Right, I’m off then …

View onto the Zambezi river

Holiday season. A couple of weeks ago, we had a nice team coffee, and among other things we were discussing our accessibility during vacation … not if but how everybody would be available during vacation.

Honestly spoken, I was completely shocked. It was very clear for me that having a frequent look at my mails or being available for being called would never allow me truly enjoying my vacation and achieving the core objective of any vacation to – believe it or not – intentionally disconnect from work and recharge. For good reason more and more companies today even ban the use of corporate mail if not smartphone during recreational holiday.

Vice versa, I produced incredulous amazement by stating that I was going to spend my vacation without my company smartphone or any other connection to business communication channels. As I am doing for many years and many vacations now.

 

But how do I smartly manage being off for 2-3 weeks without caring for business email and phone?

Those are the rules I am following with each single vacation for many years now …

  1. Accept your replaceability
  2. Have substitutes
  3. Pre-notify about your coming absence
  4. Have a significant OOO notification
  5. Have your OOO notification one day earlier and one additional day after
  6. No meetings scheduled on last and first day
  7. Have a private phone
  8. Enjoy your return

 

No one is irreplaceable

The first step is a simple but difficult lesson. Some colleagues seem to think that the world would stop turning without them, at least that business would completely break down. I am afraid to say: this actually is a fatal illusion! No one is really irreplaceable. Or in other words, having your business depending on the availability of single individuals would be extremely bad management. What do you think would happen if you would have to undergo a major surgery including being placed in an artificial coma for 2-3 weeks? Would your team stop working and the business crash? I don’t really think so. And if this situation can be managed, why can’t an ordinary vacation absence be equally? Or are you really missing this competence?

Accept that you are factually replaceable, and enjoy the pleasure of this knowledge.

 

Have substitutes

I mean, shouldn’t you generally have clearly assigned substitutes in place? You as a team member as well as you as a team leader. Sorry for my frankness, but wouldn’t not having substitutes for your function and responsibilities intentionally jeopardize business continuity and be completely irresponsible? So, you anyhow should have a clear and communicated set of substitution rules in place. This makes everybody’s life easier, not only in vacation times.

 

Pre-notify about your coming absence

Dropping a kind of “forewarning” 1.5-2 weeks before a longer leave has been proven highly effective in taking pressure out of the situation. I started this measure many years ago as an independent entrepreneur, early informing all clients, team members, project contributors, collaborators and external agencies. So, basically anyone who might depend on me or may have urgent need for support. This prenotification is not only telling about my absence, but also that in case anything urgent should be done or would be needed before, one can drop me a note up to 3 days before my leave, giving me some time to care for late things. This approach always was highly appreciated and resulted in extremely positive feedback, esp. by clients.

My learning has been, that not the absence or unavailability is the issue, but missing information and the perception of being left alone. So, proactively show that you care.

 

Have a significant OOO notification

Amongst us, “I am OOO.” is not really a very significant out-of-office notification. OK, it is very clear, simple, and provides at least the key message. But joking apart, I personally prefer to provide few additional information, which support the receiver with what he can expect when and by who. Still short, clear and simple. So, I typically provide the earliest day people an expect me to come back to them again, my substitution rules, and a nice wording to not accidentally leave people being peeved off when realizing that I am enjoying my vacation while they need to work hard.

 

Have your OOO notification one day earlier and one additional day after

OK, it might be a mistake disclosing this ‘secret’ now. At least this might show me who of my appreciated colleagues is actually reading this blog attentively. So, just between ourselves: I generally have my out-of-office notification activated on my last day before my leave already and also on the first day I am back in office. This takes a lot of pressure from the last and first working days surrounding my vacation. I keep control which things are urgent enough to additionally put on my pile on the last day, and I keep control over the first day of my return, esp. creating a buffer for coping with piled up emails. And for my team mates I am anyhow available in the office for late urgent stuff.

 

No meetings scheduled on last and first day

Same as before. A very simple and efficient measure allowing you to smoothly fade out – fade in. It is in your hands.

 

Have a private phone

It is about reducing temptation and opportunities. I never take my corporate phone nor my laptop along me for vacation. Clear rule, easy to follow. Taking your laptop with you gives you the illusion of being fully productive everywhere … but you are not. And all the things you actually can do … typically can wait if you are honest to yourself. Certainly I want to be reachable (by my family and friends) and read my (private) mails, so I have a private smartphone and do not mix up things.

 

Enjoy your return

After your return, enjoy that not everything might have worked as smoothly as people are used to, that they are happy that you are back, and that you have been missed. I mean, come on, this is perfect … you can look forward coming back to office. Could really be worse.

 

Finally, I would like to share a personal piece of experience with you. In more than 20 years of working life, about ten of those running my own business with being the key contact for all clients, there has not been a single situation where my short-term action was really needed. A proactive absence management assumed.

Honestly spoken, for many years I was fatally wrong in thinking that my general availability would be vital. And it took me some time to learn that (at least felt) being approachable and indispensable during vacation with your family and kids is just an unmasking sign of bad (self-)management.

Fortunately, there is always room for development …

Being Dave

Last week I had the opportunity hearing a superb and inspiring talk by Mark Gallagher, a former Formula 1 manager. If you ever have the opportunity listening to Mark, I strongly recommend to not miss it!

