Tuesday, September 29, 2009

5 Tips for Women to Become Leaders

What does it take for you to rise to the top of your career? Do you think that what it takes to become a leader depends on whether you're a man or a woman? This was a question recently explored in a column I did for Gannett:

Why do some women get to the top of the career ladder while others fall off or get stuck halfway up?

According to a new book, the key difference may be that women at the top all have one thing in common: They have found ways to be happy in their professional and personal life, which seems to give them that extra something needed to succeed.

“How Remarkable Women Lead,” (Crown, $27.50) by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston is, the authors say, based on five years of world-wide research and more than 100 personal and in-depth interviews with women leaders from around the world.

The book comes at a time when the number of women in the upper ranks – and what gets them there – has generated a lot of discussion. The number of female CEOs on the Fortune 500 is 3 percent, with slow progress in the number of female directors, officers and high-paid company earners. Further, even while women earn about six in 10 college degrees, women leaders under development continues to lag in comparison to men.

Women also continue to debate the issue of having a career and a family life, but Barsh and Cranston say there was no dilemma for the females leaders they interviewed.

“Our women saw ‘work-life balance’ for what it is – an unattainable goal. They love their child and they love their work. There was no either/or. Accepting ‘and’ filled them with energy,” Barsh says.

Barsh, director of McKinsey & Co., and Cranston, a McKinsey Leadership fellow, say their research shows that successful women leaders all share five building blocks of leadership:

1. They believe their jobs have meaning. “Men work for pay or for attention, but for these women, they want to make a difference,” Barsh says. The happiness they get from their jobs is motivating and gives them purpose, she says.

2. They confront life in a constructive way. “They step outside of negative or pessimistic feelings, and re-frame how they see the situation,” Barsh says. This “positive framing” gives them clarity, energy and flexibility, she adds.

3. They work at building connections. By having strong relationships with colleagues and team members, the female leader is able to share her passion and vision, and that inspires others “to make extraordinary commitment to the work, too,” the authors say. Women leaders practice inclusiveness and collaboration at all levels, they add.

4. They put aside their own fears to make things happen. The women spoke up for themselves, took chances and seized opportunities. “Our interviews suggest that fear drives many women to set an unrealistically high bar that would stop anyone,” the authors write.

5. They find the source of their energy. “For me, my strength is built by beauty. So it means that I look at art or listen to music when I need to re-charge. Other people may find being alone and quiet builds their energy and strength, or that being around other people energizes them. It’s whatever works for you,” Barsh says. She notes that women leaders advised avoiding “energy drainers,” whether it was a specific person or task. “One woman called them energy vampires,” Barsh says.

Barsh says she wrote the book because she wanted to figure out what it took for more women to rise to the top of the ranks. She says that the women leaders who were interviewed shared “the good, the bad and the ugly” of their careers, citing their failures and successes.

“I think one clear pattern did emerge when addressing the biggest obstacle for women becoming leaders and it was this: Sometimes women get in their own way,” Barsh says. “These women all said that more women need to take ownership of their careers and become more self-aware of what it takes for them to be successful.”

The research also showed that the successful women leaders all had someone who helped them along the way, especially by senior-level men and women “who stuck out their necks to create opportunities,” Barsh says.

What do you believe is important for women to become leaders?


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

4 Strategies to Help You Get More Money This Year

Are you going to get a raise this year? If not, are you going to ask for one?

You can quit laughing now. I'm serious.

I realize times are tough, but I got to wondering as we watch the stock market recover, if some of those profits will translate into better pay for all that hard work we've done in the last year. It's an issue I explored for my latest Gannett column:

In an effort to help employers remain financially afloat, many employees have accepted furloughs, reduced hours and pay cuts in the last year. But as time goes on, the question remains how many employees will leave their current job in an effort to regain their lost wages – and how many of them will never get back to previous pay levels.

“There’s no question that as things get better in the economy you’re going to have people who are going to get nervous about their pay and jump ship to make more money,” says Warren Cinnick, a director with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Chicago. “But the reality is that it’s still an employer’s market. The average person has the lowest leverage in the job market right now than in the past 25 years.”

