Monday, October 30, 2017

If You Don't Learn to Delegate, Your Career Will Stagnate

Many people believe that only bosses get to delegate, but that's a belief that can hurt your career.

If you don't learn to delegate -- even in the early stages of your career -- then you're not using your abilities to the greatest advantage for you and for your employer.

You may believe that delegating isn't worth it. You would rather do the work yourself than go through the hassle of teaching someone else how to do it, or you believe the other person will screw it up so it's better if you just stick with it. Perhaps you've even had one or two bad experiences with delegating, so you vow never to do it again.

The problem is that delegating is a skill, and needs to be developed if you want to move up in the ranks at work. If you're not successful at delegating, then that means you're getting bogged down in tasks that can keep you from getting a big project or a promotion. Your career begins to stagnate under work that should be done by someone else, and soon you get a reputation as someone who is too afraid or to unskilled to take on new challenges.

When considering what you can delegate, make a list of your priorities for the week in order of importance to your boss. Then, make a list of what you need to get done in a week. When you compare the two lists, you'll note you have many more items on your list -- and those are the ones that you should think about delegating. If those jobs aren't important priorities for your boss, then you need to start re-thinking the time and effort you give to those tasks.

Now, this is when it gets tricky for people. How to delegate? Who should you ask?

Here are some things to consider:

1. Fit. When you need to delegate a task, why do you need to delegate it to that specific person? If it's because this colleague will stay until 10 p.m. to make sure it's done right, that's not a good enough reason. That's just you dumping work on someone. But if the task requires using an Excel spreadsheet -- and there's another employee who doesn't have much experience in that area -- then you're offering that colleague a chance to grow his or her skills.
2. Commitment. A lot of people don't realize that the reason their delegation attempts haven't worked in the past is because they are lousy delegators. They delegated the task and then just walked away after a brief explanation of the work. If you want delegating to be successful, you have to make the commitment to be clear with instructions (putting things in writing is always very helpful) and being available should questions arise. You're not there to hover over the work, but in the beginning you need to be available -- and welcoming -- of questions or concerns.
3. Enthusiasm. "Jerry, can you get these reports entered into the system? This is the suckiest job, but I really need to move onto something else," you say. Gee, who wouldn't want to jump in and help with such an exciting request? Instead, say something like, "Jerry, I know you've been trying to get more training time on this software, and I believe I've come up with something that can help both of us. I can help you become more fluent on this system if you can enter these numbers for me. I'll be right here if you have any questions, but this is certainly something that helped me become more confident using this system." This way, you're not overselling the task, but you're pointing out the advantage for your colleague -- a critical step in forming a positive delegating relationship.

As you progress through your career, you should always reassess what makes you the most effective and the best ways to use your skills. Learning to delegate -- for the right reasons -- is a critical ability that will make you more productive.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

How to Avoid Being Blindsided in Your Career

I've written before about how to know when your job is in trouble: The boss avoids you, there are meetings that you used to attend that are now excluding you and your job duties are being trimmed.

The story, "How to Know When You're on Thin Ice at Work," in today's Wall Street Journal covers much of this in its reporting, but I think more discussion is needed of how to avoid having your job yanked out from under you.

Specifically, "I have your back" colleagues.

You may already have these people in your career, although it's sort of unofficial. These are the people who let you know when something is happening that could affect your job or your boss. Or, they are from outside the organization, and meet you for coffee to discuss job strategy or are ready to congratulate you on a success at work.

These people are loyal to you  -- but they're also willing to let you know when they think you're going down the wrong path or aren't spotting signs you might be in trouble.

Let me give you an example: A young manager I know told me on three separate occasions about how his direct supervisor would always make snarky comments about this young manager's flexible work arrangement. The direct supervisor had approved the schedule (the young manager was training for a marathon), so the young manager just saw these snarky comments as "kidding around."

"The first time is 'kidding around,'" I told him. "Maybe even the second time. But a third time? He's taking a direct shot at you and you need to talk to him face-to-face about it."

The young manager procrastinated a bit, claiming each time I saw him that the supervisor was just "that kind of guy."

