Friday, December 28, 2012

Is Your Desk Destroying Your Productivity?

Published on

I just got back from a run/walk/jog thing I do about three times a week. It feels good to get the blood flowing and since I have a track about a quarter mile from my home office, I have no excuse to not do it. (Although I found I am crafty at making up excuses. . . like going to my normal office, where it would be very awkward to throw on a pair of shorts and run around the parking lot.)

After I wash up, I'm ready to get back to my desk and to get back to work. What was I doing? Oh yeah, the proposal. I think there was an e-mail about that. Hey, my buddy from college just wrote. Oh geez, look at the time, I've got to work on that. . . what was it? E-mail. No wait, proposal. Talk about proposal, look at that stack of papers I need to go through. Wait a second, I haven't swung the little steel ball on the office-desk-clacking-balls-toy in about 2 minutes. I've got to do that.

Does this sound a little like your own unproductive experience at your desk? Don't blame yourself. Blame your desk. Here's the most common desk saboteurs, and how to combat them:

1. Constant sitting. Long periods of inactivity (except for sleep) are not good for your health or your attentiveness. Sitting and staring at a computer with the only activity being the click and clack of the keyboard drains your mental sharpness. The fix? Take regular breaks, every 50 minutes or so, and get active—go for a quick 10 minute walk, or do push-ups and sit-ups.

2. Clock distraction. Regular peaks at the clock trigger thoughts of overwhelm, regularly. The feeling of overwhelm manifests into distraction and results in inefficiency. If you want to be productive you need to focus on one thing at a time (contrary to popular belief, people cannot multitask). The fix? Put the clock out of your line of site. Use alarms on your computer or phone to ring at appointment times.

3. Piles of papers. Similar to the clock distraction, a pile of papers on your desk is a constant reminder of everything else you need to do.The fix? Create a single sheet to-do list, then file all the piled up paperwork on your desk into a cabinet—and out of site.

4. Desk toys. You know that cool desk toy your spouse gave you as a gift? It is a really nice way to get those mindless breaks you need from work. The problem is it is a major distraction at all times, not just when you need it. That little toy is causing you to take "breaks" way too frequently to be productive. The fix? Keep the desk toy stored away in a cabinet or if you want to display it, put it on a shelf out of reach.

The ultimate fix just might be a small standing desk with a surface space only for your computer and a piece of paper and nothing else. But if you are not ready for that extreme, making these changes to your current desk is a great place to start.

Does this sound like your desk? Tell us what distracts you the most in the comments box below.

Thanks to Mike Michalowicz / Open Forum / American Express Company

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What Is Coaching?

Understanding What Coaching Is

You've probably heard people talking about coaching in the workplace. You might have even received some coaching in the past, or you might have used coaching to improve a person's performance, even if you didn't actually describe it as "coaching" at the time.

But what actually is coaching, and how do you use it? And what skills do you need to be an effective coach?

In this article, we'll look at the basics of coaching in the workplace. We'll clarify what it involves, and review the key approaches that you can use to be a successful coach. We'll also review some situations where coaching can be useful, and look at some examples of coaching questions.

About Coaching

Coaching is a useful way of developing people's skills and abilities, and of boosting performance. It can also help deal with issues and challenges before they become major problems.

A coaching session will typically take place as a conversation between the coach and the coachee (person being coached), and it focuses on helping the coachee discover answers for themselves. After all, people are much more likely to engage with solutions that they have come up with themselves, rather than those that are forced upon them!

In some organizations, coaching is still seen as a corrective tool, used only when things have gone wrong. But in many companies, coaching is considered to be a positive and proven approach for helping others explore their goals and ambitions, and then achieve them.

Coaches in the workplace are not counselors, psychotherapists, gurus, teachers, trainers, or consultants – although they may use some of the same skills and tools.

Most formal, professional coaching is carried out by qualified people who work with clients to improve their effectiveness and performance, and help them achieve their full potential. Coaches can be hired by coachees, or by their organizations. Coaching on this basis works best when everyone clearly understands the reason for hiring a coach, and when they jointly set the expectations for what they want to achieve through coaching.

However, managers and leaders in the organization can be just as effective as externally hired coaches. Managers don't have to be trained formally as coaches. As long as they stay within the scope of their skill set, and maintain a structured approach, they can add value, and help develop their people's skills and abilities.

Note 1:
The key challenge for managers is to separate their management role from their coaching role. Our article Informal Coaching for Managers includes ideas and best practices on how best to do this.

Note 2:
Although coaching in the workplace is just as important as coaching in sport, the approach is different. Sports coaches mentor their athletes, using technical skills, experience, and a "telling" style of direction. By contrast, questioning and reflection are often more important in workplace coaching.

Where Coaching Can Help

Here are a few examples of questions that you can answer with the benefit of coaching:

  • How can I manage my time better to achieve all I want in life?
  • What should I do next in my career within the organization?
  • How can I reduce the stress in my job or my life?
  • How can I achieve a better balance between work life and home life?
  • What skills do I need to grow and develop further?
  • How can I improve my relationship with a specific colleague?
Our articles on Coaching for Team Performance, Coaching with Feedback, Coaching for Talent Development, and Coaching Through Change look in more detail at specific situations where coaching is useful.

