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I’ve always been the kind of person who says yes to new work-related challenges, frequently out of pure enthusiasm for the opportunities. Sometimes it makes sense to say no, of course, but in a tough economic climate yes is often the necessary response to organizational shifts that happen in the wake of layoffs and restructuring. No matter what the economic conditions, there’s an art to taking on a new responsibility. During my years of saying yes, I’ve practiced that art a lot. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Don’t just talk with your predecessor — interview her. If you have access to the person who used to do what you’re about to begin doing, sit down and have a meaningful dialogue. Don’t merely ask for information and materials; inquire about the essence of the responsibility: What are the stakeholders really looking for? What’s the best way to feel fulfilled by the work? If you can’t connect with your predecessor or if the work is brand new, interview the person who created or bestowed the responsibility. I’ve found that if you do this properly, the main conversation takes about an hour of very substantive talk, with a couple of shorter follow-ups.
2. Give the new work its proper physical space. Before you dive deeply into the details, allot your new responsibility its own electronic folders, space in your file drawers, section of your cubicle wall, or whatever else is required. Spatial integration is vital to overall integration.
3. Look for overlap with your existing duties. If you treat a new responsibility as simply additive, chances are you’ll feel swamped. Even if the new work is very different from your current work, opportunities to kill two birds with one stone are likely to exist, certainly in terms of scheduling and probably much more than that. Sometimes it’s just a matter of doing tasks that tap similar parts of your brain back to back (see my previous post, “The Art of the Self-Imposed Deadline”).
4. Delegate for efficiency. Each time I assume a new responsibility, I find that there are discrete components that colleagues can do better — and that they are often happy to take these on because they appreciate that I’ve already stepped up to the plate. If your decision to delegate is based on the merits — i.e., on finding efficiencies and improving quality — most people will respect that and act accordingly. Coworkers are very good at telling the difference between sharing responsibilities intelligently and simply unloading work.
5. Check in with yourself. Soon after taking on a new responsibility, be sure to take time every week to evaluate the effect that the new work is having on your other duties, on your feeling of professional fulfillment, and on your work/life balance. Use what you discover to update your decisions about overlap and delegation, even about your physical space. If something needs to change, it’s best to identify that early rather than after processes are deeply entrenched.
What are your techniques for assuming a new responsibility smoothly?
Over the past five years I’ve worked off-site and online for employers across the country using email, chat, and web-based collaboration apps. My work life has been the envy of my traditional nine-to-five friends. While they suit up in an office-appropriate outfit, grab the briefcase, and brave a commute every weekday, I get to work from home (and my employers get to save money on office space).
But working with people in different cities and time zones with minimal face time presents a whole new set of challenges. While the tools available for working remotely are better than ever, it’s how you use them that really counts. Constant and clear communication is the key to a good remote working relationship. Here are some best practices I’ve found for working remotely online.
Sharpen your email skills. Email will be the primary means of communicating with your remote worker or manager, so you’ve got to get good at staying on top of your inbox. This is especially important if you’re in different time zones and wake up to new messages sent while you were sleeping and send out a few before your local quitting time. If you’re the remote worker, give messages from your manager high priority and turn them around quickly to assure him or her that you’re actually working at home (and not playing Guitar Hero). Be clear and concise in your replies, and make sure you cover all the bases to avoid unnecessary back and forth. For example, if your remote worker or manager sends an email with several questions or comments embedded in the body of the message, answer inline so that that conversation is easy to follow and cite. If your remote co-worker sends a request or message that will take more than a day for you to act on, don’t leave him or her hanging. answer with an acknowledgment: “Sounds good. I’ll get back to you about it on Tuesday.” Where possible, avoid sending file attachments with revisions back and forth. Instead, opt for online collaborative tools that let everyone work on the same master copy in the cloud, like Google Docs, Zoho, or Approver.
Be “present” via instant messenger or Web-based chat. Even if you’re not sitting at the office, you can be available to chat as you work via instant messenger. Not every office uses IM, but when your project requires short bursts of communication or consultation, instant messaging is quicker and more efficient than email. While all the classic services like AIM, Google Talk, or Yahoo Messenger can work if your client uses them, there are other options as well. Web-based group chat Campfire is an excellent option when you or your client doesn’t want to install an IM program. You access a Campfire group chat by just visiting a web page. Campfire provides a virtual “room” where you and your client can drop in and out, and exchange short messages and files. The chat transcript stays in one place that everyone can bookmark, every conversation transcript is archived and searchable, and you can easily swap files without worrying about firewalls or incompatible instant messenger programs or protocols getting in the way.
