People love to comment on how professional someone is or isn’t, especially if they are irritated with the person. Professionalism is all about how someone acts and how they treat others.
Growing up, my mother had a different word for the same thing: manners. You knew how to act at the grocery store (no, the cookies are not yours, put them down), you knew how to act at school (if the teacher calls me you’ll be in worse trouble when you get home), you knew how to play with the kids on your street (sharing is expected), you knew how to have a conversation with other parents who were also in authority (Thank you, thank you Mr and Mrs. Greenberg!), and you knew how to act in church (no carrying on when the preacher’s preaching).
One could say there are some basic, maybe foundational, rules of conduct that apply to everyday life. If you master them, you will also be seen as “acting professional”. Here are a few things to consider that a professional-acting person does in her or his day job:
- Be on time, the world does not revolve around you
- Look people in the eye (unless in a culture that does not appreciate that, meaning you’re respectful and mindful of where you are)
- Pay attention when someone is talking (Put the phone down – it can wait)
- Don’t talk over others, allow them to finish their thought
- Keep your swearing to yourself (why share how limited your vocabulary really is)
- Treat people as people, not objects to do your bidding.
- Be respectful of other people’s time – be prepared, be organized, “be brief, be bright, and be gone”
This is only a starter list. I’m sure if I had more time to list “professional manners” we’d soon cross over into Miss Manner’s guide to basic living in rather short order.
While working at General Motors a new technology came out that was going to revolutionize the way we worked, eliminate paper, save time, and make us more productive. Inter-office memos were a thing of the past.
It was 1987 and the technology that was going to revolutionize the work world? The desktop computer. My boss fought to get one in his department of 200 employees. He was the only one who had “the computer” but he never used it. It just sat there staring at you when you went in his office. One day, I asked him why he never used it. He said he didn’t even know how to turn it on. I chuckle every time I remember that conversation.
As I wrote this blog on my iPhone, I thought about how far technology’s reach has become and how it’s changed my personal and business life. Today, I am as close as I have ever been to being paperless. Seamless communication can occur anywhere in the world and yes, to me, that is a truly amazing thing. I just wanted to share with you my top five “Amazing Technologies”:
When I used to travel for work I’d have to get out a paper map and figure out how to get from point A to point B. Now, I no longer use maps or even ask for directions. A small voice on my phone tells me where I am and where to turn.
Information flows real-time 24/7/365 on my phone. I can help ensure information gets to the person who needs it most. Although, I would caution you to create some personal and professional lines when using this piece of technology. Your professional and personal can blur in a heartbeat if not managed.
Texting / emails
Back in the day, we had a “formal business letter”. Transcribed by the pool administrative assistants it was then placed in either an internal memo pouch or in an envelope and dropped off in the mail room for distribution. Snail mail. Now, information flows as fast as I can type on my phone and hit the send button whether that’s a text or an email message.
Do you appreciate the ease with which you can scan an image or document and send instantly? Even after emails were in use, certain documents still had to be mailed via snail mail. Not anymore. I’m amazed by something as simple as a PDF document.
At DaimlerChrysler we had 8-hour global meetings with real-time video conferencing. I would walk into a conference room and my German counterpart sat at the end of the conference table on a computer screen. A six-hour time zone difference and thousands of miles were nonexistent. Being able to see others during a meeting or showing someone in real time a product or facility brings a new level of communication to business.
I’ve shared with you my top five amazing technologies, and I’m sure your list is different. I’m curious what technologies cause you to stop and shake your head in your industry? Feel free to share below in the comments.
“You have 60 unread emails” and it’s only 8am in the morning. Ugh. It’s shaping up to be your fourth Friday* in a row. Why is it that at the most inconvenient time, the pace doubles and the information flows faster than your filter can absorb?
What do you do in that moment to process and “communicate” from within the information tsunami? Think about it for a moment. Communication is the lifeblood of manufacturing. Communication ensures good decisions have a chance to be made, communication enables good prioritization of tasks and initiatives, communication reinforces the team’s direction.
I’ll ask again, how do you filter the information coming and going during a day like this?
Let’s start by acknowledging that email is not the end all be all. Heresy! One time in the automotive industry I watched emails flying back and forth between two of my staff who were sitting less than 15′ apart. I finally had had enough and dragged them into a conference room and said, “Fix it.”
To be fair, we all have a preferred method of communication be it Email – Text – Daily Reports – Phone – Face/Face. But instead of thinking of yourself. Why not flip it and ask yourself, “What does the situation require of you to communicate best in?” In a fluid day, an email may languish in an overflowing inbox whereas a text will be acted upon.
When sending emails, pay attention to your “subject” line wording. Some folks support multiple business areas, so just saying “Yesterday’s meeting notes” isn’t helpful. That is why Miss Grammar created “adjectives” – “Yesterday’s Production meeting notes” is more descriptive. Use key words in the subject including the project, location, etc. Help the email receiver help you.
For the millennials, go ahead and smile, because while I’m a boomer, I think a text message can be the best way to keep information flowing in certain situations. Each company’s environment differs so use this to augment and reinforce the communication for those times when “instant” means now, not an hour from now.
We all get “daily” reports. Sometimes the Daily report isn’t first on the must read now list. You can filter these as needed to fit your rhythm. Sometimes you may even discern a pattern that you never tend to read a particular report – would it be crazy to suggest removing yourself from that particular thread?
