reiterate your appreciation. Close happily. Say something that indicates the work of the meeting is now complete. Thank them, again, for their openness, honesty, and collective wisdom. Say something funny, if you can – laughter is a great way to help people release any lingering tension they may be feeling. Reiterate how helpful their participation in this process has been for you…and hopefully them, as well.

6. Get ‘em back to work, because, well, there’s always more work to be done.

Hope this helps.

Original Source: https://www.ggci.com/blog/2003/10/effective-post-mortem-discussions.htm.


Justifying Title and Salary Upgrades

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It’s that time of year again, so let’s review how things work…

When talking about raises and title changes I always recommend a three-pronged approach:

Your Top 3 Justifications

  1. In-Place Growth – The better you can justify how your job has significantly grown since you first began in the position, the better. Chart out the increase in widgets, transactions, customers, budget, direct reports, etc. – whatever you can use to quantify your ‘in place’ growth, the better. (If your Flash Stats are meaningful enough, they will justify the ‘reasonableness’ of your request.)
  2. Separation – The better you can justify how you are currently performing duties ‘above and beyond’ the duties that people at your current level are performing, the better. This validates that you are already doing more than others. It’s sometimes helpful to think about this as a ‘push’ strategy – that you are proving that you have already pushed yourself up FROM (and beyond) your current level.
  3. Realignment – The better you can justify how you’re currently performing duties that are already similar to (on a par with) those being performed by people ALREADY at the next level, the better. This further justifies that your role and responsibilities are much better aligned with those at this higher level than they are at your current level and, overall, it’s actually more of a precedent-setting move to NOT formalize your raise (or promotion) than it is to simply authorize the upgrade. It’s sometimes helpful to think about this as a ‘pull’ strategy – that you are proving that you have already pulled yourself up TO the next level.

All three points – in-place growth, separation, and re-alignment – must be made, though, if you want your request to truly be a compelling business justification, the type that your boss can easily take to his/her boss to request approval on your behalf.

Sadly, two of three typically won’t be compelling enough. And, of course, each prong must be strong enough to stand on its own. So the onus is on you to articulate these points, as such.

Additional Considerations

A few other elements to keep in mind:

  • If you have some people OUTSIDE of your vertical chain-of-command who can sing your praises to your boss, that’d help make it even easier for your boss to obtain whatever approvals s/he might need to make things happen.
  • You might also ask for some *additional* responsibilities because: (a) you’re obviously ready for them; and (b) they’d help further justify the upgrade you’re seeking.
  • If s/he responds, “Sorry, no,” ask what other options might exist for increasing your compensation, recognition, and/or authority. Don’t discount the value of something less formal, such as additional comp time, increased visibility, to get you on a promotion track, a meeting with his/her boss to discuss additional possibilities, etc.
  • Know that with bonus pools, there’s almost ALWAYS some secret ‘extra’ money available for ‘special circumstances.’ And yours IS a ‘special circumstance,’ is it not? Make it easy to see that.

If All Else Fails

Know, too, that it’s sometimes helpful to ask your boss if the issue is that s/he doesn’t want to promote you…or s/he does, but just can’t get approval TO promote you.

If s/he doesn’t want to promote you, you need him/her to explain why not and then decide if you want to accept it, request a meeting with his/her boss to make your case, or look for new work (inside or out of the company).

If s/he wants to promote you but can’t get the necessary approvals, ask that s/he and you both meet with his/her boss to discuss options, alternatives, and time frames.

Hope this helps. And if this works for you, send me one of your new business cards


Self-Imposed Pressure

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A leader’s success can easily be predicted by how pressure affects performance. But while the pressures that organizations routinely place on leaders can be tremendous, it’s the pressures leaders put on themselves that are often more powerful…and debilitating.

