Friday, October 30, 2015

Is the Sound of Your Voice Hurting Your Career?

You may be surprised the first time you hear your own recorded voice.
Who is that person who sounds like Daffy Duck? Why didn’t anyone ever tell you that your voice makes you sound like a third-grader? Is your voice really so high-pitched it’s a wonder dogs aren’t howling for miles around?
While everyone is taken a bit by surprise to hear his or her own voice, most people just shrug it off – or try to convince themselves they don’t sound that bad.
The problem is that your voice makes an impression on others, just as the clothes you wear or your body language convey a message about you. If you’re working with a remote team, the impact of your voice is even greater as others can’t can observe your body language or see your facial expressions.
“In the workplace…the quality of your voice can be a deciding factor in your degree of success,” says Leonard Mlodinow, author of “Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior.” “The pitch, timbre, volume, speed, and cadence of your voice, the speed with which you speak, and even the way you modulate pitch and loudness, are all hugely influential factors in how convincing you are, and how people judge your state of mind, and character.”
That’s why you can’t brush off the impression your voice makes on others. So, just as you put time into your professional dress, conduct and presentation skills, you need to devote more energy into improving your voice.
“Studies show that, just as people signal the basic emotions through facial expression, we also do it through voice,” Mlodinow says.
Here are some tips from vocal coaches on how to improve the sound of your voice to make a better impression on your team:
  • Speaking faster is better. The University of Michigan finds in a study that those who speak at a rate of about 3.5 words per second were much more successful at getting people to agree than those who talk very fast or very slow. Researchers find that people are more distrustful of those who speak too quickly, while those who talk too slowly are perceived as not too bright.
  • Control your pitch. Those whose voice pitch rises and falls too often aren’t seen as animated, but rather as fake and trying too hard, the study finds. Lisa B. Marshall, author of “Smart Talk: The Public Speaker’s Guide to Success in Every Situation,” says it’s not easy to change the natural pitch of your voice, but you can keep it as low as possible by taking slow, full, deep breaths and trying to keep any nervousness under control.
  • Lower your voice. Just listen to movie trailers and you’ll hear how often deep voices are used to convey messages. The Michigan study found (read more here)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

This May Be the Reason Your Team Doesn't Have Enough Good Ideas

It’s much more fun – not to mention a heck of a lot less stressful – to get along with your colleagues at work.  It’s even better when you’re friends with co-workers, because who doesn’t want to work with friends, right?
Well, according to a recent study, your company’s bottom line may not like these workplace friendships. Specifically, a study by Ryerson University published in the European Management Journal finds that despite past beliefs that “group cohesion” can only help a team’s performance, it can have a downside: groupthink.
If you’re not familiar with the term, groupthink is a term coined by research psychologist Irving Janis, and is often tied to poor decisions that arise out of teams or groups. The idea is that when ideas aren’t challenged – just simply embraced without debate – then it leads to a less-desirable outcome.
Sean Wise, professor of entrepreneurship at Ryerson, conducted a study that analyzed email communications for 187 teams from one company. Using digital data collection and social network analysis software, Wise found that while social connections boosted a team’s performance at first, too much cohesion eventually led to a diminished performance.
Being so friendly, he found, eventually hurt the team’s performance.
Ben Dattner, an industrial and organizational psychologist and adjunct professor at New York University, says that leaders may find groupthink leads to decisions that can have disastrous outcomes.
For example, President Kennedy’s subordinates used groupthink to jump to the conclusion that the U.S. should invade Cuba in 1961, because they knew it was what he wanted. After the invasion failed, Kennedy tasked his younger brother, Robert, to vigorously vet any decisions that were being considered by the Executive Committee of the National Security Council.
How can organizations and leaders ensure that teams get along – but don’t lapse into groupthink? Here are some tips from experts:
  1. Plan for it. Art Petty, founder and principal of the Art Petty Group, says any risk plan should include a way to monitor and reduce emerging groupthink.  It doesn’t mean you think the group will fail – but that it’s preferable to tackle the problem head on rather than ignore it.
  2. Encourage debate. As Dattner mentions, Kennedy learned that getting his own way with no debate might feel good for a short time – but the end result can be terrible. Leaders need to speak up and let team members know why it’s so important that ideas and opinions be challenged. “Within businesses and governments, happy talk is common, but it can be countered with some version of, ‘Now tell me (read more here)

Illustration: Poponomics

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Does "Niceness" Belong in the Workplace?

Does it pay to be nice at work?

