What’s your writing routine?

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This is very refreshing. I am just now setting about writing my first book and some people seem to think that it can be done easily in a loud house or café with people jutting about. It is a form of deep meditation which requires solice – at least for me.

songoftheseagod

Do you have a routine for writing? A way of doing it which has become habit and which you know will get the best out of you? I was thinking about this having read a recent article on the subject.

Many famous writers seem to have these habits. I think the reason is that, to write a novel you need to get your backside on the chair and your fingers on the keyboard – regularly and for long periods of time, just to get the work done. I know only too well that novels don’t write themselves.

Murakami_Haruki_(2009)Here’s what the brilliant Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami had to say on the subject in an interview:

“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do…

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Surviving the Matrix

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At work in the island’s  last remaining call centre, my title is Supervisor of Reporting & Adherence. I am aware that my title sounds strange but it is very easily explained and remains the best title drafted under the circumstances.

I work in a Matrix enviroment defined by constant shifts in hierarchy and job function. Due to the environment and nature of work, my title, like many others’ in the company, is defined by this dynamic.

Matrix Structures

In a company such as ours which is constantly growing, change is a constant. The only way to be an effective team member at any level within the company is to learn ways of managing that change.

Establishing both personal and professional techniques of change management can be the difference between being left on a disappearing landing of stairs to fall victim to the labyrinth or maintaining balance and strategically advancing. Note, that in this case when I speak of advancement I do not refer to promotions but to the satsifaction of moving closer to your departmental goals.

There is extensive literature which covers the management of change and can be researched and applied. Of note, there is no one size fits all as reasonably established by the nature of the business in which I work.

Because of the nature of the system, we are ‘making things up as we go along’. It is always wise to not only manage to the expectation of change but to manage as well to the expected difficulty.

At every moment I either actively search for opportunities for the advancement of change or initiate those changes myself in the face of the new information which I would have come across in my search. In the rare instances where we are generally in a period of necessary quiet, I will use that time to review established processes and make some adjustments with current ‘future’ information.

This article serves to share my experience and my best tips for managing effectively within an matrix environment.

Reporting
The Reporting aspect of my portfolio deals with the planning, organizing and management of various reporting systems, platforms and processes within the company which are essential for operational and executive decision making as the goals of the decison-makers change or evolve, so too do the requirements of my job.

The functions of Executive Billing and the local & regional Payroll processes are the general functions in this part of the title. Within the amalgamation of my title and department there is also a separation in the title which also comes with a differentiation of spans of control, departmental structure and upward chain of command.

Adherence
The other part of my portfolio, Adherence deals primarily with providing support for the areas of administrative decision-making within the company and is a quantitative function of the internal Human Resources process -dynamic by its very nature.

Adherence covers Key Performamce  Indicators, Employee Metrics, Employee Performance and Productivity. This section of the department is responsible for the generation, organization and analysis of raw data and presenting the analysis as information to provide accurate measurements for the initiation and refining of Human Resoucres processes and procedures.

In this case as well there is a differentiation of the span of control, locally and regional departmental structure as well as the organizing of the separate roles and my reporting chain of command.

In short, I am expected to at all times, not only be two places at once, but to be in two frames of mind at once to be able to efficienctly manage both areas of the portfolio.

Impact
What I like most about the type of environment in which I work is that it offers great flexibility which allows my team and me great adaptability and response to our varied internal customers. Being on the spur as well had given each of us an opportunuty to show our abilities in our roles as projects and responsibilties change. We also have gained tremendously in the area of increasing our cooperation and communication  (and in my case management) across borders and across the functional groups within the organization.

But there were some disadvangatges as well which I had to navigate to manage in such a way as to remain an efficient member and leader of the team.

The structure of the matrix is set up so that I report to 3 different managers within the executive branch of the organisation. In certain instances, my team members report directly to my superiors depending on the nature or urgency of the task at hand or my availability to attend to the project or problem.

The impact of this is that often my emphasis and priorities pulls me in different directions which sometimes lowers productivity or attention in one area momentarily. Naturally frustrations will occur at an executive level when the perception is that whatever the requirement, it is not being completed in a timely manner.

As a result of this, from time to time I have found myself becoming frustrated with a lack of clarity as to where the priorities lie or overburdened as in the case if autonomous decision making by the need to diffuse these priorities on my own without a clear strategy. I was also beginning to find it difficult  to lead my team towards achieving good results within their task descriptions since they were muddled and being pulled in different directions. Worse of all, we began to fall behind.

Working Better in The Matrix
The easiest advice I can give is to work out how to manage priorities. The most difficult part of that is negotiating the trade-offs.

Balancing the two for an effective strategy means that you have to increase your skills in communication, networking and coaching, not only with your peers or on your downline, but in the case of your superiors.

From my personal experience, working along with the Vice President of Human Resources for my organization proved beneficial to increasing my management efficiency.

The priority for me was to have clear tasks and goals set up for each member of the team to help them to settle more into their tasks with the goal of building efficiencies at the lowest level of their work processes.

The Vice President and I met and reviewed task management and then broke the jobs into categories based on the organizational application. She resultantly came up with the job titles of: the Operations Analysts (Adherence portfolio) and the Production Analysts (Reporting portfolio). Basically, the matrix evolved when it became necessary as it so often does.

Once the titles and descriptions were established based on the needs of the organization it was then up to me to ensure compliance within the categories and to manage with the streamlining of work and the output while keeping the new structure in order.

The streamlining yeilded the result of a more focused team and that resulted in increased efficiency within the department, then within the business as a whole. The structure and execution was then rolled out to the other sites and tweaked.

