Monday, August 31, 2015

3 Tips for Getting Clearer Instructions From the Boss

"You'll figure it out."

These are the words often imparted to an employee as the boss hands off an assignment. If the employee is lucky, then that may truly be the case. But many of us have been in the position of being confused -- and possibly even totally clueless -- about what the boss wants.

What we have are sort of vague instructions that may include "Talk to Heather about it -- I think she's done something similar. I think. Maybe ....,"

The boss doesn't issue clear instructions. You're not clear about what you're supposed to do -- and you're not even sure if Heather can help.

If you're given such a fuzzy assignment by the boss, what's the best alternative to saying, "WTF? Seriously?"

When the boss doesn't give you clear instructions or expectations, here's what you need to do:

  • Follow up. If the boss is pushing you out of her office and makes it clear she doesn't have time for questions, follow up with an email. Whether in person or via email, you need to make sure you understand what the end result of your assignment should look like (cut 5% from the budget, create a new customer presentation, etc.). 
  • Get specifics. Are you expected to contact certain people -- and absolutely NOT contact certain people in gathering information? Are you to use certain vendors in putting together your project? Exactly how does she want you to do this task? While you may be a self-directed and resourceful employee, not meeting the boss's standard is a sure way to fail. Make sure you understand the boss's standards before moving forward.
  • Understand the schedule. Maybe the boss gave you a deadline, maybe she didn't. But you not only need to nail down a deadline, but also have "check-ins" at regular intervals to ensure the boss is aware of your progress and any problems that might crop up. 
Finally, remember to keep notes of all your conversations with the boss. This not only helps you remember key points, but provides a record of what you did and when so that you can ensure you and the boss are always on the same page.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Why IT Needs to be Ready to Lead

Having your department compared to the DMV isn’t very flattering, but that’s what is happening to many IT departments.
That’s because many CIOs are focused on the technology and they don’t really care about the user experience, hence the DMV reference.
The comparison is made in a new book, “The Big Shift in IT Leadership,” by author Hunter Muller, who contends that many CIOs remain focused inward, only concerned with technology. But a small portion of CIOs “see the writing on the wall,” and know they need to “play the game at a higher level” by shifting their focus outward to provide a stellar customer experience, he says.
While Muller acknowledges that undertaking a more customer-centric focus is a “huge plate shift” for CIOs, it is one that must take place not only for a CIO’s own career trajectory, but also for the health of their company.
“CIOs need to be ready to disrupt, facilitate and innovate,” Muller says. “They need to be recruiting, retaining and growing future IT talent. They need to communicate better. They need be passionate about the business – fearless and tenacious.”
The best CIOs, he says, know that results beat out technology. Having great technology doesn’t mean much if customers aren’t having a good user experience, because they will leave for the competition, he says.
“Speeds and feeds are fine, but having great metrics won’t pay the bills,” Muller says. “Today’s businesses focus on delighting customers, because that is how you make the most money.”
While embracing such new challenges may be daunting for some CIOs, Muller notes that “the really neat thing about CIOs is that they have total visibility across the organization.” He explains that with the access, CIOs have a golden opportunity to help develop innovative strategies and spur collaborations that will have a big impact on the organization’s overall success.
“Today, IT really matters. It matters to the top line and to the bottom line. When IT has a bad day, the company has a bad day. When IT is on a roll, the company is on a roll,” Muller says.
In Muller’s book, he makes several suggestions for those CIOs who are ready to make the ‘big shift” to key leadership within an organization. Among them:
  1. Build bridges. CEOs want trusted advisors around them and CIOs need to find ways to fit themselves into this role. If everyone in the C-suite plays golf or owns a sports car, do the same, Muller advises. This helps a CEO feel more comfortable that you’re more than a “techie” and will fit easily into the inner circle. But this is just the beginning – now you must learn to speak the language of the CEO and other (read more here)


Monday, August 24, 2015

How to Deliver Bad News to the Boss -- and Survive

One of the toughest things to do in your career is to make that long, long walk into your boss's office and tell her that you're not going to make a deadline.

If you're very, very lucky, the boss may respond with "That's OK." But if you don't have such a boss, you may get a) a frown b) yelled at c) a frown, yelling and perhaps a stinging rebuke that will go into your personnel file.

Is there any way to minimize the chances of getting a nasty memo and a very loud verbal reprimand?

The good news is "yes." The not-so-good news is that it means you've got to put yourself in the boss's shoes and figure out what she will accept and what she will not. Get it wrong, and you can pretty much forget about keeping the verbal or written reprimands out of the picture.

Let's begin by imagining you've got a big report due Friday. You realize, however, there is no way you're going to get it done, not if you swig Starbucks 24/7 and never shower or sleep.

