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Category Archives: Best Practices

5 Ways to Achieve Work-Life Balance

Best Practices, Employee Engagement, General Life/Work, Human Resources, SAHRA—The Sacramento Area Human Resources Association, SHRM

By Melissa McManus, Ed.D and SHRM-CP

Work-life balance. I am sure you have heard this phrase before or even tried to fulfill its simple message: To balance your work and personal life.

Some of you might be thinking, “Yep, I’ve got this down to a science,” while others might be thinking, “It seems so easy, why can’t I just do it?”

Well, I am about to let you all in on a little secret…I know from personal experience that there is no magic answer or solution—work-life balance is something you have to actively think about and try doing.

As a Human Resources professional, one of my responsibilities making sure my employees can find ways to have this balance, which is important. Not only should it important to the individual, but it is important from an employer standpoint as well. Ever hear the expression, “Happy wife, happy life?” Well, we can apply that same principle here: “Happy employee, happy organization!”

Employees who feel rundown, overworked, or stressed are more likely to be less productive. It is easy to get caught up in our work, especially when we love what we do and who we work with and for. However, it is equally important to unplug (sometimes literally) once the work day has ended and take time for yourself and your loved ones. Sometimes this is easier said than done, as I have found myself putting in 10 hour days without even realizing it.

So, how do you make sure to balance work and life appropriately? Here are some tips that you might find helpful.

  1. Be Organized: Stay as organized as you can throughout the day; set goals or make lists. Use whatever methods are effective, depending on what organization looks like for you personally. Find a way to prioritize and delegate tasks accordingly.
  2. Breathe: Remember to take breaks and refocus throughout the day. Sometimes I find that taking a quick walk or doing some simple stretches (especially important for those of us who work at a desk or in a seated position all day) can help you reset and allows you to be more productive and less stressed.
  3. Be Flexible: Be open to flexibility in your work and ask for flexibility when needed. We all need a little wiggle room at times and being flexible and having flexibility can lead to higher productivity—a win-win situation!
  4. Be Efficient: When you are at work, be efficient by staying present, avoiding distractions, and staying focused on your tasks. This can be as simple as keeping a clean work space, organizing your tasks or projects for the day, creating a timeline and sticking to it as much as possible, and delegating tasks as appropriate. Working efficiently allows us to get more done at a quicker pace and worry less when we go home (or get us home faster). Work smarter!
  5. Communicate: Communication is the cornerstone to just about everything. If you need something, ask for it. Whether it’s a day off or assistance with a project, be sure to communicate what you need—those around you cannot read your mind.

These tips might seem simple, but give them a try. By doing a few simple things, you may find yourself more energized, productive, and less stressed throughout the day and at night when you go home. Remember, it’s okay to leave work at work; I promise it will be there when you get back!

About the Author: Dr. Melissa McManus is a Human Resources Professional and research guru. One of her greatest strengths is her resolute ability to soak in new information and her never-ending thirst for knowledge. Melissa has a Master’s degree in Counseling, and a Doctorate degree in Educational Leadership with a focus in Human Resource Development. Melissa’s professional interests include human behavior, career development, research, writing, training, and knowledge transfer. She is passionate about life and describes herself as an avid bookworm. In her free time, when she is not running her kids to gymnastics or karate, Melissa enjoys reading (a lot), wine tasting, being with friends/family, and spending time with her husband and two children.

How to Use tools from Work to make the Holiday Season Easier and Happier

Best Practices, Communications, General Life/Work, Managing/Leadership, Organizational Change Management (OCM), Project Management

By Judi Phelps

‘Tis the season to get overwhelmed by holiday parties, Secret Santas, decorating the house, numerous family functions, and all the other festive activities that can take over your life this time of year. On top of that, the end of year is always a busy time at work, as you try to get everything off your desk and out of your email inbox before leaving the office for a week.

I was thinking recently about all we have to do in both our personal and professional lives during the holidays it got me thinking—how can we take the skills we use in the office every day and apply them to our personal lives? If we project managed our personal lives a little bit, perhaps we would be able to increase the quality and quantity of the time we get to spend with our friends and loved ones—not to mention entering 2018 feeling like we have things under control.

