Friday, May 29, 2009
Yesterday I guest posted on GL Hoffman's "What Would Dad Say" blog about learning to be more resourceful. I'd like to expand on that and talk about overcoming obstacles at work.
Today, the workplace is a hotbed of stress. There are lots of people worried about their job, and lots of people who feel overworked. The result is often a roadblock: Workers paralyzed when there is a bump in the road.
So, let's look at what you can do to develop some skills that will help you overcome these moments:
* Outline the worst case scenario. By writing down the potential pitfalls or at least verbalizing them, you face your fears. Fear often immobilizes you, so once you face it you can be better equipped to overcome it.
* Be willing to fight. Don't just accept what happens. Ask yourself what else you can do to overcome the problem. Keep thinking of ways to rephrase the questions, come up with new information or bring in other resources. Don't give up the first time the going gets hard. Keep telling yourself that just like lifting weights, you're developing your "resilience" muscle.
* Envision success. Keep your eye on the prize, whether it's nabbing a big contract or winning over a difficult customer. Always make sure it's clear in your mind what the payoff will be once you get past the obstacle.
* Shake it off. The boss is often watching closely when you're confronted with a problem. This is when you show your determination. By handling it with humor, grace and focus, you can score some real points just by not caving in to defeat.
* Be realistic. While the boss wants to see you keep trying, it's not going to pay off to let him see you be foolish in your strategies. You may need to back off for a bit and reconsider what you're doing. Perhaps you do need more training to get that promotion.
* Get input. You don't always have to take the advice of someone else, but it often helps you clarify your problem if you can get ideas from other people. This doesn't always have to be someone you work with. A lot of successful people rely on friends and family to get another perspective.
* Invest in confidence. Read inspirational books about how others facing adversity overcame it, or attend events that foster well-being and confidence. Spend time with others who have succeeded and ask them to share their stories of how they dealt with the problems.
What other strategies can you use to overcome obstacles?
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
I can't begin to count the number of "management gurus" I've interviewed over the years. They explain how to use 360-degree feedback; give ideas for 1,001 employee rewards and incentives; and outline how to set achievable goals for employees.
Then I interviewed Charles Jacobs, and he basically said these people were full of crap. OK, those are my words, not his. But he's done the research, and he says that the brain science shows that all these management techniques don't work. In fact, they usually achieve the opposite: They create hostile, demoralized, unproductive and uncreative employees.
When I wrote the story, I expected to hear some laughs from employees around the country, along with a "damn straight!" response. It wasn't long before the first e-mail arrived from a businessperson, who noted that too many MBAs had stuck their nose in this person's business over the last several years, and this pro was sick of it.
Treating employees with the best management technique around -- The Golden Rule -- had worked for decades, the person said. What doesn't work? "Goals, incentive plans and weekly mandatory sales meetings" the worker wrote, which had led to declining morale.
“A lot of what managers are doing now doesn’t work. It may make them feel better, but it’s not helping their employees,” says Jacobs, managing partner of 180 Partners in Boston. “Much of this came out of Greek philosophy 2,500 years ago, but now we have the brain science to prove it.”
In his new book, “Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science” (Portfolio, $25.95), Jacobs says:
* Performance feedbacks backfire. Employees aren’t going to change their behavior because they have a “deep seated” need to hang on to their self image. So, they will either attribute a performance failure to something else, or discount the source of the feedback. “When the source is our bosses or people we don’t especially care for, this is an attractive option,” Jacobs says.
* Rewards don’t work. The brain is wired to produce feelings of pleasure when we’re fully engaged on the job. Financial incentives actually decrease our intrinsic motivation – the need for achievement that comes from inside us.
* Goal setting doesn’t produce results. It’s emotion – not numerical objectives – that keep us focused and committed to a larger mission. “Objective goals should be in the service of a larger mission than just profit,” he says.
Further, the key to managing effectively is realizing that management practices that “are the way things have always been done” simply don’t work, and the brain science proves it, Jacobs says. Instead, he says it’s time companies realize that leaders must learn to manage “both mind and behavior.”
“No one wants to be controlled by a manager or anyone else,” he says. “We all want to do a good job. So, what’s going to work is them (employees) is doing it on their own. You can’t force people. They can be successful on their own.”
