Wednesday, June 21, 2017

5 Ways to Impress in a Text Interview

Imagine that you're standing in line at Starbucks, when you receive this text....

"Hello! We just received your resume and wanted to chat initially via text. Can you tell us why you feel you're qualified for this position?"

After a minute, you answer:

"I know this is a joke. Who is this? And why are you harassing me you a**hole?"

While you might think it's a friend playing a prank, the reality is that this can happen in today's job market where employers are looking for ways to speed up the hiring process, including an initial text interview.

So, now that you've called a potential employer an "a**hole" let's look at some ways you can make a better impression in the future when participating in a text interview.

1. Don't rush it. Your first inclination when hearing from an employer might be to toss off a few lines as you're ordering that latte, but don't do it. No employer is going to expect to hear from you within a few minutes, so take the time to form your thoughts.

2. Be prepared. Sometimes when an employer expresses interest, your brain can short-circuit for a moment, especially if this employer is one of your top picks or your job search has stalled. Be prepared with some standard answers to interview questions, such as "What makes you excited about your work?" or "How do you stay motivated?"

3. Be concise. Just as you would on the telephone or in a live interview, you need to respect the time of the hiring manager. Be concise with your answers, but don't be afraid to let your enthusiasm shine through.

4. Don't be sloppy. This is your first encounter with an employer, so be professional. Don't use text slang, don't abbreviate, make sure your auto correct doesn't make you sound like an idiot -- and always proof the text before sending. Forget the emoji -- there's too great of a chance it will come off as unprofessional and immature.

5. Show interest. Just as you would ask questions in an interview, don't be shy about asking questions of the hiring manager. Show your interest and knowledge by saying something like, "I just read online that the company is expanding into Asia. What an amazing opportunity -- do you know when operations will begin?"

Monday, June 19, 2017

Why Others May Not See You as Reliable


Everyone wants to work for someone who is reliable, and every boss wants an employee who is reliable.

This isn't an earth-shattering revelation, yet it's one that can fall by the wayside as you become busier in your career and in your life.

But a  research project known as CEO Genome shows that reliability is critical if you want to be successful and rise in the ranks. In fact, it's important that you be "relentlessly reliable" if you want to be a successful CEO one day.

While reliability seems to be "annoyingly  obvious" to success, research shows that it's also the kind of behavior that can be proven statistically to show results, especially when it comes to being hired, says Elena Lytkina Botelho, a consultant at ghSMART, a Chicago-based management consulting firm

What makes a CEO -- or anyone-- more reliable? Botelho says one of the most important tips is to make sure you get it right from the beginning.

"Reliability doesn’t start when you start executing. Reliability starts when you walk in and you understand what everybody expects of you, and you align your stakeholders towards expectations that are realistic given what the situation presents you with," she says.

It's clear that to become more reliable, you have to be honest with yourself and in your dealings with others. Here are some ways to be more reliable:

  • Follow through. I'm sure you've run into the situation where a colleague says he or she will help you get a project done -- and then turns up on deadline without it being done. The person may claim he or she was too busy, or simply forgot. Think about how you feel in that moment -- do you want others to think the same thing of you? If not, then don't take what I call the half-ass route. Do the job you promised and do it well and on time. If you can't, then give your colleague a heads-up ASAP.
  • Draw a line in the sand. People often get into trouble when they don't clearly define who they are as a person and as a team member. You don't have to declare it from the rooftops, but it does need to be known that you won't do anything unethical or unlawful, and  you won't help anyone else do something unethical or unlawful. You will be seen as much more reliable when people get a clear idea of your personal ethics and know that they can count on you to stand firm.
  • Embrace your imperfections. No one trusts someone who thinks he or she is perfect, or pretty close to it. Everyone makes mistakes, and you need to be ready to own up to your own mistakes and not have a meltdown if someone else makes a mistake. It may sound odd, but you'll actually be seen as more reliable if you are willing to admit you don't always get it right -- but are willing to learn and move on. People rely on those who are human -- not false images that claim to be without fault.

I took the online CEO Genome test and found that my reliability was better than the average, but I think it's something I need to work on. I know that I don't like to depend on those who are unreliable, and I should expect no less from myself.

In what ways do you try to show you are reliable?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Really Easy Ways to Save Your Small Business Money

Of all the challenges small businesses face, holding the line on costs while trying to expand or with a slow economy may be one of the toughest. When sales slow or expansion eats into your profits, don't panic – consider these 10 easy ways to cut costs instead.
1. Get free press
Can you recommend the latest fashions that are affordable on any budget? Explain how to keep mice out of the kitchen and spiders out of the basement? Pitch ideas to your local media and offer yourself as the expert. The free press can help trim your advertising costs and boost your business' visibility in the community. Win-win.
2. Be flexible
Real estate can be expensive for any small business – up to $100,000 for a 10-year lease. Instead, consider setting up shop in a temporary space that doesn't require a long lease and allows (read more here

Monday, June 12, 2017

How to Answer "Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?"