The Conference Board reported in its recent annual survey of salaries that the median salary increase for 2010 for all employee groups is expected to be 3 percent – the lowest since the group began forecasting salaries 25 years ago and down half a percent from the previous year. Even top brass will take a hit – their median salaries are expected to drop two full percentage points, from 3.5 percent to 2.50 percent, the report said.

For employees like Amy Lee, 27, the denial of a pay raise for the last two years, coupled with the increased work load because half her co-workers have been laid off, is partly what prompted her to begin looking for other opportunities.

As a university academic counselor in California, Lee says that even though she received a “stellar” performance evaluation, she was told by her boss there was no money for raises this year when she made the request for more compensation.

“That made me start looking around,” she says.

Another employer soon offered Lee a job, along with a 33 percent pay boost. When Lee told her boss, she was immediately offered an 11 percent raise if she’d stay. “To be honest, I wasn’t happy when they made that offer. When I had asked for a raise after getting that great performance evaluation, they immediately said, ‘no.’ They weren’t even going to try.”

The issue of pay is cropping up at all levels in organizations. Recently, General Motors Co. had to rescind white-collar pay cuts made last spring because it said its pay scales were no longer competitive and employees were leaving to work for other automakers and manufacturing companies. While the pay cuts initially saved the company money, unhappy and demoralized employees were leaving at a time when the company needed to retain key talent.

Cinnick says it will be the “pivotal” employees who will have some leverage in negotiating increased pay, although it will also depend on the industry. Those companies that are strong globally, for example, will be in a better position to reward workers and offer pay raises, he says.

“For employers who want to remain competitive, they may do extraordinary things to keep some workers,” Cinnick says. “I’m talking about the super sales people. The employees who give the ‘ah-ha!’ answers. They’re going to be the ones who can ask for more money from companies.”

Still, Cinnick cautions employees that the pay cuts in some industries may never recover to the levels they were before the recession hit. He says that asking for more money – from a current employer or a new one – will take some planning. He advises when negotiating for pay, you should:

  • Time it right. “Ask for more money when you’ve completed a successful project, or you’ve gotten some verbal recognition for your work,” he says. “Wait a couple of days, then go see the boss.”
  • Show your worth. “When you’ve had your job duties expanded, or gotten new ones, then you can talk about how you’d like to be compensated for them,” he says.
  • Keep records. “If you take a pay cut for the company, they usually send out an e-mail or some kind of notice. Keep a copy. Then, when you go to interview at another company, you can show that you took a pay cut and what your previous salary was,” he says. “You want to negotiate from your original salary.”
  • Stick with the facts. “Whenever you ask for money, always base it on some data. There’s tremendous information about salaries online. Make your estimate of salary based on what you’ll bring to the company. Make it a fact-based story. Compensation should not be an entitlement statement or a make-them-feel-guilty-statement.”
What other ways can you suggest to help someone get a pay raise?


Thursday, September 17, 2009

What to Do When You've Run Off Into a Career Ditch

If I could leave you with one thought today, it would be this: You are a work in progress.

Rather you're trying to get a job, starting a new career, in mid-career, or thinking about retiring, you can never write the ending to your story. Because once you do, you lose sight of what you've accomplished and enthusiasm for what is still out there.

I see job seekers become demoralized when someone asks them, "So, what do you do?" They stammer around and then say something like, "Well, I used to be a pilot for a major airline, but I got laid off. And now there are no jobs and no one wants to hire me."

Or, I see people in mid-career who believe in this bad job market they are "stuck" in jobs that cause them to lose sleep and snap at their kids when they get home at night. Even those nearing retirement are sometimes on auto-pilot in the later days of their career, believing there's nothing new for them to learn, no new paths waiting to be explored.

Even some college graduates who can't get a job have lost confidence in their abilities, believing they have nothing special to offer employers.

To all of you I say: Don't write yourself off yet.

If you're a college graduate, it wasn't a piece of cake to get that degree was it? If you were a pilot, didn't it take thousands of hours of training and self-discipline to fly a plane? If you're mid-career, you didn't walk in off the street and get that job, did you?

