Thursday, March 25, 2010

Reading Roundup

A sampling of good reading around the web:

  • The Think Big Project - I love finding people I know via Twitter, and today I stumbled on fellow Simmons alum Jennifer Johnston Canfield's website. Jen was a terrific team member in my Strategic Performance Measures course, and her website, as its title implies, thinks big.
  • Twitter Grader - Another fab tool from HubSpot, along the lines of Blog Grader and Website Grader, Twitter Grader will tell you the effectiveness of your Twitter profile. I scored 91/100.
  • Manifesto for the Content Curator - A recent opportunity came my way, and part of my research involved learning about content curation--something so new that my spell checker refuses to recognize the word curation. It's a fascinating concept, and this post from Rohit Bhargava is a great starting point on the topic.
  • Boston Hates Brutalism - I'm the only person I know who likes the design of City Hall, and this Fast Company piece talks about the buildings Bostonians dislike most. Bonus end video "Government Center" makes it doubly worth a click.
Feel free to share any fun links of your own in the comments!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Power of Asking for More

My boss has been on maternity leave since December, and in order to help bridge the gap, I was given responsibility for the department budget. Personally, I love budgeting (I think this may be why I loved Accounting so much in business school--that or my terrific professor, Susan Hass). Even more than keeping track of the budget, I love saving money. Who doesn't, really?

But what I've done in the past three months has been pretty substantial. In October I made the case to dismantle a printed communications campaign that was well received but had no ROI. Next, I worked on a project to create a single layout for all of my company's data file deliverables. In the course of doing that, I re-examined our printing quotes. I discovered that when we switched our communications from quarterly launches to monthly launches, the quotes were never changed to reflect the revised volumes--meaning we were paying thousands in monthly minimums that were unrealistic.

At Simmons, I took negotiations with Deborah Kolb, and I used all the tools I learned in her class to work on re-negotiating those monthly minimums. I researched our past agreements, the prices per piece, and pulled all the figures for our print volumes, both past and projected based on the size of our portfolio. I sent my spreadsheets to our vendor, and we scheduled a series of phone calls. It took effort, but I got the minimums changed--saving thousands of dollars.

I remember the first budget I managed--I mostly just ordered what people asked me to order, and wrote down the amounts and watched our allotment diminish over the course of a year. Now, I'm smart enough to look at what we spend and say, "how can I get more from this?" Today, I got a new quote for another print campaign, and that will save another $7,000 over the course of the year. By keeping an eye on our postage balance, I found we were over-crediting the account, and we won't have to spend $50,000 that was set aside for postage.

All told, my department will be under-budget by over $120,000. This is one of my proudest accomplishments in my current role.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Building a Better Manager

The New York Times recently ran a piece in the Magazine section entitled "Building a Better Teacher." The majority of the article focuses on the work of Doug Lemov, founder of Uncommon Schools. In his quest to distill the elements of good teachers, beyond people who are well versed in relevant subject matter, Lemov has developed a Taxonomy of Effective Teaching practices. To quote the article:

When Doug Lemov conducted his own search for those magical ingredients, he noticed something about most successful teachers that he hadn’t expected to find: what looked like natural-born genius was often deliberate technique in disguise. “Stand still when you’re giving directions,” a teacher at a Boston school told him. In other words, don’t do two things at once. Lemov tried it, and suddenly, he had to ask students to take out their homework only once.

It was the tiniest decision, but what was teaching if not a series of bite-size moves just like that?

Lemov thought about soccer, another passion. If his teammates wanted him to play better, they didn’t just say, “Get better.” They told him to “mark tighter” or “close the space.” Maybe the reason he and others were struggling so mightily to talk and even to think about teaching was that the right words didn’t exist — or at least, they hadn’t been collected. And so he set out to assemble the hidden wisdom of the best teachers in America.

Certainly Lemov isn't the first person to try and classify the behaviors that make better teachers, but it seems like he's making a lot of headway in convincing people to examine these traits.

But what I really took away from this taxonomy was the fact that the behavioral traits that make good teachers or "classroom managers" could be applied to almost any kind of leadership position. I was impressed enough to pre-order Lemov's book, Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College, to see what I could learn about effective behavior in management.

At Simmons, I took a lot of courses in organizational behavior, which were really helpful to me. I've always been intellectually intelligent, but it's taken a lot of work to improve my emotional intelligence, or EQ. It was part of the reason I chose the program--I knew that was something I needed to improve.

Of course, I already have incorporated some of Lemov's lessons, such as specific instructions. I used to work with a graphic designer who didn't always incorporate all of the edits I'd given to her for projects. So I began opening pdfs in Adobe Acrobat and using the highlight and note tools to mark up the projects, and writing out, letter by letter, what changes I needed. It's such an effective tool that I use that for almost every editing project I do--it's clear, easily understandable, and best of all, still electronically portable. It's far better to say "Align this headline with the blue bar in this picture" than, "pull this text down a little."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Showcase at Simmons School of Management This Weekend

If you're in the Boston area and are considering going for an MBA, I highly recommend checking out the MBA showcase at Simmons College this weekend. You can register for the event here.

The Simmons MBA is a terrific program with talented faculty, and lots of real world experience. The Career Services Office is fantastic, the students are encouraging, and there is a heavy emphasis on ethical behavior, Corporate Social Responsibility, and entrepreneurship.

If you've got questions about a Simmons MBA, please feel free to email me!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Resources for Professional Reading and Development

A friend of mine recently asked me how I know so much about what goes on all over the web. It was an interesting question, and the answer is automation. I subscribe to a number of email newsletters that bring tons of targeted information to my inbox. I check in randomly throughout the day, such as that last five minutes before a meeting, when there’s not enough time to get much productive work done.

Here are a sampling of my favorites, some I’ve mentioned before, and some new ones:

MindTools

James Manktelow sends a variety of management related articles to my inbox on a monthly basis. The articles from MindTools cover everything from how to make good decisions and prioritizing your workload to optimized purchasing and self-evaluation. You can subscribe to this newsletter here, or visit the website and check out the archives. Some items are only available with a paid subscription, but a fair portion are free to anyone.

Little Pink Book

While I still can’t stand the title of Pink Magazine, it’s still a nice journal for businesswomen that far outclasses other forays into this arena (namely Forbes Woman—which dwells on charity, shopping, and clothing tips for the board room). LPB is a daily snippet with links on topics that are relevant to business women. There are reviews of management books, ideas for entrepreneurs, financial tips, etiquette lessons, and more. Yes, there are some days that do throwback to great suits or perfect high heels, but the bulk of these daily notes deal with real business issues and development.

MyRagan

This is a site for communicators and PR professionals, and it’s sometimes a little slow in the forums, but I really love the daily soundbites on new marketing strategies, particularly how to use social media for personal or company branding. There are plenty of general office items in here, like discussing office safety policies or great “overheard in the office” material. Some of my cross posted blog items have made it into the weekly wrap up, which I appreciate, so it’s also a great place for developing writers to test out material.

Digital Tips Newsletter

Universal Graphics is a design group, but they send out a great newsletter full of tips and tricks for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that has taught even me, a power user, a few new things. If you work in an office with colleagues who ask a lot of questions like “how do I add a page break in this spreadsheet for printing?” this is a great resource to refer those questioners to. The only downside is that the email files are huge and can wreak havoc on your reading pane in Outlook.

Mannersmith Monthly

I was trying to find an honest to goodness Charm School when I stumbled upon Mannersmith. Jodi Smith and Marianne Cohen provide advice on how to handle plenty of social situations, from clueless newbies at the gym to appropriate tipping guides. They also have a Facebook page and blog.