But then a big promotion opportunity came up, and the supervisor didn't back the young manager's quest for it.

The young manager was upset by the supervisor's lack of support. He finally decided he needed to sit down and chat with the supervisor.

It turns out that the supervisor was under increasing pressure from his boss. He was being asked to do more with less, and he saw the young manager as "clueless" and "not caring" that he was having to work more to make up for the young manager not being around on a fixed schedule.

The supervisor saw the young manager as disloyal, a bit lazy and self-centered.

Unfortunately, the young manager didn't react quickly enough to the signs from the supervisor that concerned me earlier, and he was basically forced out of that company within six months.

As the WSJ story points out, sometimes we think we're a bit too special. We think we're doing a great job and don't see the signs that others are becoming disillusioned with us.

That's why "I've got your back" people are so important. They're going to lift you up when you need it, and give you a swift kick in the "get a clue" area when you need it.

No matter where you are in your career, look for at least three to five people you can count on to be honest with you and have your best interests at heart. Be willing to fill that role for them, as well.

These people are you own personal board of directors. They do not have to be friends, although you will probably become friendly over time.

This board looks at the facts, considers the options and provides their best assessment of what they think is happening and how you should react. By having several people whom you respect on the board, you can form a better plan of how to make smarter career decisions -- and avoid skating on thin ice.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Why You Think You're Prepared to Job Hunt -- But You're Really Not

I recently was interviewed on a podcast, "Find Your Dream Job." You can find the full transcript here, but I'm including some of it now....

Mac Prichard:
Now our topic this week is about the importance of preparation in a job search. When you and I chatted before the program, you were saying this was the one thing people have to do in a job search. What do you mean by preparation, Anita? Why is it so important?
Anita Bruzzese:
Well, I think there’s a couple of scenarios. Sometimes, people are unexpectedly looking for a job. They get laid off or there’s a merger, or there’s something that happens. So in a panic, they just start sending out resumes right and left. Just whoever is online that they can find the address for. They send out resumes. The other thing is, they’re kind of wishy washy about their job search, and they’re not quite sure. Maybe they just want to see what’s out there, they’re not real enthusiastic about it. So those kind of things really set people up to fail because they’re job searching without giving it a lot of thought.
Mac Prichard:
So, what kind of difference can preparation make? Because let’s go back to that second scenario, someone who, they just want to test the water. Why is that a bad thing, Anita?
Anita Bruzzese:
Yeah. Well, I’ll give you an example. I sit on the board of a nonprofit and we were recently advertising for a position. This is not a nonprofit that’s run by Microsoft, it doesn’t have a lot of money. It was advertising for a position and we had resumes come in, and we had resumes from people three thousand miles away who didn’t really even have the qualifications. If you looked at the job, you could tell this was not a nonprofit with a lot of money to pay. I’m not really sure what these people thought they were doing. It wasn’t like we were going to be able to fly them in to interview them. We would not be able to pay any moving costs. They really didn’t have the qualifications to apply.
So that’s kind of what I’m saying. I’ve even talked to law firms where people have applied for the position of lawyer and they do not have a law degree. So that’s why I think a lot of times people just get into this mindset where they’re just going to cast this really wide net and just see what happens. That’s probably one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Because you’re going into it totally unprepared. If I called you from the law firm and said, “Alright, where did you get your law degree from?”, and you have no law degree, what are you going to say?
It’s a ridiculous waste of time and effort.
Mac Prichard:
What would you say to people, and I’m making a guess here, but I imagine people who send that resume from three thousand miles away and think, “Who knows? Maybe lightning will strike. I could do that job or I could learn how to do it. Why shouldn’t I apply?” What would you say to somebody like that, Anita?
Anita Bruzzese:
Because I think that job searches are draining. There’s a reason they say that a job search is a job in itself. It requires a lot of focus, it requires a lot of energy. If you’re going to do it, why not put a hundred percent of your effort into something that you really want, or that really interests you, or that you’re qualified for, instead of casting this wide net and just hoping lightning strikes, and you might get something. I think that you’ll get defeated really quickly.
So one reason or another, you start losing your enthusiasm, and you don’t put a lot of effort into your job search. Let me give you another example.
The other day I was talking to an executive with a healthcare company. He said he just got a cover letter, now keep in mind he’s with a healthcare company, but the person says, “I would really like to work for the port of New Orleans. I really like New Orleans.” Number one, the job was not in New Orleans. It was not with the port of New Orleans. But this person was obviously unfocused, not making a real effort in this job search.
Why do that to yourself and an employer? If you’re not enthusiastic about the job when you’re applying for it, you’re certainly not going to be enthusiastic when they call you for an interview, if you even get that far. So I think it’s a real waste of the energy that you’re going to need to conduct a successful job search.
Mac Prichard:
Well let’s talk about the preparation that people should do before...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Tips for Being Happier at Work

