The Tipping List
Surprises are Best Left at the Birthday Party
4 ways to avoid pitfalls – and prepare for the unexpected
In most social settings, surprises are a good thing. Like when I recently celebrated a milestone birthday and my friends surprised me with a weekend away at an undisclosed location. THAT was a nice surprise. Flowers for no reason – also a nice surprise. An unexpected pat on the back – bring it on.
But a project running over budget – bad surprise. I won’t meet a deadline – another bad surprise. The integration isn’t yielding the cost savings expected – there’s going to be trouble.
Surprises at work are neither fun nor productive. Rack up enough of them and you’ll be facing certain elimination or definite career stagnation. Here are a few tips on how to save the surprises for your boss’s birthday party and not your budget meeting:
1. Planning is the best prevention. Make it a point to outline the full project with delivery dates and deliverables. Then, ask yourself if the allotted time frame is realistic. Being aggressive is one thing; setting yourself up to fail is another (and a guaranteed invitation for – you guessed it – bad surprises).
2. Status report, status report, status report. My rule with my team and my supervisor is “No surprises.” I won’t surprise you, and I expect you’ll keep me informed so we can avoid the dreaded surprise. Boring? Conservative? Managing by CMA? I don’t think so. Rather, it’s about planning, and being smart and strategic. Keep your project leader, supervisor and team lead up to speed with each phase of a project. If you foresee bumps in the road or a necessary shift in strategy, say so – NOW. And ask for the same from others, even your boss. For example, I ask my supervisor to keep me apprised of expectations and feedback on my performance. I don’t want to have a conversation at year-end discussing my performance and – surprise! – something I did in the first quarter was deemed inadequate. I can’t do anything about it 11 months later. Don’t wait – say.
3. Plan B is not just a morning-after pill. In all reality, situations sometimes occur that leave you little recourse. IT doesn’t deliver, the front line doesn’t make their quotas for the quarter, there’s a major reorganization. Be ferociously pragmatic. Consider the many “what-ifs,” and build contingency plans around them so you’re ready to execute on Plan B if you need to.
4. Arrive armed with a solution. Let’s be realistic – again. In the event that you must drop a bomb, have a backup plan that you can clearly articulate on the spot. It’s a double whammy to say “Surprise!” and not provide a well-thought-out solution. You’ll be much more likely to secure your supervisor’s or team lead’s support if you arrive with a fix for the problem – and, believe me, you’ll paint yourself as a problem solver rather than a problem creator. As a supervisor myself, I think that’s always a nice surprise.