Friday, August 28, 2009

How to Make a Fool of Yourself in Five Seconds or Less

Remember that famous line from the character Steve Erkel in the TV show Family Matters --

“Did I Do That?”

Have you ever accidentally left your cell phone on after you thought you had hung up? Or accidentally dialed when you sat down with your phone in your pants pocket? (A solid case for flip phones, if you ask me.)

Or, have you ever accidentally sent an e-mail? You know, the kind you write when you’re fuming about something (or someone) -- that you never really intend to send but it makes you feel better -- and you leave it sitting in your draft folder. Yeah, sure, blame it on your assistant.

Time for confessions.

It was the middle of a nerve-wracking meeting, and I was really frustrated (okay… pissed) with a co-worker. I put my phone on mute so I could rant to the others in my office. They would take my side of course, because they worked for me. But sometime during that call my mute button stopped working. Everyone on the call heard my rant.

Ooops… Did I do that?

I got the phone replaced the next day. The person I was ranting about made believe it didn’t happen. If she’s reading this now, I want her to know that what I said wasn’t nice, and I sincerely apologize… sort of…

I used to thrive on instant messaging, especially on long conference calls. I’ve known people who were able to keep up to 25 instant message sessions going at once. My personal limit is around 12. But there’s that annoying problem that a new window pops up just as you start typing a message. You think you’re sending it to Sam, but in the fury of keeping up with all those conversations you hit send before you notice that a new window has popped up and off it goes to Sue.

I was on the receiving end of one of these accidental IM’s. It read, “She’s really smart, but sometimes she’s too opinionated.” You guessed it… I was the one talking.

What, me? Have an opinion? I made believe it didn’t happen.

My favorite ‘Did I do that’ moment happened in a face-to-face meeting. The presenter had his laptop hooked to the projector. In the middle of the presentation he received an instant message that read, “I miss my family but I really need to see.” It was from a married senior executive. Now that’s what I call embarrassing!

He quickly closed the window and made believe it didn’t happen. I’m sure he thinks he caught it before we saw it… we made believe it didn’t happen either.

So -- admit it. You’ve done it too. What’s your favorite ‘Did I do that’ moment?

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Job I Didn't Get

To be honest, there were lots of jobs I didn’t get selected for over the years.

There were the jobs that I didn’t get because someone else was more qualified. There were some jobs I wanted that I wasn’t even considered for. There were the jobs that I didn’t get and something better came along later. There were even the jobs that I was secretly happy I didn’t get… because life would have been hell if I had.

But this post is about the one that haunts me... the one that I look back and think, “Did that really happen?”

I wrote an earlier post about how I decided I wanted to be the boss. It was my first female boss that convinced me of this – not because she talked me into it, but because she did her job so well.

So, when the powers that be decided that I was ready, they started putting my name on management slates and I was off to interview for my first management job.

You probably guessed by now… I didn’t get it.

Not because I wasn’t qualified. Not because I wasn’t the best candidate. I was told that I didn’t get the job because the last two managers named in that organization were women. This time they needed to hire a man. This was in the mid-1980’s.

No, I’m not kidding.

I did land my first management job shortly after that, and everything was okay. For years as I was coaching employees who felt that something was unfair I would say, “At any given moment it may feel like you got less -- or more -- than you deserve, but in the long run it all evens out… people get what they deserve in the long run.”

It was a good speech, but I’m not sure I believe it anymore. Maybe it’s just not fair sometimes.

What do you think?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Is Technology a Blessing Or a Curse?

Wednesday August 12th was ‘Information Overload Awareness Day.’

I had no idea there was such a thing as Information Overload Awareness Day. In fairness to its creator (or perhaps the word inventor is more appropriate here), Basex -- the self-proclaimed “authority on issues companies face as they enter the knowledge economy” -- this was the first Information Overload Awareness Day.

Ironically, I learned about it through the use of information technology. The event was held via a web conference, from 11 am to 4 pm. There were twelve sessions with sixteen speakers. That’s a lot of information… especially with no lunch break.

But even more ironic is the fact that we need an Information Overload Awareness Day.

My first big use of mobile technology was in the mid-90’s when I purchased a pager to make sure my kids were home safely from school. We had codes. ‘1111’ meant the oldest was home safely. Later on ‘2222’ meant child number two was home safely. That was enough information. If I was in a meeting between 2 and 3 pm. (in the days when we actually met in person), I could see that the kids were home and not worry for the next 3 hours. Incidentally, the code ‘9999’ meant emergency – thankfully that was only used once when my son forgot his keys.

In that same timeframe, I worked for a boss who would tell me “You need to leverage technology more.” Keep in mind that he was the type who was making business calls from his car, before it was illegal and trendy to do so. Every thirty seconds his line would drop and I’d have to wait 3-4 minutes before his assistant would call back and reconnect him.

I remember when technology was not just an enabler, but for many of us it meant freedom.

In those days I used every bit of technology I could. I was an avid user of instant messaging when it was first available. I was thrilled when I could work from home on a snow day using dial-up Internet. I didn’t care that we had to have two phone lines so I could be on a conference call at the same time.

But at some point, does this technology and the information delivered by it become too much?

Jonathan B. Spira sums it up really well in his Huffington Post article on 8/12 --

“How many times have you received an instant message or phone call asking "did you get the e-mail I just sent?" We act as if everything we are doing is both urgent and important; lending a false sense of importance to our mission that causes us to interrupt others with impunity. Clearly what we are doing is far more important and urgent than what others could possibly be doing.”

What do you think?

Friday, August 7, 2009

How Many Things Can You Do at Once?

I used to have a magazine clipping posted to the bulletin board above my desk that said, “You know you’re too busy when…”

It listed a number of signs of over-work including, “You feel decadent for taking time off from work for surgery,” and, “You return business calls in between labor pains.”

There was a time when I considered ‘ability to multi-task’ an important job skill – I was really proud to be a master multi-tasker. It was on my resume. Then one day, when I was running a little late I attempted to blow my nose at the same time as I was brushing my teeth.

Don’t try this.

That was when I started to believe that doing too many things at once could be a really bad idea, and it turns out that I may not be completely wrong.

Scientific American reports that, “A study in the July 16th issue of Neuron suggests that though we can train our brains to work faster as we juggle, we never actually manage to do more than one thing at a time.”

I heard a story recently about an organization that had been downsized from eight people to four. Those four, all new in their jobs because the work had also been consolidated in a central location, were working 10-12 hour days, each juggling two jobs. Interestingly, the big boss’s perception was that he had taken an organization of eight people and grown it to twelve.

In another company, organizations gave up headcount to staff a team with specialized skills that would support them. But the new organization had to reduce costs and cut the team dramatically. The players left on the new team had to juggle 3-4 jobs each. The bosses didn’t understand why this didn’t work.

Sound familiar?

How many ‘hats’ have you had to wear at one time? How many jobs have you been given where you had multiple masters in the name of efficiency? How many times has your organization been ‘consolidated’ or work ‘eliminated’ that then had to be picked up by those left on the team?

When was the last time you had a job where the scope was … let’s say, reasonable?

Tell your story with a comment here.