Last year we started a new tradition at Reach Partners. Every week we set aside time to read during work hours.
At first, this felt a bit indulgent. We enjoy reading but – like many others – we typically crack open our books outside traditional work hours so that we can “do” things at work. And yet, reading is one important way that we learn and grow professionally. We decided our work calendar should reflect that.
With that in mind, we’d like to share a few of the titles that we’ve read recently – and a few that we’ll be tackling soon. Drop us a line if you have any additional suggestions. Happy reading!
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Anita’s Mastermind group recently read this novel about trees and the people who love them. If you think fiction doesn’t have a place in professional development, think again. This novel gave the group plenty of opportunities to reflect on themes and lessons that are applicable to work and life. The writing is also incredibly beautiful, making it a joy to read. One sample: “A great truth comes over him: Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planning is silent and growth is invisible.” (Uh … true for people and project management, too, right?)
Where the Action Is by J. Elise Keith
Rachel has been digging into resources about meetings in preparation for an upcoming presentation. This book is golden. It’s deep, well-researched, and a joy to read. Keith breaks down every business meeting into a taxonomy that provides specific tips – not generic best practices – on formats, timing, and framing. You still may not love every (or any) meeting, but you will find value in the engagement and team performance in the meetings you do have.
Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
We both can't wait to dive into Brown’s new book, Dare to Lead. We’re big fans of Brown’s research into courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. Her books remind us how we want to show up at work, at home, in our volunteer roles, and with our families. We’re looking forward to gleaming her insights about how we can be even better at work. After all, as Brown says, “The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.”
yesterday I was the moon by Noor Unnahar
Anita’s teenage niece recommended this title, and when someone recommends you read poetry – you do it! Unnahar is a young woman from Pakistan. Her imagery and art journaling reflect both her age and the deep insights she has into human nature. We find that our minds expand when we explore new genres. Reading something unexpected or different challenges us to see the world – and our work – in a new light.
Meetings Suck by Cameron Herold
If you’ve ever rolled your eye at the idea of attending a meeting, don’t read this book. The good part is Herold includes a paragraph or two about attitude: go into every meeting prepared like it’s a job interview.
The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
We were so inspired by this book that we traveled to Minneapolis last year to hear Parker speak in person. “The Art of Gathering” shares a human-centered approach to planning gatherings. Learn how to create meaningful, memorable experiences at work, or with family and friends. (One of her great observations: “Hosting is not democratic, just like design isn’t. Structure helps good parties, like restrictions help good design.”) Parker stresses that the most powerful gatherings begin with purpose and that every event is an opportunity to connect with others.
Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott
We’ve both read this book before (here’s Anita’s review) but Scott’s work is always worth revisiting. Her seven principles for transforming critical conversations into ones of passion, integrity, authenticity, and collaboration are extremely valuable. After all, as Scott says: “the conversation is not about the relationship, the conversation is the relationship.”
We believe we can do better together; it’s one of our values. But we also know that teams can struggle to get work done together.
Teamwork sounds good in theory. The more, the merrier, right? And yet, when it comes to accomplishing tasks, it often seems easier to do it alone.
The problem is that teams often neglect to clarify and define roles, ensuring that their work is an uphill (or circular!) battle. Without clear roles and communication, a project slows. A lack of clarity creates redundancies and conflict; it encourages passive-aggressive behavior and wastes time.
To set the stage for a successful project, you first need to be clear on roles. To do this, answer two basic questions: what and who. A team needs to understand what skills are needed and who brings them: Who needs to provide input or make recommendations? Who is authorized to make decisions? Who is responsible for carrying those decisions out?
Understanding the answers to these questions will eliminate unnecessary frustration, friction, and unproductive competition between members of a team. If your role or somebody else’s role isn’t clear to you, it’s not clear to others.
As global business consultant Tamara Erikson wrote in the Harvard Business Review: “Collaboration improves when the roles of individual team members are clearly defined and well understood.”
Here’s how to do it:
What Is a Role?
A role is the part or position a team member plays in a particular operation or process. Some roles are formal; many are not. Formal roles include those whose name or title describes “what” they’re responsible for. For example, a project manager or a writer may fall into this category.
Teams often have people who do not have formal titles but have skills, experience, or knowledge that contribute to the outcome of our projects. Naming these roles can become complex and yet, it’s necessary or people will fill default roles.
Unless they’re told otherwise, people will assume a role because of interests, skills, personality type, motivations, or attitude. An extrovert may become the team’s catalyst to propel a team with energy and positivity, while someone with high analytical skill will provide insights and check possibilities against realities.
These are the realities that make teams valuable. But be sure everyone understands “who” needs to do and know “what.”
