Monday, July 29, 2019

Study Finds the 3 Actions Taken by the Most Productive Managers

It's a familiar complaint among managers: They aren't as productive as they would like to be because they're constantly interrupted by the demands of others. They have to solve problems that seem to crop up constantly, they are required to attend endless meetings and their own bosses seem to need them for something several times a day.

Now a new study of 20,000 managers on six continents by Robert Pozen, senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, sheds some light on how some managers are more productive than others.

Among the findings about the most productive leaders:

1. They base their work on their top priorities and then take action based on those stated objectives.

2. They develop techniques that are the most effective in managing a great deal of information and tasks.

3. They know the needs of their colleagues, which leads to shorter meetings, better communications and clearer directions.

Based on those findings, Pozen recommends:

  • Every night, revise your next day’s schedule to stress your top priorities. Decide your purpose for reading any lengthy material, before you start.
  •  Skip over 50-80 percent of your emails based on the sender and the subject. Break large projects into small steps — and start with step one.
  •  Limit any meeting to 90 minutes or less and end each meeting with clearly defined next steps. Agree on success metrics with your team.

Monday, July 22, 2019

10 Signs Your Best Employee is About to Quit

When you're the boss, there are days when your life seems like one big dumpster fire. Then, there are the days when it feels like everything is going right and you and your team can take on the world.

Those take-on-the-world days happen because you have a great team, right? Or, at least you have a mostly great team. Your superstars seem to always come through, whether it's pulling a late night to get a project done or coming up with a brilliant new idea to keep a valued customer.

Where would you be without your superstars?

Fighting a dumpster fire every day? Perhaps. Without them, your victories might be few and far between, and your job would be much more difficult.

That's why you always need to be taking the pulse of valuable team members. Are they happy? Do they feel challenged? Appreciated?

If you're not sure, you better find out pretty quick before they walk out the door and take all their superpowers with them. Here are some signs that your most valued employees may be a bit unhappy:

1. Arriving late, leaving early.

2. Seems to call in sick a lot on Fridays. Or Mondays.

3. Hunkers down at his or her workstation like it's a foxhole. Shuns any attempts at conversation with colleagues. Wears headphones even in the bathroom.

4. Eats alone more than usual. Finds an excuse not to join group lunches or coffee runs. Takes lunches at odd times (may be a sign he or she is interviewing somewhere.)

5. Becomes very active on LinkedIn, starts a professional blog or adds tons of new connections via Twitter.

6. Dresses better. This could be a sign that the employee is interviewing somewhere or networking to find another job. Even an updated hoodie and new sneakers should be taken as a warning sign.

7. Late on work assignments. An employee who delays starting an assignment and seems to be missing more and more deadlines could be an indication the employee is no longer engaged and has checked out mentally.

8. Sleepwalking through meetings. All of us zone out from time to time in meetings, so look for behavior that shows the employee not only isn't paying attention -- but doesn't care if anyone knows about it.

9. Very interested in conferences or seminars. An employee who is suddenly gung-ho on such activities may be looking for a way to pass out his or her resume and make industry connections.

10. Whining. Most bosses put up with some whining from all employees, but a superstar doesn't get to be a superstar by whining a lot. When a superstar starts to whine, it's time to figure out what's going on before he or she walks out the door.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Best Way to Answer Questions About Strengths, Weaknesses

What are your strengths?

What are your weaknesses?

These are two very common questions asked in job interviews, and they should catch no job seeker off guard if they've prepared their answers.

The problem for many applicants is that those answers aren't very good ones. They may be something like, "Oh, my greatest weakness is that I work too hard." (Internal eye roll from the hiring manager.) Or: "My greatest strength is that I love people." (Another internal eye roll from the hiring manager.)

There's nothing horrible about such answers, and they may even be true. But such answers don't really tell the hiring manager anything about you, and may even turn her off enough with the triteness of the responses to eliminate you from consideration.

When a hiring manager asks you about your strengths and weaknesses, here are some do's and don'ts:

  • Do tell a story. People remember stories, especially those that have an emotional element. Craft your "strengths and weaknesses" around a (concise) story that will make it more memorable and give it greater impact for the hiring manager.
  • Don't lie. There's no reason to craft some fake story worthy of a television mini-series. All of us have our own battles to fight and our own victories to claim. It may take some internal digging, but you'll find those stories. When they come from a place of truth, they will have the necessary impact.
  • Do emphasize what you learned. More employers are looking for employees with emotional intelligence -- an ability to show empathy to others -- so always try to show how you've grown as a person and a professional when citing your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Don't go overboard. Bringing up your strengths and weaknesses may touch a nerve with you, but don't let it get out of hand. Don't start swearing, getting teary-eyed or become angry. The employer wants to see someone who can clearly look at strengths and weaknesses and express them professionally and honestly without losing control.
Citing your strengths and weaknesses should show the employer how you've grown as a person and a professional. Whether it was learning how to play fair and stand up for yourself after being bullied on the playground or finding that your strength comes from helping others overcome obstacles at work, everyone has a unique story to tell. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

Do This One Thing to Ensure You Always Have a Job

Amazon recently announced that it plans to spend $700 million to retrain 100,000 employees in an effort to help its workforce adapt to a world using more automation and new technology.

