Face (to Face) Time

Jetson imageI’ve had the benefit of living through some glorious times, in terms of technology.  And I freely admit that I am a bit of of a techie nerd (it’s a good thing) when it comes to trying new things–I’ve never shied away from exploration of the “latest and greatest” in the world of technology.

I remember back to my childhood, and the first microwave oven my parents brought home.  It was huge, had large dials on the front, and had a definite humming noise when in operation.  Unlike most of my family members, I relished the chance to use it and cook the “heck” out of anything that need to be heated.  I can also recall the first time my family had cable television, our first VHS tape player, and hours spent playing Pong (the original upright video arcade game, as well as the cool, black and silver home unit with the built-in large dials, which my parents still have tucked away for me in their attic–what is it about dials?)…later, during one of my brief stints working for my father’s printing company, I remember convincing (arguing?) him into purchasing his first ever fax (“facsimile”- love that word) machine for his business, and why it was important to have one–true story.

I’ve always enjoyed getting to know technology and how to use it.  Of course, in more recent history, we’ve become accustomed to much better (maybe?) technology, right in our hands, with our smart phones and tablets.  One of the apps, Apple’s “FaceTime”, with its ability to allow the user to have video enabled calls between each other, is such an example.

Recently, I found myself, along with a colleague, on a quick trip to El Paso, Texas, to visit with one of our key partners that assists our company with the management and distribution of our products.  It’s a relatively new relationship, borne out of necessity at the start of this calendar year, and we wanted to tour the facility and meet with our account person and his company president.  We had an opportunity to view our inventory, look briefly at their processes, and discuss future business requirements.  More importantly, though, in my mind, was the need for real, in-person “face time”.

Having a discussion, or meeting, directly with those involved in any particular aspect of your business is key to successful communication.  Video calls, emails, text, even telephone calls, cannot substitute what I refer to as “the intangible nature of being present“.  The value of such activity cannot be measured.

If you simply don’t agree with me on this point, so be it. But before you dismiss my statement entirely, consider these aspects of direct communication and it’s impact:

  1.  Direct, personal communication conveys an element of importance to the parties involved.  Our time is limited in this incredibly fast paced world today, and anyone that carves out a piece of their schedule to do this activity effectively states “this is important stuff”.
  2. Some elements of communication cannot be conveyed by emoticons.  Hopefully I’m not offending my millennium generation coworkers with that statement, but it’s true.  Body language, tone inflection, visible facial expressions, etc.- all small things that together can assist in good, clear communication.  You can’t do that through a text message or email. It’s just not the same thing.
  3. There’s a human aspect to real, face-to-face time.  You get to know the people better, and at the end of the proverbial day, with all our discussion about process, system integration, big data analytics, blah, blah, blah- it’s still about people.  Don’t lose sight of that, please.  Technology can and should provide us with lots of great and insightful tools to improve our lives and our businesses, but it’s the people behind those tools that really move us forward.
  4. You learn new ideas and information by meeting in person with someone.  There’s a three dimensional aspect to this type of communication and sharing of information that doesn’t always happen when using the two dimensional tech as a replacement.  I’m not sure how to fully describe this other than to say that being in communication with another individual or team, “in person” opens up a larger, more creative flow of information–new ideas come about, people key on each others thoughts in the moment, there’s a synergy (sorry, but I had to use that word) that truly occurs.

Before you run off to a business trip, consider your goals, consider your timing, consider your budget and consider the impact to your schedule (or that of your team), but by all means, please consider making full use of in-person communication when possible and practical to do so.  Putting effort into our level of communication, our investment in those around us, will help to yield tremendous results for us both personally and professionally.

 

 

Having a Mentor

mentor

Taken from Wikipedia:

“Mentoring” is a process that always involves communication and is relationship based, but its precise definition is elusive. One definition of the many that have been proposed, is:
“Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé)”.
Fairly early in my career in Operations I had the benefit of reporting in to a tremendous mentor. I was working in the video game industry, and was hired by a local third party game products company to manage the supply chain activities, much of which revolved around strategic partnerships with several large Asian suppliers.
Although my mentor didn’t necessarily have to do so, he made a point of involving me in many high-powered meetings and trips abroad, both to Europe and the far East, as a part of my role within the company. It was a first hand educational process for me, and over the course of a couple of years the insights, discussions and training that I received were extremely helpful and shaped both my professional career as well as my professional ethics and conduct. The experience of working with this particular mentor (I’ve had the privilege of a couple of such relationships in my career) proved to be both immediately rewarding and valuable later in my life as well.
Recently I made a career move, heading back into a new tech startup full of bright, energetic engineers and staff that are now forging a new wave of technology and products that (I think) will soon shape everyone’s lives in one way or another—it’s just that big…anyway, upon leaving my former employer I wondered if I’d made any impact on my coworkers. A couple of days following my departure I received a card in the mail (very old school), from one of the young guys I had hired there, thanking me for my leadership, training and input in his life—and for getting him started, not only at that particular company, but with respect to his career as well. Without realizing it, I had been a mentor to him. Not only that—I had also yet another mentor in my own life while there—even in a smaller company, still a great opportunity to learn and grow.
Are you mentoring someone now? Making an impact in their life? Here are some suggestions for elements of great mentoring:

