Manage others’ expectations and you manage your success

This article by Paul Tolton, Director at KPMG originally appeared on LinkedIn:

Managing Expectations

I recently had an earache. After several visits to my GP and numerous ineffective drops and pills, she sent me to an ENT doctor. I later found out it meant “Eyes Nose and Throat” doctor and not ENTertaining doctor as I had much hoped.

After reading three articles on the latest research on rhinoplasty, I was ushered into to his small neat office. The doctor was a well-rounded, soft-spoken gentleman whose attempt at growing a beard was more than slightly less than successful.

“I’ll just look in your ear,” he said which increased my confidence in his abilities immensely. He peered into my aural canal and made gentle but disparaging noises. “There is some debris in there.”

The next thing I know is that I am hearing one of the strangest sounds I have ever heard. It was as if he had taped the squeaking sound that a balloon makes when you pinch the end of it, played that sound backwards and then he added the sound of individual angry popcorn kernels popping. At first, I was delighted with this new noise, until the pain started.

It felt like a pterodactyl was attacking me eardrum. I gripped the chair and one of my legs flailed uncontrollably as pain ripped though my body. And it went on until it stopped.

I gathered my composure, wiping a single tear from my eye and asked, “Did you just vacuum my ear?” “Yeeeeees,” he said as he smiled, eyes bulging in muted excitement.

Give me a little warning

If you are going to do some non-evasive evasive mucking around with my lughole, please let me know beforehand. Give me a few moments to prepare, brace myself against the oncoming flood of terror and put on a manly facade.

Giving people warning allows them to prepare. Giving people warning is managing their expectations.

Imagine you are at home and a friend pops by and says, “Let’s go for a drive.” You leap into the passenger seat full of excitement and joy. Half an hour later and wildly exasperated, you turn back to get your passport. If your friend had said, “Let’s go for a drive to another country,” you would have grabbed your passport, iPod, some snacks, that book you keep promising yourself to read, some motion sickness tablets, a blanket and a set of signal flares just in case. If you are expecting a long journey, you prepare for a long journey. If you don’t know what to expect, how can you prepare?

Task

If you are a manager setting a task, you need to be very clear about the expectations. If you throw a job at someone, maybe they will spend way too much time on it or dash it off while reaching level 324 on Candy Crush.

If you say to someone, “I am doing a presentation next Monday. I need some information about the Integrated Resorts focusing on original projected profits, actual profits and future profits. Spend no more than two hours on it and make it one page and no more than 500 words. Graphs would be useful. Please send it to me on Thursday morning,” I bet you would get want you want.

If you said, “I need something on casino profits, “you may end up with a 600 page history of Las Vegas including some strange speculations about the Hilton fire of ’81.

It takes a little more time, but you get want you want the first time and that saves time.

The missing context

Imagine you are heading back from a client and you get the following email from your manager. “Come and see me as soon as you get into the office.” How would you feel? Probably a little nervous and you would prepare to be shouted at.

If the message was, “We have possible new client that we are meeting tomorrow and we would like you on the team. Come and see me as soon as you get into the office. Thanks.” You would probably be excited and ready to contribute.

If we manage expectations, people are prepared.

Easy or hard?

Many years ago I did a two-month intensive course. At the interview for the course, they basically promised me hell. “Forget your friends for two months. You are going to lack sleep and lose weight. Go buy vitamins now.” And they delivered.

Because I knew what was coming up, I did prepare, right down to a study schedule and the 2 drinking days I gave myself as a reward.

If something is going to be difficult, say it. Never sell by covering something with icing sugar because the reality will dishearten and demotivate. And never promise the world when you can only deliver a small part of Madagascar. Be open and honest with your communication so people know what is coming.

If my ENT man had said, “I am about to vacuum your ear. This is going to hurt a bit but it will only last for two minutes” I would have been ready, willing and able. But he never said those words and I have a new doctor.