Jacobs says that if organizations will learn “to channel our innate selfishness rather than attempting to counter it,” employees will be more engaged, more motivated and more successful – and that translates into real bottom line results for a company.
He says managers should:
* Use questions to engage employees. “They should stop worrying about the right incentives to motivate good performance and should instead leverage the universal human desire for meaningful work,” Jacobs says.
* Ask for more employee input. While the tough economy and potential layoffs has everyone on edge, managers need to motivate employees by asking for their ideas on keeping a company successful. For example, workers can feel more empowered when managers ask for their ideas on how to cut expenses. “When employees are fearful about what’s going to happen, their behavior can change. The brain slows. The result is that people become less productive. You don’t need hokey recognition programs. You need to give as much information as possible and let them know where the business stands. You’ve got to keep them really focused when they’re scared.”
* Let employees be their own judge. Jacobs says that no matter how constructive managers try to make it, feedback from them is just perceived as negative. It’s much better to let workers appraise their own performance, using whatever hard data is available. “They have a greater ownership of any shortfalls,” he says. “It then becomes in their best interests to correct them.”
* Tell stories. Stories are the way our brains naturally work; they make sense of the world. By telling stories to illustrate a point – how Americans didn’t give up during the Revolution , for example – the “mental environment” is created that helps get them to do what is needed.
“It’s not like you’re turning the asylum over to the inmates. What will happen if you do these things is that people are going to like working there, and they’ll do better,” Jacobs says.
Do you think currently accepted management techniques should be changed?
Thursday, May 21, 2009
I've spoken with several campus recruiters lately, and they all say the same thing: You think this job market is tough? Just wait.
Not exactly music to the ears of a college student right now. While they're studying and funneling thousands of dollars into tuition, they're hearing that the next two years may be even rougher as the job market continues to lag behind an improving economy.
Still, I don't think any college student needs to just throw his or her hands up in despair and expect to be unemployed upon graduation. There are several things -- very simple things -- any student can be doing now and in the coming years to help them get a job.
1. Pay attention. Most colleges and universities have gotten very good at freshman orientation. They have students and professors and career counselors and the school mascot telling incoming students that school is hard work. It's like a job. In order to be successful, these incoming freshman are told, they've got to devote regular time and effort to their classes. They're given numerous tips on how to be successful. But it's hard to find an 18-year-old who looks as if they believe a word of it. While their parents diligently take notes and ask questions, the new freshman is usually texting, staring off into space or smiling and nodding, while not taking in a word. It usually takes about a year for a freshman to admit these other people were right -- and that's a year they've lost to those who DID pay attention.
2. Stick out your hand. Learn to introduce yourself to your professors, to your adviser and to the kid who lives next door. Use their names in your greeting so that it becomes a habit for anyone you meet. Shaking hands and introducing yourself needs to become as natural as breathing so that when you start moving into the professional arena and making contacts, it doesn't appear you were raised by wolves.
3. Take an etiquette class. Many universities or even local business groups will offer etiquette classes, which many college kids don't even consider until they're seniors and realize their manners border on the ape-like. Take a class your freshman year and then practice what you've learned for the rest of your college career. Good manners being ingrained will pay off when you won't have to worry about them as you focus on questions during a job interview or when meeting important professionals at a networking event.
4. Sit in the front. Whether you're attending a club event or a class, don't shuffle to the back and then prop your feet on the seat in front and fall asleep. Or work the crossword puzzle. Or text. Speakers, professors and college recruiters notice who sits in front and pays attention. It's a great way to score points with whomever is behind the podium.
5. Ask questions. College is your time to learn, to solve some of life's mysteries and to get your money's worth. You're paying thousands to learn, so you have every right to ask questions! There are no dumb questions in college. That doesn't apply to the workplace. So, figure out what's what, and quiz away. It's much better to ask and learn in college rather than to make some very "freshman" mistakes in a job interview.
What are some other tips for college students to prepare themselves for the job market?
Monday, May 18, 2009
Normally, when I post a HARO (Help a Reporter Out) query, I get dozens, if not hundreds of responses from people willing to help me with a story. They want to talk about how they are still giving raises, why their business is successful or what they're looking for when hiring new employees.
