Category Archives: Workplace

Give the Gift of Independence

gift boxIt’s a simple gift, but it’s one leaders often overlook. There’s so much pressure to perform these days that it’s tempting to keep our employees on a tight leash. But, in doing so, we disempower them and cripple their growth. Although it may be a winning strategy in the short-term, it is doomed to fail as we count on the capability of our protégés over the long-term.

 Why don’t leaders give employees independence?

 It’s scary.

“What if something bad happens?” Yes, that is always the risk, but it’s always a risk no matter how closely you supervise your employees. The downside of over supervising your employees is that they won’t learn how to take care of things when something bad does happen. And even if they could, they wouldn’t have the power to. When you’re home sick, can your employees get things done without you?

To let go, you have to face your fears, says Elizabeth Grace Saunders in How Office Control Freaks Can Learn to Let Go, in Harvard Business Review. Maybe it won’t be done exactly the way you would do it and maybe you won’t even know exactly how it’s done. But if you hire good people and train them, you can trust them to do good work.

We can also mitigate risk by giving appropriate levels of responsibility for the experience and character of the employee. For example, we wouldn’t want to give a new graduate a $10 million project to run, but we could give them responsibility for a piece of it, like researching what the competition is doing.

It’s hard.

“I don’t have time.” It’s often quicker to do it ourselves, but that is only a short-term strategy. Not having time to delegate is a classic excuse and it’s one that causes managers to work excessively long hours unnecessarily. Amy Gallo suggests looking into the reasons you’re not delegating in her article on how to delegate in Harvard Business Review. Are you working long hours and feeling indispensable?

“Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off,” says Jeffrey Pfeffer, the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and author of What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management.

When you keep doing it yourself, you’re wasting your time and your employees’ time. When you empower your employees to get things done without you everybody wins.

It’s painful.

“It feels good to be needed.” Yes, we all like to feel needed—by our kids, our jobs, our community and so on. But at some point you have to let go. It’s the right thing to do. When you continue to put your own needs ahead of everyone else’s, you’re risking greater pain than the pain of letting go. When you hold on too long, people resent you and the greater family/organization/community suffers. Suck it up, be a good role model, and develop your people to manage without you when the time is right.

“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”  ― Ann Landers

Empower your people. It’s the right thing to do for you, for your employees, and, most of all, for your organization.

Photo courtesy of Master isolated images from freedigitalphotos.net

Face It: Face-to-Face Is Important

business meetingA colleague told me just today that a client paid for him to travel to have face-to-face meetings because they believed the results were much higher quality than phone meetings. After he flew all the way across the country for a few hours of meetings, he said it was worth it to get that extra level of interaction.

We often take advantage of current technology to communicateantennae instead of making the effort to get together face-to-face. Even talking can be too much effort. People have told me on multiple occasions that they prefer texting to talking on the phone. But we are missing out on a lot of information when we interact via technology. Some situations benefit greatly from good old face-to-face interaction. Building trust and resolving conflict are two such situations. It may be inconvenient—and expensive—to get together in person, but the time and money saved in the long run is well worth it.

I interviewed a group of industrial design engineers at a multinational company to find out why they preferred to meet face-to-face, even when it involved international travel. The engineers said there were many benefits of meeting face-to-face. These included:

  • personal growth (travel and learning)
  • ease of interacting remotely after meeting face-to-face
  • obtaining a “sense” of the other person
  • seeing what others are trying to accomplish
  • facilitating teamwork
  • establishing personal relationships and friendships
  • building trust
  • seeing others’ reactions
  • seeing eye contact and body language
  • clearly focusing on the problem without distractions
  • resolving issues
  • having quick access to decision-makers for approvals.

Some people think old-fashioned communication skills are not needed in the modern world. But don’t forget that people are people. We still need to interact, understand, and connect with each other. For all these reasons and more, it’s a good idea to hone your face-to-face communication skills.

Forget Physical Fitness, Get the Right Job Fit!

happy face in sad facesOne day, I was called in to give feedback to a company’s leaders on one of their directors who had been through our assessment center. The meeting was curious to begin with, since exceptionally high-level people were there. The meeting was called unexpectedly after being put off for months after the completion of the assessment center program. But, being a consultant, I was used to flexing to the whims of clients.

Within minutes, it was clear the meeting was not a typical collaborative evaluation of an executive, with people from inside and outside of the company bringing their observations to the table. It was a meeting to develop a case to fire the director for not being able to manage the relationships in a business alliance under his charge.

The director was a smart, talented technical expert. He was not, however, skilled at building rapport and managing conflict. In the field, we call this a “derailing” factor. In other words, he was derailed from his upwardly mobile track because he did not have people skills.

This is, unfortunately, a very common occurrence in organizations. It would have been better for the director if he had learned people skills or, even better, taken a job that better leveraged his technical skills.