Job interviews can be stressful, but as I've said before, the more you prepare for them, the more stress you can eliminate.

Part of that preparation is understanding there are going to be standard interview questions and even a few weird ones. It also means that the hiring manager is trying to get a "feel" for you. Are you a slacker? A whiner? Ambitious?

One of the ways he or she will seek to do that is by asking "So, where do you see yourself in five years?"

Some people try to be funny when answering this question (don't -- it often backfires), while others answer with "I dunno" and a smile. (This also doesn't go over well.)

Let the interviewer know that you've give this some thought because any company wants to know that you're interested in more than just collecting a paycheck -- they want to see someone who has set goals and is mature enough to go after them.

Here are some thing to think about when you give your answer:

  • Relate it to the open position. If you're applying for an accounting job, don't say you hope to be living in Paris and working on your art in five years. Why should a company hire someone who is obviously passionate about something else and may jump ship as soon as he or she saves enough money for a one-way ticket to Paris?
  • Show some enthusiasm. While you may be passionate about a life in Paris, it's better to think about how the open position could be a way to build your career. "I think accounting will help better hone my financial skills. I know that understanding finances and how to handle money correctly is a critical part of any successful business, and I hope to learn even more about this aspect." You're going to need accounting to build your dream art career, aren't you? You're being honest about your goals -- just not shoving Paris into the immediate picture.
  • Talk about growing. Really, what the hiring manager is seeking is someone who is interested in learning and growing in the company, not someone who just wants to warm the chair and collect a salary. They're not pushing to have you become of the CEO of the company -- they just want to see if you're someone who will jump ship in six months. You can give a fairly general answer, such as: "I like to learn. I think that my goal is to just keep growing and learning. I've done my homework on this company, and I think this would be a really great company where I can keep growing and contribute in a meaningful way."
What other suggestions do you have for answering "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

Thursday, June 8, 2017

3 Ways to Deal With a Blame Shifter

Many workplace cultures encourage employees to make mistakes as a way to learn and push toward innovation.

Unfortunately, there are still many workplaces today that also have little tolerance of missteps and end up breeding employees who become very adept at shifting the blame.

If you're a teammate of someone who never accepts responsibility for an error and is willing to throw you under the bus, then it's time to take some steps to ensure it doesn't hurt your career.

Here are some ways to handle others who try to put the blame on your shoulders:

1. Communicate. Too many times we get angry with a co-worker and blow things out of proportion as our stress increases. "Rob is blaming me because he's just an incompetent jerk. Now I'm going to get in trouble with the boss and lose my chance at a promotion!" is the kind of thought that circles your head at 2 a.m. when you're tossing and turning and can't sleep. But in the more rational light of day, try talking to Rob. He may be frustrated or anxious about something that is the underlying reason he's so quick to blame someone else. Hold firm in your belief that this issue is not your fault, but also be willing to take responsibility if you in any way contributed to a problem. Just don't let Rob wiggle out of being accountable.

2. Be rational. Just as you toss and turn with anxiety in the middle of the night, so does Rob. But if you break down the issue and try to get Rob to look at it more rationally, he may see that it's an issue that can be resolved and there's no need to panic and start blaming others. "I think you did the right thing in contacting the customer right away about the delay, and of course you cannot control his reaction," you might say. "I think the problem is that we need a better alert system when there are problems in production so we make our customers aware of the potential delays." By being objective, you help Rob see that energy is better spent coming up with solutions, not casting blame.

3. Step back. In these cases, you must be careful that Rob doesn't start to see you as the person who will save him. He may indeed stop shifting the blame to you -- but he also may decide that you're going to do his work for him and keep him out of hot water. When he runs to you for help, ask what steps he's taking to resolve issues -- but don't take on his work. You don't want to move from being thrown under the bus to being Rob's personal driver.

Monday, June 5, 2017

How Gamification Leads to Business Success

Look at your keychain. See all those "reward" tags hanging from it?
Now, check out your wallet. Are there credit cards in there that offer frequent flier miles? What about your smartphone? Got apps that help you track what you've eaten today?
If any of these apply to you, then you are living proof of the power of gamification, or using game-like elements to encourage customer participation. You are connected to a specific company and its products in a way that you may not even think about.
Now, here's the really tough question: Why aren't you doing the same thing for your small business?
If you've ignored gamification because you believe it's something only a larger company can implement, then you're missing a golden opportunity to not only boost customer loyalty and sales, but also to better (read more here)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

