The problem with work is that so often it really, really feeeeels like work.

September 18, 2008
The Spark by Ryan at

The Spark by Ryan at

Work, if we’re doing it right, is actually supposed to feel like success. Isn’t that the point, really? I mean, of course we all have to work just to pay the bills. But have you ever done work that made you feel good? Work that made you feel proud? Work that made you feel successful? Whether it was your flair at folding fleece or your ability to calculate interest rates in your head, there was something that gave you a little spark of your personal power, wasn’t there?

Those sparks are what we should be looking for in ourselves, our co-workers and our teams. Where do people shine? What are they good at? What makes them smile? What makes them feel like they did something worthwhile when they get to the end of their day? Of course none of this is new; Marcus Buckingham has been talking about strengths for years. All I’m saying is… let’s actually DO it. Let’s manage our careers and our teams this way.

I am not suggesting we shove the “boring” stuff aside. Maybe in the business world there are certain mundane but necessary tasks we’ll never escape. But couldn’t we figure out a way everyone could benefit from the work people do best, more often?

First, think about you: You know how on an airplane they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before you help anyone else? Concept applies here. Recognize where you get your sparks in your workday. Some hints: Is there a timeslot on your calendar you fiercely protect? Why? What work makes you feel energized? Now, how can you approach your work, and your calendar, with more purpose? How can you get more of that into your day? What can you shift, how can you steer your career in that direction?

Next, watch your co-workers: You spend most of your day with them and you get to know them pretty well. So when one of your co-workers is excited about something, you’ll see that spark. Ask about it. What would happen if he just got to talk for a few minutes about the thing that makes him feel energized?

Finally, ignite your team: If you’re a manager, think about the implications of your entire team working together as a unit because they are each spending more time on what they are individually good at, and what makes them feel energized. Happy employees. Targets met. All because you paid attention to where there were sparks.

When work really feeeeels like work, there are no sparks — it’s just drudgery, pure and simple. But the work that comes out of the sparks is the good stuff. That’s where I want to be.

Where is your career sparking up?


What is your unhappy employee telling you?

August 7, 2008

Recently I had coffee with a friend I’ve worked with for more than five years — long enough to know when something’s up. So we found ourselves some comfy chairs in a quiet corner and I said, simply: “Spill it.”

That’s all she needed and she was off, telling me one sad, disheartening story after another about trying to work with her new manager. I could fill a lot of space trying to explain all the frustrating details that are keeping my friend awake nights. But funny enough, this unhappy employee’s rants organized themselves neatly into three tips that could benefit any manager:

Do you know what kind of work your team does? I am constantly surprised at how often managers aren’t very familiar with their team’s daily work. That may fly for your first 30 days. After that, it’s negligence, pure and simple. You must have a working knowledge of what your team does, if for no other reason than to understand the challenges your team faces every day.

Are you accessible to your team? If you’re a manager, your greatest responsibility is enabling your team to do its work. If you are never around, how can you answer questions, approve decisions, remove obstacles, redirect, etc.? You’re in charge of your calendar, right? Schedule yourself some “butt-in-seat” time and make sure your team knows when it is. They’ll thank you for it.

What are you doing when you DO make an appearance? Maybe this has happened to you: Your boss is unavailable all week, and then when she shows up on the floor, she’s barking orders or making unrealistic promises to her own supervisors. All you can think is: you’re not helping!! When you can spare time with your employees face-to-face, experiment with shifting your priorities. It’s not really about what they can do for you. If you’ve cleared time, if you’ve committed to being accessible, it’s actually about what you can do for them. How can you help? How can you simplify (not complicate)?

My friend’s problems would be solved if her manager gave a little more thought to these three points. My guess is we could all find a happier place at work if more managers took these to heart. What do you think?

Why simple conversations are worth your time

July 24, 2008

Conversations by Louisa Bufardeci

Last week, my co-worker who leads our manager development program made the case that managers should invest their time initiating and continuing conversations with their team members, both as a team and as individuals. More than just chit-chat (although that’s important, too), he advocated enlightening conversations because managers have a chance to:

  • find and answer questions
  • clarify ambiguity
  • provide important detail
  • help advance projects and meet deadlines
  • ensure your team is moving toward the same goals

Of course, because conversation is a two-way exchange, there are benefits for the employees on your team as well. They will appreciate the opportunity to:

  • ask questions
  • share their insights and concerns
  • help improve how your team completes its work

Enabling these critical conversations is one of a leader’s greatest responsibilities. Because, if you think about it, most problems can be resolved through effective communication, and most innovations begin with conversation. The key is always keeping in mind the two-way exchange: both talking and actively listening.

Why should managers and leaders care about communicating?

July 9, 2008

Whatever else you thought your job was about, chances are it involves a lot more writing than you ever imagined — through just email alone! But if you’re a supervisor or program manager, communication takes an even more prominent role in your work… or it should. Here’s why:

  • Someone wants to know what’s happening in your department. It might be your supervisor. It might be an auditor. It might be an HR person. Whatever the case, are you prepared to talk about how your team is performing?
  • Your project or program requires that you create messages to employees or customers, whether the messages are emails or brochures or fliers or web content or some other swanky medium. Do you know where to start?
  • Undoubtedly your department or project team has a list of goals to accomplish, all on different timelines. To accomplish these goals, your team has to be humming along at a pretty good clip, right? How can your team be the efficient “machine” it needs to be if the team members aren’t talking?
  • More than that, as a manager or team leader or project lead or whatever you want to call yourself, you have a unique opportunity to influence the lives of the people you’re working with. Their interaction with you can be positive or negative. To use a lovely boating metaphor: Think about the wake you’re leaving.
  • OK, now hold on while I get a little deep. Remember those department or project goals you had? What happens if you miss? What happens to the company goals or business strategy? This stuff matters. It matters if you’re a public company with obligations to shareholders. It matters if you work in a private company in an economy like this. It certainly matters if you’re in the nonprofit world. So, connecting the dots, if your team can achieve its goals by communicating better, couldn’t the organization achieve its goals if every department were communicating better?

It sounds a little cheesy, but I have this vision that we might actually be able to improve not only our happiness at work but also the way our organizations perform, if we — as leaders — get better at communicating. This doesn’t have to be hard or painful or embarassing. Just talking. Just thinking about things a little differently maybe, or being open to new ideas. Whaddaya think? Can we fix anything just by talking about it?