Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fun with performance evaluations (no, really!)

We’re in the midst of annual performance evaluations at our company. I’m in my twelfth year at the company, and my second year of being a manager, so I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been through easy and less-easy discussions in that length of time, and it’s true what they say: 1. It’s about the conversation, not the document and 2. Nothing in the review should be a complete surprise.

The best performance conversations (and I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to experience this) involve a run-through of the areas in which the individual is great and appreciated by both the manager and the individual’s peers. Hopefully it’s all stuff the manager has said before! Then there’s the discussion of development areas. Again, there shouldn’t be a development area that’s a complete surprise. I find it most helpful to talk about skills where the employee can build on existing strengths and become even better, even as it’s important to discuss anything that might be holding them back.

But what comes out of the development area discussion is probably the best part for me, because that’s when you get into the guts of what the individual wants to see happen. It’s starting the goal-planning, but not in a dry, SMART-goal way. It’s talking about the change the individual wants to make happen. Or the influence the individual wants to grow. Or the relationships the individual wants to build. Or the skills the individual wants to expand upon. Or the challenges the individual wants to take on.

It’s that part of the conversation that excites me as a manager, because I can’t wait to help them do those things. And it’s that part of the conversation that I enjoy as an employee, because it helps me dream big and gets me excited about what’s going to happen next. Yes, we’ll turn it all into actionable and measurable statements and that’s important to do. And we’ll check in throughout the year and add, remove, or adjust the actions and measures. That's an important part, too.

But imagining the changes one can make and influence is probably the most fun I have with of performance evaluations.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fitness motivation for the non-competitive

I am decidedly not competitive when it comes to sports. I like challenging myself and improving, but put me next to someone else and I couldn't care less how I compare to them in athletics. The place this is most apparent is in the few 5K races I've been in. I have friends who tell me tales of increasing their speed more than they thought they could to pass someone in a race. They speak of going much faster than they did in their training.

This is something to which I cannot relate.

For me, races are only against myself. Since I hate running, the challenge to myself in my last 5K was to run/jog the whole thing without walking. As somebody who had previously felt pretty darn proud for being able to jog a mile, slowly, 3.1 miles sounded like trying to get around the world. I trained, and worked, and I came in with a miserable time, but I did it! People were passing me left and right, and I was going as slow as some of the walkers at points, but I did it! And I was proud!

It comes down to the fact that external pressure doesn't motivate me. What motivates me is my own challenges to myself. In any challenge, I think it’s key to figure out what helps you push yourself. For all those that are pushed by entering a competition against others, there are those of us who are just trying to top our last performance, or trying to do something far greater than we’ve ever done before, just to see if we can. I don’t think one is better than the other, but if you’re a person who likes one, don’t look to the other for your motivation. Use what works!

That philosophy applies to more than just fitness, actually, but within the fitness realm, let’s talk TOOLS! I’ve found that one of the most motivating tools for myself is a heart rate monitor. I can track my heart rate, my time, and how many calories I've burned (based on my weight, age, and heart rate). I recently upgraded to have a fancy one with a GPS, so that if I’m running outside I can also see how fast and how far I’m going. When I first got a heart rate monitor, I immediately started pushing myself more because I wanted to get the numbers higher. I find that effect is so strong that I’ll turn my car around on the way to the gym if I’ve forgotten either the watch or the chest strap for it.

Another tool that I strongly recommend is a weight-lifting log. I love weight-lifting and as much as each good session makes me feel great, it’s even more satisfying to see the improvement week over week, or month over month. I use an app on my iPod (iStayFit), but I've also used good old pen and paper to keep track of my weights and reps as they slowly increase (though never at the same time!)

Having a handle on what helps keep me motivated is a comfort. In times where life gets crazy and I fall a little off the wagon in terms of workouts (ahem. like recently), I know I still have the knowledge and tools to get me unstuck. And that, itself, is very motivating.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wedding-based writers block

I've been punting on blogging in order to get things done for wedding planning. That is, after all, a time-sensitive item!

I feel very fortunate that Adam and I are both list makers and were finally able to sit down and take our gigantic list of to-do's, assign an owner, express preferences about what was feeling most urgent, and get going. After a few weeks of trying to work by committee while hardly seeing each other, it's been a great boost to be checking things off the list left and right.

But still, getting things done at work during the work day, and getting wedding stuff done on weekends/evenings (plus an excellent round of house-cleaning), means there's less to blog about.

And so you get this. In the spirit of Paul and Jyllian, I'm just going to write. So there.

