Friday, March 25, 2011

What would you do when your e-mail backfires?

In today’s world, almost everyone communicates through e-mails, SMS, or twitter. While these communication channels have made it faster and easier to convey our messages, it took out the human element from the communication. Thus, sometimes our messages are interpreted differently. Hence, we need to make sure that our messages are conveyed to the right people, and their interpretation of that message is same as our interpretation of the same message.

If we fail to recognize this then we can end up in a big trouble. For example: In one of my MBA class, I work with a group of four people. One day, I wrote an e-mail to my group regarding some work assignment. And I used one of my team mate’s name (say Mr. X) as an example to ‘not do something’. Since, I knew him from my other classes and we had close friendship; I thought he will understand my humor behind this analogy. But that e-mail backfired on me. On the other day, Mr. X wrote me a long e-mail explaining, how I offended him. And how he is unhappy about that e-mail.

Obviously, I took corrective action to explain my situation and apologized to him for any unintended behavior from my side. That’s where I got an idea about this blog. I hope, my suggestions in this blog helps you in better communicating with your peers through e-mails, SMS and Twitter. Following are few tips that I would recommend you to follow:

Use of smilies: If you are trying to be humorous in your e-mail then use smilies after your statement. Smilies will go a long way in explaining your stand behind that statement. In my situation, if I would have used a smilie after providing a bad example of Mr. X, nothing would have happened. Mr. X would have understood my message and he would have considered that message, as humorous instead of offensive.

Proof read your e-mail: Make sure that you proof read your message, before you send it to someone. If it is a message about ‘corrective action’, then please proof read it thrice (if possible). E-mails about ‘corrective actions’ are already very sensitive, and you don’t want to overcomplicate it by sending unclear messages. Also, try to put yourself in to the shoes of the reader, and read the e-mail again. Don’t send any e-mails that will offend you, if you were on the other side of the spectrum.

Ask for feedback: Always ask for the feedback. You can use wordings like – “Let me know, if you need anything else from my side”. Feedback mechanism will not only make sure that your message is conveyed properly but also provide an opportunity for the receiver to provide their feedback. Since, I always use this mechanism in my e-mails, Mr. X felt comfortable enough to confront me regarding my e-mail. This gave me an opportunity to explain my position. Thus, don’t ever forget to ask for feedback.

Apologize for miscommunication: In the worst case scenario (like me), never hesitate to apologize. Few words of apologies go a long way. Don’t just apologize by writing something like “Sorry” in your response. Write a brief e-mail regarding your statement, and explain how he/she might have misinterpreted that. This will give you an opportunity to explain yourself and strengthen your relationship with the receiver of that e-mail.

I hope, these tips will help you to better communicate with your team. And if you have any better suggestions, then please feel free to share it with me. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

Friday, March 18, 2011

How to resolve 3 key challenges of a virtual team?

In today’s global business world, there are higher chances that you will end up leading a virtual team at some point in time. Though basics of leadership remain the same in a virtual team, however, the members of a virtual team work at different times and different places. This will make your leadership tasks much more complex and difficult. In this blog, I will talk about 3 key challenges of virtual teams and my practical approaches to resolve those challenges.

Building Trust:

PROBLEM: As with all teams, trust is a key factor in determining virtual team’s success. Building trust in a virtual team, where people speak different languages, come from different cultures, and live in different time zones is very challenging.

SOLUTION: These challenges can be resolved by different approaches. The approach that works for me is to use of facial pictures in e-mail exchanges. This will help you a long way by putting a human element in to virtual communication and reminding people about the person who sent this message.

Taking ownership:

PROBLEM: The virtual nature of the team and its assignment can make the virtual team’s project seem less real and pressing, with the serious consequences that team members fail to take ownership of the project.

SOLUTION: I might not have the perfect answer to resolve this issue, but here is what I do: Lay down team’s mission and explain the reasons behind that mission. In this way, they can connect their goals to this mission and I get more buy-ins from them. Then I try to share control over defining team’s objectives and process. This helps me build the climate of self-determination and ownership.

Maintaining visibility:

PROBLEM: “Out of sight, out of mind” may explain why it is easy for a virtual team to become isolated and forgotten by the organization. Thus, maintaining visibility becomes a real challenge in a virtual team environment.

SOLUTION: Again, I might not have the perfect solution for this challenge, but here are few steps that I follow:

  • Invite key decision makes, stake holders and project managers in the weekly conference call.

  • Include these key decision makers in some of your important e-mail chains.

  • Publicize your achievements through group e-mails and team’s website.

  • Follow up with key stake holders regularly to check up on the project progress and get their feedback.

I hope these tips help you in resolving your day-to-day challenges of virtual team management. And let me know, if you have any other suggestions. I am always looking for your feedback. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Is cutting higher education the answer for reducing budget deficit in Nevada?

I don’t consider myself as either republican or democrat, but I believe that government should not raise taxes about a certain threshold. I know that times are tough, and government deficit is flying over the roof. Thus, every State in the USA has to cut their spending in one form or another (no doubt about that). But my question to my readers is – Can we create a sustainable society in any country/state/region by cutting spending in Education? For example: Brian Sandoval’s new budget proposal proposes to cut more than 25% of spending in the higher education sector of Nevada.

You don’t need to be an expert to realize that cutting education will impact heavily on Nevada’s economy. Nevada is one of the unfortunate State in the USA, where high school graduation rate is below 60%. Over this, if Mr. Sandoval cut higher education spending, then Nevada will be left with unskilled labor force resulting even higher unemployment. I can understand the intention behind Mr. Sandoval’s budget cut plan. In theory, you can attract more businesses to a particular State/region by reducing taxes. But sometimes those theoretical approaches don’t work in real life. Let’s say, this budget cut will help us solving the short-term budget deficit of Nevada. And Nevada will be successful in attracting new businesses by providing tax cuts. But what will happen when they come to Nevada? Where will they get their workforce from?

History shows that the education had played an important role in the growth of economies, regions and even countries. India wouldn’t have capitalized on ‘Y2K’ and ‘dot com’ boom, if it didn’t have highly skilled labor force. There might not be any direct relationship between education and growth of the economies, but I am sure that they are highly correlated. Without appropriate education, we can’t expect our future generation to deal with difficult times like these.

In summary, I agree that Nevada needs to cut its spending to reduce budget deficit. And unfortunately, part of it has to come from higher education. But if these cuts are not implemented properly then Nevada will be left with even higher unemployment and no future perspectives.

So, what do you think? Do you agree with Mr. Sandoval's plan for budget cuts? Please feel free to share your opinion. I am always looking for your feedback. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi