Atlanta Stories 2

One morning, we woke up to loud knocking. The knocking was consistent and loud, the type that means all business. Since apartment walls are usually drywall and have no sound-proofing, I thought someone was knocking at our door. I got out of bed quickly and looked through the key hole and saw the police waiting outside. But they were facing our neighbour’s door and continued knocking.

Now that was interesting! There were 4 policemen outside. What was our neighbour up to? We had seen this neighbour before. She seemed like a polite woman and always smiled when we met her on the stairs. She had a kid and we had met some of the other people who lived with her.

I had to leave for work so I had to stop spying and get ready. It took me a few minutes to get ready and when I stepped out, our neighbor was sitting by the staircase. I tried to act cool and make my way down the stairs without inconveniencing them but the flurry of activities made it awkward. I found my way down the stairs somehow and didn’t look back.

A few men had been arrested. We inferred later that they were involved in gangs and drug deals. I don’t think they stayed there every night but would stop by sometimes.

When I came back from work, the action scene had concluded. Our neighbour had been evicted and the apartment was being cleaned out.

The apartment complex we lived in was a gated community but the gate was almost always broken. The apartment administration would fix it sometimes and add more security options but it would be get broken again.

The smells of Atlanta

Did you know that marijuana smells sweetish and unpleasant? We had a few neighbours who smoked it all the time and we could smell it all the way up to our apartment. I wonder if it’s possible to get high through passive smoking. I didn’t feel any different.

The part of Atlanta that we lived in had several stinky streets with problems of open defecation. Homelessness exists in the US and you can find people living on the streets in warmer cities like Atlanta. The homeless would often beg for money and make temporary shelters under flyovers and street corners. I don’t think I ever saw children who were homeless.

Walking downtown was always fun. The stadium was right there. The streets were busy with tourists, soccer fans and people wearing costumes.

Roadtrips

Road trips are a popular way for intercity travel in the US. The first road trip we took was from Atlanta to Nashville. It was less than four hours away but I was so restless throughout the trip. Now I don’t mind road trips as much and sometimes road trips are a much better option than being in tiny planes getting tossed in the wind.

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Atlanta Stories

Atlanta is a vibrant city, full of life, very diverse and  and we lived there nearly four years. We recently moved and I wanted to record a few of our unique Atlanta experiences before we forget all about them 🙂

Atlanta summers can get as high as 38 degree Celsius with humidity. That heat is familiar since I am from Kolkata. What’s different is that some of our neighbors just sit in their cars during hot summer afternoons even though all apartments have air conditioning. Sometimes they turn music on but sometimes, they just sit in the parking lot for hours, doing nothing else.

For a few months last year, someone would play loud music around 3 AM every night while sitting in his car. The music would often wake us up and it turned into quite a tradition. In fact, a few days after the music stopped waking us up, we wondered if the neighbor had left. Around the same time, we had a neighbor who would practice his drum lessons late at night. Since everything else is “hear a pin drop” quiet, those drums were loud.

Our apartment was right next to railway tracks for cargo trains. These trains run through the day and night and their weight would make our furniture rattle.  I don’t think we will miss that part about living there.

For a few nights I stayed by myself while my husband worked night shifts. One night while trying to sleep and trying to ignore those creaks and sounds that are creepier and louder at night, I heard a loud scream, ‘they’re gonna kill me!”

At first I was frozen to the bed in fear, unable to move. When the shouting was accompanied by more commotion, I realized that the noise was coming from right below our apartment. I jumped out of bed and ran to the window.

There were police cars everywhere. The railway tracks were lit up and people’s porch lights were on which made the night look brighter than it was. A man was struggling to escape the clutches of two policemen.  He had managed to make it halfway over the fence.

The fences are almost 6 feet high and he was trying very hard to slide across to the other side. The police seemed to have caught him just as he was about to reach the top. So when I looked out of the window, I saw the man almost on the tips of the fence with two policemen trying to prevent him from making it to the other side. My heart was still racing as the man continued screaming, “they’re gonna kill me. Help! Help me, momma! Momma!”

It was during the same year when the media and public were misrepresenting police actions and making police appear to be villains all over the US. You might have read some of the bad publicity city police offices were getting and most of the stories were falsified. That night I prayed that the officers would do the right thing because clearly the man was trying everything he could to get injured in order to escape arrest.

Soon an elderly lady ran out of one of the apartments on the ground floor. I was shocked to realize that the man was in fact calling out to his mother. She lived right there, in our apartment complex and perhaps so did he! There was a crime suspect living so close to our apartment!

