When life gives you lemons… grab tequila & salt!

Many of you ask me how to stay motivated when you’re sad or feel powerless. I am flattered, guys. Thank you for trusting me. I must admit, the most difficult task is to motivate yourself, even if you’re good at motivating others. Managers and HR people will know what I’m talking about.

The trick is to keep breathing, as Shirley Manson, the lead vocalist of Garbage, would say.

I recently found an excellent quote:

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Another small success. Checked.

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Remember me telling you about taking up running?

It was a month ago.

Now I run 7km. I mean I run. I don’t walk. I run. Who would have ever thought… 😉 I hated running with all my heart when I was a teenager. Well, look at me now! Continue reading

B2B or Beer2Beer, that is the question…

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Frankly, I’m having mixed feelings after Grow Up Start Up event that took place on 19-20 June in Warsaw, Poland. I’m not gonna talk about the things I didn’t like though. I’ll focus on the positive outcome instead. Because THERE ARE a couple of excellent take aways for me after these 2 days.

First of all, contacts! I truly believe I found myself in the right place at the right time. We decided with a colleague of mine to skip a discussion panel and go for a beer. There, we figured out how our visions of running our own start-ups are similar. Suddenly, a bunch of people joined us at the table and we continued our inspiring conversations in a bigger group (have a look at the photo above, it speaks for itself ;)). What I noticed was the fact that they were all open-minded people who go for such events from time to time and who know what networking really is. Yep, most probably that’s why it was incredibly easy for all of us to communicate so well and take advantage of that opportunity. Continue reading

Just another diary entry of my own :)

I’ve just found what I wrote one week after I had quit my job. Oh dear, it sounds so optimistic 🙂

Just look at this…

“It’s been an incredible week for me. I think I’ve never been busier indeed. Meetings, catch-ups, good readings, consultations, workshops…

I went for jogging! First time time this year. Finally.

I baked tasty muffins. With almonds and white chocolate. Yummy…

I walked around the city taking different streets than usually. Discovered various facades of the buildings I hadn’t noticed so far, new shops, new cafes. I started to see colors and hear sounds, I smiled at people. Before I had been smiling too, and they had been smiling back at me but this time I was more relaxed 🙂 I am relaxed… Continue reading

Leading virtual teams. Say what??

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If you have ever worked with virtual teams you know how challenging it may be to cooperate with someone you don’t know in person.

The thing is that you don’t know the attitude of the people working with you in such circumstances, you don’t know their faces, their mimics, etc. You have no clue whether they are nodding their heads while saying “yes” to your request/question. You don’t know how they feel about the current situation. Because many of them will never be completely honest with you, they will try to hide certain things. Whether on purpose or not.

Sounds familiar?

I have worked with virtual teams for the past few years. These were people from all around the world, coming from different backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, with various stereotypes, sometimes unfounded stereotypes. Yep.

As a project manager, I had a pleasure to lead multiple teams and bring together all various personalities, be it specialists or vice presidents, from all the time zones, starting with New York, ending up in Singapore,

It wasn’t an easy task to manage virtual meetings while having so many different people on the call. What kind of difficulties one may have during such meetings, you will ask. Well, imagine one of the following scenarios:

  • You have a list of items to be agreed upon by members of your meeting, there are specific deadlines to each item, You don’t hear any objection nor disagreement during the meeting. Everyone seems pleased by the outcome. You end up the call. It seems John is unhappy with the deadline the group established. He just didn’t want to make a burden out of it during the call. But he’s telling you NOW. He won’t make it by Thursday. He’s way too busy with other stuff. Period.
  • There is this new small project to be carried out by your team and you are meeting with the folks to catch up on details. Several locations are involved. Everyone seems to understand the details but you ask if all is clear. Just in case. Then you ask again. Just in case. All clear. All perfect. Awesome… It turns out a couple of hours later that one group of people attending the meeting have no clue how to proceed. They didn’t admit there was lack of understanding while the specialist was explaining the procedure. It is not well seen in their culture. They will never openly admit they don’t know something. Like ever.

I could go on like this forever 😉 But let me keep something spicy for later… And btw, these are real life examples. Just so you know.

What do these examples show? Let me give you a metaphore:

When you go for a blind dinner (you know what I’m talking about, right?) and you don’t see the food on your plate, your other senses are being developped. You tend to use your nose and fingers more than usually. You discover a new way of experiencing food.

Working with people you normally don’t see… moreover, working with people you don’t know in person, may be treated as an analogy, IMO. You will just have to develop other soft skills.

