This week's episode is a repost of Episode 31: Productive and Unproductive Multitasking
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This week is a replay of Episode 11: System vs Process011.html
If you are struggling to improve one of your processes, this episode will help you learn how to look at the bigger system and identify a wider range of possible solutions.
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Today I’m going to lay out a case for a philosophy that I’ve believed in for a long, long time. I believe it solves a myriad of problems, so I think it’s a tool everyone should have at the ready. The philosophy is – do one thing differently.
Doing one thing differently is a way of triggering creativity.
It is a way of triggering momentum.
It is a way of triggering a jolt to the system to re-direct focus.
And, doing one thing differently can be used for yourself or for others.
When you’ve got a problem to solve and the obvious things haven’t worked, you can use “do 1 thing differently” to try and get some momentum. For example a coworker and I were trying to create a report in Power BI and we weren’t quite where we needed to be. We had tried the obvious things and none of them worked. There was that awkward silence as we both tried to think of another option. I couldn’t think of anything else, so I decided to try and solve a different problem. So, I asked, “if we can’t get the info we want in the report, let’s talk about what the work around is. How else can I get the information?”
Rather than focusing on the problem, I was drawing our attention to a different problem. And, as we tried to define the work around, we found the solution to the original problem. We had both gotten so focused in on the problem that we had tunnel vision and we couldn’t see a more creative solution.
When you are problem solving, it is easy to get into a habit about the way you approach problems. I have a coworker who, when I go to her with a problem, she immediately goes into what I call “consultant mode.” She starts asking me questions that help tease out the details of the problem. Question after question, she is helping to narrow in on a solution. But, she never directly says “here is the solution.” Her questions help lead to an obvious solution.
I have another coworker whose approach to problem solving is more what I would call ‘throw out every option you can think of’ mode. When problem solving with him, the questions are already solutions – have you tried this? Have you tried that? He comes up with a lot of great ideas for fixing the problem and will give them to you in rapid fire sequence.
And another coworker solves problems in a more internal or subtle way. If I throw out a problem, there will be a long silence. She is thinking through the problem before giving any solutions. You probably recognize someone you work with in these scenarios. You might recognize yourself even. We all seem to have landed on our preferred way of addressing a problem.
So, next time you are solving a problem, catch yourself, notice what pattern you are using, and change the pattern. If you are a quiet deliberator, instead try just throwing out every idea that comes to mind. If you are a rapid fire idea generator, try asking questions that draw out answers rather than just giving the solutions you think of.
Another scenario where doing one thing differently can help is when you are trying to change behavior. Email is a good example for this.
People get so many emails that it is easy for yours to go unnoticed. If you want to make sure it gets read – what is something you could do differently?
One trick that I use is to put something in the subject line that makes it compelling or makes it clear what I need. In the past, I’ve used a subject line that says “I need you to read this today.” That definitely isn’t a typical subject line and is very hard to mis-interpret. Of course – you can’t do something like this all the time or else it doesn’t work – because of course, if you do it all the time then it isn’t different.
Think of a behavior that someone is doing that you’d like to change. Then, think about your response to that behavior. Are you accepting of it? Do you ignore it? Do you resist it? Now you’ve identified the pattern. Now, think about options for changing your response.
If you currently ignore the behavior, think of a way that you could acknowledge it. I’m not necessarily saying that you should confront it, although that is certainly an option. By acknowledge, I mean you do something different than your current pattern. It may be simple or subtle.
One of my favorites is to simply delay my response. A typical behavior that I think most people have is to feel that they have to respond to an email or direct message immediately. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone marks an email urgent when it clearly isn’t urgent. We are hard wired to respond to something market urgent as quickly as possible. My ‘do 1 thing differently” solution to this is to not respond instantly to urgent emails that aren’t urgent. It takes a bit of discipline, but it is my way of trying to change the behavior of the person who mis-uses “urgent.”
“Do 1 thing differently” is a good tool to use when you are trying to get attention. If someone has a certain expectation of the way you operate, the way to get their attention is to do something differently.
If you always send an email, make a call.
If you always take notes in a meeting, ask someone else to do it.
One thing I started doing differently a few years ago to try and get attention is recording video emails. Instead of writing out everything in an email, I record what I want to say and then the email is simply a sentence that says “please watch this 2 minute video about an issue with a problem we are going to need to solve. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about this approach and I think it is because it is different enough that people pay attention to it.