The elderly lady ran out shouting words of comfort to her son and abuses at the officers. In that moment, the man managed to break free from the police and ran towards our building. More police cars had arrived by then. It was like a scene from the movies. Sirens blaring, officers hurried out of their cars chasing him on foot. He was surrounded in seconds. They were now on the other side of the building and I couldn’t follow the rest of the action. The commotion continued till the man was finally arrested and the mother calmed down.

Over the next few minutes the police cars departed, apartment porch lights went out and the outside was dark again. I was too excited to sleep. I had just witnessed something exciting – a crime bust right below our apartment!

When my husband returned home from work later that night, I learned that the man had been involved in regular theft from the cargo trains that parked on the tracks at night. The police had finally caught on to his tricks and had arrested him.

Good boss, bad boss

A few days ago I realized that this year marks a decade of my career in Human Resources. Over this past decade I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of bosses and in some of my roles, I have had the opportunity to manage teams.

So I wrote down a few points about the different types of bosses that I have had and how they have influenced me. Of course, it was almost easier to remember all the annoying traits and the more I thought about them, the more it became clear to me that I have been all those annoying traits to someone else. But first a little more about these amazing boss traits. 

Amazing bosses really led their team to excellence and did it with compassion. They were not afraid to fail, they gave solid feedback to help people improve, and they invested time in mentoring. They let their teams own their projects, encouraging innovation and leadership.

They measured outcomes against high standards. Trust was common. These leaders helped their team shine before their own bosses and were comfortable leading with a servant heart. They stood up for their teams, protecting them from fruitless labour. They didn’t feel threatened when their teams knew more than them and were able to accept their mistakes. They created a growth attitude and pushed their teams to new challenges to enable them to become stronger.

They bought treats for their teams out of their own pocket. They let their teams rest on vacations and weekends. They knew their families and bothered to ask about them sometimes. They discouraged gossip and kindled a culture of respectful feedback. They knew how to celebrate successes. These are the leaders that have impacted me so deeply and I strive to be like them.

Now on to some funny traits:  

20180421_160343

I am always stressed out – I work all the time and expect my team to do the same.

I stress over minute details and I need to please everyone! What if they don’t like me?! is my greatest fear. As a result, I can’t give thorough feedback, can’t handle feedback about myself, but end up making my team rework everything just because someone suggested it.

I am competent so I micromanage. I am always late to meetings because I always “need” to finish “one more thing”.

20180421_160314I know more than you ever will – how dare you try to teach me! I need to reply to all emails immediately – even during sensitive meetings.

You can’t expect me to remember everything and I can’t bear any blame. It is always someone else’s mistake. Be diplomatic with me and praise me all the time, not because I need affirmation but because I truly deserve it – I am the best.

Every one likes me – what’s not to like? I am full of life and I know everything.

20180421_160302I hear no feedback, I change nothing! Don’t innovate and just do it my way.

I can show strategic compassion to make my team feel valued. If someone in my team knows more than me, they will be favoured above the others.

If you make a mistake, I will reprimand you in front of the team so that no one ever thinks of repeating that mistake ever! I love gifts, initiative and people who follow instructions impeccably. 

 

20180421_160322I am laid back and I am awesome. I have a new vision speech every week but can’t seem to follow through on any plans. I think it’s because I am a perfectionist and if I cannot do it perfectly, I won’t do it at all.

I borrow ideas and spin it off as my own, taking credit for work I didn’t do. If I am leading a project, I cannot delegate because no one else can do it a perfectly. It’s okay if I miss important deadlines that impact my team.

I hate confrontation but you can pick up hints from my passive aggression.


I guess we are all combinations of some good boss and some bad boss. Being self aware can help us become better bosses and have lasting impacts in the lives of our teammates. If you have had a good boss, remember to send them a thank you note today.

 

How to be More Creative at Work

This year’s Global Leadership Summit included a session with author Fredrik Haren (author of The Idea Book).  Haren is a business creativity expert from Sweden who, according to Forbes, lets people stay on his private island for free. His session during the summit got me thinking a little more about business creativity.

He made an interesting point during this talk. He said when you ask people if they are creative most people say that they are not. Creativity is connected to crafts, artists, and musical talent. But creativity has so much to do with the what we think  and do everyday.

I decided to try something new. I scheduled an hour of Creative Space into my week.  The idea is to intentionally nurture creativity. During this hour, I do one of the following: think of a new project, read about a topic I wouldn’t normally read about, learn something new, create something, write something, compose something. Needless to say I am enjoying this new habit because it’s just fun. Its an hour of intentional creative growth each week.

