Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Could March Madness Be the Secret to Better Workplace Relationships?

My family and I usually get a pretty friendly rivalry going over the NCAA tournament. A bracket is posted on the refrigerator with various picks and there is lots of trash talking via texts.

It can be fun, and no one takes it too seriously. (Especially since none of us ever come close to making the right picks, no matter the strategy we may employ.)

Do you participate in bracket mania? If so, you're not alone. Read this latest story I did for Gannett/USA Today on "March Madness" in the workplace...

It's often anyone's guess who will take home the basketball crown, but trying to guess who it might be is one of the ways that the workplace becomes a little more lively this time of the year.

Bracket mania takes over the cubicles, as those with the latest scientific data go up against those who pick final teams based on deeply held beliefs in uniform color.

"It's always the time of year when the people who follow the game set their bracket and see them blown up," says Murat Philippe, director of workforce consulting services for Chicago-based Avatar HR Solutions. "And people who don't know anything end up doing the best."

Philippe says he's a proponent of letting March Madness invade the workplace, as long as it doesn't disrupt productivity.

"It's a welcome distraction after the kind of winter we've had," he says.

One in five managers that OfficeTeam recently surveyed seem to agree, noting that the March Madness of the annual college basketball tournament improves employee morale and engagement at least somewhat. Seventy-five percent of the 1,000 managers who responded to the survey say they don't think the bracket obsession affects the workplace at all.

"This (setting brackets) is something that is going to happen anyway, no matter what a company may say," Philippe says. "It doesn't really cost you a great deal, so you may as well saddle it up and ride it out."

OfficeTeam advises that any workplace willing to let employees have fun with March Madness set a few rules, such as granting workers quick breaks to check scores or talk about games with colleagues.

"Of course, you wouldn't want someone spending five hours a day looking at scores and games. But talking about it can bring a real levity and common bond among workers," Philippe says. "The pools are something everyone can talk about and be an icebreaker before a meeting. It's something everyone can bond over."

Other ways to increase engagement in the NCAA basketball tournament are allowing workers to wear team colors or T-shirts, and making sure leaders show a good-natured attitude toward competition, OfficeTeam suggests.

"This isn't a be-all and end-all thing," Philippe says. "But I think it can be something that fashions a workforce that works hard and plays hard."

Still, Philippe and others say that workplaces entering the bracket fray need to look at some legal considerations.

Bert Brannen, an Atlanta lawyer with Fisher & Phillips national labor and employment law firm that represents management, warns companies that employees who feel excluded from the bracket action might file discrimination claims. Another problem: Betting among co-workers may generate hard feelings instead of fun.

Last year Twitter users sent more than 2 million tweets about March Madness, and competition over brackets in the office could spur workers into taking their trash talking online, which might include trash talking their bosses, Brannen says.

If employers allow some March Madness at work, Brannen suggests forbidding them from using company computers and only engaging in bracket mania during break times or outside the office.
Supervisors also should be discouraged from participating in the activity, he says.

Despite the legal reservations, March Madness is likely to take over many workplaces this year.

"I think it's important to keep in mind that as the economy improves, there is going to be employee turnover," Philippe says. "If you can find ways to keep employees engaged and let them have some fun, then it's a lot cheaper to let them do this than trying to replace them when they leave."

(Photo by CBS Sports)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How to Become More Influential No Matter Your Job Title

If you sometimes feel powerless at work – even if you’re in a position of authority – you’re not alone. You may have tried pleading with others to cooperate, or even issued more than a few subtle threats.
Such tactics may work for a while, but they’re usually not lasting and others will soon become resentful of your behavior.
So how do you become one of those people that others really listen to? One of those people like Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh who has become a real influencer?
In a new book, “Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In,” authorsMark Goulston  and John Ullmen  provide insight into how some people become successful like Hsieh while others remain frustrated in their efforts despite their intelligence or good intentions.
The problem, the authors say, is that you cannot view influence as something you “do” to get your own way, as a means to an end. Instead, you have to make a commitment to try to really understand others, collaborate with them and seek to inspire them with your actions.
In a recent interview with Anita Bruzzese, Goulston added more insight into the idea of having real influence.

AB: What is a “power influencer” and how do you become one?
MG: A power influencer is someone who influences you for a lifetime. They are the people who interact with you in such a way that it changes your life forever.  Common, but not universal qualities of a power influencer are that they will: a) stand up for you in public when you cannot tand up for yourself; b) stand by you in a crisis and not let you fail; and/or c) stand up to you in private and push you to do things you didn’t think you were capable of or stop you from doing something foolish that would have seriously damaged your results, reputation and relationships.