When I sent a request asking for companies who have hired employees over 45 in the last nine months or so, I got 12 responses. Twelve.
The reasons for this could be many: Companies are not hiring, period. No one paid any attention to my request. The time period was too short -- they've hired older workers in the last couple of years, just not recently.
But my gut -- along with information from other career sources -- tells me that those over 45 are having a tough time landing a job in this economy. Of course, so are a lot of people. Still, I have to wonder if employers aren't passing over resumes with job candidates over 45, or if they're taking one look at the gray hair and thinking: "Next!"
Still, the employers I heard from could not sing enough the praises of their older workers. (I know, I know, like anyone is going to tell me: "I'm not hiring anyone over 40!" That's illegal and they know it.)
At Stearns Lending, for example, 218 employees have been hired in the last six months, and 113 of them were over 40.
“The grayer the better,” says Glenn Stearns, chairman of the California-based Stearns Corp., which has more than 25 companies, including Stearns Lending. “What we want are employees with experience. We could easily pick up people with less experience who are cheaper, but we have a company that survived – and thrived – because of our more experienced people.”
That’s saying something at a time when many of those in the mortgage business have sunk out of sight. But Stearns says that’s just another plus for his company.
“We’ve found an amazing opportunity in hiring really great people that have been let go from other companies,” Stearns says. “Believe me, 20 years in this business means so much. I’m happy to pay more for experience, because we think 100 percent of our success is due to those people.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by Debra Freligh, president of DMF Media Service LLC in Sparta, N.J.
“Age has never been a consideration for me. It’s never an issue,” Freligh says. “I recently hired a 50-year-old accountant because of experience and reliability. It has proven to be a great decision.”
While some may balk when they see a job seeker with the lined visage of experience and more than a few gray hairs, Freligh says that employers shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the hard work ethic many older employees bring.
“I had a college intern who I set up to meet with a CEO of a cola company that was being launched. I told him what a great opportunity it was, to give him a feel for marketing. The day of this meeting this student called me and said he was going to New York City with his friends. I had been waiting to meet him and he said he ‘forgot.’ I was floored,” Freligh says.
While Freligh is quick to add that she doesn’t want to malign younger workers interns, she says she finds older workers “so conscientious” and “at a different place in their lives – they’re so happy to get a job.”
Stearns says it’s because his more experienced employees knew how to “size up” borrowers that his company is in such great shape. “Some of the young, inexperienced people for other companies just got caught up in all of these bad loans. They’re now realizing the ramifications of helping people get homes they couldn’t afford. Our older employees were seasoned and knew better. If there is a poster boy for experience paying off, it’s us.”
At the same time, I interviewed 59-year-old Bob Brandon, an experienced landscape architect who has had to move in with his daughter in Missouri after being laid off.
Brandon says he has sent out at least 30 applications since he was laid off in early March from his Phoenix-based company, but so far has only gotten two responses and no job offers. “I’m just not finding anything. It’s really hard. My feeling is that I won’t get hired again. My gut instinct is that no one is interested in hiring an older worker,” he says.
Let's hope that he's wrong. Let's hope that they'll listen to the employers who have hired older workers and say it's one of the best decisions they've ever made.
What can older workers do to improve their chances in getting hired?
Thursday, May 14, 2009
With the tough economy, you don't hear many people complain about having jobs. This is surely due to the fact that those who are still employed are just so darned grateful to be bringing home a paycheck that it doesn't matter how many hours they work; they're not going to let any unhappy comment pass their lips. That's understandable.
But I also see a lot of people working themselves into the ground. They're on 24/7. They can't talk about anything but work, the deal they're working on, how they can't possibly take off this weekend because they've got work to do. I think it's great to be so passionate and enthused about your job, but at the same time, I think it's a very risky road. If you can't find a way to turn it off, if work is consuming your life, then you may be headed for burnout.
Are you a workaholic? Do you know the warning signs? According to Workaholics Anonymous, these are some of the signs you're a workaholic:
1. It is very difficult to relax. You often, if not always, feel the need to get just a few more tasks done before you can feel good about yourself and allow yourself to relax. When you do complete these tasks you find just a few more that you need to complete, and then a few more.... These uncontrollable desires often result in frantic, compulsive working. You are powerless to control this pattern.
