Monday, January 30, 2017

2 Ways to Get More Done Starting Right Now

There's a lot of distracting stuff going on in the world today. It can be difficult to concentrate on work when your co-workers are loudly discussing the latest political news or your email box is filling up with urgent messages from political groups.

But your job is important because without it you can't pay your bills. That's why you have to find a way during the workday to turn off such distractions and quiet the turmoil so you can do your job.

It's not easy, I know. I'm hit with the same distractions every day, and sometimes I don't even know that my mind is wandering until I've spent 20 minutes staring at the same sentence in a report.

Here are two ways that experts have told me can help get your brain back on track when you're being hit with a lot of outside distractions:

1. Acknowledge your distractions. Every time you find yourself distracted, mark it down. This can be on a piece of paper -- just a small note to show that you're off task. Then, say to yourself: "What am I supposed to be doing right now?" and get back to it. This will help you to understand how often you get off task and help you develop greater focus.

2. Go for quality. Instead of trying to answer emails, make phone calls and water your ficus all at the same time, choose one thing and do it well. It will be stressful at first, but over time you will begin to feel a greater sense of calm when you do things in a more deliberate way. Do one thing and do it well before moving to the next task.

That's it. Don't try to take on more than that right now. There are tons of great productivity tips out there, but if you tackle just these two things beginning today, you'll find that you develop your concentration muscle so that you're less distracted and turning in better quality work.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How to Get Colleagues to Trust You

When you buy your popcorn at the movies, you probably don’t have more than a fleeting thought about the concession clerk, which is why such a relationship is referred to as transactional. You hand over the cash, and the clerk hands over the popcorn. It’s a transaction, and you don’t have any real investment in that relationship.

But at work, you probably chit-chat with colleagues before beginning a work-related discussion. (“How was your weekend?” “Did you see the game?”)

“When you do that, you transform the relationship. You’re not quite ready to give the person your kidney, but you’re more receptive to the person and they in turn feel warmer toward you. You’re building a relationship through that non-task conversation. It’s more than transactional,” explains Maurice Schweitzer.

Schweitzer, author of “Friend & Foe” with Adam Galinsky, says that kind of conversation in the workplace may be more critical than many believe, because it helps establish trust. Without that trust, collaboration, productivity and success falter.

At the same time, knowing who to trust can be equally important. In their new book, the authors use science to explain how to best establish trust, such as:

  1. Building rapport. By asking about a person’s family or hobby, you let the person feel good about talking to you, and you show them that you’re taking the time to listen. “Some people find it hard to get outside themselves because they believe they are the most interesting thing,” Schweitzer says. “But when you ask someone to tell you about their goals and interests – and ask follow-up questions – it shows you’re paying attention.”
  2. Smiling more. Maybe you don’t feel like smiling when discussing losses in the 3rd quarter, but begin by talking about something that does make you genuinely smile, such as a favorite hobby or your child. Research shows that people who inspire the most trust are those who exhibit two distinct traits: warmth and competence. “We trust warm people because we know they care about us,” the authors write. “In contrast, cold people pose a potential threat to us. We trust competent people, because they are credible, effective and efficient.”
  3. Apologizing. It doesn’t really matter what the apology is for (“I’m sorry it’s raining,” “I’m sorry your flight was delayed”) because studies show that the words themselves project warmth. This increased warmth leads people to cooperate.
  4. Meeting in person. This shows you value the relationship, and helps build trust. Whether (read more here)

Monday, January 23, 2017

How to Deal With Employees Who Drive You Loony

When managers get really, really fed up with a team member, they often a) explode at them in a crazy, bug-eyed, spit-spewing way or b) walk away and hide in their offices, wearing camouflage clothing and trying to blend in with a ficus.

Neither strategy works. Screaming at someone makes you look like a lunatic and everyone starts dusting off their resumes because no one wants to work for a lunatic. Hiding doesn't work either -- it just gets on the nerves of your entire team and people starting talking to the office plants in an effort to find you.

So, what's the solution when you've got a team members who bugs the crap out of you?

