Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Are You Turning Into a Zombie Employee?

I watched "Zombieland" for the the first time about a month ago, and have to say I thought it was pretty good. That's a rave review from someone who doesn't care for scary movies. (I made my mother sleep with me at night for three days after I saw the first "Friday the 13th.")
So, believe me when I say that I would not want to be a zombie because I'd probably faint from being so terrified of myself. But there's another kind of zombie that should scare everyone -- a zombie employee. Read why in this latest story I did for Gannett/USA Today....
In the 1968 movie, "Night of the Living Dead," Johnny teased Barbara, "They’re coming to get you!"
Johnny was speaking of zombies, and he might want to update that warning for the workplace today if he listens to Susan Battley.

Battley, a leadership and career expert, says that zombies are populating cubicles these days. You might even become one of them if you’re not careful.
"A zombie employee is someone who is neither living nor quite dead," she says. "The person has outlived his or her usefulness on the job."
So, that means a zombie worker might not be invited to important meetings, might be excluded from strategic initiatives or might be ignored by a new boss. Telecommuting employees can be vulnerable to becoming zombies if they don’t stay front of mind with their colleagues, customers and managers, she says.
The problem with zombie employees is that they often start down the road to the undead without being aware of it, Battley says.
The past several years have been difficult at many companies, and some employees took a "keep your head down and survive" mentality. The problem: They never realized they were becoming part of the half-dead employee group that could be discarded quickly, she says.
"You don’t want to become invisible," she says. "You have to be proactive."
That means you’ve got to stay focused on the company’s success and tie your energies to it. Instead of sitting through meetings in a trance-like state or watching "Zombieland" on your computer at work, you need to be selling yourself and your ideas to your team and your boss.
"Twenty years ago, zombies at work could get lost in the crowd," Battley says. "But organizations are much leaner now, and there’s nowhere for these people to hide anymore. And, they’re more damaging that ever."

Zombie employees often undermine morale, Battley says. Other workers see an employee allowed to zone out and keep a chair warm as possibly protected by a higher up, or as someone whose work others must constantly cover.
That leads to cynicism about the company’s mission and can lead to increased turnover and lower production, she says.
In addition, zombies can undermine a manager’s credibility and prevent the upward mobility of workers who deserve a promotion but can’t move up because a zombie is blocking the way, she says.
While zombies have become more popular in movies, television shows and books, being a zombie will do little for your career. If you fear you’re turning into one of the half dead/half alive employees that Battley addresses, don’t lose hope.
There is good news even for undead workers, she says.
"Don’t be afraid. While you can be a zombie in one place, that won’t necessarily be true somewhere else," she says. "Use it as a wake-up call and know that maybe you can’t be vibrant in the job you have now, but you can be somewhere else.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Small Leadership Gestures That Have a Big Impact

Humble. Decent. Accessible. Are these words your employees would use to describe you?
Those are terms often used to describe business tycoon Warren Buffet, the man who still lives in the Omaha, Neb. house he bought in 1958 for $31,500 and is often game to strike silly poses with fans who want a photograph with him.
If you’re not like Buffet, are you more likely to be the kind of boss who can’t make time for staff members – except to bark orders – and has to be tracked down in the bathroom by employees with a question?
Forcing employees to take such action just to get some face time is not only embarrassing and frustrating for workers, but shows you’re headed for the “a-hole boss” category. While you may believe having workers dislike you means that you’re doing a good job or being a tough leader, you’re on the wrong road.
That’s because many of the top leaders who garner loyalty, great business results and success (remember Buffet?) are also decent human beings who don’t abandon integrity as they climb the ladder of success.
The way to be a great leader is not that hard. In fact, it’s often the smallest things that can make the biggest difference to workers and garner their loyalty and respect.  Try:

  • Showing respect for an employee’s time. Don’t be the last one to show up for a meeting and the first one to leave, which tells employees that you think your time is more valuable. You’re in charge of the meeting and should be there to greet workers as they arrive, a gesture that conveys you value their time. Set a time for beginning and ending the meeting, and stick to it.
  • Don’t send mixed messages. If you tell employees that times are tough, and then show up in a new vehicle the next day, that won’t look good. Bring a brown (read more here)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How to Sell Yourself Like Virgin's Richard Branson

While most of us would like to believe that it's our hard work that gets us ahead in the workplace, the truth is that the person who gets the job or promotion possesses something extra.
"The most successful business people are not those with the best qualifications, the highest IQ or (are) the most hardworking," says Adam Riccoboni, a business development professional and entrepreneur. "The greatest success is enjoyed by those who are the best at selling themselves."
It's an idea Riccoboni explores in a new book with Daniel CallaghanThe Art of Selling Yourself(Tarcher/Penguin, $15.99).

