Best Managers Ever – Part 3

Best managerI couldn’t round off my top three of best managers ever without including Manager 3 – my first ever manager when I was a lowly audit junior.

Why do I still remember and love her so much?  Because she was the first manager I had worked with, and still only one of a very small handful of managers who I have ever seen to actually  stand up and fight for their team.

We all know what it’s like in the office – no matter how democratic and open your office is, a little bit of office politics will creep in there anyway.  It’s human nature, unavoidable and sucks if you’re at the dodgy end of it.  Most managers will acknowledge it with a wry smile and a ‘what can you do?’ shrug, then move on.  Not Manager 3 though.

Here’s what happened – there was a little team of us who, although not out of favour, were definitely out of sight of the bigwigs that make the decisions that affect us minions.  There were other minions though, bright and shiny and in perfect sight of the bigwigs at decision making time.  The bigwigs made a decision which felt completely unfair to us hard-working but invisible minions.  I’d seen this before and resigned myself to living with an unfair situation.  I was still better of than the majority of people out there and it was a blip not a mountain.  But Manager 3 was having none of it.  She strode in and shook the bigwigs by their (figurative) collars.  She argued her case and ours.  She pointed out the unfair comparisons, and unacceptable decision.  She was amazing – like a Greek goddess, all righteous wrath and fury.  It was an amazing sight to behold (from a safe distance).  And everyone knows you don’t argue with a goddess on a mission.  You humbly apologise and lay down offerings to appease her.

I don’t have her guts.  But I will never forget the lesson she taught me – never, ever accept a situation that you know is wrong, and always fight for what’s right!  Thank you Manager 3 – you are a legend.

Best Managers Ever – Part 2

Yesterday I started my top three in terms of managers that have inspired me to become the best manager I can be, and I spoke about a manager who showed me how to take time to explain yourself to get buy-in from employees.

Today I want to share with you Manager 2 – someone I worked with for only a year, whilst covering a maternity leave.  And to be fair, by the time I came across this particular manager, I was already almost twenty years into my career (ouch – has it really been that long!) so I’d seen a lot of different managers, all with their own particular mix of quirks.

Manager 2 kind of crept into my list gradually, but that’s one of the reasons I want to share the experienceBest manager with you.  So if you come across someone like this, you give them the time to demonstrate how good they are.

When I first started at the contract, I heard very quickly through the office grapevine that my new manager was ‘into meetings’.  And sure enough, once I’d had all the introductions and training, I started getting regular meeting invites.  Weekly catch-up meetings, finance team meetings, project meetings…you get the idea.  And I have to admit, when I was up to my neck in reviews, making time for yet another meeting was more than a little annoying.

But here’s the thing – there wasn’t a single meeting he held that didn’t give me something useful to work on or feed back to my team.  And I realised that he wasn’t holding meetings just for the sake of holding meetings, looking busy or to validate his role, which I admit was my initial impression.  He was making sure we had time to catch up, so he could share knowledge with me, that I then needed to share with my team.  He was forcing me to make time to take note of what I’d achieved, what I needed to work on, what I needed to share with my team or what I needed to think about.

So thank you Manager 2 – for showing me that sometimes it takes time to see the benefits of something (and for the hats – you always wore such interesting hats!).

Best Managers Ever – Part 1

Best managerI can’t remember who I was talking to but we got on to the subject of managers – the good, the bad and the downright awful.  It got me thinking about managers I’ve worked with over the years and what’s been good or bad about them.  So this week, I thought I’d share my top 3 best managers with you.  Next week we might delve into the bottom three…

One of the best managers I’ve ever worked with was just after I’d become an audit assistant manager myself, and I was working in a project role in Canary Wharf for a few months.

What made her so good?  What I remember most about her is that she was really patient with me and spent loads of time explaining things, both in terms of what I needed to do but also the context behind it.  That made such a huge difference – knowing why you’re doing something as well as how you need to do it.

She was also really generous with her knowledge and expertise, and genuinely enthusiastic about her subject matter (which until then I hadn’t thought was all that exciting).  She’d built up a huge amount of connections that went with her dizzying array of experience, and she was happy to share all of this with all her colleagues, no matter how junior or senior they were.

To give you an example, one of my jobs was to answer technical queries that came in via email.  Some of them I already knew the answer to but there was one that was a bit of a conundrum.  I did some research but I still couldn’t find a definitive answer.  And I didn’t want to go back with something that was incorrect.  So, although I could see she was completely swamped, I asked her.   She found some time later that same day to help me, we went through the detail together and she didn’t make me feel silly for asking but intelligent for raising something interesting with her.

I don’t think I’m as patient as she was, but I do always make time to explain why I’m asking for a piece of work, or explain how I’d like something done and why – you never know when someone, with that knowledge, will be able to help you streamline a process or task even more.

Have you had a manager that’s inspired you?  I’d love to hear about it.