How to Keep the Best Millennial Workers

Much has been written about workers born between 1980 and 2000, these Millennials who seem to require ping-pong tables, beer kegs and pajama Fridays in order to stick around a workplace. But research reveals what really appeals to this generation of tech-savvy, quick-learning employees, and it shows that even a small business can compete when it comes to attracting and keeping the best young talent.
Here are some things you can do to spur greater interest among Millennials at your small business:

1. Provide career development

A Millennial Branding survey finds that more than 60% of these young workers are interested in starting their own companies at some point. Small businesses often provide many more opportunities to young workers, which can hold great appeal to those who want to learn the ropes before striking (read more here)

Monday, May 29, 2017

How to Do Much More With What You Have

Many of us remember growing up and hearing the admonishment from adults to “turn off the lights” or “clean up that plate” because wasteful habits – whether with food or electricity – were not OK.
It appears that companies also could benefit from such admonishments, as a new book argues that having more resources is the wrong solution for building more innovative, agile and competitive organizations. Instead, by asking employees to do more with what they have, there will be greater engagement and creativity, says Scott Sonenshein, author of “Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less – and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined.”
“How we think about and use resources has a tremendous influence on professional success, personal satisfaction and an organization’s performance,” Sonenshein says.
As a social scientist and Rice University professor, Sonenshein spent more than 10 years looking at what makes organizations more prosperous and the employees better off. He’s studied many different industries such as technology, manufacturing, banking and retail.
“We routinely overestimate the importance of acquiring resources but even more significantly underestimate our ability to make more out of those we have,” he says.
His research shows that whether it’s about adapting to major changes or everyday routines, employers and their employees can expand their resources to achieve great things and feel fulfilled – to “stretch.”
The key, he says, is rejecting the idea that more resources equal better results. His research shows that throwing more resources at anything that comes along fails to generate the best outcome because it leads teams to go after resources they don’t need and to overlook the real potential of the resources they already possess.
Still, resources are important. For example, companies must have talented (read more here)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

5 Ways to Nail a Surprise Phone Interview

I think anyone can do well in a phone interview if they're prepared, but what happens when you get an ambush call? I know some recruiters like to do this -- call you during the dinner hour when the kids are screaming and the meatloaf in burning and the dog has just eaten a sofa cushion. You scream, a "dammit!" into the phone as you step in dog barf (the dog didn't like the cushion so much) and suddenly your career is teetering on the abyss.

Be aware that no matter your level on the career ladder, a hiring manager or recruiter is not above pulling a stunt like this. To be prepared, here are some tips:

1. Set some ground rules. Children with less than stellar telephone-answering skills should be asked to refrain from answering the phone, unless they can tell from caller i.d. that's it's grandma.  Don't answer the phone when you're in rush hour traffic or eating lunch. Call back when you can find a quiet place to talk.

2. Be prepared. Have copies of your resume and talking points nearby. Also have a file with you at all times that is organized with the correspondence needed to communicate with specific employers. Note the names of contacts so you won't fumble around searching for names in your memory banks.

3. Remember to breathe. Don't pick up the phone until you've taken and released a deep breath and you're away from a chaotic atmosphere.

4. Stay professional. While the recruiter may have called you at home, this is anything but a casual chat. Just because you're in your bunny slippers doesn't mean you should let down your guard and get too chummy or casual. Be wary if the call is on speaker phone -- you never know who else might be in the room.

5. Smile. It may ratchet up your anxiety to be caught unaware, but you need to be in a positive frame of mind for a surprise phone call. The simplest thing to do is smile -- the recruiter will actually hear it in your voice. If possible, also stand up so that your voice is coming from a stronger place.

What other tips do you have for unexpected phone interviews?

This is an updated version of a column that ran in 2011.

Monday, May 22, 2017

How to Collaborate With Your Customers to Be More Successful

Think about the last time you were asked to fill out a customer satisfaction survey. Chances are, you rated everything “fine” and then moved onto something else.
You may have actually been fine with the service or the product, or maybe you didn’t want to be a hater and give the company a bad rating. But the problem with such a tepid response is that it gives the company a false sense of well-being – and that can lead to real bottom-line consequences.
“Too many companies have on rose-colored glasses and they’re not getting sufficient data to read between the lines,” says David Nour, author of “Co-Create: How Your Business Will Profit from Innovative and Strategic Collaboration.” “A rating of ‘fine’ isn’t what gets customers to come back.”
That lack of true insight can doom an organization to failure at a time when competition is keen and disruptors are around every corner. If companies instead rely on “listening louder” to customers, they can turn them into strategic partners that can help them be more innovative and responsive, Nour says.
By collaborating with customers and listening to their ideas at every stage of new product and service development, the customers are happier with the outcome, he says. These customers (read more here)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Why Thank-You Notes Matter

When I was a child, my mother began nagging me the day after Christmas to write thank-you notes to all my aunts and uncles who had sent me gifts. The nagging didn't stop until I had them written, so I learned to write them quickly so that I could get back to playing with all the toys Santa had delivered.