Sir Richard Branson, head of The Virgin Group, is cited in the book as someone who left school with few qualifications but yet was "so wonderful at selling himself he became a billionaire and the living, breathing representation of one of the top 10 brands in the world today," Riccoboni says.
While not all of us can be Branson, his ability to sell himself is something we all need today to get ahead, Riccoboni says.
"In a globalized economy, you will need to compete with individuals from all over the world," Riccoboni says. "In this context, being employable is as important as being employed. You need to keep your profile as high as possible."
Even someone who lacks self-confidence can learn to sell himself in a way that feels genuine, the author says.
"Think back over the last 10 years and for each year write down one thing you achieved," he says. "Looking back over this list will help you understand your own achievements and strengths."
At the same time, Riccoboni has a warning for those who have an abundance of self-confidence and believe they can sell themselves with no problem.
"Being unprepared is the most common mistake people make. Having self-belief, confidence and excellent communication skills will take you far. However, if you are unprepared when doing business, it will damage your credibility and reduce the trust people have in you," he says.
One of the important ways to be prepared is by "understanding what people want through empathy," which Riccoboni says is "the most important aspect of business."
"Empathy, meaning to see through the eyes of another, is vital because selling yourself is not just about you," he says. "If you want to persuade someone to buy you, then it is necessary to first understand them."

Developing empathy, or emotional intelligence, may take some practice. The authors suggest some ways to develop it:
• Recognize emotions.
Try to pick up on verbal and nonverbal cues about what another person is feeling.
"To be persuasive you should be sensitive and understanding to every person you meet," Riccoboni says.
• Step into another's shoes.
Imagine yourself in a customer's place and talk about how you can understand the feelings involved.
Think about asking questions, such as "What are your aspirations for your business?" or "How does this issue affect your business?"
• Think before acting.
Be aware of your own emotions and get them under control before trying to change someone else's mind.
Especially if you are facing a very emotional situation, pause and think before saying your thoughts.
How will others react to your comments?
What non-verbal cues are you sending?
Empathy is important not only to sell yourself effectively and help your career, but also to improve your relationships, Riccoboni says.
"Having empathy has been shown in research to be a key personal quality in managers reaching top leadership positions," he says.
Anita Bruzzese is author of 45 Things You D

Friday, October 19, 2012

How You Can Help Your Career Even When You're Not at Work

After putting in your hours at work with the colleague who eats pork rinds all day long and the boss who constantly hums off-key show tunes, the last thing you may want to do is spend your after-work hours with such people.
So when you’re given advice to sign up for the company’s community 5k run or Saturday morning at the local food bank, you may respond with something that cannot be printed here.
Relax. Attending such events is a not an international human rights violation, but rather a way to enhance your career.
How? If you’re seen as someone who is supportive of company efforts after hours, it can not only boost your standing with your boss, but with the boss’s boss. In today’s hyper-connected and politically correct world, there are some companies that won’t do business with those that are not demonstrating corporate responsibility. So when the head honchos see you putting in efforts toenhance the company’s community standing, that’s a big plus for you.
Also, your visible support of the employer makes the boss much more willing to invest her energies and resources in you. In other words, she sees you going above and beyond the call of duty by showing up at the event, so she is willing to do the same for your career.
In addition, it’s not every day that you are given a chance to rub elbows with company leaders, and such community events are likely to put bosses in a more benevolent frame of mind. What better time to chat with the CEO and cast yourself in a positive light?
Community events also offer you a chance to get to know co-workers better. You might just learn that the pork-rind fiend is really (read more here)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What Does Your Facebook Photo Say About You?

I'm always amazed by the truly stupid photos people post of themselves online. 
The reason I'm surprised is that we're so quick to judge a celebrity with a hair out of place, that sometimes we fail to consider the image we're projecting to the world. This latest story I did for Gannett/USAToday may have your reconsidering....

