Management Hacks

Management Hacks are quick things you can use to improve results. We'll be expanding the list of Hacks on an ongoing basis, so check back later.


Managing Down

These Hacks are for managing your Staff.

When you ask your staff to do something or roll out a policy, directive or procedures, don't keep your staff in the dark about the reasons. This is particularly important if it is a 'head office' initiative.

When staff know the reason for something, even if they don't agree, they will be more likely to understand, particularly if there is in fact a logical reason behind it or even a bigger picture issue they didn't think about.

Not only does this help with buy-in, if they know the underlying reasons for something, it will help them execute or implement better. They may even come up with issues or solutions to make it work better, instead of blindly implementing something. After all, they know the details best.

So, the next time, don't keep your staff in the dark. You'll get better results.

 


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Ok, you're hiring someone, maybe even your first hire as a manager, and you want to do things right.

So you ask questions you were asked, or that you hear about as standard interview questions.

You might even ask these two standard questions:

  • What is your greatest strength
  • What is your greatest weakness

These, among others, are simply an opening for a sales pitch and won't reveal anything that matters.

So instead, think about the job, the attributes needed, a fit for your organization and working with you, the skills needed, etc. and most importantly, what will make someone successful in the job.

Then develop a custom series of questions that get to those core things and you are more likely to find the right candidate.


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As a manager and leader for your staff, you might feel that you are supposed to know everything and be right all the time.

And maybe you are.

But its more likely that sometimes you aren't, even when you think you are. And most importantly, if you are always telling your staff that you are right and they are wrong, they won't be able to serve you or your company very well.

In addition, you can't develop and grow your staff if they never persue things in their own way, and maybe even fail.

So, every now and then, even if you think you are right, let your staff pursue something they think is the right.

As long as failure isn't dangerous or expensive, give them a chance to succeed.

They will be the better for it, either with a great success or an excellent learning experience and you will gain a better employee.


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The best way to get approval or agreement to your ideas is to do some homework up front.

Instead of making a pitch at your next senior management meeting, test your ideas individually with the participants to get their thoughts and build support.

Before making a presentation, cover the key items and outcome with decision-makers who might be in the audience. They can be your litmus test about how your idea will be received and give you guidance on things you might want to change to gain acceptance.

If you're developing a business case to be reviewed by the CFO or other key decision-makers in your company, the town with them in advance and go over some of your key arguments, evidence and the essence of your proposal. They can give you guidance that you can then incorporate into your business case.

If they demonstrate supports during these one-on-one meetings, you know you're on the right track. If they indicate that they can't support your proposal, then you can learn what to do about it or change your proposal based on what will be acceptable.

Even if you don't make changes, you will know where your are opposition is and can develop a defense, which includes getting support from others in advance.

That's how you build support.


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If your staff are coming to you and asking you ‘what should I do, boss?” then you have a problem. Your staff, at any level, should be bringing you solutions and answers based on their knowledge and experience, not just problems and questions.

The next time you are asked ‘what should I do?” turn it around and ask them what they think they should do. Don’t give them a way out. Even if they feel they don’t know enough, the idea is to get then to think it through.

Then, even if their solution isn’t the best, you can talk about why and give them insight they can use the next time.

You can formalize it by telling your staff that they need to bring you a recommended solution, the reasons for that solution, the risks related to the solution and what other things need to be done to make the solution work.


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Whenever you need something from your staff, don’t just give them an arbitrary due date. Discuss it with them and get their buy-in and agreement that they can deliver.

If you have a hard-date you need to meet, tell them what it is and then negotiate how much earlier you need it from them. Explain the hard-date so they understand the importance of the due-date and make sure they know why you need it in advance.

Tell them that you expect it on-time and manage to that expectation. However, let them know that if they struggle to meet the due-date, they must come to you in advance to see how it can be solved instead of simply missing the due-date.

Show flexibility in setting the due-date in the first place and consider your own staff’s preferences and workload. You are more likely to get what you need from them on-time.


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If you receive something in writing from your staff and it has grammar or spelling errors in it, of course you should point it out.

But first, comment on the substance of the writing and give them feedback or reinforcement about it. After all, it’s the thoughts, ideas, logic, message and arguments that are most important about their writing.

Developing your staff’s capabilities and confidence about those issues will be more valuable in the long run than berating them over their writing skills.