  • Make a plan. Felicity is someone who loves to talk about her cooking. Every morning you get a complete rundown of what she cooked for dinner the night before, including each and every spice she used. She launches into her dessert menu before meetings. You see her Barefoot Contessa behavior as a way to delay getting down to work and meeting her deadlines. But when you call her in to discuss the issue, she begins telling you about her cookbook collection. You immediately get frustrated and before you know it, you lose control of the discussion. So, spend some time writing down what you want to discuss and stick to the script.
  • Be specific. When you're making your notes for the conversation, don't use vague terms like, "You're always distracting others" or "You need to use your time more efficiently." Try to come up with examples, such as "Last week you talked to Brian for 30 minutes about making bread."
  • Show the ripples. Just as when you throw a rock into a pond and the movement ripples outward, explain how her behavior is affecting other people. "By keeping Brian from his work for 30 minutes, you affected time he could have been working to meet deadline projects. In addition, your discussion was distracting to team members within hearing distance, so it also affected their productivity. No one wants to stay late to get work finished that could have been done without such a distraction."
  • Be open about your feelings. You don't have to scream at an employee to get your point across about how such behavior makes you feel. Just state something like, "Because you have a difficult time getting right to the point and get off-topic easily, it makes me want to avoid interacting with you during the day."
  • Be firm. "From now on, you need to have discussions that are non-work related during your lunch hour or after hours with other team members. If I hear you getting off topic again and distracting people, I will issue a written reprimand that will go in your personnel file."
  • Invite questions. "Is there anything that I've discussed that you don't understand?" 
No manager loves each and every employee. But it is an important part of a boss's job to interact personally with team members and let them know of behavior that impacts the success of others -- and their own career. Without that, bosses become part of the problem instead of the solution.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

It's Time to Stop Mindless Collaboration

It certainly seems to make sense that collaborating can lead to better results, but it’s the sort of touchy-feely subject that many senior leaders don’t believe can lead to real bottom-line payoffs.
But new research shows that collaborating in the right way can boost revenues and profits and offer better solutions to customers, who in turn become more loyal. It can also lead to more innovation, and provides greater oversight and transparency that can reduce unethical or illegal conduct by individuals.
Heidi K. Gardner, a distinguished fellow and lecturer on law at Harvard Law School, says that she was familiar with the skepticism about collaboration, and even saw companies “suffering from collaboration overload.”
That’s when she decided to investigate.
Plunging into data, interviews and surveys, she says she was surprised by the results and found that collaboration in many cases “was even more positive than we thought.”
The key, however, is that in order for collaboration to work, it must be done in an intentional way and not just for “selfish reasons,” she says. Specifically, it must be “smart collaboration” that focuses on putting together the right people for the right reasons, she says.
“Smart collaboration relies on a real diagnosis of what problem can be eased – either complexity or scope or scale – and you have to be convinced of the importance of integrating different kinds of knowledge,” she says. “You’re not throwing a team against it because that’s what you always do or you’re just using a team as a way to dodge individual accountability.”
Many customers now seek out those firms that can offer solutions to more complex problems – such as with mergers and acquisitions – and those answers often lie in collaborative efforts, she says. Further, Gardner says customers often are willing to pay more for specialists who can collaborate because such teams can arrive at a more innovative, integrated solution.
In her new book, “Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos,” Gardner says that collaboration done the right way can work for any company, no matter its size.
“Sometimes people are doing collaboration mindlessly. There is justified cynicism (read more here)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Why Soft Skills are So Important to Your Career

Perhaps you've worked very hard to learn the technical skills necessary to get the job you want or succeed in your current position.

Despite your diligence, however, you don't get the job or the promotion.

What just happened? Was someone else really more qualified?

When you ask the hiring manager or your boss about why you didn't get the job, you get a vague answer. There are some references to someone else being a "better fit." Or, other team members weighed in and favored the other person.

Sometimes it's not a matter of your technical expertise that loses you a new job or a promotion, but rather something that managers can't seem to explain. To them, it's hard to really define why your technical expertise just wasn't enough.

But often the reason you just don't "fit" is not because of your hard skills such as technical abilities -- but because you lack the soft skills that just make you "click" with others.

This may seem truly weird to those who are considered very talented in the hard skills area. After all, soft skills -- such as listening, body language and collaboration -- are all just fine, but hardly get the job done.

Or do they? Could having a soft skills such as being able to tell a story really be more important than coming up with a new system to manage client accounts?

On the surface, a manager may say "no." But more research shows that it's these soft skills that play a key role in helping people get jobs or advancing a career.

So, it's time to think about some key soft skills you need to get better at now:

