As I progress in my career, I find certain ideas evolving around executive newcomers. Some of these findings are the result of ambitious youth and some from a revised financial mindset (circa 2008) that sees danger in projects that take too long or tie up too many people. Also, in an age of multi-taskers, modern technology has given people tools, dexterity, and abilities that have diminished the likelihood of success through the once-honored path from mailroom/stock-boy to corporate vice-president. Age is not the factor it once was, for one’s ability still counts. How should present-day administrators—who often straddle both age groups—adjust their thinking? I have some ideas.
Although I believe in the benefits of slow, steady analysis, the younger executive today may not always be so patient. There should be intermittent reporting and observations within a few days of a project being assigned. That said, sloppy, unfinished work should not be presented—instead, there is a need to supply progress reports along the way instead of only a knockout product and presentation at the end. Assignments may be abruptly stopped midway through because what work has been completed “so far” is enough for higher management to move onto the next stage. There are deadlines on the way to the deadline. For lack of a better term, I call this “inclusive progress.” One should not be insulted if called off the job mid-stream. Perhaps enough quality data have been provided to get the administrators where they need to be. It is simply a new management style for a generation that has trimmed away unnecessary details and sees time as the most important factor. The relevance and accuracy of the information are valued most—five perfectly typed copies in leather binders is merely the show—save for the final presentation, if one gets to it.
In speaking to veteran workers, be willing to reinvent yourself. In spite of your long record of peak performance at a certain position, the new wave may decide your talents are better suited for another area. Don’t fight it. Embrace it. It seems this new group is interested enough in you and has enough trust to use your talents where it sees fit. For example, consider older entertainers who are still around today. Some began as singers, then became movie actors, then starred in a sit-com before they were hired for commercial endorsements. Stretch and reinvent yourself throughout your professional and personal life. Your longevity depends on it.
Know that troubles and challenges test you and prove your ability to handle pressure. I always notice how people handle direction at the onset of a new project or job. Some listen carefully and jot down notes. Some sit statue-still, making it difficult to read their reaction. But the people who worry me are those who start to squirm and immediately reject portions of the project. They suggest alternatives or even other people who might be better suited to the tasks. That reaction raises a flag. Navigating the company through rough waters earns you respect. Taking on a tough project with an open mind indicates maturity. If you have hesitations, write them down and refer to them a day later as you mull over the project. The company is giving you a sensitive and important piece of business. If you respond with “Thanks, but no thanks; it sounds difficult,” you may find the company’s final response to be, “Thanks, but forget it. I’m looking for enthusiasm, and you’re ready for euthanasia.”
Be Direct And Firm
Imagine a world without the word “maybe.” Try using the dynamic of “yes” and “no.” In argumentative discussions, seasoned veterans know when to attack, and it is usually at a point where the other speaker uses words like “sort of” or “almost” or “I think that” and especially, “well, maybe.” Ah ha! Weakness—Mayday—I’m going in.” See, people are often confused when others speak with certainty. Try to make it a habit. One important factor, though—that strong answer better be the truth. Be certain about what you say you are certain about. A lie spoken definitively will win you the moment, but you’ll lose long-term credibility. The words “I don’t know” can be definitive too, but they should be followed by “I’ll get that answer for you shortly.”
Use Modern Equipment
Present the information with style and no lengthy bullet lists: be brief, be clear, be gone, but make an impact! Come out from behind that podium. Engage the audience. Holding on to old technologies can prevent presentations from being effective. Take the time to learn the new stuff. Everyone in the room is expecting it. However, don’t think there is no value in giving a speech without prompters or written support. The difference between reciting a speech and discussing a topic has to do mainly with familiarity and confidence about what you know. Nothing captures an audience as well. And for Pete’s sake, don’t drone on and on about the research or how difficult it was to find this or that fact. That’s your job. The speech is about the results. Save the back story for the family dinner table.
Communication Is Key
Properly channeled, accurate information and communication are the most valuable commodities in American business today. It takes constant attention and an eye for detail. But the administrators who invest heavily in this approach always run successful businesses. I believe a fully deployed liaison field-to-office/office-to-field team is mandatory in all companies both large and small. Three questions should be asked every time:
- Was the message sent to everyone?
- What was done so that what was heard was what was intended?
- When are follow-up inquiries going to take place to ensure the message is on task and progress continues?
I would replace this team every 3 to 5 years so the members don’t fall into routines, allowing themselves to become sloppy by “trusting” that things are done instead of ensuring them. For me, term limits on any such position are mandatory.
If you want to remain relevant in your job and survive in the company at a time when jobs are dwindling, remember to value the message and carry it clearly. Make that a priority and the rest should come fairly easily.
Ron Ciancutti is the Director of Procurement for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.