Golden Rules of Coaching

These are the fundamental "rules" of coaching:

Coaching is Founded on Confidentiality and Trust

Coaching can be successful only if coachees are able to discuss every aspect of an issue or challenge with their coach. The coach may need to listen to personal problems or private information that must be kept confidential. (Unless, of course, it involves criminal activity or activities harmful to the team, its clients or the organization; or affects the safety and welfare of other people.)

The Solution to the Coachee's Issue Lies Within the Coachee

This may sound unusual, but it means that the background of an issue and the options available are generally known to the coachee. The coach's job is to ask the right questions to help coachees arrive at their own conclusions. As we've said before, this is a very powerful way of helping people to change.

Of course, the coach can provide helpful input or suggestions, but the best answers usually come from the coachee.

There's a difference here between the type of coaching conducted by a professional coach (who doesn't know about the day-to-day functioning of the organization) and coaching conducted by a manager (who does). As a manager, you probably have useful knowledge and experience, and you're responsible for helping people find the right answers to questions they're asking. However, be sensitive and humble in the way you help people – situations may be more complex than you initially think!

There's no Judgment or Fixed Agenda, but Have an Agreed Goal for Each Session

For a coaching session to work well, there should be a lot of relaxed conversation, and the session should be free from the fear of judgment and should not follow any set pattern. At the same time, coaching conversations must be focused in order to be effective.

The coachee should have a general idea or outline of the objectives of the coaching, both within the specific session and in the longer term. The coach then helps the coachee arrive at that destination by whatever route seems appropriate. The coach should check with the coachee during the session to determine if they're both moving in the right direction.

Coaching is About the Whole Person

Although a coaching session will probably focus on one issue, coaches must remember that they're having a conversation with a whole person who has specific experiences, emotions, and patterns of behavior.

Workplace coaching will probably focus on workplace issues, but coaches must recognize that other factors and issues will likely enter the conversation.

The Coach and Coachee are Equal Partners

The best coaching conversations are set up so that the coach and coachee are equal partners, whatever relationship and hierarchy might exist in the workplace. The coachee will define the actual issue, while the coach will use his or her skills to help deal with the issue.

Coaching Looks to the Future and Next Actions

Coachees are typically looking for some change to their performance, career, or life direction. Determining the right path may require the coachee to look at past experiences and decisions.

However, the most positive coaching experiences are sessions that conclude with an agreed set of next steps or actions to take.

Good coaching sessions typically last between one and two hours. If they're less than an hour long, it's likely that the topic, or topics, won't be reviewed in sufficient detail. If a session lasts more than two hours, both the coach and coachee may lose focus and concentration.

Key Approaches Used in Coaching

These are useful approaches that you can use in coaching sessions:

Structured Questioning

Most coaching is achieved by asking the right questions – the types of questions that coachees would ask of themselves.

With practice and experience, you can develop a sense of what the right questions are. But as a simple rule, start with open questions, and then ask more specific and probing questions once the coachee has raised an issue or concern.

Active Listening

Pay attention to the fine detail of what coachees are saying, and how they're saying it. This is key to understanding a coachee's position at a deep enough level.

Is there a lot of emotion attached to the words that the coachee is using? If so, what emotion? Passion, fear, excitement, dread, anger, joy?

How does the coachee's body language compare with the words being spoken? We often use words lightly, but the underlying meaning may say a lot about what we feel or believe. For example, phrases starting with "I should do …" or "I must do …" are very different from phrases starting with "I will …"

Summarizing and Repeating

During a coaching session, summarize where the coaching conversation, or part of the conversation, has led. This helps the coachee relax and continue, as they know that you have taken an interest, and see the whole picture.

You should also occasionally repeat what coachees say – particularly when it could help you understand how their behaviors or expressions might be seen by others.

Checking in With the Coachee

During a coaching session, it really helps to confirm with coachees that the session is going well for them and that it's covering what they want it to cover.

It's normal for coaches to give "homework assignments" to coachees. This does not mean the coaches are taking on the role of teacher. It simply means that both coach and coachee agree that some structured thinking time between coaching sessions is of value.

Our article on the GROW Model will help you further when planning and structuring a coaching session.

Example Coaching Questions

A member of your team has asked you to help them improve her time management. You schedule in a coaching session with her, and ask these questions:

  • Where are the key conflicts in your use of time?
  • What usually stops you from leaving work at a regular time?
  • How do you think you could address that problem and stop it from happening?
  • What stops you from getting up an hour earlier to do X?
  • What support do you have at home to do Y?
  • How could you get more support at home for Y?
  • How could you get more support at work for the regular tasks you perform?
  • How do you feel about delegating at work and at home?
  • What is the main priority for how you spend your time?
  • How do you deal with distractions?