Creative thinking and creative problem solving are valued very highly in terms of getting ahead at work. Creativity plays an important role in time management, prioritizing multiple demands, negotiation skills, and basically staying sane during stressful work weeks.

Creativity and Innovation are close associates. Innovation means doing something new by making a new combination of things that already exist. In his speech, Haren reminds us that God alone can make something out of nothing so that’s not something humans need to worry about. We can make new things from other existing things. That made this whole creativity and innovation business more manageable.

The other concept that I re-read recently and that resonates with my personality is this: One needs to be structured in order to be creative. Creativity doesn’t flow from complete chaos. Let’s rephrase that a little – for meaningful creativity to flourish, there needs to be some structure even in chaos.

The SCAMPER principle is a structured guideline to develop creative:

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Modify
  • Put to other use
  • Eliminate
  • Reverse

To have a great idea, have a lot of them (Thomas Edison). Creative experts recommend divergent thinking while problem solving. Instead of finding one solution to solve multiple problems, think of multiple solutions for problems. This prevents tunnel vision, which is often the enemy of creative thinking. It is also important to take a break when tackling problems and let your ideas incubate to help you in picking the best solutions.

Think about how creative entrepreneurs got their ideas. Here are some examples from the November 2017 edition of Inc. Magazine, Koel Thomae launched Noosa Yoghurt after tasting a new kind of creamy, full-fat yogurt while visiting her mother in Australia. Paul English started Kayak, inspired by his trip to Haiti, to make online travel search easier. Blake Mycoskie started TOMS because of the impact that his trip to Argentina had on him. He was moved by the difficult life of rural children, many of whom had no shoes. That was the genesis of his shoe company and its buy-one, give-one model. Kombi Vans in South Africa inspired Logan Green to start his company Lyft.

There are endless stories about entrepreneurs who were able to use inspired creativity to innovate. The key to their success is that they were not afraid to fail.

As a manager, provide opportunities to your team to grow in business creativity. Instead of giving them answers to problems, challenge them to come up with solutions. As a manager don’t crush your team when they fail or you will stifle creativity and innovation.

We wish ideas would just flow naturally while we are sleeping or enjoying some macaroons with coffee. But business creativity flows when we show up to work. Show up and start brainstorming solutions and ideas. Creativity is a combination of imagination, curiosity and knowledge.

Creativity is what sets you apart as a leader in your workplace. “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” (Peter Drucker)


What helps you nurture creativity? Email your stories to editor@theoverseasmagazine.com 

Learning to Network in a New City

The last time I had a sales job, I had regular nightmares about failing at achieving ‘targets’. That was almost nine years ago but I still remember the exhausting feeling. I hated networking. I hated going to work and trying to sell insurance to customers. But it was my first job after college while I tried to figure out which career to pursue and the job paid handsomely. Thankfully, I had a good boss who helped me realize that sales was not my calling. So after six grueling months of meeting clients and growing a sales network, I decided that the stress was not worth the money and quit.

After quitting I did some freelance work and then started my professional journey with IJM. In my Business Admin and Human Resources role, most of my responsibilities were office internal. When I was assigned the responsibility of being a recruiter, I enjoyed networking with organization leaders, colleges and individuals. This networking often took less selling skills because most people wanted to work at IJM.

I was getting quite comfortable in my role when one year our Director assigned an additional networking responsibility to me. I was to serve as a liaison to the German Consulate in Kolkata. This would involve staying in touch with some officials and attending social events hosted by the German Consulate. It wasn’t complicated really but I tried to wiggle out of it and failed.

The first social event I went to alone, I felt out of place and awkward at the beginning but I ended up meeting some cool people. Over time I learned to attend social events on my own, which meant that I actually had to meet strangers, start conversations, eliminate awkward silences and get to know people that I had no real interest in getting to know. The exposure was amazing! I grew more confident, comfortable and appeared more extroverted. My favorite part of the events remained unchanged – I loved when it was time to leave 🙂 But I became less apprehensive about intentional networking.

Learning to network is a key skill that leads to opportunities. Networking doesn’t have to be phony and selfish. It can be a great tool in building connections, advancing knowledge and greater success.

When I moved to Atlanta these networking lessons were put to good use. We knew only a couple of people here. While I waited for my US work authorization, I was able to use that tiny Atlanta network to connect with several business leaders. These leaders then introduced me to other business leaders in the city. Not all of them led to substantial outcomes but the city began to feel more familiar as my professional network grew.

