Updated Skill : Resident Juggler?


So what’s really in a job description? It does not help productivity at all when you are constantly wondering if you are the Personal Assistant to your line manager, the front-office handler, the ‘go out and increase our network’ person or the one playing the role they actually signed up for. Not only is it not productive, such situations literally drain the life out of you. I know multi-tasking  is a well-quoted skill but even the world’s juggling record is currently capped at 11 balls, and even then, the juggler only managed 23 consecutive catches. So what can we learn from this chief juggler?

For the Team Leader:

It is probably true that you are under a lot of pressure to keep everything running even in choppy waters. You may not be able to make all the calls but you have a voice heard more than others. This is your ship – look into what each role is expected to fulfill and ask yourself if it is in the realms of reasonable, actionable and effective for the organization and the job taker’s growth and functonality. However, if you have no option but to sign off on bloated job expectations, you can:

  • Constantly seek opportunities to empower your charges. Foster the teamwork spirit so that each team member feels allowed to chip in and help especially during larger scaled events.
  • Celebrate your team players and their achievements because when it comes to recognition, even a little goes a long way.
  • You may not be able to tip the scale on the pay packages but, how about looking for ways to enhace the work space? Even a fresh coat of paint, fixing the leaking plumbing, providing for adequate office supplies and finally getting that office microwave all go into making a difference. Start small and build from there.
  • But most importantly, give clear leadership, offer support and let the people have the space to do their jobs – not the other ten tasks they can do because you say so but really shouldn’t because they will divert their focus from their core business entirely.
  • Also, when you can (and this is more often than not always), do make your own cup of tea. Getting pulled out of a line of thought to fix you a cuppa is not really one of the ways to keep your team members’ momentum running. Just saying.


For the HR Associate: Define, Define, Define

With the shifting funding landscape across the sectors, coupled with a stricter focus on the bottom lines, there seems to be an increasing amount of pressure to fit as much stuffing into one turkey as one can. I am currently on the look-out for new career opportunities, and the number of bloated and sometimes, unrelated and unrealistic job descriptions I have come across is surprising. I am often left wondering if said position is just after a glorified tea girl with super powers or an actual professional equipped to man said vacant front. It is quite confusing I must say. It is, in fact, the responsibility of the HR Associate to advise management on the definition and combination of roles to be allocated to given positions. If this is not strongly emphasised, I fear we will breed a task force compelled to be so diversified that a play of musical chairs will come into effect. Why? There will always be a drive to keep searching for where one feels they will have a better, more defined fit. After the 23 consecutive catches, the balls will drop, and no matter how good one is, one will have to take a bow.

For You: Choose a Struggle

Do you really want to spend every working day trying to figure out when to develop those survey training tools, schedule productive field work for some program beneficiary interaction, plan a site visit for the incoming delegation, do some possible donor research and mapping, start working on the newsletters, coordinate the vendor deliveries, edit a couple of reports and still serve your boss a well-laid tea tray? I would think not. Don’t even get me started on the ‘any other duties allocated from time to time’.


In essence, you can program your mind and your days into bursting at the seams with activity. However, never have activity and productivity bore the same meaning. What will eventually happen is a drop in your strong suites. Your attention to detail will blur because there’s so much to deliver and so much demanding your attention that surely, some details will fall through the cracks. Your creativity will be forced to wear a strait jacket because creative thinking needs time and space. You will not have much of either. You will slave. Yes, slave is the word that best describes putting in a solid day’s worth of work, overtime and then some more hours at home later with the telly on for company.

And no, this is not a millennial ‘I want it now on a silver platter, take me as I am, this is too much work to get to the top’ kind of speak. I recognise the place of hard work in building your stance in a chosen profession. I do. What I choose to fight is the notion that you need to take up a ridiculous number of roles, be efficient and grow professionally when a second look deciphers the obvious. That there are limits to what any juggler can do. Lastly, you will lose your spark, and above all else, I believe this to be the worst pitfall. I know that we need to start

Lastly, you will lose your spark and above all else, I believe this to be the worst pitfall. I know that we need to start somewhere in order to get the experience we need to take that next step. What I would like you to choose when the opportunity presents itself is yourself. Speak clearly and objectively about the role you feel you have been called to play. Lay out what you feel are the bloated issues on your JD and seek your supervisor’s address on the same. This is not complaining, this is levelling the play field because you will be assessed based on all 42 pages of your job description if you are not quick to point out areas that would be best restructured for funtion. It would be great to go intdiscussioncussion with a couple of solutions too – maybe enlarge the internship program so you have those to delegate tasks to or suggest the hiring of a full time assistant should the budgetary limits allow. However way you go about it, choose a struggle. Both you and the organization stand to benefit a great deal.



Are Performance Appraisals really the Grinch that Stole Christmas?

