Managing Expectations in the Workplace

by Hannah Azlan

Managing expectations (and your stress levels) is the single most important skill you’ll learn in the workplace. “Back to the drawing board” and “I thought you had this covered” are two phrases you don’t want to hear from your boss, and they’ll inevitably affect your performance review, bonuses and the like. All of this causes stress, leading to emotional and physical stressors which will affect your performance at work.

Having trouble? Take these three easy steps to navigate expectations.

Clarity

Understand what is expected of you. Assuming that you and your boss are on the same page will be a huge mistake. It’s in your best interests to take responsibility for understanding – in detail – what your priorities are and what will be considered a success. Here are a few key points:

  • What specific objectives are you expected to accomplish?
  • In what timeframe(s)?
  • Are they realistic?
  • How will your progress and performance be judged or measured?
  • What are the priorities?

If you’re coming from a management role, share these expectations with your team, and filter the actions downstream accordingly. Giving others a realistic milestone of what success looks like for the team will give them the confidence to move forward.

Communication

Maintain your performance with continuous communication  to gauge progress, assess risks, and adjust actions. Keeping your boss in the loop ensures they’re aware of your progress, and lets them marshal additional resources or expertise to overcome any finicky obstacles. Here are some tips:

  • What method does your manager prefer for communications?
  • Do they prefer the summarized version, or hear the supporting evidence?
  • Does your manager reward people who solve problems on their own, or those who ask for advice and collaborate on solutions early on?
  • How will you inform them of potential issues or barriers to achieving the objectives?

If you’re a manager yourself, help your staff by letting them know your communication preferences. No one’s a mind reader – so don’t become obstacles to your own success.

Honesty

Confidence is a double-edged sword. It is crucial you speak up when expectations are unrealistic, or if your project is in jeopardy.. Forging forward in silence when there are significant risks will not end up reflecting well on you, or your manager. While the the initial discussion may feel uncomfortable, the outcome of being honest is that everything is more successful for everyone involved. Here are some key points for an honest conversation:

  • Are there areas where the expectations set for you are unrealistic?
  • What concerns do you have about being able to achieve your goals?
  • Do you need to ask for adjustments in your annual objectives, or modify timeframes?
  • How and when will you bring up concerns to be addressed?

From a management perspective, make sure that you foster an environment where your team feels comfortable sharing concerns and raising issues. Work through challenging situations with them to build trust, because that’s important for creating a cohesive team.

The expectations that go unspoken between colleagues and employers can have a huge impact on the health of an office. Without proper communication for expectations, frustration and negative emotional labor can pile up in the workplace. Take heed of these consequences today, and manage your workplace environment better by openly speaking with each other.

 

Want to learn more about how to change your workplace culture for the better? Positive X is a people development firm that equips talents with design, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking and skills. You can know more about us at http://www.positivex.asia.

Hannah is our resident copywriter and social media savant. Check out more of her on Twitter at @hannahcyanide.

Edited by Ben Chong.

 

Design Thinking To Manage Workplace Stress

by Yong Vin Kit

Taking up my first full time job was a real eye-opener. Thought that all those years of stressing yourself out from studying was the worst time of your life? Well think again! But that’s another story for another day.

So what is the best way to manage stress in the workplace? Well, a quick Google search gives you tons of ideas from exercising to tapping into your senses to even faking a smile (whaaat?).

But another great way of managing stress could be Design Thinking. Originally created by the Architecture School at Stanford, it’s a five step process that helps you understand what the people you want to help need before you create a solution.

So how can a process meant for architects help you overcome stress in the workplace?

Here’s how!!!

Step 1: Stop and think about your problem

Sometimes problems are problems because we tend to overcomplicate things, which is no surprise since you may have a dozen or more things coming at you in the office at once. Give yourself a second to really think about the problem and ask yourself: “Is the problem really as urgent as I think it is?”, “What is the most important problem I’m facing right now?”, and “Will this problem affect my other problems?”

Step 2: Write down your problems in one sentence

Once you’ve have a clearer picture of the problem, try writing it down to one sentence. For example, if you have a project that’s due next week, you can write “A project due next week is still short on data”.

Note: Do not create a to-do list now as it can reduce the number of ideas in the next step.

Step 3: Brainstorm for ideas

Stay open for ideas. Brainstorming all by yourself can be hard since there’s no one else to bounce ideas out of. So try getting a friend or colleague to help. As with all brainstorming sessions, keep an open mind and consider ideas no matter how whacky they seem at first.

Step 4: Use the simplest idea

Once you have a list of ideas you can chew on, choose the simplest. Now you can come up with a to do list or plan how you would like to use your idea in solving your problem.