Doing one thing differently is a tool to use in lots of circumstances. It is pretty low risk because if whatever you did differently doesn’t work, you just go back to the old way. The thing that really makes ‘do 1 thing differently’ hard is that it is hard to remember to do it.
So, this week, your homework is to be deliberate about looking for places where you can use this tool to make a change, solve a problem, or get attention. Try to catch yourself in a pattern that isn’t working for you and find 1 thing you can do differently to break that pattern.
People love to give help. Some of the most active posts I see on Facebook are those that are tagged “asking for a recommendation.”
But, when it comes to our job, sometimes we can be hesitant to ask for help. This hesitancy can be caused by our own personal beliefs, or it can be caused by the culture that we are part of. We covered the personal beliefs about asking for help in Episode 77 and I encourage you to go back and give that episode a listen.
Today, we are going to talk about the cultural aspects of companies that can lead us to resist asking for help when we need it.
Asking Can Be a Roadblock at Work
A lot of times, someone who wouldn’t hesitate to ask for help on a personal matter – anybody got a plumber you would recommend? – will hesitate to ask for help in a work setting because we underestimate our coworker’s willingness to help.
Or, you may think to yourself – ‘why would they help, it isn’t their responsibility?’
I challenge you to think about it if the tables were turned when a coworker comes to you asking for help, how do you feel?
I almost always get a positive boost of energy from it. Either I’m happy to have been able to lighten someone else’s load, or a lot of times what they are asking for help with is something that falls within my strengths – within my happy place – so the time I spend helping them is really a welcome diversion.
Don’t bring your pre-conceived notions about their willingness to help with you. The worst thing they can do is say no, and you are in the same position you were already in.
We Feel Asking Makes Us Look Incapable
Sometimes we don’t ask for help because we fear looking like we aren’t capable. If I ask for help I look weak. Or, if I ask for help, I look like a slacker. The thing is – people are smart.
They know the underlying motivator for your request for help. If your motivation is learn and grow then they know that you are coming from a positive place and are not going to have negative thoughts about your capabilities.
If your motivation is to get somebody else to deal with it so you don’t have to – then to be honest, the reputation is likely well-deserved.
But, chances are, if you are hesitant to ask for help because you are concerned about your reputation, then the likelihood you are actually operating from a motivation that deserves that reputation is pretty low.
People do not jump to the conclusion that somebody is not capable just because they ask for help. Again, think about when someone asks you for help. Do you automatically make an assessment that they are incapable? I really doubt it.
Design a Culture of Asking
Sometimes, we are part of a culture designed without obvious mechanisms for asking. If there is no built-in way to ask questions – or to forces us to ask questions – we can just get into a routine where we don’t.
Software developers are really good at building in mechanisms that encourage asking for help. They created the concept of the daily stand up where the entire purpose of the meeting is to touch base every day and tell your team what you did yesterday, what you will do today, and where you are blocked. The 1st two items are about communicating status, but the 3rd makes it ok to ask for help.
It doesn’t just make it ok – it makes it mandatory.
It makes it normal.
It makes it just another part of the day.
Think about your department. Are there built in processes to make asking for help a regular part of the job? Could you add something to your existing process that would help trigger people to ask? It doesn’t have to be a daily stand -up. Lots of departments have some kind of team meeting already established. This could be added to the agenda: ‘Is there anything that anyone needs help with or is stuck on?’
A quick round-robin of the team would give everyone a chance to surface their issues.
Even if you aren’t in charge of the agenda for the meeting you can send a note to the owner of the meeting with a suggestion. You can totally blame it on me. Tell them that you list to the podcast and thought this was an idea that could benefit the whole team and you just wanted to offer the suggestion for improvement to help the team uncover areas where one person on the team is blocked and another person on the team might be able to help. The worst that could happen is they say thank you but no thank you.
Know What You are Asking For
Sometimes we don’t ask for help because we don’t know how to ask. The 1st part of knowing how to ask is to make sure you are clear about what it is you are asking for. That seems really obvious, but the reality is that sometimes we aren’t so sure ourselves.
Do you need help to think through a problem?
Do you need help for a certain skill set that isn’t in your wheelhouse?
Do you need help getting a specific task done?
Do you need advice?
Or a different perspective?
Do you need an editor?
Do you need someone to take ownership?
If you make your request for help too general, it makes it harder for the other person to assess whether they can help you.