Only then should you comment on spelling or grammar issues. Give suggestions or corrections as appropriate. And if it’s important material, suggest they get someone else to proofread it the next time before sending it on to you, or even give them support so they can do the thinking and someone else can do the writing.


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It’s always a good idea to thank your staff, but don't just say "thank you".

If they've done a particularly good job on something, provided a deliverable in a timely manner, found a solution you needed or anything else, it's a good idea to think them.

But it's even better if you tell them why it mattered to you. The thank you will be more relevant and meaningful to them and at the same time you'll let them know what you value.

The next time you thank one of your employees, be sure to tell them why.


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Managing Up

These Hacks are for managing your Boss.

Whenever you give your boss information, think carefully about what they need. Now what you think they need.

Ask the questions first : What will they do with the info? Pass it along? Make a decision? Are they detail oriented or high level? How well do they know the topic?

If you aren't sure, ask. And always get feedback after you provide information and adjust your approach the next time.

Once you know what they need and what they will do with it, you can prioritize information and put it into a format, structure, context and even the length that meets their needs. You may even be able to put together a quick template for one or more specific issues or situations.

This can make it easier for you to put the information together and will certainly make it easier for your boss to use it effectively.

You'll look good. Trust me.


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You probably have your own meetings to go to and don't really want to spend more time in meetings.

Yet a great way to show your interest in your development and advancement, and possibly even to help your boss, is to attend some of the meetings your boss attends

Try to get an idea of the meetings your boss goes to and ask your boss if you can attend even just as an observer some of those meetings. You may even be able to contribute during the meeting.

As an added benefit, if you attend some of these meetings periodically, you may become the go-to person when your boss can't make the meetings or your boss will ask you to fill in when they are on vacation.

Don't just attend, however. Find a way to contribute during the meetings or even after the meeting by providing your boss with observations and information that might help them at a subsequent meeting.

While you're doing this for your own benefit, you need to deliver some benefit to your boss as well.


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Whether you call it a briefing or not, you probably give your boss updates and information about things you're working on, problems, issues or even a heads up on things they might have to deal with.

Instead of doing it ad hoc, develop a one-pager you can use to consistently brief your boss with all the information needed. That includes the background, what the issue is, what the impact of the issue is, risks, response to the issue, possibly from speaking points and solutions of appropriate. Keep it short and concise.

Depending on what you do and what your boss needs, you can create something that specifically meets your boss's requirements with all the information requirements covered.

With a consistent template and headings to follow every time, it will make your job easier and provide a higher quality briefing to your boss.


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Time Management

These Hacks are for managing time better.

Even as a Manager, its easy to believe you are being paid to do things. But in addition, your job is to think about things.

Don't feel unproductive when you are sitting and thinking. Or when you spend time planning something. That's valuable work too.

In fact, you will 'manage' better if you use planning and strategy to help you and your staff do the job better with improved outcomes and possibly lower effort or cost.

So take the time to sit and just do some thinking.

If you have a hard time doing it in your office or cubicle, find somewhere else to go. Park yourself in a coffee shop for a few hours. You may find the ambient noise helpful. Or stay at home for a morning every now and then. While you do this, stay away from your emails, social media and phone so you can think without distractions.

Find what works for you, but take the time to think. That's your value added contribution to your organization.

 


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Have you ever been asked to attend a meeting, whether by a customer, colleague, boss, etc?

Did you attend without knowing the agenda or purpose?

Stop doing that.

Any time you are asked to attend a meeting, even by your boss, ask what the agenda is and in particular, what the issue or purpose is and what outcome is expected. If possible, discuss how you need to be prepared.

You should also know who else has been invited.

This makes the meeting more productive and avoids you being surprised by issues or topics you aren't prepared to deal with. You may even decide that someone else also needs to attend, such as one of your staff members who has more details about the issue or is impacted by outcomes of the meeting.

The meeting will be more productive and you will be prepared and fully able to contribute, no more surprises when you get to a meeting.

If you ask and they won't tell you what the meeting is about, don't attend. Explain your reasons.


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We're led to believe that multitasking is a valuable time management skill.

Unfortunately, studies show that when we shift attention between different tasks, we are shortchanging our ability to perform optimally on each of the tasks.

Changing gears is something we're familiar in business and in our daily life and it's what reduces our effectiveness.

Think about how disruptive it is when you are interrupted while working. That's what you are doing to yourself by multitasking.

So, instead of multitasking, focus on one thing, get it done, then move to the next thing.