It’s often said that people make a judgment about you within seconds of meeting you, and now new research shows the same may be true even when they’re viewing your photo on Facebook.
When a person’s Facebook photo includes positive comments or social cues — such as what the person does — those opinions strongly affect the level of perceived attractiveness of that person, according to a University of Missouri study.
Others’ comments can make the person seem more appealing physically, socially and professionally, says Seoyeon Hong, a doctoral student who did the research with Kevin Wise, an associate professor at the university.
While the researchers didn’t pursue how this could affect an employer’s opinion of a job applicant, hiring managers also might take their cues from what other people say about you online.
“If you present yourself one way, that information is useful,” Wise says. “But it’s not as credible as what other parties say about you.”
If you present yourself as a nice, professional, responsible person to an employer, but those online are “posting that you’re a total schmuck,” that could be a red flag for employers because others’ comments often garner more attention, he says.
In the University of Missouri study, Facebook profile photos were shown to about 100 college students. College students thought the people in photos with comments and additional information, such as an athlete playing sports, were more physically and socially attractive. Those with plain headshots and no other information on Facebook were not seen as attractive, Hong found.
Visual images are becoming more powerful online. Not only does Facebook reveal our photos to the world, but sites like Instagram and Pinterest are becoming much more popular as a way to reveal our interests or personalities.
What this indicates is that no matter what you put on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn to enhance your professional image, you must make sure the photos are consistent with your written message and that comments from others are equally positive.
Some ways to enhance your image online:
• Get recommendations. LinkedIn offers a feature to let others recommend you.
While you don’t want to have dozens of recommendations that might ring false with employers, it’s a good idea to have positive comments about your abilities that go along with a flattering LinkedIn profile photo.
• Watch the sarcasm. You might consider it harmless or fun to have friends say snarky things about you online, but those comments might give an employer pause.
Again, it’s a case of a third party presenting a less-than-flattering image of you that may weigh more heavily with employers.
• Get positive customer reviews. Just as consumers often pay close attention to customer reviews online about products or companies, it can be a good idea for employers to read positive reviews about you.
If you write a blog, it can be beneficial for others to post supportive comments of your efforts or show support by promoting your blog through their social-media channels.
• Clean house. Remember the last holiday party where you had tinsel on your head and a beer in your hand?
Employers might not find that so fitting, so take care to remove such photos and ask friends to do the same if you appear on their Facebook pages. Even if you use privacy settings, your connections might not follow suit.
Try to monitor what’s posted about you online so you can make sure the right social cues are being broadcast.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why" Practice" Isn't a Dirty Word

I've always said that journalism was perfect for me because I never like doing the same thing twice. As my piano teacher will attest, I always treated the word "practice" like it was a dirty word.
But I now realize that I do practice, every day. While I may write a different story or talk to different people, by writing every day I am practicing. Has my practice made me better? You bet. 
Here's a story I did for Gannett/USAToday on why practice is important for everyone....

As a child, you probably heard your parents say more than once that practice makes perfect — especially when it came time to work on your trombone skills or free throws.
Many of us abandon the idea of practice being important as we get older. After all, who wants to admit they don't know everything and need to become better at something?
But that unwillingness to admit we need improvement may be holding us back from career success, Doug Lemov says.

Lemov, author of Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better (Jossey-Bass, $26.95) withErica Woolway and Katie Yezzi, contends that even those who are really good at something can improve with practice. To understand their point, just look at superstars like Michael Jordan and Itzkak Perlman, both dedicated practicers even as they reached career pinnacles.
So how does practice translate into the everyday workplace? It's not like you're working on jump shots or mastering complicated violin solos, right?
But some things need improvement at work, and that's where practice comes in.
Lemov admits that he needs to improve his focus on work instead of being constantly distracted by checking his email. He says he knows he needs to practice staying on task and hopes to avoid the inbox for longer and longer periods as he practices such discipline.
Still, Lemov also stresses that you can't practice any way you want and get desired results. Unless you commit to practicing correctly, you are destined to do a task in a subpar way over and over.
Say a boss gives you feedback on the way you complete a task. You get suggestions on how to do the task better, and you nod your head and say, "Sure, I'll think about it."
But you don't.
Lemov says that is a classic example of practicing avoidance. Instead of trying to work the boss' way and seeking additional help to improve, you continue to do something wrong or in a way that keeps you from excelling.
In that case, Lemov says the boss should say, "You can reflect on the feedback later, but for right now I want you to try it."
"The first obligation, is to at least honor the person by trying the feedback immediately," he says.
In their book, the authors make a number of suggestions on how individuals can embrace practicing to improve their performance on the job. Among them:
• Find the real deal. Look for someone who is doing similar work in a similar context.
Don't just observe this person doing a job but look at what the person does to get better — the practice he or she does to perform the job well.
Don't just watch someone give a great presentation. Ask to observe as the person goes about preparing a PowerPoint, doing research, practicing with notes, warming up, etc.
• Use practice to get creative. The more tasks you master and commit to muscle memory, the more time and energy you free up for generating creative ideas.
Many people say they come up with creative ideas while showering or walking the dog because they're able to think of other things while doing such tasks automatically. The more tasks you practice, the more automatic they will become, and the more time your brain will be free to wander.
Don't just consider practicing fundamental tasks. Look for complex skills you can practice until you do them automatically without thinking.
• Push yourself. Don't be willing to accept a certain proficiency that means you never make a mistake.
Be willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone and take some calculated risks. That may mean practicing a difficult conversation with your boss about your career development or completing a task a bit faster every time you practice.
Once you know you're pushing yourself into making a mistake, then be prepared to make corrections to learn from the error.
While your parents may have advocated that practice makes perfect, the authors argue that what practice really does is make things permanent.
The more you practice correctly and with an eye on getting better, the greater the chances that greatness at your job will become ingrained.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