We have a tendency to assign mind-reading skills to those around us. Rather than assuming someone else can read your mind and magically solve your problem, spend some time getting clear about what it is you need from them.
So, what I want you to take away from this week’s episode is that asking for help should be a normal part of your day. Don’t stress yourself out because you aren’t asking for help when you need it. Challenge those reasons in your head for not asking. Don’t assume what others may or may not be willing to do to help and don’t assume others are mind readers and should know what you need help with. Whether you are in a leadership position or not, you can create a culture of asking by becoming a person who asks.
I used to work with someone who never asked for help. I’m pretty sure she saw it as a strength. She felt like it was important to give off the impression that she could do it all and never need to ask for help.
I’ve never been that way myself. I’ve never felt life asking for help makes me look weak. For me, its quite the opposite. I feel that asking for help makes me better. If I don’t know the answer to something, asking someone who does expands my world. Asking for help means that I’m constantly learning something new. And, my experience has been that others respect me for it. Rather than seeing me as weak, they see me as curious, engaged, and collaborative.
It is similar when asking for help with tasks. It is easy to feel guilty asking someone to do something you are supposed to do. After all, it is your job to get it done. Asking someone else to do your job can seem like taking advantage. But again, my experience is that others don’t see it that way. They are happy to help.
The thing I think is key to this idea of asking for help is balance. When you ask for help in order to get out of work altogether, you are just pawing off your work. You are a slacker and your coworkers will eventually catch on. Or, if you are constantly asking others to help you solve problems but your motivation is to not learn, grow, or elevate the outcome, then again, you will be seen for what you are – pawing off your work.
So, at one extreme, if you ask too much with an underlying motivation of getting out of work, you will damage your relationships and your reputation.
At the other extreme, if you are like my old coworker and you never ask for help, you are likely to get a reputation as someone who doesn’t meet commitments. This coworker, I’ll call her Mary, spends a significant amount of time apologizing for her lack of meeting expectations.
So, at the other extreme, if you never ask for help, you will damage your relationships and your reputation because your coworkers will come to see you as unreliable. And, you’ll have to added impact of causing yourself an awful lot of stress.
The key to asking for help is to find balance. You need to be comfortable asking for help when you need it, but not so comfortable that you end up asking all the time.
In order to find that balance, the other part of the equation is to give help. The thing about asking for help is that it involves at least 2 people. Anytime you ask for help, someone else is giving help. You’ve created a kind of transaction between the two of you.
In order to achieve balance, you need to be willing to 1) ask for help when you need it and 2) give help when asked.
If you think of asking for help and giving help as a matrix with 4 quadrants, you can understand 4 different personas that Wayne Baker outlines in his book All You Have to Do is Ask: How to Master the Most Important Skill for Success.
If you are a Scale My Skills subscriber, you’ve got the matrix and personas along with other resources in your inbox today. If you’d like to sign up for Scale My Skills, you can do so on our home page.
Overly Generous Giver
If you give help frequently, but ask for help rarely, you are an overly generous giver. Overly generous givers get a self esteem boost from helping others. They revel in the adrenalin boost they get from helping others purely for the sale of being helpful. If you are familiar with Enneagram, these are the Enneagram 2s. The issue is overly generous givers will eventually burn-out. And, they can be seen as unproductive because they spend so much time helping others that they don’t get their own stuff done.
If you ask for help infrequently and you give help infrequently, you are a lone wolf. Lone Wolves are big on self reliance. They see life as a race to the top, which means that their relationships take a hit. And, because success in life and especially in business, is heavily dependent on our relationships with others, they usually fall short in their race to the top.
If you ask for help frequently, and you give help infrequently, you are the Selfish Taker persona. The Selfish Taker rarely pays generosity back. In the short run, they may see their star rising because it looks like they are accomplishing so much. But, in the long run, those that they are taking advantage of figure out that they are just pawning off their work and will eventually stop helping.
If you ask for help frequently and give help frequently you are a Giver-Taker persona. Giver-Takers are very productive. When they ask for help, their motivation is to learn and grow. When they give help, they are creating space for the person who asked for help to also be productive. And because they have a reputation for helping, they generally have a wide circle of contacts who have a high level of respect for them.
This week, I challenge you to assess yourself on the asking for help continuum. Which of the personas are you? How can you move more toward the Giver-Taker persona?
Every job has a process – whether it is well documented or not, effective or not, enforced or not. And, whether you are the kind of person who likes process or not, you still follow a process. For those of you who get itchy when talking about a process, we might also call it guidelines. You have some set of guidelines you use to get yourself from point A to point B each day.
