Do we really need annual plans for work?

As the end of the year draws closer, all the attention at work seems to be shifting to next year. What will the priorities be? What programs will we be executing?

Of course, annual planning is a necessary part of business. You need to know what budgets and resources you will need for the following year, what needs to be in place to support requirements. But it’s plaguing my mind, waking me up at night, it sometimes feels like I am putting together a puzzle without all the pieces.

Back in my marketing days, the planning process was a rigorous affair. Templates to be completed, research reports to be reviewed and planning session after planning session. Communications as a function seems to be a little more laid back, there is a sense that our role is more “reactive” than proactive, so the ability to be able to predict or manage what may be happening seems to be met with somewhat cynical eyebrow raises.

Which has made me reflect on the whole planning process.

In our fast paced, dynamic and digital world, where things are disrupted regularly…is the annual plan becoming obsolete? We are being encouraged to utilise Agile work practices, clear goals with short sprints with iterations…so how can we predict what the outcomes will be?

I’ve also been reading a lot recently about the demise of the annual performance review. Certainly in own company our old annual rating system has been shifted to something less annually focused, goals that are more flexible, quarterly feedback.

Perhaps we need to take the same approach with our planning cycles? Less focus on having a documented signed sealed and delivered annual plan?

That said, there is something really cathartic about taking time out of the daily rat race to do an annual plan. To ask yourself, what has worked this year, what has not? And what can we improve on next year?  To analyse the data, to look outside your bubble to what is happening in the industry around you, what is working for other people?

I don’t agree that communications cannot be planned. We absolutely should know what our priorities are and have a vision for where we are heading. If we don’t have these things in place, how do we know we are steering the ship in the right direction?

So, maybe it is less about the process and more about the output? Taking the time out at the end of the year to reflect on our programs is absolutely necessary. This allows us to then paint the vision and set our intentions moving forward.

However, we don’t need to have every execution, every tactic laid out for 12mths, but we do need to have a sense of where we are going.

In fact, the output should be as simple as possible.

Remember the trend that has been going the last couple of years to set a one word intention for the year instead of a New Years Resolution (because, you know, no one ever actually keeps their resolutions).

Maybe the same thing applies here, you want to end up with a few simple intentions for the year that you can stick up on your desk and refer to throughout the year. Not a lengthy document that sits in the drawer and needs dusting off, same time next year.

This also allows room for the actual specific programs and goals to shift a little. To evolve as you execute, dare I say…iterate… while your overall intention stays intact, is still a guiding light.

So after all the analysis and reviews of the last few weeks…if I DID have to set a one word intention for the focus of our work next year, what would it be? Maybe…SOCIAL (side note: my personal word is GROWTH…not that I follow these silly fads)

If you could sum up your work intention for 2018? What would it be?

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Getting back on the horse…the writing horse…

It’s been a while since I have written in this blog.  I was so proud of myself for upholding my weekly manifesto, for over two years with only a few delays.

Yet…here I am… with months going passed and only a few words published.

I like to blame work.  Of course it is their fault.  I’m back working full time and there just are not enough hours in the day.

Which is semi-true.  Sure. I feel like I have less hours.  But there are also plenty of days when I have the whole evening free but I decide to lounge in front of the TV instead of getting out my writing.  Or the weekends that pass by with plenty of free moments, but I choose to cram them with chores or a sneaky read of my book.   My brain is so fried I don’t have anything left to give.

But I know there is more to it than time…because I know that I’ve stopped writing because I’ve started to overthink it.

I have started to worry that I have nothing more of value to say.  That I’m not funny any more (because seriously, I was being SOOOOO hilarious before, my writing was amazeballs).   I feel like I have nothing new to share, there are no more stories to tell.  That you…the reader…are getting bored with me and my rantings.  I am scared what the people from my work will think.  Whether this will change their opinion of me.

I have…infact…written a few blog posts over the last months but none of them have made it out the starting gate.

Is this perfectionism creeping back into my world?    Hell…I know I’m not perfect… but that desire to wait until the flash of inspiration and the thunderbolt of amazing words come tumbling easily onto the page… is stopping me getting even a single word onto the page.