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19 Hard Truths You Have to Accept to Be Successful

RealityCheck

Found on themuse.com

Before You Respond to that Email, Pause – Harvard Business Review

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This article was posted on the Harvard Business Review

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Before You Respond to that Email, Pause   Anthony K. Tjan

Someone sends you an email message or a text, and you’re unsure how to respond. It’s about a complex negotiation, or a politically sensitive situation. Or maybe it’s just from a person who unnerves you.

For a moment, you pause. But for most of us, most of the time, that pause doesn’t last long. Instead we react, feeling the need to immediately craft a response. And often we then hit “send” without fully thinking. The result: an awkward or incomplete message that causes the recipient to pause, then react, often starting or continuing a cycle of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Yes, people today expect and want an instantaneous reply to any message. We often accommodate them because delay feels like a violation of modern-day social norms.

But there are many times when we should not immediately reply. And the truth is, we usually know them when they come. That’s what that initial pause is about. The key is to heed it.

There is a simple two-step method to making the pause work for you. First, buy yourself some time to think. Second, follow the four simple C’s of effective communication that help determine how best to respond in terms of the context, content, channel, and contact.

Buying Time

There are a few practical ways to buy some time when you get a message where your gut tells you not to respond or where you are not sure how to respond.

  • The non-response response – “Got your message.” This is meant to serve as an acknowledgement but really is only filler. It may aggravate someone in the midst of a negotiation or other serious exchange.
  • The expectation-setter – “Got it. Lot on the plate today, I’ll get back to you tomorrow afternoon.” This is often a good middle ground. It provides an immediate response of acknowledgment and resets the timetable.
  • The confident pause – Don’t respond. Really. Just don’t. Pausing for at least 24 hours is a pretty good rule of thumb. Not responding is its own kind of response, which can often work to your advantage.

Once you’ve bought yourself some time, you soak in the information from the message and think of what the best response might be. There are four C’s that have served as a useful checklist for me to use during that pause time before I respond to a difficult message: context, content, contact, and channel.

The Four C’s of Effective Communication

Context – Having the right situational context is key. Who are the relevant parties to the conversation or discussion thread? Are there relationships and inter-dependencies and previous conversations that I’m not aware of? Do I fully understand what is at stake? In the multi-party transactions in which we often get involved in venture capital, sending out a quick response to even a simple query can backfire if the timing is wrong or the information out of date. Sometimes you can even answer a specific question in a technically correct manner, but be practically incorrect because you’ve failed to appreciate the bigger picture.

Content – The message needs to be delivered in clear manner with the right tone and style for the occasion. Having the right content means checking facts and being consistent with past discussion threads. If there is one thing that I have seen kill a negotiation or productive progress in a discussion, it is inconsistency of message, which both confuses others and diminishes your credibility. Get the facts and your message points straight in your head, then focus on delivering them in the clearest, most understandable, most consistent manner possible.

Contact – Are you even the right person to respond? It happens often: we are asked something and fail to realize that we might not be the best person to respond. Consider if someone else might be more knowledgeable or better suited in style to respond, especially in a crisis (where it is usually best to have only a single point of contact). There is a reason why terrorist and hostage negotiations are not conducted over Google Docs. And even in an open and collaborative everyday work culture, there are many times when deferring to someone else is the right answer. Also, consider if the person on the other side who is asking a question or provoking a discussion is the right contact person as well. And always — always! — be wary of “reply all” and judicious with the cc function.

Channel – Just because someone contacts you by email or text does not mean you have to respond by that channel. Email and text lend themselves to misinterpretation and misunderstanding. They are often likelier to prolong or inflame a debate than to resolve it. Sometimes it’s much more effective and efficient just to pick up the phone or meet up in person. Email is great for transmitting factual information — a spreadsheet of a business model, for example, or a summary of a prior discussion. But when there are issues to resolve, talking usually works better.

As the pressure grows to respond quickly, the value of pausing and thinking is growing too. We all should work toward developing better, saner norms of communication amid the explosion of channels available to us. But that will take time and thought to get right. In the interim, we just need to stop being so damned trigger-happy with that send button.

Power Climb Rule No 1| Exercise modesty with your boss. Showing-off can kill your career

Corporate success is as much about relationships and managing the emotions of others as it is about hard work, attention to detail, persistence and execution.

The Power Climb Rules are designed to help you master the psychological aspect of climbing the corporate ladder. Based on Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Powerthis series will attempt to give you tools for navigating and mastering the emotional side of corporate success … both yours and of those around you.

Robert Greene’s first law of Power : NEVER OUTSHINE THE MASTER 

We’ve all heard this before – “Your goal is to make your manager more successful. When you make her life easier, career success comes automatically.”

Equally important, is to avoid bruising your boss’s ego by making yourself look better than them. You’re smart, talented and maybe even better at the job than your boss. But don’t let them see that. Avoid attracting attention to yourself at even the tiniest expense of your boss. What they need to see and feel is that you’re there for their benefit, not yours.

Everyone has insecurities. When you display your talents and start attracting attention, you naturally stir up all kinds of resentment, envy and other manifestations of insecurity. A boss who gets angry at your mistakes will forgive them and move on but when a person’s ego is challenged or bruised, he will not forgive.

Here’s an example from Robert Green’s book:

Nicolas Fouquet was French king Louis XIV’s finance minister. His intelligence and cleverness made him indispensable to the king. But he lost everything because he once threw a most spectacular party in honor of the king. He wanted to demonstrate his loyalty by spending an insane amount of money in tribute to the king. He also wanted to gently remind the king of his indispensability showing off his deep political connections and social popularity.

Instead, Louis XIV, who was vain and insecure, felt that Nicolas was flaunting his wealth and power. It also seemed to the king that his own subjects and friends were more charmed by Nicolas than the king himself. Jealousy ensued.

The next day, Nicolas Fouquet was arrested on trumped up charged of stealing from the country’s treasury. He was found guilty and spent the last twenty years of his life in solitary confinement at the most isolated prison in France.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that much has changed since the days of Louis XIV. Those who achieve high standing in life are like kings and queens. They want to feel secure in their positions and superior to those around them in intelligence, wit and charm. You become a threat as soon as you challenge that notion, even if inadvertently.

A more contemporary example is the story of Sarah. Sarah was an operations manager at a large company. Over time, she had built a reputable team that set the bar for high performance. The team was close-knit and greatly respected Sarah as a leader and boss.

Then her company merged with another and Sarah was layered under Amy, a senior manager from the other company. It became quickly apparent that in addition to having a loyal team, Sarah was just better at the job than Amy. Senior leaders, who kept bypassing Amy and going directly to Sarah with issues, showered her with praise.

A couple of months later, Sarah was called into the HR office and fired.

Her firing had nothing to do with her performance. In fact, she had received the highest ratings in her latest employee reviews. She was fired because her greatness highlighted Amy’s shortfalls and flared her insecurities.

Amy realized that she couldn’t match Sarah’s knowledge and work ethic. She also just couldn’t build the same rapport with the team that Sarah had. Her only course of action was to remove Sarah from the competition. Sarah was promptly replaced with someone less intelligent, less attractive and ultimately, less threatening.

Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. Make your [leaders] appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.

– Robert Greene

By making your manager look good in front of others, you strengthen his position which can only help your own career. It doesn’t take more than following two simple strategies.

First, be good at your job and at anticipating his needs. I’m serious here. Being good at your job is a fundamental requirement. Then get to know your manager and become familiar with his goals. Make it a priority to understand the goals, numbers, projects, and other deliverables he is accountable for so you can support them as much as possible.

Second, occasionally stroke that ego. This doesn’t mean that you need to be a brown nosing, suck-up. You just need to sprinkle bits and pieces of emotional boosts from time to time.

Use subtlety.

Look for and shower her with minor compliments from time to time especially regarding how she’s doing in her role.