4 Ways to Handle Your Workplace Jealousies

Most of us have had feelings of jealousy or envy in our lives, but nowhere may it be more difficult to deal with than in the workplace.
Of course you’re supposed to wish Jim well on his new promotion – even though you worked hard for it and you believe Jim is a slacker. And, well, sure you’d like to be friendlier to your colleague Maggie, but she’s so darned organized it gives you a headache, especially when the boss is always giving her an award for it.
No one likes to admit they’re jealous or envious of a co-worker. After all, didn’t we leave such petty feelings behind on the playground? Or at least reserve them for the skinny woman who lives next door and can eat anything she wants?
The problem is the difficult economy has made our stress and in and insecurity more pronounced, which can often exacerbate the jealousy we feel on the job. We become more emotionally sensitive, and find ourselves battling the green-eyed monster in our cubicle.
Suddenly, it seems as if a co-worker’s off-handed comment about how your messy desk is a health threat doesn’t seem like a friendly quip but a direct insult. Remarks – even joking comments – are taken personally and negatively.
Psychologists say we often feel jealous when we sense someone has taken something away from us that we were attached to emotionally. You may have really been counting on a promotion, for example, so you may react in anger or hurt when you don’t get it. Jealousy really hits when we feel something is unfair, they explain.
So, you may feel jealous when a colleague gets a new project that you feel you deserved because you have more seniority, and because you had already envisioned the team (read more here)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How to Nail a Great Internship

I live in a city with a major state university and things are starting to get a little crazy this week. Hundreds of college students are buying dress clothes, running off resumes as Kinkos and removing nose rings and covering tattoos.
It can only mean one thing.
Employers are in town. 
It's time to start interviewing for jobs and internships, and it appears they're right on track. Read this story I did for Gannett/USAToday about the importance of getting a jump on internships...

If you're thinking of applying for a summer internship, the clock already has started ticking.
Internships have become one of the key ways that companies make permanent hires, so competition for them has intensified. Students hoping for an internship can no longer rely on luck or last-minute efforts to land one.
At Abbott Laboratories, the number of interns worldwide in the past five years has grown from 300 to more than 900.

Vildan Stidham, Abbott's divisional vice president of talent acquisition, says the company takes its internship program very seriously: 40% of entry-level hires come from its interns. That means interns are put through a program that exposes them to a wide variety of experiences at the pharmaceutical and health care company so they can be evaluated for their skills.
"Our internship program is a core component of our talent pipeline strategy," she says. "It's a way to identify our future leaders."
Instead of being left to staple reports or perform other trivial tasks, Abbott interns are given real-world experience that can include being involved in product launches, helping with production or building a computer network, she says.
"We have a very systemic way to accelerate their growth. They participate in several trainings on leadership, communications and career development and we arrange a lot of social-networking and team-building activities," Stidham says. "They also have one-on-one time with senior leaders."
Abbott uses its internship program as more than a way to fill empty seats temporarily, she says. Abbott Laboratories is looking for employees who can grow with the company.
More than 80% of interns offered jobs go to work for the company, Stidham says. But that also means internship programs such as Abbott's are increasingly competitive.
So how do you stand out from other applicants?
• Be proactive. Don't wait until an employer visits your college campus.
Companies right now are considering interns for next summer, so start making contact with employers via social media or other networking avenues. Stidham says Abbott works closely with several colleges, so stay in contact with career centers and school officials to help you make those inroads.
 If you're thinking of applying for a summer internship, the clock already has started ticking.
Internships have become one of the key ways that companies make permanent hires, so competition for them has intensified. Students hoping for an internship can no longer rely on luck or last-minute efforts to land one.
At Abbott Laboratories, the number of interns worldwide in the past five years has grown from 300 to more than 900.

• Do your homework. Before you contact a company, make sure you know about its business, about its culture and how you could help it thrive.
• Be visible. "When visiting with an employer, think about how you can stand out from others," Stidham says.
• Follow up. Once you've made contact with an employer, keep in contact. "A good first impression may not last," she says. "You've got to stay on that person's radar."
Once you land an internship, Stidham offers some additional advice about how to stand out and make a good impression:
• Go the extra mile. "Delivering is not good enough," she says. "Over-deliver. Make sure whatever you do adds value."
• Ask lots of questions and listen carefully.
• Be ready. "Always have your 3-minute elevator pitch ready to go because you never know when you're going to be visible to senior leaders. Tell a relevant story about what you're working on or what you've done that would be important for the company," she says.
• Don't ask before you earn. "Sometimes interns can get impatient and talk about getting promotions," Stidham says. "You need to build credibility before you talk about that."
• Be professional at all times. "Even when you're in social situations, you're being assessed. You're always in the spotlight even when you're off the job," she says.