Monday, August 19, 2019

Before Criticizing Team Members, Take a Look in the Mirror

Have you ever walked up to a cash register to pay for your Yoo-Hoo and there are two clerks bad-mouthing a manager or another worker? 

It doesn't seem to matter where -- banks, convenience stores, doctor's offices -- there always seems to be some grumbling about someone else. This person is the worst human walking the planet, according to these folks. They have transgressions that are as long as the credits for "Avengers: Endgame."  

But what many don't realize is that as soon as they are out of the room, they become the object of scorn. They are criticized as being the weakest link, as the person who is just awful. 

I'm not saying I'm innocent of this myself. Especially in my younger days, I was quick to judge and even quicker to excuse any of my own poor behavior. But as I've gotten older -- and hopefully wiser -- I've learned that all of us could do a better job of making improvements at work.

Without being aware of our own weaknesses and transgressions, then we're just part of the problem. Our team will not thrive because we're not willing to do the internal work that only we can do. Bottom line: If the team isn't successful, then the individuals on that team are going to pay the price.

In other words, if you're on a team that isn't performing well, then your own career will suffer.

Starting today, try using the energy you use blaming others for various woes and instead work on yourself. Some things to think about:

1. Take an internal temperature check. I was watching the "Apollo 11" documentary recently, and was struck by how mission control monitored the heart rates of the astronauts. While Neil Armstrong sounded cool as a cucumber when trying to find a spot to land on the moon, in reality his heart rate was around that of a rabbit trying to outrun a jaguar. Next time you're in stressful situation or feeling unhappy at work, try digging deep and finding the cause of your stress. Are you mad because Bryan messed up the PowerPoint? Or are you in reality annoyed with yourself that you didn't lend him a hand yesterday to ensure it went smoothly? Try tapping into what you're really feeling and you'll be better able to deal with the issue effectively instead of just stewing about Bryan and bad-mouthing him to others.

2.  Watch others. How do people react when you speak in a meeting? When you casually stop to talk in the halllway? If they exhibit all the friendliness of Alec Baldwin to the paparazzi, then you may have a problem. Or, if they refuse to look you in the eye and seem to be glancing around for an escape path, then you may have a problem. Let me stress, however, that you're not an FBI body language specialist, so don't count on this is a full-proof way to gauge how others see you. You may have to just ask for feedback from other team members: "What did I do in the meeting that you found helpful?" or "What did I do on that last project that you found least helpful?" This may not be too much fun, but it will give you a better idea of your impact on the team and help you learn what you can do to boost the team's performance.

3. Stick with it. Improving yourself takes a lot of hard, consistent work. You may resolve one bad habit, but another may spring up to take it's place. Or, you may start to feel very self-righteous and start correcting others since you're now such a gem. You need to not only constantly monitor your own behavior and reactions, but also try to delve deeper into why others may have a poor performance instead of bossing them around. Could it be that Angela is always late because she doesn't have reliable transportation and not because she's just lazy? Or, perhaps Ted's poor communication isn't because he's a jerk but because he's so shy finds it difficult to talk face-to-face or participate in meetings?

The next time you're quick to blame someone else for your team's poor performance, stop yourself and see if maybe you're not part of the problem -- and then hopefully part of the solution.

Monday, August 12, 2019

The 3 Things You Must Do Before Leaving an Internship

Many internships are drawing to a close as students head back to school.

But before anyone leaves an internship, there are some things to do that are critical (beyond snagging a few free pens and a coffee cup with the company logo):

1. Meet with your boss. Make sure you go to this meeting with a list of your accomplishments to share with your supervisor. Go beyond, "I showed up for work (almost) on time every day." Make sure to mention if you helped on a key project, even if it was to copy documents or do some research for team members. Those tasks helped keep things on track. By writing a report on what you did, you help remind the boss of your contributions. Such a document will be key for helping you get a permanent job there in the future or having the boss serve as a reference for another job.

2. Touch base with team members. You might not have worked closely with everyone in your department, but make the effort to thank each one for the opportunity to observe and learn. This helps solidify a positive impression of you so that you can immediately send them a LinkedIn request and continue to strengthen that bond. These are the people who will start to form your professional network, and are key to your future success.

3. Ask for feedback. This can be difficult to do, but it's an important step in developing your professional abilities. If all you heard was "Good job!" from everyone, that isn't really helpful. Search for those who may have been less enthusiastic (again, this can be difficult), but these are the people most likely to be brutally honest. You want the feedback that points out your weaknesses -- this is how you really improve and make strides in your career.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Become a Lifelong Learner or Risk Your Future

Infosys President Ravi Kumar predicts that 75 million jobs "old" jobs will vanish by 2022, replaced by 135 million "new" jobs that will  be created because of new technologies. As a result, he has some advice that no employee or job seeker should ignore: become a life-long learner.

"You have to learn to learn, learn to unlearn, and learn to re-learn. For an individual to imbibe that culture of being on that learning curve for a lifetime is a big switch," Kumar says.

Some of you reading this may believe that you've got this covered and learn something new every day. But is it the kind of learning that challenges you? That forces you to see everyday work tasks in a new way? That helps you come up with innovative ways to do things?