Pressures Imposed by the Organization

The list of pressures that organizations put on leaders is near-infinite. Here are just a few examples of what you already know this to be about:

  • pressures to increase sales, again and again and again
  • pressures to decrease costs, again and again and again
  • pressures to better accelerate and integrate change
  • pressures to do more with less
  • pressures to collaborate more fully and freely, especially with those who are historically not particularly productive or cooperative
  • pressures to deal smoothly and crisply with changing priorities, special requests, and executive overrides
  • pressures to build (or rebuild) reputation and credibility
  • pressures to speed time-to-market
  • pressures to not just meet, but hardily exceed quarterly earnings expectations
  • pressures to instill urgency in nearly everything and everyone
  • pressures to roll with political pressures, conflicting priorities, inter-department communications issues and the failed commitments of others
  • pressures to maintain motivation and morale notwithstanding decision-making bottlenecks up the chain
  • pressures to create and maintain effective workarounds to technology shortcomings and hiccups
  • pressures to freeze hiring, retain staff, minimize turnover, and manage output
  • pressures to be bound by ineffective policies and processes
  • pressures to resolve a seemingly endless flow of customer, vendor, employee, and shareholder complaints

Is any of this easy? Often not. But it’s what the job entails so we do our best to deal with it all as effectively as we can. And some leaders do that much better than others.

Whether you do it well or not, it’s quite likely that someone will notice and recognize – and hopefully reward – your achievements, if not the your efforts in doing so.

The upside can be surprisingly positive, just as the downside can be surprisingly negative, each being a resume-updating opportunity of its own – although for significantly different reasons.

By, and large, whatever job you’re in could quite easily be more accurately defined by the pressures it puts you under rather than a mere recitation of its primary responsibilities. (Do yourself a favor a bookmark that idea for when you’re preparing for your year-end performance review with your immediate supervisor.)

That’s why we get paid – to deal with all of that.

Self-Imposed Pressures

But then there are the pressures we put on ourselves that our employer may not even know, or care about:

  • our perfectionist tendencies
  • our fear of failure
  • our fear of success
  • our worry about buckling under an overwhelming sense of responsibility
  • our suspicions that we’re losing esteem with others because we’re letting them down in some way
  • our second-guessing ourselves
  • our losing our confidence and questioning our value and self-worth
  • our not being able to shake this growing sense of anxiety, uncertainty, and doubt

These are the pressures that cause far more disruption than most everything our employers put on us.

Why? Because it all happens internally. We do it to ourselves. And, unlike a cast on your arm or a patch over an eye, the signs are not particularly obvious…at first.

Sure, others can see our performance ebb and flow – especially if the self-imposed pressure starts affecting our mood. (And, yes, it WILL affect your mood so ignore the signs at your own peril.)

Even if others take note, chances are that, in time, more and more will. Your inconsistencies and changes in behaviors will become increasingly apparent…and unflattering.

Which only adds to the pressure you’ll be under.

But YOU’LL know what it is. And that begs an important question to ask yourself: “How well am I doing with that?”

Easing Up on Yourself

Think about it. How well ARE you doing with your self-imposed pressures?

Your answer matters.

Greatly.

Let me know if you need some help thinking it through.


Venting vs. Clearing

“I just HATE when they complain like that,” one leader said exasperatedly.

Sure. I get it. People grouse, grip, grumble, moan, bellyache, carp, whine, and yammer all the time. Especially at work. And all that negativity can all-too-easily negate an otherwise decent mood you’re in.

So what to do? What CAN you do?

Definition of Terms

When something someone does or says continually frustrates you, one of the very first things I want you to do in your capacity as a leader is to recognize that they’re acting that way more for their own benefit, than yours. And while it often helps to acknowledge their angst – so they feel heard and seen – you really don’t want to encourage this sort of complaining from them without boundaries.

But how?

Well, what I recommend is that you create a distinction between the sort of ‘venting’ that people do – which often feels like endless complaining just for complaining’s sake – and ‘clearing’ – the process of quickly and efficiently sharing strong feelings so that they can be dissipated and released, allowing everyone to get back to more important things. And then redirect them, accordingly.

Distinctions in Action

So here’s how it’d work.

