Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Working and studying

As it is in business, my role is constantly changing and evolving. More recently I started getting much more involved with a wide range of projects and project management techniques. Whilst I am experienced in managing projects as part of my job role, it is quite a different thing to follow the official Six Sigma rules and to make sure the follow that no step is missed and the documentation is complete.

Who knows me, knows that I hate not to be perfect or not knowing what I am doing - even though it is known to have happened! :-) So I looked into some training courses, considered doing some further education. After all, it would help me doing a better job and also increase my market value in case I am ever looking for a new job.

I nearly went to ask my manager if they'd be prepared to sponsor the course - if you feel your career would benefit from some further education, you absolutely should do this as most companies will give you some kind of support - but then I had a few 12 hour days and all I wanted to do after I came home was falling asleep! So I changed my mind.

You see, I love learning. I have finished university and started working. But I did quite a few seminars and short courses to enhance my knowledge in special areas such as Excel, Presentations or Online Media. I also spent 3 years of my professional life studying in the evening - both at the local college and through distance study. The effort I put in gave me some nice qualifications and a lot of additional knowledge which helped me to progress my career and to increase my salary.

But after 3 years I was ready to put my graduation gown away and enjoy my evenings with a nice dinner and TV rather than a pile of books.

If you are working and know certain areas you'd like to develop more knowledge in, I'd always recommend you go for it. It gives you a competitive advantage over your competition when you are looking for a promotion or a new job. Your committment is likely to pay up with better pay and career opportunities. But at the same time make sure that you are able to complete the further education. Working and studying at the same time is really tough. There's no doubt about it. You spend hours working, then rush to university, sit through classes whilst your stomach is rumbling and go home - tired and exhausted to face the household that needs looking after.

If you think, it will be easy to juggle both work and study - think again.

If you think, further education won't benefit your career - think again.

The question is if you are prepared to accept some busy and hard months for the potential lifelong benefit. And be honest with yourself - there is little point paying a lot of money for a course you'll never complete.

Here is a good website to compare courses available throughout the UK:

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Saturday, 25 July 2009

The new boss…

A few weeks ago my department had a major shock and it still pretty much dominates our mind and our discussions. We knew that some organisational reviews took place and that the logical consequence would be that our department was likely to be restructured.

What we didn’t consider was how quickly these things can move and how much they can actually affect you. Well, we were surprised. One day we knew what we were supposed to do and what our boss expected. The next day we were told that our boss had not been successful when reapplying for his job, was on garden leave and someone we vaguely knew from a different part of the business was now our new boss.

You can imagine that this was rather a shock especially as we rated our old manager very highly. Within a week every rule we had been working to had been changed. And again. And again. The new boss didn’t really know our area of business. He was too busy to spend time with the top management to sit down with us and find out who we are and what we do. And this lack of communication automatically led to confusion, fear and frustration. Very quickly we didn’t know anymore what we were responsible for and what was expected from us. With rules and guidelines changing on a daily basis any work we did yesterday was ready for the bin tomorrow. And rumours that ‘we are the next’ to get restructured became ripe.

Initially the department was split between those thinking that ‘keeping our head down and just accepting that things are going to be a bit crazy for a while’ and those thinking that ‘we should show the new boss that we resent our old boss losing his job and don’t rate him coming in knowing nothing and telling us what to do’.

We also differed on the discussion if we should offer the new boss help and try to set our own ground rules, or if we should just wait what he’s going to do and if he asks for help.

I personally don’t think that blaming the new boss for what happened will do anyone any good. It will make it more difficult for him to identify what’s really going on, what the issues are and how he can improve the departments’ performance and our professional life. At the same time it can result in serious issues for the ‘rebels’ – your attitude won’t scare the new boss away (and even if, he’d be replaced with someone else you don’t know) and once he’s settled and reviews his department, he is unlikely to reward you for your negativity and unsupportive approach. I know that some people do this out of loyalty to their old boss, but I think, it’s false loyalty – it won’t help the old boss and will harm you. Accepting that things changed, doesn’t mean you are disloyal to the old boss, just that you accept reality and make the best out of it.

Keeping your head down and pretending the negativity and fear surrounding you is normal, isn’t much better though. It makes your life a misery and you don’t know how long it will take until normality returns.

The best approach is to come to terms with the changes as quickly as possible. Then stop mourning the old boss, approach the new boss and talk to him. With that I don’t mean sucking up to him, but try to get to know him. Make him understand that you are not the enemy (and neither is he) but that you want to work with him for the greater good of the department and company and try to establish your own ground rules. Maybe you can turn the new situation to your best?

