A Teacher’s Summer

With the warm weather around the corner and the school year coming to an end, teachers everywhere are looking forward to time off from work to enjoy a relaxing summer. Two months off with nothing do to? Maybe…

I’ve spent some time talking to my teacher friends and learning what really goes on during the summer “vacation”. It’s not as stress-free as you might think. There are teachers that need to supplement their salary during the summers, so on their free time they are either looking for a part-time job or working at one. These are the summer jobs that most of them thought they (gladly) left behind after graduating college, but they are coming back to haunt them now even as a professional with a solid career. And with most teachers trying to avoid working with kids on their time off, it seems that jobs in childcare are the most prevalent summer gigs going.

Then there are those teachers that choose not to work in the summer and what a great perk that is. However, after enjoying a couple weeks off either at the beach, or at home with the family, the boredom sets in. Maybe your spouse works and your kids are off at camp/school. Maybe your roommates work 9-5 and you haven’t a clue what to do or who to make plans with during your weekdays. Not everybody has a vacation home at the beach in which they can enjoy the sun and surf all summer. What now? It’s all fun until you realize you are bored, restless and longing for excitement, except no one is around to share it with.

And don’t forget the preparation that goes into a school year. Many teachers start planning at the beginning of August for the September commencement. It takes a lot of time and smart planning to be a successful teacher, so there goes twenty-some of those vacation days.

I’m not saying we should all feel sorry for teachers on summer vacation— many teachers take time to map out their summer vacations to avoid such blunders—but it wouldn’t hurt to see a different side of things and maybe be a little more understanding when your teacher friends tell you it’s not as long or as relaxing as you think (You’re thinking, “Yeah, right”). Maybe the grass on the other side isn’t as green. Or maybe it’s a defense mechanism we use to feel less bad about our time-off envy 🙂

To all our favorite teachers out there, you’re doing a great job and you deserve the time off—just take us with you next time.

The Ultimate Project: A Wedding!

Today is my 3rd wedding anniversary, and as I sit here thinking on the last three years with my wonderful husband, I remember the planning, work, budgeting, risk analysis and all of the small details that go into preparing for a wedding.

Like many projects, I was excited in the beginning to have all of these great ideas and visions for how I saw it coming together in an effective and fabulous finished product.  But, as we all know, not everything will go as planned.  The first thing that is done is shopping for the DRESS!  It goes against all defined planning processes: The budget should be first in this instance (other than the dress as this is/can be emotionally driven in which budget then is thrown out of the window.)

The budget will vary from person to person. There are specific deliverables, tasks and identified resources.  This project, however, has absolutely NO float when it comes to the due date – it is an all or nothing prospect.  Everything is contingent upon deciding on what you are willing to spend on the wedding.  Then comes the date, venue, food, ceremony site (inside or out), guest list, seating chart, bridesmaids, favors, decorations, the honeymoon, and of course, the dress and all of the accessories that go along with that. Did I mention how important the dress is?

Our wedding had a budget determined and also allowed a small slush fund for extras. My mother bought my dress (Thanks, Mom!) and I got the shoes, the bag and headpiece.  I had decided upon my centerpieces.   Those proved to be a trial as I was designing and assembling them myself.  Flowers were not an option because of cost, and, with all of my excellent planning, I still wound up ordering, returning and re-ordering materials and we were doing the final design for them at about 10pm the night before the big day!

I found that even with my project management experience, I still overlooked certain details, did not analyze all of the risks, and was running around at the 10th hour trying to finish tasks.  Planning is everything. Remember, every deliverable, no matter how small, is just as important as…the dress! OK, not the dress, but the person you are marrying!  Happy Anniversary to my husband, Al!

Focus on Assessment — Oral Presentation

It is no secret that oral presentation is not everyone’s strong suit, even though it is a crucial competency in the professional world. Oral presentation, for our purposes, can be defined as presenting ideas effectively to individuals or groups when given time for preparation (including nonverbal communication and use of visual aids); or targeting presentations to the characteristics and needs of the audience.

Oral presentation is a competency needed to illustrate important ideas internally to higher-ups or externally to current or potential clients, for example. These types of presentations require similar skills on the part of the speaker and are of the utmost importance regarding both internal and external ventures.

