Thursday, November 29, 2012

Re-Run: A little honest bribery can go a long way

Whenever I start a new job, I purchase a lot of chocolate in various varieties. Then I put it in an easy to see, easy to transport cup. Then I walk around the building and introduce myself, bestowing candy on anyone who wants it.

I trade people’s names and a hello for candy. I am always careful to visit the Help Desk people (which, for those of you not in the tech industry, are the folks who usually manage your email, passwords, computer issues, etc.), the receptionist, IS/IT (if they are separate from Help Desk), any executive assistants, and my immediate co-workers/team. I want my first interaction with these people to be pleasant, and I’m not ashamed to say so; as a matter of fact, many people smile and laugh when you tell them that you’re bribing them for good will in advance.

That’s the trick to bribery. It’s a blatant means of manipulation, and failing to acknowledge that blatancy can annoy or upset people. Being obvious about what you’re doing sets them at ease, and people who meet you with a smile and the association of a treat, are more likely to think of you fondly the next time you run into them.

For example, you meet Mary the receptionist. You’ve passed her desk and know she collects bears, so, when you’re out and about, bring her a bear. A non-creepy bear, btw. Nothing to inspire concerns you might want to date her or stalk her, and nothing so expensive she feels obligated for receiving it. The point is—bears, candy or good conversation—you are letting Mary know she is important because you thought about Mary even when she was not around; and that means a lot to people. It could also be things like, if Mary is busy, sign for the package for her if that’s possible. You get the gist; do something kind of a tangible nature. Feel free to tell her it’s a bribe if you’re doing it just to get on her good side (feel free to let her know you want to be on her good side), and you will be banking good fortune against a need in the future…and you might make a friend along the way.

A lot of techniques I suggest in this blog are methods of manipulation; the point that I try to keep clear, that I continue to strive for, is that you be upfront and transparent with people. It often makes them laugh, yes, but its a vital ingredient to the natural integrity on which they will base their opinions of you. You want them happy. You want to associate yourself with a good thing. But you also want to take those baby steps of good communication and connection to the next level, which is very hard to do if those people feel you're in it only for yourself, and are willing to manipulate people in negative ways to get what you want.

You do want to manipulate people, yes. But you want to do in positive ways, so people understand what you are doing and who you are. And it certainly doesn't hurt if the first thing they think of when they see you is tasty candy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Re-Run: Never Volunteer. Well. Sort of.

Another favorite article being re-run for your enjoyment. 

This may seem counter to my overall message of help and bribery, but it fits in just fine. Before I explain how, however, I would like to give you the story my father gave me on the topic of volunteering that illustrated why not volunteering is a really, really good thing:

Dad and a bunch of other young men whose heads have been freshly shaved get off the bus for the first time at the Marine base for their very first day of boot camp. Carrying their supplies, they line up outside the bus and are confronted by a drill sergeant.

The drill sergeant says "I need 2 volunteers!"

Two hands go up. My father is neither of those two men.

"You two, report to the barracks to clean the toilets! Everyone else, drop your stuff off and head to the mess hall. And Gentlemen, let this be your first lesson: never volunteer."

The moral of the story is that you should never volunteer when you do not know what you are getting into.

This, in general, is a good lesson: don't leap into something without knowing what you're leaping into. I'm sure there are some Mammoths (not especially known for their leaping, but let me have this metaphor!) that wished they'd thought it through before moseying through the tar pits.

It is not always possible to know what's around the next corner, but when you do know, then volunteering might be an option; as I note in my early blog posts, bribing people in advance is a really good idea. Volunteering can be a method of doing a good turn for someone or some project either in thanks or to bank up good will...who knows when you'll need it?

When volunteering, know and enforce your boundaries. Which is to say, volunteering to give a brown bag to five people about X process is very different than when upper management thinks that's swell and wants you to do it at the quarterly meeting for 20 minutes with full PPT presentation.

When you are volunteering, you are agreeing to do a service for a charity or someone else in a charitable way. Many people who are involved with volunteer work capitalize on the fact that we do not like to disappoint or upset people, and put themselves more in a customer seat than in the seat of someone who is--at least in this case--getting something for nothing. Since customers give us money, we work our butts off to make them happy. But charities and folks receiving charitable energy/money/etc. do not have to receive the same quality level of service; its always good if you can put in your best effort, but if you're doing someone a favor, at the end of the day, you're still the one doing the favor--you get to decide the parameters of what you are willing to do, and subtle or not-so-subtle pressure by them should not change that...whether you're giving money or time to build homes for families in need or running that document to the fourth floor for your boss down the hall.

Now, if I could just tattoo that last paragraph on my forehead (backwards), I could work on one of my own weaknesses, which is, as you have guessed, maintaining boundaries around volunteer work. I am a sucker for someone in need.

On that note, Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Re-Run: You Can't Just Nag People

The original post ran in December 2010. Please enjoy a blast from the past:

You Can’t Just Nag People. It’s Rude. Also, Everyone Has Expectations, They Just Don't Always Tell You.

But it is technically your job to nag people, if you are a manager (or a lead, etc.). Just sayin'.

I’m not advocating a paranoid world in which people are completely unreliable and projects never get done due to stupidity or maliciousness (although I'm certain the world seems that way sometimes). I’m just asking to take a look at the fact that because the word “manager” is somewhere involved with you, your job is to make sure stuff gets done, and you will likely be held accountable for that expectation that others have of you.

While people make mistakes and forget things or prioritize them lower than other things, or spill coffee all over themselves ten seconds after saying yes to you and what they promised flees their mind as the searing pain tears through their clothing, its not a really good idea to let people feel like they’re in need of a constant nag. You’re no one’s mother (ok, you might be, and you might be at the office, but you know what I mean). But you are interested in getting things done in a specified time frame in order to meet your own obligations and goals.

To that end, let people know you’re going to nag about items that require such time frames. When you know you need something, do not be afraid to ask for data back by specific dates and times. Always explain why, try to be as transparent as possible about your requests, and reiterate that you understand that it is a request. If it’s a pressing request and they cannot agree to the time frame, that’s ok, too. You can either escalate to get the time you need from that person or tell the person who requires the data that they’ll have to wait (more on escalating—preferably without making people upset—in future blog posts). Then be sure to follow up with your information source after securing a time when you can check back.

What about requests that you have to fulfill that come in with no time frames? So, for example, you need an answer about a question you received this afternoon. There may be no time expectation expressed by the person who asked you, but using you judgment you would try not to assume there isn’t one. Because, for every request you will ever receive, there is always a time expectation, even if one isn’t expressed. Assuming there’s no hurry, or assuming that answering immediately is required can both be problematic. Answering too soon may mean your answer may not contain the full expected data set, and answering too late can be, well, too late.

When you receive requests, always try to get an idea of the importance of the request and the time frame. People will, without fail, inadvertently distort both. However, with both, you can make an educated guess about how fast you need to get an item completed. In turn, after taking the task, you can have a better idea of how much time to negotiate with others over before getting the data you require to return to the original requestor.

And, doing it all patiently, calmly and consistently will make some people actually ENJOY you nagging them. Really. It has happened to me, and all of those who reported as such are certifiably sane (or so they tell me).