Monday, December 27, 2021

How to Become an Innovative Leader

Anyone hoping to move up the leadership ranks better put "innovative" at the top of their resume.

Innovation is highly prized by companies because it means that this person is always on the lookout for new ideas and new opportunities, which are critical in succeeding into today's competitive marketplace.

In an XBInsight study of almost 5,000 leaders across a wide range of industries, here are the competencies that innovative leaders share and how you can do the same:

1. Manage risk. Think of at least eight new initiatives and benchmark the best practices for each. How can they be implemented in your organization? Then, identify, document and plan for risks, dissecting the risk for every decision.

2. Show curiosity. What other education or training do you need to expand your current knowledge and skills? Look at past mistakes and write down what you can learn from them and what behaviors or actions led to those mistakes.

3. Lead courageously. Be willing to share your feelings and opinions clearly and with conviction even if you get pushback. Think about how to be assertive without being aggressive. Try to always look for the win-win.

4. Seize opportunities. When you've run into a setback or a problem, have you looked at it in a different way so you can create opportunity? New situations can create new areas of growth, but you can't let yourself be intimidated by them. Look for collaborators and remember that you don't always have to go it alone.

5. Maintain a strategic business perspective. You must thoroughly understand your business, the marketplace and your customers. With that knowledge you can then develop collaboration with others to better analyze and execute a business strategy.

Monday, December 20, 2021

3 Questions You Must Ask to Get Ahead

 Are you good at your job?

If so, congratulations. But it's not enough.

If you really want to move up in your career or in your company, then you've got to offer more. You have to go beyond your job description and figure out how your input contributes to the bottom-line success of the company. 

Here's how to figure out where you also need to focus your energies if you want to move up:

1. What tasks do you perform -- either officially or unofficially -- that have a direct impact on the bottom line? In other words, what earns the company money or customers?

2. What relationships do you have with the people who are critical to getting these key tasks done? For example, if you often predict when and how shipping needs will change for your company's product -- and prevent that change from becoming a problem -- then are you connecting with the right people that can help you accomplish that?

3. Does your boss know? If you're performing a critical task that is contributing to the bottom-line success of a company, you better make darn sure the boss knows about it. This is a contribution that matters, and he/she needs to understand that you're the one getting it done. Your success will contribute to the boss's success, so he/she needs to be on the same page so that the positive results continue.

Too many people take their job descriptions to heart and think that's the blueprint for their jobs. But job descriptions are often a hurried, random thing thought up by a busy human resources person or a harried boss. 

Take the time to truly understand the path to greater success by writing your own job description of the things you do that reall add value -- that's where you need to focus your time and energy.

Monday, December 13, 2021

What Does Your Pride Say About You?

Many of us have been taught from a young age that lacking humility is a downfall. Of course, now that social media has come along, it seems that bragging is an art form.

We might be able to ignore the celebrity or star athlete who can't quit bragging online, but it can be more difficult to stomach the boss or the colleague who is always gloating. We might believe that we shouldn't brag -- but one expert says that not correct.

Jessica Tracy, a psychology professor and author of "Take Pride; Why the Deadline Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success," says that being proud of an achievement isn't a negative. But when you have "hubristic" pride where you believe you are the greatest and deserve more than others, then that becomes a problem.

She says that insecurity often is the biggest motivator of such behavior, and such people become defensive and defiant as they push down the thought that they're not good enough and instead begin touting "I'm the best."

That can steamroll to the point that the person doesn't do the work to really have "authentic" pride and instead bases his/her sense of self on how others view him/her.

Tracy emphasizes that pride can be a positive thing, but it needs to come from doing hard work and trying to become the best person you can be. Only then will you feel better about yourself, because you know you're putting in a genuine effort toward something that matters to you.

What kind of pride do you have? Is it authentic or hubristic? 

Monday, December 6, 2021

How Managers Can Learn to Go With the Flow

No one would argue with the statement that the last 18 months have been challenging for workers.

But it's also been a very, very challenging time for managers. The strategies they developed to keep working flowing on their teams, deal with obstacles and help employees stay engaged have flown out the window. Now, these managers are dealing with workers working remotely, or in a hybrid situations. Team members they've relied on in the past have left for other positions. Workers are more stressed and it's up to managers to figure out how to relieve that stress and keep them moving forward.

It's a big ask.

But it may be easier for managers if they stop obsessing about the clock and how long it takes for someone to get a task done, and instead focus on how team members best get work done. 

For example, a working parent may be most productive between the hours of 10 a.m.-3 p.m., when the kids are off to school and he/she has had time to get a cup of coffee, take a deep breath and focus on work. Or, a young, single employee may work best from noon until 9 p.m. as he/she likes to go on a long bike ride before work and doesn't mind working later into the evening.

When a manager is focused on the clock instead of how quality work gets done, they may be getting work delivered -- but it's not as well done. That increases the stress on the team and on the manager.

Instead of trying to force your work pace on team members, try to let them choose when they work best and how they can meet goals. While there will certainly always be deadlines, letting team members have more leeway in their work flow can help relieve a burden on employees and managers.

Monday, November 29, 2021

How to Say "No" at Work

 Do you find it difficult to say "no"?

You may find it easy to say "no" to brussels sprouts, but much tougher to say "no" to a work colleague who seems to want your help with something that doesn't sound entirely ethical or may violate company policy. Or, what about the valuable customer who is pressuring you to do something you don't want to do?

These are tricky situations because you need to maintain relationships with these people, but also believe that "going along" doesn't feel right and could lead to problems for you.

Here are some ways to respond instead of outright saying "no" in workplace situations:

  • Be prepared. Chances are, you've known a colleague or a customer is leading up to something. You may not know specifically what the ask will be, but you have a pretty good idea. The person has probably been dropping hints to see your reaction, so it's a good idea to have a plan in place. Try writing out your response to why you may not want to say "yes" -- such as it violates your professional ethics, you don't want to lie or be less that completely honest or you think it could damage someone else.
  • Have other routes. Once you suspect that you're being pushed into something that doesn't feel right to you, then you need to be prepared with an alternative offer. It can lead to friction with the other person to just say "no" to a proposal, so make sure you've got some other ideas. Maybe you suggest moving the idea to the back burner until more data is gathered, or you include others in a meeting so that you're not pressured one-on-one. If you need an emergency exit, grab your phone and claim you just got a "911" call from home.
  • Ground yourself. Call on a trusted family member or friend, or reach out to a mentor to keep yourself from saying "yes" when you know you should say "no." Having ethical, steady voices throughout your career is critical, and are especially vital during such difficult times.

Monday, November 22, 2021

3 Keys to Developing a Successful Career

In an ideal world, a  boss recognizes your talents and helps you develop them so that your career blossoms.

But in the real world, bosses are stressed and overworked and may not have a lot of time to look out for your career. To be honest, some of them are jerks and could care less if you're reaching your goals.