Things have started to settle down a bit now. After some short-lived rebellions we have come to terms with the fact that the old boss is gone, the new is here to stay, that life will change irrevocably and all we can do is get on with it, give him a chance and understand that it is not his fault that he was chosen above someone else.

Here are some interesting links I found about the topic:

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Is it better to work for a man or a woman?

My husband is a big Formula One fan. So it was no surprise that he hogged the TV when I came back from the weekly shopping earlier today to watch the Qualifying in Hungary. All my pleas to change the channel were sadly (and unsurprisingly) in vain and – as I didn’t fancy doing anything but sitting on the couch and recovering from a long week at work – I didn’t have much choice than to listen.

However, no other than David Coulthard got me to pick up my laptop and to write my first blog entry for my new blog “The Real Office Life”. How did he do that? Well, he went into one of the garages and asked one of the female race engineers: “How do your male colleagues like working for a woman?”

I was surprised that he’d ask such a question on public TV. Strictly speaking this comment could be regarded as discriminating against women in management positions, even though I am aware it wasn’t meant that way and rather referred to the fact, that motor sport is still at large a man’s world. However, it sparked an interested discussion with my husband, who waved my surprise aside and said that he wouldn’t necessarily want to work for a woman neither.

Now, I am a manager myself and believe that I am doing a good job, am liked by my staff, am fair, supportive and achieve what my department is challenged with. So it took me by surprise that we still have the discussion in 2009 if women are any good in management positions.

So my question for today is: “Is it better to work for a man or a woman?”

I am not taking myself as a manager into consideration here as I don’t think you can really judge yourself objectively. But let me have a look back at my career so far.

I actually remember my first job working for a woman. If you want the truth – I hated it. She was one of those iron women, determined to make it in a men’s world. She worked extremely hard – and expected the same from her junior staff. She was tough – much tougher than her male colleagues – and you always had the feeling that she tried to make people forget that she was a woman. As if it was a sin to be a woman in a business world. She was under a huge amount of pressure and always tried to perform better than her male colleagues – I never found out if she actually had to work harder to prove that she had a right to be in her position as a woman, or if she just imagined it. But what I do know is that it was very difficult to work for her, that she was overly demanding, often bitchy, didn’t accept any weaknesses or emotions and that I left the business thinking I’d never want to work for a woman again.

By chance my next boss was a man who was a fantastic manager. He was demanding, but he felt comfortable in his own skin. He knew he was given the managerial position because of his ability, his drive and his experience. He had the same expectations of his male and female staff and developed each and every employee to their best abilities. He didn’t need to constantly prove that he had a right to be a manager, that he was good enough. All he had to do is to work hard, do what he was recruited for, get the best out of his team and continue to develop his own career. It was pleasure working for him and in my mind, that had settled the argument: Working for a man is so much better. Women are just too bitchy and try to fight each other rather than working together. Needless to say, I didn’t look at what that would mean for me if I’d ever be a manager myself!

But I soon learned that life isn’t always so easy. Throughout my career, I worked for men who were selfish, took your achievements for their own and were impossible to please. I also worked for women who were excellent managers, found the right balance between being a hard-nosed business woman and a natural woman with emotional intelligence, who were supportive and achieved all business challenges they were set.

Were does that leave me now? Would I rather work for a man or for a woman? The answer to this question is not as difficult as you might think. I don’t really care, if I work for a man or a woman. All I want is to work for a good manager.

A manager who can balance emotional intelligence and business demands; has the required skills and experience; knows how to work with people, how to develop them, support them and get the best out of them; someone who can be understanding, but also tough when required to achieve the best for the team and who is fair.

That sounds very demanding to you? Well, I believe it is what makes a good manager. It is what I always strive for, the kind of manager I try to become over the years. The kind of manager who can be a man or a woman and both male and female staff are not bothered by either, just because it doesn’t matter if they report into a man or woman because they couldn’t ask for a better leader.

That doesn’t mean that life is fair. It doesn’t mean that women don’t still have to prove themselves over and over again for the right to play with the top guys, to be in the boardroom. It doesn’t mean that woman earn as much as man (in managerial positions or anywhere else). But it does mean that we need to step away for making our own judgement if someone is likely to be a good boss or not based on their gender. How else can we ever change any of the above?

Here are a few links to the topic, if you want to read more:

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