In the "Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness," authors Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval contend that it does. They worked their way to the top of the advertising industry by being nice, and shunned the dog-eats-dog mentality many of us associate with rising in the ranks, they say.

Of course, one of the ironies is that in a review of the book on Amazon, Donald Trump is quoted: "For my money, I would always rather make a deal with people I like who treat me well. If you want to discover the surprising power of nice, read this book. Memorize it. Use it. You’ll be glad you did.”

No matter your politics, there is often much disagreement about whether it pays to be nice at work. Some say that if you're nice, others will take advantage of you and you'll never get ahead. Others argue that being nice is what will get you ahead, and nice people always finish first.

I think probably the key to striking the right balance between being a doormat at work and being a close cousin to Attila the Hun is follow the Golden Rule. It may sound trite, but it often works wonders in your career.

Want some ideas of how to be nice in the workplace without others taking advantage of you?

How about:

  • Having a one-on-one face-to-face conversation. Go to lunch or to coffee, or even chat with someone in the breakroom. But put down your smartphone and distance yourself from technology to simply ask someone how they're doing. Then, listen. Really listen to what the person says. Don't interrupt or try to offer some silly platitude if they reveal themselves to be vulnerable. Think about how you would like someone to respond.
  • Treating everyone as an individual. What works with one person won't work with the next, and trying to shove a conversation down someone's throat will never be received well. If the person is an introvert, then try for an email or text with a friendly note: "How was your weekend?" Someone else may need to be invited for a walk outside when you notice the person is carrying a lot of stress. Niceness needs to be genuine, and any false attempts are can be seen as, well, mean.
  • Being nice to yourself. If someone rebuffs your efforts for conversation, don't tell yourself it's because you've done something wrong. Any attempt to be nice should make you feel good about yourself. Don't go overboard in being nice ("Can I pick up your dry cleaning? Wash your car?"), or you'll end up feeling bad about the whole experience. Again, simply think about how you would like to be treated.
Do you think "niceness" has a place at work and do you practice it?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

How to Get More Done in Meetings

No matter how many cell phones you ban from meetings, or how many meetings you have while walking or standing or whatever you try to do to make them shorter, meetings just don’t seem to get better.
The reason, says Al Pittampalli, a meetings expert who advises organizations like NASA and IBM, is because meetings have become the “Kabuki dance of corporate politics,” as leaders and teams use them as a way to dodge work, decisions and personal accountability.
Meetings make workers busy, not productive, he says. They prevent those attending from getting real work done that can make a difference to customers and the bottom line. Meetings also prevent workers from doing meaningful work, such as mentoring or coming up with innovative ideas, he adds.
The bottom line: “Most meetings are a waste of time and people shouldn’t even be meeting in the first place,” he says.
A big part of the problem is that meetings are often about egos. They can be used to display power and status, which is why no one likes being left out of a meeting because they worry it’s a bad sign for their careers. At the same time, those attending a meeting often tell themselves they are being productive – or at least look productive to anyone passing by.
Further, departments like IT  – with the heavy reliance on gathering and disseminating information –  often are guilty of the most inefficient and unproductive meetings, says Pittampalli, author of “Read This Before Our Next Meeting: How We Can Get More Done.”
“Meetings in IT can often get bogged down in information and presenting that information. Those meetings are just dead while literally 75% of the time is spent presenting information to each other,” he says. “There are much better ways to share that information, such as project management software or even video.”
What IT must learn, along with everyone else, is that meetings should be used for collaboration and “talking about interesting and complex information,” he says.
That’s why he’s come up with the “Modern Meeting Standard” that establishes ground rules for where and when to call a meeting. The standard establishes that:
  1. Leaders make decisions, not meetings. “When an issue shows up on your desk, the first thing you must do is embrace this fact: You own it,” he says.  If a decision needs to be made and isn’t a big deal, then the leader needs to make the decision and move on.  If a decision is needed that will have some consequence, then the leader can seek input from others – but there is no reason to call a meeting. “A lot of people have anxiety when it comes to making a decision, and they use meetings as a hiding place. They think that if they call a meeting, then their problem now becomes the decision of everyone and they take comfort in mitigating the risk,” Pittampalli says. “They think that way they won’t get blamed if it goes wrong.”
  2. Meetings should be to resolve conflict or coordinate action. Before a meeting about a low consequence issue, leaders should let others (read more here)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Did Someone at Work Just Steal Your Idea?

Have you ever had someone steal your idea?

If you've been in the workplace for any amount of time, the answer may be "yes."