Truth be told, I am yet to meet a team all eager and waiting for their appraisals – work or otherwise really. Whether it’s the weekly touch base with a line manager, a monthly evaluation or annual overview, most do not look forward to appraisals. Maybe it’s because it has become an opening for something other than an actual review:


Or perhaps it’s the fear of failing as one would a test. A fear ingrained in us since we were old enough to know you get a cookie when you shine and a pass, or worse, when you do not. So possibly it is more psychological than anything else. However, it could also be largely because most performance appraisals are becoming less and less holistic. However, performance management is, by all means, a necessary evil so to speak.

We need to know how we are doing if we are ever to get what we want to be done: done – are we heading in the direction that we ought to be? Do we have all we need and do we know what we need to do? (Unfortunately, in most cases, the latter two are seldom given as much consideration as the former). The race to continually achieve meaningful bottom lines and the increasing need to throw in words like ‘streamlined’ and ‘successfully delivered’ into every board meeting power point presentation means we are prone to focus less and less on the people and more on the systems, tasks and duties. All these despite the fact that the people are in the real sense a constant, major determinant of the overall performance.

The bottom line is and always should be, people matter and not at the expense of the organisation or as much as the organisation because it’s really not a matter of one or the other if the people are the organisation, now is it?

So how do we change this narrative?

Today’s fast paced work culture gives quite the thriving ground for orderly amnesia – everything moves so fast that it becomes increasingly difficult to remember every detail. Remember that thing you did that got you a string of glowing congratulatory emails, and maybe even a mention in the office newsletter or the top boss’ address for the quarter? Remember that idea you had that saved the business a lot of time and money or that extra hour you pitched in to help the team get the annual sales reports ready for the big presentation the next morning?

Well, if it takes you more than a minute to list a couple of your ‘fireworks’ moments in the last year, I can only guess that some of them missed their appearance on your annual appraisal. They were not included in your review because you couldn’t recall all of them well enough to document them and most likely, neither did your boss. Your achievements, though well deserved, were recorded in the annual reviews and appraisals somewhere but perhaps, with little or no credit to you or worse, to someone else entirely. Sound familiar?

You cannot recall in great detail all the pros you piled in a fiscal year at its end, great as one mind can be. Unknown to many, lacking material to toot your own horn when needed works retrogressively. If you can’t remember what highs you attained, you don’t suppose your line manager – also supervising x number of employees under his docket to remember; now do you?

So when that annual self-evaluation form is sent around at some point of the year, and you cannot adequately defend your turf what happens? Mostly two things really. First, you lose out on credible career mileage and second, always risk having your achievement passed as either someone else’s (malicious intent or otherwise) or an overall team result which honestly leans more in favour of management often without due recognition to the individual (who did not remember to claim it anyways). And therein comes the spanner in the works. You get frustrated for not receiving due recognition. Whether in the form of an end year performance based bump or that move to the next pay grade. Maybe even that corner space you’ve been eyeing that someone ‘less deserving’ just negotiated for because they mentioned they came in early two days in a row to help on a project you have been volunteering on also – every morning for a month now. But who knew?

For anyone interested in mobility, upward or otherwise, recalling and openly expressing past victories or challenges overcome whether at a job interview or appraisal can be one of the things to let you on the other side of the door. It’s not a call to memorise events, but one to recognise that you are best placed to be your cheerleader. How? These may be a good place to start.

For you:

  • Document, Document, Document

Whatever means you will prefer to use, keep tabs on your own progress. We have been cultured to shy away from clearly stating what we are good at and what we have accomplished because it is many times mistaken for a show of pride. However, you are your best advocate, and you need to speak up for yourself more. Not for pride but for progress. When given the platform, you need to be able to have the information you need to toot your own horn. For what use is a horn no one blows through?

  • Use the Data

The documented milestones, good and bad, can be very helpful in charting one’s course. We need to understand ourselves better and what better way to do this than to consider our triggers for success and failure?  The workplace is becoming increasingly competitive, and you need to chart your own growth. Using the data trends from your own self-observation is a good way to have a clearer vision of what contributions you have made to the department, let you know if  and where you’re slacking, help you think of other ways to engage and of course, give you useful information to defend your turf and even ask for improved terms when the opportunity presents itself.

  • Recognize others

Never shy away from sharing the stage. Many feats will not be accomplished alone. It is not only just but rewarding to acknowledge those with whom you toiled; even when the event could pass as your own. In the long run, a good turn will deserve another, and you need to remember that one does not soil the plate he will need tomorrow. People give to people so appreciate those you scale the mountains with for a time will some when the same people will give you your leg up.