Look at your past. Think back to what it felt like when you failed, and what you did to recover. Think about what it felt like when you succeeded -- what did it take for you to achieve that goal? Those are all abilities that are unique to you. No one else did exactly what you did in the same way.

What would your life have been like if you'd never had those experiences, those chapters in your life? That's how you need to look at your career: as chapters to be written, as a work that will progress with time.

Don't ever think your skills and abilities aren't worth telling others about, and that you don't have something worthwhile to offer. Once you show others you're ready to reach for the next experience with enthusiasm, they'll be more interested in helping you so they can see how the story turns out.

How do you keep yourself enthused about your career or job hunt?


Monday, September 14, 2009

4 Ways to Make Meetings Better

If you look up the term "necessary evil," you'll probably find a photograph of a bunch of people in a meeting.

I don't know of anyone who loves meetings, but most everyone will say they're vital to getting work done. And yet, they seem to have gotten even more off-track these days, perhaps because many of us have taken over more job duties -- even though there are the same number of hours in a day.

Recently I looked into the issue of meetings, some pet peeves of those attending and how the whole "necessary evil" could be made well, less evil. Here's the column I wrote for Gannett on the subject:

In the last seven years, Phil Gerbyshak figures he has spent three to five hours a day every work day in a meeting. Of that time, he figures 25 percent of that time was well spent.

“Doing business face-to-face is so important, but we’re always waiting for people, or we start meetings late or there’s all this personal chat and sidebar conversations,” says Gerbyshak, vice president for a financial services company in Milwaukee. “I’m always sitting there thinking about all the things my team could be doing instead of wasting so much time.”

Meetings have always been the bane of any workplace, but with a leaner workforce now being asked to take on more tasks, the time spent in meetings is even more precious to time-strapped workers. At the same time, workers don’t want to miss the important “face time” with bosses that meetings can give them, especially when they need a strong connection to the boss to hang onto their jobs.

Bill Lampton, a motivational speaker and communications coach in Atlanta, says he gets “enraged” when a committee chair says the meeting attendees need to wait “for a couple of important members who are not here yet.”

“Strange, but I thought I was an important member myself,” Lampton says. “Imagine that twelve people wait ten minutes for the late arrivals. That's 120 minutes, or two hours totally wasted.”

Mike Song, a productivity speaker, says many meeting problems could be solved with a few tweaks.

“When you schedule meetings back to back, you’re going to have meeting dominoes. One runs late, and then that throws all of them off. Instead of scheduling them to last 60 minutes, you schedule them to last 50 minutes, and that gives you time to get to the next one,” he says.

Gerbyshak says meetings often bog down when agendas are misplaced, which Song says can be solved by sending agendas electronically so that it can be easily accessed via a laptop or Blackberry or iPhone when needed. “Now the agenda is strapped to your hip,” Song says. “No more waiting around.”

Lampton says he wishes more meeting chairs would stop meetings from stretching out to “ghastly limits” by allowing “motormouths” to ramble on and on. Song says he calls these people “Ted Tangents” who need to be put on the spot by the chair noting that the speaker has moved off topic.

“Then, he asks Ted Tangent, ‘Is this topic more urgent or important?’ than what is on the agenda?” Song says. “Nine out of 10 times it’s not more important, and Ted starts to realize he’s going off into la-la land.”

In a new book with Vicki Halsey and Tim Burress called “The Hamster Revolution for Meetings: How to Meet Less and Get More Done,” (Berrett-Koehler, $19.95), Song gives some other tips for meetings:

• Have a meeting objective. “This is what we call an ‘objenda’. You might say you want to increase sales 22 percent,” he says. “But you want it to be specific, and action-oriented.”
• Be early. “Five minutes early should be the new on time,” Song says. “If you try and be on time, something is always going to delay you like traffic or a phone call. Most people are late because they plan to be on time. Make being early part of your team brand.” He suggests making it clear that key information will be covered first, and tardiness is unacceptable.
• Use more mini-meetings. Sometimes a five- or 10-minute meeting is all that is needed. Hold it standing up to enforce the time limit.
• Nail it down. If a follow-up meeting is needed, don’t adjourn until a specific date and time is selected for it. This helps avoid endless telephone calls or e-mails at a later date trying to get participants to agree on a time.