Retraining will focus on moving more employees into tech-savvy roles. Still, not everyone is offering praise for the move. Critics contend that Amazon is only dealing with a problem that it created in the first place.

For me, the key is that Amazon is sending a message loud and clear that if you want to survive in the working world, then you must always be evolving. Just because you have a good job right now or a rewarding career that you love doesn't mean that it will be there in five years -- or even next year.

The best way to stay ahead of layoffs and job elimination is to always be learning.

"All of us — when we were growing up — made a linear progression from learning at schools to working. We will now have to move to a continuum of lifelong learning, which means we have to be lifelong learners. You have to learn to learn, learn to unlearn, and learn to re-learn. For an individual to imbibe that culture of being on that learning curve for a lifetime is a big switch," says Infosys president Ravi Kumar.

Here are some tips for being a lifelong learner from “Awaken the Genius Within—A Guide to Lifelong Learning Skills” by Samuel A. Malone using the acronym "PRACTICED":
  • Priority. Set aside at least half an hour a day to build up that knowledge or skill in the area of expertise that you need to acquire. Nothing will happen unless you make it happen and put in the effort.
  • Reflect. Think deeply about what you have learned. Build review periods into your learning so you do not forget. Information is quickly forgotten unless reviewed, and skills fall into decay unless practiced. Observe how others learn, and model the behavior of the best learners. Listen to what people have to say, and look for feedback on your performance and behavior. Don’t take criticism personally as it may point to your shortcomings and a way of learning from your mistakes. 
  • Action learning. We learn best by doing things, and we acquire skill by doing things over and over again. Most skills take a considerable amount of time to acquire and perfect. 
  • Curiosity. The secret of genius is to carry the wonderment of childhood into adulthood. We should be inquisitive and ask questions such as how, what, and why all the time. 
  • Teach. A great way of learning is to teach others as it consolidates and reinforces our knowledge. We can do this by showing other people how to do things, and by demonstrating, coaching, and mentoring. Mentoring can be a great source of informal and non-threatening support. 
  • Insight. Discovery consists of looking at the same things as everybody else but seeing something different. People who make great discoveries by chance have the judgment and persistence to pursue the idea to fruition.
  • Concentration. We must develop powers of concentration if we want to learn and excel. Having goals, listening attentively, dealing with distractions effectively, and practicing the technique of mental rehearsal are just some of the ways you can improve your concentration. In addition, good self-belief and a positive attitude will help you stay focused.
  • Exercise and nutrition. Physical exercise induces the body to produce an array of chemicals that the brain and, indeed, the heart love. The brain, as well as the body, thrives on oxygen and proper nutrition. The brain needs a nutritious diet to survive and thrive. 
  • Different learning styles. There are different learning styles, but most of us use a combination of these.  One method is VAT, which stands for visual, audial and tactile, which means we learn by seeing, hearing, and doing. Another classification is activist, reflector, theorist and pragmatist, which means we do something, think about it, understand it, and then based on our understanding, we may do it differently. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Dear Employers: It's Time to Stop Treating Applicants Like Crap

I was not surprised 10 years ago when many job applicants told me of their frustration when employers refused to even acknowledge their applications or let them know where they stood in the interview process.

At that time, there were way more workers than available jobs, and the employers held all the cards. So, many ignored the polite follow-up emails from interviewees, and scoffed at the thought of sending a "thank you for your application" note.

But it seems that such poor behavior is still happening. I know this first hand -- I heard two such stories from job applicants in the last month. My response has always been that perhaps the applicants dodged a bullet. After all, any employer who treats potential employees so poorly would likely not be great to work for, right?

Still, the applicants (they also had interviews) expressed frustration at the process. Why ignore their calls and emails? Would it be so difficult to simply say, "we've chosen someone else," or "we've decided to suspend the process for a few months" ?

A Wall Street Journal story points out that some hiring managers may fear they'll say something wrong to candidates when telling them they didn't get the job, fearing legal consequences.

I may buy this is some rare instances, but couldn't they get a script from the legal department so that they stay out of legal hot water?

