Archive for the ‘Leadership & Management’ Category

Career Conversations: 5 Questions for Staying Alive in Your Job

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

Do you have days at work when time stands still? ‘Wondering if you should be doing something different?  Before you jump on the job boards, there are plenty of things to consider to energize yourself in your current work.

Consider the following 5 questions from Gallup:

  1. What do you know you can do well but haven’t done yet?
  2. What sorts of activities do you finish and think, “I can’t wait to do that again”? Or what are you doing — inside or outside work — when you’re truly enjoying yourself?
  3. What have you done well that you didn’t need someone to explain how to do?
  4. What have other people told you you’re great at doing?
  5. What activities are you doing when you are unaware of time passing?

I hope these got you thinking about the types of activities you enjoy.  The next step is the creative one:

  • How can you do more of the things you enjoy in your current work?  Really, think about it. Don’t assume it isn’t possible.
  • How can you use a favorite skill in a different way to contribute to your team?
  • What can you stop doing, start doing or change the way you do it to get better results?

This is an important career conversation to have with your boss.

If you are a manager or team lead, asking these questions with each person on your team, can:

  1. Help you identify what motivates them (and what doesn’t) for better work assignments.
  2. Build relationships within your own team and across other teams.
  3. Raise performance by tapping undisclosed preferred skills and interests.
  4. Energize and empower people to perform better by doing what they naturally do best every day.

Make time to have this career conversation this month.

Career Conversations without Ageism

Monday, October 9th, 2017

How frustrating it is to struggle with a conversation because we see things through our different lenses!

We make assumptions based on so many things, but for this blog I’ll focus on a person’s age. Age discrimination is still pervasive when it comes to hiring older workers. And for different reasons, many young workers also lose out on opportunities based on age-related assumptions.

Stereotypes remain infuriatingly durable that peg older workers as low-productivity employees who are stuck in their ways and younger workers with lack of work ethic. “One thing that always strikes me is social attitudes,” says David Neumark, economist and director of the Center for Economics & Public Policy at the University of California, Irvine. “People who would never make a racist or sexist joke will make an ageist joke without thinking about it. The social acceptability of that is remarkable.”

Experts in generational workforce issues help us understand how the experiences over time that shape our thinking result in assumptions and generalizations that become barriers in communication and productivity. Strauss and Howe, Claire Raines, and Hayden Shaw help us understand how to talk with each other respecting and leveraging our differences and commonalities.

photo by AHull


On a recent volunteer project, I got an email from a fellow volunteer saying he was not returning to our project because the leader ‘didn’t like me.’ I talked with him and heard how the leader (2 cohorts younger) had spoken harshly to him on several occasions. Upon exploring the situation with him and the leaders, she determined he was not up to the task because he was over 60 and wore hearing aids. I learned that he just didn’t know what was expected – assumptions and lack of clear instructions was at the root of the problem. A classic supervisory error. We lost a valuable volunteer and a dent to the organization’s reputation in the community.

Have you seen and heard a similar situation in your job? Do you see people ‘check out’ in frustration?

Dedicate some time to exploring your boss and colleagues frames of reference. Using the above resources, map out where there are similarities and common ground. Use these as a starting point for career conversations. You may be pleasantly surprised how willing we are to talk when approached out of curiosity rather than assumptions.

Before You Leap – Have a Career Conversation

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

You’re doing great work, got a good performance review, but you want to be promoted and keep your career moving. Your boss says she needs you to do the job she hired you for. You have to “pay your dues.”  What does that mean?!?

So you’re stuck.  Should you look for a new job?’

Before you quit, try a different conversation with your boss.  Check your assumptions – and hers – about what you can do to stay challenged and move up.

We all use euphemisms as a short-hand communication. Both parties may not define the term the same way. Be specific about what you want to stay challenged and move up. Is it more money? Is it different type of work? More responsibility or authority? Different people? What will satisfy your itch? Don’t make your boss be a mind reader.

Avoid assuming what your boss means by “pay your dues.” Ask what specific things should you gain with more experience in this current role. Encourage your boss to be honest and not shy about delivering uncomfortable feedback. Be open to hearing feedback that may feel uncomfortable and ask for specific examples. (Communication skills often top the list.)

Your boss may need to get some return on her  investment in training you by having the you deliver consistent results for a couple of years before moving on to a bigger role – forcing the boss to have to train someone new all over again. What can you do to make this easier? Hint: Tap a colleague to know how to do your work when you are on leave.