  • Interacting. The next time your boss brings a client through the office, don't hide behind your laptop with your headphones on. Instead, stand up and greet the person as he comes by -- even if it's a "Hello! How are you?" kind of statement. Always have some questions prepared to ask someone you're meeting for the first time. "What brings you in today?" "Where are you from?" This may sound like a trivial interaction, but it's these efforts that demonstrate to the boss that you're capable of interacting with people you don't know, and presents a professional demeanor to others.
  • Talking to people that make you uncomfortable. It's pretty easy to talk to people who think and act like you. But if you're in IT, when was the last time you asked someone in marketing what they thought of a new project? Do you regularly talk to those in sales to ask what problems their customers complain about the most? You may find it difficult to relate to what sales or marketing do, but the more you ask questions and seek their input, the easier it will become. This kind of collaboration between departments is becoming more critical than ever, and you need to show the boss you get it.
  • Giving compliments. Sometimes it may not even occur to you that a colleague needs a pat on the back. But compliments go a long way toward establishing better relationships with co-workers, a critical skill when it comes to advancing your career. Also, good relationships with co-workers mean that when you need a job reference or help in meeting someone, this colleague's positive impression may be critical in helping you. These compliments don't have to be overblown or feel false. Something small such as "I liked the point you brought up in the meeting about customer experience" or "I appreciate you sending me that report so quickly -- it helped me meet my deadline," are a good start.
  • Being positive. This may be one of the most important soft skills you can develop because being positive is catching. Research shows that your positive attitude can affect others, and your upbeat attitude can make you more likable -- and it can actually help you feel better about yourself and your job. Try mindfulness to become more aware of the many ways your life and your job have meaning and give you a sense of satisfaction. The first step can be simply smiling more -- it will affect how you feel and how others perceive you.
What other soft skills do you think are important to career success?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Are Your Customers Devoted to You?

Do you like Gatorade?
Sure, maybe you like to drink Gatorade after a big workout, or you give Gatorade to your daughter after she’s finished soccer practice.
But do you like Gatorade so much that you buy not only the drinks, but the chews and protein bars? Are you so devoted to the brand that you believe consuming it will make you perform better and improve your time in your next marathon? Do you feel so strongly about the brand that you are willing to continue using the product even if the prices go up?
If so, you might be what Eddie Yoon refers to as a “superconsumer.”
Such consumers are much more than fans of a product. They don’t just buy the product because they love how it tastes – they are so emotionally connected to the product that they buy a lot of it, all the time. They love talking about it, writing about it and encouraging others to use it. They are dependable consumers of the product, and keep coming back for more.
Yoon, author of “Superconsumers: A Simple, Speedy and Sustainable Path to Superior Growth,” says that superconsumers – although only about 10% of consumers — can drive 30% to 70% of sales.
That’s important to consider when looking at how the number of products is making consumer loyalty even more challenging. For example, data shows the U.S. population grew 1.1% per year from 1975 to 2008, while consumer spending grew 3.6% per year during that time. But the total number of items in grocery stores soared 5.2% per year for that same time period.
While superconsumers can help companies continue to sell during in an increasingly competitive marketplace, these consumers also continue to provide benefits far beyond that, Yoon says. Specifically, these consumers are so devoted to a product that they are a willing test audience, providing feedback and insight that takes “much of the risk out of innovation and allow businesses to experiment more and take more chances,” says Yoon, a principal with The Cambridge Group, a growth-strategy firm that is part of Nielsen.
Reaching diverse customers
Thanks to Nielsen’s vast trove of data, Yoon says he and his colleagues were able to pin (read more here)

Monday, January 9, 2017

5 Ways to Make a Great First Impression

I want you to think back to the last person you met for the first time and name as many details about the person as you can. Now, look at your list and consider the first three items.

Do they look something like this?

1. Limp handshake.
2. Rarely made eye contact.
3. Awkward conversationalist.

Or, more like this:
1. Great smile.
2. Confident manner.
3. Asked great questions.

The difference between these two assessments can make or break a career. In today's fast-paced business environment, we often only get one chance to make a good impression on someone. At the same time, it's often very difficult to establish a positive connection in a short amount of time, especially if we're not "good" at small talk.

In a perfect world, of course, we wouldn't be judged on initial contact, but the truth is most people have summed you up in less than a few minutes. So, let's look at some ways to not only make that good first impression, but to engage the other person enough to help your career.

1. Look in the mirror. Really. Look in the mirror several times a day and make sure your hair is combed, there are no stains on your clothes (keep a stain remover at work or in a briefcase), and use mouthwash or breath mints, especially after eating or drinking coffee. It's often the small details that trip you up -- you can be wearing a $2,000 suit and if your breath reeks of garlic and your hair is standing on end, you've just wasted $2,000.

2. Shake hands firmly. I've had people shake my hand so hard they cracked my knuckles. I don't appreciate that any more than I do the half-hand, limp, lackadaisical shake. If you're not sure how to shake hands properly, find a car salesperson. Those people have perfected the art of the handshake and can teach you in no time flat.

3. Ask a question. Nothing is more awkward that someone asking: "How are you?" and you respond: "Fine." And then nothing. Ask a question that focuses on the needs and interests of the other person. Depending on the situation, you can ask about industry challenges in this economy, how they do their job, what professional organizations they find the most helpful or even if they use any social networking to help them get more business.