I have to remind myself that I started writing this blog, just as a practice for myself.  And I know, deep down inside…somewhere real deep… that I just have to get back on the horse.  I have listened to so many writers who say that sometimes it is a real struggle for them to write, even though they love it,  they have to force themselves to do it.

I have to get back to writing each week as a discipline, regardless if I “feel like it” or not.  And some weeks,  it might not be great, there might be some crappy stories or average words.  But amongst all of that maybe…just maybe…one person will read my musings and think “yeah, I feel like that sometimes too”.  And if I can make that one person feel better about themselves because they know that there are other crazy random fools just like them out in the world… then that day will be a great day.

So…peeps…it is time to get back on the horse.   If, for no other reason than to practice my writing.  And get random things off my chest.   And if it is not great…well…I’m sorry in advance… but hopefully it’ll inspire you anyway,  to get back doing something that you love…even if you feel like sometimes you are pretty average at it.

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Say it with confidence…

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One of my best friends admits that sometimes she tells us facts which she isn’t 100% sure are true (you know who you are!!), but she says if you  “say it with confidence” most of the time people will automatically believe you.

I…on the other hand…do not have this skill.  Instead, I tend to preface everything thing I say with “I am not really sure but…”,  “I’m probably not right, but”  or “Shoot me down if I’m wrong…”.    I like to think this makes me a very open minded and honest person…after all, I want to be humble,  accepting of other people’s opinions/ideas and authentic about who I am.  I know I have a terrible memory,  so there is actually a high likelihood I might be wrong…

Which is all well and good but, quite frankly,  at work I’ve noticed this can get me into a lot of trouble.   I’ve noticed how other people always seem to be crystal clear about their thoughts and ideas.  I wonder why I’m doubting myself when everyone else seems so sure.    And then it suddenly occurred to me that maybe,  all they are doing is simply “saying it with confidence”…so I believe them.

The thing is,   why open yourself up unnecessarily to people questioning your ideas and opinions?   In my case,  usually the things I am talking about are things (at work at least,  outside of work..hmm..lets just say you wouldn’t want me on your Trivia team) I have researched heavily,  or have gained knowledge from my experience.  I have thought it through and come up with a strategy or thought.   So…I don’t need to preface what I am saying with all the question marks,  infact,  it is doing me damage.

I think I do it because deep down, I have a fear of failure, a fear of looking silly, a fear that maybe I’m a crazy imposter and soon everyone will figure out that I ain’t really got what it takes.   But actually all I am doing,  is making other people doubt my opinion.  Making them question my decisions…after all,  why wouldn’t they when it appears I am questioning them myself!?

So…this week I am going to practice saying it with confidence.  If I’m 95% sure,  I need to back myself.  And if someone else thinks differently, or challenges me on my direction, that’s OK…I can explain my decision making if I need to and I still reserve the right to be open minded and change my decision if I get new information.

Of course, you can’t really use this strategy if you really don’t know what your talking about.   My friend…gets away with slightly faking her facts sometimes,  mostly because usually, she is pretty spot on.  So if she thinks something is true (even if she can’t actually remember whether it is correct or not),  she backs herself that it is probably right.

Confidence…I’m going to fake it till I make it.

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Managing different communication styles…

I’ve learnt through my experiences at work,  that it is important to be tuned into how the people you work with absorb information…especially your Manager, or people you need to build trust with.   You see,  everyone has their own communication preference, and everyone absorbs information different ways.   There are lots of different official theories about this topic, but I’m not very good at remembering the theory…. here’s my take on it based on experiences in the office…

Some people LOVE detail

As I’ve said before,  I’m a short and sweet kinda girl.  Give me a text book or a thick wod of instructions and I’ll be asleep before page 2, just give me the key messages in bullet points PLEASE.  But not everyone I work with has been like this.  I worked with someone once who needed every minute detail to be explained before they committed.   For me, it was like watching paint dry,  such a slow and laborious process.  But I knew I needed to hang in there, I provided every inch of detail that I could and eventually they were on the journey with me.   If i had just steamed ahead in my usual style,  I would have lost them and maybe not achieved all the outcomes I needed.