These are simple, open questions. But the answers to these and other similar questions will often show that the real issue behind a time management problem, for example, has nothing to do with time management – but rather, something to do with how the coachee feels. If you have an issue with time management, try answering some of the questions above. Substitute X for an activity you believe you want to do, but never seem to make time to do it. Substitute Y for a home or family task that you always have to do yourself.

External coaches often have to deal with a coachee's major life changes and more wide-ranging career considerations. When managers act as coaches, they should think about whether to coach on these topics, depending on whether there's a potential conflict of interest with the manager's regular organizational role.

Key Points

Coaching is great for helping people develop their skills and abilities, and for resolving issues before they become serious.

Coaching is useful in many different situations, and you can use coaching as part of your everyday role. Use the approaches we've discussed here, as well as tools such as the GROW model to help you structure your sessions.

Always remember to keep the coachee's interests at the forefront of coaching sessions. Also, try to let coachees come up with their own conclusions through open questions, rather than giving them the answers directly.

Thanks to MindTools / Mind Tools Ltd


High-Performance Coaching

Achieving Full Potential

You may think that "high-performance coaching" means coaching for high performers – in other words, people who, for whatever reason, have been identified as "star talent."

Actually, high-performance coaching is about helping all people reach their full potential, in any area of their lives. For the manager as coach, this means working with people to improve their performance at work.

High-performance coaching may also involve working with other people within your organization – collaborating with other managers and leaders to make the workplace a high-performance organization, one that helps everybody to perform at their best.

The approaches and techniques used in high-performance coaching borrow heavily from the worlds of sport and the military – areas where optimal performance is key. High-performance coaching conversations usually start with finding out people's "starting points" – their visions or life ambitions. Then, it moves on to explore the directions in which people need to move to achieve those visions, and the steps they need to take now to do so.

When to Use High-Performance Coaching

How often do we think we know what we want to achieve, only to discover that gaps in willpower and self-discipline hold us back?

High-performance coaching helps people explore their motivation, and overcome the blockers that hold them back. It's about both support and challenge. It's particularly useful for the following:

  • Long-range career or life planning – While some people may prefer not to have a "life plan," there's robust evidence that shows that people who have clear plans and goals are more likely to be successful in the long term.
  • Navigating career change points – An example of a career change point could be the transition from being primarily seen as a manager to being seen as a leader – someone who offers clear guidance and genuine inspiration. Coaching can help people navigate these change points more successfully.
  • Making fundamental changes to performance or behavior – This involves the equivalent of athletes breaking bad habits in their game, and relearning basic skills the right way.
  • Handling major life setbacks – High-performance coaching can help people recover from major business or personal setbacks. In particular, it can help people address work-life imbalances, or deal with major episodes of stress or burnout.
As our article What is Coaching? highlights, coaching typically works best when the coachee (person being coached) sets the agenda, and is prompted by the coach to develop their own solutions. However, you may find that you need to take a more direct approach with high-performance coaching.

High-Performance Coaching Skills and Tools

Here is a useful checklist of things that you should do when helping others to be their best:

  • Be respectful of the coachee as an individual.
  • Be respectful of the coachee's skills and goals in life.
  • Be honest in providing constructive and challenging feedback, and set high goals that the coachee is likely to achieve.
  • Be aware of your own ego and agenda, so that these don't get in the coachee's way.
  • Be comfortable with a variety of tools that help you explore the coachee's perspective. Examples include the GROW Model, the Flow Model, and a simple formula drawn from one of the most valuable books in coaching, "The Inner Game of Tennis" by W. Timothy Gallwey. The formula is:
    • Performance = Potential - Interference
  • We'll look at this formula, and the Flow Model, in more detail below.

The Flow Model

The Flow Model was introduced by positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his 1990 book "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience."

This model shows the emotional state that we're likely to experience when trying to complete a task, depending on the perceived difficulty of the challenge, and our perceptions of our skill levels.

Part of the job of the high-performance coach is to help coachees acquire and be confident with the skills they need to achieve their goals. The coach then helps the coachee match these skills to the task at hand, setting "stretch goals" – goals that are challenging, but which are possible to achieve.

Emotional Interference

Remember Gallwey's simple formula:

Performance = Potential - Interference

Here, "interference" generally means emotional interference. We may understand our true potential, but our performance suffers because our emotions get in the way. Some of the interfering emotions are fear, guilt, and worry.