Plan for happy holidays

HolidaysIt’s that time of year when everyone is either on holiday, just back from holiday or planning to go on holiday.  Cue lots of pics of the sun shining through palm trees, or a tanned hand holding a delightfully garish cocktail, against a backdrop of beach.  Lovely!

But did you know that most of your happiness actually comes from the planning and anticipation of holidays, and that after the holiday itself it falls back fairly quickly?  Nope, neither did I, until I came across some interesting research from the Netherlands which looked at how holidays affect our happiness.

What they found was that the largest increase in our happiness comes from the initial planning and anticipation of holidays.  The study showed that this effect lasted almost two months.  Once you get back from your holiday though, this happiness level drops right back down to the same level as someone who hasn’t been away.

So how does this help you increase your happiness?  Well, you could try to split your holiday time up a bit.  So instead of taking a couple of holidays lasting two weeks each, you could break it up a bit more.  Take a week or ten days at a time instead.  That way you’re getting at least one extra holiday per year, which gives you another two months of increased happiness levels as you plan and ponder your extra break.

Happy holidays!

(and here’s the link to the original research paper, if you’re interested – )

Friday Focus

It’s Friday, you’re in your ‘casual Friday’ clothes, someone brought in cakes and everyone is feeling a bit more chirpy, cheerful and chilled out.

Brilliant!  We both know that most days in the office aren’t like this – so make the most of this relaxed vibe and use it to your advantage.

Friday focus

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Whether it’s booking yourself into a meeting room, blocking off the time on Outlook, or just asking your colleagues to answer your phone for the next half hour (play fair though and return the favour!), give yourself thirty minutes of Friday Focus.
  2. Grab a pen and a notebook. Think back over the week you’ve had. List everything that went well. List all your achievements, large or small (anything from winning new business to working out how to do a vlookup). Then take a look at your objectives (your personal objectives, not the company’s objectives for you – I talk about this more in my book, Coping with the Horroffice). And think about how you’ve taken steps towards them through what you’ve achieved.
  3. Finally, look through what you’ve got planned for the following week. Are there any actions you can take within what you have to do that will help you take another step closer to your goals? Jot them down. take a minute to picture how well next week will go for you.

Doing this once a week, every week will make sure you’re always focused on your goals and on the next small steps you’ll be taking to get there.

Let me know how you get on, and have a fabulous Friday!

Tayto vs Walkers – The Office Crisp Off

Today was a bit of a slow day in the office. We were waiting for the stuff we’d submitted to be approved or thrown back at us, everyone one was exhausted from working like maniacs to get our reporting completed and although there was probably plenty we could have been getting on with, no-one really had the energy or inclination.

Crisp OffSo we decided it was the perfect time to hold ‘The Great Office Crisp Off’.

To put it into context for you, we have an office in Ireland as well as several in the UK. About a third of our current staff have come over from the Ireland office. When, last week, we decided we needed some savoury treats to get us through that awful part of the day where your body is ready to go home, but your mind (and boss) are saying you need to stay and finish your month-end reports, we sent out for sustenance. The good, healthy kind – not! A big six pack of Walkers arrived, our Irish Boss (IB) scoffed and said Walkers weren’t fit to be called crisps. The only crisps worth eating were the mighty Tayto. Ever since, a debate has been raging fiercely within the office – which is the better crisp – the Irish Tayto or the English Walkers.

After days of discussing, arguing and berating we decided there was only one way to decide – and Office Crisp Off was born. Tayto vs Walkers. We would have a blind taste test of both varieties and vote on it. And today was the day. Crisp Off would take place throughout the day – any accidental visitor to the finance department would have to partake if they wanted to leave, or wanted any number-crunching help, ever again.

As the initiators, each member of the finance team solemnly went to the tasting area (aka the spare desk). We studied the crisps, sniffed the air around the crisps, and then slowly chomped through a sample of the crisps.

After much deliberation, we cast our vote via pink post-its – A or B?

Each post-it that went up elicited oohs, aahs, explanations for voting choices. IB was convinced crisp A was the mighty Tayto and voted accordingly. Others disagreed and said B was the tastier option. Yet others thought A was not very tasty but definitely the Tayto. And so on…

By three-thirty it was neck and neck. Seven votes each. We needed a decision. And a tea-break. And someone neutral to break the tie. Just then, the IT guy arrived. Perfect.

We sat in silence as he tasted, considered, and wrote out his vote. There was an intake of breath as he stuck his pink post-it firmly on the wall.

A! It was A. Crisp A had won the day. IB was delighted. Of course it was A, he announced. A was the better crisp. We turned over the plates to confirm the win. The office erupted into laughter. Crisp A was the much maligned Walkers! And to make matters worse, IB had voted against his choice, he’d only gone and voted for the Walkers!

There was only one thing for it – IB resigned himself to making the three-thirty tea round as a family pack of Walkers was placed on his desk.

Fake it til you make it

fake it till you make itFake it til you make it.  I’m sure it’s an expression you’re familiar with.  It’s been around forever.  And with good reason.  It works!