Others of you may believe that you're too old or too busy to learn new things. You may think that changes aren't going to hit your workplace or your industry anytime soon, and so you just continue as you've always done. You'll learn new things when the time in right.

The time is right -- right now. Those who hesitate to embrace learning will be quickly passed by when others have an easier time grasping new concepts or technologies. The only way to prepare for making changes is to be in a constant state of readiness, and that happens when you keep yourself turned toward constant learning.

This may sound a little daunting -- who wants to put themselves in a constant state of learning? Does it mean homework? Doing schoolwork that you were thrilled to leave behind in your younger days? Who has time for extra learning when you're barely coping with work and personal demands?

Forget all the things that intimidate you or that you didn't like about school or learning new things. Lifelong learning can be fun. It can enrich your life in ways you never imagined. Embrace it and you will find that it's something you never want to give up. Here are some ways to get started:

1. Set goals. Learning one new thing a day seems doable, doesn't it? Whether you're talking to someone or reading a new book, you're bound to learn something new. When you have a mindset of trying to learn something new every day, you're much more likely to seek out those opportunities for growth. Have lunch with someone you don't know well, pick up a new book or just listen to the conversations around you.

2. Turn away from screens. Give yourself permission to just think about something you've learned. Instead of listening to a podcast on your commute home or while exercising, think about something you learned. Don't watch videos on your lunch break. Go to the park and just think. Information is quickly forgotten unless it is reviewed.

3. Keep smart company. I often say that sometimes I am the dumbest person in the room -- and that's a good thing. I have had the opportunity to talk to some really smart and interesting people, and I am always challenged to rise to their level of thinking. By challenging yourself, you become less worried about how to keep up and more excited about learning.

4. Do what works for you. I love to read. It relaxes me and I seem to retain more. But I know others who learn by listening, so podcasts or audio books or public speakers are just the ticket for them. You're not in school anymore, so you can choose the learning technique that works best for you. Instead of looking at Facebook or Instagram, pick up a book or listen to an educational audio tape.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Study Finds the 3 Actions Taken by the Most Productive Managers

It's a familiar complaint among managers: They aren't as productive as they would like to be because they're constantly interrupted by the demands of others. They have to solve problems that seem to crop up constantly, they are required to attend endless meetings and their own bosses seem to need them for something several times a day.

Now a new study of 20,000 managers on six continents by Robert Pozen, senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, sheds some light on how some managers are more productive than others.

Among the findings about the most productive leaders:

1. They base their work on their top priorities and then take action based on those stated objectives.

2. They develop techniques that are the most effective in managing a great deal of information and tasks.

3. They know the needs of their colleagues, which leads to shorter meetings, better communications and clearer directions.

Based on those findings, Pozen recommends:

  • Every night, revise your next day’s schedule to stress your top priorities. Decide your purpose for reading any lengthy material, before you start.
  •  Skip over 50-80 percent of your emails based on the sender and the subject. Break large projects into small steps — and start with step one.
  •  Limit any meeting to 90 minutes or less and end each meeting with clearly defined next steps. Agree on success metrics with your team.

Monday, July 22, 2019

10 Signs Your Best Employee is About to Quit

When you're the boss, there are days when your life seems like one big dumpster fire. Then, there are the days when it feels like everything is going right and you and your team can take on the world.

Those take-on-the-world days happen because you have a great team, right? Or, at least you have a mostly great team. Your superstars seem to always come through, whether it's pulling a late night to get a project done or coming up with a brilliant new idea to keep a valued customer.

Where would you be without your superstars?

Fighting a dumpster fire every day? Perhaps. Without them, your victories might be few and far between, and your job would be much more difficult.

That's why you always need to be taking the pulse of valuable team members. Are they happy? Do they feel challenged? Appreciated?

If you're not sure, you better find out pretty quick before they walk out the door and take all their superpowers with them. Here are some signs that your most valued employees may be a bit unhappy:

1. Arriving late, leaving early.

2. Seems to call in sick a lot on Fridays. Or Mondays.

3. Hunkers down at his or her workstation like it's a foxhole. Shuns any attempts at conversation with colleagues. Wears headphones even in the bathroom.

4. Eats alone more than usual. Finds an excuse not to join group lunches or coffee runs. Takes lunches at odd times (may be a sign he or she is interviewing somewhere.)

5. Becomes very active on LinkedIn, starts a professional blog or adds tons of new connections via Twitter.

6. Dresses better. This could be a sign that the employee is interviewing somewhere or networking to find another job. Even an updated hoodie and new sneakers should be taken as a warning sign.

7. Late on work assignments. An employee who delays starting an assignment and seems to be missing more and more deadlines could be an indication the employee is no longer engaged and has checked out mentally.

8. Sleepwalking through meetings. All of us zone out from time to time in meetings, so look for behavior that shows the employee not only isn't paying attention -- but doesn't care if anyone knows about it.

9. Very interested in conferences or seminars. An employee who is suddenly gung-ho on such activities may be looking for a way to pass out his or her resume and make industry connections.