2. You are so used to doing what you are expected to do that you are often unable to know what it is that you really want and need to do for yourself.
3. You often feel that you must complete certain tasks, even though you do not want to. You are too scared to stop.
4. You often feel resentment about having to complete tasks when you would rather relax or play. At these times you procrastinate, usually wallowing in self-pity and self-judgment. You cannot concentrate on the task at hand, and yet are too scared to give up the task for a moment and allow yourself the space you need.
5. Your sense of self-esteem is based largely on your perceptions of how others judge your performance at work and in other areas of your life.
6. You have an obsessive desire to understand everything in your life, including your every emotion. You cannot allow yourself to experience emotions that you do not understand, fearing your loss of control.
7. You judge yourself by your accomplishments and hence have the illusion that you must always be in the process of accomplishing something worthwhile in order to feel good about yourself.
8. You cannot sit down and just be.
9. You often go on intense work binges with the illusion that you need to get the praise of your fellow workers and bosses in order to feel OK.
10. You have the illusion that people will like you more if you appear more competent than you actually are.
Much of the recovery for workaholics mimics what you see for other addicts: Finding time for personal reflection; accepting who you are; asking for help; finding healthier substitutes for the addiction; and learning to live in the now.
Unfortunately, we live in a time when most of us consider ourselves so fortunate to have a job that we can't see cutting back. But consider this: If you really are going overboard,you could be putting your job (and your health) at risk because you cannot be the most effective for an employer if you don't have balance in your life.
Is there such a thing as working too much, or is the 24/7 job schedule just part of lives these days?
Monday, May 11, 2009
Quick: Name three people -- who are not related to you -- that you would trust with your deepest, most intimate thoughts.
Now let me guess who you named: 1. The guy in the cubicle next to yours; 2. Someone you met online nine months ago; and 3. One of your employees.
If you're Jorge Colon or Maxine Zdebiak, it's the second choice. If you're someone else, you may be so busy laughing your ass off at the thought of trusting anyone at work to answer your phone -- let alone tell them your deepest thoughts and feelings -- that you can't think of a single person.
But according to networking guru Keith Ferrazzi, what we all need is deeper, more trusting relationships. Without them, he says, we're never going to really have the level of success we desire.
Ferrazzi says the idea for his new book, "Who's Got Your Back," came about when a friend made him realize that even though he was super busy and seemed very successful with his company and bestselling book, "Never Eat Alone," he had “few relationships with people I could really open up to, share my fears and failures and goals and dreams with, and ask for help.”
Ferrazzi began considering why such relationships were important and how they could be developed. But unknown to Ferrazzi as he was working on the book was that Colon, Zdebiak and two other people who had met through Ferrazzi's Greelight Community had already formed a close-knit group, working for months to develop a deep friendship that would transition into advising one another professionally.
“We’re basically four wheels on a car,” says Colon, a Florida-based lawyer. “Everyone has different roles they play. We end up sharing more with one another than we do with our own family.”
While the four members in various parts of the world are very close, only Zbebiak and Colon have met in person. Using Skype, having one-hour phone conferences at least three times a week and e-mailing continually, the group has encouraged one another when needed; kicked butt when required.
“Even though our relationship has been virtual, sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger. We have a real candid intimacy, and we really worked to develop that,” Zbebiak says. “I didn’t have this with other business associates. This is a very different way to build relationships. We stay in contact three or four times a week, and exchange a lot of e-mails. The connection is so strong; we feel we’ve known each other for years.”
When learning of the group, Ferrazzi sent them drafts of "Who's Got Your Back" to get their input. “It was uncanny when he (Ferrazzi) asked us to review the book, because it was what we were experiencing,” Zbebiak says. “Our group has brought me a stronger self-confidence. We have incredible support for one another.”
Much in the tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous or Weight Watchers where there is no clear leader and members support one another through highs and lows, Ferrazzi says he wants people to find that “safe place” where they can help one another achieve the success they desire.
Ferrazzi says that as many people struggle with tough financial times, being laid off from jobs or watching careers disintegrate, such close, trusting relationships are needed more than ever. “You don’t have to struggle alone,” he says. “It could be the woman in the cubicle next to you, or if you’re the boss, members of your own team, who can help you.”