Mark is fantastic in showing the importance of integrated teams and their impact on motivation, quality, if not championship (in its best and true meaning) by telling real-life stories from F1. Not this general “team is important”-blablabla on how it should be in theory. But truly experienced reality in an environment where competition and need for safety & quality converge at high speed.

One of his narratives had been about Dave, the bus driver. To make a long story short, on that particular day the team won the race because of Dave. How? Well, Mark is much better than me in very lively telling the whole story in every amusing detail.

But at least I dare to sketch the scene where in an extremely challenging situation for the team, where there had been uncertainties about the best race strategy due to very changeable weather conditions …

  • Dave the bus driver felt the same commitment and responsibility for the team’s success as the pilot or any pit team member, where
  • he had a quite pragmatic idea, and he unexpectedly spoke up sharing his idea to get the latest weather forecast by simply driving with a moped into the direction the weather was coming from,
  • he translated his idea into action, despite the fact that it had been refused as being silly by the team lead, and
  • after being clearly rejected again after his first attempt to report changing weather via radio while sitting in the countryside a couple of kilometers away, he took the risk of being fired because he knew that his action might help the team to win the race.

Finally, the team lead buckled, adjusted the race strategy based on Dave’s report, as a result of that the race was won, and today most F1 teams have their “Daves” out in the fields during a race.

This is a real-life story about being team by including everybody and gaining lived commitment … and win.

This is also a real-life story about a “silly idea” becoming innovation.

But first of all, for me this is an amazing story about courage.

  1. Dave had the courage to speak up and share his idea.
  2. Dave had the courage to give his idea a try despite meeting with a refusal by his management.
  3. Dave had the courage to directly exert influence on the race without being a member of the core team and despite being smiled at.
  4. Dave had the courage to adhere to his idea while encountering heavy headwind.

So, what do I learn from Dave, and by the way from may others who made a change in history?

If you are deeply convinced that something is going to make a difference … keep your tail up, fight for it, make it happen!

Neither the pleasers nor the skeptics are making a team the winner. The Daves do.

 

 

The courage to talk

Recently, an esteemed colleague was thanking me for “courageous openness” with a previous email by me.

I have been very happy about this feedback. But I was also asking myself: is it really courageous to address important issues by mail … if there also had been opportunities to speak?

Honestly spoken, talking would have been courageous, face to face, eye in eye, vouching for my words.
Writing email is less.

Appreciate yourself!

Well … honestly spoken … I appreciate myself. Not always. But again and again. And I admit to enjoying it.

I appreciate myself for minor and major  achievements. Every time something worked as planned. Every time I kept milestones and budget … or even overachieved. Then, I am as pleased as Punch, deeply proud of myself, and I inwardly tell myself: “Well done, Christian!”

No, I do not miss appreciation by others. Most of the time I have been very fortunate having fellows and leaders, who acknowledged and esteemed my contribution … and myself. Hence, I always felt privileged. I never took it as granted, and I know that many others have to go without appreciation by others.

But especially then it is even more important to honor yourself, to self-appreciate your performance. For me, the joy about my own success goes along with self-respect; the value I give myself.

Frankly spoken, for quite a long time I thought that it would be absolutely common being pleased about own successes. A natural element of intrinsic motivation. Praise has been proven to be the best motivator. By praising myself I motivate myself. And that is how it also always felt for me. And over the years it carried me through various difficult situations.

Meanwhile I have learned that self-appreciation is by far common and generally understood. From time to time I meet people having a serious problem with appreciating themselves, appreciating their own performance.

But I think we agree that most successes are earned through hard work and are not to be taken as granted. For that reason, it should be well justified being proud of any single success. Not the narcissistic,  foppish type of self-praise … but the well-deserved inward self-appreciation for a real performance. No pride which is exaggerating the own person. But joy because you successfully delivered.

If I do not appreciate myself and my achievements … why should others do?

My motto for 2017

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-44), French pilot and writer


 

Of course yearning alone is not enough.

You certainly need quality wood, good tools, clear allocation of tasks, a plan and much more.

And yes, unfortunately I also know more than enough ‘hot-air guns’ in leadership positions, who contribute great visions (= yearnings) … but that has been it.

I would like to talk about myself instead. In the past, I realized that sometimes I got lost in bits and pieces of strategic or project planning and management during workaday’s life. This simply happens when you are working quite intensively and focused. I am sure you know what I mean.

The issue is that then the big picture easily gets lost. But this big picture is really important. It actually is the destination, the purpose of everything being done! Not adhering perfectly to the project plan or KPIs. Those are just resources and tools … but in daily routine they sometimes end in themselves. Neither the wood is the destination, nor is the ship. The destination is being able going out to sea and sailing to other places.

It is about motivation. To take along people, employees and colleagues. To not just let them settle tasks. But to actively include them in an exciting, promising and joint journey.

 

For me, Saint-Exupéry’s “yearning” is anticipation, joy, enthusiasm and identification. I am deeply convinced that this kind of “yearning” does not only yield in settling required tasks …

… but to jointly deliver superior achievements and true innovation. More than the best project plan ever could do.