Someone ‘stops by’ and starts dumping all this negativity on you. Calmly, quietly, and respectfully, you say, “Wow! That sounds awful. Here, take another 15-20 seconds to ‘clear’ it out of your system so you can feel better and get back to work.”

Yes. Just. Like. That.

“Wow! That sounds awful. Here, take another 15-20 seconds to ‘clear’ it out of your system so you can feel better and get back to work.”

It’s Not as Harsh as You’d Think

Have them take another 15-20 SECONDS?!

Yes, because by and large, most people simply don’t know how (or when) to stop their beefing. So the time-limit, is actually very helpful. Too, the deadline:

(a) gives them an endpoint;

(b) helps them realize that, as their boss, you’re not there for them to routinely dump on (that is ‘vent’ to);

(c) gives them a way to release (that is ‘clear’) their pent up the frustrations they’re all bollixed up about; and

(d) allows you to assert your authority in a respectful, powerful, and efficient way.

Now, can you give them more than 15-20 seconds? Sure. But why would you want to?! Especially when you consider a corollary of something called Parkinson’s Law.

Parkinson’s Law postulates that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

So it reasons that if you shrink the time available for completion, the completion will still occur…just in less time!

After all, as with any delegated assignment, it’s typically far less about how much time someone COULD put into completing the assignment as much as how much time you can ALLOT to them for completion, before you need to use the results they were charged with providing back to you.

Key Traction Point⤞

If you just told them to go away, they likely would…and then find someone else to vent to. But that would be terribly short-sighted on your part.

So by teaching your your staff the difference between ‘venting’ and ‘clearing’, you not only help them feel better, which is a very important skill, but it also will benefit YOU every time they come to ‘vent’ – as you cleanly redirect them to ‘clear’ instead – and will benefit THEM because they’ll now know what to do whenever someone comes to grousing to THEM!

Try it, yourself, and see. And if you’re so moved, I’d love if you share your experience in the comment section, below.


When Are You At Your Best?

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When challenges arise, it helps to know when you’re at your best.

Why? Because, by definition, challenges are challenging. And when we’re at our best, challenges become imminently more doable. When we’re at our best, we’re more creative and spontaneous – more capable and confident.

When we’re at our best, we tend to see challenges in the best possible light – as intriguing puzzles to solve, games to win, tests to ace!

So it naturally follows that if we know what helps us be at our best, we can take the necessary steps to get back there when we’re not.

This? or That?

What follows, then, are some questions to help you better understand what peaks your skills, interests, talents, and abilities.

But first a word of caution:

If you’re like most, you’ll want to say, “It depends.” And, yes, of course it does. But you’ll find this a more meaningful exercise if you resist the urge to say that. Rather, go a bit deeper than what you can do – get in touch with what you prefer.

Ready? Let’s begin.

Here are ten sets of choices to get you started, but feel free to create, and choose from, as many other distinctions as come to mind:

  • Do you prefer working with others? – or working alone?
  • Do you prefer solving problems? – or leveraging opportunities?
  • Do you prefer bigger? – or more targeted?
  • Do you prefer helping others? – or others helping you?
  • Do you prefer facts? – or ideas?
  • Do you prefer vibrancy? – or calm?
  • Do you prefer creating? – or editing?
  • Do you prefer overhauling? – or optimizing?
  • Do you prefer planning? – or improvisation?
  • Do you prefer new and innovative? – or tried and true?

Aligning Preferences

So let’s say you have a deadline approaching for a project or assignment that, frankly, doesn’t thrill you. How can you apply this?

Well if, as example, you prefer relationships (working with others) to solitude (working alone), you would likely become more motivated by calling or visiting some people you respect and admire to get their views on how best to move things forward. Conversely, if you prefer solitude, you would likely get more value from some extended ‘one-on-none’ session with just you and a whiteboard.

If you prefer to refine what others have said (editing) rather than capture your own ideas (creating) you might want to delegate specific elements of your assignment to your direct reports so you have something to work with. Conversely, if you get inspired through creating, you might find that drafting a scope document or executive summary to share with others as a more meaningful way to start.

