Tuesday, June 26, 2012
One of the reasons I went into journalism was because I didn't want to rely on someone else to tell me the facts of a situation. I wanted to find them out for myself.
Yet things have changed since I entered the media industry. It seems that some "facts" are churned out faster than can be verified, with errors being tweeted or rushed onto television as "breaking news" without all the information.
Sometimes our work worlds can be just the same. How often do you repeat what someone told you about a client without ever investigating whether it's based on facts? Do you pass along information via email or social media without checking to see if it's true?
Perhaps you feel that's what you're supposed to do -- just follow the herd and not think anything for yourself. But if you want to stand out in your career, learning to think for yourself may be key. Check out this story I did for Gannett/USA Today....
Sitting in another endless meeting and thinking about all the work piling up on your desk, you're startled when you hear the boss call your name
"So, what do you think of Helen's proposal?" the boss asks.
What you think is that you don't want to sit in this meeting another minute, so you chime in: "It's great! Let's go with it!"
You breathe a sigh of relief as others nod in agreement. After a bit more discussion, the meeting is adjourned.
Of course, the problem is that you never really listened to Helen's proposal closely. You really cared only about dealing with the dozens of emails awaiting you and making it out of work soon enough to watch your child's soccer game.
But you rationalize that no one really cares what you think. They just want a rubber stamp for whatever idea the boss thinks is best. If you've learned one thing in the past few years, it's to keep your head down and not stir the pot.
But is that really the best career strategy now?
More companies want employees to be more innovative; it's imperative for survival against global competition. At the same time, those who don't show a willingness to come up with creative ideas often are passed over for promotions and fail to be marketable in a competitive job market.
Workplace expert Nan S. Russell says that's why workers who want their careers to thrive must quit going along to get along and learn to be more independent thinkers.
"I think a lot of us have really shut down at work," she says. "People are just doing what they need to do. But creative ideas and engagement and commitment are really things that you give to someone. They can't crowbar it out of you."
Often, a herd mentality to adopt the latest buzzword or workplace thinking can derail your ability to think independently, she said.
Have you ever argued passionately about something then realized that you're really arguing someone else's point of view, that you never really stopped to investigate an issue yourself and form your own opinion?
That kind of "bandwagon" thinking can stifle organizations and creative individual thoughts, Russell says.
"There's a shift that needs to happen. That jump in thinking that says, 'I have to own my thinking for me,' " she says.
Further, individuals need to take more responsibility for shutting off outside distractions such as texts, emails, phone calls and piles of work simply to notice other things that can stir the creative juices and help form more independent thoughts, she says.
In her new book, "The Titleless Leader: How to Get Things Done When You're Not in Charge," (Career Press, $15.99), Russell says you can spark your creative thinking in a number of ways and become a leader in your workplace.
Among the ideas for you to try for the next 60 days:
• Jump start your brain in the morning. Begin each day by reading a new quotation, visiting a new website or taking a new route to work while listening to a new radio station.
• Look for dissent. Instead of hanging out with people who agree with you on most issues, actively seek out those who may have a different opinion.
Look for those people who may have a diverse work experience or background.
• Ask more questions. Forget about always coming up with the right answers.
Instead think about asking more questions to come up with better solutions.
• Reduce multitasking. Start paying attention to something other than your smartphone.
"Have you ever noticed that when people go to the zoo with their kids they're busy checking their texts?" Russell asks. "They're not noticing anything else that's going on, and that's a great time to get creative ideas."
• Check the facts. Instead of relying on someone else to tell you what's going on in your industry, vow to read or listen to one book or publication a month that is industry related.
When giving an opinion, make sure you've checked the source yourself so you can give offer your own unique ideas.
• Shadow someone from another department on the job to glean new knowledge and ideas.
"Make an appointment with yourself, so that you take the time to look at issues and think about things," Russell says. "Don't just accept someone else's ideas or opinion."
What ways do you try to stand out at work?
Thursday, June 21, 2012
I think we've probably all had jobs we didn't like. We dreaded going into work, and huddled miserably at our work stations, wondering why everyone else seemed to be OK. Couldn't they see how horrible the place was?
I've certainly had a couple of those jobs in my life. When I was younger, I went home and cried at night, complaining bitterly to anyone who would listen how unhappy I was.
But as I got a little older and had other jobs, I finally reached the conclusion that while I may not like a job or a company, it didn't have to ruin my life. I had the choice about rather I made myself even more miserable by having a crappy attitude, or learned to re-frame the situation to make it more bearable.
The other thing I learned was that even though I may not be in a dream job, there was something I could learn from the experience. That has helped me cope better when other jobs have come along that I haven't loved. I've learned to take a more positive outlook, no matter the situation. I hope this story I did for Gannett/USA Today will help you do the same:
We often blame our bosses or co-workers or "the company" for troubles at work.
We tell ourselves the reason we don't get what we deserve at work is the fault of someone else.
But is it really? Or are we the ones to blame for our lack of career success?
