Monday, September 28, 2020

4 Ways to Bond With a Team Virtually When You're a Newbie

When working remotely -- or working onsite with a reduced team -- it can be difficult to navigate interpersonal relationships with your colleagues or bosses.

The casual interactions throughout the day, the meetings where general announcements are made and all the dozens of other ways that you learn and grow your career are gone for now.

While this is difficult for seasoned workers, imagine how hard it must be for newbies. Whether they were hired just before the pandemic lockdown began, or were hired remotely during the pandemic, all those little opportunities to find a way to fit in are eliminated.

Or are they?

When thinking about all the great career advice that experts have given me over the years, I believe there are still ways to navigate office politics successfully when working remotely or in a reduced team environment.

Here's some of the advice to help newcomers whether working onsite or from home:

1. The last word. When meeting in person,  it's always important to observe who everyone looks at when it comes time to make a decision. It's not always the boss. Even if everyone looks at the boss, the boss may be looking at someone else -- and that's the real power in your workplace. This is someone you want to get to know, because he or she has the key connections and understands best how things get done. When working remotely, this person will often be the one on the Zoom call who has the final word, or the person who writes the final email that resolves a problem. This person has garnered respect from others and the boss, and learning from that person is worthwhile.

2. Be resourceful. Everyone is overloaded right now, so as the new person you may be afraid to ask too many questions and make a pest of yourself. That shows emotional intelligence, but could be your downfall in the long run. Your new colleagues and your boss expect you to ask a lot of questions in the beginning, but will be frustrated if months down the line it becomes evident that you didn't ask questions and made assumptions that turned out to be wrong. The best course is to be resourceful -- consult company handbooks for procedural information or even Google to help you become more familiar with jargon or other industry terms instead of asking a co-worker. That way, when you need to know something more specific, you can frame it as: "I read the company handbook on how to file this paperwork, but it didn't mention this specific form. Can you tell me how to do that or who to ask?" Then, make sure the person sees you writing down the information as it shows you won't be asking the same question over and over, something that will be truly appreciated in these stressful times.

3. Do your homework. You don't want to just sit in Zoom meetings and never contribute anything or propose an idea that a competitor has already done. Now is the time to really study what is happening in your industry and your company. What is the competition doing? What are the top three challenges for your company right now? What are the trends in the industry? In Zoom meetings, you don't want to talk just to get attention, but do want to offer opinions or ideas that have merit because you've grounded them in facts and research.

4. Make individual connections. It can feel awkward to just chat in Zoom meetings, especially when you're the new person. To help alleviate some of that, try connecting one-on-one with colleagues via email or text. For example, you might text Nathan that you heard him mention that he's looking for a better exercise app -- you can mention a new one you've been using and really like. Or, Sue might be frustrated that she can't get someone has XYZ company to return a call, and you might email her to let her know you read the company is having money troubles and send her the online article. All these "watercooler" moments are now taking place virtually, but they still help you bond with other team members.

Monday, September 21, 2020

5 Steps That Can Lead to Greater Happiness, Career Success

Are you tired? Bored? Frustrated? Burned out?

All of the above?

As the pandemic drags on, everyone is feeling some (or all) of these things. We've worked all the crossword puzzles, we've baked and eaten bread until the only pants that fit are ones we normally sleep in and we feel that one more Zoom meeting may push us over the edge.

I have a solution for many of you.

It's learning. Not learning as in "I'm going to learn how to crochet" or "I'm going to learn how to speak Klingon."

This kind of learning is aimed at helping you professionally, to making you more valuable to employers now and in the future. Because trust me on this: When the economy picks back up and employers begin hiring again, they're going to look at what job candidates did in their pandemic time at home. Did they expand their waistlines or did they expand their learning and skills?

Which one do you think will make the better impression on employers?

Think of it like this: When you were a kid, you were learning all the time. Your little brain was open to all the world had to offer, whether it was exploring what was under a rock or learning to read. You used every opportunity to ask "why?" It was fun, wasn't it? It wasn't a hardship. It made you happy to learn so you kept at it.

Unfortunately, as we grow up, that learning enthusiasm fades. As adults, we often become too narrowly focused on what's on our "to do" list. We forget to look around and ask "why?" We don't use our everyday conversations or opportunities to try to learn something, to try and expand our abilities or skills.

Whether you're unemployed and employed, invest in yourself and your career by being a continual learner. It will pay off --  you will be happier and more satisfied during a stressful time in our lives -- and employers will appreciate your efforts. On top of that, your learning efforts can lead to better pay and a more satisfying career.

