Monday, September 22, 2014

How a Virtual Assistant Can Save Your Sanity

Technology has helped us be so self-sufficient that it can feel old-fashioned or sort of elitist to think we need someone to help us keep our calendar, book a flight or research a new customer.
But as the number of hours American workers spend on work-related tasks increases, it’s becoming clear that no amount of technology is going to fix the problem.
We need help.  Human help.
Enter the virtual assistant.
A virtual assistant is someone you may or may not meet personally, but is trained to handle dozens of tasks that can bog down your day like scheduling meetings, posting on social media, getting bids or even scheduling your next vacation.
Even for control freaks
If you’re wondering if a virtual assistant is worth it, try keeping a log of what you do for a week. Think about how much you earn an hour, and whether making a restaurant reservation with a new client, for example, is worth that amount per hour. Would your time be better spent thinking of innovative processes, revenue-producing ideas or interacting with key customers?
Entrepreneur Cheryl Yeoh writes that she tried a virtual assistant for a week. She used Zirtual, which connected her with a virtual assistant for $197 a month. Under the plan she was allowed to delegate an unlimited number of tasks to her virtual assistant, up to 10 hours per month.
For example, her virtual assistant Alice helped her do preliminary research on a freelance project, and also chased down “a previous landlord who has owed me my apartment security deposit for the past five months,” she writes. “That’s a few thousand dollars in the bank!”
Jenny Blake, who also has written about using a virtual assistant, says it is “easily one of the best things I did for my life and business last year” even though she admits to being a “control freak.”
“For YEARS I had read all the books (4-hour Work Week chief among them), and knew the importance of delegating and not being a bottleneck. But each time I tried to move forward with hiring someone, I got overwhelmed, discouraged and gave up. Who to hire? US or overseas? What should I delegate? How do I do it efficiently? Can I trust them?” she writes.
How to make it pay off
Kellennne DeSimone is a virtual assistant to Veilsun Inc. executives. Before that, she was an on-site executive assistant for other employers.
She says that whether on site or virtual, she still does many of the same tasks that help keep busy people on target. The difference is that there is sometimes more of a learning curve for her virtual clients, who must learn “what they can let go of.”
“It happens a lot in the beginning that someone won’t let loose of something. But you begin to build trust over time so that I can then say to them, ‘Why are you doing that? Let me do it.’
If you’re considering using a virtual assistant, here are some suggestions on how to ensure it runs smoothly:
  • Get recommendations.  DeSimone was hired as a virtual assistant after former customers saw she was looking for work. Check with your network about stay-at-home moms, students and retirees who may have set up shop as virtual assistants. Or, check out the International Virtual Assistants Association. Sites such as oDesk warn that “you get what you pay for” so remember that a very low bid may not be the best hire for what you need.
  • Get your ducks in a row. A virtual assistant is not a mind reader. That means you need to be clear on what you need him or her to do and agree how best to communicate and how often. Remember that just like any other new employee, the virtual assistant needs time to learn what you need and how best to help you. Once virtual assistants have your workload in mind, they can help you set priorities and make course corrections.
  • Let them provide balance. DeSimone says not only can she help you research a new client, but she can schedule your haircuts, help you find day care for your children or schedule a moving van for your relocation. Yeoh says her virtual assistant Alice took up a dispute with the DMV and won, saving Yeoh from overcharges from her insurance company.
  • Don’t micromanage. It may be difficult to gauge when a virtual assistant is working, but that does not meet you need to harass him or her to check on the progress being made. If you’re worried about things getting done, simply ask for a daily progress report. This also can help keep your virtual assistant in the loop. DeSimone says she once worked for more than a week on a project, only to find out later the project had been canceled but she was never told.
The bottom line is that hiring a virtual assistant may be worth it as you strive to be more productive and innovative. If you’re feeling overwhelmed trying to keep up with your personal life and career, it may be time to consider a virtual assistant who can enable you to focus on the things that add meaning to your life – not hassles. (This post originally ran in the Fast Track blog.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How to Get Your Big Idea Into the Marketplace