That's why it's always a good idea to have a plan when it comes to developing your own career. You are the one who is ultimately responsible -- not your colleagues, your university professors or your boss. 


Let's look at some ways you can develop your own career:

1. Make investments. Every year, put aside some money for career development, whether it's to take an class, attend a seminar or attain a certification. With so much moving online, this can be less expensive than ever before, so don't miss your chance to add to your skills.

2. Make connections. Be  more intentional about your connections, whether online or in person. Try to expand your network into areas other than your field of expertise. For example, all businesses now depend on technology to be successful -- are there tech experts you could get to know through LinkedIn or conferences in your industry? While it might be intimidating at first, most people are very generous with their knowledge when you express a genuine interest and willingness to learn.

3. Stay updated. Even if you're satisfied in your current position, are you reading job descriptions for the job you want next? You should always be aware of shifting job emphasis, how your career goals might need to be tweaked or even spot warning signs that your industry is in trouble.

Always remember to be flexible when it comes to your career. While you can have a general timeline, the pandemic has shown all of us that flexibility and resiliency are critical. Be open to making lateral moves, or working in another industry if it ultimately will give you the skills you need. 

Monday, November 15, 2021

How to Get Off on the Right Foot When Starting a New Job

If you've just gotten a new job, congratulations! A lot of people are starting new positions, and that's something to celebrate.

But before you think you've got it made, remember that your "interview" process continues after you begin the job. While you may not sit across from a hiring manager and answer questions, you will still be under scrutiny in your first weeks and months in a new position.

This time, however, there are going to be more people watching what you do right -- and wrong. From co-workers to subordinates to bosses, you need to be prepared to make the right moves in order to garner trust and good working relationships.

Here are some ways to get off on the right foot:

1. Ask questions -- and write down the answers. It gets on everyone's nerves when the new kid asks the same questions over and over. Writing down the answer will show that you respect everyone's time. It's OK to go back to someone with a follow-up question, but always remember to write down that answer. 

2. Never assume anything. Make sure you know your working hours, where to park, which entrance to use, etc. It's also critical to make sure you fully understand any security or safety protocols, so make sure you have written confirmation or have been walked through those processes. If not, ask.

3. Be open. Greet each new person with a smile and graciously accept any offers of help. You don't want to appear inept, but you also don't want to brush off someone who wants to show you a process or share a resource. Remember the offer of help is more than that -- it's a way of establishing a friendly working relationship and that's critical. At the same time, accept lunch or after-work invitations in the beginning. You can slowly cut back once you've been there a while.

4. Don't hash over old grievances. Whether it's former co-workers or bosses, don't badmouth them. Not only is this unprofessional, it makes you look petty and childish -- and new co-workers will think you will do the same to them. In addition, it opens the door to gossips who believe you like to trash others (and being known as a gossip is never a good thing).

5. Have some mystery. You don't have to share every detail of your life with colleagues --even the nosy ones. It's OK to connect via LinkedIn, but if your Instagram or Facebook accounts have more private information, then don't feel pressured to connect with coworkers. It will take some time to establish trust with others at a new job, so don't feel rushed to do more.

Good working relationships are critical to career happiness, so just being polite, kind and respectful of others will go a long way to ensuring you get off on the right foot when starting a new job.

Monday, November 8, 2021

5 Questions to Ask in Your Job Interview

 I've never met anyone who takes a job and thinks: "I'm going to quit this job in 90 days and start the job hunting process all over again."

So why do so many people find themselves quitting a job after less than a year? 

I think a big part of the problem is that job seekers don't ask enough questions during the interview process. They hear some general idea about what they'll be doing, their salary and company benefits and don't ask any questions. As long as there isn't a big red flag, they'll accept the job if it meets their needs.

Then, as time goes on, they start to see those red flags pop up. There's high turnover. No chance for promotion. No one is allowed to offer feedback.

That's the kind of workplace culture that can lead to disengagement and even burnout. It's the kind of culture that can lead you to regret taking a job and immediately begin thinking of how to leave.

To save yourself the hassle of job shopping too soon, here are some questions to ask during the interview process:

1. Why did the last person in this position leave? If he or she got a promotion, great! That means the job has potential. If it's a new position, then ask: "What kind of career path do you see for someone in this job?" You want to make sure it's a position with potential, not a dead end.

2. How is performance measured? Are there formal reviews? Who determines the performance targets? If targets are exceeded -- or fall short --  what happens?

3. How is feedback given? Feedback given only during the annual review process isn't helpful because it only reviews things that have already happened. To grow in your career, you need in-the-moment feedback so that you continue to learn. If a manager is only willing to provide yearly feedback, then the boss isn't invested in you succeeding.

4. Is there a mentorship program? Companies and employees benefit from mentorship programs, and help grow future leaders.

5. What does the company do to support work/life balance? There is no company that hasn't had to address this question since the pandemic began. There should be some structures in place to ensure workers have balance, whether it's a hybrid work arrangement, stable schedules or paid time off to handle personal needs.

With employers desperate to fill positions, now is the time to ask these questions (and more of your own) to ensure a new job will be a good fit. Don't waste your time on employers that are evasive or have policies that fall far short of what you need to ensure a satisfying job.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Why Some Promotions Can Be a Bad Idea

It happens all the time: A great employee receives a promotion and then, for some reason, begins to falter months or years into the new job.

The boss may be confused as to why this once great worker seems to be failing. Unfortunately, sometimes these problems lead to this employee leaving the company or being nudged out.

What happened? Did the employee get complacent? Get in over his or her head? 

The reasons may not be the employee's fault, but that of the boss who promoted him or her.

Some executives say that one of the problems with promotions is that bosses never stop to ask the employee if he or she even wants the promotion. What if that person is perfectly happy and motivated in the current position? What if the new job is seen as a reward by the boss but actually turns out to be a punishment?

Most of us wouldn't turn down a promotion. To do so might anger the boss and be career suicide. It might mean that another promotion never comes along at that company, and compensation won't ever increase according to an employee's value to that organization.

These executives suggest that bosses need to:

1. Ask "Do you really want the job?"

2. Outline a true picture of what the job entails -- the good, the bad and the ugly.

3. Assess whether the employee's personality really matches with the job -- or it's a way to simply fill a position with a known quantity.

4. Assure the person that if the promotion isn't a good fit, other opportunities will come along. Or, come up with other ways to reward a great employee, such as monetary rewards or great projects.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Research: Female Managers Focus More on Well-Being of Workers

Corporate women in America are more burned out than men, but continue to offer greater support to their teams than their male counterparts, finds a new study from LeanIn.Org and McKinsey and Co.

Specifically, the study of 400 organizations employing 12 million people, found that women leaders are helping their employees navigate work/life challenges, such as making sure workloads are manageable and making sure workers are coping and doing well. 