It's time employers shaped up. They need to behave professionally to all applicants. After all, they make job seekers jump through so many hoops, it's time they put in the same effort. Here's some suggestions from the WSJ story:

  •  Make sure your job postings accurately describe the openings.
  • Acknowledge applicants’ resumes soon after they’re received.
  • Train hiring managers to treat all applicants well.
  • Keep candidates informed about where they stand.
  • Let applicants know if you change course in the middle of a search.
  • Leave the losers as well as the winners with a positive image of the company.

Monday, July 8, 2019

5 Ways to Return From Vacation and Not Be Totally Bummed

I've been away from my office for about 10 days for a work conference and some vacation time.

Over the years, I've interviewed many experts on how to return to work from time away without feeling completely overwhelmed and even a little depressed. Combined with my own experience, I put together some suggestions on how you can return from vacation without having a complete meltdown.

Some suggestions:

1. Check in with colleagues. If someone covered for you, immediately send an email or talk to the person directly to offer a sincere thank-you. Ask about any problems or concerns that need to be addressed today. What can wait until tomorrow or even later in the week? Don't try to solve all problems today -- prioritize what can wait or you're quickly going to be overwhelmed.

2. Revisit your calendar. What's on tap for this week? If you've got meetings your first day back, quickly review emails or other notes so that you refresh your memory about key issues. The same thing applies if you've got conference calls or one-on-one time with your boss or team members.

3. Set mini deadlines. The great thing about vacations is the lack of deadlines and the feeling that your time truly is your own. But when you return to work, you're faced with new deadlines that can quickly weigh you down. Instead, set mini-deadlines that won't seem so overwhelming. For example, set a timer for 15 minutes and use that time to go through your emails. This will get you to quickly delete junk mail, file "to read later" items and prioritize critical emails. Once the timer goes off, take a break. Go get a cup or coffee or put on music that reminds you of your vacation. Dividing your day up into smaller chunks will help ease you back into your work demands.

4. Stick with your good habits. If you've always sat at your desk and eaten lunch while watching YouTube or going through emails, that's a habit you probably broke while on vacation. What did you do instead? Perhaps savor your lunch or people watch or just sit quietly and breathe? Those are the things that you should not abandon and will help you strike a better balance in your life. Hang onto those vacation habits.

5. Don't whine. I've noticed that I can start to get a bit cranky when I first return from vacation. The office is too loud. The traffic is horrible. I've learned that instead of whining about such things, I instead try to remember favorite times from my vacation -- that evening by the lake when the sunset was perfect, the time spent laughing with family and even that little diner with great pancakes. When you start whining about your the realities of life, then you push yourself further away from those wonderful vacation memories. Focus on what you gained from your time away, and refuse to let it be diminished by dumb stuff.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

It's Time to Complain

Conscious complaining.

This isn't a term that I was familiar with until I found it in Pamela McLean's new book, "Self as Coach, Self as Leader: Developing the Best in You to Develop the Best in Others."

In the book, she relates how a colleague urged her to do some conscious complaining after McLean was feeling greatly challenged while recovering from a fractured spine.

"For three months, all of my routines had come to an abrupt stop in order to accommodate complete recovery," she writes. "The whole scenario required a dramatically slowed pace."

The colleague suggested it was time that McLean voice her frustrations, so she did. Complaints ranged from only being able to sleep on her back to not being able to drive to not being able to exercise.

"The list was much longer than I realized and I was surprised by how much better I felt when I acknowledged my list of feelings in the form of small complaints," she writes.

Sometimes at work we're supposed to always have a gung-ho attitude, full of energy and enthusiasm. But, honestly, the broken coffee pot, the squeaky office chair of a colleague and the fact that you have to wear a tie to work every day is just wearing you down.

So, get together with a trusted friend or family member and have at it. Whether you want to call it conscious complaining or a good old-fashioned bitch session, get it all out. Like McLean, you may find you feel a whole lot better.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Why Others Consider Your Email Response to Be Rude

"Far too many poor decisions rest on knee-jerk responses. Don't let fast emails become the enemy of good decisions."

This is some of the advice in Dianna Booher's new book, "Faster, Fewer, Better Emails."

Booher addresses how some emails are too long -- and how some are too short. I think we all know the problem with long emails, but can you be too brief?

Booher says yes.

She cites the boss who emails the project team to ask for their input on a problem.

The first person to respond to the message supplies a "half-baked idea" and hits "reply all."

That leads to other busy team members replying with "sounds good to me" or "I'm okay with that."

"And before you know it, the inclination for speed overruns the need for quality thinking," Booher says.

Boohers also points out:

  • Brevity can lead to brusqueness. If the subject is sensitive or negative, or you haven't yet established a "cordial" relationship with the reader, you might want to reconsider your approach.
  • Adding one word or phrase can make a difference. Instead of just responding "No" to a request, add something like, "No, sorry I can't make it."