Thursday, September 28, 2017

Research Shows Learning Is an Antidote to Stress

There's a lot of stress at work these days, which are why things like yoga and mindfulness are such popular topics.

But new research finds that deep breathing and downward-facing dog aren't enough to really reduce worker stress -- it's on-the-job learning that may lead to better outcomes.

Specifically, the University of Michigan finds that workers felt better -- and exhibited less troublesome behavior -- when they were learning something new as opposed to using relaxation techniques.

“When an individual comes out of relaxation activities at work and realizes the stressful situation hasn’t changed, it may generate frustration and reverse the benefits of relaxation," says one researcher. 

While relaxation can help workers feel more refreshed and calmer, it doesn't do much to quell rude behavior, blabbing confidential company information or even taking company property, researchers say. Workers who were learning new things, however, exhibited much less of that kind of problem behavior, the study finds.

The lesson is that managers may want to incorporate learning into even the most routine jobs in order to lessen stress and promote better behavior in their teams. In addition, those who feel stressed by their workplaces may want to explore new learning on their own to help battle their anxiety.

Monday, September 25, 2017

How to Set Boundaries at Work

We all spend a lot of time at work, and some days it feels like a family get-together gone horribly wrong.

You're tired of hearing about your colleague's dating life. You don't want to be pulled into any more conversations about who was the worst actor on "Friends." You don't want to have 10-minute debate about the best font for email.

But unlike bad family times where you can go to your bedroom and slam the door -- or at least get in your car and drive away -- you're stuck at work. You have to show up and do your job if you want to get paid (they're real sticklers about this).

So, how do you avoid some of the distractions that drive you mad without resorting to blocking your ears and humming the theme song from "Hawaii Five-O?"

Here's some things to try:

  • Turn your back. If possible, turn your work station so that your back is to the noisiest, most distracting colleagues. Better yet, put on headphones if the company allows it, and avoid making eye contact with anyone who passes by or sits near you. You'll become totally absorbed in your work -- or at least look like you're totally absorbed -- and it will be much more obvious if someone interrupts you. If they don't get the hint and stop interrupting you, say something like, "Oh, can I finish this thing first? I'm really on a roll and don't want to lose my train of thought." Or simply say, "I'm on a deadline with this and can't fall further behind. Can we catch up when I take a break?"
  • Follow up. Are you one of those people who says you'll call someone back -- and then doesn't do it? If you tell someone you'll reach out when you take a break -- and then use that break to check out Instagram instead -- then that person will call you again later. So, instead of talking to someone while you are free, you've pushed them into interrupting you again later.
  • Be respectful.  If you want people to honor your request to talk later, then you must do the same for them. When someone is obviously in the zone and diligently working, can your interruption wait? Or, can you possibly find the information on your own or wait until you have several questions that can be asked at one time? You will get more respect for your time if you show the same to others.
What are some other ways to set boundaries at work?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Do Others Have a Negative Opinion About You?

I've known many job candidates who cannot figure out why they didn't get the job after what they considered to be a great interview. I've also heard from workers who don't understand why they don't get a promotion after receiving good marks from their bosses.

Why do these people fail to get the job or the promotion? New research may explain the reason.

Zakary Tormala and Aaron Snyder of the Stanford Graduate School of Business say their study reveals that when people are considering the pros and cons of a decision, their ambivalence makes them less likely to take action or be persuaded by someone. They explain that even a bit of negative information -- outweighed by positive points -- can tip the scales toward the negative.

I think this certainly backs up the opinion of many career experts that you want to ensure your interviewer or your boss don't have any doubts about you when it comes to making a decision.

So, it's always smart to ask an interviewer: "Is there anything that concerns or confuses you about me or my skills or abilities that I can address?"

Or, with a boss, you can ask: "Is there anything concerning you about me or my ability to do the job?"

You want to make sure that you're there to turn those negative opinions into positive ones. Make sure you show how any stumbles you might have had make you a better job candidate or worker because you've grown from the experience and will be able to put your learning to good use for the company and the boss.

What are some other ways to address negative information about you?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Merit Pay Raises: Why They're More Popular and How to Get One

If you're counting on a pay raise for next year, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise.

That's because despite greater competition for workers and a steadier economy, employers are re-thinking just who should get a pay boost -- and why.