Tools for Defining Roles
Our top tool for defining roles is a RACI chart.
While organizational charts show hierarchies and decision-makers, a RACI chart shows roles so much better. It’s a valuable tool when working with clients, vendors, in coalitions, or when volunteering on a board.
A RACI chart is a matrix that assigns roles and responsibilities in categories of tasks. This sets expectations for people working together.
To make a RACI chart, begin by creating a row of team members across the top. List all needed tasks, milestones, or decisions on the left side.
Now indicate who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed in the intersecting cells.
Many examples of this tool exist online. One of my favorites is this Lord of the Rings example (the article on RACI charts is great, too).
If you are striving to empower others to get their work done, it may be a very helpful tool to use at the beginning of a project at work or as a volunteer.
We find the best use is to create a RACI chart with the team. This allows the group to grow a deeper understanding of the project tasks. The more clearly understand who needs to complete a task, whose expertise is needed, and who has the final say on decisions.
Like any tool, use it, manipulate, or modify in the way that works for your team.
We’re going to let you in on a project management secret. The hardest part of any project isn’t achieving the actual outcomes – it’s managing the expectations and needs of the people who are involved.
Surprised? Probably not.
After all, if you’ve ever worked on a project, you know that one person can easily promote a plan – or derail it. That’s why identifying your stakeholders and determining how best to keep them informed is critical to the success of any project.
Stakeholder analysis is a useful tool that helps you understand stakeholders’ expectations throughout the project lifecycle. Once you understand expectations, you can communicate in a way that creates enthusiasm, trust, and excitement. These are the emotional responses you need to build the good will that will help you usher a project to the finish line.
As Mannon Deguire put it in “Greatness, A Place Beyond Stakeholders’ Expectations:” “Projects are about hope. They need to be exciting because it is the excitement that energizes the system and gives us the energy to do the work and spend the time and money to accomplish a project.”
So, how do you start?
First, take a moment to write down everyone who is a potential stakeholder.
Then take time to answer these questions for each stakeholder category:
Once you’ve completed the analysis, you’ll be able to build a plan for communication or stakeholder engagement. The plan can include key messages for each stakeholder or stakeholder group and additional details, such as the way those messages will be delivered (email, meeting, report, or phone call) and how often (weekly, daily, or project start and end).
Experience has taught us that projects are about communication, communication and communication. As long as you can inform your stakeholders in a timely, appropriate manner, they’ll remain happy and your project is likely to succeed.
We have some news to share: our team will soon be a little smaller.
Sean Kelly resigned his position at Reach Partners. His last day with us is October 5.
Sean joined our team more than a year ago. During that time, he has been a passionate advocate for our work. He connected us to new partners in the community and kept our technical skills sharp. He also constantly filled an office candy jar full of good chocolate.
Never underestimate the pick-me-up power of a good piece of chocolate.
In all seriousness, we are grateful for the gifts Sean has brought to our team. He shares our values and supported our mission endlessly. We are sad to see him go.
Sean is taking his many talents (and chocolate!) to Click Content Studios, a part of Forum Communications Company. There he will oversee a team of videographers and coordinate the creation of video projects.
We wish Sean the best as he steps into this role. We know he will do well.
Thanks, Sean, for the good memories and the good work. We look forward to connecting for coffee soon!
When we moved into our new office space (across the hall from our previous location) last summer, something felt familiar.
I couldn’t exactly put my finger on what or why. I had visited the space when it was inhabited by another company, but I hadn’t spent a lot of time in there. Yet, I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that something significant had taken place in the very spot where I now work.
And then I had my ah-ha moment: My office used to be Tony’s office. You see, Tony’s work experiences have made me pause and reflect on work life at Reach Partners.
Tony was a long-term employee who worked with this other company in our building. Several years ago she requested one day off – July 10.
I recognize that granting vacation requests or personal days off can be complicated. But from what I understand about this business’s industry, mid-July wasn’t a busy time of the year. From what I knew about Tony, she was hard working and committed.
I don’t know why Tony asked for the day off, but it didn’t matter. Her boss said no. In response, Tony put in her two-weeks’ notice and left the company.
I’m sure denying the request for a day off wasn’t the only reason Tony left, but it certainly was the last straw for her.
Yes, there are rules and employee handbooks to follow. There are good reasons, as an employer, to have policies in place. There also are situations where employers and employees have to make hard choices. For example, I took off less time after my second child was born than I did when my first child arrived. Rachel once chose to fly from Minneapolis to Bismarck so she could attend a family wedding and fulfill a client obligation over the same weekend.