Let's look at these more closely:

  • Fear – The most obvious and most inhibiting emotion is fear. While some fear has a basis in reality, many of our fears are unfounded. Our minds play negative tricks on us to keep us safe, but also keep us unchallenged and, probably, unfulfilled.
  • It may take time to deal with a coachee's fear of a situation, event, or action, but it's hugely beneficial to do so. Once you identify and discuss people's fears, you weaken the power of those fears to hold back future activity and performance.
  • Likewise, it can be useful to anticipate some worst-case scenarios – such as losing an important sales contract or even losing your job – because it lets you see what other options are available. Perhaps the sales contract wasn't as profitable as other contracts you could pursue if you had time to spend with new customers. Perhaps losing a job is the first step toward a new career, even within your current organization. Dealing with self-doubt and fear of failure is one of the most valuable areas to explore with a coachee.
  • Guilt – This is one of the key emotions driving inappropriate work-life balance. If someone routinely works later than other people, it's often evidence of not being able to say no – which, in turn, is typically based on some form of guilt for not having accomplished what was asked for.
  • Worry – This is another key emotion that gets in the way of good performance. Some people seem to worry about everything, including the fact that they're worrying! Worry can lead to physical problems such as poor sleep, bad eating habits, and ultimately, exhaustion. We can't be effective for very long if we have these problems.

Coaches can help coachees see their true potential and eliminate the effect of interfering emotions. Talking about emotions during coaching will help. Also, try these tips:

  • Think of coachees as athletes who want to move to the next level in their game. Half of the coaching job is listening and understanding what drives people, and appreciating what emotions they're feeling. The other half of the job is working with coachees to stretch their performance and explore the skills they need to be their very best.
  • Remember that high-performance coaching can and should be fun. So look for issues, and help people imagine what could be possible, as part of the process.
Key Points

High-performance coaching is about helping people to achieve their very best. It's particularly useful for long-range career or life planning, for dealing with career change points, for making changes to performance or behavior, and for dealing with major life setbacks.

High-performance coaching conversations usually start with finding out people's "starting points" - their visions or life ambitions. You can then look at helping the coachee obtain a balanced set of skills, while looking at emotional interferences such as their worries and fears.

Overall, high-performance coaching involves challenging coaches as well as supporting them, so that they can build their skills and improve their performance in a balanced way.

Thanks to MindTools / Mind Tools Ltd


Sunday, December 9, 2012

7 Traits Of Extraordinary Bosses

Great bosses understand what employees truly need and then provide it to them.

Why do some bosses attract the best and most loyal employees, while others constantly drive them away? The answer lies in the basic traits that each boss brings to the job.

While average bosses are obsessed with their own goals, extraordinary bosses understand what employees need and then give those things to them.

With that in mind, here are the traits that employees want to see the most in the people for whom they work:

1. Simplicity

The business world is a complex collection of trade-offs. When confronted with these ambiguities, most people either become frozen into inaction or revert to doing whatever seems familiar. Employees need a boss to simplify these complexities, so that their daily activities and actions make sense and have more purpose.

2. Fairness

While it's undeniably true that "life is not fair," the desire for equitable treatment is so ingrained in the human psyche that even murderers protest when they feel they're being treated unfairly. Employees therefore want their boss to reward people in proportion to their contribution and to avoid anything that smacks of favoritism.

3. Humility

Most people strongly dislike arrogant individuals. When employees are forced to tolerate a know-it-all boss, that dislike quickly changes to contempt. On the other hand, employees respect bosses who are humble enough to admit they don't know everything and that they're sometimes (and even often) mistaken.

4. Transparency

A boss who disappears into his or her office, makes a decision, and then emerges with a set of commands leaves the impression that the decision is arbitrary. Even if they don't like a decision, employees far prefer to understand the workings of boss's mind and exactly why that decision was made.

5. Generosity

This is not about money. Money is what employees expect from their job, not from their boss. Employees want bosses to be generous with useful information, generous with their time, generous with their praise, and generous with the kind of coaching that helps employees learn how to do their jobs more quickly and effectively.

6. Patience

Employees secretly despise bosses who are so emotionally weak that they must foist their anger and frustration onto others in order to make themselves feel better. By contrast, employees deeply appreciate a boss who both remains calm in a crisis and is patient with each employee's learning curve.

7. Honesty

In a business world where everything seems up-in-the-air and uncertain, employees crave the security of knowing that a boss will do the right thing, both when dealing with employees and dealing with the outside world. Bosses who can inspire such trust inevitably attract employees who are themselves trustworthy.

Thanks to Geoffrey James / Inc. / Mansueto Ventures LLC.

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6 Simple Ways To Be A Better Boss

Here are six changes to your management style that will make your employees happier.
Last week, I described the 7 traits of extraordinary bosses. While that list has proven popular with readers, it doesn't contain any practical advice for bosses who want to improve their own performance.

Over the years, I've read dozens, maybe hundreds, of emails from employees who either complain about their bosses, or offer fulsome praises. Here are six suggestions that have emerged from this dialog:

1. Manage your people not your numbers.

Conventional business thinking is that numbers are all important. As a result, many managers spend an great deal of time looking at the numbers, slicing and dicing the numbers, putting numbers into graphs, and talking about where the numbers are and where they ought to be.

However, all number in every business are the RESULT of how well you manage people not how well you manage numbers. The only way to get better numbers (regardless of your measurements scheme) is to improve the performance of the people who work for you. A good coach always trumps a good Powerpoint.

