Monday, February 23, 2015

Rolling with the Punches

The college acceptances have been coming!  This is an extremely exciting time for all of our High School seniors.  Bec has heard back from the colleges that she applied to and it is getting closer to the actual college selection process.  Debbie and I enjoyed going to visit the various colleges with our girls and realize that this process will be ending soon.  The last round is currently under way – the College Acceptance Days!  This is a chance for the schools to give their last big pitch and have prospective freshmen and their parents meet with them and students.  We recently made a weekend trip to Rhode Island for one such event and had the weekend well planned.  Saturday night was a free night, so we were planning a nice Valentine’s dinner.  On Sunday, we had a wedding to go to and knew what time we would need to leave to make it home, relax a bit, get dressed and make it to the wedding with time to spare.  Things were falling into place for a great weekend.  Winter Storm Neptune, however, had other plans for us.

There is an old Yiddish saying “Der mentsh trakht un got lakht” which translated means, “Man plans and G-d laughs.”  We have all spent time planning, whether it is a kid’s party, a family event, a project plan, or home construction plans when something happens outside of our control to impact us.  More often than not, the unexpected and least controllable is Mother Nature.  Debbie and I have planned backyard parties where the days leading up are spent looking at all of the weather forecasts possible to make sure that the weather works with us.  Sometimes you have to expect the unexpected.  In the business world, we build assumptions into our planning.  When the economy had the downturn in 2008, many projects, both corporate and personal, felt the impact.  While some dead ends were created, the opportunity to roll with the punches existed.  Sometimes, we need to step back, re-evaluate, modify our plans, and then continue on our way.  All of us know people that are rigid in their schedules and have difficulty in adjusting when things do not happen as expected.  In boxing, being able to roll with the punches means that you see the punch coming and can lessen the impact by rolling the punch instead of standing firm.

It ended up that the school, once it saw the weather forecast, planned various contingency scenarios to handle the storm and the crowd.  For us, we needed to cancel our dinner plans and inform some people that our schedule changed and we would be late on Sunday. The children ended up hanging out and some new friendships were developed, while the parents sat and spent the evening talking in the hotel lobby where we were all staying.  Meals were provided for us while we waited for the snow and extreme winds to pass.  We made it home, albeit late, for the wedding.  By rolling with the punches and being flexible, we ended up having a great, memorable weekend.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Is Expecting Respect a Thing of the Past?

At a recent Saturday morning event at our Jewish Center, I saw someone take out her cell phone and peruse the screen.  As a conservative synagogue, we do not allow the usage of cell phones in the building during Shabbat.  I went up to this person and politely asked her to put her phone away.  Her response was not “I am sorry”, but “I am Reformed, so it is OK.”  “That is nice,” I responded politely, “but you are in a Conservative shul, so it is not.” “I have a sick person at home, it is OK,” she snidely responded as she walked away.  The people around me were shocked by her tone and responses.

Growing up, my parents taught my brothers and me to be respectful of wherever we happen to be.  Likewise, as parents, Debbie and I always taught our children to respect whoever’s home they happen to be in.  In an age of tolerance, we stress how important it is to respect not only one’s home, but their beliefs, as well.  It makes me wonder, at what point do some people think that we only exist for their amusement and that they are entitled to act however they want, even if they need to justify their actions on the spot to validate them.  I know that our children look towards us as the parents / adults to set the examples for them.  The reality is teaching our children to “do as I say and not as I do” does not work.  Children are sponges and seeing how we act, or react to situations, is often reflected in their own actions.  If children grow up in a household where they learn to respect other people’s feeling, other people’s properties and other people’s beliefs, chances are they will grow up showing respect and being tolerant.

If this woman had someone that was in need of medical attention, I do feel bad for her and maybe she should have not come out.  However, sometimes a little discretion goes a long way.  She could have stepped outside, or gone into the bathroom to check her messages and no one would be any wiser.  Instead, she wanted to prove she was not wrong.  Could it be that she was having a bad day – that is still no excuse.  Our internal disposition has a way of manifesting itself externally.  To state it positively, genuinely nice people are nice inside as well as outside towards others.  I do not know this person, but the old adage is true – “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Monday, February 9, 2015

Can our Successes Improve with Better Expectations?

Last week I wrote about handling disappointment.  One of the ways of managing disappointment or potentially avoiding it is how one properly sets expectations.  The trigger for these articles was the way the news folk and weathermen set the expectation for what they referred to as a HISTORIC snowstorm.  Yes, for eastern Long Island and parts of New England, the expectations were properly set.  However, because the expectations were improperly set for the January 6th snowstorm where I live, the next snowstorm, one week later, was severely downplayed.  I was totally surprise when I woke up to almost twice the amount of snow on the ground than the previous week.  Fear of sounding a false alarm, many school systems waited until the last minute to delay / close schools and …notifications related to jobs waited until early morning, once the snowfall was already down.