1. Great mentors are good communicators. They know how, when and why to communicate. They are generally easy to speak with, to ask questions, and they take time in their responses.
2. Great mentors have something to share. They are knowledge experts, not on every topic, but certainly on some topics. Through their own experience, education and career growth, they can offer insights not always found in the more mundane ways, such as a classroom setting. You can learn something from them.
3. Great mentors are reasonably humble in their approach. They don’t seek to be seen, or necessarily heard, they are sought out. Their wisdom becomes somewhat evident as you get to know them, not due to their own self-promotion.
4. Great mentors are an asset to their organizations. Fairly easy to understand this point—they make a positive difference in the lives of others on the team.
5. Great mentors are great people (based on my experiences). This will usually be the case—part of being a good mentor involves character qualities that are good and positive in other areas of life, not just while at work.

Are you mentoring someone now? Do you have a mentor in your life that is helping you grow, learn and become better not only as an employee but also as a person? We should all cultivate a spirit of mentorship within our lives and work communities. Education and experience are important attributes towards building a strong team, but do not lose sight of the importance of mentorship in your work and your life.  Have a relationship with someone who will teach you, lead you and help you to grow as a person–and do the same for someone else!

Handling Criticism

 

criticism

 

 

“To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing and be nothing.” –Elbert Hubbard.

 

How do you handle criticism?  If you’re like me, it depends on a few factors such as the topic of the criticism, the person who is providing the criticism, the value/importance of the criticism and the purpose of the criticism.  Like it or not, one thing we all have in common is that at some point in our career, we will be the recipient of criticism.  So, how do you handle it when it happens to you?  For the purpose of this short perspective, I am referring to valid criticisms.

Recently I was the recipient of some criticism directed towards me regarding the performance of some of my staff.  I listened, offered some responses regarding the particulars and made a point of agreeing with the person who provided me with the input.  I’ll admit it was difficult to absorb, and I came away from the discussion a little disheartened. The messenger was even courteous enough to suggest that I not take it too hard, which I appreciated, but inside, I did.  It felt bad, although it was reasonable and on point, and I walked from the conversation feeling pretty down.

Like a lot of guys (and some gals) in my generation, I grew up playing little league baseball.  For nine seasons I learned the fine art of hitting a curve ball, stretching for errant throws while keeping a foot on first base (my regular position), and dealing with both the triumphs of victory and the painful dismay of losses.  I was a part of teams that played in championships, as well as those that weren’t as fortunate.  But truthfully, I loved every minute of the game.  It was mostly about having fun (for me anyways).

Every season was a different season, and no two years were really ever the same.  Different teammates, different coaches, different team names and colors (my parents still have a framed photo of me, a black and white photo, beaming with pride as I show off my jersey and hat from year one, sporting the words “Lopina Orchards” on the front–our sponsor of the team shirts…yes, San Jose actually had orchards back then).

One lesson that I came away with from my early years was this:  You can’t win them all.  Certainly there is nothing wrong with having a desire to be successful, and I’m as competitive as the next guy ( I organize the fantasy football league for my company) but it’s important for all of us that we recognize there will be losses throughout our career—that’s a given.  And, when we don’t measure up on a particular objective or task, there may also be criticism.

When it does happen, be prepared.  Understand that it is likely not personal (usually it’s not…usually).  And, understand that there is probably some merit to the criticism.  Try to listen and not react immediately with a defensive response.  Take time to understand what is being said, why it’s being said to you, and how/when/where it can be corrected….the key here is to not give up!  Don’t allow the criticism to be the “end of the story” for you.  Take it as an opportunity, and truthfully, it’s okay to be a little thankful to the person that’s delivering the message–it may actually help you become better at what you do. 

In the world today many of us are zealous participants in social media, posting our latest stuff online, texting constantly, writing emails by the score, and sending out updates through Twitter and Instagram….all valid forms of communication…none of which involves active listening on our part.  It’s important for anyone’s career that they develop the ability to listen well.  Valid criticism has a role in our lives.  It can build us personally and professionally, depending on how we choose to listen and learn through it.  Always be open to hearing another person’s perspective, insight or measure of your performance.  By listening well, you will not only learn something new about yourself, but in addition you will be giving yourself an opportunity to grow.