While Gerbyshak is an avid social media user, he says he believes that the medium isn’t the “be all and end all” of communication. “You’ve still got to have face-to-face meetings to get business done,” he says. “Those discussions are critical.”


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Feelings mixed about recent college hires

In the last year there has been a noticeable shift in the mood regarding recent college graduates. While many blogs used to tout the world was their oyster, and employers had better accommodate anything they wanted, now the mood is much cooler. There has been concern and criticism about this younger generation and what they're bringing to the workplace.

I have worked with a lot of college students, and just like the rest of population -- there are some great workers and some not-so-great ones. But I wanted to talk to employers about what they were experiencing and their thoughts on how a tighter job market is impacting their hiring decisions for college students.

I wrote this for my Gannett column:

Within the last year Sarah Schupp has hired five new employees with freshly minted college degrees. She fired one on his first day for inappropriate sexual comments to a co-worker. Another lasted a week before getting a pink slip.

“When you’re hiring for sales, it’s tricky to find a good fit, and selling advertising is not for everyone,” says Schupp, founder of UniversityParent.com in Boulder, Colo. “But you can’t call in sick at 7:45 a.m. just because you don’t want to come to work at 8 a.m.”

Jeanne Achille also was disappointed with the hiring of a recent college hire, promoted by a university professor as a “superstar” and fired after three weeks when it was discovered she spent hours online at work visiting a dating site. She also Twittered about a night of partying – then e-mailed in sick the next day.

“Just who is supposed to be preparing these kids for the workplace?” questions Achille, CEO of The Devon Group in Middletown, N.J. “Is it home? Is it school? Or is there a layer we’ve missed?”

That seems to be the question that has re-ignited the debate about who is responsible for the quality of college graduates in the workplace. The tension has grown as young workers enter a labor force where employers are closely watching costs, including those for recruitment and training.

“I’ve been hearing these same complaints for the last 15 years,” says Steven Rothberg, founder of CollegeRecruiter.com, a job board for students seeking full-time work or internships. “Employers have always complained about a lack of hard and soft skills. The problem is that now employers don’t have the luxury of letting employees learn on the job.”

With only 15 employees, Achille says that “we don’t go into a hiring decision lightly in this economy,” and says no company can afford to put money into training new workers – those dollars are reserved for “top talent,” she says.

“We’ve decided to just not offer this position to an entry-level person anymore,” Achille says. “We’ve had some good college students come and work here in the past, but we just can’t afford to lose the productivity. It costs us money.”

Schupp also agrees that there has been some “awesome” recent college graduates work for her, but she is in the same boat as Achille. With a staff of 12, she can’t afford to teach basic business and “proper office behavior” to new hires.

That’s why she believes that schools need to work more closely with businesses to set up internship programs that will closely track the results of a student’s performance. “It needs to be measured, even if the internship is unpaid,” Schupp says. “The classroom needs to be more closely integrated with the internships.”

Rothberg says he believes part of the problem is that in this tough economy, some employers are “hiring down,” meaning they are bringing inexperienced people on board – for less money – to perform jobs normally reserved for more skilled employees.

“The vast majority of schools are aware of the complaints from employers,” Rothberg says. “Their eyes are permanently rolling. They’re sick of being blamed. The career service people also roll their eyes because they’re fed up with the lack of soft skills by these kids, like them using Twitter to badmouth a boss.”

Achille says she’s “frustrated” with some professors “who are trying to be friends and not mentors” to students, and believes that schools should offer “an MBA of life course” to help students understand that in the workplace “there are boundaries.”

Schupp says she believes students need to take more initiative and visit college career resource centers so they’re more prepared to leave the classroom and enter the working world.

Both Achille and Schupp say they will be much more careful in the future about hiring new college graduates, and will be looking for those with past internships and a real work record of their skills.