10. Whining. Most bosses put up with some whining from all employees, but a superstar doesn't get to be a superstar by whining a lot. When a superstar starts to whine, it's time to figure out what's going on before he or she walks out the door.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Best Way to Answer Questions About Strengths, Weaknesses

What are your strengths?

What are your weaknesses?

These are two very common questions asked in job interviews, and they should catch no job seeker off guard if they've prepared their answers.

The problem for many applicants is that those answers aren't very good ones. They may be something like, "Oh, my greatest weakness is that I work too hard." (Internal eye roll from the hiring manager.) Or: "My greatest strength is that I love people." (Another internal eye roll from the hiring manager.)

There's nothing horrible about such answers, and they may even be true. But such answers don't really tell the hiring manager anything about you, and may even turn her off enough with the triteness of the responses to eliminate you from consideration.

When a hiring manager asks you about your strengths and weaknesses, here are some do's and don'ts:

  • Do tell a story. People remember stories, especially those that have an emotional element. Craft your "strengths and weaknesses" around a (concise) story that will make it more memorable and give it greater impact for the hiring manager.
  • Don't lie. There's no reason to craft some fake story worthy of a television mini-series. All of us have our own battles to fight and our own victories to claim. It may take some internal digging, but you'll find those stories. When they come from a place of truth, they will have the necessary impact.
  • Do emphasize what you learned. More employers are looking for employees with emotional intelligence -- an ability to show empathy to others -- so always try to show how you've grown as a person and a professional when citing your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Don't go overboard. Bringing up your strengths and weaknesses may touch a nerve with you, but don't let it get out of hand. Don't start swearing, getting teary-eyed or become angry. The employer wants to see someone who can clearly look at strengths and weaknesses and express them professionally and honestly without losing control.
Citing your strengths and weaknesses should show the employer how you've grown as a person and a professional. Whether it was learning how to play fair and stand up for yourself after being bullied on the playground or finding that your strength comes from helping others overcome obstacles at work, everyone has a unique story to tell. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

Do This One Thing to Ensure You Always Have a Job

Amazon recently announced that it plans to spend $700 million to retrain 100,000 employees in an effort to help its workforce adapt to a world using more automation and new technology.

Retraining will focus on moving more employees into tech-savvy roles. Still, not everyone is offering praise for the move. Critics contend that Amazon is only dealing with a problem that it created in the first place.

For me, the key is that Amazon is sending a message loud and clear that if you want to survive in the working world, then you must always be evolving. Just because you have a good job right now or a rewarding career that you love doesn't mean that it will be there in five years -- or even next year.

The best way to stay ahead of layoffs and job elimination is to always be learning.

"All of us — when we were growing up — made a linear progression from learning at schools to working. We will now have to move to a continuum of lifelong learning, which means we have to be lifelong learners. You have to learn to learn, learn to unlearn, and learn to re-learn. For an individual to imbibe that culture of being on that learning curve for a lifetime is a big switch," says Infosys president Ravi Kumar.

Here are some tips for being a lifelong learner from “Awaken the Genius Within—A Guide to Lifelong Learning Skills” by Samuel A. Malone using the acronym "PRACTICED":
  • Priority. Set aside at least half an hour a day to build up that knowledge or skill in the area of expertise that you need to acquire. Nothing will happen unless you make it happen and put in the effort.
  • Reflect. Think deeply about what you have learned. Build review periods into your learning so you do not forget. Information is quickly forgotten unless reviewed, and skills fall into decay unless practiced. Observe how others learn, and model the behavior of the best learners. Listen to what people have to say, and look for feedback on your performance and behavior. Don’t take criticism personally as it may point to your shortcomings and a way of learning from your mistakes. 
  • Action learning. We learn best by doing things, and we acquire skill by doing things over and over again. Most skills take a considerable amount of time to acquire and perfect. 
  • Curiosity. The secret of genius is to carry the wonderment of childhood into adulthood. We should be inquisitive and ask questions such as how, what, and why all the time. 
  • Teach. A great way of learning is to teach others as it consolidates and reinforces our knowledge. We can do this by showing other people how to do things, and by demonstrating, coaching, and mentoring. Mentoring can be a great source of informal and non-threatening support. 
  • Insight. Discovery consists of looking at the same things as everybody else but seeing something different. People who make great discoveries by chance have the judgment and persistence to pursue the idea to fruition.
  • Concentration. We must develop powers of concentration if we want to learn and excel. Having goals, listening attentively, dealing with distractions effectively, and practicing the technique of mental rehearsal are just some of the ways you can improve your concentration. In addition, good self-belief and a positive attitude will help you stay focused.
  • Exercise and nutrition. Physical exercise induces the body to produce an array of chemicals that the brain and, indeed, the heart love. The brain, as well as the body, thrives on oxygen and proper nutrition. The brain needs a nutritious diet to survive and thrive. 
  • Different learning styles. There are different learning styles, but most of us use a combination of these.  One method is VAT, which stands for visual, audial and tactile, which means we learn by seeing, hearing, and doing. Another classification is activist, reflector, theorist and pragmatist, which means we do something, think about it, understand it, and then based on our understanding, we may do it differently.