Here are some of my suggestions for project managing your holiday season:

  1. This can be overwhelming, but gather the family and begin the conversation to determine what your plans are this holiday season.
    • Prioritize Tasks: Decide what you want or what needs to get done this season, plus which events are most critical or which you are most excited to attend. Make sure you ask your family their vision for what the holiday celebration should be. Then determine the level of commitment from yourself and others—do you have the commitment needed to accomplish all your tasks?
    • Make a Timeline: Look at what is on the schedule. Whether it’s extra choir rehearsals, cleaning, decorating, or addressing envelopes, schedule everything out so you have a clear picture of what needs to get done by when.
    • Identify resources (both physical and financial): Assign roles to complete the tasks. Seek volunteers for tasks no one wants to do (e.g., clean the bathroom before guests arrive; make room in the coat closet). Maybe an older grandson and friend could put the lights on the house. It may not be how you would have done them, but it gets the job done! My 3- year-old grandson actually helped me decorate their Christmas tree this year—this is a great memory and the tree got decorated! Just don’t forget to empower your team—you should be willing to accept imperfect results!
    • Plan for Contingencies: Have a backup plan for when things go haywire. Perhaps you and your best friend had dinner plans but you’ve run out of time for shopping—will your friend combine shopping with visiting?
  2. Change Management: A year goes by in a flash, but 365 days is actually a long time! Some change is bound to happen!
    • Take inventory of your contact list. Marriages, divorces, new babies, moves? Whether it’s updating the Christmas card list with a new address or adding a new nephew to your gift list, make sure you are working with the most up-to-date information.
  3. Communication Management: You can do all the planning and scheduling in the world, but if no one is informed or consulted on what’s happening, then the plan doesn’t mean much!
    • Think about the most effective way to make sure everyone knows what is happening and when. Ask your family/friends which communication method works best—maybe it’s a Facebook chat or a group text. Perhaps a Google doc where everyone can make edits as needed. Just make sure everyone knows what’s going on so they are not left in the dark—remember everyone else has their own plans too!
  4. Work toward the Goal: As you move through each item in this process, remember the goal…
    • …to have fun and celebrate! Perfect is not the goal, and you may find that a little breathing and perspective will make a misadventure a memory!

Getting all of this together may not be possible, but approaching the season with the same skills you use to conquer the business or project issues you deal with everyday could get you further along to a less stressful holiday season. I know I’m working on it!

About the Author: Judi Phelps has a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and worked for the State of California for more than 38 years, starting as a part-time clerk-typist and ending as a Staff Manager II. Judi worked almost all of that time in various areas of the Medi-Cal program, implementing program policies as well as working to develop policies. As a consultant, Judi currently works with clients to look for better ways to achieve the mission. Judi loves singing and scrapbooking—sometimes together!—for both the paper-craft and the time with friends aspects. Judi enjoys traveling, entertaining, and making memories (to put into scrapbooks) with her two grandsons.

7 Smart Ways to Make Your Sprint a Success

Agile, Best Practices, Certified ScrumMaster (CSM), Corporate Training, KAIP Academy, Learning, Project Management, Project Management Professional (PMP), Sacramento, Scrum, Training, Waterfall

By Michael Bosch, CSP, PMI-ACP, CSM, CSPO

KAI Partners is excited to share a guest blog post by Michael Bosch, Agile Services Director of Brightline Solutions, Inc., a locally-based firm offering Agile Delivery and Change Management Services to public sector organizations and private sector firms.

Remember, KAIP Academy offers Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) training courses! For more information or to register your team and take them to the next level, click here.

Establishing all the components of an Agile framework (even a lightweight one) can be a daunting task for any organization. If yours is one that has decided to take the transformation plunge, then you’re likely planning (or have already started) your iteration cadence.

Timeboxed development periods, known as iterations or sprints (the latter promoted in the Scrum methodology), are the foundational rhythm to the “groove” of Agile. Supported by other elements such as roadmapping, release planning, demonstrations, and retrospectives, sprints are the dominant architectural feature of the Agile framework. And for good reason:

Sprints are where all the work is performed and where the innovation occurs.

The best sprint lengths are one to three weeks. If multiple Agile teams are working in your organization, the common wisdom is to have them running on a synchronized sprint schedule. The most critical aspect of running an iteration is that the team is formed in such a way that it can perform the work foreseeably asked of it, that the team is empowered and entrusted to a sufficient degree, and that the entire product community (not just the team, but everyone involved in its work) understands the mindsets, roles, and expectations required in Agile.