Read related: Living Overseas: Community

You need to be proactive in making these meetings happen. Don’t hesitate to follow up with your contacts when you are waiting to hear about potential networking opportunities – reminders work wonders. But there is fine line between being proactive and being annoying and that line depends on the kind of contacts that you have. Use the appropriate time of day to reach out, always give people a lot of time to respond and don’t hold grudges when they don’t respond. 

Most of the time people were more available to speak over the phone instead of meeting in person. Either way the conversations included introductions, ideas about top things to do in Atlanta and some career advice. I had prepared a brief about myself and a list of questions about the person’s career choices and I would try to keep the pace and sequence as natural as possible. I didn’t ask any of them for a job but simply shared what I was looking for and sought their advice about next steps.

The other networking tool that I used was LinkedIn. I first spent a few hours creating a strong LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn allowed me to find and reach out to company leaders and recruiters in Atlanta. About 75% of those I contacted responded back kindly. The rest didn’t respond at all. I would find the people listed on job boards or leaders listed on company websites and simply reach out via email. It was awkward at first but with every positive response I received, the more natural the approach became.

Read related: What do people who thrive overseas have in common?

Of course not all of the 75% who responded led to substantial outcomes in terms of job searches but each of those conversations helped me improve the next email and conversation. I also enjoyed the exposure that I got to company processes and cultures and that was just priceless. When I emailed someone, irrespective of whether I knew them or not, I would ask them for one favor and that was to allow me to learn about their career trajectory, choices and lessons they had learned along the way as it would help me maneuver my new career path in Atlanta. I am very grateful to those who responded and shared invaluable lessons with me.

The key to this approach was not to get too attached to the opportunities and networks that I was pursuing. This attitude eliminated any feeling of insult when people didn’t respond because quite practically, not everyone has the time or interest to respond to strangers. However, if someone didn’t respond at first, I would send them a follow up email and keep it brief. Most leaders responded to the second email and agreed to schedule a time to connect over the phone and some of them even invited me to meet them at their offices and explore career opportunities with their companies.

Some of these networking sessions led to job opportunities in Atlanta. Some of them led to new friends. I almost enjoy networking meetings now.

You can learn more about networking through these articles:


You can share your professional lessons with readers. Email your stories to editor@theoverseasmagazine.com

Learning and Innovation

Over the last few months I have had the opportunity to lead pilot projects related to Learning and Innovation. The exposure that these projects have provided in terms of Knowledge Management has been significant.

Innovation is often connected with big inventions, technological breakthroughs, and super smart people even though we know that in reality that it is also so much more about everyday functions. It is in capturing knowledge that we can discover what our teams already know and use that knowledge to be more innovative.

When I started working on the projects, I had to set aside a full day just to understand the concepts of Knowledge Management. Not only was the subject fascinating, the significance of Knowledge Management being such a vital step to Learning and Innovation became very obvious.

You might already know what Knowledge Management is but I am going to try to describe it here. It is defined as the efficient handling of knowledge – not data or information – but knowledge. That includes the tacit insights that are a consequence of working in a field or role for some time. But how do you work to capture that within your company was the question we were trying to address for our organization.

We designed pilot projects to try and capture knowledge points within the organization. The pilot projects were collaborative and one was competitive. The projects were designed to encourage knowledge sharing in different ways. The projects were designed following the principle of Human Centered Design, keeping the end-user involved and gathering feedback throughout the pilot.

The collaborative projects included Communities of Practice which allowed teams to engage in intentional yet informal in a shared domain. We used some virtual meeting platforms since global teams participated. The competitive learning platform was an Innovation Forum competition, which offered global teams the opportunity to present innovative solutions they had tested in the last two years. The responses to all the projects was very positive. These projects were bridging learning gaps that would allow teams to be more efficient and agile.

The projects we led were successful but we realized that the real challenge would lie in developing and sustaining an innovative culture within the organization. That would need a shift in the way we function. Certain bureaucratic systems would need to be eliminated. More trust would have to be established. Failure will need to be considered as more of a learning step instead of a taboo or it will hinder success. We will need to be smarter about recognizing  successful innovation and rewarding it. This would encourage people to continue innovating.

Most of the pilot projects continued on to become ongoing initiatives at larger scales. This is just the beginning of a cultural shift towards innovation and the possibilities are exciting!


Share your experiences with TOM. Email editor@theoverseasmagazine.com

Nonprofits: It’s time to design your fundraising strategy

Does your nonprofit have less than 1000 donors, then this post is for you.