Of course, this is often difficult for many people who believe that letting their guard down, or exposing their vulnerabilities to others will make them less successful, or appear weak. Ferrazzi says he learned first-hand that "struggling alone" not only hurts personally, but professionally.
"We can't do things the way we used to," he says. "Those leadership skills -- where we went it alone -- aren't working today."
Do you think relationships in the workplace are changing? How?
Thursday, May 7, 2009
As I mentioned in my previous post, I got a real kick out of spending time recently with college students about to enter the job market. But it got me to thinking that no matter how many "rules" I provide about networking and resumes and other stuff, there are always those tricky little things that can trip you up if no one tells you. And believe me, the stuff I'm about to reveal often isn't discussed out loud. It's not that it's some dark, little secret, but it is so subtle that it's often not talked about as much.
So, here are the 10 things you should know when you're entering the job market:
1.They look at your shoes. You need professional-looking shoes. Not the 4-inch stilettos. Not the pseudo-dress shoes that are a cross between a sneaker and a loafer. Not shoes that have a broken shoelace that you've knotted back together. Real shoes that you've practiced walking in so that you don't resemble a giraffe on stilts.
2. Your hair is a problem. If you have Zac Efron hair, get it cut or at least use some kind of super glue to keep it out of your face. If you are female and wear it deeply parted on one side so that you're constantly doing this weird side head sweep to keep it out of your eyes, get the same super glue. If any part of your hair is the color of Kool-Aid, get rid of it.
3. Sit up straight. Slouching when sitting in a chair makes you look like a sullen teenager. Always sit up straight with your feet on the floor. Slumping makes you look bored -- and a possibly even a little stupid.
4. Ditch the backpack. If you're carrying the backpack you schlepped to school, it probably is not only dirty, but smells. Plus, it makes you look like you're headed to class. You want to look like you're headed to a job. You don't have to have an expensive satchel, but get one that is clean and streamlined. And don't put any buttons or stickers on it.
5. Don't play with your phone. While you may know enough to mute your phone during an interview, you also can't even look at it. Don't try to discreetly check it when someone texts you and don't hold onto it like it's your binky. Put it away so you're not even tempted.
6. Put on a watch. A huge pet peeve for many employers is employees who are late or who otherwise can't adhere to a schedule. Even if you don't look at it, wearing a watch shows that you're at least aware of the time. (Make sure it's professional looking -- no Hello Kitty or Mickey Mouse watches.)
7. Use formal forms of address. When meeting someone for the first time, always say "Ms." or "Mr." unless invited to do otherwise. This includes the receptionist, the office manager and the person who sorts the mail. These people often are asked for their impression of you, so if the only thing they can say about you is that you were respectful -- that's a big plus for you.
8. Know you're always being watched. Don't litter in the parking lot, fail to hold the door open for someone else when you enter the building or throw paper towels on the floor in the bathroom. Read industry materials while waiting.
9. Avoid eating and drinking. If you carry coffee or a drink with you into an interview, it's a distraction and can make you appear too casual. Don't eat something while waiting for your interview -- it can give you bad breath and you risk getting something stuck between your teeth or crumbs on your clothes. (And the receptionist will notice if you're a sloppy eater.) When you're further into the interviewing process, you may be invited to have a meal, but in the beginning stages just focus on the questions, not your latte.
10. They pay attention when you leave. Did you say "thank you"? Did you shake hands? Did you smile, make eye contact and tell the receptionist goodbye or hurry away? Were you on the phone or texting or taking off your jacket and loosening your tie before your feet hit the exit? Did you pick up some company brochures on your way out? Remember, your last impression is often the most lasting. Make sure it's one that they will recall as professional and positive.
What are some other subtle tips to make a good impression?
Monday, May 4, 2009
At first the students didn't catch on. Then, they saw some of their friends have difficulty landing a job. They noticed that not as many recruiters were coming to campus to talk about available jobs. They began hearing more about people being laid off and losing careers that took decades to build.
Finally, they knew: They were about to graduate and try and get a job in a very, very tough market. The anxiety of being burdened with thousands of dollars in student loans, competing against much more experienced applicants that were flooding the job market and the erosion of many jobs overnight has hit graduating college students hard.