Let him … no … give him credit for your work and ideas. Not all. Some. If you have ideas that are better and more creative than your boss, figure out a way to talk to him about it first and let him take the credit for their success. Make it clear that your idea was merely an echo of his idea. Who doesn’t love the limelight?

Make her appear more intelligent than you. Take every chance to seek advice and guidance. Act naive once in a while. Make it seem that you need her expertise. Even if you know the solution, ask for help. Boss’s love feeling needed and giving advise. Seeing themselves as your mentor is a natural ego booster.

Robert Greene says:

It is not a weakness to disguise your strengths if in the end they lead to power. By letting others outshine you, your remain in control, instead of being a victim of their insecurity. If you can make your [managers and leaders] shine even more in the eyes of others, then you are a godsend and you will be instantly promoted.

Why does this work?

Because as your boss, who’s already at a higher position than you, gets promoted, will naturally look to surround herself with the person(s) that helped them get there i.e. you!

Email etiquette | the CC

EmailEtiquette

One of my favorite sources of office etiquette is Ross McCammon who writes articles as the Equire Guy for Entreprenuer magazine.

His recent article on the etiquette of using the CC feature in emails is brilliant. We’ve all used it. We’ve all been a victim of someone else using it on us when we’ve least expected it. Some of us may have even been thrown under the bus via the CC. It sucks!

If you’ve ever been confused about when and how to CC someone else in an email thread, read on. Below is the excerpt as it appeared in the Feb 2015 copy of Entreprenuer.

You’re at a party talking to your co-worker Dave. You’re having a nice back-and-forth about work stuff, the softball game next week, what the smell is …

As Dave is talking to you, he taps Susan on the shoulder and beckons her over. So now it’s you, Dave and Susan. But he doesn’t say anything to Susan or even disclose why he asked her over. He just continues talking to you like Susan’s not even there saying out loud everything you guys were discussing before she got there. Even the stuff about Susan. And she’s not saying anything. She’s just standing there, looking blankly at the space between you and Dave.

That’s what CC’ing is like. But that’s a particular type of CC – the “discreet insertion CC.” All of a sudden a name appears in an email. Why is that person here? Where did they come from? What is their agenda? Why is their presence not being acknowledged? This is surreptitious. Distasteful. Irritating.

Contrast this with the “Over-insertion CC,” which involves acknowledging that you’ve added someone to the email thread. It’s like the above scenario, only Dave says, “I’m going to bring Susan into this.” Still surreptitious, but less so. And a little less irritating.

Also of note is the “responsibility minimization CC.” It says “By involving someone else, I am making myself less culpable should whatever we’re emailing about go sour.” On the spectrum of Irritation, this falls between the above two types of CC’ing.

The most aggressive approach is the “defensive CC.” It says to the other party: “By involving this particular person, you are not going to so easily get away with what you think you’re getting away with.” Forget irritating. Here, you just seem vaguely sociopathic.

But the worst CC is the “blind CC.” It’s a move straight out of a spy novel. It says “Hey, go over there and stand behind those boxes. Just wait. They’ll come in, we’ll talk, and you’ll hear everything! And they will never know.”

The blind CC says to the CC’d, “I trust you with this information. In fact, I trust you more than I trust the person I’m betraying.” That’s the problem: It’s sneaky. And the 438th rule of business states, “If you benefit from the sneaky behavior of others, at some point the sneaky person will use the sneaky behavior against you.” Your emails will also be copied to someone else without your knowledge.

THE EFFECT ON THE COPIED

Sometimes you’re Susan. You’re the one that’s been brought into the conversation against your will. If you’re only the third or fourth person on the email chain, then you an obligation to acknowledge that you have been pilled into the conversation. And if you have any questions as to why that is, you have an obligation to inquire about what kind of contributions the CC’er thinks you can make. This is an investment. It says to everyone involved: “I want to be of help here, but if I have been CC’s here for ulterior motives, then please think twice about ever CC’ing me again.” It also says: “It may have been a mistake to CC me, because I am the kind of person who forces you to spend a lot of time explaining why I was CC’d. You irritate me, I will irritate you tenfold.”

