Saturday, March 9, 2013

How Effectively Do You Partner With Your Boss?

Today, as an administrative professional or administrative assistant you are both administrative manager and leader. You are called on to communicate, plan, organize, negotiate, and participate in decision making at very high levels. Within this evolution of responsibility and authority, the traditional role of secretary is dissolving to be replaced with the proactive role of partner to the boss. You and your boss are involved in a dynamic new type of workplace alliance that calls on both of you to engage in a cooperative partnership to achieve organizational goals and objectives.

The first step toward achieving a productive partnership with your boss is to examine your current relationship. How well do you partner with your boss? Take a moment to answer to the following questions, from the AMA seminar Partnering with Your Boss: Strategic Skills for Administrative Professionals, to see where you currently stand.

Answer each question "yes" or "no," then read on to interpret your score:

1. Do you and your boss share information, stories, tasks, etc.?  Y/N

2. Do you feel like you are "playing on the same team"?  Y/N

3. Do you have a joint interest in the goals you are trying to achieve?  Y/N

4. Is there a solid alignment between you when it comes to how to achieve mutual goals?  Y/N

5. Do you associate comfortably in an informal setting?  Y/N

6. Do you "know where you stand" with your boss?  Y/N

7. Would you say you work well together?  Y/N

8. Do you trust your boss?  Y/N

9. Does your boss trust you?  Y/N

10. Would you say you are currently "partnering with your boss"?  Y/N

Your Score:

8–10 "yes" answers: You have a solid relationship and partnership with your boss. Focus your attention on ways to improve it.

5–7 "yes" answers: Your work together could probably be more productive and pleasant.  Focus your attention on deficits in skills or differences in your work styles and management approaches, then find answers to help you improve.

1–4 "yes" answers: Your partnership with you boss needs attention and work. Focus your attention on issues of work style, trust, skills and ethics.  You will probably want to build a plan to approach your boss about resolving some issues together.

Some Essential Skills for Successful Partnering
The above assessment identifies the strength level of your current partnership. No matter what your score, every partnership can be improved. The list below shows some essential skills for successful partnering:

  • Knowing Yourself: Knowing who you are, including strengths and liabilities
  • Setting Goals: Identifying what you and your partner want to accomplish and setting a plan
  • Adapting Your Work Style: Recognizing the needs and work style of your partner and adapting as necessary
  • Planning and Managing: Planning and managing your work in tandem with the boss's
  • Decision Making: Identifying when to make decisions and how to take action
  • Confidence: Presenting your ideas with confidence
  • Collaboration: Performing as an active team-player
  • Being Proactive: Acting proactively versus reactively
  • Productivity: Supporting multiple bosses while maintaining high levels of personal productivity

Moving Forward:

  • List three things you are doing "just right" to be a great partner with the boss.
  • List three things you could do more of or begin doing to be an exceptional partner with the boss.
  • List three things you wish your boss would do to improve your partnership
Get the conversation started!

For Employee Incentives, Simple Works Best

Many small-business owners struggle with appropriate incentive programs for their employees. I have tried many different approaches over the years and have found that short-term, simple rewards are the most effective.

In the early days of a business startup, it is often hard just to find enough resources to create a competitive pay package for your first group of employees, let alone a comprehensive bonus or reward program that aligns their focus with the business's actual results.

The one advantage you might have in attracting and keeping talent is that your startup is innovative, interesting, or in a field or industry that draws potential staffers. New hires may be motivated by the sheer fact that your business is disruptive in its category and has amazing growth potential.

All of that may be incentive enough for starters. However, you'll need to live up to that interest and make sure employees benefit in ways that lines up with their expectations.

I've tried everything from bonuses tied to gross sales to employee share-ownership plans to even a complicated "bonus bank account," whereby weekly gross contribution margin values from sales, in dollars, were tracked and paid out against targets on a quarterly basis, assuming the account was positive. Sound exciting? No, it doesn't. In truth, none of them worked that well.

The gross sales idea didn't work as it ignored the profitability of those sales. Share ownership isn't that attractive if your shares are illiquid (as in, you are not a publicly traded company, so cashing out shares and even valuing them accurately is almost out of the question), and, the more complicated the "bonus bank account" became, the less alluring it was in the eyes of my staff.