According to an Aon Hewitt survey of 1,062 companies, an average of 12.5% of payroll is targeted for incentive and bonus pay in 2018. Two-thirds of the employers surveyed report they will use merit pay to reward workers who are doing a good job or those who need to improve. But 40% of those same employers say they plan to trim or eliminate pay boosts for low performers.

Further, some companies are going to raise the bar for high performance, with 15% of organizations say they will set higher targets for bonuses and incentive pay.

While some employers will continue their standard 2% to 3% annual pay raises for all employees, it may only be a matter of time before more organizations start to tie all employee raises directly to performance.

The message is clear: If you want a pay raise every year, you're going to have to ensure you hit important targets and make sure your boss knows it.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you go to work every day:

  • Be part of money conversations. Any time money is discussed, whether it's how to bring in new business, budgeting for a new project or cutting inefficiencies to save money, you need to take part. It doesn't matter if you're part of a key development team or a customer-service representative, you grow in value the minute you can help your employer make money or save money.
  • Solve a problem. Companies like Uber and Netflix were born out of a desire to solve a problem (finding better ways to get a ride or rent movies) and that's the kind of attitude that can quickly propel you into pay bonus land. What is a problem you deal with every day that irks customers, slows down processes or makes life more difficult for your boss? Try proposing ways to solve those problems -- even if the idea may seem a bit outlandish -- and you'll be seen as someone who has the company's best interests at heart.
  • Start shaking hands. Get out from behind your computer or work station and get to know people in other departments. Ask them what they do and their biggest problems. Could you do something to help? Could you collaborate to develop a better process or project? Use the same process with customers. What problems do they face that you could solve in the long term? Begin asking "why" questions and listen carefully -- do you hear a common theme that could lead to new opportunities for your company?
While such strategies may not lead to a performance bonus overnight, it's a good investment of your time that will help your company and enable you to develop the kind of skills that will certainly help your career now and in the long run.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

How to Unleash Creativity in a Team

When asked to describe the personality of a scientist, some might revert to the Sheldon Cooper stereotype made popular on “The Big Bang Theory” and describe an anti-social, uncreative, analytical and somewhat dull personality.
But Lina Echeverria knows better. As an engineer and scientist with a PhD in geology and more than 30 years of experience as a scientist and a senior manager at Corning, she knows that scientists aren’t dull or uncreative. She knows scientists like to jitterbug. And cook. And collect butterflies.
It’s those more creative attributes of scientists and other workers, she says, that help drive innovation in an organization – and too many companies and leaders are ignoring them to the detriment of the bottom line.
When Echeverria was at Corning, she was known for constantly asking team members how they felt about things, whether it was a project or hobbies in their life. Such conversations often led her to a better understanding of how to help her team members stretch and grow. She learned that technicians – who loved to cook gourmet meals – don’t always have to be assigned to technical roles, and can fit better into a human-relations role.
“Your hobbies let you be unrestrained,” she says. “That’s the same flow of energy you need at work to be innovative. A manager’s job is to discover what you have to offer and then let you unleash it.”
She says she encourages team members “to bring (read more here)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Technology Must Stop Being "People of No"

George Westerman thinks that IT leaders need to realize it’s time to change “from a caterpillar into a butterfly.”
Westerman isn’t referring to a change in wardrobe, but rather an evolution of IT leaders’ attitudes and actions.
“The market is moving so fast. Customer and employee expectations are changing so fast. If you do the incremental stuff, you’re going to be left behind,” says Westerman, a research scientist at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy.
Westerman has spent much of the last decade pushing for IT managers to become senior partners in the business, to put behind them the “people of no” reputation that gets them shut out of innovation discussions.
“The first step is to stop talking like someone you wouldn’t want to talk to,” he says. “The next step is to start offering substantive solutions and delivering on those solutions.”
The best way to do that, he advises IT leaders, is to keep the conversation focused on value. That means doing “the right things at the right price at the right level of quality” and then moving into determining “how each project can deliver more value and more strategic power.”
Just a decade ago, the CIO was not generally regarded as a strategic leader, and there was a clear lack of IT and business alignment, finds the 2017 Global Digital IQ Survey by PwC. But the huge shift toward digital means that CEOs have embraced it as part of their mandate, the report finds, and technology is seen as a critical component to the business strategy as well as the business operations.
“I think increasingly the senior teams are tired of having technology people who are just technology people. They are really looking for technology people who understand where the business is going and help the business get there,” Westerman says.
That means that if a technology person wants to be involved in business (read more here)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Skill You Must Have No Matter Your Job

Many people believe that if they just get that college degree or industry certification, they will have no trouble finding a job.