Scott Anthony refers to it as “the first mile” – that place where innovation moves from an idea on paper to the market.
It is often a treacherous first mile, full of obstacles of your own making and roadblocks thrown up by others. If you can’t make it through that first mile, says the international strategic adviser, then you may find that your great idea goes nowhere.
In a new book, appropriately called “The First Mile,” Anthony, managing partner of Innosight, provides a blueprint for how anyone can ensure that they don’t let themselves or others sabotage their innovation.
“What often happens is that people confuse a concept with a business or an idea,” he says. “They come up with something fun or interesting, but it gets screened out because it won’t drive value.”
For example, you may believe that you’ve got a really cool idea, but if it doesn’t drive a customer need consistently and reliably, then it won’t be profitable and will fail, he says.
“You have to go beyond the ‘what’ to the ‘why,’” he says. “Why should a customer or boss care? You’ve always got to understand what it is you’re selling.”
While this certainly makes sense, Anthony says it can often be difficult for the person infused with enthusiasm for an idea to see why the idea may not be just as appealing to others.
“Once we wrap our mind around our idea, then we reject what we don’t believe,” he says.  “That’s why the first mile is so important. You recognize that any idea is partially right and partially wrong, and the quicker you figure out the weak points, the quicker you can fix them.”
Among his suggestions is first doing the documentation  – simply writing down what you plan to do. He says that it’s often this most simple step that many innovators miss.
Once you’ve documented it, then it’s time to:
  • Evaluate:  This part of the process looks at the customer, the key stakeholders, the economics involved, how it will be commercialized, the team and the financing. What exactly are you trying to accomplish? He suggests one way to evaluate an idea is to role play. For example, let’s say you’ve come up with an idea for a device that will fly you to the grocery store. That means you need to play the role of the retailer who will sell it, the customer who will buy it (and the customer’s spouse) and even (read more here)
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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How to Turn Around Miserable Workers

Is it just me, or are American workers complaining more loudly than ever?

There are the protests by food workers demanding better wages, of course, but even in my local grocery store or doctor's office I hear a lot of complaining by workers.

It's not unusual to hear employees criticizing actions by a managers or bad-mouthing a co-worker. It just goes to show the level of their unhappiness that they would so vocally complain in front of outsiders, I think,

Many years ago I interviewed Patrick Lencioni about his book, "Three Signs of  Miserable Job." He says those signs are:

1. The people you work with don’t know you or care about you.
2. You don’t know how your job matters to others.
3. You can’t assess how you’re doing in your job.

Workers who are miserable are less productive, efficient, and more likely to have physical ailments that affect their professional and personal lives. With the increasing focus on remaining competitive in a global marketplace, Lencioni points out that managers should ask themselves what they can do to guard against workers becoming miserable in their jobs. As part of a self-assessment, he suggests managers ask themselves:

• Do I really know my people? Their interests? How they spend their spare time? Where they are in their lives?
• Do they know who their work impacts, and how?
• Do they know how to assess their own progress or success?

Finally, he says bosses should develop a plan to do a better job of getting to know and understand employees. He suggests one-on-one meetings, team sessions and clearly outlining what is trying to be achieved.

While this seems like a simple concept, Lencioni says that many companies and managers miss the boat. He also has a deeper message to impart to those in charge:

“By helping people find fulfillment in their work, and helping them succeed in whatever they’re doing, a manager can have a profound impact on the emotional, financial, physical, and spiritual health of workers and their families,” he says. “That is nothing short of a gift from God.”

Amen to that.

Friday, September 5, 2014

How Leaders Can Keep "No" From Being a Buzz Kill

How do you keep people engaged after telling them “no”?

That’s often a question with which leaders wrestle, knowing that saying “no” can be demoralizing, and even push employees to start looking for another position if it happens too often.
But leadership and engagement experts say that it’s critical that managers learn to handle such an issue. Without a solution, they may find that a team becomes uninterested in coming up with creative, innovative or workable solutions that are critical to business survival in today’s competitive environment.
“I do believe that within every ‘no’ is a portal to another ‘yes,’” says Rosa Say, a workplace culture coach and founder of Say Leadership Coaching. “We can think of that ‘no’ as ‘not now, maybe later’ and that ‘yes’ possibility as our next step instead, while our original thought gains more traction should it still prove itself useful, relevant or necessary later on.”
Phil Gerbyshak, CEO at Social Media Coach, says that the easiest way to keep a team engaged after turning them down on a project or idea is to “continue to add value to their lives.”
For example, you may be able to make a meaningful connection for them, share a good resource or ask if there “are other things you can do to help them,” he says. “As long as ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘never.’ That’s how I keep people engaged after telling them ‘no.’”
David Zinger, founder and host of Global Employee Engagement Network and president of David Zinger Associates, says that he believes “it is less about keeping people engaged and more about inviting engagement.”
“I would hope the employee was invited into the ‘no’ by being in the know. The ‘no’ is less about the content and more about the intent,” he says. “Is the ‘no’ final and fatal – or temporary feedback about a current state that can change? Do we help employees develop growth rather than fixed mindsets so that the ‘no’ is experienced as a step of growth rather than a pit of failure?”
Zinger explains that if an employee is not given a promotion, for example, then “hopefully there is an explanation combined with an invitation to what the employee can do in their future to achieve the ‘yes’ they are looking for. “
Part of the problem with employee engagement is that managers often find themselves saying ‘no’ to ideas because they aren’t directly related to a company’s strategy or culture. For example, a recent Accenture study finds that 85% of managers say that their workers’ ideas are targeting internal improvements instead of external improvements. But employees may not know that they’re on the wrong track if managers aren’t clearly giving them parameters about where they need to direct their energies.
That lack of communication may be behind only 20% (read more here)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Is Your Need to Be "Right" Hurting Your Career?