You will be better off for it.


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Whenever you need something from your staff, don’t just give them an arbitrary due date. Discuss it with them and get their buy-in and agreement that they can deliver.

If you have a hard-date you need to meet, tell them what it is and then negotiate how much earlier you need it from them. Explain the hard-date so they understand the importance of the due-date and make sure they know why you need it in advance.

Tell them that you expect it on-time and manage to that expectation. However, let them know that if they struggle to meet the due-date, they must come to you in advance to see how it can be solved instead of simply missing the due-date.

Show flexibility in setting the due-date in the first place and consider your own staff’s preferences and workload. You are more likely to get what you need from them on-time.


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Managing your inbox is difficult enough, but when you send emails, it is easy to lose track of things that you are expecting from the recipient or follow-ups you need to do.

It’s easy to track these things by using the ’Follow-up’ feature in Outlook.

Whenever you send an email, you can tag it with a follow-up date that will give you a reminder when it comes due.

Once you compose your email, select ‘Follow up’ from the Message tab in the ribbon. Choose one of the options or select Custom and click ‘reminder’ and set the reminder date and time. You can also flag the due-date for the recipient while you are at it.

You can even do this for emails you receive. Right click on the email, select ‘follow up’ and set a reminder.

It will now show up in your Task list so you can keep track of it.


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Your Career

These Hacks are for your career.

Have you ever left a meeting and said to yourself that it was a great meeting or have a discussion with someone about a problem and realize how productive it was? Have you been involved in a client situation and see how well it was handled by your colleague or boss?  Experience a crisis and see how well it was handled?

Instead of just marveling at the result and moving on to your next meeting or problem, take a moment and ask yourself 'Why' they got great results and learn from it.

How was the meeting handled? How did the facilitator guide it, keep it on track, tease out solutions, keep personalities in check? What is it that made the discussion so productive, diffuse the client situation, solve the crisis?

What was done or said that you can learn from and do the next time you are in a similar situation? You can even talk to the individual involved and ask them about their approach.

Remember, great managers are not born, they learn good stuff from others and apply them to be successful themselves.

So, the next time there is a learning moment, take the time to actually learn.

 


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I've seen many resumes where the candidate belongs to an association related to their profession.

But my first question is how are they involved in the association?

Just being a member has little value. You have to be involved, otherwise potential employers will just see it as resume padding.

So, volunteer, get on a committee, go to conferences, meetings, etc. and learn things you can use to change and improve what you do for your company. Then put THAT on your resume.


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It may not seem like it matters, but having a quality head-shot for your social media (business related, like LinkedIn, for instance) and other purposes is important for your image.

If you are developing your career and speaking or writing, you need a professional portrait. Same if you are on a team included in a proposal and they want to provide pictures. Or your profile on your company website. Or perhaps your marketing material and brochures, particularly if you are an entrepreneur, home based business or consultant. They are also useful for internal things like newsletters, org charts with pictures, etc.

They don't have to be expensive. You may even have a friend or family member who can take some quality photo's of you with the right lighting and background. Or check out your local studio, it won't be expensive.

Make sure it looks like a business photo, not a family photo or school photo. Get several poses.


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The best way to get approval or agreement to your ideas is to do some homework up front.

Instead of making a pitch at your next senior management meeting, test your ideas individually with the participants to get their thoughts and build support.

Before making a presentation, cover the key items and outcome with decision-makers who might be in the audience. They can be your litmus test about how your idea will be received and give you guidance on things you might want to change to gain acceptance.

If you're developing a business case to be reviewed by the CFO or other key decision-makers in your company, the town with them in advance and go over some of your key arguments, evidence and the essence of your proposal. They can give you guidance that you can then incorporate into your business case.

If they demonstrate supports during these one-on-one meetings, you know you're on the right track. If they indicate that they can't support your proposal, then you can learn what to do about it or change your proposal based on what will be acceptable.

Even if you don't make changes, you will know where your are opposition is and can develop a defense, which includes getting support from others in advance.

That's how you build support.


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Feedback is a valuable commodity. It will help your career by providing guidance on what to do, what to change and what not to do. This is particularly important when it comes from your superiors or others who have more experience or expertise.

Unless you seek out these people and ask for feedback, you may not get it. So ask.

But instead of just asking for feedback generally, be specific. Ask your boss what you could have done better the next time you chair a meeting. Ask the CFO for feedback the next time you present your budget – what would they like to have seen but didn’t, for instance. Ask a trusted colleague for their feedback on something you’ve written.