Now, I hear my mother's voice nagging me when I don't promptly send a thank-you note and I can say that I'm grateful for her persistence. Why? Because too many people let thank-you notes slide -- and I can say that writing thank-you notes has not only kept me in the good graces of many aunts and uncles, but it has also helped my career.

That's because many people let business thank-you notes slide and before they know it, more than a week has slipped by. Then another week. Then they get distracted and forget about sending a thank-you note. In the end, no thank-you note is sent.

But if you remember to send one -- and do it promptly -- you will stand out. And when you're competing for a job or a big project or a new client, being seen as thoughtful and ready to put out extra effort can really help you.

I realize that not everyone had a mother nagging them about thank-you notes, so here are some basic rules to follow:

  • Send it within 24 hours. While etiquette rules say you can wait about three months to send a thank-you note for a wedding gift, it needs to be much sooner than that after a job interview. Send an email within the first day of an interview or meeting with a client, then send a handwritten note by the next day.
  • Recap the highlights. Thank the person for his or her time and take the opportunity to mention two or three things you might have discussed -- your skills for the job, your company's ability to meet the client's needs or your ideas for a new project. If you feel like there is a key point you forgot to mention earlier, include it in the thank-you note.
  • Stay professional. I can't believe I need to mention this, but here I go: Be professional when writing these notes. Don't swear or use emojis in your email. Don't use pink glitter stationary. Use correct grammar and spelling (there is no automatic spellcheck is available when you're handwriting a note).
  • Be unique. It can be tempting to send a form thank-you note that you find online, and that's OK to a point. But they all read the same, and the receiver will recognize a template. So, try to come up with something unique to include, such as "I really enjoyed hearing about your master gardener class," or "Hearing about your love of golf makes me want to start taking lessons."

Monday, May 15, 2017

How to Answer Weird Interview Questions

By now, most job applicants know that when they get an interview, they need to prepare. Some of the most common interview questions go something like this:

  • What are your greatest strengths?
  • What are your biggest weaknesses?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • Why should we hire you?
Along with "Tell me about yourself", these are pretty standard. (Most interviewers have these memorized, and if they don't, they just Google "job interview questions.")

But sometimes, job interviewers like to get a bit creative and ask something like, "If you were a salad dressing, what kind would you be?" or "If you were in charge of Uzbekistan, what is the first thing you would do?"

I don't like these kinds of interview questions because, well, they're stupid. 

But companies often defend such questions, saying it helps them determine a candidate's thinking process and creative abilities. Personally, I suspect that interviewing multiple candidates can get a little boring, so they like to throw in some fun at the applicant's expense by asking: "Why are manhole covers round?"

Here's the best way to prepare for such questions: Don't.

Instead, prepare for the standard interview questions. Practice your answers so that they are genuine and concise. Then, make sure you're dressed properly, show up on time and have researched the company online so you don't ask something dumb like, "What do you do here?" Have at least three questions to ask about the position or the company. (Don't ask about salary or benefits in an initial interview).

These are the things you can do to make a good first impression, and that counts a lot. When they throw that weird question at you, it's OK if you don't have a "perfect" answer. They're really just trying to see if they can fluster you or if you'll burst into tears. But if you've prepared yourself for everything else, then you won't get completely thrown by such oddball questions. Give the answer that pops into your head, having a little fun along the way. Stay upbeat and you'll show that you're a professional who shows up well-prepared and ready to handle whatever is thrown at you.

What are some of the weirdest interview questions you've heard?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

How to Boost Your Creativity

Getting a team to boost their creativity can begin with something as simple as asking them to look differently at their socks.
It begins with asking each team member to take the most boring socks they own, then write “creative” or “fun” on each one.
This is what Scott Berkun refers to as “creative defiance,” or making something interesting out of something boring.
Berkun, author of “The Dance of the Possible: The Mostly Honest Completely Irreverent Guide to Creativity” says that creativity isn’t something you’re born with – it’s just making interesting choices every day. That’s something we all do, whether it’s choosing how to arrange a desk or deciding what to wear to work.
“I think that it probably the biggest misconception – that being creative is something magical and something you’re born with,” he says. “That’s not true. It’s usually about finding a solution to a problem.”
Another barrier to unleashing team creativity is that too many team members – and their leaders – are so focused on being more efficient that they cannot allow themselves to simply think and explore new paths.
“Creativity is rarely efficient. It always involves taking chances and trying things that might work but might not,” he says.
He explains that another obstacle to creativity is that we’ve been taught that there is one right answer, and it can be achieved with the right formula.  “That might work for math problems, but not when it comes to ideas,” he says.
Berkun offers some ideas on how leaders and their teams can increase creativity:
  • Start a journal. “The act of preserving your ideas is critical because humans (read more here)

Monday, May 8, 2017

4 Keys for a Recommendation Letter

I recently helped a colleague whittle down the number of resumes for a new position.