The research also finds:

  • Senior-level women are twice as likely as their male counterparts to dedicate time to diversity, equity and inclusions. McKinsey research has found that organizations that create strong, supportive cultures are more likely to retain the best people, leading to stronger bottom-line results.
  • Women who take on this extra work aren't being recognized for it. That's why McKinsey researchers suggest that companies tie management performance and compensation measures to the overall well-being of workers.
  • Even though artificial intelligence and robotics are becoming more popular in the workplace, more employers are focusing on the importance of human social and emotional skills in addition to decision-making and statistical skills.
If you're in a job that feels as if it's stagnating or you're not getting enough support from your manager, it may be time to consider whether your boss may be the biggest obstacle to your success. If so, it might be time to consider organizations that reward managers for looking out for the well-being of the bottom line -- and the employees.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Why Stress Can be Good for You


Got stress?

If you're like most of the human race, the answer is "yes."

But is stress such a bad thing? There's been a lot of discussion about how many people are quitting their jobs after having time to reflect during the pandemic lockdown. They decided that they were tired of the stress of their jobs, and wanted something different.

Still, according to research by Alia Crum, an assistant professor at Stanford University, stress doesn't have to always be debilitating. For example, you might be stressed before a big presentation at work or an important meeting, but is that really a threat? Or, can it be "appraised" by you as something that's difficult, but you have the resources to overcome?

Stress, she explains, is complex. Some people simplify it and see it as something that can make you sick. But if you challenge your assumptions, you may start to see that stress can be "enhancing," she says.

Specifically, stress can boost your cognitive functioning, physical health and how you interact with others.

"Stress can help you rise to a new level of understanding, can deepen your connection to others, can make us physiologically grow tougher and stronger," she says. "Having that focus shifts our attention and behaviors in ways that make that mindset more true." 

Instead of viewing stress as something that is going to adversely affect you, open your mind to the idea that stress should be welcomed because it can add value. 

"Inherently underneath the stress is a true value, a true care, a true purpose. And we wouldn't be in this situation if it wasn't for something that mattered. And we wouldn't be stressed about it if it wasn't for something that mattered," she says.

To learn more about Crum's take on stress, check out more here.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Do This One Thing to Be a Better Listener

Are you a good listener?

Most people believe they are good listeners, yet others often don't say the same about them. 

That can lead to a lot of misunderstandings, frustrations and hurt feelings. At work, it can harm your professional reputation or even lead to you missing out on some new opportunities because the boss doesn't believe you are a good listener.

A recent study of providing better customer service also provides some real insight into how we can all become better listeners, whether it's dealing with a customer or a colleague.

The key: Being concrete when responding.

This means that instead of saying something generic like, "I'll help you with that," or "That can be fixed," you are more definitive in your answer. "I'll help you correct that report before it goes to the client," or "I can fix that email marketing campaign so that it goes to the right people," shows the speaker that you clearly understand the issue and have been listening.

In other words, when you use words like "that," it's too vague and doesn't make the speaker feel like you are paying attention. It sounds too generic, as if you're making an automated response while you're really thinking about something else.

When you show others that you are paying attention, they feel more connected to you and it helps establish greater trust and a belief in your abilities. So, don't be wishy-washy in your responses, but instead try to offer concrete answers.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Study: Work Interruptions Aren't Always Bad

Does it get on your last nerve when you're in the "zone" at work and then someone interrupts you?

If so, you're not alone. But interruptions aren't always a bad thing, finds a new study by the University of Missouri.

If an interruption is related to work -- the boss wants to talk about a new project or a colleague has a question about a process -- then that interruption can further increase your engagement in work. But, if someone interrupts you to talk about last night's hockey game or some other non-work related issue, then it hurts employee engagement, the study finds.

Also, the research reveals that a work-related interruption often increased collaboration, while the non-work related interruption did not.

That's something to consider as more companies use virtual interactions to stay connected to employees who may work from home some, or all, of the time. Not having the chance to drop in and talk about work from time-to-time may hurt engagement and collaboration.

Still, that doesn't mean employers should forbid casual conversations about other topics.

"Employers may want to limit non-work-related interruptions, but that doesn't mean they should get rid of them all together," says John Bush, assistant professor of management at the Trulaske College of Business at MU. "There are interpersonal benefits, such as strengthened relationships, that can stem from these non-work-related interactions."

Monday, September 27, 2021

4 Ways to Handle a Colleague Who Yells at You

Have you ever had someone yell at you at work?

It's not fun. It's happened to me, and I can tell you that it was not a pleasant experience.

What should you do if a colleague yells at you while on the job? You need to:

1.  Stand up for yourself. Some people might not be able to do this, or may be so shocked in the moment that they can't respond to the person yelling. But keep your voice level (don't start yelling) and calmly say how the yelling makes you feel. For example, "Your yelling makes me feel uncomfortable and disrespected." Wait for a response and don't talk over the other person.

2. Remove yourself. If you can't think of anything to say and the yelling continues, leave. Say, "I'll talk to you another time when you're calmer and more respectful," and go to the restroom or a quite place to calm down.

3. Report the incident. It's OK to go to human resources or your boss to report what happened. Be as professional as possible in describing the facts as they unfolded. Ask for advice on what you should do or how they might help you resolve the issue.

4. Resolve it. You may believe that you can just ignore the whole thing, but it's better to get the issue resolved so that it doesn't interfere with your ability to do your job effectively. Ask to speak privately with the person and calmly say again how the yelling made you feel. Believe it or not, the person may not even remember the incident, especially if he or she is known for yelling. But it's OK to say that you don't want it to happen again and want to find a better way to interact with one another.

Monday, September 20, 2021

How to Set Boundaries When Working From Home

 For many employees, working from home is becoming a new reality of their career -- although how much they work remotely can depend on their job, their company and their boss.

Yet, no matter how much an employee works from home, there is always the dilemma of how to set boundaries so that work doesn't encroach on family time and vice versa.

If you're going to work from home and need some parameters:

1. Stick to a schedule. Some days this won't be possible -- a kid gets sick or the Internet at your house goes on hiatus. But as much as possible, set a schedule just like you did at work: you have a specific start time, a lunch break and end your day at a certain time. This can be tough at first since you don't really have a bus to catch at a certain time in order to get home, for example. But set these times in your mind, and even ask a family member or friend to hold you accountable in the beginning.

2. Dress the part. No one is saying that you have to dress in a suit to work from home, but if that puts you in the right mindset, go ahead. Do change out of your pajamas and take care of your daily hygiene before starting work -- this has the ability to click your brain over into "work" mode. 

3. Communicate on all channels. Make sure your schedule is clearly posted for everyone at work to see: your scheduled meetings; when you plan to be at the gym or taking a kid to school; and when you plan to quit for the day. You need to post this where everyone can see it such as on a company online calendar, on Slack, etc. If your routine schedule changes, then send additional emails or leave voice mails to alert everyone to the alterations.