2. Have relevant and simple measurements.

While your main focus needs to be your employees rather than your numbers, you still need a way to measure how well those employees are doing. Ideally, your metrics should relate as closely as possible to the behaviors that you're trying to encourage and be simple enough for every employee to understand at a glance.

By contrast, complex measurement schemes, with multiple metrics, inevitably create confusion among employees and managers alike. And if nothing that the employee does seems to affect those metrics, they're just creating mental overhead.

3. Have one priority per employee.

I recently received an email from a person whose boss assigned multiple tasks and insisted that every was a "huge priority." That boss, of course, was an idiot, because if everything is priority then nothing is a priority.

The entire concept of a "priority" means that there is ONE thing that's more important than everything else. Giving your employees "multiple priorities" is foisting on them the responsibility to decide what's really important. That's YOUR job.

4. Never vent emotions on an employee.

Employees understand that managers are human, under pressure, and pressed for time.  They know that bosses get frustrated and angry, especially when confronted with bad news, mistakes that could have been avoided, and so forth.

Even so, when you blow your stack at an employee, or make a cutting or hurtful remark, it creates a wound that never heals completely and festers with secret resentment. You don't have to be perfect, but your employees are emphatically NOT your punching bags.

5. Measure yourself by your worst employee.

Managers use their top performers as measure of how successful they are as managers. However, while you may have hired a top performer or grown him or her into that role, that success is more likely to reflect his or her drive and ability rather than anything that you brought to the table.

Instead, you should measure your management ability based on how you handle your worst performers. It is those people who define the lowest level of performance that you're willing to tolerate as well, and how much you expect the other employees to compensate for your low standards.

6. Compensate higher than average.

There's a tendency among managers to think of wages, perks and commissions as expenses that should be minimized in order to increase profit.  However, if there's anything that's true in the business world it that if you pay average wages, you end up with average employees.

This is simple cause and effect not brain surgery. Maybe back before the Internet it was possible to get top people to work for less than they were worth. Today, however, employees who possess even a modicum of common sense know exactly how much they more money could get elsewhere.

Thanks to Geoffrey James / Inc. / Mansueto Ventures LLC.


5 Reasons Your Top Employee Isn't Happy

Not sure why your top performer is unhappy? Check out what the most brilliant (yet difficult) employees hate about company culture.

There has been a bit of a furor recently as both Apple and Microsoft let go key senior executives (Scott Forstall and Steve Sinofsky, respectively) who were both categorized variously as "abrasive," "difficult," and "arrogant."

In almost every popular account of the firings, the two executives have been painted as "out of control" and having lost the confidence of their peers--to the extent that in each case the CEO (Tim Cook at Apple, Steve Ballmer at Microsoft) had no choice but to reluctantly let them go. "More in sorrow than in anger," as a number of reports put it.

There's only one problem with this narrative. It's so one-sided as to be dangerously naive.

Look, no one with any knowledge of the individuals concerned has demurred with the general perception of Steve Sinofsky and Scott Forstall as being prickly, arrogant, and occasionally insufferable, but look at whom they were working alongside: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Steve Ballmer. None of those men could be described as shrinking violets.

Nor is it the case that these two executives were Johnny-come-latelys who didn't "fit in." Sinofsky joined Microsoft as a software design engineer in 1989 (24 years ago!), and Scott Forstall came over from NeXT when it was purchased by Apple in 1997. Both had a sterling record of innovation and execution that ran parallel with their occasional bouts of petulance.

In my experience, this isn't a case of time running out for two people who had it coming. It's clear that both Sinofsky and Forstall had in the past found ways to manage their outbursts that kept them within (barely) acceptable boundaries but that each found the environment within which he was working becoming increasingly intolerable.

In other words, Cook and Ballmer allowed changes to happen in the culture at Apple and Microsoft that eventually pushed their "jerk overachievers" to blow.

It happens all the time. A freewheeling, autocratically managed company has room for (frequently maddening) visionary mavericks until, one day, it doesn't. Unfortunately, from that point on the organization is in Treadmill and headed toward irrelevance.

Here are the top five reasons high-performing maverick employees go ballistic, how to spot them, and what to do about it:

1. Inconsistent / Frequently Changing Priorities

Why It's a Problem: Nothing irritates a top performer more than ditch-to-ditch or fad-based management.

How to Spot It: Employees hunkering down every time a new initiative is introduced--glazing over at strategy meetings.

What to Do About It: Set a short-, medium-, and long-term strategy and stick to each for a reasonable period without being distracted by the newest new thing.

2. Condoning Mediocrity

Why It's a Problem: The No. 1 reason high performers leave organizations in which they are otherwise happy is because of the tolerance of mediocrity.

How to Spot It: Disdain and distance between top performers and others who are not pulling their weight. Dissatisfaction with rewards (compensation, bonuses, awards, etc.) given to others.

What to Do About It: Set high goals for the entire organization and build in both rewards (for success) and consequences (for failure). Apply both consistently and fairly.

3. Round Peg / Square Hole Syndrome

Why It's a Problem: High performers like to do what they're good at‚ not be used as stopgaps in some other way. They view themselves as Ferraris and get frustrated if they think they are being used as golf carts.