After 17 years of project management experience, 12 of them as a consultant, I have learned the importance of setting expectations.  This is really for two basic reasons, the first reason is selfish, as it means that I have thought things through and can communicate what I am doing, how I will get it done and when they can expect results.  The second is for the customer I am dealing with (client, employer, etc.), so that they have some time frames and know what they are getting.  To help set expectations, there are a couple of needed elements to identify:

  • Risk – What are the Barriers to Success, or not undertaking the project
  • Assumptions – While facts are most important, sometimes we are not able to gather all of them and need to clearly list the assumptions (e.g., storm will stay on course)
  • Outside influences – Need to identify variables that could have an impact (e.g., change in direction due to …)
  • Have a Plan – Must include deliverables, major tasks and dates (soon and later are not on any of the calendars I own)
  • Communication - Keeping people informed (e.g., news reports, weather on the web)
  • Proactive in identifying changes – As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

As John C. Maxwell states, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”  As a leader, it is important to hit one’s targets, but if I hit a target and no one knows what, when or where that event occurs, it can be likened to the question; if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?  As a leader / manager, we have to lead the tasks we undertake. One way is to set the expectations at the beginning to make sure our customers know the what, when, where and whys; then we need to manage the expectations during the process.  If we follow through and do this correctly (and deliver what we said), we gain the confidence of our customers.  Otherwise, we lose their confidence.  One of the reasons that weathermen get such a bad rap is that they do not always set the right expectations, even though, most of the time they provide with correct information. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Disappointment - Handling Not Getting What I Wanted

A number of years ago, we were celebrating my nephew’s birthday.  We all played together (the kids and the kids that were shaped like adults), ate, sang and had birthday cake.  Then came the moment that kids of all ages look forward to their own birthday party – Opening The Presents!  You could easily see the excitement on my nephew’s face as the presents were pushed in front of him, filled with expectations of receiving his birthday wishes.  Minutes later, the frenzied results of the gift-wrapping torn from the presents settled around the room and sitting amidst the piles of paper was my nephew crumpled crying – The happy, excited face was replaced with the face of disappointment.  There were good gifts that were age appropriate, but my nephew did not get what he expected and was too young to hide / mask his disappointment.

Somewhere along the way, we humans have become experts in building up our own expectations.  Let’s face it, given enough time, our imagination can have the potential of becoming like an uncaged creature running wild through a landscape of our own determination, building fantastical images to our every desire.  Sometimes the exaggerations are for something we hope for, and sometimes they are the things that we dread to face.  Most times, they are never as extreme as we build them in our own minds.  Growing up, my father had an office on the far end of the basement.  When we did something wrong, my brothers and I always had this fear when our dad would call one of us down into HIS OFFICE to talk to us.  It did not matter if the conversation was innocuous, we always built up in our minds that we did something bad and were going to get reamed out and some type of punishment would be administered.  Most of the time, we were disappointed in a good way…

As we mature, theoretically, we learn better ways to react to our disappointment:

  • Cry – Extreme disappointment and could be the result of a loss or when there is pain involved. 
  • Laugh like a hyena – Do not know how to react, seems better than crying, but still looks like you are losing it to those around you.  Happens to me when I am caught by my wife annoying my daughters…
  • Aggression – the feeling that inflicting pain on other people (physically, mentally, etc.).  This method does not endear others to you and potentially leads to further disappointment and disappointment in others towards you.
  • Drink – Does not happen only in movies and on TV.  Burying one’s head in the bottle only blots it out for the moment and does not change things.  The next morning, disappointment is still with you alongside the new addition of a hangover and possibly more disappointment in yourself.
  • Blow off some steam / vent / do something as a distraction to cool off – Going for a run, exercise, massive complaining, finger pointing, ranting (hopefully not online, as more disappointment can follow).  For me, Friday night band practice – turning my disappointment into a positive energy.

This past week, we were inundated with weather forecasts depicting a HISTORIC snowstorm.  Panic ensued:

  • Airlines cancelled flights a day early. 
  • Everyone ran to the supermarkets to load up on supplies, as if we would be house bound for days. 
  • In an unprecedented move, the bridges and tunnels between New Jersey and New York closed.  There were curfews. 
  • The subways (which are underground) had their service suspended. 
  • Mass transit shut down.
  • Road curfews were in effect.

I planned on working from home due to no bus service.  The forecast for my area was 18 to 24 inches. We were ready.  All night long, I listened to the snowplows.  I woke up early (later than normal though), bundled up and ventured outside to start shoveling.  I opened the garage door, prepared to do battle expecting to be greeted by a wall of snow, but was greeted by ankle high (4 inches) snow. Huh?!?  They shut down our world for this?  Yes, if this was in the south, this would be an enormous snow, but for New Jersey?

Friends of ours that live in Manhattan ventured out and walked down the middle of Canal Street, usually packed with vehicles and pedestrians.  All he needed was the tumbleweed rolling across the horizon to complete the scene of a ghost town.  Many other people expected a dead day spent shoveling, warming up and shoveling a second round.  A weatherman for the National Weather Service apologized for the error in calculation.  Really?  Our visions of a winter wonderland freezing up the area for up to two days is washed away with an “oops”?  I realize that weather is an inexact science with many variables, but the disappointment was a result of the expectations that were presented.   Even though we are talking in terms of a blizzard, many people were disappointed. How would you have handled your disappointment?