I have a saying that I say frequently to my team: trust the process.
What I mean when I say it is that, when you question why something is the way it is, you must trust that the process handled it appropriately, and therefore there is a good reason for it.
Trust that there are rules and guidelines in place to help get each process from point A to point B in a manner that results in the best possible solution given the situation.
Trusting the process doesn’t mean that there is no room for improvement. To design a process you can trust, there are a few guidelines you can follow.
Apply the rules at decision points
First, make sure the rules or guidelines that are applied at decision points are at the right decision points. In other words, in any process there are going to be critical decision points and not critical decision points. In order to be effective, rules should only be applied at the critical ones.
Make the rules specific to the audience
Next rules or guidelines need to be tailored to the people who will use them rather than being too general. Many times, rules get designed – or I should say over designed – because the designer wants to cover every possible scenario that could ever occur. This dilutes the importance of the rule and inevitably people start to ignore it or have trouble understanding how to apply it in their situation.
Make sure the rules stand up to scrutiny
Good rules in a process are built on a foundation that stands up to scrutiny. The reason that rules are put in place is because:
So, think about your process and the rules or guidelines that help ensure that you can trust the process. Are the rules at the critical decisions points.? Do they help navigate situations where there isn’t a clear right answer? Are they specific enough to give direction or have they been diluted to try and account for every eventuality?
Building in rules that allow you to trust the process will make everyone involved more efficient.
Meetings, in my opinion get a bad wrap in the corporate world. People seem to hate going to meetins and sometimes go to great lengths to avoid them. I get why people feel that way. Many times, it is because they feel like they aren’t getting anything out of them.
Understand Your Purpose In The Meeting
I’m a big proponent of not attending a meeting that isn’t going to be of any value to you. You should be sure you understand what your role is and what the purpose of attending is. For example, if you are attending just to be informed, then do you understand why being informed about the topic is beneficial to you?
A lot of companies or departments have a regular all hands type meeting where the head of the group covers the performance for the last quarter or talks about strategic initiatives, or other topics that have to do with overall performance. In this type of meeting, your purpose for being there is to be informed. This is your chance to hear about what is going on in the company in areas you may not be involved with daily. These are things that may not directly impact you, but they impact the overall company, which is something you should have an interest in.
Sometimes, your role at a meeting is to serve as a subject matter expert. The topic may be 99% unrelated to you, but in the event someone needs an answer to a question that only you can answer, you are there.
Understand Their Purpose For Being Invited To The Meeting
It is important, if you are the one calling the meeting that you have a good handle on why you are including the people you are including. As you create the meeting invite and add people to it, something is going through your mind about why you’ve included them. You should consider the fact that, if you were on the receiving end of the meeting you’d want to understand how this meeting is a good use of your time. So, you should ensure that the people you invite will understand as well.
Many times, when I schedule a meeting, I also send an email explaining what the meeting is about and what role each of the attendees is going to play. I will draft the email and put together the meeting invite and then send them both at the same time. That way, the recipient gets a meeting invite and an email from me together, which is likely to peak their interest. I think this results in people actually reading the email to find out what the meeting is about. I think this, then, results in their attendance at my meeting having a better understanding rather than just showing up with no expectations.
Be a Moderator
Another thing that you should do if you are hosting a meeting is remember that your role as host means that you need to serve as the moderator of the meeting.
You need to keep it on track. This could mean following an agenda. It could mean serving as a time keeper. It could mean making sure that everyone has a chance to participate.
Since it is your meeting, you are in charge, and you need to be confident about managing the meeting so that you accomplish your objective.
It may be that there are people in the meeting who outrank you, which could make you feel uncomfortable about taking control. This is part of growing in your career. You need to learn how to be comfortable being in charge when your title doesn’t make you the highest ranking person in the room.
You need to find a balance between coming across as rude and asserting yourself in the situation. This is where you can say something like “this is a great discussion, but I want to be cognizant of everyone’s time and be sure we can get to all of the topics on our agenda, so maybe we can schedule a follow up meeting to further explore this topic.”
Another tool I use is to say at the start of the meeting, “we have a lot to cover today and I expect some of these topics might bring out some passionate discussion, so I’m just going to warn you that I will be managing our time very closely in order to ensure we are going to be able to get through all of the topics.”
When you tell people up front, they won’t find it rude if you then follow through.