I coached another mismatched director—a very smart and talented woman who was an extreme introvert, who preferred to work alone. You can only imagine how absolutely miserable this woman was, when her job was to manage personal relationships among her team, her peers, and the board. She was desperate to change jobs without burning any bridges in the process. Unfortunately, this is also a common occurrence, especially in technology-based companies.

Sometimes it is not about competence, but it is about job fit. The earlier you learn that, the less time you waste in unpleasant job situations.

Job fit is important at all levels in an organization—manager, employee, consultant, business owner, and so on. College students choose “majors,” fields of study that hopefully hold their interest and in which they get good grades. Of equal or greater importance, however, are the work environment and tasks associated with a particular job.

For example, I had planned to be a therapist before I applied to graduate school in psychology. But after talking to a couple of therapists, I found out that it was a very passive job, where you sit in a room all day and wait for people to come to you. It was not at all a good fit for me. I was so glad I had done the research ahead of time to learn what the work environment was like. I recommend you do the same.

9 Success Factors at Work

man with business cardA college education is important, but learning from real life experiences is more.

Fifty executives at a large pharmaceutical company went through an assessment center to help the company develop its talent pipeline. They were assessed on sixteen competencies, or success factors. “Technical expertise” (what you learn in college) was just one factor; being socially agile, building strategic relationships, influencing others, maintaining composure under pressure, and driving change were among the fifteen other critical factors that are not taught in college.

Here are nine real life factors that typically contribute to an employee’s success in a job.

  • Leadership, courage, and decision-making ability
  • Social agility, being a team player, and building relationships
  • Communication and influence
  • Creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurialism
  • Planning and execution
  • Facilitating and adapting to change; resilience
  • Drive for results
  • Self-awareness and self-development
  • Integrity and organizational values

Joanie teaching at NU 3How do we learn these skills, if not in college? By taking on responsibility, venturing into unchartered ground, and taking time out to reflect.

What are some actions that you are taking to develop these skills? I’d love to hear your comments.

man on computerThe factor I’m learning the most on right now is communication and influence. I’ve broadened my reach to social networking. Learning how to communicate on the internet and how to be heard are two important skills that I certainly didn’t learn in college!

New Year’s Resolution: Don’t Worry, Just Do It

Flying without a Helicopter Book Cover finalBy Joanie Connell.

My husband said to me one day, “Do you know what I love about you?” My heart beat a little faster as I fluffed my hair and stood up a little straighter. “You get things done.” He finished.

I tried not to let my disappointment show. “I get things done? Seriously? That’s your compliment?” The conversation in my head began. But, I reflected for a moment. “It is true, I do get things done.” I reconciled and simply said “Thanks.”

One of the things that differentiates people who get things done from people who don’t is that they actually DO it. It’s as simple as that. They don’t sit around and worry about it. They don’t think of all the things that can go wrong. They don’t rouse up all the reasons why they can’t do it. They just do it.

WHAT’S THE SECRET TO GETTING THINGS DONE?

The first steps and the last steps are the hardest. What stops many people is taking action in the first place. Another stumbling block is lack of follow through. We talk about these in business language as being “results oriented” and having “execution skills.” You can talk all day about getting results and you can brainstorm ideas on how to get good results, but if you don’t execute, it won’t happen. Likewise, if you don’t follow through till the very last step, you won’t get the results either.

I just finished a book and people often say to me, “I’ve always wanted to write a book. I’m impressed that you actually did it.” And that’s the secret. I just did it. I wanted to write a book, I took the first steps, and continued on, followed through till the very end and now it’s out there. I won’t say it was easy, because it wasn’t. Getting things done rarely is. I ran into many stumbling blocks along the way, but I didn’t let them stop me because I wanted to get it done. I’ll also admit that following through till the end has been excruciating at times, but work always is. In fact, I write about that in my book.

DON’T WORRY!

Engineers are great at figuring out what might go wrong. But the good ones don’t worry about it; they prepare for it, work around it, or fix it or sometimes just live with the fact that nothing’s ever perfect. In other words, it’s okay to recognize potential obstacles, but worrying about them does no good. “Problem solving” is another skill we talk about in the workplace as being critical to success—in any job. As the complexity of the task grows, so does the number of problems. Expecting problems and working through them, not only require creativity, but also resilience. But what they don’t need is worrying and fretting and gloom and doom.

GETTING NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS DONE

Making a commitment to getting something done is a good first step, but then you need to take action. For example, making a resolution to get fit requires you to exercise. Sometimes the hardest step is to make it out the door to the gym, the jogging path, or wherever. But if you commit to getting out the door, no matter how tired or unmotivated you are, you will find that you’ve actually gotten something done. You made it there. The next step is easy because you’re already on a roll.

Keeping up with your resolutions can be tricky. You may get busy or frustrated with your fitness plan after a couple of months, but don’t give up. Remember, the difference between people who get things done and those who don’t is that they just DO it.

