The one where Fiona becomes a master of all things Biz Management…

I’ve been with Media Suite for eight months now. Aside from the fact that I’ve started working in a new and unfamiliar domain (web development is confusing ya’ll!), my role has become quite diverse in the past few months. Our studio ‘A-Team’, Abi and Abbie, have both gone on maternity leave (emphasis on BOTH if you didn’t catch that) which has left me with much to do. The two of them contribute a heck of a lot to keeping this well oiled machine (that is Media Suite) running smoothly. In other words, big shoes to fill!

Please don’t mess this up…

I am the wearer of many hats, which has me covering a range of responsibilities including (but not limited to): bookkeeping, reporting, payroll, budgets, recruitment, client support and time management of the Design and UX Team. There are also ad hoc tasks such as: reminding Julia every week that ‘Friday drinks’ starts at 4pm (and definitely not any earlier), training the couriers to ring the reception bell instead of waltzing into the office like they own the place, and of course serve as general ‘getter of things done’.

After a handful of years working in office management I can acknowledge that organisation is my key strength. On the other hand, I can also identify where I struggle most. For me, the ongoing challenge has been communication… like, with human people. Public speaking, networking and liaising with people does not come naturally to me. I get it done, but lack confidence. As an introvert, this is an area I am always trying to improve upon so I thought signing up to the Executive Assistant Masterclass would be helpful.

The workshop is broken down into some great tools and strategies to help with leadership and delegation, assertive communication, influencing strategies and setting up for personal success. It ticked all the boxes and seemed like a great way to contribute to my professional development.

Me public speaking…

The speaker, Blythe Rowe, has over 13 years of experience in global corporations where she held senior HR and Organisational Development roles. She now runs her own people and culture business Human Incite and travels internationally as a keynote speaker for business conferences, summits, and workshops. Oh, and she’s a mum of two. I’m not going to lie – I definitely fangirled as she listed off her accomplishments. It’s fair to say she had me feeling inspired.

I’ve decided I’m going to focus on a few key points from her workshop that I found were most valuable to me. There was plenty more content, but unfortunately, I’ll exceed my word count limit for this blog if I touch on all of them!

Leadership and Delegation

Self assessment was a recurring theme throughout the talk and Blythe stressed how important it is to realise our strengths and identify our weaknesses. As a result, we can better ourselves and improve how we interact with others, as well as refine our leadership and delegation skills.

The Johari Window (developed by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in the 1950’s) is a useful model for describing the process of human interaction and understanding self-awareness. This is a great tool for personal development and can help improve communication with others, relationships and also team dynamics. The Johari Window divides self awareness into four quadrants:

The Johari Window

Johari Window: Open Quadrant

The open quadrant represents things that we know about ourselves and that are known to others. This may include, factual info, feelings, attitudes, wants, needs, interests etc. We are open books and share freely.

Johari Window: Blind Quadrant

The blind quadrant represent things that others know about us, but we are unaware of. This includes things we may be ignorant about, or things that others are deliberating withholding from us. This is not a productive place to work.

Johari Window: Hidden Quadrant

The hidden quadrant represents things that we know about ourselves, that others do not know unless we disclose it. These things might include your life story, intimate details about ourselves, fears, secrets etc.

Johari Window: Unknown Quadrant

The unknown quadrant represents things that neither you nor others know about ourselves. We are richer and more complex than we know. This space is filled with things like feelings, attitudes, abilities.

The challenge is to increase your open quadrant, reduce your blind and hidden quadrants and to explore and discover your unknown space.

Understand you first, before seeking to understand others.

Assertive Communication

Behaviour-based language is a critical component of communicating effectively. Having a real professional conversation is the ability to determine the difference between a trait and a behaviour. Behaviour-based language is describing specific behaviours as opposed to using language that makes generalisations (E.g. “You arrived late three times this week…” leads to the evaluation and corrective action “Being late makes you a less effective employee, hurts the team, and you need to come in on time.”)

Why is it important to identify the behaviors rather than the traits? Studies have shown traits are hard to change in comparison to behaviours. As traits are collections of behaviours, we need to change specific behaviours in order to change a trait.