As I sifted through dozens of cover letters and online applications, I noticed that only a few included letters of recommendations.

As I read the letters, I wondered why more of the job prospects didn't offer something similar. Why? Because the letters provided something that was critical: A professional perspective of the applicant's ability to perform in a workplace and get the job done.

For me, it put the skills of the applicant into perspective. For example, one applicant said that she had experience with project management. But a former supervisor wrote a recommendation letter, outlining how those project management skills kept the entire team on track, and were so critical to meeting customer deadlines.

Now, that's something that stood out because it helped me see how she could transfer those skills into a new job.

With the competition for jobs (especially with new graduates entering the marketplace), consider how to help your recommendation letters stand out. Here are some ideas:

  • Get specific.  Think back on an instance that you felt showcased your best skills. Perhaps you helped resolve a big customer dispute; you came up with a new idea that launched a successful product; or you were seen as the "quality control" person for the team. Remind your references of such situations -- they'll appreciate not having to dig through their own memories.
  • Highlight important skills. Sometimes job seekers get such generic recommendations the letter writer could be talking about anyone. Let the reference know the key skills that are being sought in the position, so they can target things like being a team player or being able to work under the pressure of deadlines.
  • Cast a wide net. Don't think that references can only come in the form of former employers or teachers. If your pastor or rabbi has worked closely with you on a spring break project, for example, then think about having him or her write a letter outlining your ability to work collaboratively. In addition, the more diversity you have in your references, the better able you will be to offer the right reference for various employers or jobs.
  • Offer a template. If you think your reference is fine with recommending you -- but uncomfortable in writing the letter -- offer a template. There are several offered online, such as here. 
What do you like to see included in a recommendation letter?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

How to Attract and Retain Loyal Customers

Want your business to thrive? Then start thinking about all your pet peeves and how to solve them.
That’s the advice of Dave Peterson, who says that this is exactly the strategy that made Uber so successful.  In 2008, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp had trouble getting a cab on a snowy night, and came up with an app to help them get a ride.
It seems simple enough, and yet the number of established businesses that are in real trouble these days points to the fact that many companies are still missing the point about how to attract and retain loyal customers.
Peterson is one of the founders of Play Bigger Advisors, billed as the world’s first “category design firm.”
He explains that companies like Uber, Salesforce and Netflix are dominating their markets because they create a solution to a problem (not being able to get a cab) and become “category kings.” The companies that beat the competition and survive for the long term are those that focus on creating a category and then dominating it.
In his book, “Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets,” Peterson and co-authors Al Ramadan, Christopher Lochhead and Kevin Maney explain that while being the first to invent something can be important, “it doesn’t mean squat if you don’t define and develop a category.”
“If you are the company that changes the way people think, people will see your company as the category king, and you will win the majority of the customers,” they write.
For example, Apple didn’t invent any products, but it (read more here)

Monday, May 1, 2017

How to Engage and Energize Longtime Workers

Often we think we know long-term employees really well. After all, they’ve been around for what seems like forever. We know how they like their coffee, the name of their family dog and even their favorite shirt (worn every Thursday). But those assumptions can cause managers to assume they know what motivates such workers, and take it for granted that they are already engaged.
Despite what many leaders believe, new research shows it’s a company’s most experienced and valuable workers who may be the least motivated. In fact, a Gallup survey finds that only 5% of employees with 10 or more years with a company say they are engaged at work in roles that are the right fit for them.
So how can you energize and engage your long-term workers? Career expert, Daniel Pink says that science shows us that motivation needs to be built around the desire to “do things because they matter, because we like it, they’re interesting, or part of something important.”
  • Match them with great people. Gallup suggests that employees can see tenure as meaningful if they are paired with great managers who help them continue to grow. Asking them to mentor 

Tenured workers are a key component of a company’s ongoing success because they know how an organization works and how to get things done with fewer problems or dissent—and they can often predict how colleagues will behave and respond. If they’re not engaged, they may just go through the motions of the job, with quality of work and productivity often the biggest casualties.
That means we want autonomy to direct our own lives; mastery to get better at something that matters and purpose to, as Pink puts it, “do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”
With that in mind, here are a few ideas for keeping your long-term (as well as newer employees) happier, more motivated, and highly productive ( read more here

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

5 Critical Steps to Take When You Quit a Job

If a great opportunity comes along, you might jump at it. It could be because it offers more money, but it also might be because you feel it gives you a chance to do something you feel passionate about, or perhaps because you feel it's a more stable position. Whatever the reason, it's important that you make a stellar exit.