4. Be dependable. If you set a schedule, stick to it. Nothing is more frustrating to colleagues or bosses than not getting a response when you're supposed to be available. This doesn't mean you have to respond within 10 minutes to their inquiries, but it does mean that you can't be out-of-pocket for hours with no explanation. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Why You Need to Let Your Top Performer Go


As a manager, would you let your top performer go to another department without a fight? Probably not. Most managers aren't going to let their best employee waltz off to work for another manager.

But this "talent hoarding" is exactly what low-performing, non-agile, slow-to-change companies do, writes Kevin Oakes in Harvard Business Review.

This practice of hoarding superstars is natural, of course. Oakes, the CEO of the Institute for Corporate Productivity, says that research shows half of companies (and 74% of low performers) say that managers are often the No. 1 impediment to encouraging mobility of top performers.

It make sense, of course. Losing top performers can certainly adversely impact a department's performance -- and can then hurt a manager's ability to rise in the ranks. 

If companies want to become more agile and innovative -- and better able to deal with unprecedented events like a pandemic -- then they've got to change their thinking and how they move personnel. At the same time, managers have got to quit hoarding their top talent or risk these people leaving anyway because they are looking for more challenges and opportunities.

Oakes says that the best ways to ensure that top talent is used in a way that helps their own career and the company:

1. Don't hide the talent. Call out the contributions these people bring to other departments, and reward managers for sharing them with others. Managers who help their people succeed and move around within a company become "talent magnets" and attract others who want to have a manager than helps with career development.

2. Celebrate lateral moves. Organizations need to make clear that lateral moves are just as valuable as upward trajectories to a career. When employees feel "stuck" and don't have as many options, lateral moves can be a way to continue to grow their talents and value to the organization. Move all employees laterally from time-to-time to avoid "insider verses outsider feelings," he says.

3. Normalize change. If there's one thing that the pandemic has shown workers, it's that change happens to every workplace. If a company culture normalizes change and treats it as a chance for opportunity, then employees will be less stressed and afraid of it. Mobility for workers within a company will be seen simply as part of a healthy business culture and something that makes a company stronger.

Monday, September 6, 2021

What New Managers Must Know to Succeed

Sometimes new bosses are groomed for the role within the company or during their time with another employer. They receive advice and training and are even mentored by more experienced managers. They learn what works and what doesn't.

But other times, new bosses get thrown into the deep end with little training and little support. That's when problems occur, because if they're given little support in the beginning, you can bet they aren't going to get much support as they go along in their jobs. Sometimes these managers find their own footing and everything works out. But many other times, they end up miserable and so does their team.

That's been amplified during the pandemic. Managers who struggled before remote work options have also struggled -- sometimes even more --  during the shutdown because they don't have good management skills necessary to navigate these tough times.

Rachel Pacheco, author of "Bring Up the Boss," says that one of the best ways for managers to learn is to have great role models. That usually happens when they can watch a more experienced manager in action. That means more seasoned bosses need to take the time to help new managers learn complex skills like how to motivate workers, how to give feedback, how to have difficult conversations and how to set fair compensation.

Pacheco, who is also an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education, says that it's also critical that new managers understand that just being a great engineer, for example, won't make them a great manager. The skills they used to rise through the ranks aren't necessarily the ones that will make them good bosses.

One of the key lessons she says new managers need to learn is about communicating as much as possible. Communicate important messages or complex ideas repeatedly and in different ways -- through email, texts, personal conversations or Zoom calls, she advises.

Never believe that you've communicated enough, she says. Always keep honing your message and making sure everyone gets it, she says.


Monday, August 30, 2021

Please Stop Using This Jargon


It's often the little things that get on our last nerve at work. The guy who heats up his stinky lunch in the office microwave. The boss who sends emails after 5 p.m. on Friday.

But according to a new study, one of the most annoying things is business jargon. According to MyPerfectResume, the most annoying jargon is:

"Giving" -- 59 percent

"I'll ping you" -- 59 percent

"Think outside the box" -- 56 percent

"Low-hanging fruit" -- 54 percent

"Reinvent the wheel" -- 53 percent

"Synergy" -- 52 percent

"Take it to the next level" -- 50 percent

"Blue sky thinking" -- 49 percent

"Bring to the table" -- 49 percent

"Touch base" -- 49 percent

"Move the needle" -- 48 percent

"Kudos" -- 47 percent

"Circle back" -- 47 percent

"Take ownership" -- 47 percent

"Raise the bar" -- 46 percent

"Win-win" -- 46 percent

"Core competency" -- 45 percent

"Empower" -- 43 percent

"Strategic partnership" -- 42 percent

"Take offline: -- 42 percent

So, if you don't want to further annoy a boss, co-worker or customer, try to use such words sparingly. If not, they may not want to circle back with you to form a strategic partnership, will not be pinging you, won't want you to move the needle and it certainly won't be a win-win.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Working Moms Should Feel Good About Their Choices

Being a working mother is no cakewalk. The multitasking and juggling required to raise children — with or without a partner — while also maintaining a career can be daunting at times. But perhaps one of the most challenging aspects for some women is their guilt when others criticize them for working instead of devoting themselves full-time to their children.

That criticism even comes from other women, who may hint that a nanny is the "real parent" or that moms should be at home while their children are young.

However, working moms may feel better about their choices when looking at Harvard Business School and Mount Holyoke College research, which shows that when women work, their daughters are likely to have jobs, hold supervisory duties, and earn bigger paychecks than those whose moms stayed at home.

In addition, the sons of working moms are more likely to become men that pitch in with household chores and help with caring for family members.

Courtney Henderson, 37, of Auburn, Alabama, says that when she was growing up, her father's paycheck could support the family, but her mother chose to work. Her mother worked (read more here)

Monday, August 16, 2021

3 Ways to Tailor Your Resume for an Employer

If you're not tailoring your resume to a specific job, it could be why you're not getting any responses to your application.

It's long been said that hiring managers don't spend more than seconds looking at a resume, and if they don't see details that match their needs, they move on.

But how do you tailor a resume for a specific job?

Here are some things to consider:

1. Use keywords. These are often the qualifications listed in a job posting, such as a "team player," or "proficient in Excel." Since many companies now use applicant tracking software (ATS) to initially screen resumes, leaving out these terms could get your resume eliminated by a computer. Also remember that hiring managers are much more likely to be receptive to your resume when you're using language that is familiar to them -- such as the qualifications posted in the job ad.

2. Show your knowledge of the company's culture. If you know, for example, that the company is pushing sustainability efforts or dedication to the arts, try to include skills or experience that highlight your own abilities in this area. You might include community volunteer efforts to clean up waterways or that you teach an art class to inner-city youth on the weekends. Most companies post about their culture through their websites or their online social media feeds.

3. Tap your network. It makes much more sense to find a connection to an employer through your network than just hitting "send" and hoping your resume gets seen by someone at the company. Look at your LinkedIn connections and type in the company's name -- does anyone pop up? Maybe someone's brother-in-law works at the company or a former classmate now works there or knows someone who does? Mine Facebook and Twitter to see if you've got any connections.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Tips for Preparing for a Job Interview

The worst mistake you can make in a job interview is trying to "wing it." Whatever you do, don't walk into the room unprepared. No matter your level of experience or the skills you possess, interviewing well requires preparation and practice, and those who are willing to do the work are much more likely to receive a job offer.

