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All leaders, from the executive down to the team level, should view themselves as stewards of their organization’s most valuable resource: their people. As the person in the lead, others will be looking at how you set the tone and pace of the organization.

In too many organizations today, extra hours and days worked are seen as badges of honor. We often get dragged into competition with colleagues over who stayed the latest or showed up on the weekend. Mobile and remote technology can add fuel to the competition as emails zing back and forth long after most have officially ended their workday. All of this supposedly signals who is most dedicated or should be promoted within the organization.

We all want to be passionate about our work and feel valued within our organizations. Sometimes this does mean contributing extra hours for a special event, new initiative, or emergency situation but the grinding 24/7 “always-on” work culture cannot be sustained, not without diminishing returns for the organization as a whole. And it’s not just our place of work that suffers but also our health, our families, and our communities.

Few people alive today have as impressive of a resume as Robert M. Gates. His multidecade career in public service took him to the top of the Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Defense. In addition, he also served as president of Texas A&M University, national president of the Boy Scouts of America, and on numerous corporate boards… to keep it brief.

In Gates’ book A Passion for Leadership, he discusses a practice he established for himself and others as both Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Secretary of the Department of Defense. These cabinet-level positions were demanding and answerable directly to the President. Gates explained that, absent a meeting at the White House or national crisis, he would try to leave the office by 6:00 P.M. every night. Quite often, as head of these expansive agencies, he would have additional work to finish at home. However, by leaving the office he signaled to staff that it was okay for them to leave as well, to spend much needed time with families and to rest. He knew that as long as he stayed in his office, others would too and work late into the night. Over time, this would lead to worn out staff making “bad decisions and giving bad advice.”

For these same reasons, Gates said he always used vacation time: three weeks in August as CIA director, two weeks in the summer and one at Christmas as defense secretary, and four weeks as president of Texas A&M. As Gates said about his time-off:

“I always returned from vacation with a yellow tablet full of ideas and initiatives for further change and reform.” It’s about recharging so we can use our creative energy and talents most effectively.”

Mobile technology and remote working options have created new challenges for escaping this “always-on” frenzied work culture. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the bleeding between work and home life.  How many of us still respond to phone calls, text messages, and emails after leaving the office or “logging off” for the day? How many of us go to bed and wake up checking work messages? Has your weekend ever started off on the wrong foot because a colleague fired off a heated email at 7:00 PM on a Friday night? Ever take a quick “peak” at your work email or “check-in” from a family vacation? Our modern working lives do not have to be like this!

While there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to setting boundaries and expectations in the workplace, as a leader you set the tone and pace for your organization. Make sure your expectations are clear to everyone and lead by example.

In the spirit of Gates’ 6:00 PM Rule, below are a few ideas to consider when setting expectations and guidelines for use of mobile technology and remote working within your organization:

  1. Avoid checking work communications outside of set hours
    • Turn-off work devices at home
    • Uninstall work email apps over long weekends and vacations
    • Ask: do I really need work email and related apps installed on my personal phone?
  2. Be mindful of colleagues’ personal time by not sending message outside of set hours. This can create a ripple effect and breed unhealthy competition where everyone is engaging in work at all hours
  3. If working later than other members of team, use your DRAFT folder and schedule send times for the next business day
  4. If “on-call” or working to meet deadline, the team should set a clear start and end time/date
    • Set clear expectations for what needs to happen in these special circumstances
    • Use leave time immediately following any extra demanding periods

Most importantly, as leaders, be the champions of cultural change in your organization. Set the example. Go home, unplug, and rest up. Then encourage others to join you so we can all give 100% when it matters most.

This article is the part of a series on how to most effectively manage our time and attention for the work that matters most. Subsequent articles will continue to look at technology and how we interact together in organizations. Check back later for more!

The challenge in today’s workplace is to be increasingly more efficient, effective, and above all creative in our work. To rise to this challenge, we must be able to focus our attention and devote our time to the tasks that matter most, whether that be preparing for a sales presentation or writing a report for stakeholders.

In our hyper-connected world, this means not only escaping from interruptions in the physical world, but the endless barrage of alerts coming from our computers and mobile devices. Setting up boundaries, both physical and digital, leaves open the necessary mental bandwidth and the freedom to pursue our creative endeavors.

Below are a few tips for setting boundaries in the workplace and creating the space to focus on the most important tasks in front of you:

  1. Make it known when you need to focus with no distractions:
    • Announce it at a staff meeting in advance
    • Block out time on your public calendar (“unavailable”)
    • Use a “do not disturb” sign on your office door or cubicle
    • Ask colleagues to hold phone calls and visitors
    • Turn-off alerts and mute all devices
  1. If a colleague or visitor “drops in” for an unexpected, off-topic conversation, greet them politely, as you do not want to discourage “face-to-face” interactions, “open door” policies, or the free flow and exchange of ideas. However, it is imperative that you are direct and upfront that in the moment, you must focus your energy on something else. Invite them to return or schedule time on the calendar for that chat.
  2. The office can be a never-ending flurry of activity. Collective anxiety can rise in periods of tight deadlines, budgeting periods, or tumultuous current events. Our colleagues, both peers and supervisors, will find ample opportunity to infringe on our time and attention. All of this can take away our focus and drain our creative energy.
    If you find this describes your workplace, you may want to find an alternative space, that provides you a needed escape and relief from the daily “busy-ness” around the office. This could include:
    • Unused meeting, conference, or breakout room
    • Library
    • Cafeteria or offsite coffee shop
    • Work from home

Whatever space you use should conform to established organization polices and be most conducive to how you work. Some people like absolute silence, while others thrive in a busy space full of white noise. Working from home has its own set of benefits and challenges for getting things done. Be thoughtful with whatever you chose.