The beginning of the year marks the beginning of financial years for a large number of nonprofits. As a nonprofit, your organization must have set aside a fundraising budget for the year. Now is the time to set a strategy in place to make the most of that budget.

We know the basics. Thank donors and ask them for more money. But a systematic strategy can help you better engage them. It’s not just about increasing the number of donors you have, proactively managing the ones who are already on board is equally important. 

Your goal precedes your strategy:

Set a higher goal than the previous year. Its goes without saying that unless an organization keeps challenging itself to outperform its own successes, it will be get harder to outperform a competitor. In the nonprofit sector, competition is usually not openly advertised. But multiple nonprofits compete for the same resources from the same foundations and donors. 

This year set a realistic percentage increase in your fundraising goal. Then use it to drive your donor and fundraising strategy.

Guidelines for strategically planning your fundraising:

nonprofit-strategy

  • Get to know your donors as people and not simply as funding sources. The more engaged you can make them feel, the easier it will be to ask for support.
    • A few online databases offer some helpful features to assist you in getting to know your donors. These databases have sections where you can complete a full donor history so that you can remember donor birthdays, their place of work and their giving history. If you can’t afford to pay for an online database, Microsoft excel combined with great organizing works just fine.
  • Pick a theme for every communication tool and events for the year. Set one theme to communicate to all the donors instead of talking about everything that you do. The lesser the information, the more likely it is to be remembered.
    • Color: Colors can power your messages. Pick a color variation that continues to reflect your brand color. If your brand or logo is blue, shades of blue can be the variation that you pick for all your communication and media. The idea is to get them thinking about you when they see the color even elsewhere. 
    • Slogan: A short catchy slogan is remembered for a long time. Pick something catchy and short that can be applied to every aspect of your organization. Then remember to include it at campaigns so that people associate the slogan with your organization for the year.
  • Events throughout the year. Your organization can appeal to a wider audience with events where they can participate instead of simply asking for donations. You could appeal to businesses through motivational speaker sessions, golfing or skiing events. You could appeal to others through runs, hikes and walks. Others might commit to a ‘dine and donate’ event.
    • The events can be spread throughout the year and with the right team in place to plan and lead them, this could be an easy way to engage more people and raise more funds.  
    • If you are partnering with companies and other organizations, reach out with your plans sooner than you think you should. You will avoid the risk of getting turned down because you waited too long.
    • When you invite donors to events, be a great host to them. A small acknowledgement goes a long way!
  • Communication tools keep donors engaged throughout the year. There are some organizations that bombard donors with too many mails and requests. Then there are some who only send reminder newsletters when it’s time for end of the year fundraising. Neither of these extremes are very effective strategies. Different sets of donors prefer different approaches to communication.
    • Evaluate your donor database and determine who would prefer printed newsletters and the percentage of donors who would prefer to keep up with you simply over social media and occasional emails. Now plan your communication strategy accordingly. Keep your social media page active and relevant. Encourage your donors to help your page grow. Your staff, volunteers and board can be your free advertising tool.

Which of these designs will make a greater impact? The one with just the right amount of information.

  • Budget for good presentation and marketing. This is an area where nonprofits often become stringent. When assigning a budget to your marketing efforts, remember this: Unless your stories get told in a manner that further engages your current and future donors, you will not be able to attract more donors to support you. The content, frequency and presentation skills will reveal how serious you are about the work you do. Donors judge based on the quality of messaging that you send through your communication media.
  • Measure your fundraising strategy outcomes every month or once a quarter depending on how robust your fundraising strategy is. It’s not just about how much effort you are putting into fundraising, it’s about getting results. 
    • Did we hit our fundraising goal for the month/quarter?
    • What was the percentage increase in donor participation during events?
    • How many new donors did we acquire this year?
    • Is our fundraising strategy still relevant for the rest of the year?

Helping the strategy succeed: 

  • If you don’t already have someone in-charge of implementing your fundraising plans for the year, hire someone to get it done. Give your strategy a fair chance to win/
  • Set up accounts for easy donations. If your donors prefer sending checks, have a mailing address in place and communicate it through all your communication tools. We recommend having an option to pay online as well. Make it easy for donors to give. List out your needs and the impact their gifts would have. 
    • According to The Blackbaud Index, online charitable giving increased by 15.3% in 2016. More than 4000 organizations were compared to establish this number. 

Managing donors is one of the most important components of running a non-profit. Without a functional donor management strategy, sustainability of funding sources can take a serious hit. Commit to a great strategy and let us know if it worked.

If you have questions or need assistance with your fundraising strategy for the year, get in touch with TOM!


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Author: The Overseas Magazine Editor