As at any company, Reach Partners always tries to balance the responsibilities of work with the responsibilities of personal life. Sometimes it’s easy; sometimes it’s not. Still, we believe our team is happier, healthier, and more productive when we trust our people to make decisions about their time.
Never do I want to run the kind of company that isn’t willing to consider an employee’s request for personal time. Tony’s company lost an experienced employee. I still wonder if her boss regrets his decision to deny her a day off.
In honor of Tony, we have observed July 10 as a Reach Partners holiday for several years.
This year, Tony’s Day Off will be held a day early because of some scheduling conflicts. That’s okay. What’s important is that we take a day off and recognize that sometimes the best policy is showing a little empathy and trust.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an updated version of a post that ran July 7, 2015.
There are times when gratitude overwhelms you, when it covers you like a warm, fuzzy blanket.
Last week was one of those times.
On Friday, we attended the ChamberChoice Awards for the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo Chamber of Commerce. The program recognizes businesses, organizations, and entrepreneurs that make significant contributions to our community.
We were one of the candidates for Small Business of the Year.
We didn’t win.
And yet, we had been encouraged. Somebody (thank you, anonymous angel!) nominated us to become a candidate. A team of enthusiastic clients/vendors/friends encouraged us to fill out the application. They wrote reference letters and helped us navigate the application questions.
There’s something both humbling and gratifying about summarizing your work into a few short pages. Applying for the ChamberChoice Award gave us an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going.
So, no, we didn’t win. But we are grateful for the process and for those who served as cheerleaders along the way. We felt valued.
Congrats to the organizations and individuals that won in their respective categories: Emergency Food Pantry, Great Plains Food Bank, Prairie Winds Veterinary Center, Eide Bailly, Office Sign Company, Tyrone Leslie, and Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Red River Valley.
Well-deserved! It was fun to celebrate your success.
And for everyone else: take a moment to nominate a favorite business or nonprofit next year. It may be the nudge they need to become a candidate. It’s one more way to encourage and support the wonderful business community we have in Fargo-Moorhead.
—Anita, Rachel, and Sean
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
We imagined all sorts of professions: lawyer, teacher, nurse.
Project management never once entered our minds. Not once. Not surprisingly, none of us knew anybody who had this job. We certainly didn’t realize that our skills could be used to orchestrate a group of people to get a single job complete.
Today, we can’t imagine being anywhere else, doing anything else.
One benefit of being project managers is that we get to practice our work skills in our home lives, too. The qualities that make us good planners, organizers, and schedulers at work make life better for our friends and families – just ask us.
Or ask them.
After all, living us means our families get their very own private project managers . . . all the time. Aren’t they lucky?!
Maybe says Lloyd, Anita’s husband.
“We don’t have big projects to manage, but the fact that she organizes our trips and events is pretty handy. It is nice that she has given thought to it before everyone else has,” he says.
On that note, here is what it is like to live with a project manager, from the experience of those who actually do:
Maintains Family Calendars
If there is more than one person living in your household, you need to keep track of everyone. Somebody needs to know when soccer games fall and when cookies are needed for the church supper.
Nobody does this better than a project manager who is already experienced at keeping tabs on everyone involved with a project. Anita is what Lloyd calls a “Google calendar maniac.” She has assigned a calendar for every member of the family. And she successfully juggles them all, keeping everyone in the know as they run off to track meets, evening obligations, and more.
The beauty of a project manager is that whether or not the kids and spouse pay attention, the family gets to the right place at the right time with the right shoes, ball, and money for snacks. Yes, the project-manager-mom is the family motivator.
Keeps Household Projects on Time
There’s a saying that the plumber’s sink is always the last to be fixed. Apparently, that doesn’t fall true for project manager households.
When Rachel and her wife, Melissa, hosted their niece’s baby shower, the couple identified several house projects that needed to get done before the event. Rachel went into project manager mode and made sure the resources and time were available to get things done in a timely manner. She also allocated time for the work to be completed.
Project management skills for the win!
Organizes Holidays, Reunions
If you are fortunate enough to have a project manager in your family, you’ve likely tapped him or her to plan a holiday gathering or family reunion. If not – you should!
Rachel’s dad, Bruce, asked her to manage all details of a large family gathering. She set the stage for everything from communication to the food, the cemetery tour route, the family fun-run, and fishing tournament.
Everyone knew the schedule and expectations for the reunion. As a result, everyone was relaxed and could focus on the time together instead of trying to negotiate activities and meals on the fly.
The beauty of any list is not the list itself, as any project manager will tell you. Instead, lists reflect thinking about peoples’ roles and how they can contribute to the objective at hand – whether it’s leaving for vacation, inviting extended relatives to a picnic, or organizing contractors to finish house projects.