Some people LOVE visuals

Infact, I’m a bit of a visual person myself, but sometimes even I forget that.  This week I’ve been trying to explain to my boss how my project is progressing.  Despite the fact that I have written down some key points and I can verbally explain exactly what is going on…i get a sense that he’s not with me.   Uh Oh.   So as a last ditch attempt, I decide to try and do a chart…how can I convert my thinking into one simple chart.  It took a few stabs but I finally got something that vaguely resembled what I was trying to explain and BANG!  instantly he got it.   Phew.   Now I am looking at the chart and suddenly it all seems clearer to me too.   Amazing what a simple translation can do.  Same concept, different communication style.

Some people LOVE need it in context

Remember at school in maths,  when they gave you word examples instead of just the numerics  e.g  2+2=4  or Someone has two apples and buys another two, how many apples do they have now?   I actually was way better at the numerical questions,  but others are the opposite.  In this case, you need examples,  talk about your concept using analogies and examples.   This will help the concept to “click” in their minds.

If you keep your eyes peeled at the office, you’ll notice there are lots more variations.  I like to play little games with myself sometimes,  trying to work out what style each of my co-workers has or someone new that I have met.   Whilst it may not seem that important, I’ve come to realise that this can be one of the most critical things that helps you succeed.  If you are willing to change your preferred style, to fit into someone elses,  they are far more likely to support your work and what you are trying to achieve.

Go on…have a play with it today..

 

 

Thinking…it’s a dreadful affliction…take a brain break

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Ahhh…overthinking things, it’s one of my favourite party tricks and one that challenges me on a daily basis. How do I stop my whirlwind of a mind going from topic to topic in a split second, whirring around creating chaos but no real outcomes or results.

My husband came home yesterday after delivering a presentation at work, and was explaining how all through the presentation, he was talking to himself in his head. His mind was saying things like “slow down, you’re talking to fast”, “what did you say that for”, “that’s better, now you’ve got it” “you missed a bit” etc etc. Is this normal? Hell yeah, my day is completely covered by a running commentary from in my head….if I was starring in a film, I’d have voice over narration all the way through. If you’ve seen the show “Offspring” from Australia, they demonstrate this really well by narrating the kind of thoughts “Nina” is having during scenes…hilarious…because we can all relate to it!

“Not being able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction, but we don’t realise this because almost everybody is suffering from it, so it is considered normal” – Eckhart Tolle.

So how do I try to slow my mind down, quiet the voice and allow myself to focus on one thing at a time? Of course, you know what I’m going to say here, because we all know it but not many of us practice it every day. Officially known as meditation, but I like to simply call it a “brain break”. Taking a moment from your day where you just slow right down. Stop. Breath. Focus on the breath coming in and out. Notice it. When I first started to try this, I got really frustrated with all the thoughts that constantly bubble to the surface …breath in (“what shall I have for breakfast today”) …breath out (“was that our dog barking?”) …breath in (“I wonder if Bob has sent that email I need”)…breath out…you get the picture. At first I tried not to think, to stop it happening…and just got more and more annoyed when they came. THIS IS NOT RELAXING IT IS ANNOYING!!

It was only when I accepted that having the thoughts is OK, the trick is simply not to follow them. To be an observer, not to react. Oh…look at that…a thought about breakfast…then let it go. Sometimes I imagine my thoughts as balloons, floating up and disappearing. Balloon gone. Re-focus on your breath. Repeat repeat repeat. And after a while, the thoughts do slow. The time passes, and when I return to work, my mind does feel refreshed and ready to go again. Our brains are incredible, but sometimes, they just need a mini-break.

And on that note…I’m thinking it might be time for a little break, some tea, sunshine and big deep breaths on the veranda. Anyone else ready for a brain break?

Are you happy with where you are today?

Pointer SistersI’m so excited…and I just can’t hide it…I’m about to lose control and I think I like it...you are required to sing this section of my blog, aka Pointer Sisters from the 80’s.

Why am I excited?  Because interesting things are happening with my work at the moment, the project I am working on is reaching an important milestone, I’ve been given the opportunity to travel and I’m engaging with other people who have the same interests and goals.   It’s really nice to feel this way.