With that foundation in place, you’re ready to start looking to optimize your team’s sprint so that success becomes predictable. Below are seven things high-performing Agile teams do that you can use to ensure your sprints are optimized for business-driven delivery.

1. Create and Promote a Sprint Theme or Goal: One of my favorite ways to focus a team on the sprint is to ask the members to put together a headline of what is to be produced, accomplished, and attained in the upcoming iteration. I’ll ask, “If this next sprint was a newspaper article, what is its headline?” This technique allows the team to:

  • be concise and pithy,
  • create understanding amongst themselves,
  • share insights; and
  • have fun putting a “brand” on their effort to keep a sharp focus on what’s being delivered and why.

2. Encourage the Product Owner and Sponsors to Address the Team: Another stand-by technique to promote success in a sprint is to allow time for the product owner, sponsor, or both to speak to the team about why the planned work is important. Have them speak about the features that will be created and why these are important to the organization, its customers, and their users. I once had a sponsor talk to a team before a sprint about the importance of the new feature set to the world—you have never seen such commitment as I saw in that team in that timebox. Have your sponsor and product manager make the visit—the time invested can translate to delivered value.

3. Establish and Drive an Effective Product Backlog Grooming Process: Disaggregation (a term Agilists use to describe the defining a set of items that will result in the production of the whole) of the product into logical components, commonly referred to as “epics,” and the subsequent disaggregation of those epics into producible items (or “stories,” in Scrum) is the chief responsibility of the product manager (“product owner” in Scrum). This role works in close coordination with the development team, usually working with the Agile Coach (in Scrum, it may be the ScrumMaster) and/or other team members to prioritize the items listed in the product backlog, or PBL, prior to each sprint as part of its planning process.

There are several techniques that can be employed to support and mentor the work of a product manager (stay tuned for future blog posts on this topic!) and there are multiple resources on the Internet to get a good PBL up and running. The take-home message:

Make sure there is a close, communicative connection between the development team and the product owner throughout product development, and that the PBL is the central point of that connection.

4. Champion and Facilitate both Individual and Communal Commitment: A critical component of the translation of items from the Product Backlog to the Sprint Backlog (SBL) is a clear understanding on the team’s part of what each item is, how it will be produced, the criteria of satisfaction for its acceptance, and how it fits into the larger whole. As discussed above, this is fostered by a sufficiently-groomed PBL; another way to help facilitate this understanding is promoting a team-level mindset.

One of the steps in translation of items from PBL to SBL is the volunteering of team member(s) to perform the work involved in the item. This is the individual commitment necessary to produce the work. Great Agile teams, though, don’t stop there: They also commit communally as a team to all individual commitments.

To promote this, have the person(s) who has taken responsibility to produce the feature or component discuss:

  • how the feature will be produced (remember W. Edwards Deming, the father of modern quality management: if you cannot describe what you’re doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing)
  • what impediments may be encountered
  • what information gaps needs to be filled, and any foreseen dependencies, risks, or issues.

Then have the team ask questions, give feedback and suggestions, and (if warranted) recite back the work as described. This will ensure a critical common understanding: Not only do the persons doing the work have a clear plan, but the team also understands—and can help if needed. This adds surety that all the work the team committed to in the sprint gets done, which is one definition of a successful iteration.

5. Coach the Team in the Beginning, Coach the Individual in the Middle: As Lyssa Adkins points out in her book Coaching Agile Teams, interruptions—even in the form of well-intentioned but ill-timed coaching—can seriously impact a team’s flow during a sprint. One way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to prevent ad-hoc “mini-retrospectives,” “team teaching sessions,” and other events from occurring during the iteration. You should save that type of teaching for the planning sessions and lessons learned reviews that bookend it (see #6 for more on this topic!). While the sprint is active, it is best to keep coaching at the individual team member level, and even that should be limited to directly supporting an immediate need in the sprint.

6. Leverage the Opportunities for Retrospective: Keep your retrospectives fresh with some easy modifications: Change up the agenda, location, facilitator role, and other elements to keep your team interested and engaged. Come prepared, but be flexible—I usually come to a retro with an agenda in mind (for example, something observed during the sprint that indicates a need for review of an Agile principle), but I check with the team first to see if there’s something they’d rather review. Check with the team on where in the Sprint cycle they’d like their retrospective. Many teams like to hold it directly after the review, some like to do it just before, still others like to wait until just before the beginning of the next iteration. Find what works for each team, but continually impress the importance of the retrospective. It is more than mere ceremony—it is a vital step to allow your team time and space to reflect on the past iteration in order to improve future ones.