Step 5: Start it small

As the saying goes, big things come in small packages. Start small when you’re using your idea. For example, you may want to schedule enough rest time for yourself to destress yourself. If it works, think about going bigger. If it doesn’t, maybe try something else on the list.

In a nutshell

There may not be one best way of managing stress for everyone, but Design Thinking can definitely play a part in helping you overcome problems that are stressing you out. So try it, and see if it fits your style of managing stress.

Positive X is a people development firm that equips talents with design, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking and skills. You can know more about is at http://www.positivex.asia.

This article was written by Yong Vin Kit, our resident 2018 intern at Positive X.

Want to know more about internship opportunities at Positive X? Send us your resume now at info@positivex.asia to find out more!

Edited by Hannah Azlan and Ben Chong.

 

Solving Problems With Empathy

By Hannah Azlan

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As we all know, Design Thinking (or DT as we like to call it) is a unique approach to solving problems.

DT solves problems with people in mind, which means we try to empathise the problems people we’re trying to help are facing before we try tinkering a solution.

Another way of putting it is that we need to understand what our stakeholders need before we actually try to help them.

Knowing Your Stakeholders

Take Uber for example. Before the age of ride-hailing apps, taking a cab can be daunting experience, if there’s one where and when you need it to start with.

That was what their founders famously found out, and realising that it’s what all cab users would face, they decided to do something about it.

Uber got around all those problems by creating an app that allows users to book their own cabs anytime they want it via a push of a button.

In short, the guys at Uber found their customers’ pain points, problem solvers can create solutions that have long-lasting impact on users and society as a whole.

Understanding the problems faced by the people you’re trying to help, whether it’s through listening to them or putting yourself in their shoes, helps you shape your own solution to their problem.

Shifting Paradigms

Besides bringing you closer to other people, empathy can change the way you see a problem.

We often forget “What’s the real issue here? Why am I trying to here to find a solution?” before diving in to find that solution. And we often end up wasting time and resources proposing ideas that do little to solve the issues of people who need help.

While in Nepal, Stanford University student Linus Liang was trying to understand why premature birth was a real serious problem.

His team thought of creating a cheaper incubator for hospitals – until he realised that many hospitals were well equipped… but empty.

To their surprise, the team realised that the problem wasn’t because Nepal didn’t have enough incubators, but that the distance between homes and hospitals was too far.

This was a paradigm shift that led to the development of the Embrace Baby Warmer – a device that would keep a newborn warm until he gets to an incubator.

Empathy helps to frame the problem from a users’ perspective. Just imagine how much time it would have taken the Stanford team, policymakers and health experts to overcome Nepal’s high newborn mortality rate if they continued framing the problem the same way?

“Humanising” the Problem

Empathy reminds us that there’s just one bottom-line on why they’re looking to solve a problem – helping people.

Malaria kills nearly 500,000 people each year in Africa. Yet, due to a lack of understanding of the issues faced by locals, Unicef-distributed mosquito nets found their way to being used as fishing nets as the need for gathering food was more urgently needed.

Unicef in Africa needed a solution, and fast. In response, it started the U-Report, a two-way messaging platform communicates life-saving info with local communities and solicits feedback.

Since then, the program has helped to reduce misuse of mosquito nets in communities where they are being distributed.

Getting users involved in the problem solving process helps reduce miscommunication and misunderstandings. The first step towards realizing the need for it is, of course, empathy.

Bottom-line: Putting People First

In a rapidly changing world, problems that are constantly evolving need solutions that can re-adapt themselves all the time.

That’s why problem solvers (and design thinkers) need to remind themselves what’s the bottom line – helping the people who need it; and empathy opens the door to understanding that need.

Positive X is a people development firm that equips talents with design, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking and skills. You can know more about is at http://www.positivex.asia.

This article was written by Hannah Azlan,our our resident copywriter and social media savant. Check out more of her on Twitter at @hannahcyanide.

Edited by Ben Chong.

 

Call It Living

I grew up dreaming. I wanted to have my own business – a business that is on the road to world domination.

I remember vividly that I knew this is to be true on one of my trips to Singapore. I cannot remember what the speaker was expounding on – something on dreams, make your dream happen (yada yada yada) – but I felt strongly convicted that I will have my own outfit someday. It took 8 years for this vision to bear fruit. Not as bad as Noah but it was bad enough in my books.

It was not smooth sailing at the start. My first ever attempt (back in 2004) was cut short in just 6 months – quite foolishly because I quit my job and declared that I wanted to start my own gig – with no plans in hand. Quite sadly, I had to rely on someone else’s product to sell and they were not convinced that I am the right partner. As this product had a long sales cycle, my savings ran out which brought me to the decision to hop back into the job market, painfully and shamefully, with my tail between my legs. Even though it was my fault the venture failed, it was painful nonetheless.

My second start, OrangeTree was a little more promising. We sold handmade baskets sourced from the Philippines. It was by accident – we came across some pretty baskets over there, we took a liking and took the gamble of stocking up, lugging them back on the plane and selling them to families, friends and hey, at the bazaar! We quit after the second attempt at shipping in the stocks when we were clobbered with a 20% import duty – which literally ate into our margins! At that time, making a grand total of RM8,000 for a couple of months work was outstanding.

This taught me important lessons – that my wife is better than me at remembering product prices and most importantly, it taught me that I could really make money. You see, I have never sold anything in my life before this. This built my confidence.

My third attempt was PositiveLinks Asia, a boutique executive search firm, which I started late 2010.

Truthfully, if I were a betting man, I would not have wagered on myself. And to the reason why, let me share with you my life qualifications.

  • I’m of average intelligence. Really. My IQ scores suck (but not that bad). Like I mean, I can really identify with Moses when he said that he was of “slow speech and mind”. I amm toooo.
  • I’m a late bloomer. I need time to figure things out, to mentally process them. I have no witty comebacks. No insights to share or spare.
  • I’m no sales guy. Someone recently mentioned that I did not have the “killer instinct”. He’s right. After 7 years in business, I still don’t.
  • Did I tell you that I’m monolingual? I can only speaketh English. As this post is evidence itself, I can’t write for s**t.

But, with God’s grace, it has been 7 years a very fulfilling, non-linear journey. The good and the painful; of growth, of pruning and of adjustment; and of faith.

I gained and I grew. From success, mistakes and failures in a life that isn’t linear. However, I don’t intend to rabble on.

What I’m trying to express is this – that setbacks and failures shouldn’t be reasons for us to quit our dreams, to quit trying. Sure, our confidence takes a good knock, we blew off (burn, burn, burn) some serious cash, we upset people, we are mocked. But the thing is this – we experience failures only when we put ourselves out there.

I failed many times. This is what I did – I picked myself up, spend some time in solitude to lick my wounds and unwind, figure out what the learnings were and then carry on with my life.

Is PositiveLinks Asia on the path to world domination? Not even close. But I still harbour this ambition. World domination may not ever come but this doesn’t mean I should quit dreaming.

After all, is this not what we call living?

How I Learnt To Take Performance Reviews In Stride

As a young professional, the very thought of going for a performance review still makes me a tad nervous – not as bad as the first few sessions early in my career life but that fleeting moments of nervousness is still there.

Our Asian culture which dictates that we must always respect our elders, seniors, or bosses, and to humbly accept their feedback and criticism for they are wiser, rich in experience, and always right; I couldn’t help but feel a small sense of doom even before I step into the meeting.

Over the years and having gone through a number of performance reviews, I realised that I do look forward to these sessions because at the end of it all, I have walked away with insightful gems.

Sheila Heen rightly said in her book Thanks for the Feedback, “It’s the receiver who decides what they’re going to let in, what sense they’re going to make of it, and whether and how they choose to change.”

However, it is not always straight-forward process because there are times when receiving and responding to feedback, my emotions have gotten in the way – clouding my rationale and ability to distil constructive feedback and actionable insights, reducing me to tears, or becoming snappish towards my superior.

Fortunately, life is a learning processes filled with kind and patient seniors and bosses who were generous enough to share their experience with me on how to make the process a positive one where everyone wins.

So here is my two cents worth on how you can manage your own performance review better:

Think Positive

Try be positive and pro-active. Instead of dreading your review, kick-start the meeting on a good note by letting you managers know that you interested to know how you performed and would like to understand what are the areas that you can improve on.

And just in case, also them know that you may need time to think about their feedback and comments as you may have more questions and thoughts. In-directly, giving them heads up that you may request for a follow-up session.

This works for me as it allows me to focus on what is being said rather than what I feel because of what is being said.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a time-out if you need it

If somewhere in the middle of your review your boss says something that you think it’s wrong or unfair and it gets you worked up you may want to request a break to “cool off” before you say or do something that may damage the relationship or your reputation. You may be a bit apprehensive to ask for a break, but trust me both parties would appreciate it.

It might also give you a few minutes to calm down, think about what triggered you, and when you return to the conversation, you’re more ready to ask specific questions.

Concentrate on clarity

It’s pretty normal impulse when someone tells you how you can improve, your first response may be to think about all the reasons why they’re wrong. However, it can be quite harmful if you cling to it and dismiss everything your boss says. Try let go of your defensiveness and focus on getting clarity from what’s being said. Understand what your boss is saying as clearly and specifically as possible and to ask a ton of questions.