How to Spot It: Disengagement from their allocated tasks and responsibilities. Lack of follow-up and accountability. General mopiness.

What to Do About It: Review (with them) what you want this person to do. Freshen up job descriptions and reorientate top performers to tasks that only they can do.

4. Underutilization

Why It's a Problem: Same as above: When you're a Ferrari (or think you are), you don't want to spend your time idling at the curb.

How to Spot It: Freelancing in areas that aren't their responsibility. Getting under everyone's feet. Going rogue.

What to Do About It: Have the employee produce a list of what he or she could/should be doing to occupy free time. Review and agree on utilization. Look at your own delegation skills--if you have an underutilized top performer, it's a sure sign you're a micromanager who has problems delegating.

5. Playing Favorites

Why It's a Problem: Top performers not only believe in a meritocracy. It's their air and water. Start playing favorites and bypassing people despite their results, and your top performers will be out of there before you can say, "Holy second cousin."

How to Spot It: Your sister Sarah's son Jimmy seems much happier than your best salesperson.

What to Do About It: If you need to be told, you shouldn't be managing people.

Thanks to Les McKeown / Inc. / Mansueto Ventures LLC.


Monday, December 3, 2012

5 Cover Letter Techniques = Spellbound Hiring Managers

Bottom-line is, a cover letter's purpose is to lure the reader to, well, read your resume and call you for an interview.

Now you may be dying to ask me, why then can't I only submit my resume? My answer is, you can—but how do you know your competition didn't submit a persuasive cover letter that just about nudged you off the top spot?


Worst-case scenario, they can set your cover letter aside but it's available if they need more convincing.

So, how do you create cover letter that is not tossed?

I'm glad you asked…

Cover Letter Techniques That Work

1. Break a leg with your opening act: Don't begin cover letters with an ordinary and boring statement. You really want to "have them at hello." (Sorry. Couldn't help it.) Really, captivate with the very first sentence. Exude sincerity, offer specific value, spin it, and make sure it's employer-oriented. Here is one of my favorite openings:

Dear Mr. Bradley,

Offering to drive pharmaceutical sales growth by generating qualified leads, penetrating territories, and closing the toughest sales, consistently!

Please allow me to introduce myself…

2. Make a personal connection: You can tell a personal story that further positions you as the best candidate. You can provide statistical insight, reinforcing your industry knowledge. You may opt to walk your employer through your process. In other words, you can communicate more personally than you would on your resume and leverage that "ace in your pocket."

See an example I used in a cover letter:

I am an avid golfer (with a pretty good handicap) and golf at least twice per week—I have closed many sales on the golf course over a weekend. Clients consider me a trusted friend and have even helped me form golf teams for charity events, which is an excellent way to network and gain new business…

Do you think I would have been able to add this golf example in the resume for my client –- no.

Now, let's say candidate #1 is a stellar sales person and candidate #2 (my client) is also an outstanding revenue producer–this example is helping my client promote an added value. This "sign-on benefit" clues the hiring manager my client initiates and develops fruitful relationships through personal networking strategies that will be advantageous to the company. Besides, it's memorable. In a pile of hundreds of resumes and cover letters –- memorable is a winner!

3. Become a tease: Foreshadow what will be listed on the resume; what they will discover when they read your resume–but don't repeat. Piqué interest! Save some fresh content for your cover letter. This is a strategic career marketing plan, part of which what goes on your resume or cover letter is determined–a real choreography! Example:

Please refer to my resume which summarizes more than 15 years of experience increasing revenue for top corporations such as IBM. I have aggressively launched unique sales strategies that have produced up to $8M annually. You will find a full account of my projected sales plans and exceeded goals by percentage per year.

Now we have asked the hiring manager to review the resume and we have provided a bit of information to spark interest. It is important to add quantifiable information and be specific, as you don't want to seem vague. However, there is no need to provide all the details in the cover letter, especially if it will be on the resume. While I urge you to tease — the teasing must be done with actual facts and specific references not generalities that mean nothing.

4. Mesmerize them and get'em to say, YES: There is a physiological connection that goes on when you get a person to think or say yes. So, when you craft your cover letter try to envision the reader nodding their head in agreement with your statements. In order to do this you must validate their needs. You can cast this spell through reinforcing statements or questions.

Take it easy on the questions though—you don't want to come across too sales-driven.

(The art of career marketing is a delicate balance.)

5. Ask for the interview: In sales, they always direct you to ask for the sale. Well, ask for the interview. Just ask for it!

The point here is that your cover letter is a supporting influencing tool. It must be unique, inviting, compelling– a prelude to a well crafted resume in order to provoke action. Your cover letter is part of a marketing package and so merely writing it as you would any other communication letter is not going to generate the interviews you seek.

