Conference calls 101

Remember this video?

Having worked in international teams for the most part of my career, I couldn’t have done my job(s) justice without conference calls. While conference calls still cannot substitute good old fashioned face-to-face meetings starting with a handshake, they go a long way. But what happens when they start to make everyone less productive?

10 do’s and don’t’s of conference calls

  1. Time management: Try to respect everyone’s time especially when you’re in different time zones when scheduling calls
  2. Invite only necessary colleagues – identify critical stakeholders on a given project
  3. Send out an agenda prior to the call so everyone knows what to expect and is cognizant of the topics to be covered vis-a-vis the allocated time
  4. Your agenda should have a clear objective and intended outcome
  5. Be aware of your surroundings. We can hear your dog/baby/traffic/colleagues
  6. Speak up. If you tend to muffle or speak fast, learn to enunciate
  7. Stay on topic. If you find yourself or someone else going off on a tangent, agree to take the conversation offline
  8. If it’s a video conference, try to use video. The absence of video could give the impression that you’re not brave enough to face the hard questions
  9. Give a heads up to the call organizer if you need to drop off
  10. Have a follow up plan e.g. an email with meeting notes outlining next steps

Good luck!

Passion projects – what’s in it for you?

Passion projects are what I call adult hobbies. No, not that. I’m referring to investing your time and energy in projects that broaden your horizon, enrich your mind and nurture your soul. Passion projects allow you to focus on outcomes that don’t include performance reviews. Because your efforts aren’t being evaluated on pre-established KPI’s or being monetary or competitively incentivized, the drive will inevitably come from another stream of consciousness.

Passion projects can also be an opportunity to give back. For me, this blog where I share my experiences in the hope that they can benefit someone else, is a passion project. Being a contributor of Circle Women is a passion project as female empowerment is a subject I’m close to. Outdoor boot camp is another passion project – well, maybe that one’s a necessity but I’m passionate about it.

I have learned that the biggest growth comes from the school of life and passion projects allow me to decide which courses I want to be a part of. Rather than spending those free hours on Netflix or procrastinating about your to-do list, consider doing some soul searching to realize what drives you and turn that into a passion project. It will give you energy, widen your personal (and professional) network and maybe even make an unforeseeable contribution to society.

Curious about Circle Women? Get up to speed here.

What you didn’t know about Event Management

You wear many caps when you are in the event management space. As an Event Manager, you are the ultimate stage master, piecing together a complex, moving puzzle of teams with unique needs, locations and logistics. What “Event Manager” job descriptions won’t necessarily advertise is that you will also be a combination of:-

  • Business Continuity Manager
  • Communication Guru
  • Confidante
  • Executive Right Hand
  • Customers’ Best Friend
  • Content Specialist
  • Sales Support
  • Budget Owner
  • Project Manager
  • Caterer
  • Courier
  • Tour Guide
  • Airport Guide
  • Party Planner
  • Taxi Fare Person
  • Baby[Adult]sitter
  • Sleep, what’s that?

If any of the above are daunting or not something you aspire to do as a bi-product of being a meticulous event manager, you may want to consider another career path. If, on the other hand, you want to challenge your organizational and leadership skills, the sky’s the limit in the life of an event extraordinaire.

7 Senior Management Fears and how to Address them

Someone suggested I write about this topic so here goes. What can I share from my own observations as food for thought that could help someone else deal with their fear of senior managers? I myself have had the fortune of learning from some brilliant and encouraging managers who I have respected and admired. However, that can be a rarity. Whether you’re an introvert or a perfectionist who doesn’t take well to criticism, or you’re just starting off, the good news is that you will grow to learn a lot about conducting yourself with upper management. Perhaps the following scenarios are a good starting point.

Fear # 1:  I am not high enough in the food chain to be taken seriously by a senior manager

➡️ Everyone starts at the bottom. Do your research, know what you’re talking about and deliver with confidence. Let your work get you noticed. Also, good reviews travel through the grapevine.