Another tip that I’d throw out there is if your meeting agenda gets just completely thrown out the window – to acknowledge it and move on. For example, if the discussion carries you away from the agenda but for whatever reason you are going to allow it, you can say, “you know, we’ve completely gotten away from our agenda, but this discussion is important, so I’ll just schedule another time to complete the original agenda.”
It may seem like overkill or micromanaging to say these things out loud, but what it does is ensures that everybody hears the same message. It may be obvious to you because it is your meeting, but you can never assume that it is obvious to everyone else.
Agenda vs Objective
One of the things I’ve noticed about meetings is that we are not always clear about the purpose of the meeting. For those who are attending, what are we expecting? Are they attending to be informed? To be consulted? To make a decision?
Most basic tips for proper meetings will tell you to include an agenda. But, I would argue that it is important to also be very explicit about what the objective of the meeting is. The agenda will give your invitees an understanding of the content of the meeting, the objective will tell them why their attendance is important.
If the purpose of your meeting is to influence, you should consider whether you need to hold pre-meetings with individual stakeholders who you think may be resistant to your idea or may need time to consider your proposal. The meeting before the meeting is a critical influence tool, but it is also a critical tool for making meetings more effective. There is nothing worse than having your meeting derailed by 1 person who is either resistant or reacts in a resistant manner because they need time to process your proposal. So, if you have a proposal, you should consider which meetings are necessary before the formal meeting.
If the purpose of your meeting is to brainstorm ideas, you may consider asking someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in the topic to facilitate the meeting. This will allow you to fully participate in brainstorming and leave the logistics to someone else.
My final tip is related to recurring meetings. If you are the host of a recurring meeting, make sure you check in to see if the original purpose of the meeting is still valid. A lot of meetings get set up to serve a specific purpose but remain long after the purpose is no longer relevant. It has really just become a habit and the meeting could be eliminated all together.
I’ll admit up-front that today’s topic is one of my pet peeves, so if I sound a little more preachy than normal, you’ll know why.
Today, we are going to talk about identifying busy work so you can get onto being productive. I guess I’m making the argument that being busy – fake busy – is standing in the way of being productive.
“When it comes to your effectiveness, fake work is often more dangerous than no work at all.” From The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry
I see it every day – people keeping themselves so busy with unimportant tasks that aren’t moving the needle for them. They get to the end of their day and they are exhausted, but they aren’t really making the impact that they want or need to make.
It really frustrates me to no end to see this happening. It is an easy trap to fall into because we, many times, are thinking very short term and feel like we need to do what we need to do just to keep our head above water in our day job.
What I want to do today is give you a framework for thinking about the work you are accomplishing and to help you move away from busy work and toward being more productive. It means working in a mode for most of your day that contributes to your priorities.
It is called the Productivity Mode Optimizer – and yes, that is PMO hidden in the title. Pretty cleaver, huh?
The Productivity Mode Optimizer is a pie chart that gives you a visual of how much of your time is being spent on activities that move the needle forward.
So, picture a pie chart that is divided into 3 slices:
This is the time you spend working on tasks beyond the point you should have. I don’t really mean that they were done too late. I mean that, you are doing the task and it is taking more time than it should because you are reacting to it rather than managing it. You are swimming as hard as you can to keep your head above water but you aren’t moving the needle forward.
When you are working in reactive mode, you are doing busy work that is unnecessary because you haven’t appropriately managed the situation. Reactive mode is diabolical – it keeps you busy so that you don’t think you have the time you need to do anything about it.
Although I think it is obvious, I guess I’d better say it out loud – you want the reactive mode section of your pie chart to be as small as possible.
This is when you are working on tasks before they are needed. This is where you move the needle forward. This is productivity personified. Of course, it isn’t easy to work in productive mode, or else we would all feel like we are very productive.
When you are working in productive mode, you are looking at a long term timeframe.
You are getting to the root cause of issues and addressing them.
You are thinking about how to solve problems rather than just reacting to them.
For me, Productivity Mode means I’m not in meeting or looking at emails. It means I’ve got some dedicated quiet time to work on solving a problem. Sometimes that means I’m standing in front of a whiteboard trying to work through the problem. Sometimes that means I am 10 feet deep into a complicated spreadsheet. And, sometimes it means I’m staring out a winding just thinking.
The hardest part about Proactive Mode is that it can easily get pushed aside by Reactive Mode. So, I want to emphasize that Proactive Mode has to be deliberate. You have to make time to be working in Proactive Mode.
