Paris in the snow

3 Managerial Insights from Snow in Paris

With the recent snowstorm in Paris, folk talk about other people’s responsibilities, especially what the governement should have done.

Today, I’m focusing on what I can do differently and what I learned about management from the 20 cm of snow in our garden.

Our decorative bushes usually stand proudly 1 meter high.  Laden with snow, they barely rise above the ground.

Commuting to work means schlepping through the snow and slush.  If it’s not cleared out, in the evening we’re slipping and sliding.  (I love the above photo by Christophe Jacrot taken in front of the Samaritaine.  Check out more of his beautiful pictures of Paris in the snow here.)

In dealing with our plants and path here is what I (re)learned about management.

1. Remove Needless Burdens

Laden and frozen branches approached their breaking point.  Removing the mounds of snow gives them a chance to survive.

They barely needed much help:  a bit of shaking off and retrieving the branches buried in the flakes.

Bushes laden with snow Burdened.

What are some of the burdens dumped on employees at work?

  • Negative criticism
  • Gossip
  • Expected 24/7 availability

Let’s take a closer look at the impact of negativity and how to lighten the load.

Negative Critique

Each snowflake numbs with cold and weighs down minutely.  It’s the culmination that damages.  Like most of the criticism we give and take.

“Late, again?” publicly announced.

“Why did you do it this way?  (regarding the format for the presentation or the homework in purple pen or the baked instead of fried chicken…)
Questions beginning with “Why” often put people on the defensive.  The intent behind the question is often, “Why did you not do it my way?”

“You didn’t do _____?”
The twenty major accomplishments slip by without a remark.  The one item remaining on the list gets highlighted.

“Yes, but ______” which really means, “No.  And I won’t listen.”

Taken individually, each of these comments seems innocuous.  “You are over-reacting!”

It’s a different story when you’ve heard a hundred of them in less than a week.

Take the Critique Test

Find out if YOU are the one inflicting minor chills on an ongoing basis!

Invite a colleague, friend, or family member to listen to you and to note both your reproving and your encouraging comments.  When we receive their feedback graciously (without being defensive), we discover a lot about ourself and our relationship grows in trust.

If you tend towards demotivating fault-finding, it’s more comfortable to find it out from a person of your chosing than during a formal review session!

Shake Off Negative Critique

Be quick to learn and to be flexible with others.

Avoid Taking Critique too Personally

When I shook the flexible branches, they easily dropped their burden of snow.  The rigid tree limbs held onto the piles of snow.

Are you insisting on being right?  That your viewpoint is THE ONLY VALID perspective?  Be flexible.  Be curious.

“Help me understand.  What would an excellent report look like?”

“If I were to do ______ and ______, would that be satisfactory?  If not, what is missing?”

“I hear that you are dissatisfied.  On a scale of 1 (very bad) to 10 (excellent) how would you esteem the quality of this work?”

Seek Benevolent yet Straight-Forward Feedback

There might be truth in the critique.  Does your reputation lean towards tardiness rather than timeliness?  Do you hide your work until the last minute so colleagues are not aware of your choices along the way?

Find out.  Seek feedback directly from someone you know appreciates you as a person.

Those branches did need some shaking up for the snow to fall off.

When a friend told me to arrive 10 minutes early, not right on time, I knew punctuality ranked among my needed areas for improvement!

2. Use the Available Resources

Since Paris is rarely under snow, we don’t own the equipment to shovel the walk and dig out the car.

The work still need to be done.

Out came the rake, the broom, and the metal dustbin.  These hardly classify as the ideal snow clearing tools, yet their availability rendered them optimal for me.

Years ago, upon graduating from Harvard Business School, a group of students and I spent two weeks in Peru on a humanitarian trip to build a sidewalk for a school teaching technical skills to polio survivors. In this jungle town of dirt roads, our sidewalk would enable students to access their classes during the rainy season.

The construction manager, a leathery-skinned man who looked ancient to me and was probably forty-years-old and prematurely aged by challenging conditions, instructed me to level the ground.  Which tool would generate the optimal results: the short-handled flat-edged shovel, the rusty round-edged shovel, or the stick?  THE ELBOW GREASE!

A tool makes A difference.  How we use it makes ALL the difference.

3. Work in Layers

Armed with imperfect tools, I discovered the most effective tactic lay in working in layers: first raking off, then hand shoveling, and finally brushing away snow as needed.  Each step made the next one possible. I tried beginning with the hand shovel, but cutting corners simply broke my back!

On a professional front, I focus on layering in my training classes too.  Teaching a concept with theory, then sharing an example, introducing multiple perspectives through a role play or activity, and inviting each participant to share a take-away and thus to take ownership of their learning.

It’s like tiramisu: a combination of different and complimentary layers that get repeated.  Together they create a delicacy.

Try layers in personal as well as professional relationships too.  When a child resists homework, parents often address the challenge in the same way again and again.  Voice.  More Voice.  DO IT NOW.

That’s re-investing in the losing strategy.

Consider additional tools and layers:

  • Break down the work into smaller chunks
  • Sit beside your child with your work as he does his
  • Engage in a conversation (veritable exchange) regarding his view of the value of school.  Try these discussion-inviting questions:
    • “Describe what life would be like if you dropped out now….”How would it be different if you graduated from high school…or college?”
    • “What bothers you the most about homework?”
    • “What is one benefit about doing your work for school?”
    • “If you were not to do homework, how would you use this time and energy?”
  • Frame grades to celebrate successes

 

This Paris snow storm got me inspired .  Read here about insights on diversity.

What do you think of these life lessons taken from current events?  Let me know in the comments.

Cover photo by Christophe Jacrot from his site, Tiramisu from LaBombacha