Blythe mentioned that you can only know yourself for certain and not others – meaning It can be difficult and even unlikely to change another person’s behaviours, but you can always look to improve and be accountable for your own.

Assert your stuff

A formula to ‘assert your stuff’:  empathy + presenting own needs = assertiveness

Empathy is putting yourself ‘in their shoes’ and being able to emotionally read other people. Seek to understand – validate emotions, not action. Being assertive is not about being nice or nasty, it is about being effective to achieve a winning outcome.

A guide for assertive communication: The 5 E’s

  1. Emotions – Get your emotions in check and breathe
  2. Empathy – Dial up your level of empathy
  3. Example – Describe the problem behaviour (don’t attack the person)
  4. Effect – Use the word “I” more, try having “you-less” statements (e.g. When am not asked about how my project is, I shut down)
  5. Expectation – Make a clear request for resolution (not a demand)

Assessment Frame: tips for empathy and defusing conflict

To take the sting out of a tricky conversation, try adding the Agreement Frame between the example and effect. This is an alternative to using a passive-aggressive (aka pass-ag) approach, which tends to be indirect and an avoidance of confrontation.

I agree… (e.g. that we need to deliver on this project) and … (e.g. am concerned by your lack of communication with me that you are not 100% committed to the outcome)
I appreciate… + and
I respect… + and

Avoid the grey – misunderstanding is the fast road to pain

Your Influencing Strategy

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority” – Ken Blanchard

Push and Pull Strategies

Understanding your preferred influence style:

Push: is about forcing someone to get on board. It is about asserting your authority or opinion. The style is a more logical, directive approach or can involve threatening punishment or offering reward (carrot vs. stick). Push styles can be effective in ensuring compliance and quick results but may not achieve long term commitment.

Pull: is about motivating or encouraging someone to get on board. It is about appealing to the other person and demonstrating possibilities (what’s in it for them). Pull styles are often collaborative and visionary in approach and can be effective in gaining long-term commitment but may be slower in achieving results.

A game plan for influencing strategy

  1. Who: Identify who is involved and plot where they fall on your Influence and Interest radar, noting what their interest and needs are in terms of your initiative.
  2. What: Brainstorm what strategies you could use.
  3. How: What’s your influencing and communication plan in order of events.
  4. Do it: Take action, monitor progress and be flexible in your approach.

So, how’d it go?

It was a great day! I found several of her strategies and tools very useful and I have since made an effort to apply these tactics to my personal and professional life whenever possible. Blythe is a great speaker, who keeps it real, and knows how to engage with her audience. In my opinion, her workshop would be beneficial to anyone at any stage of their career and across all kinds of industries.

The big question is, did this workshop have enough impact to help me with communication? I will say yes, but of course, this is still a work in progress. Attending the workshop came at an appropriate time in my career where I would need to step up and “Assert my stuff”. In that regard, the Executive Assistant Toolkit was both relevant and helpful when transitioning into a new and evolving role. Stepping out of my comfort zone is difficult, but I think completely necessary to grow and to continue learning.

A Jolly Nice Place to Work

“That job sounds awesome, but I’m not looking for anything new right now. I love where I work.”

It’s a statement you don’t tend to hear too much, and yet it’s one I’ve found myself repeating quite a lot over the last two years.

As software developers, we’re very lucky right now. We’re in demand. Job offers with high salaries – though not quite at the eye-watering level our American colleagues can demand – are plentiful for those with a few years’ experience. Making the decision between one organisation and the next can be difficult, so I’m going to lay out the criteria I have when choosing my next role. If maybe along the way I convince you that Media Suite is a pretty good fit for you and perhaps interest you in working here (see: https://careers.mediasuite.co.nz/jobs) then I guess there’s no harm in that either.

Money or the Mission?

I’m not sure about you, but I feel incredibly lucky. I was born in the late 70s. My parents were either unusually prescient or effectively advertised at, because in 1984 an Acorn Electron arrived at our house.

 

As I hit Uni, the Web had just become a thing, and I got to watch first hand the initial Dot Com boom, the rise of Google, and then social media. It’s been a huge privilege for me to be a part of.