Keep in mind that how you leave a position is often how you are remembered most by colleagues and your boss. And, as we all know, the world is often a small one – so quitting a job poorly may come back to haunt you for years to come, perhaps even adversely affecting other job opportunities. This lesson, unfortunately, is one that many people don't understand until it's too late.

So, how do you leave a job properly and make such a good impression on co-workers and the boss that they will have nothing but positive things to say about you? You need to:

• Prepare. Before you tell the boss, understand your company’s policy about employees who quit. Some require you to be removed immediately. If this is the case, make sure you have all your personal files removed from your computer and have cleared away any questionable material from your desk.
• Make it legal. Your resignation letter to your boss should be professional (no sarcasm, hateful comments, etc.) and state clearly your intentions. Include: the date the letter is written, your official last day (two weeks is the common courtesy) and your legal name, along with your signature. This is the letter that will go in your personnel file so there’s no need to be long-winded. If you can’t think of anything nice to say, think Richard Nixon. He resigned in just seven words, but we all got the point quite clearly.
• Practice. Rehearse what you plan to say to co-workers and the boss when you decide to quit. Make sure you don’t make any disparaging comments about the business, or say something like how “not working with such losers anymore will be so nice.” Also, don’t offer too much information about your future plans, since it’s not good form to talk about all the exciting opportunities that await you and how you’re going to be making loads of money and working with great people, blah, blah, blah. None of that helps your boss or your co-workers, and just makes them sort of, well, hate you.
• Be a pro until the end. Don’t start slacking off on your duties. In fact, you might have to put in some extra time getting files in order; briefing others where you stand on projects; informing your customers who to contact after you leave; leaving notes on where to find information that will be needed; and meeting with the boss to let him know you’re trying to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s before you leave. And, for goodness’ sake, don’t take your departure as a sign to start loading up the backpack with goodies from the supply cabinet. Be absolutely sure you don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you, not even a pencil. Check at home to make sure you don’t have any company property, and if you do, return it promptly.
• Exit gracefully. If you have an exit interview, don’t use it as a chance to vent any hard feelings. Again, this will get back to the boss, and sink your reputation in his eyes and in others. Remember, bosses talk to other bosses, and human resource people talk to other human resource people. Being seen as difficult and vengeful and taking potshots on your way out the door will not help your career. Also, remember that if you criticize a co-worker today, that same person may just turn out to be a future boss tomorrow. Leaving with a firm handshake and a smile will serve you well in the long run.

This is an update of a 2009 post.

Monday, April 24, 2017

4 Steps for Dealing With a Hated New Job

When you accepted the job, you were excited about the new opportunities chance to enhance your skills. But three months later, all you can think of, is “What was I thinking?”

You now believe you’ve made a mistake when you accepted a new job. Something doesn’t feel right. Maybe you don’t like the people you work with, maybe you don’t like the duties you have been given, maybe you cannot stand your boss. Whatever the reason, it’s difficult to admit that things are going seriously wrong after only 90 days on the job.

What are you going to do? Can you quit this early in the game? Can the situation be fixed or is it only going to get worse? Should you tell anyone?

Before panic sets in, the first thing you should do is step back and start to look at the facts. Is the job affecting you outside of work? Are you anxious, grumpy or can't sleep at night? If so, then you know the problems are serious enough to address. Ignoring it will only make it worse.

Some actions you can take include:

  •  Get feedback. Talk to your friends or family and ask them what they hear you say about the job. This will help you pinpoint the areas that may be causing you the most stress.
  •  Go to the boss. Tell him or her that something isn’t working and you'd like to talk about it. Just don't expect the boss to "fix" the problem for you. Ask the boss to serve as a sounding board to try and figure out what is happening. Remember, the boss has put time and money into hiring you, and hasn't begun to see her investment returned in the short time you've been there. It's in her best interest -- and that of the company -- to find a way to make the job work better for you.
  •  Know when to cut your losses. If the problems are serious -- you ethically disagree with company policy or you're asked to do duties you find reprehensible or just have no interest in -- then it's probably time to just move on and learn from the experience. Begin looking around and contact people you had interviewed with before you accepted your current position.
  •  Take responsibility. When you begin interviewing for a new position, you may want to avoid putting such a short-term job on your resume. But if you do decide to mention it to hiring managers, explain that you thought the job was a good fit, but it became clear after a short time on the job that you had not asked the right questions and take full responsibility for it not working out the way you had planned. "So now," you tell the hiring manager, "I've learned that I have several more questions I'd like to ask."

This post originally ran in 2008

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Have You Become a Toxic Sponge?

I have banished sponges from my kitchen.

You may think this has nothing to do with the workplace, but stay with me for a moment.

