How Can “Bottleneck” Executives Improve Their Personal Workflow?

Have you ever worked for a boss that seemed to be the ‘black hole’ of the organization? You know the one I’m talking about: documents that went into that office, but never came out, preventing you from doing your job. If you’re that boss, listen up. There is a way to improve your personal workflow.

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Tips for Improving Productivity

In this podcast, Mary discusses her top four tips to help you improve your productivity. This includes: planning your time, managing yourself, controlling your environment, and stopping your procrastination. In short, just do it!


Characteristics of the Perfect Team

This podcast explains how you can achieve a great team. Four areas to consider when building teams include: individual and collective behavior styles, time for team formation, resource requirements, and team inspiration. In addition, strong leaders who understand team dynamics can help build a perfect team.

Overcoming Business Challenges

In this podcast, Mary addresses one of the main challenges facing companies today. This includes implementing new systems and programs with little to no staff or budget. She suggests making lists and working on your priorities.

35 Ways to Kill Ideas

I do not know the author of this list, but I found it to be a concise expose on how leaders (or anyone) can stifle innovation. It bears heeding that all ideas are valid ideas and some, if percolated sufficiently, may even lead to ingenious breakthroughs. Some of the world’s greatest inventors started out with ideas that at first bombed. Never underestimate or dismiss an idea, no matter how ridiculous it may seem at first. Here are “35 Ways to Kill Ideas.” Use these statements only if you wish to remain status quo.

  1. Don’t be ridiculous
  2. We tried that before.
  3. It costs too much.
  4. It can’t be done.
  5. That’s beyond our/your responsibility.
  6. It’s too radical a change.
  7. We don’t have the time.
  8. That will make other equipment obsolete.
  9. We’re too small/big for it.
  10. That’s not our problem.
  11. We’ve never done it before.
  12. Let’s get back to reality.
  13. Why change it; it’s still working OK.
  14. You’re two years ahead of your time.
  15. We’re not ready for that.
  16. It isn’t in the budget.
  17. Can’t teach old dogs new tricks.
  18. Do the best you can with what you’ve got.
  19. Too hard to sell.
  20. Top management would never go for it.
  21. We’ll be the laughing stock.
  22. Let’s shelve it for the time being.
  23. We did all right without it.
  24. Has anyone else ever tried it?
  25. It won’t work in our industry.
  26. Will you guarantee it will work?
  27. That’s the way we’ve always done it.
  28. What we have is good enough.
  29. But we would also have to change the …
  30. It’s in our future plans.
  31. We’ll have somebody study that problem.
  32. It’s against our policy.
  33. The supplier would never do that.
  34. The customer wouldn’t accept that.
  35. When did you become the expert?

Using Internal Resources to Implement Projects

An organization can use its internal resources to implement new projects even if its internal resources are not subject matter experts (or SMEs). Here’s how: have your staff work alongside SMEs to learn how to implement projects in one or more pilot sites. By working alongside SMEs, staff is exposed to detailed implementation procedures which procedures they can apply to other sites as implementation progresses. This sounds simple and it is, but there are a few considerations for using this approach.

  1. Ensure that staff working with SMEs have the delegated authority and responsibility for this aspect of the program when implementation is completed. For instance, it would not make economic or strategic sense to assign one staff to work with the SME and then assign a different staff member to manage the program after implementation if the assigned staff has no expertise in the program area (and if they do have expertise, then they should have been assigned to work with the SME in the first place!).
  2. Staff working with SMEs must be given the necessary to work on the project. This means that work normally done by staff will need to be covered off by other staff. Those working with SMEs need to feel confident and not pressured that they are expected to perform dual roles during the project.
  3. Fair compensation must be paid to staff working with SMEs. This may require a review and revision of existing job descriptions.
  4. Selected staff must not be “voluntold” to work on the project. It is much better to recruit staff that are interested and possess some skill in the program that is being implemented. If staff is interested in the program, they will be amenable to learning new skills that will carry forward to program maintenance after the project is completed.
  5. Don’t assume that once the pilot project is completed that staff who worked alongside the SME are now experts in the subject matter if they
    weren’t experts to begin with. They will still need support and guidance from the SME and the organization as they continue to learn how to manage the program.

During implementation, issues will arise that will require input from not only the project manager and project team members, but from staff within areas where implementation is occurring. By being involved early on, staff gradually learn about the program and will be more comfortable and knowledgeable about its application when the project is complete. It makes long-term strategic and economic sense to involve staff during implementation of projects even if they are not experts in the subject matter.