Like many of my colleagues, I find what I’m working on is incredibly important to me – in many ways I feel an obligation to ensure my privilege benefits more than just me. As a father with a young family living in an expensive part of New Zealand, I’m focused on the pay cheque. I definitely find myself conflicted.

My advice here is take the job that pays you what you need but satisfies whatever requirement you have for meaningful work. It’s still a compromise, and ‘what you need’ is a varying level for all of us, but having more money is something you quickly become accustomed to and lose any joy in. Doing something you believe has value adds meaning to every day.

Keep Learning

Some jobs can get pretty tedious, pretty fast. Take a feature off the backlog, implement, deploy, repeat…

Sure, they are different problems, but fundamentally 90% of what most developers do is finding different ways of capturing data, storing it in a database, and then displaying it to the user.

One of the ways we can keep ourselves motivated, in addition to genuinely believing in the goal, is to continue to learn. In fact, if you’re lacking a desire to keep learning, it won’t be long before your skills become outdated and you’ll be superseded by the young and hungry.

Working with different clients across different problem domains can really help here. Not only will you have to learn about the client’s domain almost as well as they do in order to design an effective solution, but each new domain will force you to solve different problems. It might be GIS mapping, making predictions off a large dataset or learning a new framework – it’s necessary to learn quickly and author effectively. This ongoing challenge keeps the job fresh and definitely staves off the Sunday Fear.

Autonomy

There was a Gallup (a well-known analytics company) study carried out in 2015 that can be boiled down to ‘People join companies and leave managers’. In fact in that poll, 50% of the people who had left a job recently said they did so because of difficulties with their management. Almost the best thing you can do as a manager is get out of your staff’s way and let them do what you paid them to do. You are probably paying them pretty well, so treat them like the grown-ups that they are.

Give your developers autonomy to choose.

  • Choose their own hours – within the bounds of what works with the project team.
  • Choose their own development tools – as long as it’s not so obscure such that no one can help if they have a problem.
  • Choose whether to come into the office today – as long as they’ve established credibility at delivery and are not required on-site for some reason.
  • Choose whether they need new hardware – as long as they don’t squander it on ‘toys’.

Given this flexibility, people aren’t trying to game the system for small wins. They’ll make the right choices for the good of the company, because they’ll understand that the company’s success is ultimately their success. Speaking of that…

Make The Team Part of the Victory

No one likes working for The Man. The faceless corporate boss with the corner office, the PA guard-dog and the tendency to treat employees like digits to move around a resourcing spreadsheet. I’ve worked for a few of those. The best that can be said is you develop a sort of Dunkirk spirit*, with team members pulling together for each other, but never really caring about the company they work for.

 

 

Much better if the victories are shared and celebrated. Financial gains end up benefiting everyone, whether through increased wages, better benefits, bonuses, share schemes or other more interesting ways.

As an example of the latter, Media Suite have recently started working with a homeless charity. We’re building an app to help police house vulnerable people in a more timely fashion. We’re using some recent wins to be able to fund some work that will benefit the more vulnerable members of New Zealand society, and it’s opportunity we’re deeply grateful to have.

Working Environment

At Facebook, a software engineer can expect to make over $235k NZD a year. Yet they put them in an environment like this:

I’m not sure about you, but to me this looks like a factory floor. It doesn’t strike me as a place to do your best thinking. Still, we’re not all the same and some like the energy that is given off by a room like this. I work from home because I get to choose when I’m interrupted, and a good employer will show you some flexibility along these lines.

At Media Suite we try to walk this line by having an open plan office, but with break-out rooms if you need some quiet space or the freedom to work from elsewhere. It’s a good compromise that suits most people.

Choose Wisely

You’re probably going to be with your next employer for at least two years. That’s a long time to not like what you do, so think carefully about your choices. The right job can provide you with a good salary, good friends and genuine fulfilment. The wrong job can feel like nothing but a chore you fight to get through, while spoiling your weekend with the thought of Monday.

Don’t be in that job. If you’re good at what you do, then you’ve got choices. Think about what you want, understand where you can compromise and where you can’t, and then throw yourself into it. Choose wisely.