Some good practices which worked very well (from my observation):

  • Whenever possible, go and meet the people you work with. There’s nothing better than putting the name to the face in business. Direct contact allows better communication and help building stronger relationships. I know, not always possible. Especially if your team is dispersed all around the world.
  • Use technology.
  1. Companies, such as CISCO (no, I’m not getting any benefits out of it ;)), provide excellent solutions for your virtual meetings. You will feel as if you were all sitting in the same room.
  2. The example presented above being costly, try using what’s available and for free. Solutions offered by Google, Webex or Skype (for instance) are not that bad either.(Bear in mind phone is not enough. People will appreciate more if you make a little more effort and try to connect them in an unusual way).
  • Share your desktop with the participants. Show them graphs, notes, Excel files, etc. Some people don’t hear well what is being discussed. Furthermore, if your audience is multinational and the official language in your company is English, do not assume everything will be well understood by everyone. People have different accents, intonations. Likewise, do not use jargon or colloquialisms which are less known. 
  • Once in a while check with your audience if all is clear or if anything need to be repeated/explained. Ask especially those who are very quiet.
  • Be natural but also use humour. It’s a good practice to start your call with a small talk. Get to know your participants better. I used to attend meetings where the chairman greeted everyone in their mothertongue. A very cool ice-braker.
  • Organize team building activities from time to time. It’s important to build and maintain strong relationships.
  • Never let a problem escalate to bigger extent. Act quickly. Offer your help to resolve the conflict. Don’t sweep the problems under the carpet. They will resurface sooner than you think. Bigger than you expect.
  • Use your emotional intelligence. Trust your guts but ask questions. If you feel someone agreed to the Friday deadline because they felt forced by the group, check with them if the timelines are indeed feasible. People tend to be more open when approached individually.
  • Check beforehand whether people will be attending you meeting. The same applies to their “homework”. If someone was supposed to present a report on your Wednesday meeting, ask them on Monday if they are still good to go or need any help from you. In such a way, you will ensure you’ve got all you need for your meeting and you will save up your participants’ time. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than waiting for the key note speaker or key decision maker who eventually never shows up. It’s your responsibility to make sure they are there. On time. If they are not, you should know about it and inform other participants. Think ahead, prevent that from happening.
  • Send agenda prior to the meeting. Everyone likes to know what will be discussed and whether they are indeed needed on the call. Nowadays, we are all extremely busy and try to save up time whenever possible. Respect that.
  • Take notes/minutes of the call which you will send after each meeting. People tend to forget what has been discussed/decided. Keep track of all documentation. In case of misunderstanding, you will be fully covered.
  • Always, always, always be polite in your communication. Remember that written word has a huge power. It will never be forgotten. Also, your intentions might not be read the same way you intended. Cultural or emotional aspects may impact the way people receive the message. Always greet the recipients of your messages. Ask how they are doing. These simple words completely change the way your communication is perceived.
  • Bear in mind different time zones and bank holidays in the home countries of your colleagues. It’s crucial you know if the participants are morning or evening persons. Imagine you set up a call at 8am New York time and the manager who is a decision maker hates waking up early. You lost. Forget about the posiitive outcome of your meeting. See my point?

It is important to know some basics before you start leading virtual teams , especially the ones geographically dispersed. A good workshop around cultural differences should be considered, too. If I was to give one piece of advice, I’d tell you to get to know your colleagues better. No, seriously. If you’re friendly and proactive, they will notice your good will and will have a positive attitude towards your person and your meetings. After all, it’s all about leadership, not management. Sometimes you don’t manage directly your teams so your “power” is limited and you have to use some tricks in order to be a smart leader. These good practices presented above should help you as a starting point. The rest is in your hands. Good luck! 🙂

Why networking is so damn important?

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This will be the very first of a series of posts about my favorite topic, which is networking.

We all network. Some do it better, some do it worse. With various results. Almost all of us have Facebook or Twitter account, a significant percentage of all professionals around the world also have a LinkedIn profile. But this is an online universe. Meanwhile in parallel universe…

Exactly. What about the real life networking? Do you actually realize how important networking is for your business or your professional career? Do you benefit out of it?

In order to help you answer all these questions, let me first touch base on the networking itself.

A network, as I see it, is a net of contacts one knows personally or virtually. Obviously, it is more effective and beneficial to network once you know someone from real life, when you can “put the name to the face” as we say it in corporate language.

I had a chance (and a pleasure) to work in a multinational (also virtual) environment for about 6 years so I’ll be sharing with you some examples from my own experience.

There are no doubts that networking is a great opportunity for you and there could be only benefits out of it (provided you do all the right things). Apart from the obvious reason of having multiple connections, a huge net of potential business partners, clients, colleagues or acquaintances, there is one thing you should bear in mind before you even start networking: this may change your life.

I’m not kidding. Let me give you an example.