7. Foster Urgency and Fun: One of the most productive aspects of an Agile production environment is the consistent, predictable, confining nature of timeboxed development. It creates a sense of urgency that can almost be sensed, like a feeling in the air. The regular performance of sprints helps with this—it creates the downbeat that helps everyone stay (or get back into) rhythm. It is the chassis on which the other elements of the Agile framework are attached (as they owe their intrinsic value to the sprint itself).

Foster that sense of urgency in your teams, but balance it with the need to maintain a sustainable pace. Moreover, make sure that your team is having fun! Agile is fun—getting things done that provide needed value to our customers quickly is intrinsically rewarding. Let that shine on your team in whichever way you find works—they will reward you with sprints jam-packed with innovative product delivery!

About the Author: Specializing in transformation and disruption services for companies looking to improve, Michael Bosch has been providing high-value delivery services for more than 15 years. An Agilist with more than 10 years’ experience in the incremental development of complex digital solutions, Mr. Bosch has served as a Scrum Master, developer, and Agile coach for multiple sectors and lines of business, is a recognized Agile services technologist, product developer, and staff development expert. He specializes in creating breakthrough, team-empowering, lightweight communication and delivery frameworks for organizations of all sizes. Mr. Bosch is a Certified Scrum Professional (CSP), an Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP), a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and Product Owner (CSPO), and an accredited Project Management Professional (PMP). He holds multiple degrees, including a masters in computer information systems. He has served as a professional trainer and speaker for more than a decade and is a published author and regular contributor to multiple information sources.

Applying your Prosci Certification in the Real World

ADKAR, Best Practices, KAIP Academy, Learning, Managing/Leadership, Organizational Change Management (OCM), Prosci, Training

By Elizabeth Long

Having a certification like Prosci is valuable in terms of provide knowledge and framework around the Prosci ADKAR® Model. It’s also a great way to show your credibility as a practitioner of change management.

While the certification provides a good foundation—and is something I recommend my fellow change managers think about obtaining themselves—much of the work happens when you get onsite and observe and evaluate the organization with which you’re working.

I’ve seen my share of people come in to an organization with various degrees and certifications and while they can provide a lot of strategic or academic talk, their ability to recommend and implement the tactics is lacking.

If you simply take the methodologies and apply them in a cookie-cutter way, your chances of change management success are slim. Every organization or client is different. The people differ, the company culture differs—you need to be able to take these always-different environments and connect with people on a human level. That is when the action really happens.

So, with certification in hand, how do you integration that human connection into your work, so that people feel connected and valued (i.e., open to change?) Here are some of my best practices:

  1. Build Relationships. Determine who your primary stakeholders are and build relationships with them. Through these relationships, you’ll learn about the organization and its challenges; plus, these folks will also help guide you to determine which methodologies you should recommend to implement. By understanding what the organization needs, you can determine how to best apply the changes. Remember, nothing is cookie cutter.
  2. Be Authentic. You need to genuinely want to develop these relationships and get to know people. If you honor your word—when you say you’re going to do something, do it—then the people in the organization will see that and be more likely to take your recommendations and provide you the opportunity to do your work. Authenticity builds trust with your partners. The recommendations you make will be much more well-received if you have trust—trust that is gained by being authentic.
  3. Be a Leader.I’m currently reading the book, “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win,” by Jacko Willink and Leif Babin. Among other things, it’s about a Navy SEAL platoon and how they develop leaders within the SEALs. The ‘leader’ is a role on the team, everyone plays a critical role—it is the leader’s main job to communicate the ‘why’ of the mission and explain each person’s role and how it is critical to accomplish the mission. This helps the team develop a belief in the mission. While on a much smaller scale, change management works similarly. The most critical thing a leader can do is share the vision and the mission—the WHY we are doing something. (In Prosci terms, this is referred to as developing the desire.) Being a leader is learned from putting your certification knowledge into action in the field. Leaders make realistic assessments, acknowledge failures, take ownership of issue, and develop plans to improve. Prosci is the framework, but your experience is the engine that will drive your success on the ground as a Prosci leader!

