Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Jul 31, 2007

Online tools for working women

I have two agendas with this post. The first is to document my brilliant idea for a software suite I have been noodling for a year or two, so that I can claim that I thought of it first when someone more motivated and entrepreneurial takes it to market. The second is to share and invite you to share online tools that make your life easier as a working woman/mom/partner. Ms Minchin will be evaluating these online tools in a series of posts over the next few weeks.

The Enterprise Software Suite for Household Mangagement
In my dreamworld (yes this is how nerdy Ms Minchin is) I would turn to one online tool to manage all the business of domestic life. I have found pieces of this functionality across individual products, but have yet to find a single product that meets all my needs. This impossible tool would provide the following:

Family calendar (which would synch with my outlook calendar at work of course). The calendar would enable individual views and and integrated family view. One would never accidentally plan a "Mom's Night Out" on "Dad's Golf night" again. We could coordinate who picks up the kids, keep track of Shiloh's playdates, Maddox's dance class and Pax and Zahara's karate lessons all in one place. Reminders are a must. Keep track of birthdays for friends and family with plenty of time to buy presents.

Meal planning and Nutrition tools. I could use the tools to plan meals that are appropriate for baby Shiloh as well as my husband Brad. I wouldn't have to worry about whether my toddler was getting enough iron, or if my husband is eating too many hot pockets before a big action movie shoot. I would get suggestions for meals and automatically generate a shopping list. This would help me stick to my budget too! Ideally it would feed into my online grocer of choice and help me schedule grocey deliveries.

Budget and online Bill Pay features would have to be integrated. It would tie into the shopping list and calendar features. Financial goals could be monitored and tracked, and reported on.

Chores would be assigned and tracked online. These days preschoolers are online, so why not give the kids virtual gold stars? How about keeping the "honey-do" list online, so Brad can never say I didn't ask him, or forget what he agreed to do last weekend.

Project planning / Wiki tools would help us to keep track of home improvement projects, plan for the expenses and prioritize. Share pictures and links to the new faucets we are considering for the kitchen, or my dream appliance list, ect. with Brad. He'd add his comments in between acting and managing his fan blog. We could share ideas and options for our next vacation, our next home or plan a family reunion, or create a holiday shopping list.

Goal tracker functionality would be great to help track exercise goals, personal or financial goals, and motivate and inspire each other. How about tracking the 50 things you want to do before you die, or the places you want to travel to, books you want to read?

Other features I'd like to see are contacts management (synch with outlook) and service & maintenence management (when does the boiler need a service check, when does my car need another oil change?). What if the software could make suggestions and link to sites for shopping ans services?

What else should it include?

I continue to search for software or websites that do any of this. Over the next few weeks Ms. Minchin will be sharing her findings and inviting you all to share yours. Stay tuned!

Jul 15, 2007

When it all blows up in your face

Instructor, Caroline Bender

Even you, flawless young businesswoman, will have your moments in the wrong limelight. A lemon-limelight, if you will, when you fear your entire reputation has soured as the result of a project gone horribly (perhaps irreversibly) wrong. You will stand there, remnants of your work dripping through your fingers like strings of dissolved soap, and you will take the next important step of your now fragile career.

Resist the inclination to fall apart with it.
Nothing will feed your credibility bank like Grace Under Pressure. (It doesn't make a good acronym, but it does deserve to be capitalized.)

Step 1: Admit it. Own it.
Small mistakes can be swept under rugs, fringe tasks left by the side of the road entirely. Miss Bender accepts a certain amount of missed targets in any project, and generally advises her students to select 1 task or aspect that can be sacrified in favor of any other.

But when it all blows up in your face, when the catastrophe is holistic -- fish rotting from the head down, as it were -- your best course of action is to present yourself for direction.

Step 2: Offer an Alternative
You must be able to suggest a repair plan. "What the hell do I do now?" is no position for anyone above the rank of intern.