At some point I may write about performance reviews (is there some trick to making it faster to document? Even very positive ones are quite a time investment). And I have most of a blog post about motivating oneself in fitness when you're not competitive, but that needs some serious editing. But that, too, is for another day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Manager as hostess (or host, as the case may be)

I was speaking with my manager about the progress we've made on some of the goals we set for ourselves and how to let the individuals in our wider team know about that progress. I made a comment about reflecting back to the individuals who had contributed, to give them a sense of the actions we had taken resulting from their comments. Reflecting back is pretty much in every lesson on listening and communication, after all.

But I started to think about the urge I have to pass on information, and I realized that some of it stems from the lessons I learned from my mom on how to be a great hostess for a party (be it dinner party, or cocktail party or house party). My mother regularly had parties when I was growing up. She, along with my stepfather, hosted an annual party with easily 150-200 people. There were neighbors, work friends, political contacts, community organizers, friends from long ago, business contacts, and everything in between. In addition to providing a great setting, great food, and great drink, my mom and stepfather worked very hard to make sure that each guest got some time with each of them, as hosts. But they also made sure to pay attention to the details, and then put guests in touch with each other to further the interests that each individual might have. In Tipping Point language, my mother was, and is, a connector (something I aspire to, but that's another post).

In my mind, that skill of connecting two people is a version of closing the loop, reflecting back, and being a good listener. When you find out that friend A likes to photograph gardens, and friend B really wants to get a framed photo of her garden, you put them in touch. When you find out that coworker Jane is really curious how a project went on that other product, and you know the lead of that other product, you put them in touch.

In much the same way, when you're a manager and your team members have asked for something, if you've either made it happen or worked with others to make progress, you need to close the loop and pass on the progress (both positive and negative results).

Whether it's putting two unrelated people in touch at a party, or relaying progress to team members, it's the actions taken based on comments from individuals that show you were listening. And really, in either case, it's the proper thing for a host or hostess to do!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

My thoughts are with Japan

It's been a bit of a rough week for me, and there's not really anything useful to post about it just yet. Perhaps after I get some relaxation and perspective I can write something worth sharing.

But really my thoughts are on Japan. I grew up feeling a rather strong attachment to this country that I had never been to. I loved Japanese armor from the time I was young (in Baltimore, you can go to the Walters Art Gallery to admire such things). At MIT I studied Japanese history for 3 semesters, from the age of the samurai (though with a different prof), up to modern times, and even going back to early history from the 800's and on. I studied East Asian religions and was fascinated with Zen. In graduate school for mechanical engineering, I even studied Japanese for year and it was, by far, my favorite class.

Basically, if there are such thing as past lives, one of mine was definitely in Japan. And if not, well, I have no explanation for the strong affinity I've felt for the art, the nation, the culture, and the people.

So when I finally had a chance to plan a trip there last year during my sabbatical, I was overjoyed. I was able to spend several days in Tokyo and several days in Kyoto. I'm glad the south seems to have been spared from the worst of the earthquake and tsunami destruction, but Tokyo has seen some major disruptions. And as I'm relieved to hear from the friends that have checked in, my thoughts go out to all who are affected.

And so I'm looking back at my day in Tokyo when I first got there, when I took a tour of the major sites of the city, and remembering that even with jetlag, it was a wonder.

A view of Tokyo from the tower:
Tallest building in Tokyo

The Asakusa arcade:
Arcade view

It's just horrible what has happened, and particularly in the north, but I'm comforted by the resiliency and strength of the people of Japan based on the history I've studied

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A cure for a rough day (or: how productivity and workouts are related)

It was a long day, and not easy. I've been riding the edge of feeling vaguely overwhelmed for a few weeks, and today seemed to top out for a few minutes. In reality, it's not because anything is amiss or anyone has done anything wrong, it's because I'm trying to keep track of a lot of things and haven't been doing as good of a job as I know I can. As a result, anytime a new thing comes up, I'm dropping something else. And not always on purpose, as it should be.

First I'll say that the Getting Things Done process is an inspiration and I'm a big list-maker, so I know the first thing I need to do in order to get things back in order is make a list. Yay! I love making lists! I just wish there was a little extra time in the day to make the starting list. :) And if you have other tips and tricks for keeping organized, I'll take them!