They also believe that once they get their foot in the door, then they will continue to climb the ladder if they work hard.

If you believe the same, you are wrong.

Today, employers are looking for more than someone to write code or deal with customers. They are looking for those employees who show a greater awareness of how their behavior and interactions with others also impacts the bottom line.

Often referred to as "soft skills," employers want workers who know how to interact well with others, who won't act like buttheads and who can empathize with customers and colleagues. The reason for this emphasis on soft skills isn't just about being a nicer person -- your behavior is seen as a direct impact on a company's success. If you can't collaborate with others or get along with vendors or customers, then you're going to adversely affect a company's ability to be more innovative and competitive.

I don't care where you are in your career -- trying to get your first professional job or a seasoned worker with two decades of experience -- soft skills are critical if you want to get a job, keep a job or rise in the ranks of your company. Without such skills, be prepared to earn less, get less interesting assignments and possibly be forced out the door in favor of someone who does have soft skills.

Soft skills don't just happen overnight. You have to work on them every day, and be committed to making them just as important as your other job skills. Some things to focus on:

  • Seek out people who are different from you. It's easy to get along with people who work and act -- and even dress -- like you. But the only way to develop your interpersonal skills is to challenge yourself. Ask someone you don't know well -- or have clashed with in the past -- to have coffee or lunch. Spend time getting to know the person, and you will find yourself stretching your emotional boundaries in ways that will help you grow in your soft skills.
  • Be more positive. Maybe you don't look at the world with rose-colored glasses, and may even look down upon those who do. But who do you think is getting along better with customers and colleagues? Would it be you -- who rarely smiles, who gets impatient quickly and doesn't even say "good morning" -- or the person who is always friendly  and has a smile for others? Having a positive outlook not helps you get along better with your co-workers, but makes it easier for your boss to see you as having the right soft skills to take on big projects.
  • Breathe. Work can be stressful, no matter your job or title. That's why you may fire off a terse email to a co-worker than makes you sound like a real a**hole. Or, you ignore an invitation to lunch with some colleagues because you've got too much to do. Maybe you don't tell a co-worker you're sorry her cat died because, well, you've got problems, too! OK, it's time to take a deep breath. Wait a a while before you write that email. Go to lunch with your teammates and share some chicken wings and a laugh. Show a co-worker who has lost a beloved pet that you're not so self-absorbed that you don't recognize sorrow. Simply by taking time to breath before you act like a jerk can help you develop better soft skills.
Finally, soft skills aren't just something that will pay off for your career. You will also reap the benefits personally by developing deeper, more meaningful relationships that will help you see that you're not just a cog in the wheel -- you're someone who makes a difference in the lives of others. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Biggest Mistake You're Making With Data

“In God we trust. All others must bring data.” – W. Edwards Deming.

Deming died in 1993, but the oft-quoted statistician and quality management guru’s words still ring true in today’s competitive environment where data is gaining more importance in business dealings.
Specifically, it’s estimated by IDC that worldwide revenues for big data and business analytics will hit $203 billion in 2020, a significant jump from the $130.1 billion spent last year. That nearly 12% annual growth reflects the business shift toward data-driven decisions and the increasing availability of data.
But while businesses are showing no hesitation in beefing up data warehouses, does anyone really know what to do with all that data to make money now with what they currently possess?
Andrew Wells, CEO of Aspirent and co-author of “Monetizing Your Data: A Guide to Turning Data Into Profit-Driving Strategies and Solutions” with Kathy Williams Chiang, believes too many companies do not.
The problem, he says, is that company leaders are issuing the wrong instructions to data scientists.
“In the old era of analytics, the analytics were clustered around the question,” Wells says. “The question helped you describe what was going on in the business.”
Today, leaders should instead make a decision—such as redesigning a website – and then collect the data to see if that’s a viable option or will cost too much money.
“A decision is actionable. It’s what you go do. So, you center your analytics (read more here)