  1. Be strategic and intentional with your calendar. It is said that “time is a finite resource that we will never get back.”
    Do not overbook yourself and make sure that your calendar is being used most effectively to support your goals. This includes how you spend your lunch time, scheduled breaks, or those precious free moments. Sometimes the most “efficient” or expedient ways to spend our time are not the most fruitful. Quite often, we fail to leave critical space for reflection or informal engagements with others.Former Secretary of Defense and Marine Corps General, Jim Mattis, in his new book Call Sign Chaos, offers a kernel of wisdom on this subject from his 40 plus year career in national defense:

    … lack of time to reflect is the single biggest deficiency in senior decision-makers. If there was one area where I consistently fell short, that was it. Try as I would, I failed to put aside hours for sequestering myself outside the daily routine to think more broadly: What weren’t we doing that needed to be done? Where was our strategy lacking? What lay over the horizon? … a leader must try to see the overarching pattern, fitting details into the larger situation.

  2. Find a personal “battle rhythm” that allows you to get things done creatively, separate from the needs and priorities of others and away from endless distractions.
    Some of us work best in the early morning hours, while others prefer to work late into the night. Sometimes arriving just 15 minutes early, before everyone else filters in, can help us set our priorities and jump into a creative flow. Whatever it is that works best for you, find and stick to it!
    Knowing that we all work differently, managers and leaders in organizations may want to examine workplace policies to make allowances for flexible working hours and locations, even if just temporary to help a team get through a project or trying period.

This article is the first in a series on how to most effectively manage our time and attention for the work that matters most. Subsequent articles will look at technology and how we interact together in organizations. Check back next week for more!

Opportunities & Challenges

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is one of the largest and most complex major projects being undertaken today. Nine partner nations and multiple American military and industry partners work together in a high VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) environment to produce a product upon which the lives of service men and women around the world depend.

Effective leadership is required across the organization, and organization systems themselves must constantly be upgraded to allow for the most efficient and effective work to take place.

What we did:
In collaboration with Defense Acquisition University (DAU) and F-35 Program Office Senior Leadership, M&B co-developed the Enterprise Cohort Leadership Program (ELCP), an ongoing cohort program to support leaders across the F-35 enterprise in being and doing their best.

ELCP is a condensed program of eight weeks, comprising seven days in residence with workplace learning assignments back on the job, and a capstone project to scope an initiative that will have significant impact on the learners’ leadership development and business/mission outcomes for the enterprise.

The program is designed to maintain a consistent base of frameworks and also to evolve as needs change.

Results:
Nine cohorts have been completed with over 200 participants who now share common leadership language and frameworks with which to positively influence work across the organization. A cadre of coaches is in place to offer ongoing support to colleagues and to further the work going forward.

Opportunities & Challenges

The Northeast Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (NEAGEP) is an NSF-funded program whose goal is to increase the number of domestic students receiving doctoral degrees and entering the professoriate in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) with a particular focus on recruiting, supporting and mentoring students of population groups underrepresented in STEM fields (i.e., African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders).

While participants in NEAGEP receive world-class technical training, there is frequently less emphasis placed on preparing participants for roles as leaders and collaborators, both in their education and in their chosen professions.

What we did:
At the request of a NEAGEP leader at UMass Amherst, M&B developed a one-day introductory leadership training for a cohort of STEM grad students. The training included individual and team leadership topics and a module on systems thinking to assist participants in understanding whole-of-organization perspectives.

Opportunities & Challenges:

The Excelsior Service Fellowship, created by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2013, is an initiative to attract the “best and brightest” of recent graduates from law, graduate, and professional schools to NYS government service. Each fellow, bringing a diverse background and skill sets, is placed for two years in a policy or operational position within the executive branch.
Tasked with working on some of the most pressing issues facing New York State, Excelsior Fellows required the right tools and frameworks to lead in the 21st Century.

What we did:
Over five months in 2017, M&B provided a multi-session Leadership Development Program for some 50 fellows serving throughout NYS government. Session topics included:

  • Leading in a Complex World
  • Forming and Leading Teams
  • Leader as a Facilitator
  • Working Well with Stakeholders
  • Leading Organizational Change

In addition to the above topics, fellows also inventoried stresses in their personal and professional lives that inhibited performance and effective team leadership. M&B presented mindfulness as a tool for focusing on the present moment, while not reacting to all the stressors that enter our daily lives. Participants were led through a 10-minute guided meditation.