Once our efficiency increased however, so did the workload. It was at this point that I had to refocus and increase my ability to work in the matrix. I had to figure out how to work AND lead in the new matrix. This is where the skill in managing priorities and trade offs came in.

In the second instance I depended on the relationships I had built with each of my superiors over time to be able to communicate what could be reasonably expected of myself and my team while pushing back against unreasonable or conflicting demands. I learnt to coach my team towards understanding my managers’ situations and especially in the area of securing feedback and progress reporting. Most of all I benefited from being able to properly discern what and who was making demands of my time and attention and where I needed to focus it at a given time for the best result.

To conclude, in the Matrix defined organisation there are positives and negatives.

I have found working in a matrix environment rewarding for several reasons. The flexibale management relationships have been a distinctive change from what I was previously educated toward and experienced in Barbados. Despite the initial challanges with aligning the focus and priorities of my managers I have found the relationships to be more open and supportive than in previous environments as I find them responsive and attentive.

There is more of a challenge in the vulnerability of the constant reorganization which can disrupt function relationships which make the business work.  If properly managed however can provide great opportunites for professional development. Though the relationships in general are transactional because the majority of the work is done in clusters, it minimizes inertia due to stagnancy due to interpersonal conflict.

While it might be argued that the brief nature of these relationships seldom allow for teams to work through the forming and storming to the performing phase of the group dynamic, it is also arguable that the short-term goals minimize the storming phases  and focus on reaching the goal and can foster a stronger working environment and stronger employees who are more likely to adapt to change quickly in an increasingly competitive environment.

Keisha N Hurdle

Luck Favours The Prepared

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A thought occured to me a couple days ago – the future is now.

I didn’t even think it at the time, but a surge of preparedness idioms now flood my mind, “if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail” topping my list.

I consider my self to be a thinking Bajan and as such I find myself from time to time mulling over things that any responsible and self reliant person would.

Things like my diet, the fact that I could stand to exercise more, my personal finances, personal life – my future. But from time to time, I reach into ‘micromulling’ to the extent of the economy and what am I to do with it.

You read correctly! What am I to do with the economy?

Up until a few days ago I was sure that there was nothing I could do other than to ride the tide and keep my head above water. Then I realised, I can build my future from the rubble of the past and present.

LUCK FAVOURS THE PREPARED
Late last year I had an interesting business idea which, like most of my ‘brilliant ideas’ and clever bits which lose steam and sink, sunk, but fortunately not into oblivion.

Only a few days ago, I began to see the viability of this idea, but I am six months late into the planning ohsse and wondering if I can make the dream a reality. I believe I can.

But what does all of this rhetoric mean to you?

What next?
Many of my peers in the 25 to 35 age group might be wondering “what next” in light of the present uncertainty. Many are without jobs and some hanging on to menial ones. Only a few of us are comfortable. But none the less, we all continue to wonder about the uncertainty.

Where will we be in five years? Is the early retirement we dreamed of possible? Will there be anything to retire on? Will we really be able to provide the best for our children? Will our parent be forced to work well into their later years to take care of themselves?

I am no professional and certainly not enlighted by the wisdom of experience. I am only 31 years old but deciding to share some of my thoughts and one of them is this, Catch water while the rain pours.

From talking to different people, it seems that the concensus is that no clear economic turn around is expected eithin the economy for at least another 3 to 4 years.

Meanwhile, jobs continue to dwindle due to the closure of businesses and the shrinkage of the private and public sectors. Businesses are pulling out from Barbados citing among many different reasons, that is it too costly to do business in Barbados.

Clearly, unless you possess some stellar training or insight, or work in a resilient job or sector now is not the time to be job hopping. But this is not a perfect situatiin for many of us who remain employed either.

Many of us are frustrated in our present jobs owing to various pressures.

Some unscrupulous business owners are using the hardship to justify increasing salaries, offering incentives or rewards and freezing promotions and wages, despite themselves being companies which are thriving depsite a harsh economic climate.

So what avenues are available to us, or how can we best use this time and situation to our advantage?

LOOK AHEAD, OR YOU WILL GO IN THE WRONG DIRECTION
The first thing that we need to understand is that this is nothing more than a shifting paradigm we are experiencing right now. It has happened before and it will happen again. In the past the shift has demolished ideas and in turn, created many.

We are again in a time for the death of the old ideas, inefficiences, poor management and the re-birth of innovation, creativity and competitive advantage.

This in mind, need to set, or re-set not only our way of thinking but our way of executing. We need to increase our flexibility and dexterity and manage our increasingly shrinking borders in a way which is indiviually and collectively advantageous.

Setting meaningful Targets
The whole idea of planning involves taking thoughts and ideas to a goal through organization.

Education
It is no accident that our Government has chosen to implement a plan for the re-educating of retrenched employees in the public sector.

The unstable/stagnant economic climate has made the possibility of tertiary study at the UWI difficult to maintain and for some not a possibility.

However, as I mentioned before this is a process of clearing out the old and making way for the new. As the paradigm shifts we must seize this opportunity to further define our skill sets or seek out the necessary technical or vocational training to supplement current degrees or qualifications.

I maintain that it is no mistake the that government has chosen to implement a fund for studying in light of layoffs. This was one of their better ideas, it is of course a question as to whether people see the legitimacy of it.

Finances
In the area of finances, the goal could simply be to reduce you personal debt or increase your wealth through various vehicles.

Whichever goal is more pertinent to you, persue it with the goal of reaching in that four year period.

I hope this essay serves to remind us of the necessity to be ready.

I am sure that once things begin to turn around in our economy and we have made ourselves prepared, we will be in very good position to take advantage of what comes our way towards building certain futures.