How To...

October 21, 2019

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This file photo taken on August 1, 2019 shows the floating photovoltaic solar panels at the power plant O’Mega1 in Piolenc, southern France. The first floating solar energy farm in Europe by its size was be inaugurated last week.—AFP
This file photo taken on August 1, 2019 shows the floating photovoltaic solar panels at the power plant O’Mega1 in Piolenc, southern France. The first floating solar energy farm in Europe by its size was be inaugurated last week.—AFP

Prioritise work that gives you a sense of meaning

We all want meaningful work, but meaning is rarely handed to us. It’s up to you to connect what you do every day to what you value — and that takes self-reflection and deliberate effort. Keep a journal of your tasks and projects, noting which ones you find deeply satisfying (and which are gratifying only in the short term). For example, do you feel fulfilled when making presentations to clients? Are you energised when mentoring and coaching junior employees? Then, as much as possible, prioritise work that aligns with your values. If helping others grow is part of your professional identity, make coaching one of your weekly activities. If self-development is a core value, make listening to podcasts or taking an online course a daily ritual. And talk with colleagues about how you’re prioritising meaningful work. Hearing about others’ efforts will help everyone focus on what matters most.

(This tip is adapted from “Why You Should Stop Trying to Be Happy at Work,” by Susan Peppercorn.)

Can everyone speak up in your meetings?

If you want your culture to be more inclusive, start with the way you run meetings. Some employees don’t feel comfortable speaking up in meetings, or they’re likely to get interrupted when they do. That’s why leaders need to make sure everyone feels welcome. Send an email before the meeting that invites all attendees to be ready to share as well as listen. As people arrive, welcome them by name and make sure everyone has a (literal) seat at the table. Let people know they can speak honestly and offer dissenting opinions without fear of retribution. During the meeting, keep track of who’s talking — and who’s not. If someone hasn’t offered his or her thoughts, call on him and ask what he thinks about the topic at hand. And if someone is interrupted, step in quickly: “wait a minute, I want to hear more of what Alejandra has to say.” Leading meetings this way creates room for everyone to contribute and sets a standard for respect across the group.

(This tip is adapted from “To Build an Inclusive Culture, Start With Inclusive Meetings,” by Kathryn Heath and Brenda F. Wensil.)

Coaching employees to solve problems in new ways

Sometimes employees get stuck while solving a problem. They try once and, when they fail, either give up or try again with the same method. You can help a direct report expand his or her set of tools and consider new approaches with coaching. Start off by asking a few questions: what problem are you solving? What concerns you about it? What frustrates other people about it? Your goal is to get people thinking about why their efforts aren’t working. Repeat their answers back to them. Once they understand why their plan of action is flawed, ask what else they might try, based on what they know about the problem. Encourage them to think about what type of solution would make sense for this type of problem. Remember, your role here is not to provide answers. It is to clarify the questions your employees are trying to answer, push them to consider new perspectives and help them reflect on what they’ve learned.

(This tip is adapted from “To Coach Junior Employees, Start With 4 Conversations,” by Jerry Connor.)

Managing someone who sucks up to you

Is there someone on your team who sucks up to you? The person will do anything to get your approval, from running every detail of a project by you to watching your favourite TV show. If one of your direct reports is overly focused on impressing you, take steps to set some boundaries. Don’t give the employee extra time or attention (even if he or she asks for it), and hold him to the same standards of performance as everyone else. If he spends too much time checking in and gauging your reactions to his work, guide him to make his own decisions. You should also schedule your one-on-ones and check-ins so that the employee doesn’t monopolise your time; this is particularly important if people in your office often drop in for ad hoc discussions. And assign the person to work with other leaders and teams when possible. This will take the pressure off the dynamic between you and give him chances to collaborate with others.

(This tip is adapted from “Managing an Employee Who Wants to Impress You All the Time,” by Liz Kislik.)

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, October, 2019