Collaborate online with the tools that best fit your client and project. Whether you need to co-edit a single spreadsheet or organize a giant to-do list into sub tasks, there’s a free or cheap web application that can help you get it done. For contracts with a milestone-studded timeline, shared to-do lists and files, and multiple people involved, you want an online project management app. Leading web-based project management tool Basecamp offers a central hub where you and your clients can log in, manage task lists, dates, track billable hours, share files, and have conversations on a per-issue basis in comments. A company I work with, Pelotonics, offers a similar solution. To collaborate on individual office documents, like a spreadsheet, document, or slideshow, try Google Docs or Zoho, where you can even chat with your collaborators as you edit inline. A hosted wiki, like at Editme.com or PBworks, offers a shared knowledge base that you and your client can add to, edit, and keep revisions over time. Many modern webapps for individuals offer some level of sharing or collaboration abilities, including Google Calendar, Evernote, and Remember the Milk.
Set up regular voice or video chat check-ins. As online workers, it’s easy to begin relying entirely on textual communication mediums like email or IM instead of the phone. But it’s easy to forget how people on-site bond with small talk over the water cooler, or during cigarette or lunch breaks. Not only can a regular 10-minute phone or Skype call save you time by preempting long email threads, it can also help you touch base in a human way. The sound of your remote manager or freelancer’s voice saying “How was your weekend?” or “Welcome back from your vacation” can go a long way to building an effective working relationship.
Have you managed freelancers online only, or worked off-site yourself? What were the biggest advantages and challenges? Tell us about it in the comments below.
The question is, “What percentage of my donation goes to the cause?”, also known as the admin:program ratio, the “efficiency” measure, or the overhead ratio. Whatever you call it, itʼs hopelessly flawed, widely abused, utterly useless, a pathetic substitute for meaningful information about a nonprofitʼs work, inept at exposing fraud, and a danger to human life. In my next few posts Iʼll deconstruct these many failings.
For today, I simply want to shine a light on how widely accepted and applied it is, that we might appreciate just how much opportunity it has to do its damage. Why? Because there is the widespread illusion among those of us who read the Stanford Social Innovation Review and all the latest articles on venture philanthropy that the world has moved on to more sophisticated measurements of nonprofit work. It hasnʼt. Policy makers and thought leaders at the highest levels — not to mention the general public at large — 1) never consider asking a question other than What percentage of my donation went to the cause, 2) are not aware that thereʼs another question available to them, and 3) have never heard of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. We have a long way to go.
All three of the watchdog agencies — Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau, and the American Institute of Philanthropy — prioritize the measure in their charity profiles. All set some guideline for it. And all penalize a charity for falling short of those guidelines. In turn, most of the statesʼ attorneys generalsʼ websites tell consumers to inquire about a charityʼs overhead percentage and/or to go to one of the watchdogs to ascertain it. The media consistently tells consumers to visit watchdog websites to find out about overhead ratios before donating (the Better Business Bureau site sees enormous spikes on the occasions of tsunamis and other disasters). And, in a tragically ironic dynamic of circular reinforcement, most of the major charities, knowing the public demands low overhead ratios, place the watchdog seal of approvals (for which they must have low overhead to qualify) on their website homepages as badges of low-overhead honor.
In 2002 the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance commissioned a study that asked respondents what information they wanted when considering donating to a charity. Seventy-nine percent wanted to know what percentage of their donation went to charitable programs. Remarkably, only 6% wanted to know if the donation would make a difference. How can that be, you ask? Well, the media, the watchdogs, and the sector itself have done an amazing job of training the public to think that the two things are the same, i.e., that if a charity has low overhead, it must be making a difference. Major studies on the relationship between organizational strength and impact find otherwise.
A 2008 Ellison Research study showed that 62% of Americans believe charities spend too much on overhead. In Paul C. Lightʼs 2008 NYU study, 70% of respondents said charities waste either “a great deal,” or “a fair amount of money.” Why would they feel that if they werenʼt asking about overhead ratios all the time, right? I was in the WGBH green room with a prominent Massachusetts political official prior to an interview on my book recently. When I told him it was about charity he glanced left and right as if about to divulge a state secret and quizzed me, “You know what question I always ask before I give to charity?” “Let me guess,” I thought to myself. “What percentage of the money goes to overhead,” he said with a confident nod.
I wonʼt rest my case on an anecdote, but try it yourself. Ask a couple of your sophisticated friends what question they ask. Or ask yourself what you think theyʼd say if you did.
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Mumbai, June 16 : The BSE Sensex fell by over 253 points in early commerce Tuesday thanks to the massive selling by foreign funds triggered by an overnight slump in the global markets.
New Delhi, June 16 : Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee held pre-budget discussions with leaders of Congress party ahead of the budget for full fiscal year 2009/10 (April-March) that would be presented on July 6.
A beefed up US Federal Reserve and a new `council of regulators` are among sweeping changes to the American regulatory system, expected to be announced by President Barack Obama, today.The measures …