Say you have been working for some time now in a company / corporation and you wish to advance in your career. You apply for the desired position within that organization but in another department. You have a great CV, some excellent achievements and the interview went extremely well. Now imagine there is also Michael applying for that position. And he has a very similar profile. You are both strong candidates and both look promising. Say Michael met up with a couple of folks from that department sometime back and he offered his help in preparing that difficult report the team were struggling with. He also mentioned several times that he would be interested in working on some projects carried out in their department. The manager of the department really liked Michael’s report and his proactive attitude. Although he likes you as a candidate, he already knows a bit more about Michael and his skills. Who do you think will get the job?

We hear quite often that networking is just about creating connections. Moreover, it is viewed in the negative light. I’m not denying, it might be the case in some circumstances. What you should realize though is the fact that networking is all about creating and maintaining relationships. How to do it professionally? Well, simply wait for my next post about good practices! 🙂

Go Creative!

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It’s time I told you about my latest big adventure. Big in a sense that it enriched my professional life.

A couple of months ago I applied for a business contest. It was a local initiative supporting new creative businesses. Together with other 21 wonderful entrepreneurs and their teams we made it through to the last stage after a very careful selection. Several weeks of trainings, workshops and integration events were offered to us as a preincubation process.

The trainings included such aspects as social media, e-commerce, marketing, finance, accountancy, business model canvas, creative solutions, effective presentations, among others.

To my surprise, the group turned out to be extremely friendly and not competitive at all. Moreover, we started to help each other by sharing useful information one may need to run their specific business.

I created a closed group on Facebook where we could easily communicate during those weeks of intensive preparations. Let’s only hope we do stay in touch for longer than that 😉

It’s worth mentioning that we had a pleasure to work with very experienced trainers, many of them being actually entrepreneurs themselves.

What I found extremely insteresting was the fact that the best feedback on our businesses we were getting was coming from… the members of our group! I was happy to see people sharing their opinions, ideas and best practices amongst the group. And we still do. This is something priceless indeed. What’s more, two girls surprised us with their decision about joining forces. They both had a similar idea for apparel design. What a great example of combining strong assets! With a competition! 🙂 In my humble opinion, they do match and have all the complimentary skills to build a strong brand. I wish them best of luck. Great story, isn’t it? 🙂

So when the workshops finally finished, it was high time to work on our business models. I remember how sad I felt because I knew something was coming to an end. It was an end to a great chapter of my professional life where we had loads of fun with the group. So now is the time to start serious hard work on the projects. No excuses! Time to act.

Working on my business model helped me realize all the gaps and what was still missing in my plan. Good business exercise, I have to say.

I spent a lot of time thinking on it and planning the strategy. It’s not easy when you are doing something for the first time 😉 But I love to learn new things so it was a great opportunity for me to grow.

After we sent our business models for evaluation, there was one more task to be performed: a creative presentation.

I spent 3 days designing the slide deck, preparing infographics, reasearching data and adequate images, and practicing my speech. No special effects though (such as people jumping around or kids playing with my product – these were applied by my competition ;)).

I did very well in the morning while pitching in front of the jury but I didn’t expect to be chosen as one of the 5 finalists at the end. The reason being my project was very much different from all the others (I’m building an online social platform while others are doing more tangible business, such as carpets, bags, apparel or coffins – yes, you heard me :)).

So when we all gathered in the evening for the final Elevator Pitch contest where 5 finalists were supposed to picth in front of the jury and various guests and my name was announced I almost fainted. Seriously, I didn’t see that one coming… I was totally lost, till the point I forgot how to start my presentation. All the folks were laughing… I can imagine my confused face 😉

But I made it. I pitched and said everything I wanted to say. 3 minutes is not much to present the whole idea of your project nevertheless if you focus on the main aspects you’re able to explain what it’s all about.

I got the 4th place. Which is absolutely AWESOME. The jury said everything was well thought and planned but the project is in its early phase (agreed!).

It made me really happy and gave a boost to continue my work. I know that thanks to hard work and patience I will be successful one day. It is just the beginning of my start-up journey. As a reward, I got Waterman pens (see the picture above), 8 business English classes and accountancy services for 2 months.

I’d like to tell you one thing. I got my prize earlier than that: it was the knowledge gained during the workshops and trainings, contacts and relationships I managed to build throughout all these weeks. This is something I value more than anything else. And this is the main reason why I wanted to take part in this competition.

Thanks to everyone who made this experience so special. Big thanks to the organizers and the creative group. And a very special thanks to my brother who works with me on the project! You guys rock! 🙂

Also, something special to share with you… a trailer of my project. Feel free to share any feedback you’ve got. Thanks! 🙂