And if you prefer a more structured approach to your work (planning) versus something more free-form (improvisation) you might start with an outline or project plan or to do list. Conversely, if you prefer taking a less structured approach, doing some mind-mapping, or capturing your ideas with colored pens on rearrangeable sticky notes would likely prove more beneficial.

And the more preferences you can combine, the better.

Key Traction Point⤞

No one can be their best at all times. (If you could, it wouldn’t be called your ‘best’, it’d just be ‘normal’.) So becoming more skilled at returning to your best is the what we’ve been talking about here.

Remember that Japanese proverb, nana korobi, ya oki? (“Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”) It’s not about when, or where, or even why you might not be at your best at any particular moment in time – it’s about how to return to your best as quickly and effortlessly, as possible.

That is the goal. That is the skill to develop.

What do YOU do to get back to being at your best?


Updating Your Self-Diminishing Conclusions

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The following exercise is a variation of Benjamin Franklin’s T-Chart (where he’d take a sheet of paper, divide it into two columns, and use one column to list out all the ‘pros’ of an upcoming decision and the other column to list out all the ‘cons’).

In our case, though, rather than starting with a decision to be made, let’s use a decidedly negative conclusion you’ve reached about yourself.

Maybe something like, “I can’t accomplish ANYTHING – I’m a total loser,” or “I just can’t follow rules.”

The idea is that, regardless of how ‘true’ it may FEEL to you, such a statement is NOT a fact — it’s just a conclusion. And not a particularly helpful conclusion, at that.

But it IS often helpful to state our negative self-beliefs out loud. Why?

  • Because we’re already thinking them
  • So we can re-frame them in decidedly more positive and supportive ways

The key is to do it in a self-supporting way.

Step 1 – Start with the Negative

Pick a piece of negative self-talk that is all-too-familiar to you. Write it down. (As illustration, let’s use, “I can’t accomplish ANYTHING – I’m a total loser” as our working example.)

Step 2 – Capture its Reason

Think about what caused you to reach that negative conclusion for our first example. . For example, maybe you’re thinking:

  • “I’ve failed at so many other things so many times before”
  • “I just never know what to do”
  • “I always feel I’m in over my head”

The point here is not to make yourself feel bad, but to better understand what led you to your conclusion in the first place.

(I suggest you limit the number of reasons items to 3 – at least to start – as this helps minimize any ‘awfulization’ that might creep in when first trying this exercise. Besides, we’ll only need 1 so no need to go overboard!)

Step 3 – ‘Stem’ the Tide

Use the following sentence stems to create an alternative positive and self-affirming explanation for the Negative Conclusion from Step 1 and the Reasons provided by Step 2.

I sometimes feel … [insert your Negative Conclusion from Step 1] and that’s probably because… [insert your Reason from Step 2] … which highlights one of my STRENGTHS, in that … [insert your Restatement from Step 3].

Sample/Example 1

I sometimes feel … “I can’t accomplish ANYTHING – I’m a total loser” and that’s probably because… I’ve failed at so many things so many times before … which highlights one of my STRENGTHS, in that … I’m unafraid to take on new challenges.

See what we’ve done? We’ve re-framed your self-talk from being about failure, to being about fearlessness.

Sample/Example 2

I sometimes feel … “I just can’t follow rules ” … and that’s probably because … I can always see why exceptions are in order … which highlights one of my STRENGTHS, in that … I am sincere, caring, and truly customer-focused,even when it’s inconvenient.

See what we did? We turned your so-called weakness into a customer-service value-added.

Moving (Positively) Forward

The way to leverage this exercise, moving forward, is by using it to help you recognize that just because you’ve reached a Negative Conclusion about yourself does not have to mean that it’s a fully accurate conclusion about yourself. And with that, you now also know how to quickly and easily replace that negative self-talk with something decidedly more positive, constructive, and self-affirming.