While there is no "best" way to handle interview preparation, we can distill our advice into two core ways to get into the interview mindset (read more here) 

Monday, August 2, 2021

Are You Ready for This Job Market?

Many workers are looking into new careers or new jobs, spurred by changes in their industry or simply a desire to do something else.

If you're one of those people, it helps to be aware of recruiting trends so you know what to expect.

1. Target a specific employer. Even if you're applying for only sales jobs, you need to tailor your resume to a specific employer. That means carefully reading the job ad and making sure you're including as many of the key words as you can from that employer. This doesn't mean you have to rewrite you entire resume for each job application, but know that an applicant tracking system (ATS) or an overburdened hiring manager is going to toss your resume if it doesn't seem like a really, really good match. 

2. Be flexible. There has been a lot in the news about employees who claim they will absolutely quit their jobs if they're not allowed to continue working from home, or they won't consider a job offer unless they can work remotely. While employers are certainly trying to accommodate workers in this uncertain climate, they're not going to upend their business just so everyone can work from home. So, unless you can really walk away from a job or a good job offer, don't completely discount a "hybrid" work arrangement -- be willing to prove your worth and then negotiate for a more flexible work deal if you still want it.

3. Embrace video. While Zoom fatigue is certainly real, it's not something that's going away even after the pandemic. Since chances are good you may initially be interviewed via video, make sure you're prepared with the proper equipment and background and are dressed professionally. If you can't handle a video interview, the hiring manager may worry you won't be able to handle Zoom meetings.

4. Clean up social media. It's surprising how many people decide to improve their social media presence after they begin job hunting. This is something you want to take care of before you send out a resume or let your network know you're interested in new jobs. It might take you a while to clean up (remember your frat brothers still have your drunken photos on Instagram) and you want to make sure you do a thorough job.

Monday, July 26, 2021

How to Get a Job After Military Service

Women in the military who decide to transition into civilian life will find that their proven work ethic and dedication to getting a job done are valuable attributes to private-sector employers. But, challenges remain in finding work post-military.

For example, military job titles can be confusing to private-sector hiring managers. Or, female service members may never have had a civilian job before, so they may not know how to write a resume and cover letter or prepare for a job interview.

The good news is that there are resources designed to help servicewomen transition to civilian work, like tools to help match your military occupation to a civilian job. And, websites (read more here)

Monday, July 19, 2021

Tips for Women Re-entering the Workplace

Traditionally, employment gaps on resumes have been a source of concern to hiring managers. Some recruiters assumed that people with resume gaps might be bad employees or undesirable — and therefore unhireable — for some other reason. Even for women who took time off to raise children, employment gaps could spell trouble during a job search.

The pandemic may have turned this old thinking on its head. With millions of people — the majority of them being women — leaving the workforce for various reasons, there is some recognition among recruiters and hiring managers that there may be more factors to consider when they encounter (read more here)

Monday, July 12, 2021

Has Mentoring Been Damaged by the #MeToo Movement?

It's never been easy being female in the workplace, and, in 2021, that hasn't changed, especially if you are a woman who is looking for a male mentor in the post-#MeToo era.

In 2018, when Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexually abusing women who worked for him, no one could predict how the accusations — and the rape conviction that followed — would impact women across industries. They have been seismic for working women everywhere.

As the accusations mounted and more and more women stepped forward to share stories about the treatment and abuse they had suffered in the workplace, there was little doubt that change was upon us. The movement (read more here)

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

3 Things to Consider If You're Thinking of Quitting Your Job

Are you ready to quit your job?

If so, you're not alone. As we emerge from the pandemic, many people are looking at their jobs and thinking: "Is this the best I can do?"

Thinking that the grass is greener on the other side is nothing new, and with the flood of new job openings it makes sense that you should take stock of your career and assess whether it's in a good place.

Still, you need to think carefully about your situation before making a job leap. Sometimes that jump is a smart idea -- and sometimes you regret it. Here's some things to think about:

1. Chances for advancement. Every company should be able to show you a career trajectory. If you're an engineer I for example, what are the requirements to be engineer II? How many years of service or what types of certification do you need to move up the ladder? If your company doesn't clearly outline -- and the boss can't articulate -- how you can get promoted and earn a bigger paycheck, then it's time to reassess your path to better things.

2. Flexibility. The idea of flexibility can be different for everyone. A working mom, for example, might want the option of working from home two days a week. A hotel manager might like the option of working for 10 straight days and then taking four days off so he can compete in out-of-town marathons. When you're looking for a new job, giving up that flexibility you have in your current job can be a real detriment to your mental health and overall happiness. 

3. Overall compensation. If your company provides full health coverage or on-site meals or a dry cleaning allowance or metro tickets, then you need to figure that into your compensation when trying to decide to leave for a bigger paycheck. One company may lure you with a bigger income, but that starts to dwindle when you figure in a bigger healthcare deductible, no commuting allowance and paying for lunch every day.

4. Exposure. It can be challenging to get ahead if you don't have a chance to regularly interact with decision makers. If you're going to work remotely, will you miss out on those chance encounters with a senior leaders? Will the decision makers remember you through occasional Zoom calls? Will your boss tap you for spur-of-the-moment opportunities? Working remotely can be great unless you miss out on opportunities to learn, grow -- and excel -- through your exposure to more experienced people and bosses.

Some of the decisions to be made will depend on where you are in your career. Those in the early years may decide that job hopping is the only way to get ahead in their skills and their earning power. Those who are mid-career may decide that the perks and stability of their current position are more important than jumping to a new job.

Whatever your decision, approach it with a clear idea of the pros and cons so that you don't jump to a new job just because the other kids are doing it. 

Monday, June 28, 2021

3 Things to Do When You've Made a Mistake at Work

When was the last time you made a mistake at work?

If you say "never," then I've got one word for you: HA.

That's because everyone makes mistakes at work. Sometimes they're little, harmless ones like forgetting to take your moldy sandwich out of the office refrigerator. But sometimes they're much bigger -- like the kind that can put your job in jeopardy.

The key is this: Don't try to cover up a mistake with lies or by acting as if it never happened. If the mistake comes to light, you might get in even more trouble for covering it up. Here's what you do when you screw up:

1. Own it. As soon as you realize you've made a mistake, take responsibility. Don't try to blame someone else, start deleting incriminating emails or ask someone to lie for you.

2. Look for a solution. Once you've discovered the mistake, you have to tell the boss. But before you do that, is there something you can do to fix it? If so, you go to your boss and state what happened -- and immediately say that you've thought of a solution or plan of action. The boss may not like your idea, but it shows him or her that you're trying to get on top of it.