The ethical problems are obvious: You’re changing the terms of discourse without the other person agreeing to that. CC’ing denies your colleagues a choice. Also, it lessens the importance of the CC’er and it forces the CC’ees to deal with a problem that they didn’t ask to deal with.

AND THEN?

The reason you’re doing the CC’ing is less important than the effect it has on communication – both in the short and long term. The CC suggests you don’t fully trust the person you’re dealing with. (Which, of course, your don’t.) A healthy skepticism is an important virtue in business.

But communicating that skepticism in such an obvios way changes the terms of communication. It says “You and I can’t do this on our own,” or “I won’t let you do this on your own.” When someone inserts a CC, I am immediately less inclined to communicate openly with that person. It degrades our relationship.

The Esquire Guy also provided a quick guide to the do’s and don’ts of email CC. For the entire article, pick up a copy of Entreprenuer today.

EmailGuide2

The fatal flaw of trying to please everyone…

Mark-Zuckerberg_10

I recently went out to lunch with my family. It was Saturday afternoon and my father-in-law, who was planning a drive to the neighboring city for the weekend, joined us. At the restaurant, he realized that his old school Garmin GPS had been drained of its battery and required a recharge. He pulled out the wall charger and looked around for an outlet.

In an effort to help, as a good son-in-law would, I took charge. Instead of suggesting that he use the navigation app on his smartphone, I told him not to worry, grabbed the device and the charger and walked over to the concierge. They refused to help. Undaunted, I looked around and saw a wall outlet right by the door.

I quickly savored my small victory and plugged in the device. I realized that I really couldn’t leave just out in the open (you know … because theft of GPS devices is so rampant these days). In a moment of genius, I figured out a way to hide the device from main view by placing it inside a hard to reach crevice, making it difficult to steal easily. Plus it was right in my line of sight, so if anyone tried to steal it, I’d see them.

Fast forward to paying the check and packing. Now it was time to go grab that Garmin and return it triumphantly to my father-in-law, who as I imagined it, would jump for joy at my success. His appreciation would know no bounds and I’d collect some brownie points from the wife for future use.

Slam dunk!

I unplug the charger from the phone, pull the device out of its well-hidden spot and push the power button in delightful anticipation. Nothing happens. I try again. Nothing. I flip the device and see that the lithium ion battery had actually come apart when I’d placed the device into the crevice. This was because the cover of the device had to be removed in order to plug the charger into it. So, the battery never got charged.

With my hopes for brownie points, appreciation of my efforts and celebration of my genius completely gone, I handed the device back to my grim looking father-in-law with an apology. At the same time, I looked up to see my wife laughing at me and shaking her head.

“I can’t believe that the battery came off. All that work for nothing,” she said jokingly. “That is classic you.”

As she said this, something in my mind clicked.

“Classic me?”

“Does she believe that I failed to succeed in getting the Garmin charged because I did a half-assed job?”

“Does she have an impression that I fail a lot?”

During the drive back home, I started thinking.

It was true that I didn’t check the device to make sure that the battery was still in its place while charging. In fact, I didn’t even check to see if the outlet was working. It was a half-assed job. In my desire for a quick win and to get an easy approval from my father-in-law, I didn’t check to make sure that everything was working as expected before sitting down to eat. A tiny oversight that cost me big.

It also hit me that I have this tendency to jump up and offer help as much as possible. It’s my way to get the appreciation and approval from others. However, because I jump to help out on all situations, I don’t always succeed. It’s either because I didn’t have enough time. Or I didn’t have enough resources. Or because, to be honest, it really wasn’t something I wanted to do but offered to help anyway.

My intentions and my efforts, no matter how benevolent, were useless.

And there is the problem.