There is no way you can put off telling the boss about the situation. Still, there are ways to go about sharing such news that may keep you from totally sinking your career. Think about:

  •  Starting with a positive fact. No one likes to have bad news dumped in her lap like yesterday's garbage. So, begin the conversation concisely -- but positively. "Jill, I've been working on the report that is due Friday and have made some great progress. I've found some terrific research to support our project, and also interviewed two national experts who have given me additional information that really lend an authoritative voice to the information."

  •  Getting to the point. Once you've outlined the positive points (don't go on too long or the boss will wonder why you're bothering her and start to get annoyed) then it's time to rip off the Band-Aid. "However, I'm still going through statistics and analyses that are quite lengthy. It's a very time-consuming process, which means I'm going to need additional time." Try to be specific with how much time you need -- two days or two weeks? It's best if you can show the boss you've really thought through your problems and are within site of a solution.

  •  Ending with a positive fact. This is where you need to explain to the boss clearly and concisely how you're dealing with the issue. "I believe I can finish this sooner if I can ask Susan to use her expertise in statistics to help me weed out the information I don't need and just focus on the key data. I would need her to help me Wednesday and Thursday, and she tells me she can clear her schedule to do this."

Anytime you have to approach a boss with bad news -- a missed deadline or an angry customer -- make sure you've thought it through so that you can present the boss with what you're doing to solve the problem. That will go a long way toward easing the boss's stress and any concern about your abilities.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why "Busyness" is Ruining Your Career and Business

Shaa Wasmund says she often advises entrepreneurs or those scaling their business to identify the one thing they can do that day that will make the biggest difference.
Not five things. Not three things.
That’s when she usually sees the panic start to set in. People who are always, always busy – multitasking their way through life – often are very resistant to the thought of only doing one thing. They may even get angry.
“Most people seem to believe they need to do more, when really they just need to do what matters,” says Wasmund, author of “Do Less Get More.” “They need to filter out the distractions and focus on the things that make the difference between surviving and thriving.”
Wasmund speaks from personal experience, acknowledging she is often distracted by “shiny objects.” But she had an epiphany when her partner passed away. “I became trapped in a straightjacket of my own making. If my mind wandered I’d just pull the ties tighter with more responsibilities, more emails, projects, people, more, more, more….,” she says.
Learning to let go is not an overnight process, and many will find it’s not an easy thing to even think about, let alone put into practice. Wasmund  stresses, however, that once you begin the process you will find yourself focusing on the things that will bring you the greatest success, and the people who will bring you the greatest personal and professional happiness.
“When you’re caught up in ‘busyness,’ – being bombarded by emails and tweets and status updates – it’s literally like a hail storm. It doesn’t stop. There’s no time to slow down and think,” she says. “You think: ‘Oh, I’m so amazing because I’m so busy.’”
The truth, however, is that your “busyness” is crowding out the things you need to do to be successful and happy. With that in mind, Wasmund provides a roadmap for those who want to get off the hamster wheel and take control of their life:
  1. Acknowledge your fear. You may be afraid of saying “no” because you’ll disappoint someone or lose out on a promotion. “But that stops you from saying ‘yes’ to the things that really matter,” she says. “Your friends may be telling you how busy they are all the time, and you start fearing you’re not good enough (read more here)

Monday, August 17, 2015

5 Communication Mistakes Made By Young Leaders

Young leaders are faced with numerous challenges, but perhaps none are greater than learning to communicate and connect with employees. If they fail in those areas, they may find their teams underperforming and their own careers in jeopardy. 

 Dianne Booher, a business communications expert and author of What More Can I Say? explains the bad habits to break:

1. Avoiding conversations: New leaders — often in an effort to save time — may rely on texting or email to communicate with employees, which can hurt collaboration. “They send (read more here)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

How Stress Can Be Good for Your Career

There’s no shortage of stress these days at work, which is why many workers have turned to yoga, meditation, exercise and even aromatherapy to handle the pressure.
But what if we’re making a mistake by trying to look at stress as something to be conquered and suppressed in our lives? What if we thought about pressure as something that can energize and help us, instead of something to be feared?
“Pressure has really gotten a bad reputation, but pressure can be a very good thing,” says Aimee Bernstein, a psychotherapist and executive coach. “Think about it this way: A tire wouldn’t go anywhere without pressure.”
Bernstein explains that pressure arrives when we’re asked to handle more than we’re used to, but it’s how we respond that makes the biggest difference in our lives. If you look at pressure as an energy that can help you get something done, then it also will make you feel alive and joyful. On the other hand, if you don’t want to get close to pressure, you may become uncomfortable, stressed – and even ill – when it comes knocking.
Part of the problem is that the strategies we use to handle pressure, such as yoga or taking a walk outside, aren’t always possible when racing from meeting to meeting. That leaves us vulnerable to pressure building uncomfortably, instead of letting us go with the flow, she explains.
So how do you let pressure into your life that will be beneficial and not detrimental? Bernstein, author of “Stress Less, Achieve More: Simple Ways to Turn Pressure into a Positive Force in Your Life,” offers several suggestions.  Among them:
  • Remember to breathe. Post a “BREATHE” note to yourself on your computer monitor. Bernstein says that when we get busy we often start holding our breath or breathing very shallowly, which is enough to keep you alive but hardly adequate to maintain your energy and be able to deal with stress.
  • Center yourself. When under pressure, we may react by attacking others, spacing out or distracting ourselves with drugs, alcohol or even shopping. Once you start to notice you’re reacting poorly under pressure (you yell at a colleague, or stare endlessly at a tree outside your window), then you know you’ve got to get out of your own head and pay attention to your body. Try setting your phone or timer to go off every (read more here)

