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