You’ve got to remind yourself that the time spent in Proactive Mode is the productive bit. Feeling busy while in Reactive Mode makes you feel like you are getting stuff done, but it isn’t productive.
Busy is not always productive.
This is the time spent on your long term goals. You’ve got to be deliberate about this mode as well. How much time are you giving to your long term goals? What activities in your week are contributing to the long term goals you have set?
This podcast is built on the foundation of this mode. We set aside 10 minutes per week to add to your core business skills so that you can be more successful in your career. So, if you are a regular listener, you can put this 10 minutes into the Foundation Mode section of your pie chart.
But, what else are you doing? you should aim for this to be about 25% of your chart. It is a stretch goal for sure, but you’ve got to aim high to make a difference.
So, you homework for this week is to look back over the last month at what you’ve done and create your own Productivity Mode Optimizer chart.
If you are a subscriber to Scale My Skills, our weekly newsletter, you’ve got a worksheet in your inbox. If not, you can sign up here and get our free guides each week.
Fill in the pie chart to reflect your current division of time between Reactive Mode, Proactive Mode, and Foundation Mode. Are you happy with the allocation? If not, what can you do to move in the direction you want to move?
We’ve all been involved with situations where something didn’t happen the way it was supposed to happen because of a lack of clearly defined expectations. A customer gets mad because the repair guy didn’t show up when he said he would. The repair guy is stressed out because the appointment scheduler is scheduling him into appointments with no time for driving from one place to another. The scheduler is trying to meet metrics set by the boss.
Think about your own situation. Is there an area where it seems like everything isn’t lining up? Where the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing? Is someone making decisions or taking action without considering how it impacts others in the process?
Today, we are going to talk about a tool that can be helpful in these situations. Its called the RACI (race-eee) matrix. It is a project management tool that you can adapt to your job.
At its core, the RACI matrix is a responsibility matrix. You simply list tasks down the left side and people or departments across the top to form a matrix. Then, at each intersection of a task and person, you list the role the person plays from a responsibility perspective.
The R in RACI stands for responsible. If the person is responsible for performing the task, then you put an 'R' in the cell. Responsible for the task means they physically do it. They are the boots on the ground, the hands on the keyboard, or the person who actually shows up at the client’s home to make the repair.
The A in the RACI stands for accountable. This is the person who ultimately makes sure the task gets done. They are the ‘buck stops here’ person. They are the person who makes sure something happens – even if they don’t actually perform the task. This is the VP of Customer Support in our repair example.
The C in RACI stands for Consulted. If the person has specialized knowledge or is going to be impacted by the task, they may be consulted as part of the task. This is someone whose input adds value even if they aren’t going to be responsible or accountable for making it happen. In our example, our repair guy may make a call to the product engineering department to get an answer about a product specification in order to be able to properly resolve the issue. The product engineering department has no responsibility for customer repairs. But, they do have specific knowledge that can contribute to the process when the situation calls for it.
The I in RACI stands for Informed. This means the person would know about the task but they don’t have input into it. This is one-way communication whereas C – Consulted - is 2 way communication. The accounting department is informed that the repair has been completed so that they can bill the customer for it. They weren’t responsible for making sure the repair got done, accountable for making sure the repair guy showed up, or consulted in the process of making the repair. But, they need to know it happened so they know to send the bill.
So – RACI. Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed.
Benefits of a RACI
Any process benefits from a RACI because it helps to clearly define the roles played by each person involved in the process. It helps clarify who does what so that everyone is on the same page. It helps you think through a process more thoroughly to ensure that you have fewer unintended consequences to decisions or actions taken within a process.
Having a RACI matrix is a way of forcing you to think about the process and all of its stakeholders. It is a way of planning for different scenarios by proactively identifying who does what for each process.
Because each of us tends to get focused on our own day-to-day job, it is easy to just do what we do and lose track of the stakeholders to the process. The RACI gives you a chance to take a step back and think about the impacts you have on others within the process.
We’ve got 2 episodes that would make a great companion to this one – one about the difference between Systems and Processes, and one about Stakeholders.
Cross Functional Processes
There are very few processes in modern business that are isolated. Almost any process you can think of is cross functional – meaning it involves people from across departments. When you involve people from across departments, you are bringing together people with different objectives, different skills, and different focus to solve a specific task.