Research suggests that when we allow our minds to focus on the negative and allow doubts and insecurities to overwhelm positive thoughts, we set ourselves up for results that don't reflect our best work.
A survey last year from VitalSmarts found that 97 percent of employees described themselves as having one of these five traits: lacking reliability, making not-my-job comments, procrastinating, resisting change or projecting a negative attitude.
That's why behavioral expert and business adviserBeverly Flaxington says employees need to stop talking about outside career saboteurs and instead focus on the dramatic difference they can make by changing the way they behave and think at work.
"I think many people just get stuck. They think their boss is a jerk, they hate the way their company treats people and they are really just frustrated in their jobs," Flaxington says. "Things are just piling on, and they almost get paralyzed by the situation."
Mired in negativity, workers begin to act out their woe-is-me attitude, she says. They don't make deadlines, they fail to offer new ideas and they have a snarky attitude with colleagues — all behaviors that undermine their ability to be happy at work or get ahead.
"Get out of the victim mode," she says. "There is a lot you can control and influence."
Flaxington, author of Make Your SHIFT: The Five Most Powerful Moves You Can Make to Get Where You Want to Go, (ATA Press, $15.95) says you can break the negativity mode and take a more proactive approach to making work better:
• Write it down. Think about where you want to be in your career, and then give yourself a date to accomplish a goal.
Ask yourself if you're on track to meet that goal based on what you're doing now. If not, what skills do you need to gain, and what may be stopping you from achieving that outcome?
Don't get down if you're in a job that won't move you toward this goal, but keep that written statement in front of you daily so you can stay committed to it.
• Vent. List your gripes.
Write down the things that bug you about your job, things you can't stand or complaints. Now put each of those items into three categories: what is within your control, what you may be able to influence and what is out of your control.
Cross out what you can't control and focus on what you can do with the remaining items. By looking at obstacles in a proactive way — as something you're capable of overcoming — you will feel less negative and stuck.
• Change your communication style. Maybe your boss makes decisions on the fly, but your work style is just the opposite.
Unfortunately, your careful consideration of the pros and cons comes across as procrastination to the boss and maybe even a criticism of his or her fast-action style.
Learn to mirror more of your boss' words, body language and communication style and you soon will find interactions smoother.
• Embrace change. Talk to mentors to get their feedback on how to make some changes.
Study successful people within your organization and think about how you might adopt some of their habits to become more successful, such as volunteering for difficult assignments or coming in early.
Instead of being grumpy about changes, think about how they can make you better because you're learning something new.
• Give 'em a break. Maybe you don't like the boss' management style or the way your co-workers do certain tasks.
That's doesn't make them terrible people. You need to remember they're often doing the best they can.
Approach them with a positive attitude and try to be as helpful as you can.
"I really do believe every day is a new day," Flaxington says. "No matter your age, drop the attitude that you need something outside of yourself to change. Just try some different things and see if they don't make an impact. You have more power than you think you have."
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
No matter how much you may whine, you're probably going to be subjected to a performance evaluation this year. I've written a lot about why many experts believe performance evaluations aren't a good idea, but the fact is...they're not going away any time soon.
So strap on your big boy or big girl shoes, and let's learn how to step into these reviews with confidence and emerge a winner. Here's the story I did for Gannett/USAToday....
As your performance evaluation approaches do you:
a) Pretend to have a seizure every time your review begins to the point that emergency medical technicians have set up a substation in your office lobby.
b) Pay your identical twin to sit in the review and pretend to be you.
c) See if you can beat last year's time of 5 minutes 30 seconds to fill out the paperwork.
If you responded in the affirmative to any of the above scenarios, have you ever considered doing something completely different — something that could help you get the kind of review that nets you a corner office or a pay raise?
If not, then it could be you're selling yourself short, Brian D. Poggi says. A defeatist or cavalier attitude about a performance review just sets the stage to ensure you won't see more money in your paycheck or a promotion.
"A lot of people complain about performance evaluations, but the truth is they aren't going away any time soon. You might as well try to do them well and control the outcome," says Poggi, author of I Am Not Average: How to Succeed in Your Performance Review(Amazon, $19.99).
Since the economy turned sour, Poggi points out that more employees have become less determined to make sure their review goes the way they want.
"They feel more pressured not to rock the boat," he says. "They just see the review as a necessary evil and not as an opportunity to sell their value as a top performer."
Others shy away from trying to influence the outcome of a review because they aren't comfortable promoting their achievements and believe their hard work should speak for itself, he says.
But what ends up loud and clear in an evaluation is the boss's opinion — and that likely won't be as favorable as what the employee would like, Poggi says.
One strategy Poggi suggests: A PowerPoint presentation that "makes sure your message is heard," he says. "If you don't have something like that, you're going to be lucky to talk 20 percent of the time."
If possible, catch the boss before your evaluation date, and you could end up practically writing your own review.
The presentation should include:
• Your contributions. Use bullet points to highlight your achievements in the last year. Relate them directly to your written objectives for the review period.
