Whether you’re a new hire or taking on a new job, here’s some principles, patterns and practices to be more effective. They’re lessons learned from the school of hard knocks and they represent some of the proven practices that have worked for others and have stood the test of time. This is a limited, but prioritized list (I gave myself a 20 minute window.) I’ll drill into areas in upcoming weeks, depending on where there’s interest.
- Timebox your day. Carve your day into time budgets. Figure out how much time you should spend on administration, work time, meeting time, and think time. Start with a day. For example, some of the most effective people spend 1 hour on admin, 1 hour on think time, 4 hours on work time, and 2 hours on meetings. You need to find the pattern that works for you. The trap is to not know when the day ends and over-spend time in areas you should allocate to others. See Timebox Your Day.
- Manage your meetings. You’ll likely spend a lot of time in meetings. Value your time. Find out the meeting you must go to versus should or could. Use meetings to build your network. The most effective meetings have agendas and the right people. Some meeting are more about connection versus results, so if you know that up front, you can reset your expectations. Nothing’s worse than trying to get results in a connection meeting. One thing to remember is that connection precedes results. You get more done with rapport (think “rose colored glasses”)
- Manage your mail. Doing a day of email doesn’t mean you did a great day of work. Timeboxes help. See Clearing Your Inbox.
- Manage your action. Think in terms of daily results working towards larger outcomes. See Execution Checklists and Using Scannable Outcomes with My Results Approach.
- Manage your plate. Underpromise and over-deliver. It’s better to nail a few things well, than take on a bunch and never finish. Think of it like a buffet — rather than over-flow your plate and get bogged down, take smaller plates and more trips. The fast eat the slow.
- Master information management. The most important concept is to factor reference information from action. Always use the RAT test on information you get (relevant? accurate? timeley?) Use trusted sources and trusted people for finding the best, most distilled information.
- Manage your energy. You can throw a lot of time at a problem, but it’s your energy that will give you the power hours. See Manage Energy, Not Time.
- Know what’s important. Your manager and peers will tell you if you ask. Sanity check when you hear one thing, but see another. Usually folks are doing what’s on their commitments, so walk the commitments stack up the chain to see how and where you fit in.
- Manage your results. Microsoft rewards “smart and gets results.” Focus on outcomes over activities. Think in terms of value delivered over activity performed. You can do lots of activities but that doesn’t necessarily translate into meaningful results.
- Walk an instance end-to-end. Know what you’re getting yourself into. Whatever your team delivers, walk an instance from start to end. Knowing the bigger picture will quickly help you orient where you are in the bigger picture. This will help you anticipate. You’ll also know how to pace yourself for the race (walk, jog or run.)
- Avoid analysis paralysis. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of mistaking great throughts for great actions. Take action and improve. Analyze enough to start taking action, getting results and improving. Figure out your higher risks earlier versus later. Fail fast.
- Learn project management. Knowing how to do a work breakdown structure, timeline, work estimates and how to allocate resources gives you an advantage in getting results. You can apply these skills to a micro-level (personal productivity) or to a macro-level (getting large projects done.)
- Play to your strengths. You have your strengths. Use them. Find a way. If you find yourself doing a job and you know you really could be more effective, figure out whether it’s your approach.
- Use reference examples. Find the best reference examples and work backwards from there. Whatever you need to do, chances are, somebody’s paved a path or there’s an example you can find. You can leapfrog results if you don’t always start from scratch.
- Know the tests for success. Nothing’s worse than to finish a major project only to find you missed the mark. Figure out the tests for success earlier versus later. They’re might not be a lot of clarity in the beginning, but continuously refine figuring out what good looks like.
- Deliver incremental results. If you can chunk it down, you have a better chance for success. Show progress along the way. Always have a great end in mind, but be able to chunk it up and make progress on the bigger picture.
- Think in terms of value delivered. You can think in terms of time (daily, weekly, monthly). You can think in terms of value (how important is this). Just the act of thinking in terms of value delivered will help you prioritize your personal queue.
- Create the driver’s guide for your manager. Your manager has a high-correlation to your job satisfaction and your success in Microsoft. What’s their communication style? Do they like email, voice or dialogue? How frequently should you meet with them to stay on the same page? How do they want status?
- What’s their story? Be careful when you jump to conclusions. When somebody doesn’t do something as you expect, it’s good to checkpoint assumptions. See What’s Their Story?
- Speak in the right currency. Know what matters to your audience and the terms they use. Use their terms where you can to bridge the communication gap.
- Use metaphors and mental models. The better you can simplify complex information into a mental model or visual, the more effective you’ll be.
- Use stories. Use short stories to convey a point. By short, something you can say in a few sentences. It should be relevant and have an emotional aspect. If just stating a point, doesn’t make the point hit home, sometimes telling the right story can.
- Use a whiteboard. The power of the whiteboard is that people tend to put down what’s important versus get lost in the details. You can also drill in or step back as needed.
- Speak in slides. A slide is a great forcing function to make you consolidate your point. At Microsoft, it’s easy to pass slides around. I use One-Sliders.
- Ask better questions. Thinking in just asking and answering questions. If you want better answers, ask better questions. You can ask question in terms of time, meaning, assumptions, truth, causes, effects and actions. One thing I like to do is think in terms of what do I know, don’t know and need to know next. See Cutting Questions.
- Test it versus debate it. There’s a lot of opinions on a lot of things. You’d be surprised how quickly a simple repro test can cut through debate. Find empirical evidence where you can.
- Learn thinking techniques. There’s lots of thinking patterns and techniques. You can study Disney’s imagineers such as Michael Michalko, or practices such as Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP.)
Learning / Improvement
- Change your approach. Stay adaptable. If you’re not getting results, change your approach. The best way to get unstuck is to change your approach. You learn the most from trying something different. Sometimes this is uncomfotable, but that’s what growth feels like.
- Model the best. Find the people that get results. Have at least a few examples of people that have both continuous improvement and balance. For balance, that means both work and home, and at work it means, balance between connection and results.
- Take key training. Obviously, you’ll want relevant technical training, but you’ll want training to make you more effective in your day to day success at Microsoft. While I’ve had great tech training, some of my most useful training has been in effective meetings, personal productivity, interpersonal communication, negotiation skills, influence, leadership, and thinking techniques.
- Use everybody as a mentor. Everybody can teach you something. Everybody. Find something each person does well and find out how they do it. Success leaves clues.
- Use a personal sounding board. Find some folks you trust to give you the tough feedback. Sanity check your ideas with your personal sounding board.
- Improve strengths, but limit liabilities. If you spend all your time working on your weaknesses, you won’t get the benefit of your strengths. Continously improve your strength, while you master you craft. Every day at work is a chance to practice. Reduce your liabilities, but don’t ignore improving your strengths.
- If you don’t know, ask. If you ask a precise enough question, you can stretch your network over time and space.
- Build your network. Your network naturally waxes and wanes. Your results are a combination of what you know and who you know. Building your network will help you get more done over time. It’s a long-term investment that builds on itself.
- Play tradesees. It’s easier to network when you bring something to the table. You can trade what you know or your expertise in an area with somebody elses. This is how a lot of effective people get results. They build a network of complimentary skills and experience.
- Use WIIFY. What’s In It For You (WIIFY) is a simple, but effective way to communicate. If you always ask yourself, what’s in it for the person you’re brokering in, you’re off to a better start. Point out to them what’s in it for them if it’s not obvious. If there’s nothing it it for them, then that’s a flag. Challenge yourself to find a way for their to be something in it for them and you’ll get further.
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