Because there are so many variables, having clearly defined roles helps take away one variable.
If I know I’m a C – Consulted – in the process, then I know my role is to give input, but I also know I don’t have to actually deliver anything. I also know that the other people involved know my role is limited to consulting, so there shouldn’t be confusion about who is doing what. When something doesn’t get done the way it should, everyone knows that the right person to go to is the person listed as 'responsible' on the matrix. And, if that person doesn’t get it done then the issue is escalated to the person listed as 'accountable.'
This about one of your processes that could use a RACI and spend some time to put one together. I think you'll find that the process helps identify potential areas of problem in the process and will help you resolve them quickly.
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Our topic today is a little bit unusual – it is definitely something you don’t learn in school. But, surprisingly, I have found it to be a very useful tool in my career.
You know what an inside joke is. It is something between you and another person that you share and only understood because you have a shared context. You can talk about It in front of other people, and although they can understand all of the words you are saying, because they don’t have the context, they don’t get the deeper meaning. Inside jokes are usually funny, and can sometimes border on mean or cruel if the joke you share is at someone else’s expense.
What I want to talk about today is like an inside joke, but not funny or mean. I’ll call it a verbal shortcut.
A verbal shortcut is something between you and another person that you use to quickly communicate a full idea using shortened words. You’ve established up-front a specific context for the short cut that means that everyone understands the underlying context when the agreed upon short cut is spoken.
You probably already have some that you use without even realizing it. But, by thinking about it as an efficiency tool, you may find that you could purposefully implement more of these shortcuts into your work and find an improvement.
Let me give you some examples that I’ve used over the years.
One of the most recent ones I’ve learned is the verbal shortcut “Left Hand Column.” If you aren’t familiar with this one – hearing those 3 words may not mean much to you. But, when I say those words to one of my coworkers who has been initiated into the use of the phrase, they know exactly what I’m getting at. The phrase “left hand column” means – “here is what I’m really thinking and I’m about to tell you something you may not want to hear.”
By giving this idea a short cut term, we’ve normalized it as part of our culture. Because we have established a protocol that has established the use of this short cut term as an acceptable way to voice our negative thoughts, we are more effective.
Another favorite example that I use all the time is the shortcut “blue car.” This is something I say when I’ve gotten way off topic. It is the same idea as the dog who gets sidetracked by the squirrel in the Movie Up. It is used to tell people – ok, we have gotten completely sidetracked by this unrelated and off-topic discussion and need to come back to the original purpose of the meeting.
These shortcuts don’t work if the others aren’t indoctrinated into the meaning. If I’m in a meeting with a group of people who don’t know what “blue car” means and I say “ok, this is a blue car and we need to move on,” then they all just think I’ve lost my mind.
But, by introducing these verbal short cuts to your department, or the people you work most closely with, you can make an impact on effectiveness.
There are a lot of factors that contribute.
Where Verbal Shortcuts Come From
How do these short cuts come about? A lot of times, they develop over time and out of a situation or context that occurred. For example, I was talking with a colleague when his daughter came into the room and asked him if she could have ice cream. He told her no, but she could have a frozen grape.
I don’t have kids, so frozen grapes may be new to me for that reason, but I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. What kind of a substitute is a frozen grape when what you really want is ice cream? To me, this sounded like bait and switch.
But, my colleague told me his kids love frozen grapes. So, for them, although it may not quite be ice cream, it was an acceptable compromise.
Now, when my colleague and I are talking about how to come up with a solution everyone can live with, we say it is a frozen grape. The client asked for us to assign a project manager to their project full time at no additional cost. That’s not going to be possible, but maybe we can give them the PM at cost as a frozen grape.
I’ve been using blue car for so long that I don’t remember how it came about, but I’ve taken it with me from company to company. It means that I sometimes have to explain it to my new team, but because I use it frequently, they eventually get used to the term.
And sometimes, the short cut gets introduced more formally. For instance, Left Hand Column came about from a training session that all of the managers in my company went through.
So, verbal shortcuts can come in many forms. Over the coming days, keep your eyes out for them. You probably have some in your life already. Look for places where you might be able to introduce a shortcut that would improve efficiency or effectiveness for your work.
It may be something small – a way to communicate to your coworker that you can’t be disturbed, or that although you’d love to catch up, you just done have time. It might be a way to communicate with your manager that you are stressed and just not at your best. Or, it might be with a team you are part of that could use a short cut to deal with a certain recurring theme.
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