derailers

CWC #8

Here’s a touchy subject: have you ever had a complaint brought against you in the workplace? If you have, you’re not alone. I’ve known many leaders who were the object of complaints (a hazard my job when I was in HR).

The thing is, one complaint can actually be an indicator that you are doing what you’re supposed to do. Low performers who’ve been allowed to slide for years can be pricklier than a porcupine when they are suddenly held to the standard they should have been all along. If you’re not willing to make them unhappy, and risk a complaint being made about you, you may not be cut out for leadership.

On the other hand, if you’ve had a handful of complaints (or more!) made about you, it’s time for some serious introspection.  Ask yourself what, or who, is the common denominator.  Answer: it’s you. If multiple people have complained that you play favorites, or that you treat people disrespectfully, you probably do. Get honest with yourself and be willing to change your behavior or your train just might jump the tracks.

To degree or not to degree

Help Wanted: Degree required. 

Seen this lately?  If you’re seeking a job, I’m sure you have.  And in the not too distant past, if you were my client, I would have advised you: “Don’t let that stop you from applying.”  Because I knew, firsthand and through much observation, that due to the war for talent, companies often ignored their own guidelines.   Now, however, the tide has turned.  Companies are sticking by their guidelines much more closely.  Why?  Because they can.  

So, what does this mean for you as a job seeker?  First and foremost, it means that if the kind of jobs you are interested in consistently require a degree, if you already have some college hours under your belt and have any means at all to go back to school, run, do not walk, to the college of your choice and complete your degree as soon as possible.  If you have taken no college classes, this is a bigger decision, but still one you should very seriously consider. 

Take night classes?  Yes.  Miss out on family events?  Yes.   Strain your brain studying again?  Yes.  Why?  Because the (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate for people over age 25 with a Bachelor’s degree or higher is currently 4.4%.  Do you hear me??  4.4%!  For people over age 25 with some college or an Associate’s degree, it is 9.1%.  That is still below the national average, but significantly higher than 4.4%.  Which odds would you like to have in your favor?  And if the national average is 9.6%, what do you think the rates are for high school graduates with no college, and those who did not complete high school? 10.0% and 15.4% respectively.  (All information here is based on the September 2010 Employment Situation report and supporting tables available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics at www.bls.gov). 

This is the reality of the world today.  People who have been displaced from jobs they were successful in for 20 years or more are now not able to land those same exact jobs – because they lack a degree!  Do I agree with this?  NO.  Employers have become lazy and begun inserting “Bachelor’s degree required” as shorthand for “needs to be able to write a paragraph that actually means something and isn’t full of errors” or “needs to be able to use logic and sound decision-making skills to solve problems”.  If only having a degree meant that!   Sadly, it often doesn’t.  But that is a topic for another post.  

As a side note, I urge employers to say what they really mean in job postings and go back to using the phrase, “degree or equivalent experience”.  But, back to my primary message, I will again, urge you – if you have not finished your degree but have ever wanted to – do it.  Make the time.  Find the money.  Seek grants, scholarships and loans if needed.  Pick a decent, reasonably-priced school and go.  It truly is an investment in your future and the future starts now.

Career wellness checkup complete!

We did it! We made it to the end of our career wellness checkup (via Twitter). That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: now we actually have to do something with it. Because, of course, it doesn’t make much of a difference if we don’t…

Just like in my team development sessions, I love the intellectual exercise of conducting assessments and reviewing the results with the team, seeing the “aha” moments. In the right setting, I could talk about the theoretical all day. But in these team sessions, the underlying assumption is that something will actually change as a result. (Can you imagine??) And since change is a verb in this context, that means we actually have to do something. I get rabid about making sure we schedule ample time in my sessions to identify stop/start/continue items and leave with commitments. And, happily, I’ve seen the results that follow from folks making good on these commitments.

Alas, since we are not sitting in a room together, and I am not controlling your schedule, I must leave it to you to review your own answers to the checkup questions over the last several weeks, and identify your own action items. My primary guidance is this: Don’t try to do it all. Pick just a few items – maybe three, tops. Perhaps you recognized a theme to the areas you need to work on. My questions generally revolve around a few themes – knowledge and skills, organizational savvy, network and career direction/vision. If you have recognized that one of these areas needs more work than the others (say…you’ve recognized your skills are not up to date and you haven’t kept up with the latest knowledge in your industry or field), consider building a few action items around that area. Here are a few examples:

-Need / *Action item

– to increase knowledge within industry / * find relevant blogs and subscribe to their free auto email updates

– to increase broader business knowledge / * download free podcasts through iTunesU from top universities

– to learn a new skill / * find someone with that skill and ask to observe them

– to build my internal network outside my team / * connect with other employees through LinkedIn; comment on their status updates or posted discussions

– to build my network outside my company / * attend networking event or ask a well networked friend to invite you to their next networking lunch

– to build a better relationship with my leader’s leader / * volunteer for a special project which will give you exposure to him or her

These are just a few examples. Some actions could require a serious time investment, but many won’t. Think small. Be creative. But whatever you do, don’t wait. I’ll be doing this myself and will update you in a future blog.

Tough Love

When I ask others for feedback, I often frame it by saying, “Give me tough love,”

This really is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in my career. That tough love is the best kind. Sometimes it’s rough. Sometimes it’s not in the form we want to hear. But to those who are bold enough to say what we need to hear, rather than what we want to hear, we owe a debt of gratitude. Feedback truly is a gift. Because if someone doesn’t think you are effective, or thinks you made a mistake, even if they don’t say it, they are still thinking it. And it is still affecting your relationship with them, and possibly your performance on a larger scale. Once they share this thought with you, though, you have suddenly gained power. You now have the power to do something about it.