Are you happy with your job?

There have been times I've loved my job, but didn't like the company where I worked. Or I liked the job, but thought my boss was a lunatic.

I know people who thought they would love their job once they reached a certain job title, or got the big office or made a certain amount of money. In some cases, these people seemed content once they reached such goals. In other cases, I saw that people were still not happy in their jobs no matter how much money they made or how big the title.

I think part of the problem with our careers is that we often don't stop to think about what makes us happy at work. In our private lives, I think we spend more time considering what makes us happy, whether it's pursuing a hobby or being with our families.

I don't think my parents ever liked their jobs. They used to say "it's a job," meaning that it was a paycheck and a way to put food on the table and save for retirement.

While I think younger workers like to think they are choosing jobs that make them happy, I know from talking to many of them that they've taken jobs because it paid the rent or helped them pay off student loans. Are they happy? Or do they wish they were doing something else?

Does all this mean that no one ever gets a job that makes them happy? No. I have also spoken with people who can't wait to get to work every day, and say they would do the job for free (personally, I doubt this).

But I do believe that many people try to get jobs that are not going to make them happy. They get stuck in companies that they don't like. They find themselves doing work that they don't care about one bit.

The solution, I believe, is to do a more careful assessment of what can make you happy and then assessing the kinds of jobs and companies where you will find that joy. Here are some things to consider:

  • Make a difference. First, let me say that every job makes a difference. While you may believe that being a firefighter or a teacher or a zombie fighter are the only jobs that really matter to the world, you would be wrong. For example, let's take a janitor. Without the janitor helping maintain order and cleanliness in a company, people could be in danger. They could slip in bathrooms that have wet towels on the floor or lose critical information in a pile of trash. The key is that you should be able to identify how your job -- or your company -- makes a difference. That will help increase your sense of satisfaction and happiness. If the janitor works for a medical research company, for example, he's helping even more people because his diligence in keeping areas safe and clean and that will mean that medical researchers will be better able to do life-saving projects.
  • Find common bonds. When interviewing for a job, look around at the employees. Can you see that one worker obviously loves soccer (his cubicle is adorned with soccer memorabilia). If you love soccer, then already this is someone you can connect with on a level beyond just the job. Does the company do fundraisers for the local animal shelter? Is this something you care about? This would be another way to deepen the connections you feel at work. The point is that when you can form more personal connections at work -- even develop new friendships -- you will be happier. 
  • Look inside.  Are you possibly making yourself more miserable than is necessary? What I mean by this is that sometimes we decide we're unhappy in our job, so we start cutting ourselves off from others. We take lunch alone. We stay away from group gatherings. We only communicate when absolutely necessary. Those actions only serve to make you more unhappy, when if  you just opened up a little bit you could find support among your colleagues -- or even the boss who wants you to be more content and engaged.

What are some ways you have found to make yourself happier on the job?