Make an appointment with your boss to map out a plan to satisfy as many of both your needs as possible.  Many organizations offer an Individual Development Planning tool that can be helpful.



Career Conversations with Your New Boss

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

Whether you are new to organization or you’ve just landed with a new boss in a re-organization, a conversation with your new boss is an excellent time to assess your career trajectory. Using some of the questions in each of these 7 areas will help you chart your course. [selected wisdom from Michael Watkins,  The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter]

  1. The first area to nail down is around alignment.  Your job is to help your new boss.  Ask, “What are your goals?” and then listen carefully to learn what will be important to your boss. Listen for the types of things that will have her attention. Extract some of the tasks you do that will support her success. Verify how you support those goals. Is your view of what you are here to do the same as the boss?
  2. Get clear about what success looks like. “What metrics and deliverables are important for you?” “Over what time frame?” If important, “What kinds of approaches and methods do I need to use?”  Which leads right into the next area.
  3. “What are the resources are available to get done what you need to get done?” That can include staffing, funding, access to information and, the always important, line of authority. Identify resources to ramp up to learn about the organizations and getting things done.
  4. “What are the unwritten rules?” Every organization and boss has them.  Generally the number one rule is “no surprises.”  Does your new boss value initiative and results or need to approve every step? “How much latitude do I have to get things done?”
  5. “Who do I need to bring along with me?”  “Who are the influencers and stakeholders when changes are afoot?” It can also include how much of your boss’s time will you have to make the case for a change.
  6. Differences in communication style can derail the relationship with your boss. The onus is really on the person reporting to the leader to adjust their approach to match the leader.  Ask for preferences such as,  “Are you more face to face or do you prefer email?  “Phone call or text?” “Do you like more detail? Less detail?” “When can I wake you up in the middle of the night?” Clarity about that side of things can really help shape the early interactions.
  7. You’ll want to inquire about your own personal development. “What am I doing well? What am I not doing so well?” Check in early via informal feedback. Ask about specific things that you can adjust. Research shows that people taking new roles often don’t get feedback early enough, and get themselves into much more trouble than necessary. Bosses tend to be a little bit hands-off to see how people work things out. Having that personal development conversation, pushing to get some feedback, make sure you can make course corrections.

Got hindsight? What are the questions you wished you’d asked the last time you got a new boss?


Career Conversation with My Team?

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

You have a great team! Routine things work smoothly and challenges are handled. There are occasional blips to CUEbaseballteam2manage, but overall, its business as usual. Great!

This is not the time to coast.  Its the very best time to build your team’s bench strength.

How well do you know each person on your team? Do you know what their goals and aspirations are?  Do you know what is important to them both as a person and as a team member. Ask each of them, “Who and what do you want to become?”   Give them a heads up for this to be a topic on your next tag-up. Ask them what types of opportunities they’d like.

Provide your perspective on their specific career enhancing options. If your organization has outlined competencies, you can use those as a starting point.

Help them create an Individual Development Plan (IDP) to serve as a roadmap for you and themselves.  Activities to enhance or gain new skills aren’t limited to formal training or academic programs. Short-term projects, job shadowing, mentors, cross-training, communities of practice are just a few zero-low budget opportunities. Remember to ask them to think about who they could talk with and what activities would be help to enhance their value to your team and the organization.

Check in 1:1 more than once a year. Life and work changes quickly.

At least quarterly, update your team on the State of the Organization from your perspective. Show them explicitly how their day-to-day, and project work, relates directly to the organization’s strategy and mission.  Help them connect the dots by describing the value of their skills and contributions to your customers/client.

Keep an ear open for people moving or new projects in other departments. Not only might you learn of an opportunity to trade a team member (short or long term), you might just find an opportunity for yourself!

Career Conversations with your team will earn you points for being the “best boss ever!”

Career Conversations – 7 Tips for Managers

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

By definition, in most organizations managers are expected to develop people as well as get ‘the work’ done.

I can hear all the reasons why this is not a priority for you. The most common reason is lack of time; the urgency of the work takes precedent over long-term productivity. Do managers with high turn-over attract suspicion? I cringe when I hear,”I finally have my employees working like a well-oiled machine; I don’t want to mess with that?” Why do your employees have to “learn it the hard way, like I did?”

Or maybe you just don’t know how.

Career Conversations happen as you share your insights, offer constructive suggestions, helping people think about next steps in the project or work. Career Conversations don’t have to have formal time booked on your calendar. Some of the best ones occur walking between meetings, in the kitchen or an informal phone check-in if your team works virtually.

What’s in it for you to develop  your staff?