Not only will you learn, the people you ask will consider you more highly as someone who values their opinion and wants to learn and improve.


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If you go to events with your colleagues, don’t sit with them for meals or whenever you’re seated at round tables during the event.

Instead, network in advance and strike up conversations with participants you don’t know and decide who you want to sit with.

If you don’t discover someone to sit with this way, sit at a random table where you may meet interesting people. Don’t default to sitting with people you know, since you can network with them anytime. Instead, focus on new people.


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If you are active on the internet and sign-up for newsletters to get downloads, log on to websites for access to more info or even use Linkedin for maintaining your network, don't use your company email address, even if you're signing up for company business reasons.

Face it. At some point, you will be in a different job in a different company and you'll end up abandoning the things you signed-up for once you lose your company email account.

You'll spend lots of time finding the sites you like and signing up again. And you may not be able to give 2 weeks notice to your employer, leaving you time to do the switch. You might be out the door today and cut off completely without warning. It happens.

Sometimes, you can provide an alternate email address, in which case go ahead and do that. (for instance, you can have multiple email addresses in Linked In)

Otherwise, use your personal email account or even better, set up a separate one just for signing up to things on the internet.

 


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You probably have your own meetings to go to and don't really want to spend more time in meetings.

Yet a great way to show your interest in your development and advancement, and possibly even to help your boss, is to attend some of the meetings your boss attends

Try to get an idea of the meetings your boss goes to and ask your boss if you can attend even just as an observer some of those meetings. You may even be able to contribute during the meeting.

As an added benefit, if you attend some of these meetings periodically, you may become the go-to person when your boss can't make the meetings or your boss will ask you to fill in when they are on vacation.

Don't just attend, however. Find a way to contribute during the meetings or even after the meeting by providing your boss with observations and information that might help them at a subsequent meeting.

While you're doing this for your own benefit, you need to deliver some benefit to your boss as well.


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Your Productivity

These Hacks are for managing productivity.

We all have a tendency to write long letters, emails, reports, etc.

It's easy to do, particularly if you have good typing skills or use a speech-to-text program and can basically do a mind dump.

The problem is, the longer it is, the worst it's likely to be as a business communication.

Instead, do a hard edit and cut out everything not needed. Add headings, use bullets, short words, short sentences, short paragraphs.

Make your writing easy to digest by the reader.


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You are busy and probably don't have a lot of time for sales people, but sometimes they can be a useful source of information and insight into part of your industry if you take advantage of their time with you.

Be prepared with some questions or even tell them in advance that for your time, they should bring some industry insight for you in return for listening to their pitch.

Think about your questions in advance, based on who they are and what they sell and who they sell to. Don't expect them to share confidential information with you, but they probably know things that are not confidential but are either not widely known or you simply haven't heard about it.

Focus your attention on business intelligence that could help you in your job or help your company if you learn something you can pass on to others.

So next time, give a little time to the sales people but expect something back in return.


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Whenever you are trying to convince someone of something or pitch an idea, don't lead or even include qualifiers up front.

Entice them with the benefits, reel them in with the advantages, hook them with the idea.

Only then, share the qualifiers you may have.

This applies whether you are trying to entice someone to join your team, take on a project or you are pitching something to a potential client.

Don't be sneaky or hide the qualifiers, but wait until they show interest and are already excited before raising them. This way, they will be better able to balance the benefits with the drawbacks instead of simply dismissing it outright because on first blush the qualifiers outweigh the benefits.

You'll get better buy-in this way.

 


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Have you ever been asked to attend a meeting, whether by a customer, colleague, boss, etc?

Did you attend without knowing the agenda or purpose?

Stop doing that.

Any time you are asked to attend a meeting, even by your boss, ask what the agenda is and in particular, what the issue or purpose is and what outcome is expected. If possible, discuss how you need to be prepared.

You should also know who else has been invited.

This makes the meeting more productive and avoids you being surprised by issues or topics you aren't prepared to deal with. You may even decide that someone else also needs to attend, such as one of your staff members who has more details about the issue or is impacted by outcomes of the meeting.

The meeting will be more productive and you will be prepared and fully able to contribute, no more surprises when you get to a meeting.

If you ask and they won't tell you what the meeting is about, don't attend. Explain your reasons.