When interviewing someone for a job that requires superior oral presentation skills, make sure that they can:

1. Present to superiors and peers with equal effectiveness: Someone should be able to speak just as well to superiors as they can to their peers. Their skills should remain consistent no matter what the occasion of the presentation or who is present.

2. Use multiple approaches to communicate: This person does not rely on the same, overused technique each time they are required to present information. They are able to utilize various forms of communication to present in the best way possible for that particular situation.

3. Handle demanding presentations: Performing under stress and on short notice is a reality of any business. A skilled speaker can handle a lot in a short amount of time, and do it successfully.

4. Keeps attention of large groups: We can all relate to sitting through a boring presentation. So much can be lost on a group if the speaker does not keep its audience engaged.

Of course, these are just a handful of important assets to someone with high oral presentation skills. Oral presentation is a hard competency to test for unless that person is put into a real situation. Ask the interviewee to give thorough examples and to play out the experience as best they can.

Running/Walking/Doing for a Cause

In a world filled with disease and hardship, it is nice to know that there are thousands of people out there who want to help make a difference. Whether it is a run for cancer, a walk for Diabetes or a dip in the icy cold winter ocean for Autism, there are causes for good and thousands of people supporting them.

Last week, Dana wrote about Aspen Advisors’ involvement in the WALK: MS Philadelphia fundraiser for Multiple Sclerorsis from a project management POV. A lot goes into the lifecycle of a charitable event from start to finish, and it is hard work. But in addition to that, we have to recognize the people actually affected by a particular disease, their friends and family, to make any event successful. That is the pro and the con to any successful fundraiser. Yes, it is wonderful to raise a lot of money and support, but that abundance wouldn’t come unless these horrible diseases weren’t affecting so many people. That is why I think it’s important to focus on what this really is all about.

What about the diseases that don’t affect more than 1/10,000,000 people? It must be very hard for families to find the same kind of support for a rare, unknown disease as it is for one that is more common; yet, its victims are still fighting just as strongly. I propose that, as a group of charitable people, we make advancement towards new causes, perhaps ones we have never heard of before. We could take something small and turn it into a big deal. From a marketing perspective, we could be the “PR Mavens” for these diseases and make people more aware of them. There is really nothing to lose except ignorance and the number of people affected by the disease.

Aspen Advisors is proud to have been involved with many charities over the last six years. For every walk or run we’ve done, being able to give to others is the best feeling in the world, no matter what the cause or what business you are in. If you have any ideas for our next charitable event, email me at Allyson@myaspenadvisor.com. I’d love to hear from you and make a difference together.

Click here to sign-up for, donate to, or learn more about WALK: MS Philadelphia on Saturday, May 6.

Being a Good Coach: How to talk to Senior Leaders

When HR says that it wants to be strategic, it has to realize that a large part of being strategic is learning to communicate effectively with senior operating management.  However, it doesn’t stop there. You want to be a person of insight and a person of influence. You want senior managers to turn to HR when a problem pops up.

So, how do you get the attention of senior management, impress him or her, and then influence his or her way of thinking? The best way to do this is to identify the hot button issues that are clearly on his/her agenda. Once the issues are identified, get in front of them. Don’t email. Don’t call. Push for face-to-face contact. When in front of them, be brief, be direct and offer value. Here’s how to do it effectively and efficiently:

Step 1:  Introduce the topic. This step is a courtesy and should take no more than 90 seconds. Be succinct. Be clear. State only the facts.

Step 2:  Provide some analysis. What this means is outline the sensitivities around the situation, as well as the opportunities. Again, state only the facts and keep this to 90 seconds or less.

Step 3: Give them the goal. It’s a good idea to give them the goal up front. In other words, it’s beneficial to let them know how things will be different as a result of your little chat. This step should be no more than 60 seconds. Don’t overwhelm with unnecessary detail.

Step 4:  Provide options. You have 90 seconds to get them some options.  Train yourself to offer them three (3) options:

1.  The “do nothing” option.  This is always a strategic consideration.

2.  The “100% solution.”

3.  The “125% solution.” Give them more than what they expect.

Step 5: Provide your recommendation. Always be ready with a recommendation. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you really think. It’s okay to disagree and challenge their assumptions. Remember, you are not making the decision for them; you are simply providing insight.

Members of senior management are driven, busy, and focused. If HR is going to help them, you need to ensure that you not only get their attention, but also offer them practical insight to make sound business and people decisions.