But actually the reason I started this post was to talk about the resulting edgy feeling from the situation. It's annoying, like an itch that you can't quite reach. Except that it can be reached... with a workout. Be it a good cardio sweat, or a hefty weight-lifting session, a great workout is like a great meditation: clearing the mind, releasing the worries, and helping refocus energy. And even a mediocre workout is better than sitting on the couch. Extra bonus that it helps bring about a good night's sleep, and in the long run, helps all my clothes fit better!

Someday I'll have to talk about my workout journey. I was in no way athletic, into sports, or even very active as a kid, so it's been a long shift to being a somewhat fit person who enjoys workouts. But now exercise is something I greatly value. So, later: a list. Now: the gym!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Inspiration from friends

In the online portion of my life I'm not a super-huge blog devotee, but I certainly have a number of them that I follow. I'm sure I'll point to them as I go. But I was thinking today how amazing it is that many of the friends I've known for years write great blogs! Even if I didn't already know them I would enjoy their great observations, as well as the fact that they can make me think, or laugh, or learn. Sometimes all three at once! Here's a handful of them:

Batty.us (Life Art Bacon): A rockin' woman from back in the day (that's a tale for another time)... Batty! She's a true inspiration for remaking your life the way you want it to be. Plus, since I love to do weight-lifting with significant weights, she's also my current workout role model!

designcult: James has some brilliant observations about design, interaction, and technology and it always seems to relate to some of the things I'm dealing with at work. Another friend for ages, too. Plus, you can see him speak at SXSW!

Raising 3 kids, 1 cocktail at a time: Kristine recently started her blog, though I've known her for years. I don't have one kid, much less three, but still enjoy her writing very much.

The World's Address: He hasn't updated very recently, but Adam is up next. I may be slightly biased seeing as how I'm engaged to him, but he is, in fact, a great writer and I enjoyed reading his stories well before we were dating!

Paul Tevis: I mentioned Paul's blog in my first post, but since I'm making a list, I'll give him a proper shout out. His topics are varied, but always of interest. Plus he spends time each week reflecting on lessons learned and ways in which he can improve... another inspiration!

There's many more, but that will have to be the pause point for today. Thanks to all of my friends who share bits and pieces of their lives with the world!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Productivity through illness

I was sick yesterday. My head was pounding mightily and in such a way that I was thinking trepanning sounded like a brilliant idea. Since it was Saturday, I was able to take advantage of no plans and really chill out. That was great because I am feeling better today. Yay!

But it left me thinking about the fact that sometimes, when I am at the tail end of a cold, or feeling just slightly under the weather, I actually get really productive at work and am able to get through a huge chunk of my to-do list. This is just the things I need to do, not including meetings, which are much more difficult when my brain is foggy. Anyway, I've thought about this in the last few years and decided that it's because I'm too tired to get distracted and go into ADD mode, thinking of every little thing that needs to get done. When I'm not feeling that great, but not feeling that awful, I just look at my list of things that need to get done and start working through them.

It seems the barrier to more productivity when I'm feeling well is that I want to get EVEN MORE done. Which is really rather silly. Perhaps I need to bring a mind-stilling meditation to some of my to-do-list-handling at work (and at home, for that matter), and not get distracted by the other ideas that pop up.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Hello World!

Is it only old school folks who still do the Hello World thing?

I've dabbled in blogs in the past. I kept track of 2008 presidential candidate visits to NH and reported on each visit. I kept a daily blog for my travels around the Pacific Rim in 2009 and a great trip to China before that. And I got lots of great feedback about both of those blogs, which was and is much appreciated!

So I thought I might start a more non-specific blog. I'm very much inspired by the blog of my friend Paul Tevis, where he writes about things both large and small. I have some thoughts on managing and leading as I've finished my first year and a half as a manager. I have some thoughts about interaction design, or maybe more specifically about generating ideas, evaluating ideas, and getting in touch with customers and users. I have thoughts on fitness, cooking, gardening, knitting, movies, and a whole range of topics. But we'll see what develops... tags are my friend.

And the name... Passionately Peckish... Yes, well that pretty well describes my view of life. I'm very passionate about the things I care about. Ask my friends. Ask my coworkers. I pretty much bubble about the good stuff, and most of the stuff is good!

And peckish. I certainly find myself peckish in the traditional sense, as I like to eat small meals frequently so am often just a little hungry. But I'm also peckish for a bit more learning, a bit more travel, a few more experiences, and some more life. I'm always wanting a little more to enjoy and cherish, even as I feel satisfied with what I've got. In other words: This is fun! What else can I do to add to it? And how can I share it?

So Hello World. Let's see what we can get going here!