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Emails take up a considerable amount of time, but there is a way to simplify standard communications you use on a regular basis. This can be to employees, suppliers, clients or prospects.

Microsoft Outlook gives you a great tool to create templates you can use over and over again.

This is useful for emails you send frequently, or should send frequently, like follow-up’s to calls, daily reports, notifications or even to acknowledge an email you’ve received.

To create a new Template

  1. Open a new message and type the standard text you want to use, including subject line and if applicable, the recipients
  2. Save As a template file in the default template folder

To use the template

  1. Select New Items from the Home menu on the ribbon. Then More Items then Chose Form.
  2. In the drop down list, chose User Templates in File System (or brows to where another location where you save your templates)
  3. Double Click the template you want
  4. Modify as necessary and Send.

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Never think about taking notes as a weakness.

Don’t rely on your memory for key information, tasks or due-dates.

Whether you are with your boss, a customer or even your staff, have a pen and notepad ready to take down notes. If you can quickly and quietly take notes on a tablet or laptop, that’s ok, but often a notepad is the least intrusive.

Begin the meeting saying that you’ll be taking notes. Then, if you can’t write fast enough, ask the other person to wait while you take down the important information. Instead of feeling put-out, you will demonstrate your interest in what they say.


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Have you ever received a long winded voicemail from someone? The reality is that it’s harder and more time consuming to check voicemail than it is to check an email, and a tedious voicemail won’t be appreciated.

So, the next time you leave a voicemail try these tips:

  • Make it short and to the point
  • Talk in bullet form
  • Don’t give them info they don’t really need.

Or, simply state the issue quickly (and make it compelling) and ask them to call you back.

You can also tell them you are sending a follow-up email with more details and to reply to you when they receive it.


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If you create documents in Word, you know how hard it is to create a table of contents manually.

Word has a great feature that makes an automatic table of contents easy and updates the page references whenever you change the document.

First, you need to use Styles for all your headings. Usually they are names ‘heading 1’, ‘heading 2’, etc. They apply font, color, size and even numbering to your headings but the best reason to use them is the automatic contents.

Styles are in the ‘Home’ tab on the ribbon. Highlight your heading and select the style you want to apply to it. It’s that easy. You can modify what the style looks like by right clicking on the style in the ribbon and selecting ‘modify’

Once you have applied a heading style to your headings, you can insert the automatic table of contents.

Put your cursor where you want the table. Click the ‘References’ tab in the ribbon. Click ‘Table of Contents’ from the ribbon. Select one of the Automatic tables or manually create one, where you can decide how deep the table of contents will go (1st, 2nd, 3rd level of header, for instance.

Whenever you make changes, right click anywhere on the table and tell it to update.

Wasn’t that easy?


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Managing your inbox is difficult enough, but when you send emails, it is easy to lose track of things that you are expecting from the recipient or follow-ups you need to do.

It’s easy to track these things by using the ’Follow-up’ feature in Outlook.

Whenever you send an email, you can tag it with a follow-up date that will give you a reminder when it comes due.

Once you compose your email, select ‘Follow up’ from the Message tab in the ribbon. Choose one of the options or select Custom and click ‘reminder’ and set the reminder date and time. You can also flag the due-date for the recipient while you are at it.

You can even do this for emails you receive. Right click on the email, select ‘follow up’ and set a reminder.

It will now show up in your Task list so you can keep track of it.


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Flow charts are great for illustrating a process, whether for problem solving, training or as part of a procedure.

But traditional flow charts can get complicated and don't clearly outline responsibilities.

A Swim-lane Diagram, also called a Cross Functional Flow Chart, clearly separates the steps for each person or group responsible for a part of the process. That makes it easier for people to follow the process steps and understand their responsibilities and the interaction between others.

It's easy to do with built-in templates in Visio or even with Excel, Word or PowerPoint if you want.

Is it much different from a traditional flow chart? Not really. You still use the same principles, you just organize the steps differently.

Here is an example:

Swimlane Flow Chart

 


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Instead of reading material silently when proof reading, whether it's your material or something your staff wrote, try reading it out loud.

You will catch more mistakes when you read it out loud - mistakes that may not show up when you read it silently, since often your brain will read things the way you wrote them or expect them to be, skimming over simple errors in spelling and even grammar.

If you're afraid you'll disrupt others or get dirty looks from colleagues, find a private place to do it, like an empty conference room. Try reading it at home if it's not possible to get private space at work.

It will be worth it.


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