But as Daniel Solis points out, there really isn't a way to steal an idea, because someone else has probably thought of it first.

The world of work is rapidly changing, and ideas often are zipping around the workplace like a squirrel after drinking a case of Mountain Dew. There are bound to be ideas that sound similar, so it's easy to believe that Marty or Janet stole your idea.

What's important is that you don't stew in your own juices and a)pout about it like a 2-year-old denied a cookie b) cry or whine to your co-workers c) get angry and vow never to propose anything ever again. Ever. Again.

Those strategies will only damage your career, and eventually everyone will see you about as relevant as a rotary telephone.

So how can you pitch an idea and make sure everyone knows it came from you first? (Or at least you're the first to propose it in your company or department.)

Here are some ideas:

  • Stand tall. If you propose an idea in a meeting, make sure you don't drop it like a dead rat and then scurry away. Solicit feedback such as "Does anyone have any problem with what I've proposed? I'd like to start on it right away." This shows you're ready to stand behind your idea and hear any objections -- or supportive comments. It forces others to acknowledge your idea.
  • Don't fade into the woodwork. Sometimes days or weeks may go by without much fanfare about your idea, and then a colleague proposes nearly the same thing you did -- and it's greeted like the greatest idea since the light bulb. Respond with, "I'm so glad you were able to build on my idea from several weeks ago." Then, jump in with some comments such as "When I was researching this idea months ago, I found that younger customers will respond the best to such a marketing tactic."
  • Follow up. When you've proposed an idea in a meeting -- or even to a boss in the elevator -- then follow up with the idea in writing so that there's a clear record of when you proposed it. This helps remind everyone where the idea came from, and a clearly dated document can keep anyone from later crowding you out when you clearly initiated the idea.
Finally, never rest on your laurels. Always keep pitching ideas, even though some may never get far. Organizations today are under intense competitive pressure, and companies like Amazon and Google have shown that there is no such thing as a crazy idea -- just employers who are crazy to ignore any idea. As long as you keep your creative juices flowing, your career will be headed in the right direction.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Why Your Team Sees You as Manipulative -- and What to Do About It

In a new book, “Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How you Live and Lead,” author Laszlo Bock says that the company wants to serve as an example of how to better treat employees and do business.
Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, stresses that the key for any manager is to share information and be transparent with workers.
The benefit of transparency “is not just that people feel trusted…The other benefit is that they’ll know what’s going on. They’ll make better decisions and they’ll create better products,” he says.
Two of the terms Bock mentions — sharing and transparency – often are used in connection with what is known as “participative leadership.” Under such a management style, a manager not only shares his or her thoughts with teams, but the teams share their ideas with a manager.
While Google goes much further and implements other ideas, more companies are looking at participative management as a way to stir collaboration, productivity and engagement. However, new research finds that it isn’t always a panacea for leaders and organizations.
Specifically, a new study from Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the City University of Hong Kong finds that employees don’t always buy what the boss is selling. Namely, they can spot when a manager is truly committed to participative leadership – and when he or she is just going through the motions. When that happens – when the manager isn’t engaged in the process 100% — it can lead employees to have a “negative assessment” of the leader and see it only as a way to increase the employees’ “workload and responsibilities with no reward,” finds the study.
“It is no secret that participative leadership is a challenge for managers, and this study reinforces the message that a casual approach will not only fall short but may very well make things worse. In short, go all out or don’t go at all,” says Catherine K. Lam of the City University of Hong Kong.
Lam recommends the “go all out” approach, because the study found that is the key to truly boosting a team’s performance. While half-hearted participative leadership showed little or no change in worker performance, those managers who threw themselves into the process saw a jump in performance when information-sharing was high.
The authors of the study recommend that companies foster effective participative leadership by training leaders in two-way communications with their employees, so that workers clearly understand how much they need to participate in decisions, and the positive outcomes if they do. Equally important, they stress, is that the employees understand the “good participative intentions” of their leaders.
Experts say the best way to implement participative leadership is to do your homework and unveil it in a deliberative way. If not, your efforts will show little results, and may even damage employee morale and trust.
Here are some things to think about if you believe participative management could benefit your team and your organization:
  • Understand the goals. IT managers need to clearly state what they hope to achieve with a more participative style, but workers also need (read more here)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Being a Good Helper May Be Bad for Your Career

It's often advised that those seeking to make their mark at work should be willing to stick up their hand and volunteer for a project, lend a helping hand to others when it's needed and generally be the person who is willing to do what it takes to help the team succeed.

The reason, of course, is that by taking such action you will garner the notice of higher-ups. They will realize what a great employee you are, and then promote you and give you great projects.