• Your willingness to pitch in. List areas where you could contribute more to the organization or department. This is a chance to mention special projects, cost-saving ideas or taking on more responsibilities.
• Your goals. Write where you'd like your career to go within the company, noting any promotions you want to achieve.
• Your suggestions for the next year's objectives.
Poggi says each subject on the PowerPoint should be short and sweet, each topic no more than a page long.
"The great thing about this is that you're basically doing the manager's work," he says. "It's a way to prime the pump."
Not only will the presentation hand the manager information you want in a permanent record of your career, but it also helps you stay on track if you get distracted during the review, Poggi says.
"Too many employees walk into a review thinking they have a battle plan, and then the manager says something completely unexpected and they get off track," he says. "This is a way to make sure your message gets heard."
What's the best plan for preparing for a performance review?
Thursday, June 7, 2012
By now, many college interns have started their summer gigs.
Eager, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, they're ready to tackle the problems of the world, to impress their employers so much that job offers are tendered before the third week of their programs.
Unfortunately, many interns, bored with the mundane tasks they've been assigned or disillusioned that higher-ups consider them too young and inexperienced, begin to lose that optimism around Week 2.
Maureen Dumas, vice president of experiential education and career services at Johnson & Wales University, says that more students than ever want internships, in part because their parents push for it.
Parents often see an internship as a way for their child to get in the door and see if the industry the student has chosen is a good fit.
Still, if a student isn't well prepared, both the employer and student can end up disappointed. She says Johnson & Wales, which has campuses in Providence, R.I.; Charlotte, N.C.; Denver; and North Miami, Fla., works closely with students to make sure that they have mentors and that administrative staff and faculty advisers monitor them before and during their internships.
"The first thing anyone doing an internship should ask is what he or she wants to get out of the experience," Dumas says. "They need to think about what areas they want to be exposed to and what skill sets they need to learn."
To get that internship, a student should begin looking one or two terms ahead of time, working with a school's career center to make contacts with prospective employers.
Once an internship is secured, a student can make the most out of the experience:
1. Dress appropriately. Many college students live in jeans and sweat pants, inappropriate for most offices.
Look for photos online of company meetings that show employee dress, or check with the human resources office beforehand about what to wear. The first days provide the most opportunities to be introduced to others throughout the company, and you want to make a good impression.
2. Check out LinkedIn. Search alumni groups to see if someone from your school works at the company.
If so, invite that person for lunch or coffee and see if the alum would be interested in mentoring you during your internship.
3. Get personal business cards. These cards should provide your contact information so you can give them to people you meet at the company.
If you give a presentation, you'll want to leave with attendees' business cards or contact information.
"This is a good way to follow up later if you're still looking for a job," Dumas says.
4. Be on your toes. "You never know when you might run into the CEO," Dumas says.
"Always be ready to tell him or her about why you want to work there," she says. "Do your homework so you know about the company."
5. Monitor the company intranet. Jobs may be posted internally before being sent to job boards.
Make sure you read those offerings weekly so you can jump on them immediately.
6. Stay positive. Every job has tasks that are not fun.
The same is true of internships. Older workers often think interns need to pay their dues, so they'll give you menial tasks.
Don't whine. Embrace each task with a positive attitude. They could be tests of your attitude to see if you would be a good hire.
7. Volunteer. Employers like eager attitudes, so be willing to offer your services as long as you've got the OK from your boss.
Maybe you're a whiz at online graphics and could help a team meet its deadline by staying late and pitching in. This can serve to not only give others a positive impression of you but also provide valuable experience of working with a team under deadline pressures.
Finally, never leave an internship empty-handed, Dumas says.
"Always make sure you leave an internship with names of contacts so you can continue networking while you look for a job," she says.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
The image most of us have had of the U.S. Secret Service is one of stern-looking agents, whispering into their shirt cuffs and ready to throw their bodies in front of the president or other important officials to protect them from harm.
Drunk agents, cavorting with prostitutes and acting like frat members at a kegger is not the standard image, yet one that has penetrated our consciousness as stories of agent misdeeds in Columbia have surfaced.
In a recent Senate hearing, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan testified that the behavior – including agents going to a strip club – is not indicative of a widespread ethics problem.
He was met with skepticism by some Senate members and as a result, there will be a wider probe into the agency’s culture.
Still, the question remains that if highly trained Secret Service members can pull such unethical and unprofessional shenanigans, what is happening in other workplaces?
Kirk Hanson is the executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University and has been helping companies deal with ethical dilemmas for decades. He says the Secret Service debacle shows the “failure by an institution to think about what are unavoidable ethical dilemmas.”
“You drop these people in another country for three weeks. They have a lot of free time on their hands and a substantial amount of money in their pockets,” he says. “It seems to me that it’s pretty likely they may get involved in some temptations and those kinds of activities need to be dealt with in a deliberate way in training.
“When faced with those situations, what are the choices and decisions that need to be made?” he says. “These are all things that employees must be trained for. They have to decide (read the rest here.)