Conversations (Phone or Face/Face)
Fast conversations can prevent a cluttered email box. Let me say it again – conversations save inbox overload.
If an email chain becomes a “back and forth” conversation – either drop everyone else off or better yet pick up the phone. Realize that not everyone is on the computer all the time and not everyone has smart phones. If you need an immediate answer or have time-critical information – don’t use email. Text, call or go find the person.
When you find the information tsunami is in full force, take a moment to be respectful of others and their priorities. If someone doesn’t immediately respond to you, don’t assume they are ignoring you. While you may have 60 unread emails, they may have 100. It’s hard to believe that your priorities may not be someone else’s too.
Plan ahead, don’t procrastinate, allow people time to respond based on the situation.
*I have nothing against those who love Fridays. But after 30 years in the manufacturing world, if something is going to go wrong, it will be on a Friday or the day before a long holiday weekend… That’s when you just have to smile and say, let’s figure it out…
I was recently reading about perfumes. Did you know a fragrance has three distinct notes (layers) called highs, mids and bass. Each layer has a distinct role to play in the fragrance’s composition:
- High notes: Are the first ones out of the bottle so to speak, they introduce your nose to the fragrance.
- Mid notes: Are the focal point of the fragrance or what the experts call its “defining structure”.
- Bass notes: Are the foundation which the fragrance stands on. These tend to linger long after a person has left the room.
This got me thinking about teams. Do teams follow a similar pattern? Do teams have their own unique “scent” of sorts? Let’s think about it.
High notes: You know the old saying, “You only have one chance at a first impression.” High notes are those immediate first impressions of how a team works together. The next time you attend a new team meeting take a moment to look around and observe. How is the meeting structured? How does the communication flow? Is it top down or shared? How are the metrics managed? After a few meetings your high notes will fade because you’ll be used to them. Which leads me to the next layer.
Middle notes: These are what I’d like to think are the daily ops. It’s the day to day that really defines the team as a functioning entity. Looking back at the high notes and your first impression now turns into, how the team is governed, how its roles and responsibilities are organized, and how the team’s communication flows. This is the complex place we live in operations. Which leaves us with the final layer.
Bass notes: While you only have one chance at a first impression, what you do with that impression lingers long after you’ve left the room. It’s the evidence of the work that is left behind after “Elvis has left the building”. How do you want your team to be remembered? Projects come, projects go – but their essence inside your plant (or company) lingers.
This week, think about your team’s different notes. Where do you need to spend time? Are you meeting a new team and need to focus on first impressions? Are you more in a place where the mid notes are important to getting the job done. Or maybe you’ve just finished a project – don’t forget to write out your lessons learned so you can be one step ahead the next time.
You’re either coming into a new project, in a project or finishing a project. Take a moment to recognize the “note” that is around you. You’ll be glad you did.
Question: What makes a problem hard?
(Answer at the bottom)
Having been involved in the manufacturing floor for over 30 years I think one of, if not the most challenging thing we face on the floor is the ability to clearly articulate the problem at hand. Because if we can’t clearly say it, how then will we fix it? It seems so “simple”, and most times it is – except for when everything goes wonky (or kerpluey).
When you see what appears to be a team working at cross purposes, there is a high probability that they each are working from their own framework (point of view) for the problem they are trying to address. If you see this happening, check and make sure they are working to the same problem statement.
Contrary to some, Six Sigma isn’t the root of all evil. We, on the manufacturing floor use the 5-whys tool for root causing production floor issues. Have you ever thought about what a valuable tool it would be to use for “knowledge worker processes”. Getting to know the real issue ensures a strong problem statement that the team can then address. Think about it. Everyone on your team sees the knowledge flow from a different perspective.
Once you’ve identified the root cause, realize it may uncover other problems that have to be addressed in order to get to the bigger issue at hand. I think it was Machiavelli who once said, “A small problem is hard to see but easy to fix whereas a big problem is easy to see but almost impossible to fix.”
Whichever end of the spectrum you find yourself on, taking the time to better understand the problem and clearly articulating the problem statement will put you and your team on the right course to solving your issue.
Here’s the answer to my opening question:
Knowing something is wrong, but not clearly defining it so you can communicate it
The actual “red phone” as seen in a recent tour of NASA’s Mission Control Center where all of the Apollo missions were launched.
There is a movie out called “The Martian” which is full of examples of how necessity drove problem solving. During the whole movie I kept thinking, yeah, that’s possible. Oh wait, so is that, but what if and about five minutes later they answered my question. What struck me most was how the main character took stock of his resources. Instead of panicking he took stock of what he had. Not what he wished he had or thought he could get.
While it is true that the first step in problem solving is “defining the problem”, the second step is knowing what resources you have. And that is where the quote “necessity is the mother of invention” comes into play.
Solving a problem on paper is pointless. Understanding the proportions of each resource in relation to the problem at hand will ensure an executable solution. There is only so much time, people, and money. We have to utilize our resources with intent.
Problem solving is not figuring out the theoretical or perfect solution to only then be frustrated that you don’t have the time or can’t have the people or your project won’t get funded.
True problem solving is embracing your resources and finding a path forward with what you have.
Inventing and problem solving are closely related.