Anita likes to make a list for everything, which is super helpful when the Hoffarth family plans a trip or weekend getaway. Lloyd observes that there’s always a list ready to go once they start to pack. This ensures that everyone has clean socks and a toothbrush along – and nothing critical gets left behind.
Rachel compiles lists and sets them out for big meals and gatherings, says Melissa. This encourages (and enable) others to help get food to the table. The list includes details such as timing and what specific bowl or spoon is needed to serve the dish. Because of Rachel’s planning, others can easily step in and assist.
Can’t Turn it Off
There are times when a project manager’s take over of family projects isn’t as welcome. Lloyd had created a master document, one of those documents with important personal information on it that could be handy in case of an emergency. He spent years developing that list and knew how to find everything on it.
He then shared the document with Anita, so she would have access to it. Within a day she started to rearrange and re-organize the list.
This experience made him rethink the benefits of living with a project manager.
“An on/off switch – when I want it – would be nice” he says.
And maybe that’s the challenge of living with a project manager. Most of us aren’t wired to be off even when we’re away from work.
Good thing our families and friends (mostly!) embrace that.
In case you hadn’t noticed, we LOVE the color purple.
Since we began, our Reach Partners identity has been represented by shades of the color. We think purple perfectly represents our values of gratitude, integrity, beauty, possibility, and empathy. Plus, it makes a powerful, but accessible statement.
Which is why we were super excited when Pantone revealed its color of the year for 2018: Ultra Violet.
Each year color experts from the Pantone Color Institute comb the world looking for the color influences that best define our times. This year, those experts chose Ultra Violet because it “communicates originality, ingenuity, and visionary thinking that points us to the future.”
It joins previous Colors of the Year: Greenery, Serenity, Marsala, Tangerine Tango, and Radiant Orchid.
A color may not seem all that important, but it evokes emotions.
What sets Ultra Violet apart from its colorful peers is that it is simultaneously rebellious and calming (or so we hear).
Enigmatic purples have long been symbolic of counterculture, unconventionality, and artistic brilliance, Pantone says. (Think Prince, Claude Monet). The color also has been closely associated with royalty and spirituality (Think Queen Elizabeth II and meditation rooms).
Ultra Violet also symbolizes experimentation and non-conformity while it inspires connection.
Granted, those are deep messages to attach to one color. But at Reach Partners we’re thrilled to be associated with a color that seems so aptly descriptive of the work we strive to do every day.
We’re certainly no Prince or Queen Elizabeth II, but we make every effort to make sure the work we do is individualized and creative, that it opens paths of possibility for our clients. We believe in the power of connections, that together we’re stronger.
On lighter notes, we’re anticipating that there will be lots of ultra-violet-inspired items in stores this year. We suspect we’ll be adding to our décor and wardrobe.
In addition, as lifelong residents of the upper Midwest, we also have to wonder if Pantone was making predictions about our region’s purple-clad football team: the Vikings. Could it be their year?
Either way, go purple!
PHOTO CREDIT: Art by Dean Johnson, Fargo. His work can be found online at Fargo Stuff.
For us, Thanksgiving is more than a once-a-year celebration. It’s something we practice every single day.
Gratitude is an integral part of who we are at Reach Partners. Collectively and individually, we are thankful for the work we do, the clients we partner with, and the communities we serve.
The past year has been packed with new opportunities and new relationships. It’s been filled with occasions to deepen the partnerships we’ve already made. In the process, we have been blessed and have had a lot of fun along the way.
Here is a sampling of the things we are grateful for in 2017!
What are you grateful for?
We have some thrilling news to share: we’re growing!
A couple of weeks ago, we asked Sean Kelly to join our team as a project manager focused on business development and new client relationships.
To our great delight, he agreed.
He now becomes our third employee, joining co-owners Rachel and Anita.
Sean is a perfect addition to our team. He has a strong technical background and knows how to successfully work with clients.
Here are a few reasons we’re excited about Sean joining us:
We could go on and on, but we’re super excited about this move because Sean shares our values and will support our mission to do what is right for our clients and our community. We know this because we’ve worked with him on several projects over the years. Every single time he kept our best interests in mind and built the trust that we expect from those we work with.
It’s no exaggeration: we’ve enjoyed every minute that we’ve partnered with Sean in the past, and now we get to do it every day.
In case you’re wondering, Sean lives in Moorhead with his wife, Amy; their two daughters, Olivia and Audrey; and the family dog, Comet.
Please join us in welcoming Sean to Reach Partners. Drop him a note at email@example.com or you can find him on Twitter at @ReachSeanK.