Deliverables:
Each fellow was tasked with creating an individual “leadership development plan” and a “project plan” to implement throughout the five month program. Projects were identified based on actual opportunities and challenges within the workplace. In between sessions, fellows worked with their supervisors and teams to reach clear and measurable results with their projects during the 5-month program.

Organizations around the world will spend $US3,300 per hire (Forbes, 2013) on recruiting yet spend just a few hundred dollars, a small fraction, on the equally important task of setting up their teams for success.

Mostly the on-boarding process focuses on socializing people into an organization’s, culture, learning “how we do things around here”. But often the process requires the new arrival to adopt the organization’s identity while downplaying their own, which can be “psychologically depleting” (Cable, Gino & Staats, 2013).

This “don’t rock the boat” approach may be ideal for firms in slow moving backwaters of the world economy, but in a rapidly changing world it is an organization replenishment opportunity foregone.

New, more mobile arrivals, whose average time in a job is now 4.6 years, bring to an organization a rich diversity of cultural knowledge, mental models and experiences. They are often better able to work across ever-evolving or transforming boundaries than incumbents who have been at the firm for many years. Their adaptability skills may as valuable to their new firm, as the skills for which they have been hired.

The problem is most acute in the world of complex project management, where innovation, change and increasing complexity is the order of the day. Projects, by their nature, occur at the pointy end of the economy, where new systems are developed that are often so leading edge, the details are not fully worked out until the contract has been awarded and implementation is underway.

In a way, starting a project is like recruiting a band of mercenaries. Project people are used to working in temporary organisations for short term assignments. They also know disruptive change, because when their work is done, they are often rewarded by losing their jobs, until the next project comes along.

So how do you socialize the engineers and technologists who design and implement new projects, who are expected to be very adaptable and flexible, but also be perfectionists, to guarantee the system they build will work, not just reliably, but without harming anyone?

Another challenge is to create the infrastructure, system, technologies or tools which will serve a useful purpose for not only the current way we do things, but for the next 30-50 years. On time, on-budget and fit for the purpose.

This means that the leadership of complex projects often must recruit a mix of talents that are on the one hand creative and daring and on the other very conservative or risk averse. They include introverts such as programmers and extroverts such as team leaders plus a handful of cowboys and geeks. They come from a diverse variety of disciplines, in order to create new systems with many moving parts, often made or built in a wide variety of locations, remote from each other, anywhere in the world.

Add to this potentially difficult mix, accelerating knowledge creation and implementation, and growing complexity and you have what could easily turn into a conflict and contradiction nightmare.

To make matters worse, some project teams just jump straight into the work because they are focused on getting results. Others party until the cows come home, and cant get started until they have a perfect solution that solves everyone’s problems.. Kumbaya on steroids.

Our recipe for success is a balance between results AND relationships. 

On day one, get to know one another, and build systemic connections across the team. Then and only then do we engage in an initial round of strategic planning to clarify the purpose of the project/program, develop shared goals and a create a plan of action.

Workshop

Here’s a workshop to help a team prepare for success:

1. Warm-up: In 25 words or more, tell us the story of the most amazing, crazy or dangerous thing you have ever done. What you learned from the experience?
2. Passions: In 25-words or more, what are your excited or passionate about?
3. Life story: What’s the story of your life? Name of the movie and the plot.
4. Your interests: Why did you join the team? What do you hope to get out of the project if it is very successful?
5. Skills and tools: What skills, methods, tools etc. do you bring to the project and how could they contribute to its success?
6. Biggest issues you have faced: Give an example of a big issue or challenge that you have had to deal with in your work/life that you would really like to have better answers for in the future.
7. Helping others: Thinking about all the other members of the team and their interests, and the challenges or issues they face, who could you help and what could you do to help them?

Just watch this!

It can be challenging to interact with people whose perspectives and opinions differ from ours, but there are many benefits, including making us smarter. In this Washington Post entry, Gregory Rodriguez explains why this is so.

 

 

Opportunities & Challenges:

The Materiel Group within the Canadian Department of National Defence sought to develop the capacities of Project Team Leaders and Managers to think and operate more flexibly, adaptively, and creatively.

What we did:

In 2014, M&B delivered a four day course: Complex Adaptive Systems Approach to Complex Project Management. Participants appreciated the personal coaching by the presenters as they learned to apply each framework to a challenging project issue, that each person, or intact team, brought to the course. They also liked the opportunity to work in groups to openly explore issues with colleagues and learn from each other.

Opportunities & Challenges:

Over the past three decades, Australia has shifted its focus away from Europe to Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia, with China and Japan being Australia’s two main trading partners, and India, South Korea and Indonesia becoming just as important.  The national government decided embark on a long-term project to engage more deeply with Asia, to ensure that Australia develops the skills, and cultural awareness to build stronger relationships.

What we did:

After the government’s Australia in the Asian Century Task Force completed their report, Maverick & Boutique was asked by the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet to help develop the internal team responsible for the implementation of the plan to develop strategies for involving 30 other departments, major corporations, small business, universities and trade Organization in the roll-out of the plan. For this one day workshop, the implementation team used the Zing meeting system to rapidly share ideas, and reach agreement about the way forward.