So how did this happen, how did I get here?  A few years ago I wasn’t feeling this way at all with my work, infact, I was feeling flat and uninspired.   At the time, I also couldn’t see what the future might hold.  I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go to next but I knew I needed to move.  But where?

I started searching for ideas and a couple of things stick in my mind from that time.

The first thing I remember learning at the time,  is to try to visualise yourself in the future,  make a vision board with things you like or that inspire you.   Even if you can’t clearly articulate the end goal (I had no idea what I actually wanted), you can still articulate the pieces that interest you (it doesn’t matter if they don’t come together in a picture that makes sense…yet).    Write down what you like doing, what you don’t.  What gets you excited.  Think BIG.   If you do this…these things are much more likely to happen to you.   What, by Witchcraft??  I thought.   But I made a vision board anyway (I was feeling desperate) and guess what,  it did work.   It has adapted and changed as much as I have now,  adding new ideas, thoughts, pictures, quotes to it as I go along.   I think that it works because it opens your eyes to what your interested in,  so suddenly you can see the opportunities when they pop up that match your ideas.  Then you take small steps towards them…and bang, suddenly you’re doing it

So…the second thing is that you have to be willing to take one step first,  even if you don’t know exactly where you are going. Someone described it in a blog (sorry I can’t attribute because I can’t remember where),  to think of it like holding a candle in the dark,  you can only see as far as the light is shining…but if you step forward, the light moves a little bit further forward too….so you can take another step.   My first step was to speak to my Manager at the time and tell her that I didn’t think the role I was in was right for me.  I didn’t know what I did want but I wanted her support in exploring ideas, potentially building new skills and thinking about future directions.  I was happy to keep doing my role but I needed to start takings steps. I was a bit nervous that this might put my head on the chopping block for other changes, or that she might then start treating me differently and give me bad ratings.  I guess those things could have happened,  but it was a risk I needed to take in order to move forward.   However, she didn’t do those things. She was disappointed because she wanted me to stay but she suggested some people in the business I could talk to and we discussed potential courses I might be able to do over the next few years.    That discussion led to others, which ultimately scored me a new job in a new area within a few months.   SCORE.  Since then I’ve kept moving forward, one step at a time, to finally find myself where I am today…excited and engaged.

Are you happy with where you are today?   Have you mapped out your own vision board?  And what tiny step forward can you take today…and every day…to get you closer to your goals?

Yep…tonight’s the night we are going to make it happen (I don’t think that is quite what the Pointer Sisters meant but lets roll with it)

Social Communication – I’ve finally found my thing!

 

© Iqoncept | Dreamstime.com – Social Thumb\’s Up Network Communication Photo

As I’ve mentioned before,  being digitally savvy has never actually been my thing.  I’m not a socially born millennial and for years I watched in confusion as my sister designed her first My Space page and then kept telling me I should get onto Facebook while I shrugged and said “nah..don’t really get that stuff”.    Over time,  I slowly made my way into the online world and through my marketing and comms roles at work was forced to get my head around all this whole social malarkey.

So then, when I finally looked under the covers, when I started to understand…I had an epiphany…this…this is what I have been destined to do the whole time…and I never even knew it!!

Yesterday, I was trying to dig out tips and tricks about writing effectively for social media, and I was once again reminded that there were so many things I felt like I had been doing “wrong” all my life,  which turn out to be doing it “right”, when it comes to being effective in online communications, proving once and for all that this is where I am meant to be.

For example:

Write like you speak – BAH! totally!  is there any other way? I mean seriously…I’ve always written exactly like I speak. If you meet me…this is is what I sound like!  (yep, all those exclamation marks are required, my voice gets very excited).  I spent the first years of my working life, trying to restrict my writing to a much more formal corporate voice.  Going back over emails and taking out exclamation marks (sad but true) and keeping the tone more serious.

Keep it simple and short – woohoo… gosh I wish someone told my Uni Lecturers this.  Back a long long time ago when I was at Uni,  there was no such thing as social media (I know…now I feel really old).  Words like “simple” and “concise’ were thrown back at me like they were a bad thing. But why keep droning on when you made your point in the first paragraph or the first sentence?  I loved editing others people’s essays, cutting down all the extra information that wasn’t necessary to make their point.  And now,  short and snappy communications are king.