I’ve seen it myself in my own life, both at work and in personal situations.  When I started my first contracting role I had taken a break of over 18 months from accountancy.  I felt like I’d forgotten everything and I was terrified that my new employers would find that out within hours of me being there.  But I’d spent my time off studying NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and one of the things I’d learned was how you can use the way your body and brain are interlinked and hard-wired to your advantage.  One of the ways is to fake it til you make it.  And that’s because your brain doesn’t really distinguish between what’s imagined and what’s real.  It’s why seeing spiders on-screen (and typing the word right now) still freaks me out, even though there’s not a real one of them (eurgh!) around.  So, knowing all this, I decided I was going to nod intelligently, take copious notes and just fake knowing what I was doing until I worked it out or until they caught on.  And actually, I managed the former, because they extended an initial three-month contract into six months.  And you know what?  By the time I left, I genuinely did feel like I’d added value, so it didn’t just work for my employers, it worked for me too.  And there was a little less faking it at the next contract, because my brain already knew I knew stuff!

If you want a little more help with the concept, and an excellent dose of motivation to hand, check out the TED talk by Amy Cuddy on the subject – I loved it, and it’s something I refer back to when I need to remind myself of the power of ‘fake it til you make it’.

Dress for success

dress up show upOne of the tips I share in my book, ‘Coping with the Horroffice’ is to dress for success.
I’ve seen the difference for myself in more than one office environment or workplace.  When I first started out as an audit junior we had a very strict dress code.  The the whole ‘business casual’ thing came in, and everyone started to dress down.  And although it was lovely not to have to be suited and booted for the office every day, rocking up to work in something a bit shabbier definitely didn’t feel quite right.  And as the time wore on, the outfits got more casual and less business.  And then my mum stepped in, and told me I didn’t look like an accountant, I looked like a drudge.  It was a bit of a shock, and no-one ever likes to admit their mother is right, but her comments stayed with me.
I started making more of an effort at work.  And I genuinely noticed a difference.  Other people took a little bit more notice, I got more comments on what I was wearing and that made me feel better.  No-one wants to be invisible.  But even on the days when no-one commented, I still felt better when I’d made the effort to dress up and show up – and that changed my energy internally.  I felt more positive, ready to take on the challenges of the day, just a bit more confident in myself.
And ever since then, whenever I’ve had a challenging day looming at the Horroffice I’ve made an extra effort with my outfit, and it’s always made a difference.
Try it out for yourself and let me know what happens.  Just please don’t tell my mother she was right!

Three quick tips to beat the Monday blues

Beat the Monday bluesIt’s the start of another work week.  You look at what you need to accomplish by Friday evening and it feels like climbing Mount Everest would actually be the easier option.  Instantly you feel disheartened and slightly depressed.  Not the best way to kick off the week, but definitely not uncommon.  And because the Monday blues has become so common, we tend to shrug it off as ‘just one of those things’.

But if you stop to think about it, there might be more to it than that.  If you love what you do, you’re excited about getting on with it.  Even if there are bits of the job that you find more difficult, because you love what you do, or are excited about the end product, you can get through them.

So if you regularly go down with the Monday blues, it might be a sign that you’re not actually happy at work.  In which case, you need to look at what it is that’s causing this, so you can start to change it.

It might just be that you’re in the vicinity of someone else who’s been struck down with Mondayitis.  It’s highly contagious, and spreads quickly and easily through shared workspaces and conversations.  It only takes one colleague to be struck down by the Monday blues for it to start to infect everyone else.  So what can you do to avoid catching it?  Here are three quick tips to help you cope.

  1. Sort Monday out on Friday.  Before you head off to enjoy your much-needed weekend R&R, take five or ten minutes to look at what you need to get through the following week.  Plan ahead, and especially for Monday morning.  That way, when you get in to the office on Monday, you already feel organised and a little ahead of the game, which is a great way to kick off the week.
  2. Eat that frog.  Mark Twain’s famous quote was “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”  Although I’m hoping you don’t need to do that literally, if you plan to get the most difficult thing you have to do out of the way before lunchtime on Monday, you’ll head into the rest of the day and week feeling like you’ve already achieved something and also feeling pretty great about yourself.  Worth a try, surely?
  3. Keep Monday meeting free.  If you can manage it, try to keep your Monday free of any meetings.  It gives you the whole day to really get through your workload before new emails, tasks and issues hit your in-tray.  It also gives you a chance to prepare for any meetings later in the week.

I hope these ideas help make your Mondays more manageable.  Do let me know how you get on!


Think like a bumble bee!

‎”Aerodynamically the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know that so it goes on flying anyway.Mary Kay Ash


A little thought to kick your weekend off with…

Was there a time when you just did something without thinking, and surprised yourself, because you hadn’t realised you actually could do it?

Next week, assume the mindset of the bumble bee – do whatever you want to do, without worrying about whether you can, and you’ll find, you already have, haven’t you?  Give it a go, and have a beautifully buzzy time.

Have a wonderful weekend, and a bumble bee of a week!