Thursday, July 2, 2015

Why All Leaders Need to Understand Big Data

Do you only care about statistics when discussing fantasy football? Is the only knowledge you have of data is how to spell it? If so, you better wise up – fast.
While data and statistics are changing the way companies like Google and Amazon do business, they also are impacting industries from manufacturing to health care. Managers and employees who are clueless about the subjects may find themselves standing on the sidelines as key projects continue without them or senior leaders pass them over for promotions.
Susan Athey, a Stanford Graduate School of Business economics professor, has consulted for companies like Microsoft and other technology firms. She says that while these companies require their managers to be knowledgeable about data collection and statistics, it’s a trend that’s starting to seep into other industries.
She explains that more companies are collecting and analyzing data as a way to stay competitive and innovative. It’s been shown that when companies inject data and analytics deep into their operations, they can boost productivity and profit that is 5% to 6% higher than the competition.
In other words, managers can no longer just ignore Big Data or trust the IT department or an outside firm to deal with it. If they value their jobs, they need to become more informed.
For example, data can show whether the price point on a product needs to be altered, whether to open a new store in another city or if television marketing efforts are failing. But if you’re a manager in marketing or sales, then being clueless about that data means you can’t ask smart questions – or know when there’s a problem, Athey says.
In addition, while your company may not be collecting a lot of data right now, what about your competitors? Your suppliers? Are others collecting data and making decisions based on data analysis that will eventually impact your product or business?
“I think it’s a smart idea to become more familiar with data and statistics,” Athey says. “There are free online courses, or you can go to executive training sessions. If you’re getting your MBA, go take a programming or statistics course.”
Athey says she isn’t suggesting that all managers become fluent in statistics or data analysis, but she says “you want to be able to look at data instead of waiting for someone else to interpret it for you.”
Keep in mind, she says, that while someone in IT may understand the more technical aspects, they may not have your knowledge of a business’s strategy or grasp the importance of certain information to a key project. So, it’s important that leaders at any level “have an understanding of what kinds of questions they should be asking” when they’re (read more here)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Being Too Casual Could Cost You at Work

As you work your way up the career ladder, it may be gratifying to know that your hard work has paid off. Your skills and experience are valued, and you feel that your career is on the right track.

Still, don't rest on your laurels. Right when you start to see your future become bright you could lose it all.


You wear yoga pants on casual Friday with the word "sweet" across the butt. You haven't washed your hair for more than a week, nor shaved in the last three days. You go out to lunch with your boss and sit with your feet propped up in your chair. You are always late to business meetings and spend most of the time checking your email or texting.

While some people may argue they work in a more casual environment and their looks and behavior aren't valued more than their skills, that's naive. The truth is that everyone is judged on their ability to conduct themselves in a way that won't offend others.

So, even though you wear leggings and a sweatshirt to work, is the boss assured that you won't do the same when meeting with an important, more conservative client? Or, can you eat like an adult while dining with a key customer or are you going to slump over your food and use your fork like a shovel?

Will others follow you if you show disrespect during a meeting and text during their presentation?

We've become much more casual in the workplace, and in a lot of ways that has led to more innovation and better communication. Still, make sure that your casual attitude doesn't show a side to your boss that will hurt your chances to advance.

What are some things you believe people do or say that hurt their professional image at work?


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How to Make Anyone More Excited About Their Job

Brittle. Slow. Bureaucratic.
These are the terms that Jason Jennings uses to describe the companies that have fallen by the wayside since the Fortune 500 was first published in 1955. In the last 60 years, the majority of those original companies are gone.
Jennings, author of “The High-Speed Company,” says that managers must create a sense of urgency and growth in this “nanosecond culture,” or find themselves in the same boat as Sears and Kmart. (He compares these companies to “witnessing a train wreck in slow motion.”)
The key for managers, he says, is that they must create a sense of purpose for their teams if they hope to drive a sustained sense of urgency.
For example, he recently spoke to a group at Silgan Containers, a company that makes 50 billion aluminum cans a year. While it’s a “decidedly unsexy” business, Jennings pointed out to employees and leaders that “what you do has changed the world.”
“I told them how they saved hundreds of thousands of lives every year because they offered food safety,” he says.
After the speech, a 24-year-veteran with the company approached Jennings and told him, “This is the first day I’ve been excited to work here.”
Jennings says that the Silgan employee is representative of many other employees at other companies who are never told about why their jobs have purpose. “That’s the first challenge for any good manager,” he says. “You have to let them know their purpose – you must identify it so that you can attract, unite, ignite and fuel people.”
However, it’s also critical that you express that purpose as succinctly as possible – about 12 words or fewer. “If it takes more than a dozen words to explain why what you’re doing is good, it will be hard for anyone inside your company, let alone outside, to remember the purpose,” he explains. “You’ll miss the opportunity to evoke a strong emotional connection between your company’s work and doing good in the broader world.”
Other keys for managers who want to create a sense of urgency for teams:
  • Provide guiding principles.  These are the “shalls” and “shall nots” that keep everyone true to their stated purpose. It’s not enough to just put the principles on a website – they’ve got to be fully explained to workers. Jennings says that of 220,000 companies his company has studied, there were fewer than two dozen where everyone knew the company’s guiding principles and used them when making tactical decisions.
  • Connect the dots.  “Everyone who works for you should know how their role creates value for the company,” he says. “They should especially learn the economic value they create and how it can be measured, by you and by them.”
  • Be clear.  Instead of giving vague, general directives that are steeped in jargon, be willing to say “I don’t know,” if that’s the case, he says.  It’s OK to (read more here)