Traveling Executives can be Productive

If you’re a busy executive that travels frequently, listen up. Your productivity doesn’t need to suffer just because you’re on the road. And, in fact, travel time is the perfect opportunity for catching up on work. This is the time when you are free of telephone and office interruptions, so there’s really no better time to focus on some of your priorities and increase your productivity.

Here are five steps to staying on top of your productivity when you’re traveling.

  1. Plan your work to fit into your travel time. What can you do while at departure terminals, on the airplane, ferry, or bus? Think about your schedule and write your plan to suit your schedule.
  2. Bring that work with you. Ideally, don’t bring paper – it’s bulky and conspicuous. Scan and download electronic documents instead. Also, consider privacy – it’s much easier to read a paper document over your shoulder than it is to read what’s on your laptop.
  3. Do the work. Nothing like actually completing the tasks that you planned to complete to give you a sense of freedom. Don’t dally about the work. Just do it.
  4. Check off the tasks as you complete them. Remember that plan we talked about in step 1? Use your plan to check off the tasks when they’re done.
  5. Reward yourself. When a task is completed, reward yourself with a nice long walk to re-energize your limbs after sitting for so long, or use the hotel’s spa services, or one of my favourites – take in some shopping therapy (this one actually fits in the “nice long walk” quite nicely – it’s like getting two rewards at the same time!).

Use these five steps each time you travel. They will help you stop wasting time and be more productive than you thought possible. You may even decide to travel more often!


Project Charter – Why do we need one, anyway?

I’m often asked why one needs a project charter. After all, if we’re working on the project (or if the project was our idea), we certainly know what needs to be done, don’t we? While organizations, individuals and project managers may very well know what needs to be done, the project charter is an essential tool that provides purpose and motivation for a team to do its work. The project charter serves three functions: it establishes focus for the project team, it motivates the team’s behavior, and it motivates emotion. In effect, the project charter helps teams get over project plateaus. It is the  “guiding hand” for the completion of the project.

There are six elements in a good project charter: business case, problem statement, project scope, goals and objectives, milestones, and roles and responsibilities. Project charters may have additional elements, but these six are key. Here is what these elements contribute to the project.

  1. The business case describes what the project does and how it impacts the strategic business objectives of the organization. The business case is typically used as a motivational tool to explain why the project is worth doing. For example: The planning department is experiencing increasing challenges in issuing building permits in a reasonable timeframe. This is directly contributing to decreased revenues for the organization.
  2. The problem statement identifies the problem that the project will address. The problem statement is specific and measurable, indicates how long the problem has existed and describes the gap between the current and desired states. For example: In the past five years, the number of building permits issued has decreased by 50 percent due to the high turnaround time for processing. Turnaround time for issuing building permits needs to be improved by 50 percent within the next year.
  3. Project scope defines the boundaries of the project work. It also helps avoid scope creep which is what occurs when work that is outside the scope starts to be done as part of the project. The project scope helps the team to avoid working on “boil the ocean” projects.  Continuing from our example above, the project scope might be: The project includes review of building permits issued by the planning department over the past five years and implementing processes to improve turnaround time for building permit issues. Not included in the scope – other types of permits issued by the organization.
  4. Goals and objectives in the project charter identify what will be accomplished and within what timeframe. For example: 1. Reduce turnaround time for permit issuing; 2. Improve planning department building permit issuing processes; 3. Review and recommend changes to forms used in building permit processes.
  5. Milestones are dates that are assigned to each goal. They help the team stay on track with the project and they are important for overall project completion.
  6. Roles and responsibilities are a key part of the project charter. In all instances, a Project Champion must be assigned. This person allocates resources, removes obstacles to the project and identifies the project team. In addition, a project manager (internal or external) as well as an internal team leader is required. And of course, the project team is essential, but keep the number of team members to eight or less for better manageability of the overall project.

Use the project charter to help you manage your project and meet deliverables. It is a living document for a living project and it could just save your “life” on the project!

Managing Overnight Success

I recently worked with a client organization that became successful, seemingly overnight. Their dilemma was about how to manage their instant success and continue down a road of high efficiency and productivity. While instant success is a dilemma that many organizations would love to experience, one of the things that struck me about my client was that they recognized very early the need for effective systems for continuous improvement. This recognition alone speaks volumes about how they will continue to be successful.

But how do successful organizations remain or become more successful? In my experience, there are three areas of focus for success. They are: executive engagement, communications, and project management.