Rothberg urges all those involved in this issue to remember what it was like to be in their early 20s, and to avoid negative labels of the younger generation, often referred to as Generation Y.

“This is not a generational issue. A 22-year-old is just not fully matured yet. I thought I knew everything at that age. Remember you’re still dealing with people whose frontal lobes are not fully developed yet. They don’t know what they don’t know,” Rothberg says.

How do you think college students could be better prepared to enter the workforce?


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

4 Ways to Handle Your Childish Boss

There's probably no subject that generates more discussion on this blog than two words: "bad boss."

Personally, I don't know anyone who doesn't have a bad boss story. I know I have more than a few, and no matter how long I've been in the workforce, a bad boss can get to me. I'm always looking for solutions on how to deal with these rotten managers, and some days I'm more successful that others in applying those strategies. (Some days I think about hurling rotten eggs at the manager's house under the cover of night. But then I think of how I don't want to waste a rotten egg.)

Here's a recent story I did for Gannett on how to deal with bad bosses:

Just as child experts often advise exasperated parents to provide strong parameters for their unruly toddlers, workplace expert Lynn Taylor says it’s time we did the same for bratty bosses.

“Just as children with too much power need controls, so do bosses with too much power,” Taylor says. “Otherwise, they just get worse.”

Bad behavior may mean calling employees at all hours of the day and night, pitching hissy fits, being stubborn, bullying, bragging and generally making employees uncomfortable and stressed. Not exactly the kind of manager that generates productivity, creativity and efficiency.

“Any kind of stressful situation – such as this bad economy – can make it worse,” Taylor says. “It’s going to put this kind of boss into overdrive.”

Taylor says she was so struck by the resemblances between a tyrant toddler and a terrible boss that she calls these kinds of bosses the “terrible office tyrant” or “TOT.” Her new book, “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant,” (Wiley, $21.95) draws direct correlations between the fussy and uncooperative child and the adult version roaming the cubicles at work.

Rather than caving into these kinds of leaders, Taylor says, more employees need a plan of action to deal with such childish behavior that can arise when bosses “act out” under the pressures of their job. She says her plan involves employees staying “calm,” another acronym that stands for:

• Communicate. “Bravely talk to your boss,” she says. “Hiding your light under a bushel won’t be doing anyone a favor.” She suggests by talking to the boss and showing what you have to offer, it also will help your own career.
• Anticipate. Know the hot-button issues for your boss, and steer clear or head them off. Know good times to speak with him, and what helps calm him.
• Laugh. “Humor is a great diffuser, and in these tough times we need them more than ever,” she says. For example, when times are tense, you might ask, “Anyone need a donut?” as a way to show “we’re all human.”
• Manage. “Managing up doesn’t mean kissing up,” Taylor says. “It means you set boundaries and you stand your ground. Employees often fear reprisals for setting boundaries, but managers respect them. Otherwise, you’re going to have them calling you at midnight. They appreciate being told not to do that.”

Taylor says that when bosses are “lost little lambs”, they can make employee lives miserable because their own insecurities make them clingy and helpless, depending on workers to do tasks for them.

“At least with little kids, you know that helping them usually leads to a burst of independence and pride in accomplishing a new skill,” she says.

But a boss can always pull rank and force you to help, so Taylor advises employees – seeking a more self-sufficient manager – should privately tell the boss that while they would like to help, they have their own workload to tackle.

“You can help break the dependency cycle,” Taylor says. “You’d be surprised at how often (the boss) doesn’t realize she’s being needy to the point of distraction.”

Finally, Taylor cautions workers not to believe the childish boss will improve with the economy. “They also behave this way during any period of stress – even in good times,” she says. “That’s why it’s important that when you interview for jobs, make sure you are alert for these kinds of bosses.”

At the same time, Taylor believes that companies must do more to end this cycle of bad boss behavior and provide good management training, a supportive environment for employees and a company culture that emphasizes childish behavior will not be tolerated. If not, employers will watch talented employees walk out the door and tyrant bosses continue their reign of terror, she says.

Have you developed strategies for dealing with a bad boss?