AB:  In the book you talk about “disconnected influence.” Can you explain?
MG: A person becomes disconnected when the pressure of getting results in any way or any cost (as long as it is this side of illegal and blatantly unethical) corrupts their core values.  It’s when they lose their essential goodness and sell out.  The fallout is that they get better results and make more money in the short run, but if they are people of good conscience, they will start to drink, eat more, act out and at the end of their life fail as a person.

AB:  Why is it important that if you want to influence someone else, you have to be “influenceable” yourself? And what does that look like?
MG: It’s not critical, but it is very helpful to have been influenced by another person, because (read more here)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Why poor spelling and grammar hurt your career

A couple of years ago I played the game Cranium for the first time. When the challenge was for my team to correctly spell "pharaoh,"  of course they chose me to take it on. 
That turned out to be a mistake as I confidently spelled it "pharoah."
I'll be the first to admit that even as a professional writer, I sometimes make mistakes. But I try not to, because I know my professional reputation is at stake (not steak).
Here's a recent story I did for Gannett/USA Today on why you might want to try and improve your writing skills....
Think about one of the dozens of e-mails you sent in this past week at work.
Did any of them have typos? Spelling errors

Was each of them concise and clear? Did they convey that you're a capable professional?
Sending e-mails every day has become as routine to most workers as brushing their teeth. But that casualness also can mean that we send messages riddled with errors and poorly written, say Brenda Greene and Helen Cunningham, authors of The Business Style Handbook.
With the explosion of texts, instant messages, social media posts and blogs, they say that the writing rules first outlined in their book 10 years ago are more important now than ever. They recently updated their book and re-connected with many of the Fortune 500 employers they interviewed years ago to find that no matter the profession, employees are writing more.
"I think probably the standards for writing have gotten higher. You have writing that is available online in real time, and it really raises the bar. It puts more pressure on people," Cunningham says.
The problem with the pressure to write faster and more often is that workers can fall into bad habits that can have real bottom-line consequences, they say. Failing to verify your facts in an e-mail could cost your company money or jeopardize a deal.
For your own career, the stakes also can be high. If you send an e-mail or write a report that has grammatical errors or isn't clearly written, bosses may believe that you're not a good representative of the company or say you're not ready for a promotion.
"Credibility is so essential," Greene says. "You've got to be careful with what you write."
If you believe that you need to improve your writing, here are some tips from Greene and Cunningham:
• Pause before hitting "send." Are you sure your e-mail is professional, accurate and free of spelling errors?
While it's one thing to fire off a friendly e-mail to a co-worker about grabbing lunch, always keep in mind who is receiving your e-mail — and who it might be forwarded to.
"Anything you write can be sent to different people, including your boss's boss," Greene says. "You never know where it could end up, and you don't want anything in writing that could hurt your company's reputation or your own."
• Watch the fat thumbs. While it can be difficult to type without mistakes on your smartphone, you must try to make messages as error free as possible.
Errors from smartphones can seem more glaring when the recipient opens it along with other business e-mail, Cunningham says.
• Curb the buzzwords. While half of the Fortune 500 communication professionals that Greene and Cunningham polled expressed great dislike of buzzwords in communications, they often can be useful when you're establishing rapport with a colleague.
Use them sparingly and don't use them as a crutch. Instead, write more clearly to get a point across, Greene says.
• Be inclusive. If your company does business internationally, be conscious of whether you are using phrases or terms that may not translate clearly to those outside the United States.
"When you become too colloquial, you run the risk of being misunderstood," Greene says.
• Take time to proof your writing. "Look at the top people in your organization. You don't see the CEO sending out messages to the board or to the public that have a mistake," Cunningham says.
"That standard being set by the CEO should be adhered to by everyone in that organization," she says.
Read over your e-mails before sending to make sure they're well done, and ask a colleague to review important messages or reports. Never put anything in writing that you would not want to see on the front page of a newspaper, Cunningham says.
• Educate yourself. It's not OK to guess about the proper name of an organization or whether a word should be capitalized.
The authors provide a number of good resources to ensure that you get it right, including The Associated Press Stylebook and The Yahoo! Style Guide.
Greene says employers they talked to for the book agree that good communication skills are critical for moving up the career ladder. But those who aren't comfortable with writing shouldn't panic.
"There is lots of help available," she says. "The resources are out there to make anyone a better writer."