3. Don't grovel. Yes, you're going to have to apologize to those who have been harmed by your mistake, whether it's the colleague who will now have to work overtime to help you fix it or the boss who has to explain to his boss what happened. Still, that doesn't mean you have to act like the lowest life form. You made a mistake, you apologized, you're trying to fix it -- all the things a professional should do in such cases. Don't keep apologizing or walking around with your head down, or that will give you an unflattering reputation.

The key for any mistake at work is to learn from it. Think about what you could have done differently to prevent it from happening again. Not only does this improve your performance, but the boss will certainly appreciate that you're taking proactive steps to do your job better.

Monday, June 21, 2021

3 Easy Ways to Be a Better Person at Work

Walk into any mall store -- or check out any online retailer -- and you're likely to find a "Be Kind" t-shirt. Or tote bag. Or pillow. Or coffee mug.

It seems we all want to be kind to one another and hope others will do the same.

But what does it mean to be kind in the workplace? Some seasoned career professionals will tell you that being kind is fine, but when it comes to your career, you have to be a bit cutthroat as well if you want to survive.

I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I don't advise anyone to be so kind that they become a human doormat and don't stand up for themselves at work. At the same time, most cutthroat people end up burning so many bridges that later in their careers they often have no supporters -- and no careers.

Many of us have been working remotely, or have taken new jobs. We may vow to "be kind" in the workplace and not fall into the trap of gossiping, being negative and being selfish at work. 

But, how, exactly, can you be kind at work without falling into the doormat trap? Think about:

1. Helping others. I know that most of us have more than enough on our plates most days, but that doesn't mean you can't put some effort into helping someone who is struggling.  You don't have to take on that person's work, but you can buy them a cup of coffee, offer to proofread a report or just be a sounding board for them.

2. Paying more attention. Everyone has a bad day at work, and sometimes it's a bad week. When it happens, don't just turn a blind eye. Offer words of encouragement and even share times when you've struggled. Just putting a "You can do this!" note on someone's desk can really help that person.

3. Be an advocate. Is there someone in meetings who is always ignored, or has his or her ideas shot down? If so, speak up. Say: "I'd like to hear what Julie has to say," or "Jason, you made a good point -- can you elaborate on that a bit?" Even after a meeting is a good time to say to someone: "I thought that information you offered about online sales was really helpful."

Sometimes we believe we don't have the energy to take on another thing, even if it's helping someone having a bad day. But what anyone will tell you is that being kind is energizing -- for the receiver and for the giver. The added bonus is that some of the most successful people say that being kind is what got them ahead.


Monday, June 14, 2021

How to Ensure Fair Treatment as a Remote Worker

When interviewing for a job, it's always a good idea to pay attention when you get a tour of the workplace and meet other employees. During this time, you want to look for red flags -- the things that indicate that employees are unhappy or that the workplace has a toxic atmosphere. (Some indications include workers who never smile or make eye contact, rundown facilities, lack of clarity regarding advancement, etc.)

The same thing is true when you're considering a remote or hybrid job. Just because the employer says you can work from home doesn't mean that you can ignore the warning signs that the job or the company may be harmful to your career or mental well-being.

Recently, FlexJobs identified red flags it believes are signs of a toxic hybrid workplace, including:

1. No senior leaders who work remotely.

2. Celebrations or rewards happen only in the office.

3. Meetings are scheduled at odd hours.

4. Lack of appropriate equipment for remote workers or lack of proper remote communication tools.

I'd also like to add that any boss who has remote workers needs to be able to offer a clear idea of how he or she measures performance. Are you expected to have set office hours? Are online measurement tools used? 

What about attending professional events? Are those open to you as a remote worker? When you're working from home, it's probably even more important for your career that you attend offsite team events, professional conferences, etc.  Make sure that "working remote" doesn't mean "staying remote." You should be given opportunities to participate in company events.

To be fair, many bosses are still trying to figure out hybrid work arrangements and may not have all these tools and practices in place. But when asked, the boss should show that he or she is proactively looking out for remote workers and gives them as much energy as workers in the office all week.


Monday, June 7, 2021

How to Make Yourself More Powerful at Work

Are you a person who gets things done?

Not just your daily "to do" list of picking up the dry cleaning, attending a meeting or hitting the gym. But do you get things done when others are opposing you?

The key to that question may be in determining how you are seen by others. Are you giving off nonverbal cues that make you seem strong -- or weak? 

For example, tilting your head or looking down means you're giving away your power, says Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. 

But, when you look someone in the eye, stand tall instead of hunching and take up some space with expansive, forceful gestures, then you are seen as having more power, he says.

You also are seen as more powerful if you refuse to be interrupted, using simple, forceful language and employing vivid words and descriptions, Pfeffer says.

"You don't want to use filler words and you don't want to use, to the extent possible, 'ums' or 'ahs' or anything like that," he adds.

It's also important to consider how your emotions are contagious. Research finds that when you smile at someone, they smile back. Or if you frown, then others are more likely to frown. So, if your energy is upbeat and confident, others will mirror those emotions. "You don't want to say, 'I think there may be some chance that our new venture might succeed.' You want to say, 'we are going to succeed and there's no question about it,'" he explains.

While some may feel that speaking confidently or powerfully is only for certain people, Pfeffer urges everyone to learn to use such methods to advance their careers.  He says it's important to think about how you're conveying yourself through your dress, your mannerisms and your speech.

By simplifying your approach in verbal and nonverbal areas, you can focus on using methods that will boost your power in the eyes of others.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Are You Self-Sabotaging?

You might spend a lot of your time trying to figure out how to get ahead at work, or how to become more successful in your career. You figure out how to deal with Marcia's gossiping, your understand what your boss wants you to do and you even have plotted out the first industry conference you will attend once pandemic restrictions are lifted.

But despite all these efforts, you do something dumb. You don't tell your boss that you'd like to head up a new project. Or, you procrastinate on an assignment to the point that your boss is now upset. You've started making mistakes on routine tasks.

What's going on?

It's called self-sabotage. Psychologists and career experts say it happens when you start getting anxious or afraid of your success. Those feelings start to get in the way of doing your job properly, and you become defensive with others. You may even become disengaged and talk negatively about co-workers or your job.

That may prompt some feedback from your boss about your performance, and that further pulls you into the mindset that you don't really like the job or your boss or the company. See how your own fears and anxieties have lead you to sabotaging yourself?

If you believe this is happening, think about:

1. Being honest with yourself. Self-sabotage can become a pattern. It may have started when you were younger, or it may be that you started negative self-talk as you became more successful in your career. When you think something negative, immediately think of how you can flip the script and find something positive to say instead.

2. Recount your successes. Your boss doesn't pick you for a big assignment because she likes the way you order coffee. She picked you because you've shown her that you're capable and do good work. Think about the steps you've taken to earn her confidence: long hours; always double-checking your work; pitching in to help colleagues; calming angry customers; training new employees; coming up with new ideas; and helping her be successful. Those are all wonderful skills -- that's why she picked you and you need to remind yourself of your abilities.