Monday, October 16, 2017

Why Companies Must Foster "Constructive Conflict"

In today’s tumultuous world, many people will call themselves grateful if they have a peaceful, harmonious workplace.
But Jeff DeGraff, whose advice has been sought by business innovators such as Microsoft, General Electric and Pfizer, says the problem with a placid workplace is that it’s an innovation killer. Too many workers getting along because they all think alike – or don’t want to upset the status quo – isn’t the way to generate new processes and products.
“The death of innovation is apathy,” says DeGraff, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. “One of the first signs is that people won’t engage in different ideas – they go along with the company line.”
That doesn’t mean that companies should encourage employees to go at one another tooth and nail. But it is important that teams have members with different personalities, cultures and ideas to keep creative juices flowing and prevent companies from getting in a rut.
The proof that such a strategy works is that there are “about 30 places on the planet that produce the most intellectual property and what they all have in common is an extremely diverse workforce,” he says.
DeGraff promotes the idea that it’s critical to stir the workplace pot, as evidenced from the title of his new book, “The Innovation code: The Creative Power of Constructive Conflict.” At the same time, he stresses that he doesn’t want chaos to be never-ending.
It’s “constructive conflict,” he says, that is the most valuable, an atmosphere (read more here)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Vocal Habits That Like, Hurt, Like, Your Career

Vocal fry. Upspeak. Like, you know, those things are so, like, annoying?

In recent comments about whether or not "vocal fry" hurts women in the workplace, readers weighed in on the story and said that yes, it does drive them crazy. (If you don't know what "vocal fry" is, think of Kim Kardashian and the way she sort of growls and gasps out the end of her sentences.)

But readers also went on to complain about upspeak (the voice rising at the end of a declarative sentence as if it's a question. "I went to work? And got a lot done?") and the overuse of the word "like."

"I, like, went to the mall? And, like, I couldn't, like, finding a parking space? And I'm like, so, like, frustrated?"

There was also some debate about whether these speaking habits hurt women more than men.  Are women judged more unfairly for such irritating speaking habits? Possibly -- even though I find such speaking habits annoying whether it's a man or a woman.

Here's what I do know: Communication in the workplace is a constant landmine and is probably one of the biggest causes of careers going off the rails. If you don't consistently communicate well, then all your other skills will not be as appreciated or utilized.

We always need to work to improve what we say, when we say it and how we say it. Upspeak makes you sound unsure, even if you're the CEO of a company. Vocal fry makes you sound like Valley Girl 2017, more suited for planning the prom than a big international project. Using "like" constantly makes it sound as if you're afraid to state your opinion or ideas and are hedging your bets by using "like" instead of being definitive.

You may not even realize you've developed some of these habits. I know that "like" has become part of my vocabulary, and I'm determined to eradicate it. It won't be easy, but I'm taking it one conversation at a time and trying to speak more deliberately until I can break the habit.

My advice is to record your own voice when speaking to others, to try and spot bad vocal habits. Ask friends or family if you say "um" or "you know" or "literally" too much. Learning to speak more clearly and concisely is a great investment in your career -- and can prevent your voice from getting fried.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Why You Cannot Neglect Emotional Intelligence if You Want to Be Successful

Anthony Mersino was 39-years-old and had already been a successful project manager for more than 17 years when a therapist asked him: “Do you have any idea how dangerous it is not to be in touch with your feelings?”
That was 16 years ago, and Mersino recalls that at the time he couldn’t fathom why it was dangerous not to make a connection with his emotions – but he soon learned and now spends time advising other professionals to do the same.
“The more I talk to people, the more I find others who grew up in ways that they didn’t learn to be in touch with their emotions as a child, or stuffed those feelings down,” he says.
The result, he says, is professionals such as project managers who alienate others with their lack of empathy or emotional awareness and end up hurting their careers and the bottom line of their companies.
Still, Mersino says developing emotional intelligence isn’t a quick fix, and he’s living proof.
“It’s still something I struggle with,” Mersino says. “Even this week I was feeling nervous about a meeting and for some reason I made a joke at someone else’s expense – someone I get along with.”
Mersino says that when the therapist began coaching him on emotional intelligence more than (read more here)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Why Companies Need to Address Loneliness

I don't know about you, but I've had jobs that made me leap out of bed every day, feeling so lucky to be going to work.

But I've had horrible jobs, too. You know those jobs that cause you on Sunday night to start dreading Monday? I've been there. In fact, I hated a couple of jobs so bad I started getting depressed on Saturday night.

I also remember the feeling of isolation I had in those jobs. I began to withdraw more and more from my colleagues, often eating my lunch alone in a park or keeping to myself when other people were chatting around the coffee pot.