If your boss tend to be vague with his statements like “We want to see more leadership from you” or “I’d love to see you get more proactive.” It’s up to you to find out what they mean.

On the other hand, if you work for an organisation or bosses that is very generous with their praise and would avoid any hint of negativity, you may want to take a different approach.

Asking your boss “Do you have any feedback for me?” is good because there’s always room for growth but it may come across unclear as to what sort of feedback you would like. Ask instead for one or two things that you can do to improve.

Take notes and ask friends to evaluate any criticism

One thing that I find which helps me maintain keep an open mind and keep my emotions in check during performance review is taking notes – not mental ones but actually writing down the feedback you’re receiving.

Not only does it helps you focus on something else other than your own feelings or the voice in your head, it acts as a reference point for further questions and clarify.

Additionally, if it still troubles you, these notes allows you to go to a trusted buddy to ask for help to sort through it. They can give you a candid feedback that you may not have been able to see yourself.

Let it go!

Some of us are harder on ourselves, so there will be times when we would take a feedback and criticism more personally. It’ll eat us up on the inside and it takes up a lot of mental space. If that sounds like you, I do suggest putting things into perspective on paper – journaling it down or drawing a chart with columns to make sense on what the feedback is about and what it is not will enable you to have a more balanced point of view.

It helps to remember that a performance review is designed to help you grow as an individual and team player in an organisation rather than merely criticism. Along with these little tips, I hope you can view your performance review in a different light and gain some insights that will help you with your career and personal growth.

Finding Your Focus In The Chaos of Juggling Multiple Projects

It is normal for most of us to find ourselves juggling the demands of many teams at once in today’s workplace because theoretically, this system of “multiteaming” offers a number of upsides: You can deploy your expertise exactly where and when it’s most needed, share your knowledge across groups, and switch projects during lull times, avoiding costly downtime.

However in a  research conducted over the last 15 years by Heidi K. Gardner and Mark Mortensen, they found that for most of us, getting pulled across several different projects is stressful and less productive than theory would suggest.

Switching attention between tasks takes time and it saps our focus and energy.

When moving between teams, you will need to adjust to different roles — you might be the boss on one but a junior member of another, for example — which changes not only your level of accountability but also your ability to juggle resources when a crunch time hits.

On top of that, you may also need to nagivate between different teams with their own unique cultures, including relationships, routines, symbols, jokes, expectations, and tolerance for ambiguity which would required energy to manage.

How can you manage your time and stress-levels if you’re on multiple teams? And how can you stay focused on what’s most important?

In their article, Gardner and Mortensen suggests to start with some up-front planning and to follow a few simple rules:

Prioritizing and Sequencing Your Work

Get the big picture. Schedule a regular status check on all your projects to note milestones. By proactively identifying crunch times when multiple projects have high demands, you can better manage your time and set expectations.

The speed and demands of your projects determine the ideal frequency of check-ins, and the management style and seniority of your stakeholders sets the tone for establishing priorities when push comes to shove.

Sequence strategically. Pick one task and focus on it intensely, rather than juggling. Start with the task that requires the greatest concentration and give it your undivided attention.

Decide on a distinct set of must-achieve outcomes, define which actions are necessary to achieve only those results, and ruthlessly stick to them.

Research shows that attention residue — thoughts held over from a project you’re transitioning from — takes up valuable mental space, so the fewer switches you can make in a given day, the better.

If you must multitask, then coordinate and group any compatible duties. For example, if you know you are going to need to answer phone calls at random intervals, work on another task that can be interrupted at any time.

Setting and Communicating Expectations

Protect yourself. When you’re focused on a high-priority task, buy yourself a mental escape from unnecessary intrusions. For example, when I’m writing — my highest-concentration task — I put an automatic reply on my email telling people I’m not checking messages till a certain time of day, and offering my mobile number in case of an emergency.

By telling people not to expect an instant reply, you buy yourself some time to focus, while reassuring them that you will pay attention — later. Including your phone number signals your willingness to respond but also makes people think twice about whether their request truly needs immediate attention.

Document and communicate progress. Seeing momentum helps your team leaders feel empowered and in control. Be up front when problems arise. The earlier you say, “I’ve got a conflict and might have trouble delivering 100%,” the more leaders will trust you.

One seasoned team member in the authors’ research shared that many of his responses to team requests are simply two words: “On it.” Even this super-brief response tells colleagues that he received their request, so they know he’ll follow up when he can provide more details.

The significant financial benefits of multiteaming mean it has become a way of life for many of us however following this simple guideline may just help us manage the stress and focus when faced with multiple projects all at once.