Leadership Institute: A Year of Advancement Part II


Leadership Institute: A Year of Advancement, is an ongoing series that shares the experiences of our 15 cohort members as they focus on developing their leadership and management skills through monthly workshops.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Image courtesy of Esty, Vintage 1920s matted children’s print from Aesop’s Fables, illustrated by Jack Orr

Two lumberjacks are in the woods. They are tasked with cutting down a gigantic Elm tree. One pulls out a long ridged saw. It’s the kind that has different sized teeth and require a two-man team to use. The lumberjacks begin to move the saw back and forth to cut the tree. Many hours pass and they have barely made it through even one third of the trunk. The female foreman walks by and asks, “Why is the tree still not cut down?” The exhausted lumberjacks, shrug their shoulders and say that they have been working hard for most of the day on the tree. The female foreman says, “Well, why don’t you just sharpen the saw!”

This was an anecdote that came up at the March session of YNPN Chicago’s Leadership Institute. The moral is simple – work smarter, not harder.

It is a good lesson. And one that March’s guest speaker, Jim Conti, Talent Director at Sprout Social, emulated when he spoke to us about “Preparing for People Issues.”

Below are four points pieces of wisdom Jim shared that can easily be applied at your organization.

  1. Consistency is key.
    The vast majority of performance issues are usually caused by a misalignment of expectations. The points on a job description and the employees’ expectations need to match up…And just get rid of the “other duties as needed” category.
  2. Prepare for the unexpected.
    Jim told us, “Surprise! You can’t.” People are unpredictable. Therefore, practice patience. Things often take time to be fixed, so give yourself the space and time to do just that. People have different needs, working styles, and perspectives – meaning, it is practically impossible to prepare for the unexpected.
  3. Build a network.
    This can include legal counsel as well as your peers in the profession, because most likely if you have a tough problem, someone else you know experienced something similar. Sharing perspectives is helpful. And remember to return the favor, reflect on your own experiences and make note of it. Then, when someone else is in a bind, you can share solutions.
  4. Focus on data.
    Managers, you may be having a problem with a coordinator, but without any data to back up claims, there is not much your HR team can do to support you. Get it in writing. Record percentages, amounts, track emails – any materials to help support your claim will help the team to work through the issues.

But what about the short term?

Jim encouraged us to think about a few simple ways to tackle our individual organization’s “people” challenges. Can you rewrite job descriptions to include the mission and measurements of success? Or try posting job opportunities on social media and other career websites? There are always a few steps one can take to streamline and make a more a more consistent hiring process.

And finally, here are some excellent resources for the HR-minded. My personal favorite is the “First Round Review” which includes articles on different topics like diversity and inclusion, operational transparency, and other current issues that you can explore in the field.

Beginnings are important. Therefore, make sure that your organization is providing new employees the tools and guidance they need to be on the pathway to success!

Now, get started. Use these simple tips to “sharpen your saws!”

Ilana Bruton is a participant of the 2017 YNPN Chicago Leadership Institute. She works as the Public Programs Manager at the Chicago History Museum and is responsible for the design and implementation of programs to expand and diversify CHM’s audiences through interpretive experiences.