The investment of time and genuine interest in developing others pays off in both tangible and intangible ways. Staff development criteria may be a part of evaluating the managers’ performance. Is there an expectation (or even incentives) to provide well-trained talent to other parts of your organization?

Many managers talk about the pride they feel in seeing employees grow and be successful.

Bottom line: If you don’t offer development opportunities, your staff will find someone who will. That’s not the kind of turnover you want.

Here’s what you can do:

Check your assumptions. Do you want to be known as someone who grows and develops the best talent in your organization or someone who circles the wagons and fights to maintain turf (staff). Don’t get complacent with your staff.  Expect and encourage turn-over due to better job fit, new opportunities, etc. Everyone, not just Millennials, are hungry for training, career advancement and opportunities for growth. Keep your eye open for new talent and be ready to replace those that move on in their careers.

Help them connect the dots. Nothing is more important than doing work that matters. Rekindle the emotional connection [pride] that employees have with your company. Hold “trend” discussions to align individual goals with reality of your workplace, your profession and industry environment. Tell the stories about the people that make your business tick,. Remind them of the purpose your department serves. How does your organization make money or get funding? What deals are in the works? How are the economics of the organization evolving? Keep your team educated about ongoing business developments to directly improve their engagement and performance. The more resources you can give employees on how your company functions, the more loyal they’re likely to be.

Be a champion.  Develop your reputation as someone who offers opportunities rather than holding people back. Stay alert to opportunities where someone on your team could contribute or learn, and be willing to loan them out. They’ll return with valuable knowledge and relationships that can support your team. And if they move on, they will thank you. If you haven’t already, offer cross-training within your team to fill gaps.

Provide daily development opportunities. Use a micro-learning approach with employees’ everyday work. For example: Make mundane tasks into a game. Encourage and show them how to discover answers on their own and praise them when they do. Start or end your weekly meetings with anything they’ve learned to improve the task, their approach to it, about the impact of their work, relationships with others or developing competencies that your organization values.

Develop each person individually. Too many employees get trained on things they don’t need, and fail to get the skills that will actually make them more productive. Assess each persons’ needs and provide targeted, relevant content, instead of one-size-fits-all training. People learn in different ways, so offer hands-on (discovery) as well as ‘read the manual’ options.

Use a coaching style to develop their thinking skills and become smarter. When they come to you with a problem, help them think through the logic to discover the best solutions. This will show them how to approach similar problems in the future, hopefully saving time for you.

Be available, but don’t hover. Set expectations and boundaries, provide resources then get out of the way.

PS – You can have your own career conversations with your peers and boss. Let me know what works for you!

How do I Become an Expert?

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

Organizations depend on people who have “deep smarts”—business-critical expertise, built up through years of experience, which helps them make wise, swift decisions about both strategy and tactics. These mavens may be technical wizards, risk managers, top salespeople or operations troubleshooters, but they are all the “go-to” people for a given type of knowledge in their organizations.

Most Experts don’t even recognize that they are the experts. Because they’ve built their expertise on years of experience, research and sometimes just plain repetitiveness, it now is just part of “who I am” and “what I do.” Its second nature to them and they may be surprised that others don’t have the same level of knowledge. This makes them a bit testy at times. Yet Experts are usually generous in giving advice.

Their knowledge isn’t easy to pass on. Several professions build apprenticeships into their training systems: Doctors, for instance, learn on the job as interns and residents, under the close guidance of attending physicians, before practicing on their own. But many other professions have no such path. You’re responsible for your own development. You must acquire the knowledge in a different way to become the “go to” person.

  • Pay attention to what your organization and profession value. What are the trends that are impacting your organization and profession?
  • Hone your questions. Are you asking good diagnostic questions to understand complex problems?
  • Ask about and take steps to find out what you don’t know. Don’t wait for a training program; Create your own unique advisors and resources rather than the standard curriculum.
  • Listen more than you speak. Keep a log; don’t just rely on your memory.
  • Recognized patterns from experience of both successful and failed applied solutions.
  • Create your reputation by your willingness to share what you are learning.  Speak up at meetings. Engage others in the conversations. Ask for others’ perspectives to understand and deepen your own knowledge.

And most importantly, observe how experts present themselves, not as know-it-alls, but as perpetual learners.