Photo: dumblittleman

Monday, June 22, 2015

What Incivility at Work Costs All of Us

I'd say there's probably more than a few discussions today around the watercooler and via email about mean bosses after a New York Times opinion piece "No Time to Be Nice at Work."

In the article by Christine Porath, associate professor at Georgetown University, she noted that after studying the cost of incivility for nearly 20 years she finds that "insensitive interactions" hurt a person's health, performance and souls.

I've written before in this blog about a**hole bosses, and know from personal experience the toll they take on a person. It makes you more prone to sickness -- even leading to health issues such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. It undercuts your confidence, it affects personal relationships and it can lead to emotional problems such as depression.

Porath notes that such bosses produce demoralized employees through a string of actions such as "walking away from a conversation because they lose interest; answering calls in the middle of meetings without leaving the room; openly mocking people by pointing out their flaws or personality quirks in front of others; reminding their subordinates of their 'role' in the organization and 'title'; taking credit for wins, but pointing the finger at others when problems arise."

Do these people know they're being mean and belittling others? According to Porath and those I've interviewed over the years, these people often often don't realize how rude they are being. They were treated this way by their boss, so that's the way they act toward others. Once you add in the fact that many of us took on extra duties when the economy tanked, the pressure of the 24/7 do-it-now workplace, and you've got big problems.

I do believe civility is contagious. I've worked for some tough editors, who liked to eat reporters for lunch. But I came across a young editor several years ago who always said, "please" and "thank you." He never failed to say "Good morning!" or "Have a nice weekend!" The surprising thing is that he did this all via instant messaging. 

My point is that while it's going to be difficult for the average worker to break the uncivil habits of a senior leader, we can all take a step toward making the workplace better. This young editor certainly affected me. I began to be more aware of saying "please" and "thank you," no matter how brief the interaction.

You know what? It made me feel better about my day. Just being nice to others helped relieve my stress. Maybe my day hadn't been stellar, but I ended it knowing I hadn't been a jerk, either.

Remember, you cannot complain about incivility when you're snarky about a co-worker, gossip with others or treat anyone with disrespect -- no matter his or her title.

Civil behavior starts with each one of us. Our health and our well-being depends on it. It's a work challenge we should all embrace.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Science Behind Getting What You Want at Work

When you were a kid, your mom probably asked you to say the “magic word” when requesting something.  You quickly found out that saying “please” could get you what you wanted.
But Tim Davis, a professional magician and communications expert, says there are actually seven magic words backed up by science that can help you persuade, influence and engage others. By knowing the right thing to say, you’ll be able to get your team to perform better and get others to make concessions when negotiating. He says it’s a technique he has taught to companies such as 3M and Burger King.
Davis outlines the seven magic words in his book, “Magic Words”:
  1. Yes. He says it’s important to remember when you’re negotiating, arguing or making a sales pitch, it’s important you get to “yes” as soon as possible.
“Saying yes at the beginning of an interaction eases tension, creates rapport and opens minds,” he says. He explains that in every interaction, you are being judged in two phases. The first phase is highly emotional, illogical and often unfair. This is the phase that puts you into one of four buckets: “good, “bad,” “sexy,” or “boring.” Boring is usually the default setting, because “we can’t possibly be interested in everybody,” so the brain quickly categorizes people into the buckets. That’s why “good” and “sexy” move into phase two, while “bad” and “boring” get left behind, he explains.
Further, a “yes” gives you your best chance of getting placed into the “good” bucket, he says. “Since the first phase takes only seconds to complete, the kind of ‘yes’ you’ll have to use is largely non-verbal. A smile, mirroring body language and tonality, etc.,” he explains.
By finding something to agree upon with the other person, you can stop arguments from getting out of control. For example, offering a “you’re right” can ease tensions and help keep the conversation going, he says.
2. But. Allen suggests using the word “and” instead of “but.” That’s because once you add “but” to a comment, it can erase your “yes.” Another strategy is to place the information you want someone to remember the most after you say “but.”
He explains that while the word “and” links two ideas together, saying “but” draws a distinct line between them. What comes before a ‘but’ is ignored and what comes after a ‘but’ is enhanced. “It’s the word that I see misused most often,” he says.
3.  Because. Toddlers often ask “why” so much that their parents may simply respond “because” just to stop the constant questioning. But this points to the brain’s need for a link between cause and effect. David explains that compelling reasons that may satisfy someone include “want to,” choose to,” love to,” and “called to.” This can be especially helpful to salespeople, David says, because “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
4.  A name. Simply saying someone’s name can be valuable in engaging the other person, and can be especially valuable when dealing with introverts. Calling someone by name and inviting feedback can make them feel their input at work is important, and (read more here)

Monday, June 15, 2015

6 Tips to Help You Get a Pay Raise

It's time to ask for a pay raise.