Fear # 2: Senior management sits on a different floor behind closed doors – I can’t just walk up to them

➡️ That could be especially if your company has a hierarchical culture. Find out who their assistant or right hand is, get that meeting in the calendar and make sure the manager has a clear picture of your motivation and intended outcomes. Try and try until you get your meeting and when you get it, please oh please don’t be late and remember to thank them for their time.

Fear # 3: A senior manager has a reputation of being intimidating and difficult

➡️ Good news! You know this already and uncalled for behavior is less likely to throw you off in your interaction. Knowledge is power. Prepare yourself mentally and proceed with caution.

Fear # 4: I can’t say no to or disagree with a senior manager

➡️ It’s acceptable to disagree as long as you deliver your message with professionalism and have solid facts to support your argument. After this, be prepared to respect the manager’s decision.  They are the boss after all. Some managers actually prefer to build teams who challenge them. Figure out who you’re dealing with.

Fear # 5: I am maxed out but don’t want to appear like I am not dedicated to my job

➡️ Only you know your limits. It’s better to take a step back early and explain your reasons with supporting facts than to overstretch yourself and become a burden to the manager (and yourself) when you burn out.

Fear # 6: If I am too friendly to a senior manager s/he may question my motives

➡️ Friendly and agreeable go a long way. Ingenuity or a lack of effort to have a smile on your face will probably get your equally qualified or even less-qualified-but cheerful colleague a seat on an exciting new team over you.

Fear # 7: I am afraid to ask for a promotion or pay rise

➡️ Who isn’t! If you’re female, hundreds and thousands of articles, books and research will reassure you that this is common i.e: women are more likely to undersell themselves than their male counterparts in the workplace. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. These articles might help:

How to ask for a pay raise and get it [You may need to subscribe]

Why women don’t negotiate salary and what to do about it

 Why women and men need to negotiate pay rises differently

Are you helpful?

CORPORATE WIZ

I have often been told that I am a helpful colleague. I mostly attribute this to my roots – Pakistan is a collectivist nation and helping someone out isn’t uncommon. Then again, I emigrated over twenty years ago and have effectively spent most of my life in a Western European culture which endorses individualism.

Is being helpful necessary? No. Is it rewarded? Sometimes. Can it take time away from your own to-do list? Possibly. Does it elevate your personal brand? Most certainly!

How can you be a little more helpful in the workplace?

  1. Consider putting yourself forward for an assignment which supports your peers or manager but doesn’t necessarily fall under your scope. You will learn something new and position yourself as an enthusiastic and reliable team member.
  2. If you don’t have capacity to help, explain that you would like to but cannot afford to because of reasons x, y and z…

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Are you helpful?

I have often been told that I am a helpful colleague. I mostly attribute this to my roots – Pakistan is a collectivist nation and helping someone out isn’t uncommon. Then again, I emigrated over twenty years ago and have effectively spent most of my life in a Western European culture which endorses individualism.

Is being helpful necessary? No. Is it rewarded? Sometimes. Can it take time away from your own to-do list? Possibly. Does it elevate your personal brand? Most certainly!

How can you be a little more helpful in the workplace?

  1. Consider putting yourself forward for an assignment which supports your peers or manager but doesn’t necessarily fall under your scope. You will learn something new and position yourself as an enthusiastic and reliable team member.
  2. If you don’t have capacity to help, explain that you would like to but cannot afford to because of reasons x, y and z. Be sincere in your communication.
  3. Work late if it helps to achieve a greater objective like a project deadline even if you aren’t leading the project.
  4. Offer to provide coverage for colleagues on holiday and do a great job on their behalf.
  5. When others help you, thank them for their kindness and return the favor in their time of need.

What to avoid ..