Photo: dailyburn

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

RedHat CEO: Forget What You Know About Traditional Management

Jim Whitehurst, CEO of RedHat, says that if he could give himself advice when he left Delta Air Lines 10 years ago to head up the largest open source software company in the world, it would be this: “When you’re leading high-energy, very capable people, leaders need to think of their role as creating context for others to be successful, rather than directly driving performance.”
In other words, butt out and let people do what they do best – but help them understand why the jobs they do matter.
“You have to work hard to connect the meaning of what people do every day to the mission of the company,” he says.
For example, when Whitehurst was COO with Delta, he was charged with leading the company out of bankruptcy and restoring confidence. He began immediately by ensuring workers understood what they could do to help them save the company and their jobs: Going from last place to first place in on-time arrivals.
“That was something they understood, something they could control,” he says.
Whitehurst, who is known for his transparent leadership, says that he believes one of the biggest issues when companies are trying to keep employees engaged when growing the business is believing that engagement is about happiness.
“Being happy has nothing to do with it. You must make sure people understand how their work fits into the strategy. Then, of course, they’re more likely to be happy,” he says.
At the same time, as companies grow and hire more workers, they still have to focus on ensuring every employee understands how his or her job has an impact on quality, cost and even customer satisfaction. Without that constant connection from leadership, employees won’t have the willingness or confidence to be innovative or collaborative.
Of course, some may argue that an open source software company has a unique environment with its focus on transparency and collaboration from inside and out. Trusting outsiders to add value? Believing that employees won’t share secrets with competitors? What about non-compete agreements? Will valuable employees be poached by competitors and take valuable information with them?
Whitehurst has heard those concerns before, but argues that it’s better to “manage to 90% of those who are doing the right thing,” rather than “spending time trying to deal with a few bad actors.”
“I think managers often feel like they’re police,” he says. “But the bad apples generally rise to the top and they leave one way or the other.”
What is left when those “bad apples” depart are loyal workers who feel passionate about what they’re doing, and there is no greater (read more here)

Monday, August 10, 2015

How to Meet Your Boss's Expectations Every Time

Sooner or later, it happens to everyone. Some people go through it more than once in their careers.

You fail to meet expectations.

You may not discover that you've failed to meet a boss's expectations until a formal performance review. During the review, she tells you that you've dropped the ball, have not successfully taken on challenges and fallen short of goals.


It's a terrible feeling to hear that your boss believes you've failed. But, deep inside, you may admit she's right. Either you knew you were in over your head and didn't ask for help, or you felt that you weren't on the same page with the boss from the beginning.

The problem is that now you've let the problem reach the point that it's in your performance review. That means it will affect your ability to get a pay raise or promotion. You'll have to work twice as hard to diminish the impact of those dreaded four words: "Failed to meet expectations."

So, what could you have done differently to avoid this problem? Here are some more proactive steps to ensure you're headed in the right direction in any job:

1.  Make a road map. Before you set out on a road trip, you Google directions or at least get your GPS fired up so you won't get lost, right? But many people don't take the time to do something this simple for their own career. If you get an assignment from the boss, or you have certain project deadlines, you need to make a road map of how you're going to get there successfully and on time. If you foresee problems or conflicts, then what alternate route can you take?

2. Share information with the boss. Your boss is a busy person, but unless she is a micromanager, she does not want to be informed of every detail of your daily activities. But you can give her a general idea of your priorities for the week, what you plan to get done and when. If there are problems, let her know briefly how you're handling them. (She can ask for more details if she deems it important.)

3. Make sure you're being heard. Every boss has a different communication style. Some want to be told of developments in person, others want it through email -- and some want both. Make sure you're clear on the best communication method, and use it to keep her informed. If you don't know, ask her. You want to make sure she hears you and is on board with your plans so it doesn't come back to bite you later.