4. Edit the self promotion. People are worried about their jobs right now, and that's leading to some elevator pitches that are delivered with a sledgehammer. While you should promote yourself when you get the chance, an initial meeting can become very uncomfortable if you launch into your talents and abilities right away. A better way is to talk about other people who have helped you do your job, or to be successful with a project.

5. Don't blow your exit. Once you've established rapport with the other person, don't forget that your last impression is even more important. End your conversation by saying how much you've enjoyed the meeting, perhaps even making a final note of what you've learned: "I really appreciate the chance to hear your thoughts on how much going back to school helped you. It's something I'll be thinking about," you say, again offering your car salesperson handshake. By ensuring the person that you not only heard what was said, but really listened, you've made a strong first impression.

(This post originally ran in 2008)

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Why It's Time to Stop Suffering in Your Job

There you sit, at the pinnacle of your profession. Successful, well-respected, making good money. It took lots of hard work, a little bit of luck and many personal sacrifices. Still, it was worth it.

Wasn’t it?

Unfortunately, many people in this exact position are saying “no.” They’re not doing something they like, they’re not happy, they’re not able to say they like what they’ve done with their life.

But those who are miserable and successful often feel the most trapped by their jobs. The money is depended on by families and they are bound with cement glue to the picture-perfect life they have created. They suffer silently, often only showing the signs of their inner turmoil by being less patient with their children, more authoritarian and autocratic at work and suffering from various stress-induced health problems.

People going through this often think about quitting their jobs, chucking it all because they just can't stand being so unhappy. Still, that may not be the best solution since finding happiness may mean simply making some adjustments to a current position. Either way, it’s important that if you are successful, but unhappy, you sit down with a piece of paper and take a hard look at your job.

Begin by:

1. Listing everything that bugs you about your job. From the copy machine that never works to the overtime to the abrasive boss. Don’t leave anything out, no matter how small or trivial. Now consider what you can change or eliminate from that list, and determine what is part of your job and what is part of the work environment.
Now, ask yourself this question: Is this the life you want? Is it what you dreamed of as a child?

2. Looking at time and money. When you determine that a change must be made, this is the time to bring in the family. Explain that you will be happier doing something else, but you will need their support because financial sacrifices may be needed.
Then, set up a timeline of what you are going to do, and when. If you have no real idea of what you want to do, limit yourself to exploring three new fields at a time. If you try to do more than that, you may become paralyzed by such a huge task.

3. Doing your research. Get on the Internet, network with other people, get interviews at companies that interest you. Find out what is needed for you to work in your chosen field by talking to everyone you can think of -- and then asking them for more people to talk to. If you're 50 years old, chances are you can't become a ballerina as you once dreamed, but you can look at jobs that involve the arts, graceful movements and creativity.

4. Going for it. When you’re spending as much time on making your dream a reality as on your regular job, it’s time to take the leap of faith and put all your time into the job you love.

(This post originally ran in 2007)

Monday, January 2, 2017

How to Keep Your Job When You've Got Fickle Customers

As companies invest more in the customer experience, there is some concern about whether such a commitment will be enough to retain increasingly fickle customers who are constantly being wooed by competitors.
study of 2,000 U.S. consumers by Accenture, for example, shows that 40% were willing to change their brand loyalty for at least one reason, such as:
  • The customer could receive discounts or coupons via the retailer’s social media channels. (18%)
  • Google Wallet or other form of mobile payment was accepted in store by the retailer. (9%)
  • The retailer allowed consumers to use bitcoin or other digital currencies. (3%)
  • Security measures such as a finger print or other biometric sensors were offered when consumers shopped mobile. (21%)
Bob Barr, managing director and global B2B commerce leader for Accenture, says because consumers have exposure to brands all over the world and “can explicitly shop for whatever they want,” it’s also easier for them to switch retailer loyalties if they can’t immediately find what they want – or don’t deliver it to them fast enough.
“Consumers are also willing to switch if they feel the customer service is less than ideal, or if they get a strong recommendation from friends or family,” he says.
With customers having access to more brands and information about a product or company than ever before, how businesses choose to respond will be critical. For example, the Accenture study finds that 60% of respondents say they see too much sponsored content and others kinds of advertisements.
Also, customers can be turned off by a company that hits them too often with online messaging, such as emails or texts.  Barr says that companies can’t fall into the trap of believing they have a “relationship” with a consumer simply because the customer buys a product or service. It’s important, he says, that companies look for ways to “preserve” that connection, such as stepping into an advisory role with consumers.
For example, brands can notify customers of expiring warranties or provide solutions to issues that interest the consumer and are customized to his or her needs. “You don’t want to have the consumer saying, ‘Why are you sending me this?’” he says.
“Companies must make sure that they really differentiate the value they bring to the consumer,” Barr says. “Customers (read more here)