According to WebMD, sponges are the No. 1 source of germs in the whole house because "moist, micro-crevices that make a sponge such an effective cleaning device also make it a cozy home for germs and more difficult to disinfect. Wiping your counters or dishes with a dirty sponge will only transfer the bacteria from one item to another."

Bleh. Now you know why I don't use sponges in my kitchen.

As for the workplace connection? Toxic sponges also hang out there. Not in the break room kitchen, but possibly at your desk.

I've been writing about being a toxic sponge for a long time. I first heard the term decades ago, and have found that toxic sponges still thrive.

What is a toxic sponge? A toxic sponge is someone who absorbs the negativity in the workplace. He or she listens to the woes and whinings of of co-workers and the complaints of the boss. This person is often seen as calm and capable, someone who is a good listener and seems to make others feel better after having a conversation.

But the problem with being a toxic sponge is that, well, you're absorbing a lot of crap. It's a lot of negative energy that can be transferred into other parts of your life. Before long, you may find yourself unable to sleep, anxious, depressed or even contemplating finding another job.

You may not at first recognize that you're a toxic sponge, but others do. They know you're the one they run to when they want to flush their system and dump their bad mood on someone else.

It's OK that you want to help others, that you want to solve problems for your colleagues or your boss. Just keep in mind that there needs to be limits on what you can take on or all that toxicity will make your life unhealthy.

Here are some things to think about:
  • Know when to step aside. Don’t try to be an armchair psychiatrist. Learn to back off from the person who needs professional assistance. As long as you continue to absorb the problem, things won’t get better.
  • Set limits. When you’re a toxic sponge, others may not recognize that you’re overloaded because you seem to so calmly accept whatever they say and want to help. But you’ve got to learn to set your own parameters of how and when you will deal with such issues. Find ways to firmly end a conversation with a constant whiner by saying, “I’m expecting a call any minute and I’ve got to prepare for it,” or “I’ve got to be somewhere in a few minutes, so I’m going to have to cut this short.”
  • Turn the problem around. If someone comes to you to complain about a process, for example, try to make them be more proactive instead of letting them just harp about problems. “Let’s talk about ways you can make the process more efficient” or “What specifically makes you think it won’t work?” are ways to get the person focused on finding solutions instead of just dumping problems on you to solve. Or, if someone comes to you and starts a tale of woe about how her best friend just got fired, say something like, “That’s tough. I’m sorry. Thankfully, we still have jobs.”
  • Give yourself recovery time. If you find yourself being dumped on, end it as soon as possible and then find ways to wring out your toxic sponge. Talk to an upbeat family member or friend, go for a walk, play with your dog or treat yourself to a massage.
Finally, don’t make excuses for the people who continually dump their problems on you. While we can all provide a sympathetic ear now and again, that doesn’t mean others should take advantage of you and expect you to drop everything to listen to them and even solve their problems. That’s a form of manipulation that does them – and you – no good.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Key to Surviving Disruption

At the turn of this century, Xerox was in trouble.  The competition was offering cheaper products and new technology was eroding customer demand for its products. Stock prices skid more than 90% from June 1999 to December 2000.
But then Xerox began reviving itself, aggressively reconfiguring its core business, simplifying product lines and outsourcing core functions. Cash flow became positive and stable.
But Xerox wasn’t done making changes. At the same time it was repositioning its core business, the company began experimenting with new service lines and bought Affiliated Computer Services for more than $6 billion.
By 2012, Xerox was hitting $21 billion in revenue.
Scott D. Anthony shares this story in his new book, “Dual Transformation: How to Reposition Today’s Business While Creating the Future,” which he wrote with Clark Gilbert and Mark W. Johnson.
Anthony says Xerox is an important example of what companies can do to thrive when their industry is being disrupted. But perhaps the real kicker to this story is this: Xerox is going to need to do it all over again.
That’s the lesson for any business wanting to survive in today’s fast-paced environment, Anthony says. Survival depends not only on repositioning the core business while also creating a new separate growth engine – but also being prepared to do it over and over again.
“That’s the new normal,” he says.
Those who don’t follow such a strategy will end up like businesses such as Kodak and RIM that were buried by disruption, Anthony says.
While Anthony says the book addresses many of the steps leaders need to take, he says it’s also important that employees “in every nook and cranny” of an organization been seen as a critical piece in helping such a strategy be successful.  Their input, he says, is important for spotting signs that companies may need to change.
“Employees can be a great early warning system for disruption. You tell them to keep their eyes open and ears tuned, and they can pick up on faint signals that new competitors are emerging or customer preferences are shifting,” Anthony says.
At the same time, these workers must be educated that change will be (read more here)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why Bosses Need to Be More Agile

There's lots of talk these days about the need for companies and their employees to be more "agile," to learn to adapt quickly to changing market conditions and customer demands.