The style should be casual over formal – and guess what,  grammar isn’t so important.  Mum…I’m so so sorry, I know you will be shaking your head at this one.  But I was always a failure when it came to correct grammar and spelling.   And now, in the social world, it doesn’t matter so much.  Sure,  you don’t want to look like you never actually went to school, so a little bit of structure is probably a good idea.  But the days of strict and formal grammatically correct sentences are fading before our eyes.  Woop woop.

Write human to human – Instead of a long formal written piece, a monologue or like someone lecturing at you.. Social is a CONVERSATION,  you write like you are talking to your best friend (tick) and guess what…people can write back!   It completely changes the style of our communications.

And this might sound like a complete contradiction on everything I just said,  but there is one awesome feature about social communications which I love the most-

Be yourself – Can I be anything else??   if you were reading this blog and thinking “but I love formal communications, I don’t like writing like I talk, I don’t think social media is for me”.  You’d be wrong!  because the wonderful thing about the online world, is that you can always find like minded people.  Your Tribe.  So if your style is a little…well…old school… don’t try to be someone your not, just be yourself and someone out there will understand and appreciate it.

So, what are you waiting for?  Dive in and see what you find under the covers today…

Time for some colouring in?

http://www.whats-your-sign.com/free-mandala-coloring-pages.html
http://www.whats-your-sign.com/free-mandala-coloring-pages.html

I often read different articles about motivation in the workplace,  how Managers and Leaders in organisations  need to inspire and motivate employees.  It’s a tough task because there are so many facets to what motivates you to do a good job each day.

But the thing is,  even when you have a great job, you know exactly the contribution you are making with a really juicy project and you know you could possibly change the world…don’t you just simply come into work sometimes,  and motivation alludes you?   You want to put your head on the desk and sleep,  you’d rather go for really long coffee break than dig your teeth into that inspiring project.   We all have these days, sometimes it is triggered by something that has happened in work environment (politics or gossip), sometimes something in our personal life throws us off (kids who are sick and wake you up 10 times in the night) and sometimes it happens for no apparant reason at all.

As one of my previous managers would say…time for a “Colouring In Day”…what? huh?

She explained that given her motivation was so low, all she felt capable of doing was sitting and colouring in a picture, like you used to do at school.  No real brain power required.   So, on her “colouring in” days, she just accepted that she wasn’t feeling on top of the world.  It was not the time to tackle the big projects.  She would review all her to do’s,  break off all the “easy/simple” tasks and choose this day to get them done…perhaps even something like cleaning off her office desk.   She would also let us all know she was having a “colouring in” day, so we knew not to bother her with complicated issues (plus we would all have a bit of a laugh about it).

Now…not everyone is in a position to do this,  nor can you take this approach for more than one day in a row.  But sometimes, I think we put too much pressure on ourselves to always be “on”, to be the fabulous person we know we are every single day we are working.  Giving yourself permission, to just take a slow day,  get some easy things done…usually results in a few productive things being done, and whole new you when you wake up tomorrow, refreshed and in a much better position to tackle the big projects.

So, do you need a colouring in day today?

(I’ve even attached a picture for you to colour in,  which apparantly will help you with some creative meditation…BONUS!)

Finding clarity in social chaos

I read a quote earlier this week that has really stuck in my head…

“Employees are drowning in information but thirsting for clarity and purpose”

Paul Barton Communications

www.freephotosbank.com
http://www.freephotosbank.com

I believe this is one of the fundamental challenges workplaces have today.   The social world has opened the door to a myriad of information and contact points from across the globe.  But it so easy to get overwhelmed and literally feel like you are drowning in all this information.  I certainly do.  First thing I do when I hit the office (or hit the home study as the case may be) is check all my social media channels and our internal Connections community… next thing I know, I’m following links, reading articles, jumping from one place to another.  On one hand, it is inspiring and exciting, I keep finding new bits of information to add to my program or someone elses ideas will spark ideas with me.  But on the other hand, it is so hard to keep focused, to keep coming back to the realities of my little world and what I need to achieve.