Hold on.

There is a fine line that you must walk when taking such an approach. You don't want to be seen as the person who is "such a good helper." The person who can be called upon to work late nights and weekends, who will pitch in to do the most trivial work without complaint.

If you take on that role, be prepared to never move beyond the "helper" role. Why? Because when you're a helper, others don't see you as a leader. As John Kotter in the Harvard Business Review wrote about more than a decade ago, leaders are a different breed. They are the ones who help an organization cope with change -- and you're certainly never going to have the time to do that if you're organizing a PowerPoint for someone else.

Let me stress that there's nothing wrong with helping. By helping, you establish yourself as someone who is a team player, and you can learn a lot by assisting others.


Just make sure you don't go overboard. When you offer your help, also consider what you're getting out of it. Will making a Starbucks run really help you learn a new skill or make important alliances? Or, would it be better to offer to help a top team member who is working on a key project that is expected to make the company a lot of money?

If you can't make that distinction -- or you have difficulty saying "no" -- then you may need to re-evaluate your career path.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Sabotage in Today's Workplace May Begin With You

When we think of "sabotage" we may envision stealthy bad people trying to take down an organization. We may think of malware inserted into a company's system, or someone tinkering with machinery so that it will break down and disrupt operations.

But a new book, "Simple Sabotage" points out that it's often the simplest acts -- that many of us do every day -- that can undermine a workplace.

Authors Robert M. Galford, Bob Frische and Cary Greene use unclassified World War II documents from the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor of the CIA) to reveal how European resistance movement members were advised how they could muck up the internal works of an organization.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Insist on doing everything through channels. Never permit shortcuts to speed up decision-making.
  • Make speeches. Lots of speeches. Let loose your inner motormouth and gab at length whenever you can. Tell lots of stories, personal anecdotes, etc.
  • Bring up irrelevant topics as much as possible.
  • Nitpick and haggle over precise wording of communications, meeting minutes and resolutions.
  • In a meeting, attempt to reopen old issues and question their viability.
  • Push for caution. Urge colleagues to be "reasonable" and avoid doing anything too quickly or possibly face  embarrassments or hassles in the future.
  • Question whether any decision may not be within the group's jurisdiction and may conflict with policy of senior leaders.
You're probably very familiar with such behaviors at work, and can even identify those who do them most often. The authors point out that while such actions may seem innocent on the surface, they can cause real harm if left unchecked. They offer solutions such as remembering to clarify goals continually to keep people on topic, and curtailing people who haggle so much they derail progress.

But the real question you may need to ask yourself is this: Are you the one guilty of such sabotage?

Monday, October 5, 2015

How to Thrive in the Data Onslaught

If you sometimes feel overwhelmed by data, the statistics back you up: If you downloaded a year’s worth of Internet traffic to CDs, the stack of discs would reach 2.5 million miles high.
That’s why data may be seen as a curse by team members who feel they’re about to be crushed by this data tsunami – while others are giddy at the potential it offers.
So, the key question remains: How to turn data into a blessing instead of a curse for any business?
Christopher Surdak, a Big Data expert and technology evangelist for Hewlett Packard, unveils some of the answers in “Data Crush: How the Information Tidal Wave is Driving New Business Opportunities.”
His first piece of advice: Learn to be more selective with the data you keep.
“If you don’t you will lose focus and get lost,” he says. “You need to be able to look at just the data you need, analyze it and learn from it.”
Next, make sure you’re not jumping on “the bright, new shiny object” and spending $5 million on data or software you don’t need or won’t be able to use. The only thing you’ll achieve from that will be regret that will feel like the worst hangover you ever had.
Surdak says there are six steps that any business can take to help it survive – and thrive – under the challenging new conditions presented by an unprecedented amount of data. They are:
  1. Polarize.  Any organization must determine its core business strategy. For example if you’re a commodity business, then focus your data efforts on demand prediction and customer logistics. On the other hand, if you’re a value delivery organization, then zero in on demand generation using social media data. Organizations who expect to do things the same way and get different results are suffering from what Surdak calls “strategic dementia.”
  2. Accelerate. “Too many companies spend time on digital self-flagellation. They run all these reports telling them how badly they’ve done. Who cares? By that time trying to do anything about it will be too late,” he says. Instead, he urges organizations to take action “at the speed of insight,” by responding immediately  to customer needs or desires. If not, “you will become irrelevant,” he says. For example, any business process that touches a customer should cut the cycle time of that process in (read more here)