As you begin applying your Prosci certification in your work, remember that it is a guideline—the desire to change and understanding the people you’re working with goes beyond methods and is all about understanding the real-world application.

About the Author: Elizabeth Long is a professional Organization Development Consultant and Curriculum Developer/Trainer. She received her Certification in Organizational Change Management from Prosci and is certified in e-learning development from Langevine Learning Center. Elizabeth has worked in many industries: High tech, healthcare, and state and local government. Currently, Elizabeth works as an Executive Consultant with KAI Partners, Inc. as a contractor working in a variety of California State Departments. Elizabeth has lived in Sacramento for the past 17 years and appreciates the history of Sacramento as well as its convenience to many well-known destinations like San Francisco, Tahoe, and Reno.

How to Make Your Career Reach Its Full Potential

Best Practices, KAIP Academy, Learning, Professional Development, Training

By Ryan Hatcher

Years ago, I received a great piece of advice from a former boss who started an agricultural services business in his basement with a fax machine and a phone. In just two decades, he built an international consulting powerhouse largely credited with opening markets all over the world to domestic apples, cherries, wine, and many other West Coast crops.

He claims the key to his success was something he learned from the apple farmers he worked with early in his career: “Plant today what you want to harvest in 4, 7 and 10 years.”

Strategic, long-term planning is both a necessary and common practice of any successful business, but what about a successful career?

Many in my parents’ generation didn’t need to plan their careers. My mother taught in the same school district for 39 years where raises, tier increases, and pension benefits were all set in stone. This kind of linear career path is still somewhat common in the public sector (albeit with more department hopping) but the days of the “Company Man” working his or her way up with the same private sector organization for 30 years and getting the gold watch upon retirement are largely over.

With the rise of professional and physical mobility fueled, in part, by increasing technology and connectivity, job hopping has become common among younger workers. Whereas the median tenure for employees 65 years and older is 10.3 years, the median tenure for workers between 25 and 34 is only 3.2 years.

As a thirtysomething consultant with an average tenure of less than one year per engagement, I help bring that number down (and terrify my stability-minded mother). For the first few years, I took jobs out of necessity, for pay/responsibility increases, or because they seemed interesting with only a vague idea of long-term benefits.

My friends in tech operate much in the same way. Silicon Valley companies are continuously rewriting the e-book on poaching recruitment, and qualified employees can switch jobs as easily as replying to one of the dozens of LinkedIn solicitations they get every month.

Besides opportunity, what drives most workers to jump ship? A recent LinkedIn study found that 59 percent cited a stronger career path and increased opportunity as their primary reasons for leaving; this narrowly beat ‘better salary’ (54 percent) and ‘more challenging work’ (47 percent).

This study demonstrates two things: The desire for career advancement is enormous and most employers do a poor job fulfilling that need. With this in mind, workers have little choice but to take matters into their own hands.

So, in a world where we are all trailblazers of our own career paths, how do we incorporate strategic, long-term planning?

  • We can start by thinking of our careers as long-term investments. Short-term gains in salary or titles are exciting, but leaving a job prematurely can sacrifice valuable experience and relationships.
  • Staying current on emerging skills and certifications will increase opportunity in whatever direction we decide to take.
  • Most importantly, as with any long-term planning, focus should be on a discrete and defined set of goals. Without a continuous focus on set objectives, we risk wasting years on dead-end tangents and getting bypassed by peers.

By devaluing short-term gains, investing in professional development and focusing on a defined end point, we can create the framework for long-term success. Then comes the real challenge: discipline.

Much like any strategic investment, resisting the urge to tinker and make changes, big or small, is the hard part. Distraction via shiny objects is the enemy of long-term success.

The whole process seems simple, because it is. The reason so many people find strategic career planning challenging is because doing it correctly requires sacrifice. Foregoing a higher-paying opportunity or spending weekends collecting certifications aren’t choices many people have the self-control to make.

However, much like farmers, the most successful professionals are the ones who can develop and execute 4-, 7- and 10-year plans.

It is only with discipline, vision, and patience that we can create the necessary environment for apple trees, businesses, or careers to truly reach their potential.

About the Author: Ryan Hatcher is a skilled communications and management consultant with over a decade of experience campaigning for government, public affairs, and political clients. A recent addition to KAI Partners, Ryan serves as an executive consultant providing communications support to one of California’s heath care agencies. He resides in Sacramento with his wife, Nikki, and their two dogs.

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