Here are some things to get you started:

  1. Think of people you admire. Often, we think we're "not smart enough" or  just "not good at" certain skills, like public speaking or starting a business. But if you look into the background of those you admire, they didn't just luck into being a good speaker or running a successful company. They worked at it. They perhaps took classes that helped them improve. They relied on the advice of others. They asked lots of questions and studied the answers to learn more. Consider some skills possessed by people you admire and how you'd like to have those same skills. Do you need to take online classes? Read books on the subject? Attend webinars? Connect with someone through LinkedIn to ask advice?
  2. Take off your blinders -- and put down your phone. Look around and start getting curious. When you go for a walk, stand in line at the store or wait for the coffee maker to finish, let your mind wander. Don't look at your phone! Every time you pick up your phone like it's your binky, put it down. A big part of learning something new comes from simply letting your mind wander and search out new things.
  3. You're braver than you know. A year ago, the world was a different place. We've been scared -- and are still scared -- but we've powered through it. Every day we get up and do what needs to be done. That's something to acknowledge, because it shows that all of us are capable to doing hard -- often scary -- things. So, don't let your fear of going for a big project or a promotion hold you back. Stretching yourself is important if you want to grow in your career.
  4. Set goals. Don't set lofty, vague goals such as "I want to be vice president at my company in the next five years." Instead, think about key connections that need to be made within your company and how you will make them. Or, determine if you're going to need more education to have such a position and when you can start classes.
  5. Pursue feedback. Many successful CEOs say they have a personal "board of directors" that offer them advice and feedback. If you want to truly grow in your career, then you've got to be held accountable. This doesn't mean your annual performance review by your boss. This kind of feedback is meant to keep you on target no matter where you're employed and is given by those who understand your career vision and how to best get there.
I've interviewed many successful people over the years, and the one thing they have in common is that they don't rest on their laurels. The happiest and most productive people are always learning -- they are always challenging themselves in some way. They consider it not only an investment in their careers, but in the quality of their lives.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Research Shows That Individual Purpose is Critical

These are uncertain times for many people, including employees.

Will they have a job next week? Will they work from home next month or will they be called back into the office? Will continuing to work remotely hurt their careers? Will they be given pay raises this year or be able to take time off? Do they even want to do what they're doing anymore?

A new report by McKinsey & Co. stresses that during these uncertain times, it's important that employees have a sense of individual purpose "that helps people face up to uncertainties and navigate them better, and thus mitigate the damaging effects of long-term stress. People who have a strong sense of purpose tend to be more resilient and exhibit better recovery from negative events."

One of the suggestions from the report includes leaders talking to employees individually to help workers better understand their own purpose (most people have a tough time articulating their own purpose).

Once that purpose is understood (helping the poor, saving the planet, alleviating suffering, etc.), then the leader can help the employee see how his or her contribution to the organization can also serve their purpose. Sometimes that alignment isn't always perfect, or not at all. In that case, leaders may need to re-think how they hire or how employees are placed in certain jobs to ensure that there is better alignment for all workers, McKinsey researchers say.

"The pandemic has been a cruel reminder for companies everywhere of how important it is to never take healthy or motivated employees for granted. Since individual purpose directly affects both health and motivation, forward-looking companies will be focusing on purpose as part of a broader effort to ensure that talent is given the primacy it deserves," researchers write.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

8 Ways to Make Sure Your Great Idea Isn't Ignored

Ever had a good idea shot down at work?

Most of us have been through it at least once. The reasons may vary, but the result is the same. You feel frustrated, or angry -- even depressed. Why can't your boss/colleagues recognize a great idea?

Your frustration may prompt you to think about leaving your current job and go find another company that will appreciate your innovative thoughts.

But here's the problem: If you don't learn to do a better job of presenting your ideas, chances are good the same thing will happen over and over, no matter where you work.

Here's some ways to deal with the obstacles getting in the way of your great ideas:

1. Change or die. The coronavirus has shown that companies that fail to continually innovate are left behind. Big retailers that didn't move to ecommerce years ago have seen their business suffer, while retailers like Wayfair, WalMart and Target have thrived.  When someone questions why there is a need to alter a course that has worked in the past, just point to such examples.

2. Innovation grows companies. When your idea is dismissed because it doesn't generate a lot of revenue, point out that it's new ideas -- like those from Amazon and Apple -- that are what build great organizations and lead to more revenue.

3. It solves a problem. While others might think your idea is "trivial," point out that it's not "trivial" to the people who are helped by it.

4. It's a first step. If someone says your idea isn't "big enough," comment that it's a step in the right direction and will get the company moving toward that bigger idea.

5. It's unique. Sometimes your idea gets shot down because it's not being done anywhere else. Remember to stress that there's a first time for everything and your idea offers a unique opportunity.

6. Failure leads to success. Shooting down your idea by saying it's been done before is a common tactic — whether it's true or not. Just say, "That was then. Conditions change and what we're talking about probably wasn't done in this way."

7. Delay, delay, delay. You may be told that now isn't the "right" time for your idea, and it should be put off until something else happens, or changes. Don't be fooled by the person pretending to like your idea, only to try and squelch it. Say something like, "The best time is when people are excited and committed to make something happen. That time is now."

8. It's too much work. That's a genuine concern because most people in the workplace today really are overworked and underpaid. To battle that argument, respond with "Hard can be good. New, viable ideas can energize and motivate us."