True story: I had a client tell me that when they were interviewed they were told the cover letter clinched the interview and the resume was used as a guide for an interesting interview. Here is a beginning part of that cover letter:

Music and entertainment is my passion. I am lucky to have realized so early what I was born to do! I have known I wanted to work in the entertainment industry since I was 11 years old. At age four, I already had an affinity for music and entertainment… I loved to perform, watch all the award shows on TV, memorize the choreography to music videos, and I always wanted to know how it all worked behind the scenes.

Client landed a job with Universal Music Distribution. There you have it. Market yourself as the ideal candidate via a purposefully created cover letter, which augments the resume, convincing the employer you've got what they need… in a very special way.

Thanks to Rosa Elizabeth Vargas / Careerealism


Monday, November 26, 2012

Constructive Criticism Is An Oxymoron We Should Do Away With

In an article I wrote last year,  Why "Constructive Feedback" Doesn't Improve Employee Performance, I said "constructive feedback, which is usually critical, rarely helps anyone, and certainly rarely improves employee performance on the job." A number of management experts have recently engaged in renewed dialogue about the dysfunctionality of performance reviews, and a new idea on how to replace it using a positive "crowdsourcing," process has produced an interesting alternative.

In his article in the Harvard Business Review, Tony Schwartz, President and chief executive of the Energy Project, and author of Be Excellent At Anything, says when we hear the phrase, "would you mind if I give you some feedback?" what that means to most of us is "would you mind if I gave you some negative feedback?" wrapped in the guise of constructive criticism.

There are some fundamental problems with negative criticism, regardless of whether we clothe it politely as "constructive." First, Schwartz contends, criticism "challenges our sense of value. Criticism implies judgment and we all recoil from feeling judged." Indeed, psychologists such as Daniel Goleman, contend that threats to self-esteem and self-worth in the form of criticism can feel like threats to our survival.

Nowhere does so-called constructive criticism appear more frequently than in performance reviews of employees. The prevailing theory is that constructive criticism will improve the employee's performance, and that the employee will positively welcome it. Nothing is further from the truth.

The traditional performance appraisal, as practiced in the majority of organizations today, is fundamentally flawed and incongruent with our values-based, vision-driven and collaborative work environments.

Robert Sutton, a Stanford University professor, says that performance evaluations do more harm than good. A 1998 study by Development Dimensions Inc., found that employers expressed overwhelming dissatisfaction with performance reviews. The consulting firm, People IQ, in a 2005 survey, found 87% of employees and managers felt performance reviews were neither useful nor effective. In an article published in The Psychological Bulletin, psychologists A. Kluger and A. Denisi report completion of a meta-analysis of 607 studies of performance evaluations and concluded that at least 30% of the performance reviews ended up in decreased employee performance.

Charles Jacobs, author of Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn't Work and Other Supervisory Lessons from Brain Science, says the brain is wired to resist what is commonly termed as constructive feedback, but is usually negative criticism. Brain science has shown when people encounter information that is in conflict with their self-image their tendency is to change the information, rather than change themselves. So when managers give critical performance appraisal feedback to employees the motivation to change is improbable.

Samuel Culbert, a professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, and author of Get Rid of Performance Review: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing and Focus on What Really Matters, argues that performance reviews are "destructive and fraudulent." He says "it's time to finally put the performance review out of its misery … this corporate sham is one of the most insidious, most damaging and yet most ubiquitous of corporate activities." He also argues that such reviews "instill feelings of being dominated. They send employees the message that the boss's opinion of their performance is the key ingredient of pay, assignment, and career progress." The use of performance reviews, he says, is about "power and subordination," and causes employee defensiveness and stress. What should replace the performance review? Culbert suggests it should be a "performance preview," a process that holds the manager and members of the manager's team equally responsible for results.

Literature abounds with systems and strategies for giving constructive criticism. Perhaps the silliest of these suggests that the person giving the constructive feedback should "sandwich it" between positive statements. Again, this ignores the brain's programmed preference to respond to negative information.

Rachel Emma Silverman and Leslie Kwoh, in two articles in The Wall Street Journal, cite evidence from the Corporate Executive Board that some companies are replacing formal performance reviews with "performance previews," in which the boss or manager engages in a dialogue with an employee about how a specific task or project will be completed before action is taken. This places onus on the employee to specify the how and what action will be taken, but also places onus on the boss to discuss what supportive actions are necessary, creating a two-sided, reciprocally accountable performance system. The boss's job then, is to guide, coach, tutor and assist the employee rather than judge, evaluate and find fault.

As well, some companies are using online technology to regularly collect "crowd sourced" feedback. This allows employees to give immediate feedback to any other employee or boss while work is progressing. Erick Mosley, in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, writes "a group of independently deciding individuals is more likely to make better decisions and more accurate observations than those of an individual. Crowdsourcing, by leveraging social recognition data, is a better way for managers to collect, evaluate and share information on employee performance."

