Tag Archives: choice

When a Major Project Is Over, How Do You Decide What Comes Next?


2A83XPT89B.jpgI have just finished a major project and I’m at loose ends. I’ve been at this point many times in my career. When I worked for a corporation, there was usually another project waiting to take the place of the one just finished. In fact, I generally had many projects overlapping, though sometimes one took precedence. But now that I work for myself, when one big project ends, I need to motivate myself to move on to the next.

For the last couple of months, I have been bringing a huge writing project to closure. It is about to be published (not under the Sara Rickover name, so I can’t tell you what it is). I have spent countless hours on the minutiae, and I am just now able to raise my head and look around me. What work do I take on next? I ask myself.

In the corporate world, when I had a moment to think about what came next, I would assess what in my job was boring me (that I wanted to do less of), and I’d think about what interested me and how I might expand my expertise (that I wanted to do more of). That’s how I moved from defending employment cases into drafting employee benefit plan documents—it felt like it was time for me to broaden the service I could provide to my Human Resource clients, and employee benefits was a way to do it.

At other points in my career, my boss asked me to move into new areas, and I had little choice. That’s how I got into handling property tax assessment disputes for one division and specialized contract work for another division. Not glamorous stuff, but these matters did teach me more about business, and I’ve used both skills in non-profit work I’ve done in recent years.

Now I am faced with several possibilities for what comes next. The advantage is that I get to choose. So, how do I choose? Here are some of the questions I am asking myself:

  • Do I do what seems like the logical next step?
  • Do I do what will teach me the most?
  • Do I do what will make me the most money?
  • Do I do what I most want to do?

And after asking myself these questions, I asked: How can I make one project address most of these needs?

I think I’ve landed on my next project. It is an outgrowth of the project I just completed, but I want to structure my approach to this issue differently. I hope with a new approach I will learn new things. It isn’t necessarily what I most want to do, but I am getting excited about it as I plan the first steps.

What do you do when you get to choose your next project?

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Filed under Management, Workplace, Writing

Making the Tough Calls: It’s What Leaders Do


toughdecisionsWe had a big project underway in our Human Resources Department—combining the company’s vacation and sick pay policies into a paid leave bank. The HR group had recommended this change for several years, but it had taken time to get the company’s leadership on board. This time, it looked like it was a go. We would make the change at the beginning of the next calendar year. It was October, and we were ready to communicate to managers, and then to the employee population at large.

We held one last meeting with the IT folks to confirm that our time reporting systems could handle the transition. They’d been confident in prior conversations. But this time—with the HR manager spearheading the project (one of my direct reports), my boss the Vice-President of HR, and me all present—the IT guys said, “It will take us two man-years and $150,000. Can’t be done in less than six months.”

I knew immediately that however much I wanted to support my project manager who had worked hard to bring the paid leave bank to fruition, the project was dead in the water. We couldn’t proceed without the systems in place to track employees’ time. It was a decision I didn’t want to make, but the only reasonable choice for the company at that time.

My boss and I looked at each other. I couldn’t look at the project manager, who was facing a year’s work going down the toilet. “We have to pull the plug,” I said. “We can’t do it this year.”

Whose fault was it? IT’s for not being honest in earlier meetings? My project manager’s for not pushing IT harder? It didn’t matter, the decision was clear. Ranting about who was at fault was not going to help, though the project manager and I had a couple of private conversations later about the problem.

A recent article on Inc.com, How to Control the Damage When Making Unpopular Choices, by Alix Stuart, for the March 2015 issue of Inc. magazine, reminded me of this situation.

Image from Forbes

Image from Forbes

There are times in every leader’s career when he or she must make hard choices. Do you push for what you want, or settle for what you can have? Do you take a risk or play it safe? Do you pursue Product X or Product Y?

Many times the choices are not as clear as the choice I faced over the paid leave bank. The Inc.com article makes good points about trying to communicate well in the time leading up to the decision. But ultimately, leaders have to make the call and deal with the consequences.

Dealing with the consequences requires listening to the people hurt by the decision, mitigating the harm where you can, and standing firm when you believe your decision was right. I spent many hours listening to my project manager after the decision, helping him plan our next foray into paid leave banks (which was successful). But I never thought we had any good alternative to the decision I made.

When have you had to make a tough decision and face the consequences?

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Filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Management

Systematic Neglect: Choose Your Priorities and Accept the Consequences


Like Every Function, To Be Strategic, HR Must Bring Expertise to the TableDuring the years I spent in leadership roles, two concepts became critical to my attempts to manage my time: discretionary time and systematic neglect.

I’ve written before about discretionary time—the time we can all carve out in our day to do what we think we should do. It may be fifteen minutes to check on a subordinate, or lunch with a peer to build a relationship, but we can all exercise some discretion in how we spend our time. Some organizations institutionalize the concept, as Google famously did when it encouraged employees to spend 20 percent of their time experimenting on their own projects.