For the manager:

  • Be proactive and list it:

We get it; you have a lot on your plate. But how about listing at least two highlights of each of your employees’ achievements in the fiscal year. No one expects you to have every detail done but being equipped to give a thought through appraisal when called for not only guides an employees career growth curve but also, reflects well on your interpersonal and management skills. It also encourages you to actively engage and observe your team through the year and in so doing; you garner a lot of information about the processes and the team dynamics that feed into your planning and klanking processes as well. Win-Win, no?

  • Ditch the critical incident approach to evaluations:

It does boost team morale to have a manager who sees each team player holistically and does not selectively consider events therefore only focusing on the most recent success or failures.

  • Boost your own morale:

At the end of the day, having enough ammunition on what your team achieved under your guidance not only looks good on you but the department as well. This may open up opportunities for greater responsibilities for you and broader horizons for the team due to demonstrated stewardship. Say no to amnesia, know how well your team is playing and be ready to show it.

Do I think performance appraisals should be done away with? Not at all. I firmly believe they can be a critical tool in strategic management if considerable thought is put in its structuring. If we all care enough to let it work for us. Even more so, what I do think is needful, is an evaluation of what we believe to be our role in the process. Performance appraisals are not necessarily the Grinch that stole Christmas. Whether in management or not, we all need to understand that the process can work for us, if we choose to use it and not passively watch it influence our flow.


Work and Life…and Unicorns


‘I will have a life with a side order of work.’ Said no one ever. We all want to avoid being the people that sacrificed everything at the corporate altar. But how?


Most of our lives are broken down into bits of five to six working days a week, seven for some, every week for most of the year. If you were to quantify a workday as a span of, say, 7.5hrs, it would mean that at least 37.5 hours of the 120 hours between Monday and Friday are spent on the grind leaving us with about 82.5 hours holding all factors constant. This, of course, is before we factor in about 30 hours of sleep (going by a 6 hour minimum per night) and several more to cater for the time we spend on the daily commute – often in endless traffic. So we have about 47.5 hours left if we take traffic as a one hour a day affair. That means we have about nine and a half hours left each day to have a thriving life. Possible? Realistic? Not so much.

There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.

Alaine de Botton

Between juggling additional jobs, part time classes, family and relationships, parenting and everything else (not to mention the fatigue that keeping everything running brings up), the average employee has just less than three hours of sanity a day – if they are lucky. Earlier in my career, I could hardly understand what the fuss around a work life balance was all about. I remember thinking, many times that, people just need to ‘man up’, put a little more into it and quit with the complaining already. In retrospect, my lack of experience fed my ignorance to grand proportions. I remember reading and not understanding this one article by a working parent in which an employee said that to get a few minutes of lucidity, they would drive home each day and not leave the car for about 15 – 20 minutes. These being the only minutes they could breathe before they transitioned from a worker to a parent – another full-time job. Several years later, the light bulb flicked on. Now I get it. It often, if not always, takes more than wishing to keep your head on straight on such overstuffed schedules and if the general dislike for Mondays is anything to go by, we constantly feel that there should be more to living than this repetitive cycle that we have come to know as life. The questions remain, how and where is the time?

Don’t just climb the ladder of success – a ladder that leads, after all, to higher and higher levels of stress and burnout – but chart a new path to success, remaking it in a way that includes not just the conventional metrics of money and power, but a third metric that includes well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving, so that the goal is not just to succeed but to thrive.

Arianna Huffington

In essence work and life should not be, as it would seem, at loggerheads. But gone are the days when slow paced living made that a possibility. As it stands, more and more people are involuntarily forced to make a choice between the two. Whoever said that we could have it all, apparently, did not know such times were ahead. I do not have any solid answers for our big question either but what I do know is more often than not, the scales will tip towards one side, and sometimes, we get to choose which side that will be. It is never a simple decision to take. Irrespective of your place in the cycle of life – starter, working parent, established business mogul, start-up entrepreneur, farmer: anyone, there comes a time when the crossroads finally turn up and attempts to walk down both roads, though possibly successful at first can kill you in the long run.

What often remains unsaid is that no sacrifice is lesser than the other. The choice to pursue a life is often misconstrued as being the easier way out or as giving up. Be that your childhood dream to backpack all over the continent, that short or long trip across town to visit with friends and family, start/ nurture a family or turning that idea into your business start-up. You may even have a couple of friends, colleagues or family hold an intervention – largely because most of us have been cultured to know that adults must work to earn a living – which although mostly right, many times acts as our single story. I juggled a year of school and work a while back and to be honest; something had to give. In my case, work was relatively good (because we can only multi-task efficiently for a while) and life shrivelled. Now? I am almost done with school and working on watering both – it is not easy. It makes me think of what I will choose at the end when the crossroads draw near. Do we have to choose? Can we have both? Or are we the doe-eyed hopefuls searching for the unicorn we think not to exist?