I spoke with many of them recently when I visited my alma mater, Oklahoma State University, as the Paul Miller journalism lecturer. They asked lots of questions about what they can do to improve their chances of landing a job, and I passed along the information I have been receiving from employers.
The key is that it shouldn't just be college seniors who need to be much more proactive in this market. Employers predict it may be tough going for the next couple of years, so sophomores and juniors need to also pay attention.
Here are some tips from employers who regularly recruit and hire college graduates:
1. Work on your personal brand. What makes you unique? How have you committed yourself to a cause or a passion? “You need to get accomplishments under your belt,” says Cathy Chin,employee experience manager for I Love Rewards, a web-based employee rewards and recognition program in Toronto, Ontario.
2. Look the part. "You can always wear a suit to an interview and look OK standing next to someone in jeans," Fuller says. "But not the other way around. Then you've made a faux pas. Dress like you're going to the White House."
3. Step forward. Bob Daugherty, U.S. sourcing leader from PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York, says he was impressed with a student after the young man not only showed up early for a presentation but sat in the front, asked questions, introduced himself and offered a resume after Daugherty’s talk. “The kid was a sophomore,” he says. “This is somebody we want to keep track of.”
4. Do the homework. “The people we hired had great phone interviews showing a lot of personality, poise and confidence. When we narrowed it down to a top 10 to interview in person, they showed up very polished and knew about us and our competitors. They weren’t going to have to be spoon fed if we hired them,” says Sue Fuller, director of talent management for EDL Consulting in Northbrook, Ill..
5. Walk the talk: “We want to see if you’re going to fit in with our company, and that means doing your research and being able to speak intelligently about the subject and our company,” Chin says. “But we’re also watching you when you walk around, from the minute you come into our lobby. Do you look at our awards? Are you nice to the receptionist? We want to see that you’re fully engaged.”
6. Learn to network: All those interviewed agreed that both graduates and undergraduates need to work on networking with other professionals, their faculty and the college career center. Students should strive to not only make these business connections in person, but also through online networking sites such as LinkedIn. A word of warning, however, comes from Fuller regarding some less-than-professional behavior online: “We’re very mindful of how people behave online. We do check. Business is about reputation and relationships, so we’re looking to see how they manage themselves online.”
7. Be yourself. "Our candidates showed up very polished, in suits. They were poised and polite. They were confident. But they showed their personalities and had just such a wonderful appeal because of their demeanor. They didn't have too many expectations, but they were not desperate," Fuller says. "They were there to impress us, but they were also authentic."
8. Working hard matters. Many of the students I spoke with at OSU worried about whether they had the right stuff on their resume. Was an internship necessary? What about extra-curricular activities? What if they had stayed out of school a couple of years to work? How important was a grade point? The employers I spoke with all said the same thing: They want to see students who have put energy and enthusiasm into whatever they were doing. So, being active in a fraternity and campus activities, participating in a college sport, working hard at a job that showed you moved up the ladder, having a terrific grade point, receiving awards -- those things were worth something to an employer.
"I like to see a demonstration of their passion and what they're giving back to their school. I want to see energy and enthusiasm and an ability to develop relationships. Some kids are so focused on getting those internships, but I think a big part of going to school is just enjoying yourself and taking the time to experience different things. Just do something different and enjoy yourself -- diversity makes you unique," Daugherty says.
9. Check the attitude. While there's been much written about the fact that some young workers can made demands about what they want and don't want in a job, the tough times may have changed that scenario. "The pendulum has swung back," Fuller says.
Still, Daugherty says that top graduates still have the "upper hand" when it comes to jobs. "This student body is one of the most talented I've seen," Daugherty says. "They're smart and communicative."
Adds Chin: "Don't be overbearing. Be energized, but don't make it about 'me, me, me.' When you come for an interview, we're watching you from the lobby. Do you look at our awards on the wall? Are you nice to the receptionist? Are you fully engaged and looking around?"
10. Keep the faith. All the employers emphasized that there are still plenty of good jobs available to college graduates, and students should remain hopeful. "There are lots of employers who understand that college graduates don't have a lot of experience. But they want that. They want that ball of clay to mold," Fuller says.
What other suggestions do you have for college graduates looking for jobs?