A Crystal Ball – Skills for Now and the Future

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

A research report from Apollo Research Institute gives us a crystal ball for looking towards 2020.  “Future Work Skills 2020”

I like the way this report takes the major global trends and matches them with the skills workers need to thrive now and going forward. Its very useful for  the many people needing to re-skill, re-career and generally upgrade their skills to get good jobs.   Its also useful for HR/OD professionals working on reducing the skills gaps in your organizations. It can add richness to your competencies buffet. More than technical skills, these are the abilities to think, analyze, empathize; the willingness to seek different perspectives, use logic meshed with creativity, and use a variety of means to communicate.

There are six categories from the report:

  • Transdisciplinarity: ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines.
  • Virtual collaboration: ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team.
  • Sense-making: ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed.
  • Social intelligence: ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions.
  • Cross-cultural competency: ability to operate in different cultural settings.
  • Cognitive load management: ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques.
  • Novel and adaptive thinking: proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based
  • Computational thinking: ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning
  • New media literacy: ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication
  • Design mindset: ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcome

This is not only a great read, but full of food for thought.

“Future-Proof” Employee

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

In IBM’s report from interviewing over 1700 CEOs around the world three main themes emerged for the most successful organizations. At the highest level, none are news to us. But going deeper there are some critical nuggets worth exploring. I’m focusing on “Build future-proof employees.”

Because emerging capabilities are hard to define, hiring and equipping employees with the skills to close the gap becomes a guessing game. CEOs look for people  who are collaborative, communicative, creative and flexible.  They create an environment where these traits develop more naturally through:
•     Create unconventional teams.Intentionally mix specialties and expertise
•     Broaden the range of situations and experiences that employees are exposed to in their normal work. Incorporate external influences — like customers and partners — wherever possible.
•     Encourage employees to develop a diverse and extensive network of contacts as both potential
collaborators and prospective customers.

How do you demonstrate that you are collaborative, communicative, creative and flexible?  What do you do as an individual to become ‘future proof?”

Why Didn’t Someone Tell Me?!

Monday, October 17th, 2011

I recently met a woman who needed to advance her role in the organization.  She was very technically intelligent; a go-to person for her group. She was checking all the career development boxes and fully expected this to put her on the path to promotion. Yet,  no work opportunities were opening up for her.  She didn’t know that others didn’t want to work with her.  You’ve met people like her, right?

We are often blind to our characteristics and behaviors that are obvious to others. They won’t tell you, but they will talk about it with others. It is easier to tell someone they have spinach in their teeth than to tell them they are obnoxious. And its easier to hear about the spinach than it is to be labeled obnoxious, or any other undesirable trait. When someone does have the courage, or is frustrated enough to blurt it out, too often we defensively respond with a retaliating, emotional remark and behavior or denial. Who wants to have to deal with, or live with that?

True, not everyone is skilled in these conversations. Perhaps, I’d rather not tell you than deal with the way you would respond.   There are two issues of trust here: (1) telling someone about something they can change – such as a behavior – because you want to see them succeed, and (2) receiving the information as it is intended, not as an attack.

If someone tells me I am obnoxious – I want to know what I’m doing and saying that I come across in an obnoxious manner.  Specific examples of what I said and did (behavior) are most helpful. I need to ask for details and specificity, not a judgment,  in order to know what to do differently and why. If I defend myself, I set up a barrier to any further candid conversations.

Other ways to we tend to respond in these uncomfortable conversations is to dismissg the feedback thinking that, “They haven’t seen me in any other context” or “They are seeing me through what they want me to be, not who I really am.” Consider the source, but also consider how this same aspect might be seen by others.

Often we blame others – “It’s not my fault…” Taking responsibility and ‘owning’ your strengths well as your limitations is the path to being trustworthy and accountable.

Another barrier is to rationalize or say something like, “Oh you don’t understand that I was just trying to…” then that defensive response will discourage any further honesty.  “Yes but…” It isn’t constructive to justify your behavior as an atypical response necessitated by a particular situation or series of events.

Arguing, or denial are all powerful negative emotions, making the conversation more challenging  than necessary. Telling the person why they’re feedback is wrong will not work.

Avoid interrupting or finishing the other person’s thoughts gives the impression that you don’t really want to hear what they have to say.

Don’t sulk or withdraw either.  This will not encourage the person to be honest with you in the future. They may even avoid you.

Chewing over feedback again and again will not make it clearer or easier to understand, particularly if the feedback is less than glowing. Avoid the temptation to re-enact the conversation to a friend as this only re-engages your emotions. Do talk about it with someone else, but make sure you’re emotionally detached first so you can determine actions to correct the offense.

So whether its a co-worker, significant other, or roommate, if they had the courage to tell you, then don’t punish them with your response.