3. Seek help. It's not always easy to quiet the negative talk in your own head and calm your anxieties and fears, especially if you've been doing it for a long time. Seek advice from a psychologist or career coach who can help you spot the things that trigger your self-sabotage and how you can learn to better cope with your emotions.

If the last year has taught us anything, it's that we have to take care of our own mental health if we want to have lives that are full and rewarding. Don't let the negative thoughts in your own head stop you from having a great career that you've worked hard to get.

Monday, May 24, 2021

It's OK to Be Dumb Sometimes

I'm often the dumbest person on a Zoom call. Seriously. I talk to a lot of people who are experts in their field (data science, AI, global supply chains) and I rely on their expertise to educate me so that I can write a story and inform others.

So, I ask a lot of questions. I try to do my homework before I interview someone, but I still have to ask a lot of questions because I can't assume anything. I have to make sure that I understand these experts and can accurately convey the information they provide me.

The reason it doesn't bother me that I'm the dumbest person on the call is because I've never had anyone be rude about it. If you show a genuine interest in a person and the subject, they're always willing to answer your questions.

I think it's important that everyone be the dumbest person on a call or in a room throughout their career. You need to be challenged and learning something new all the time, even if it doesn't have a direct link to your job. By stretching yourself and asking questions, you expand your network with people outside your field, you jumpstart your creative juices and  you improve your communication skills.

If you can, do some homework before such conversations to show the other person that you're trying to get up to speed. But, if you don't have time to do research, then freely admit that you're learning and are going to be asking a lot of questions and plan to continue research after the call or meeting.

When you try to fake it and act like you know what the other person is talking about, you dig yourself a hole. Because sooner or later it's going to become evident that you're clueless and that will only annoy the other person.

So, go ahead and admit you don't know everything. But do admit that you want to learn and grow -- that will be welcomed by everyone.

Monday, May 17, 2021

How to Get Good Habits to Stick

 A lot of people developed new habits and routines during the pandemic. For some, it was learning to set boundaries during their workday so they could go for walks or spend time with family. For others,  it was just the opposite -- they found themselves working longer hours and unable to disconnect.

If you're part of the group that developed habits that aren't healthy or that you would like to change, you may be looking for way to adopt a better diet, sleep more or use technology less.

A new book, "How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You want to Be" by Kathy Milkman, may hold some answers.

I've interviewed Milkman before, and as a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, she often delves into the "why" of human behavior.

In this latest book, she discovers that in order to develop the consistent habits we want (exercise more, have better work/life balance), the key is not being so strict. In other words, you don't have to visit the gym at the same time every day in order to make that habit stick. If you become an "inflexible automaton," then if you can't make it to the gym at that time, you are unlikely to go at all.

But if you have a more flexible mindset, and work out at different times, then you are more likely to have that habit stick. You learn to adapt to various circumstances in regards to exercise, and so focus on getting your exercise -- instead of the "time" of the exercise.

The lesson here is that instead of focusing on answering your email at a certain time of day, be more flexible. The research suggests that by rolling with whatever life throws at you -- and still answering your email -- the "autopilot" becomes stronger to answer your email. You're not bound by a rigid schedule that can easily be thrown off, but rather the task you want to accomplish.

"I remain convince that by deliberately building good habits, we can harness our inherent laziness to make positive changes to our behavior," Milkman says. "The most versatile and robust habits are formed when we train ourselves to make the best decision, no matter the circumstances."

Monday, May 10, 2021

What Bosses Need to Do Now for Teams Moving Back to the Office

Some people are anxious to get  back to the office and leave behind the days of working at their kitchen tables in their pajamas.

But others are more concerned -- they still worry about COVID-19 transmission, they're unsure how they'll handle childcare or school situations with their children or they simply don't want to return to the hassle of a commute.

Bosses need to deal with these concerns sooner rather than later. By letting employees wonder about what's going to happen with their work arrangements, teams aren't going to be able to function effectively.

Here's some things bosses can do now as change work arrangements evolve:

  • Talk about successes. Call the team together through a Zoom call and remind them how resilient they've become. Talk about how challenges over the last year were addressed not by panicking, but by working together to come up with innovative ideas and solutions. 
  • Let them express concerns. This is best done individually if possible, but if not, hold a virtual meeting that lets employees list all the things that could be holding them back. Once they unpack all their fears or concerns, then bosses have a better handle on how they can work with the employee to find solutions or offer support as needed.
  • Show compassion. As employees become more comfortable with the idea of returning to the office -- or working part-time from home -- the boss needs to show the rest of the team how to behave moving forward. A boss who shows empathy sets the tone for the rest of the team not to be judgmental about someone else's situation or dismiss someone's anxieties as unfounded.
There is no doubt that moving employees back to the office -- or letting some continue to work from home -- will be a big challenge for bosses. But setting the right tone will be critical not only to help employees make that shift, but also in establishing team cohesiveness and resilience in the long run.

Monday, May 3, 2021

How to Better Understand Digital Body Language

As more of us prepare to move back into the office environment -- either permanently or on a more flexible basis -- we need to understand that Zoom calls and other forms of digital communication will become a permanent part of our career.

With that in mind, it's important to become more adept as understanding digital "cues" or "body language" that we observe through a camera lens or via text.

While this is far from an exact science, there is some understanding about what some cues may signal. Consider:

  • Providing affirmation in different ways. While speaking with someone in person or over Zoom, you may nod your head to signal understanding. But in a Slack conversation or via email, you may want to respond immediately with a statement such as: "I get completely what you're saying," or "I agree with your assessment of the situation." 
  • Organizing your thoughts. When you're meeting face-to-face, you may give a thoughtful look to the speaker to indicate you're thinking about their proposal or idea, perhaps even pausing a minute before responding. This shows that you're giving the idea real consideration. When you're responding online, you also need to show thoughtfulness by composing a reasoned message. Don't fire off a quick "got it, thx" or it could be seen as dismissive and rude.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues. Even though it's not in person, a Zoom call can provide some clues that someone is getting annoyed or bored during the call.  A person who crosses her arms or appears to be looking at her phone a lot may signal she's bored or becoming annoyed by the conversation. Or, rapid eye blinking or sighing may signal stress.
  • Pick up the phone. One of the biggest complaints about Zoom is that it always feels likes you're "on," which can be exhausting. It's also a pain to make sure you are dressed, have your hair combed and your kids aren't dancing in the background with the cat. (Cute, but distracting.) Instead, eliminate these problems -- and the miscommunication that can happen with emails and texts -- and instead have a phone conversation.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Study Reveals One Simple Way to Negotiate Better

If you've ever watched any of the cable news shows, you know that it seems whoever talks the most -- and the loudest -- seems to win.

But it appears that such a strategy doesn't work in negotiations, according to new study.

The study finds that during negotiations, periods of silence foster a more deliberative mindset because we interrupt our fixed mindset thinking. In other words, it shifts negotiators into a  more reflective state of mind, and this can lead to better opportunities to create value for both sides.