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Why Multitasking Makes You Less Productive

I recently had to get rid of my computer keyboard because the Super Glue I spilled on it made it difficult to use. So did the red fingernail polish that covered the letters “L” “I” and “9.” (OK, I don’t use the 9 very much, but still.)
I destroyed the keyboard because I was multitasking.  As much as I try not to, I find myself trying to fix a chipped fingernail while writing a story or gluing my lamp back together while checking my email.
The keyboard before this one was also a mess. The peanut butter toast I ate every morning pretty well gummed up the works when I dropped it, peanut-butter side down more than once. (That’s always the way, isn’t it?)
But I know I’m not alone in constantly trying to multitask as I try to meet all the demands and deadlines in my life.
A study from Apex Performance finds that more than 70% of 300 workers report they get more than 21 emails a day, and more than half say they check their inbox more than 11 times a day. More than one third say they check it every time a new email hits their box.
Louis S. Csoka, the president and founder of Apex, says that such numbers show we’re looking at our email about once every 20 minutes, which also means we’re also being distracted from a task every 20 minutes.
That can be a problem when it takes an average of 15 minutes to get back on track after being pulled away by an email or phone call.  At that rate, you’re only spending about 15 minutes an hour concentrating on one task, he says.
Still, Apex found that 70% of respondents claim their productivity has stayed the same or gotten even better since smartphones and other gadgets came on the scene.
“People believe they’re really productive because they’re doing so many things, but the way the brain is wired, you really can’t,” he says. “Yes, you can physically (read the rest here)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What color is your personality?

I'm blue with a little gold thrown in. If you want to know what I'm talking about, read this latest story I did for Gannett/USA Today...

There's a reason you probably don't get along with some of your co-workers.

They're different from you.

And the boss likes it that way.

A boss who has employees who all think and act the same can find herself with a team that becomes fast friends but also one that doesn't generate many innovative ideas.

That's why she may put in place someone who is good with details, someone who is a brash, big-talking idea person and someone who is highly competitive. So, while you may not like someone who is brash because you're more conservative and introverted, that's something you'll have to learn to live with if you want to stay in your job.

Career expert Shoya Zichy says the sooner you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your colleagues, the sooner you will be able to work in harmony with them because you appreciate what they have to offer. At the same time, learning to promote and use what you have to offer will help you better mesh with your polar opposite at work and deliver the results a boss desires.

Zichy, author of Personality Power: Discover Your Unique Profile — and Unlock Your Potential for Breakthrough Success, (Amacom, $16.95), says that we all have a dominant personality profile, and even a backup style, that helps ensure we're in the right job for us. She categorizes them into colors: golds, reds, blues and greens.

• Golds. This takes in 46% of the population. Employees with these strengths are good at organizing people and processes and are goal-oriented.
Dentists and accountants fall into this category. Warren Buffett is considered a gold.
• Reds. These people are action oriented, spontaneous and focused on the now.
Work has to be fun, and they are great at seizing opportunities and making things happen. Zichy says Bill Clinton falls into this strength category that is typical of about 27% of the population.
• Blues. If you're theoretical, always driven to acquire knowledge and are good at dealing with complex systems, you are probably are a blue.Common professions include journalists. Hillary Clinton is considered a blue, as well as 10% of the population.
• Greens. Empathetic, creative and expressive, about 17% of the population falls into this strength group.
These employees are good at catalyzing others to their goals and communicate with eloquence. Those in advertising or human resources often fit this profile, as does ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer.
Zichy says her "Color Q" system is not intended to label people, and some will fit into more than one category.

She says she came up with the system after extensive evaluation of individuals and their strengths. She also takes into account whether a person is an introvert or extrovert when making recommendations on how to negotiate pay or deal with a boss.

If you're dealing with a "blue" colleague, it's best to limit chit-chat, stay professional and be brief and concise. It's a good idea to recognize the person's intellect and talk about the big picture, she says.

She also advises avoiding emotional appeals and using words like "feel" or "believe." It's better to ask what they think and appeal to their "sense of fairness and logic rather than diplomacy," she says. "Don't exaggerate or flatter."

To persuade a gold boss, demonstrate you're reliable and follow procedures. That means show up for a meeting on time and avoid any vague statements.

Zichy suggests using words like "proven," "traditional" and "respected."

Managers with "red" employees will get the best results by talking face to face since emails and memos don't engage them. They need stimulation, fun and independence but will thrive on a crisis, Zichy says.

"For 'reds,' timing is everything," Zichy says "Don't continue if they're distracted."

When determining your own color, Zichy says embrace it. Don't be shy about promoting your strengths to others, no matter the work culture or environment.

"If you work in a pretty crazy environment, you can say something about the fact that you're a good organizer and you're there to help keep them on track," she says. "Don't be afraid about stating your value."