  1. Executive engagement. When an organization is successful, its executive must continue to be engaged within the organization. This includes setting clear priorities that align with the organization’s initiatives and programs, using facts and data to support actions at all levels of decision-making, creating accountabilities, expectations, roles and responsibilities for the organization, and conducting and attending regular audits/reviews to assure and verify progress.
  2. Communications. This is very important to ensure that both executives and staff are aware of what is going on within the organization, especially in terms of support for the organization’s mission. All staff, but especially executives, should be active communicators. There is nothing worse than working in an organization and not knowing what the organization’s plans are or how those plans are being achieved. Provide regular written communications through newsletters, Intranet postings, or other means. Develop and disseminate communication aids to management. Organizations who are in the “know” are also in the “lead.”
  3. Project management. Ensure that your projects are well documented and that they meet your organization’s priorities. Establish a one-year project inventory and update it regularly. Projects must meet critical business and customer needs. If they don’t, they’re not worth doing. Projects should also be of appropriate scope and size such that the projects can provide your organization with significant savings and be achievable. Above all, ensure that each project has a Champion and a Project Manager and that both are held accountable for project results. Use project management concepts to ensure that your projects are on track.

With these three elements working constantly within the organization, success is inevitable. But there is one more thing that I’d like to mention here – creativity. Through executive engagement, communications and project management, include creativity and innovation to improve your organization’s performance. Don’t be complacent with your success. You need to work hard to ensure continuing success. Successful organizations and successful people may not always meet their goals 100 percent of the time, but they certainly strive for 100 percent in all that they do.

From Great to Remarkable

Are you a remarkable leader? If you said “yes,” you’re in the minority. If you said “no,” take heart: remarkable leaders are made, not born. Through experience, good and great leaders acquire leadership competencies that propel them to the ranks of remarkable ones. So how do you become a remarkable leader? One word: coaching.

Coaching provides benefits for both individuals and the companies for which they work. Here are some examples from a survey of 100 executives by Manchester Inc., primarily from Fortune 100 companies. The first finding from this survey related to organizations noticing direct improvements as a result of executives receiving coaching. Some of the benefits included:

  • 53% of the companies reported an increase in productivity
  • 48% reported improved quality
  • 39% reported improved customer service
  • 34% said they had a reduction in customer complaints
  • 23% said they had an overall organizational cost reduction
  • 22% said they gained improvement in their bottom line profitability.

In addition, the executives that received coaching also reported direct benefits for themselves and their working relationships with others including:

  • 77% said they saw improvement in working relationships with direct reports
  • 71% saw improvement in working relationships with immediate supervisors
  • 67% said that teamwork improved
  • 63% saw improvement in working relationships with peers
  • 37% saw improvement in working relationships with customers.

On top of this, 61% of executives reported improved job satisfaction, 52% noticed conflict reduction and 44% indicated a renewed organizational commitment, all as result of coaching.

Coaching is an excellent way to propel leadership. My experience with good leaders is that they possess an innate drive and intellect that enables them to have greater self-awareness, to engage others, to achieve results, to build valuable partnerships, and to build an innovative organization. Through coaching, leaders learn to build competencies that make them remarkable.

There are many traits that both good and great leaders possess, but here are ten competencies that I have noticed make the difference between great and remarkable leaders.

  1. Great leaders are self-aware. Remarkable leaders set the example.
  2. Great leaders are comfortable with ambiguity. Remarkable leaders search for challenges and opportunities proactively.
  3. Great leaders build trust by being honest and respectful. Remarkable leaders foster collaboration.
  4. Great leaders provide staff with necessary support so they can contribute to the organization’s goals. Remarkable leaders enlist staff and others to achieve organizational goals.
  5. Great leaders work with the organization to create a vision. Remarkable leaders envision the future.
  6. Great leaders keep an ‘open mind’ to new ideas and approaches and how these could be incorporated into existing practices. Remarkable leaders experiment and take risks.
  7. Great leaders keep staff focused on the organization’s desired objectives. Remarkable leaders recognize staff contributions and create a spirit of community.
  8. Great leaders develop competence. Remarkable leaders inspire others.
  9. Great leaders expect the best. Remarkable leaders do the best.
  10. Great leaders foster good relationships. Remarkable leaders have good relationships.

If you aspire to be a remarkable leader, your starting point is with a confidential coach. Are you ready to take the next step to becoming a remarkable leader? A remarkable coach is just a phone call away.