This silence helps the initiator to think more deeply about a problem, instead of seeing it as a tug-of-war where one side has to win and the other side has to lose.

So, the next time you're negotiating at work -- whether it's with a customer or a co-worker or a boss -- don't feel like you have to talk all the time to "overpower" the other side and get your way. Instead, embrace some silence and let your mind consider other ways to get what you want -- and help the other side get what they want.

Monday, April 19, 2021

4 Ways to Better Manage a Remote Team

A new survey by PwC finds that three-quarters of executives say that remote work caused by the pandemic was successful for their companies and that productivity (despite an initial decline) stayed on track or even improved.

One interesting finding, however,  is that it's "superachievers" who seem to be pulling the weight, often working harder and longer than other team members. These superachievers, which accounted for about one-third of a total sample, didn't slack off even though it appears that other people did.

PwC points out that these superachievers may be accomplishing a lot because of fewer distractions or they are feeling an adrenaline high. But such workers aren't going to be able to sustain the team for long, and other workers report they're suffering burnout and stress.

That's why PwC recommends that leaders need to ensure they're setting all remote workers up for success. Among the recommendations:

1. Key business indicators (KIP). You can't just look at sales calls made, but must also look at effectiveness, input and output and team accountability. This can help managers spot productivity declines or when someone may be near the breaking point.

2. New skills for leaders. When teams aren't physically together, it may be tougher to spot someone who is struggling. Leaders need help in developing their emotional intelligence so that they can better coach remote workers, recognize problems and use effective remote work strategies to help teams.

3. A pat on the back. Some teams would ring a bell with a new sale, or gather for lunch to celebrate achievements. Remote workers still need that recognition -- and leaders need those celebrations to be something that is meaningful to the team member and celebrates achievements in a timely way.

4. Set a schedule. Demands at home can be a distraction for remote workers, so it's a good idea to build structure into team schedules, whether it's a "no meeting" day, or times when breaks are taken for walks or to take care of personal needs.

You may not know what the future holds for your team, whether you will return to the office, continue working remotely or have a hybrid model. But whatever the future holds, don't delay in improving your management of your remote team.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Why Virtual Teams Fight -- and What to Do About It

My last post was on communications, and I wanted to address the topic again because there are some unique challenges with communicating virtually.

One of the biggest issues is that team members are often communicating for the first time with someone they've never met in person. While they may believe a virtual conversation goes well, they are often taken aback when an email later arrives from this person that seems less-that-friendly or judgmental.

Lindred Greer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, says that communicating through video calls or emails can escalate conflicts quickly as colleagues take disagreements personally. 

That's because colleagues "can’t see the context or the nuance or even the facial expressions of the person who is engaging in this task conflict,” she says.

As a result, one colleague may start to think negatively about the other person, become more aggressive and escalate the conflict -- something that wouldn't happen if working face-to-face.

In addition, as if often evident on social media, people are more uninhibited in their opinions when they aren't face-to-face, and that can lead to some ugly emails or texts that make the situation worse.

She suggests that one critical way to avoid problems among virtual team members is for managers to have a face-to-face "kickoff" meeting with the members. After spending a few days together, relationships will grow so that in the future, they will be better able to assess interactions and not jump to conclusions.

If your manager doesn't facilitate such contacts, then take it upon yourself to try and meet as many team members as possible in person. It might be a bit more challenging while we're still in lockdown, but it will be well worth the effort.

Monday, April 5, 2021

5 Communications Lessons to Learn Today

I've been covering the workplace for a long, long (long) time, and the one thing I have learned is that 99 percent of the problems in the workplace occur because  of poor communication.

Poor communication between managers and employees and poor communication between co-workers is usually at the heart of every snafu, dispute and poor job performance.

That's why I think a recent podcast with management guru Robert Sutton is valuable. You can find the full transcript here, but let me highlight some of his points about how to communicate better:

 1.  "A lot of what a leader’s job is is to be clear about where people should focus attention and where they should not focus attention."

2. "There are people who suffer from collaboration overload. There’s all sorts of evidence...that essentially you’ve got 3 to 5 percent of the people who do 35 percent of the work on many teams. They get beleaguered. They get burned out. They quit. They get cynical." 

3. "When there’s hand-offs between people, between silos, those are the places where the conflict, where the misunderstanding happens. And as a leader, what your job is is to have everybody, for example, in every silo and in every shift understand what it feels like to be the giver and the receiver in the hand-off situation."

4. In meetings, "if a CEO talks the whole time, that's a bad sign. If you’re a boss, shut up and ask more questions. What good leaders do is that they make it safe and encourage the people who talk less to sort of add something, too."

5. "There’s all sorts of evidence that when people argue in an atmosphere of mutual trust, that they’re more likely to bring different perspectives. They’re more likely to develop the best ideas."

No matter what your job, these are the things you need to think about and try to implement in your daily communications. Do you ask questions? Do you cut off someone who annoys you or do you let him/her voice an opinion? Do others trust you enough to give their honest opinions? 

Working on these issues will not only make you a better communicator, but a more valued member of any team.

Monday, March 29, 2021

How to Answer "Tell Me About Yourself"


"Tell me about yourself" is the most common interview question asked of job candidates, which is why it's a good idea that you come up with a great answer.

First, know that many interviewers use this as an ice breaker, a chance to establish rapport, whether it's for an in-person interview or over the phone.

Second, don't try and wing it. Since you know there's a really good chance you're going to be asked this question, you need to think about what you want to convey to this employer in a few sentences.

Here's what you need to know:

1. Be positive about yourself. "Well, there's really not much to tell...." isn't a good way to start. Instead, think about something you've recently accomplished in your latest role. Or, if you've been unemployed, you can talk about a previous role and the skills you used that are relevant the job and what you've been doing lately to keep up your skills: "I'm really proud of the fact that I completed certification in XYZ or will be completing my online classes this spring."

2.  Don't include unnecessary details. Since you want these comments to be concise and engaging, don't add things that don't advance your story or aren't related to the job you're seeking. 

3. Be engaging. Employers are also looking for soft skills, which  means you need to be able to communicate in a professional but friendly way. They want to see you make eye contact, show some enthusiasm when talking about your skills and smile. 

4. Work on verbal tics. You never know the kind of things that might bug an interviewer, but it's a good idea to work on eliminating bad habits such as saying "like" too much ("It's like, I've always, like, wanted to work in, like, the music industry.") That's also goes for "you know," "uh" and beginning every sentence with "so."

Finally, remember that you don't want to begin reciting your resume when you're asked this question. Keep your answer between 30 seconds and about 1.5 minutes -- try to see what feels comfortable to you. This is just an opening for your interview, and you'll have more opportunities to talk about specifics.

If you can, ask a friend or colleague to listen to your statement. Don't memorize it, just feel comfortable with it so that you're focused more on engaging the interviewer rather than rattling off an answer.