The problem, however, may be that it's the managers who are the ones who are the real sticks in the mud.

For example, there was a story in the Wall Street Journal about how some bosses hoard talent, refusing to let workers move on. The managers hang onto this talent, often refusing to let others join a team of top performers. The problem, of course, is that such a strategy isn't good for an organization and it certainly isn't helping employees develop.

Another report in Harvard Business Review addressed the importance of leaders being both consistent and agile. Too consistent, the article suggests, and you've got a rigid leader. Too agile, and you have a boss who can't focus.

The bottom line is that teams need diversity -- and the management ranks need diversity. That means that organizations need to shake things up once in a while by switching team members in and out of various groups. They can do the same with managers, letting them lead different projects or teams.

Companies that want employees to come up with innovative ideas must make sure that they're not using career development practices that are no longer viable. If they don't want workers to move elsewhere for more opportunities, then employers must ensure they are walking the talk and being more agile in everything they do.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Channel Your Inner Cat to Survive in Business

The statistics paint a bleak picture:
  • From 2001-2011, only about 10% of companies actually met their growth targets, Bain & Co. find.
  • Only 13% of Fortune 100 companies were able to sustain as little as 2% annual real revenue growth from one decade to the next over the past 50 years, reports CEB Inc.
Well, that’s enough to make many leaders go back to bed and pull the covers over their heads. But for the ones willing to fight through such a tough environment, Leonard Sherman advises they channel their inner cat.
Sherman explains that in such a competitive dogfight, it’s the companies that are clever, bold and independent – like cats – that will be the ones to survive and thrive.
“The market doesn’t stay still. You go back hundreds of years, and you’re going to see one evolution after another,” Sherman says. “If companies try to stop the clock, they will wind up being left behind.”
Companies like Kodak and Blockbuster failed because they were defending current market positions and didn’t differentiate themselves with new products or services, he says. If companies fail to constantly renew their competitive advantage with innovative ideas, then the market becomes saturated. Competitors will begin attacking current products with comparable or better products – often at a lower cost, he explains.
Sherman, executive in residence and adjunct professor of marketing and management at the Columbia Business School, also has worked as an Accenture senior partner and J.D. Power and Associates managing partner.
He says that experience has shown him that the pace of change is more rapid than ever before, and those “that go with the flow will be left behind.”
One of the biggest problems, he says, is that many companies don’t seem to know their own strategy. “There is so much going on when managing a complex company, and every day people are throwing out suggestions and bombarding the leader. That’s when action can be confused with progress,” he says. “It’s a rare CEO that can cut through the noise and distraction. That’s why you hear it at all levels that people just aren’t sure where the company is headed.”
He says that Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has the right idea (read more here)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

4 Ways to Stop Being the Office Doormat

One complaint I hear fairly often is from those who feel they are not appreciated at work. These workers often feel that they've become human doormats, with colleagues and bosses treating them as if what they do doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things.


Everyone's job matters. If you put together boxes, that's important. Without those boxes, products could not be delivered and people might miss out on getting important medicines or critical parts for a project. It matters if you sort mail or drive a truck or  make jet engines. Everyone's job is part of the life cycle of an organization. Without your efforts, organizations would begin to unravel.

That's key to remember because I think when we treat our jobs as "less than," we set ourselves up as doormats. If you want to be treated with respect, if you want to be appreciated for the job you do -- then respect yourself and appreciate that what you do really does matter.

If you feel like it's time you became more respected and appreciated, then you need to:

  • Show some class. Dig out those manners you learned from your mama or aunties and start saying "please" and "thank you." Address new people you meet as "Mr." or "Ms." unless you are told to do differently. Stand up tall, shoulders back. Make sure you're well groomed, look people in the eye and smile when greeting them. Politeness sends the cue that you have respect for yourself and others -- and can influence others to show you the same attitude.
  •  Don't show favoritism. Your politeness should know no bounds. You need to demonstrate the same level of professionalism to the person who empties wastebaskets as you do to the CEO. If you want to stop being treated like a doormat, then don't do it to anyone else.
  • Stand out. To get others to truly notice you and not see you as background scenery, think of ways to stand apart from others. When someone approaches you, put away your phone or turn away from your work. Be completely engaged when the person is talking, and wait until he or she is finished before summarizing what was said. Offering someone your undivided attention -- in this time of distractions -- will definitely set you apart. 
  • Stay positive. Workplace research shows that incivility from the political arena is carrying over into the workplace. Don't be the person who launches into political diatribes or seems to find the negative in every daily occurrence. You don't have to lie or be unrealistic, but you can be the person who tries to find something uplifting or even funny to share every day. (Make sure all your humor is G-rated.) Even a big smile every day with a genuine "It's good to see you!" can make others really see you and appreciate you.
What are some other ways to garner more respect on the job?