  1. The line between being helpful and a doormat is a fine one. Know when to draw limits. You want to balance being helpful with commanding respect.
  2. Taking for granted situations where you are helped by colleagues both below and above your pay grade.
  3. Being helpful is great but making false promises doesn’t help to manage expectations. Only offer what you intend to deliver.
  4. Overstretching yourself to the point of a burn out or resentment. At this point you have defeated the purpose of helping and it’s working against you.
  5. Helping can be perceived as interference or your intentions may be questioned especially by those for whom being helpful isn’t second nature. In these cases, try to understand the scenario and personalities you’re dealing with before offering a helping hand.

Me, myself and I will only take you so far. Eventually, somewhere, you will need to lean on someone for support. Before this, you want to ensure that you have created a positive image among your colleagues, sufficient goodwill in the workplace and have led by example using the priceless four words How can I help?

What’s your path? 10 lessons from mine to yours

I vividly remember the excitement and pressure of making that single, well-informed move in my graduating year. After earning two Masters degrees from reputable universities, I [felt that I] was expected to know exactly what the right next move was, which companies I needed to apply to and the job title I had to show off as testament to the value I was bringing to the job market. What made it slightly more challenging for me was that I had a dual background in Business and Journalism. Was I going to dedicate the next 5-10 years of my life as a Marketer at a multinational or would I become a writer at a publishing house?

Today, I am proud to say that my route the last decade has been dramatically different to my peers and while not without struggle, it taught me a LOT and exposed me to different countries, unique company cultures and various personality types. It also allowed me to cleverly blend my skills in ways I couldn’t have planned.

So what was my path?

My path wasn’t as straightforward as study hard, graduate, get a job offer and stroll into a well established corporation. For starters, I graduated from my second masters at the peak of 2008’s recession (Note to self: Recessions don’t care about qualifications and degrees). Secondly, being a native English speaker, my opportunity pool in The Netherlands was much, much smaller. And third, I simply didn’t know that I was expected to think competitively with a clear picture of at least the next five years at the get go.

I must admit that I was also naive. For example, to this day I’m appalled that at the time, an internship to me meant just that: 3 – 6 months of work experience. I didn’t have the foresight to realize that an internship was a foot in the door to my future at a company. Similarly, I didn’t pursue a traineeship. I realized much later that traineeships carry more promise. An intern is more likely to be underpaid or not paid at all. Under a traineeship, an employer has a vested interest in you and is seeing you as a value add to their future equity.

In 2009, after a series of internships and freelance work in what seemed like the longest year amid a recession, I took a risk and relocated to London not knowing anyone and to no job waiting for me. Within a month, I had secured a job and was a happy Londoner, moving as fast as the pace of the city. I spent five years building my CV and credentials. In late 2014, I decided to move back home to Amsterdam, bringing with me a wealth of international experience that I wouldn’t have had if all had been dandy five years earlier.

So what is your path? Here’s sharing 10 lessons from my own journey:-

  1. It’s OK to not know your next step all the time. I have pushed myself and grown the most in times of uncertainty.
  2. Don’t be fazed by the rat race. Everyone has their own path. Remember Aesop’s Fables’ The Tortoise and the Hare?
  3. Everyone struggles. Some do at 20, others win hard until they burn out even harder at 30 or 40 only to start all over again.
  4. Make an effort to consistently learn and better yourself on the job and outside. The skills will help you somehow, somewhere, sometime.
  5. Success and failure are inevitable. They don’t define you. Accept them with a pinch of salt and keep looking ahead.
  6. Identify a mentor who has done the time and encourages you to reach your full potential. Brilliant mentors are rare – don’t take them for granted.
  7. Be aware of the naysayers because a rose wouldn’t be a rose without some thorns. See them as your call to aim higher.
  8. Recognize opportunities and work hard in every role within every team under every manager at every company. Reputation management is critical to sustain.
  9. Do your very own SWOT analysis and ask your colleagues for feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. The exercise can prove to be very insightful.
  10. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. You define the shades of green in your path.