Today I want to focus on the other time-management concept: “systematic neglect.” I learned about this concept in The Servant as Leader, by Robert K. Greenleaf. Mr. Greenleaf says part of a leader’s responsibility is to decide what not to do, what tasks to ignore. He says systematic neglect enables us to focus on the most important work. Specifically, he states:

The ability to withdraw and reorient oneself, if only for a moment, presumes that one has learned the art of systematic neglect, to sort out the more important from the less important — and the important from the urgent — and attend to the more important, even though there may be penalties and censure for the neglect of something else.

All of us understand the concept at some level—there is only so much time in the day. We cannot do everything, and we certainly cannot do everything at the level of quality we would like.

Although that type of triage is intuitive, a light bulb dawned for me when I read Mr. Greenleaf’s statement. Because not only does he say we need to consciously choose to do the more important work rather than the less important, he also makes clear that we must be prepared to accept the consequences of our choices.

My light bulb realization was that other people wouldn’t always agree with me on what to neglect, no matter how reasonable my choice seemed to me. I might choose to neglect a project they think is critical. When other people disagree with you about what is most important—and they will—you must accept their “censure.” You may not change their mind, but you have to accept that they will not be happy with you.

The organization I was a part of at the time embraced the philosophy of “systematic neglect.” Thereafter, there were several times when I was dismayed at the choices some of my colleagues made. They had different priorities than I did. I probably upset them, too, with my choices of what to do and what to neglect. There were heated discussions—censures and penalties—as a result.

Still, when you are prepared to accept the consequences of choosing what to do (using the concept of discretionary time) and what not to do (using the concept of systematic neglect), then you have much greater control of your time. And that lets you set and shape your priorities to a far greater extent than you might think possible.

What have you done when your priorities have differed from those of your co-workers?

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Filed under Leadership, Management, Work/Life, Workplace

Why Not Use Conjoint Analysis To Determine Citizen Preferences?


I recently participated in a couple of online surveys that used conjoint analysis techniques to determine my preferences as a consumer.  Conjoint analysis is a statistical technique used to determine what combination of features or attributes people prefer and how those attributes influence people’s decision making.
So, for example, one of the recent surveys I answered dealt with choices a company could make about new products they could offer – which would I be more likely to buy at what price? The other survey I participated in was about transportation services, and which services I would value at what cost. The questions got harder. As I made choices, I was shown packages of products and services that I valued more and more similarly, or where the costs got closer to what I was willing to pay. Still, I had to choose, and that gave the survey sponsors more information about what I valued.
These surveys and my memories of other conjoint analysis surveys I’ve taken in the past on employee benefits and other topics got me thinking about use of this technique to address many of our nation’s problems.
Do we really know what choices our citizens would make, how they weigh various options? Why don’t we ask?
Conservatives assume everyone would rather pay lower taxes and have less government intrusion in their lives. Liberals assume everyone wants more even income distribution and a higher level of subsidized or free government benefits. But has anyone ever asked the citizenry what they want? And been willing to deal with the responses?
Obviously, we would all like to get more for less, the most goods and services for the least payment. And ideally, we would all like to live on a generous dole without having to lift a finger to work nor to pay a dime for our comfortable leisure.
But we know that is not an option. So which, among the many realistic options our society could choose, would you prefer?
Should we leave our federal government spending at its current level and raise taxes to cover it, or should we reduce federal spending and keep taxes the same? Or reduce spending further and reduce taxes as well?
Then let’s talk about income redistribution. How much should a billionaire pay in taxes? How much a millionaire? Someone making $250,000? Or $50,000? Or $20,000?  What is raised by each of these levels of taxation? What does that mean for spending? Are you satisfied with that level of spending? If not, whose taxes would you raise by how much in order to cover the level of spending you desire?
The technology exists today with conjoint analysis to put a variety of baskets of government goods and services and taxes and regulations in front of people and ask which they prefer. With a conjoint analysis survey, as I indicated above, the choices get progressively harder, as people are asked to differentiate between things they value more and more equally.
But at the end of the survey, you would have a pretty good idea of what our citizens really want. There would be a range of what people want, but you’d know where some consensus might be found. Wouldn’t that help our hidebound politicians on both sides of the aisle?
The issues of government taxation and spending are complex. But so are the issues we address in our daily lives. Only the dollars are smaller in our households than in our government. Maybe we should treat our citizenry as responsible adults and let them have a voice.
What is stopping our lawmakers and think tanks from asking what people want? The fact that they don’t want to know, because then they would have to try to address the citizenry, rather than satisfy their own predilections.
Would you like to make your choices known?

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