When you were in school, did your teacher instruct you to choose the “wrong” answer on a test?

What about at work? Does your boss now tell you to try and make "wrong" decisions?

From the time we are children, we are counseled to make the “right” choices, and how to look “right” and how to do the “right” thing. That often continues in the workplace, that need to always be "right."

And, the more “right” we are, the more likely we are to become rigid in our way of thinking. But here’s something to think about: By denying there is anything left to learn, we undermine ourselves and our companies.

Failing to acknowledge that other people may have the right answer can really affect an individual’s and an organization’s success. The most successful people, after all, often challenge others to come up with a better idea and then learn from that input.

Of course, letting go of being “right” all the time takes courage. It's not easy to admit that you don't have all the right answers, and embracing the ideas of others can be scary. But once you've made that initial move, keep thinking about how you view "right" and "wrong" answers.

You may find yourself letting go of a lot of stress when you can become more flexible in your thinking. As part of this process:

Define what winning looks like to you. Think about what you really want, how you feel about certain issues in your work and personal life and why certain outcomes are so important to you. Would a different outcome really be the end of the world?
Look at how often your need to be right really interferes with what you want. If you shut people down by interrupting them with your “right” solution, or they turn away because you have proven them “wrong,” note this interaction in a journal. Keep track of what happened, your reaction and any negative outcome. Did the interaction result in a less creative outcome or hurt a relationship with a co-worker?.
Ask questions. Instead of jumping in with the answer all the time, become more curious. Ask others what they think, and give them a chance to respond. Only then should you offer your opinion.
See the world in shades of gray. Consider how often your thinking is automatically “right versus wrong.” Try to look at all sides of the issue before making a decision.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Get Better Results by Taking Handwritten Notes

The next time you go to a meeting, you might want to consider leaving your iPad behind and instead taking along a pad and pen.
That’s because a new study shows what many of us have suspected for some time: That we’re better able to retain and understand information if we write it longhand instead of using a laptop or other device to take notes.
In three studies by Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer recently published in Psychological Science, it was found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand.
Mueller, a Princeton University doctoral candidate, says that one surprising aspect of the study was that even though someone can take more notes via a laptop, transcribing those notes verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning. In other words, you may write slower than you can type, but you’re also listening, digesting and summarizing what you hear.
This research may give bosses more ammunition when it comes to advocating that workers take notes by hand during a meeting to retain more (and to avoid the distraction of checking Facebook). It also may back up the complaint by managers that workers who don’t write down instructions or other information are sure to forget it later or make an error in their thinking.
Of course, toting along a pad and pen to a meeting also increases the chances that workers will begin doodling, which isn’t possible while typing on a keyboard. While bosses (read more here)

Friday, August 22, 2014

How to Salvage a Bad Job Interview

There's no better feeling than coming out of a job interview and feeling like you nailed it. You and the interviewer clicked, everyone seemed very impressed with your resume and abilities, and there was plenty of positive body language.

On the other hand, there is no worse feeling than knowing that you messed up -- that somewhere in the interview you really bombed and possibly blew your chances of getting a job you really want. You head home,deeply depressed, ready to beat your head against the nearest wall for being such a numbskull.

But before you put that knot on your head, consider that you may be able to salvage the situation. So maybe you called someone by the wrong name or showed up late for the interview -- you still may be able to recover and put yourself in serious contention for the job.

If you feel like you've made a bad first impression, you need to:

  • Assess the damage. Take a hard look at how badly you may have hurt your chances, and whether it was a big deal -- or no one else really noticed.
  • Act quickly. Don't give the bad impression time to sink in. Take immediate steps to correct it.
  •  Re-establish your qualifications. If you follow-up with a phone call or e-mail, use it as a chance to again outline your skills and experienced. Keep it succinct -- babbling will only make things worse.
  • Apologize. Don't go overboard, but if you made a glaring error, then you should offer a sincere "I'm sorry."
  • Use humor carefully. You can make the situation worse by joking about it.
  • Prepare for the next shot. Chances are, you'll be given another chance to interview with someone else, so take steps to make sure you don't repeat your missteps.
What suggestions do you have for recovering from a bad first impression?