I recently read a new study in Harvard Business Review that may explain why I hated those jobs so much. It wasn't just that I didn't really like what I was doing and the boss was a butthead. I think a large part of my problem was that I was lonely. I felt no connection to the boss or my colleagues, and it just made the situation worse for me.

Could I have become less miserable in these jobs if I had been less lonely? The study says "yes."

The study finds that just as you can "start an exercise regimen to lose weight, gain strength, or improve your health, you can combat loneliness through exercises that build emotional strength and resilience."

The study was based on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the "alarming" number or soldiers who returned home and had adverse outcomes, including suicide. Many soldiers, it was found, were struggling with loneliness.

In response, the U.S. Army developed a program focused on social resilience and social fitness, a strategy that paid off with soldiers reporting they were less lonely and simply felt better about life after receiving the training.

Researchers believe that workplaces can reap the same benefits. If workers are taught how to develop greater emotional strength and resilience, they can become less lonely and happier at work.

"It's time for managers to turn their focus from traditional structural inventions that are designed to reduce social isolation -- such as mandatory social activities at work or specialized workspace design efforts -- which studies have shown are less effective," researchers say.

Their recommendation for an entry-level social fitness class includes disconnecting online and connecting with someone in person; doing small favors for someone else; taking opportunities to work with others; and asking questions to engage others.

Finally, there is one step that each of us can take today to boost our well-being at work. Just say "hello" to a friend, colleague or a stranger.

"It"s a cliche, but it's true: We are social creatures," researchers say. "We have a social muscle. The more we exercise it, the healthier we'll all be."

Monday, October 2, 2017

4 Ways to Avoid Working With Jerks

The good news is that as the job market improves, more workers are able to leave jobs -- or bosses -- that make them miserable.

The bad news is that some are taking jobs that are going to make them just as miserable in a very short amount of time.

What happens is that many people believe that once they leave a jerk behind in their old workplace, things will be great. They'll work with people they like or they won't have to put up with a jerk boss.

It would be great if that were true. But even in the best companies, there are jerks and a**hole bosses. There might not be as many -- but you can bet they're lurking among the cubicles.

If you're looking for a new job -- or even thinking of jumping to a new department in your current company -- there are some ways you can figure out if you're about to take a job with another jerk and be just as miserable.

Here are some things you need to think about:

  • Your initial visit. When you interview with a company or department for the first time, are you treated with respect? For example, are you kept waiting for an hour and then no apology is offered as to why your interviewer was late? Does a receptionist or another employee smile at you, or ask if you need assistance in some way? Do other employees greet one another by name, smile at one another or walk like zombies through the hallways? The key is to see that employees seem comfortable with one another and are engaged enough to want to reach out and try to help someone else.
  • Body language. Do employees you speak with tense up when you start asking about the boss? Do they refuse to make eye contact when they talk about his or her management style? Does the interviewer quickly change the subject when discussing the boss? These are all caution flags that may indicate the boss isn't well liked or respected.
  • Ask questions. Interviews are not a one-way street. If you really want to see if a workplace is a good fit, don't ask questions like, "What do you do if someone is a bully?" The standard human resource line will be that such a person isn't tolerated, blah, blah, blah. What you really want to do is ask something like, "Let's say that a client makes a mistake in a delivery date, but blames one of your employees. The client says he will take his business elsewhere and really starts ranting against that employee. What would you do?" Listen carefully as to what will be done. If it turns out later that that the employee really did make the mistake -- what will happen? How does management handle mistakes by employees? How does management deal with such volatile situations? If the boss or the interviewer stammer around without a good answer, then that may be a clue they don't handle such situations well or at least not in a thoughtful, fair way.
  • Check social media. Potential employers use social media to check on you -- why not do the same? Look at what company employees post -- are they obviously unhappy people? Or, do they seem engaged in their work? Does the boss post thoughtful essays on LinkedIn or the company blog? What about podcasts? Was the boss interviewed so you can gain more insight into his or her thinking?
The point is that if you don't want to trade in one awful workplace for another, you need to take more responsibility for ensuring that you've done your due diligence in checking out the jerk factor.