Often we don’t want to “do something about it”. Because it requires work. Sometimes hard work. And that’s no fun. So, we stick our head in the sand, we disinvite feedback: we ignore it, we deny it, we downplay it, we rationalize it. And when we do, that’s when our growth is stunted.

The next time someone offers you feedback, or just plain criticism, say “thank you” and mean it.
Sir Francis Bacon said “Knowledge is power.” Claim your power. It’s there waiting for you wrapped in a package called tough love.

Strategic Self-Presentation

In the last post, I discussed ways to develop a more strategic view in business. Now, what if you already think strategically but you still have an image that says you don’t?

One of my colleagues had this issue in a previous role. When told by a trusted leader, “You need to be more strategic,” she was flabbergasted. When she started telling this person all the work she was doing that was truly strategic and affecting the direction of her division, the realization hit that nobody outside of a few people in her division knew about it. She had to start thinking strategically about who knew what she was doing.

I mentor through a fantastic leadership development program called WOMEN Unlimited. There’s a saying they use: it’s not what you know, it’s who knows you know. This is so true. Too many people hide their light under a bushel. Women in particular do this a lot, though in my career I’ve known plenty of men who do it too.

Let’s say you are thinking strategically, or adding strategic value to the business. Who knows it? Do your leaders one or two levels up know? Do people in other divisions know?

Some of you are starting to cringe and think “office politics–ewww.” I don’t call it office politics. It’s not empty glad- handing. It’s taking the time to think about and having the confidence to do something about sharing information with those who want to know and who may likely benefit by it. Your leadership team benefits by knowing what fantastic work you do. It may be something they want to implement elsewhere. It may be something that can help them highlight the value of your team (and that’s pretty important in today’s world of job cuts and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately?)

Is one of those people who will benefit by it You? Yessiree, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. Each of us must take responsibility for the part we play in creating our own professional brand. That means thinking strategically about how and to whom we are presenting ourselves.

What are you doing strategically to create yours?

Being Strategic – The “It” Factor

I have often worked with professionals who are on their way, climbing the corporate ladder.   They’ve done everything right – taken the right jobs, worked harder than the people around them, developed good relationships with their leaders, and so on.   And then…they hit a wall. 

“You need to be more strategic,” they’re told. 

“But what does that mean?!” they cry.  And, often, they get very few specific answers. 

Being Strategic seems to be like the It factor for a performer.  People know it when they see it, but it is hard to pin down and put into words. 

If you are struggling with this, consider:

Strategy – deals with  the longer term,  asks “where are we going and why?” and perhaps most importantly “where should we be going?”

Tactics – deal with the details of how to get there

To use another analogy. think of driving a car.  

You can drive a car and reach a specific destination, even if you don’t know what that destination is, as long as someone navigates for you.  You make tactical decisions and take action to brake, turn, and accelerate in the right places.   Your ‘strategic partner’ is your navigator.  They know where are you are going – literally ‘seeing the bigger picture’.  If you do not know where you are are going, are you going to be able to add anything of value to a discussion about what route to take?  No.

But, if you do know the destination, and have a broader knowledge of the world around you, you can say, “It would be better to take the 108 because there’s construction on the beltway.”  Or, “There’s a better place that’s closer.  Let’s go there instead.”

So, in the business world, if a key factor is having a broader view, how do you gain it?  Here are some tips:

#1:   Get to know more about the business world outside your company. 

You have no excuse for not doing this.  There are innumerable free or cheap resources.  You have instant, online access to the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, the BBC.  A  forward-thinking periodical I absolutely love is Fast Company, and they have online access as well.   There are a bazillion blogs and websites out there.  Do you have an iPod?  Go to iTunesU.  You can download presentations from pre-eminent business leaders – for free.

#2:   Pay attention to what is going on in your business community.

Again, there are many free or low-cost, easy-to-access resources.  BizJournals operates Business Journals in 40 cities in the US, and have online resources, some free.  I get a daily email blast of headlines and selected stories for my local area.  It takes me probably less than 10 minutes a day to stay on top of what’s happening.   If you have an Economic Development Commission or similar entity, they are usually excellent sources of information on what’s growing and changing in the area.

#3:  Keep up with leading research in your field.   

I’m not talking about the re-hashed stuff you see in most professional association journals. (Sorry, but it’s true, unless you’re in a medical/research/academic field.  I do think they have their use, but it’s not in this arena.)  Subscribe to a peer-reviewed academic journal or just search them online and buy copies of only the articles that interest you.  Or, see the note above about iTunesU.  Researchers from leading schools, including MIT, Stanford and Cambridge openly discuss their research – for free!

#4:  Talk to others in your company outside of your department.

It sounds simplistic, but it’s astonishing how narrow most people’s views are!  You know what I’m talking about – the silo effect.  You’ve probably complained about it before.   But, if you take the initiative to learn how your actions affect other departments, or what they are working on that might affect you, how do you think that will affect your decisions? Your actions?

When you implement the above practices, you are in a much better position to be a ‘navigator’, to get your head out of the day-to-day ‘how do we get there’, to speak up and influence the direction of your team or your company.  Then, you are on your way to being Strategic. 

Coming next…Strategic Self-Presentation