You know it, and I know it.

You've been busting your butt for years now, telling yourself that the piddly 2% annual raise you've gotten for the last five years is OK. You're lucky to have a job, you tell yourself. You have benefits, you argue. Your boss tells you that he knows you work hard, and didn't he just give you a gift certificate for $20 to the car wash around the corner?

That's enough for now, you contend.

No, it's not. As long as you sit quietly and accept whatever an employer gives you, then you are not going to ensure that your income grows with your skills and experience. You're not going to be able to save for retirement, send your kids to college or keep up with inflation.

As I said, it's time to ask for a pay raise.

You might be nervous about this -- especially if you're a woman. But if you don't ask for one, then you'll never get one. At the very least, you'll put your boss on notice that you believe you deserve a raise, and want one. That should get him or her pondering whether you're unhappy enough with your pay to leave. As the job market heats up, that may spur your boss into giving you a bigger annual raise just to avoid losing you, which can be costly.

In addition, he or she may decide to not only give you a pay raise at your performance review, but may also bump you up before then.

Still think you should sit quietly and take whatever the boss gives you?

No?  Then here's how you go about asking for a pay raise and boosting the chances you'll get it:

  • Do your homework. Consult sites such as Glassdoor or to learn how much others in your industry and position earn, as well as those in your geographic area. You can't ask for something that's way above the industry norm and be taken seriously. You want the boss to know that you've done your homework and are aware of what competitors are paying.
  • Know what you contribute. Take the time to think about how you've helped the company's bottom line, enabled your boss to shine or helped solve a problem. Think about times you've really excelled and been noted for it. If you've received written praise from customers or leaders, that can be brought up in your discussions.
  • Strike while the iron is hot. If you've just received an award, been personally praised by a senior leader or garnered an industry award, then that's a good time to ask for a pay raise. You've just clearly shown that you're above average, and deserve above-average pay.
  • Stay professional. Never ask for a raise "because I need a new car" or "I really want to go to Paris." Any pay discussions should not center on your personal needs, but rather why you believe you deserve more money based on your performance.
  • Time it right. Of course, it's not a good time to ask for a pay raise when layoffs have just been announced or you just screwed up a major contract. Use your common sense -- you want to make a move when the boss is in a good mood, not fuming over an a**-chewing from his boss.
  • Schedule a meeting. Bosses don't like things being sprung on them, especially when those things involve money. So, set up a time to talk to your boss, practice your pitch and approach it with confidence. You're not a serf asking the king for a favor -- you're a qualified, valued worker who is requesting that a pay raise be considered. 
Don't fret if you don't get the raise. The key is that you're standing up for what you deserve and your boss knows it. Simply thank him for his time, ask what you need to do to garner a bigger raise next time and then look for opportunities to do just that. If no pay raise is possible, it may be time that you start looking around in that improving job market.

What tips do you have for getting a pay raise?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Tips for Avoiding Distraction at Work

You start the day with the best of intentions. You are not going to get distracted. Not. Going. To. Get. Distracted.
Then you think you’ll just do a quick Gmail check to make sure you’re not missing anything critical. After that, you check your Instagram account – might as well while you’re already online, right? A quick peek at Twitter and you’re ready to settle into work.
About that time, a co-worker interrupts, asking if you can take a quick look at an email she needs to send an unhappy customer. Finally, back to work where you’re pulled away 10 minutes later when the boss sends you an email asking for a project update.
By the end of the day, you’re feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, once again frustrated that you’ve had so many distractions you haven’t reached the goals you set.
It’s a familiar story to Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, but one he says can be changed so that anyone can have a more productive and focused life. Author of “Driven to Distraction at Work,” Hallowell is a leading expert on ADD and ADHD, and says that traditional advice such as making a to-do list doesn’t work because it ignores the deeper issues that are the cause of mental distraction.
Hallowell says there are six common ways that people lose their ability to focus at work and the emotional and psychological reasons behind each one:
1. Screen sucking. This latest and fast-growing addiction to the Internet and social media make people feel “high” when hyper-focusing on their electronic screens and they feel an actual loss without them. They may “self-medicate” by staying glued to their gadgets instead of dealing with feelings of frustration about their career, for example. Some strategies to overcome it include closely tracking how much time is truly spent online, keeping a list of activities to occupy yourself when bored and trying to communicate more face-to-face.
“Just about everyone has a bad Internet habit,” Hallowell says. “You can be upfront about that (at work), and say we as a group need to take this seriously and give each other permission to set boundaries. I would NOT use the word addiction, as that would scare people too much.”
2. Multitasking. Constantly feeling bombarded by (read more here)