4. Have flares handy.  When you're in over your head, it's time to set off some flares and ask for help. Meet with the boss or other team members immediately to see if there is some way to better manage your workload. Perhaps not everything is urgent and you can adjust your timetable, or maybe the boss is willing to assign a more senior team member to work with you. If you've tried to solve the problem yourself and can't figure it out, don't wait because nothing irks a boss more than to find out you've hidden problems.

5. Show what you've learned. Once you start to make headway again, let the boss know. Communicate your appreciation for her feedback or that of the team, and let her know that you're incorporating your new knowledge or strategy into your road map. This will be important because it can diffuse any "failing to meet expectations" in a performance review because it shows your effort in trying to meet your goals.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Are Outside Innovators the Key to Success?

In 2013, Campbell Soup Co. launched its “Hack the Kitchen” contest to challenge innovative developers to create web or mobile apps for mealtime solutions. The winner, FoodMood, tapped into user’s emotions by asking “What’s your mood?” and the app then suggested recipes based on the user’s feelings and food preferences.
FoodMood, developed by Pollinate Inc., received a $25,000 cash prize and a $25,000 contract to bring the idea to market.
But perhaps more important, Campbell Soup – with more than 19,000 workers – decided that it wanted outside innovators to create new ideas.
Campbell’s is not alone. General Electric is partnering with students and entrepreneurs to help them create new products.
“The first lesson we learned was don’t just talk about it, meet about it, think about it — just go do it,” says Venkat Venkatakrishnan, GE Appliances Innovation Leader. “It’s something we don’t do very well. We tend to evaluate all the risks, look at everything…the local startup community goes and builds something, does something, and figures out the rest.”
Campbell and GE are big companies looking to adopt a more innovative, agile mindset that permeates start-ups, and more organizations realize they need to do the same in order to survive.
“Truly creative business leaders engage less-conventional partners, such as citizen developers, and entrepreneurs to help drive innovation,” notes VentureBeat.
In addition, an IBM trend study of more than 1,500 companies found that those who excel in business goals partnered more creatively with outside organizations and recruited less traditional partners for their efforts.
Driving change
Clearly, there are challenges for big organizations that want to become more entrepreneurial and respond quickly and efficiently to new ideas in order to stay competitive. Brad Smith, president and chief executive officer at Intuit, recently noted that implementing change is not easy, partly because teams “seek routine and repetition – hoping to avoid (read more here)

Photo: Bloomberg

Monday, August 3, 2015

Doing This One Thing Will Make Your Boss Happy

It happened again yesterday, so I guess I need to write about this AGAIN.

I went to a restaurant, and a friendly server named "Matt" came to take our order. He smiled pleasantly as the six people at the table gave their order.

He never once reached for a pen or paper. He just nodded pleasantly as we gave him our orders.

Then, of course, it happened. Two of the orders were wrong. Matt just nodded pleasantly and said "Sorry!" as he hot-footed it back to the kitchen to correct the orders.

I have to admit it's a pet peeve of mine to go to restaurants and the servers refuse to write down the orders, instead relying on their extraterrestrial minds to remember that my friend wants no croutons on her salad and another friend wants no onion or mustard on his burger that is to be served with no bun.

I don't want to trash-talk restaurant servers. They're hard-working people who put up with a lot. But this problem of employees relying on their memory to remember every detail -- instead of writing it down -- is something I hear bosses complain about quite a bit when it comes to their teams.

For example, I once attended a business conference populated by a whole bunch of high-tech brainiacs. It was like being in a roomful of Sheldon Coopers, only without the laugh track. When I asked one manager what it was like trying to direct all that brain power, he commented, "It's like being a second-grade teacher."


He went on to explain that while these people were scary smart, they also lacked some common sense. For example, they never wrote anything down. As a result, he often had to repeat instructions again and again, and it created a huge headache for him. It was not unusual that silly mistakes -- and often some big ones -- were were made by the team because someone forgot a detail that ended up causing problems down the road.

You get where I'm going, right? Whether you're writing code for a living, or delivering burgers and beer in a restaurant, you need to forget your ego and start writing things down when information is critical.

Here are some times you always need to write down information:

1. When issues are time sensitive. If a customer needs a project done by a certain time, write it down.

2. In a meeting. Don't rely on the official note-taker to get everything perfect. This is especially true when the information directly impacts your job or your boss's job.

3. When there's a complaint. This is an important protection for you; write down the complaint and how you handled it. Keep notes of follow-up action. These may come in handy if the boss gets involved and wants to know what happened. You will come off as professional and prepared if you can relate what took place by reviewing your written notes.

4. If you're getting instructions from more than one person. Matt, are you paying attention?

5. When the boss speaks. If you're going to lunch with the boss, are called into the boss's office or he or she stops by your desk, write down the information you are given. This assures the boss that he or she won't be repeating the same information tomorrow.