Unlike 360-degree performance evaluations, which are end-point or annual processes, crowdsourcing is real-time feedback. Also, rather than constructive crowdsourcing evaluations that duplicate performance evaluations that look for faults or critical feedback, a crowdsourcing system can be used as a motivational tool, by providing positive feedback. "When the crowdsourcing concept is applied in this way," Mosley says, "co-workers and peers can identify and reward desired behaviors and cultural attributes through unsolicited recognition, as they happen… This stream of recognition, which often appears in internal social news feeds, provides timely, measurable insights into your talent top influencers and performers."

Constructive criticism is an oxymoron: All criticism is inherently destructive and negative, however we may attempt to window dress it, or "sandwich it" between positive statements. Anything constructive is associated with growth, which requires a person to be open, not in a defensive state of mind.

Corporate leaders now have an opportunity to abandon a system that is not only dysfunctional but doesn't recognize the latest in neuroscience research and take advantage of new social media technology.

Ray Williams is President of Ray Williams Associates, a company based in Vancouver providing leadership training and executive coaching services.

Thanks to Ray Williams / Business Financial Post / National Post / Postmedia Network Inc.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Bounce Back From A Bad Hire: 10 Tips

Once you realize you've made a bad hire, don't get mired in regret. Instead, focus on what to do next.

You get burned by a couple of bad hires and you can become trigger shy.  But, as with every mistake you make in building your business, view bad hires as great learning experiences so you can recruit more effectively in the future.

Here are some tips to help make your next hire successful.

1. Consider Your Source

Take a look at where your new talent typically comes from, how you are recruiting, and what works.  I mentioned in a previous article how I find Millennial talent through the Millenials already on my team.  It took much time, trial and error, and observation of the Millennial workforce to determine this was right.

What is the background of your most successful employees? Where did they go to school, who did they work for before, and what other similarities exist?  As an example, I have learned that industrial design students from specific schools are the best fit for our project based work.

2. Rank What Matters Most

You build a long list of qualifications that an employee must meet when you put together a job posting or description, but have you taken the time to prioritize what's most important to you and your company?  Not every skill or qualification is of equal value and you should build a structured approach to complete your evaluation that takes these differences into account.

When I say rank order, I literally mean you should rank order each candidate's qualifications on a sheet of paper and make sure you don't skimp on the "must haves" in order to fill an empty seat.

3. Assign Candidates a Problem to Work on

Once you know a candidate has the chops--you've read his resume or reviewed his portfolio--what's important next is how he processes information and communicates with others.  I recommend you give him a hypothetical problem to work through to get insight into how he will approach a task once on board.

Depending on the position, consider giving candidates this problem as "homework" to bring along to the interview.  It will be useful because you'll understand the context of the problem he faces. By contrast, the examples in his portfolio are his best work, have probably been closely reviewed by others, and may not even be his own effort (if he's less than honest).

4. Find Out How Candidates Behaved Before

There are many interview tools that help you evaluate an individual's thinking style, behaviors, attitudes, or approaches to work and life--from past scenarios.  Much emphasis is placed on picking the "right" tool. What's more important is that you pick a tool and evaluate your current team before you can effectively evaluate any potential new members.  By looking at your current team's evaluation results, you can identify patterns of what you want to find in new team members to replicate or fill gaps.

5. Enlist Your Staff

I find entrepreneurs and small business owners will hand over most aspects of their business but hiring staff is one they just can't seem to give up.  As you move out of the day-to-day operations, inevitably others end up managing staff that you originally hired.  If you are not letting them hire their own staff, you should start doing so immediately. As your frontline staff evolves and improves the work, they'll be in a better position to find the right next hire.

6. Hire Slowly, Fire Quickly

You're always better off needing more employees than having the wrong ones.  Make sure you understand the local laws that govern when and how you can fire people, and don't delay.  If you doubt an individual, you have answered your own question.  Trust your instincts and make the change right away.

7. Consider Temp-to-Perm

Instead of jumping in to hire a candidate full time, consider bringing her on as a contractor or hourly employee.  This gives you both the chance to try each other out.

8. Try to Talk Him Out of the Job

I use this technique when I feel a candidate views my company through rose-colored glasses.  I tell him everything bad about the company--all the reasons why the job might not be a good fit, or the role won't be perfect.  Make the candidate sell you on why those things won't be a problem, and be sure he understands what he's getting into.

I find this particularly useful when it comes to business travel.  I love to travel for business or pleasure, but not everybody does, and depending on the work you are assigned at my company you could end up on the road 75% of the time.  Since I've had a few hires surprised (and upset) about how much they were required to travel, I make sure that point is front and center when they talk to new candidates.

9. Incent Them to Go

Zappos is the most famous for doing this.  The company offers newbies a $2,000 bonus to quit very early in their tenure.  From what I have read and heard from Tony Hsieh, Zappos' founder, only 2% to 3% take the deal, but it's a great way to test a new person's loyalty, and offer an escape hatch if the job really isn't right.

10. Do Post Mortems

Spend time with your team determining why a hire didn't work out.  Use this information to revisit your hiring practices or selection criteria and make sure there is a way to successfully put in place positive changes.

Thanks to Eric V. Holtzclaw / Inc. / Mansueto Ventures LLC.