Even though I probably satisfied my family over 80% of the time, people tend to remember disappointments more vividly and for a longer time than moments of happiness. So, in my wife’s mind, the “classic” me failed a lot. The “classic” me didn’t always put 100% effort in achieving success when it came to helping my family. She placed a deep discount on the value of my successes.

The same is true at the office.

There are many of us who happily on a new project or a new assignment or a new task even when we already have enough on our plate. Because we are ambitious. We are driven. We want to get noticed.

And what better way to get exposure than to get your hands in as many initiatives and projects as possible.

But here’s the thing. No matter how well intentioned you are or how many long hours you are willing to put, when you spread yourself across too many activities, you are bound to fail at a few.

Some you will fail because you weren’t able to devote enough time to go through the minutia. Some will fail because you relied too heavily on someone who didn’t care as much about the project’s success. But most of the time, you may not completely fail. You’ll work extra hard to finish the project but will end up delivering a low quality product. You tried to please everyone, juggled too much stuff and things fell through the cracks.

It happens.

You may not even notice. You’re so busy focusing on the 8 out of ten projects that were completed successfully and on-time, that you minimized the two failures.

But as I said, people don’t place as high a value on the successes of others as they place on their failures.

One little oversight or a little mistake can derail all your efforts.

In the stock trading world, there’s a saying: “You’re only as good as your last trade.”

The same is true in the corporate world. You’re only as good as your last success.

So how does one get around this.

It’s simple!

Just don’t take on everything. Learn to say no. You don’t need to please everyone.

Those who say that the way to career success is to never say no. Those people are assholes. Take a look at them. They’re going no-where. You know why? Because they’re too busy being everyone’s bitch.

When you try to make everyone happy, you make no one happy. When you try to stand for everything … you stand for nothing.

So be strategic about what you take on. Review all the stuff that’s on your plate. Get rid of i.e. delegate items that are time suckers with low impact. Take on projects and tasks that you know for sure you can complete, especially if they are ones with high visibility. Focus on one to two items at a time. And work on these whole-heatedly. Don’t cut corners. Don’t rush. Work your ass of to get nothing short of perfection.

Now you’ll be known only for your successes.

People may not like you for saying ‘no’, but they’ll like you a lot less when you say ‘yes’ and then fail. They may think you’re an asshole but they will begrudgingly respect you for being honest.

In my personal case, I didn’t really have to run around to help my father-in-law. If I hadn’t offered, he would have looked for an outlet and then would have moved on. He wouldn’t even have associated me with that bad experience. Had I not said anything, he would probably have pulled out the navigation app on his phone and used that. Yes, he hates using it but he knows how. In fact, that’s exactly what he did.

We would have gone on with our lives and I would have walked out of that lunch with a neutral score. But I had to get involved and so, by failing, I walked out in negative territory.

At least my beautiful, amazing wife got a huge chuckle.

What your “Out-Of-Office” message says about you…

Out-Of-Office
Your personality heavily influences the path your life will take. The difference between someone who’s a failure vs. someone stuck in mediocrity vs. someone wildly successful is very deeply rooted in your character traits and habits. The differences are very subtle at an individual level but add up quickly.

Recently saw this posted on by Ruslan Kogan on Linkedin which provides a perfect example of the subtle difference between a high performer and a mediocre one.

You can tell a lot about a person’s work ethic from how they word their Out Of Office email template when they go on leave. You can also tell if it’s a person that’s driven by and gets inner fulfillment from achieving an end goal or simply by fulfilling their minimum contractual obligations.

Out Of Office template for someone who always does the bare minimum:

I am out of the office until 20th January and will not be checking my emails during this time. Please email john@smith.com.

Out Of Office template for a high achiever:

I am out of the office until 20th January and will have limited access to emails so please expect a slightly delayed response. You can also contact john@smith.comwhile I’m away or if any matter is urgent, you can call my cell on 0412 345 678.

So keep an eye on what Out Of Office template your team mates choose to use. It’s a good guide.

Which one are you?

Read the entire article “Don’t hire Hotmail users & other tips to save your company culture