So,  leaders in organisations have SUCH a critical role now in driving the clarity and purpose that employees need to keep heading in the right direction.  Provide the freedom required to let them network and be inspired by those around them but then keep bringing them back to your organisation, your purpose.    This isn’t a new concept,  I remember in Manager training many many years ago,  we talked about the importance of employees having clarity in their roles. Infact, if you fail to provide clarity as a leader, everything else becomes irrelevant.

It helps when a leader embraces social and uses it to help regain that clarity…I’ve seen great leaders posting weekly blogs to their teams telling them what they are working and providing structure for the week.  Others using micro-blogging techniques to share relevant information in real time, short sharp and easy for teams to digest.   Then, of course, connecting more personally to ensure that each individual employee is on their track, that they have found personal motivation in what they are doing but can all clearly see how their work fits into the overall organisations vision.

I personally have to keep bringing myself back to my purpose.  I have stuck my job description onto the whiteboard (yes people, in all the passion and excitement I literally forget what I’m supposed to be doing sometimes!) and each morning after my usual dig around in the social world (sometimes I need to put a timer on to bring myself back),  I write down anything I’ve learnt or things I want to remember, then I pull out my trusty “to do” list which helps to re-focus my mind back to things I need to achieve my work goals for the day and ultimately for the organisation.

Do you get the clarity you need to get the job done?

 

Lessons for my younger self…

Knowing I’m turning 40 this year has forced me to do quite a bit of self reflection…have I achieved what I hoped to by this stage?  am I on the right track?  do I wish I had done things differently?  Whilst there is a part of me that really wishes I had become a professional dancer and I really really have to let go of that dream now (no, I was not going to let lack of talent, drive or capability in this area rain on my dream)…overall, I’m really happy with the choices I’ve made that have led me to the place I am today…

So then I was thinking about little old innocent me, coming out of Uni with shiny big dreams about what the workforce would be like….boy did I have a LOT to learn.  So if I had the opportunity to mentor younger me,  what would older, wiser, smarter Claire say?

40 picture 11.   Focus on getting your strengths to shine

Claire, you are an amazing and talented person just waiting to soak up information like a sponge.  Don’t try to make yourself something that you are not…trust me, you could waste YEARS trying to fix all your “weaknesses”.  Do this VIA Strengths survey,  find work which lets your top strengths shine, and be confident that your contribution is  more than worthy.

2. See every challenge as an opportunity

You will be confronted with ALL sorts of challenges in your work life,  they come in every form and don’t stop coming.   Every challenge is an opportunity to learn, to grow, to evolve…if you didn’t have these challenges, you wouldn’t learn so much…so learn not to be afraid of obstacles in your path (constantly).   You really rock PRAGMATIC OPTIMISM…always come back to it.

3.  Don’t work so many hours

working longer does NOT, I repeat, does NOT = more productivity. Don’t wait until you have children to figure this one out.   Making the time for things that fuel your fire and get you excited are so important.  Don’t work so hard on the things that other people want.  Work on the things that you want, and take regular breaks…you’re brain and body will thank you for it.

4.  Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”

You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room,  it doesn’t make you dumb or stupid.

5.  Don’t be intimidated and compare yourself to others

Kinda feeds off the last point,   just because someone barges into a room like the own the world and know everything, doesn’t mean they do.   Even if they talk down and demean you,  remember that everyone has their strengths and moment to shine.    Help each other,  if one person is shining, stand in their light until you light up too.   If they are not shining, stand further away.

6.  Make time for work relationships,  laugh and HAVE FUN

Work isn’t always fun, infact, it is easy to take it WAY too seriously.  But it is possible to have fun and be highly productive,  infact, your favourite and most inspiring roles have been exactly that.   Don’t try to stop laughing in the office, even if everyone looks at you funny.

7. RELAX

Oh my goodness,  you need to watch this one.   You have a tendency to stress to the max if you are not careful,  so learn to take it way more slow.    All of the above tips will help you to stay calm and in control.  Walk slowly,  think before you speak (OK, you might never be able to get control on that one) and don’t overthink things.

Remember,  where ever you are, it’s exactly where you need to be right now…I guarantee it..you got this!