Depending on the damage, and the urgency of repair, you may need to offer a short term ("stop the bleeding," the brass are fond of saying) and long term ("do-over," the Brownies are fond of saying) approach. The best way to ensure you have this to pull from your pocket is to plan it in the first place. You don't have to tell anyone you did.

Step 3: Make no Excuses
Not yet. See Step 9 below. In the moment, simply take charge of executing your resolution plan, once it has been cleared by the Boss.

At this step, apologize "down," to your project team: "I am so sorry we're going to have to start again. Here's what I'm thinking -- please help me troubleshoot it." And listen. Let's face it, hot shot, you didn't have the best idea at the table, so let somebody else have a try. If you hand over the reins, make sure your successor is not going to be a fall guy. Support her in whatever she needs, but watch for low branches. She may not have ever done this before.

Step 4: Get it Done
Execute now, talk about it later. Nobody wants to hear the story replayed for the next half hour.

Step 5: Get Dirty
If your team member has a better idea, as in step 3, and you have put her in charge, take a supporting role. Pick up a bucket and start bailing; don't just stand there. And never ever leave your post until the crisis has passed.

Step 6: Accept Help
In your zeal to punish yourself, you may turn down offers to make you less miserable. Don't.
Call in your people. Divide and conquer. Your credibility bank is made for moments just like this, so start spending your endowment.

Step 7: Document
This can happen later, but make sure you do it. You will be surprised how often you'll need to refer back to this unfortunate incident. You'll need it for your project records and for thanking your team. Unfortunately, the Boss will need it when reporting up, and won't you look professional when you have a report already prepared when asked?

Step 8: Chew yourself out
In the honest, gentle-but-firm developmental way you would have if the staff had made the boneheaded move you did that brought us here. In retrospect, as you are documenting the original plan and the disaster response that saved the day, you will see your errors. Every one is a teachable moment. Teach yourself.

If you have an unhealthy relationship with the Boss, at least you'll beat her to it, and leave her with little else to throw. If she generally supports you (even when you screw up) she'll let you off the hook you've put yourself on.

Step 9: Apologize
Don't fall on your sword, (you didn't literally kill anyone. did you? ) just acknowledge the wrong experienced by the person you're apologizing to. Like this: "Gary, I truly regret that you had to re-enter all 500 records because I mistimed the storage sequence. That shouldn't have happened." "Ma'am, I am sorry we had to redeploy the Project B team to help clean up. If I can share any staff with Project B next week, I hope you will let me know."

Step 10: Put it to Bed
Once you have made your amends, stop talking about it, before you start to sound like you're fishing for compliments.

Jul 8, 2007

When the Boss is Away

Editorial: Violet Newstead, student at large

He left town last Thursday, in a flurry of "I'll have my cell if you need anything, but I'm sure you can handle it." We can, of course, we carry him most days, except for the things he keeps from us entirely. Count on those to be the things that blow up.

Boss trust is a funny kind of trust. Equal parts "Can't you just handle it?" and "You should have known better."

Boiled down, "cover for me," means "do what I would do, but I wouldn't insult you by leaving a list." They'll find other ways to do that.

They will send you to meetings you never knew they went to. The people in the meetings are bound to be tiers above you, so they don't know who you are, and that's just as well because then they don't know how to take you. One plus of today's casual work environment is that execs and drones look a lot alike. When cornered to speak for your department, affect a scowl and say, "I think we both know how Bob would answer that." Hope they don't call your bluff.

They will mistype your name or phone number on the out of office message so no one can really contact you.

They will override your decisions without even knowing what they were. The miracle that is Treo. It's a dance that goes like this: email to Boss bounces an out of office, sender deciphers how to reach the Backup, Backup provides assistance, Boss emails an hour later responding to the Sender and cc'ing the Backup. The CC of the backup can not be accidental, and the effort says, "here's what I want you to do, my backup. I want you to answer my mail, not lead the group."

They will bring you a souvenier, like you are their nephew or their dogsitter. Since you won't get a vacation, enjoy this souvenier of mine.

They will nod sympathetically when you complain later about this, and respond by naming a different back-up next time.

Maybe that's what you wanted all along.

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