To Have or Have Not

shoppingBy Joanie Connell

Have you thought about how ironic it is that Black Friday falls the day after Thanksgiving? One minute we’re appreciating what we have and the next we find ourselves seething for what we want. For some of us, it’s a game to win, for others, it’s getting stuff we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. The New York Times had a photo of someone buying a 50” screen TV at sunrise on Friday and a quote from another person saying she didn’t need any of what she bought but she got a kick out of the great deals.

Have you ever thought about how much all these savings cost us?

  • Buying more for less causes us all to have to work harder. To produce more for less, companies have to hire people for lower wages and make them work harder for every dollar earned. We all know what it’s like in organizations these days, having to generate higher profits by spending less, laying people off and requiring the remaining ones to do the work of 2-3 employees. This is clearly not good for people who value balance in their lives.
  • Collecting more stuff is creates more work for us to get rid of it all. What do we do with all this stuff when we don’t want it anymore? We throw it away! Even charities don’t want lots of the junk people are getting rid of today. While it’s good for the waste management sector, we are paying the costs of managing the waste that companies and households generate—through higher taxes, higher costs of goods, lower salaries, and longer hours worked. Obviously, waste is not only a cost for us, but for Mother Earth as well.
  • Wanting more makes us feel less satisfied. Research shows that materialistic people are less happy than non-materialistic people. When you constantly want more and do not appreciate what you have, you feel shortchanged, envious, resentful, unfulfilled, and so on. These are not healthy feelings and buying more won’t make them go away.

With all these costs, the question remains as to whether the benefits are worth it. It may well be a situation in which less is more. Owning fewer things lets us better appreciate what we have. For example, owning one doll makes that doll special. Owning a collection of dolls makes each one just a part of the collection and creates a desire for more every time a new one comes out. During this shopping season, consider having less to achieve more happiness.

Good Writing is Still Important—Really. Guest Post by Adrienne Moch

AdrienneMoch2012_07dThe statistics are quite sobering: a high percentage of college graduates have subpar writing skills, according to those who hire them. Full disclosure: I’m a Baby Boomer (at the tail end!), so when I went to school writing was a big deal. Given what I hear from my teenage niece and nephew, it’s still part of the curriculum, but for some reason students don’t seem to think it matters as much as it once did.

How sad.

I see evidence of poor writing everywhere—from company websites to billboards to news crawls at the bottom of a TV screen. Given my profession as a writer/editor, that should not be a big surprise; my antenna is probably more attuned to such faux pas than the “common man.” However, I’m far from alone in noticing and being mildly disgusted by the rampant botching of the English language.

I can only speculate that those much younger than me, especially the Millennials—weaned on electronic communications—don’t see why anyone should care about basic grammar mistakes. You’re or your; its or it’s; their, there or they’re—as long as the message gets across, who cares about the details?

It’s enough to make an English teacher shudder. (And me too!)

The fact is, poorly written copy can have a domino effect. When those who read it are unimpressed, that can lead to a number of bad outcomes: sales aren’t made, projects aren’t won, promotions don’t occur and jobs are lost.

Even more horrifying than bad writing—at least to me—is the fact that so much copy is seemingly not proofed before being published. Many people rely on spellcheck as a proofreader, but that’s only a partial solution; a computer program will not tell you that you used “pubic” rather than “public,” for instance. (I recently corrected that typo in some website copy.)

For my entire career, I’ve earned a nice living because I have a better grasp of the English language than most other people. I have a way with words. I don’t anticipate demand for my services will plateau or decline anytime soon; in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see writing and editing become hot professions—due to the fact that so many people are deficient in those areas.

English is not an easy language to master, even for native speakers. For that reason, those who either have innate talent or have worked hard to hone their writing abilities should never have to sing for their supper, so to speak. Their skills are in high demand because communicating via the written word is something that will never go out of style. The delivery method may change, but the need to create compelling copy is here to stay.

Writer/editor Adrienne Moch is passionate about words. Her focus is ensuring copy isn’t just competent, but compelling. Adrienne uses the skills she developed as a journalist, corporate communicator, and PR professional to provide writing and editing support to business and author clients. To learn more and sign up for her monthly newsletter, The Write Stuff, please visit http://www.adriennemoch.com.

How I Turned my Sitting Desk into a Standing Desk for Less than $35

baby at computerIt’s really becoming clear how unhealthy it is to sit at your desk all day and type on your computer. “Sitting is the new smoking” I’ve heard on more than one occasion. Do I want sitting to cause me to have an endlessly miserable old age? Right in the center of middle age, I’m already starting to feel stiff and hear creaks when I get up after sitting for a long period of time. The writing is on the wall. It probably is for you too if you open yourself to the possibility.

What are the problems with sitting? Sedentary behavior is the biggest one—not moving can lead to weight gain, muscle atrophy, bone loss, and joint stiffness, among other things. On top of that, a seated posture puts pressure on your spine, squishing the discs into each other. Even worse is what bad posture can do to you. Continue reading How I Turned my Sitting Desk into a Standing Desk for Less than $35