What have I learned? Simple works best.

First, you need to understand that different employees are differently motivated. The cash bonus that one appreciates may be of little interest to another, who places a higher value on a couple of paid days off or the ability to participate with the company at an international trade show.

Gift cards, spa retreats, dinner out with a spouse and similar perks are all extremely valuable to certain employees, depending on their personal situations. Like managing people in general, this requires knowing each of your employees well, and adapting what you offer to them as much as is reasonable.

Simple incentives also benefit from immediacy and spontaneity. If you want to recognize an employee for going the extra mile, whether with cash or some other benefit, you need to do it as quickly as possible to the result you want to reward. Furthermore, you need to articulate to employees what it was about their performance that you most appreciated.

I usually tried to avoid creating expectations in advance. For example, I tried not to create expectations that a bonus was coming or available, but rather preferred to reward spontaneously after the fact. That kept all staff wondering which of their efforts might be rewarded in the future, and each reward was a true surprise to the recipient.

Simple also means keeping the value of the reward modest. I suggest this not out of greed or some cost-saving exercise, but out of my opinion that frequency outweighs value. I'd rather give small rewards often than big rewards infrequently.

With that said, no matter how you choose to reward your staff, the value of the reward needs to be meaningful. This will depend on the size of the business, the pay scale of the employee and, most important, the value that the employee's extra effort brought to the business.

Employees know that you pay them to do their jobs and getting above-average results can't always be singled out. Surely they get below-average results from time to time, and much of it works out in the wash.

How you measure the value of an incentive it is up to you. But as an example,a friend received a $20 Tim Hortons card when he discovered a $155,000 cost savings opportunity for his employer, connected to an area that was well outside the scope of his job. Plus, the savings could be enjoyed immediately without any additional investment.

My friend was insulted, rather than motivated. A restaurant gift card or afternoon at the spa for his wife valued at $250 to $500 would have been just as affordable for the business but much more meaningful to the employee.

So, when it comes to incentives, keep it simple. Make it personal. Do it frequently. Make it a surprise. And make it meaningful relative to the company's benefit.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and sold seven businesses.

Thanks to Chris Griffiths / TheGlobeAndMail /  The Globe and Mail Inc.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

When To Use MBA After Your Name

Earning an MBA takes perseverance and a lot of hard work. Once you graduate, you may want to advertise your hard work by listing your credentials after your name. Sometimes, however, this can seem awkward or pretentious. Learn when it's appropriate to list you degree your name and you can spread the word about your achievement without worrying about offending anyone. When

Getting New Clients

List your MBA after your full name when aiming to attract new clients. This might be where you want to list your MBA concentrations , too. When you first contact a potential client, you'll want to show that you're highly educated and qualified to handle their business, so sign your full name with your title afterward. If your business competitors aren't sharing their degrees with the clients, you're going to be the one who seems most qualified. On the other hand, once someone has become your client, you don't need to continuously tell them you've got an MBA. It's not necessary to include your credentials after your initial correspondence as clients they may start feeling like you're being pretentious. By then you may be on a first-name basis anyway, and your accreditation belongs after your full name.

When Applying for Work

Your resume is the ideal place to list your credentials and go into depth about your degree. Include it right after your name at the top of the page in addition to your more in depth information listed in the education section.  Often there are so many job candidates that employers only devote a few seconds to each resume. Make yours stand out from the top. Whenever you're sending a cover letter to a potential employer, you can include the MBA after your full name in order to set yourself apart from competition. However, as with regular clients, once you've exchanged several messages with the potential employer, it may be wise to drop the credential, even if you're still not on a first name basis. If you've gotten to the job interview stage of the process, they're going to remember your degree, and they may find a continuous reminder to be pretentious.

When Demonstrating Your Credibility

When you're aiming to attract new clients or apply for work, you can add MBA because you're establishing your credibility. If there are any other circumstances in which you want to demonstrate how qualified you are for the task at hand, feel free to list your credentials after your name. Suitable circumstances may include:

  • Publishing an article or study relevant to your career field
  • Attending a conference
  • Giving a guest lecture
  • Leading a workshop

In these circumstances, go the extra step and list the university at which you studied in order to earn the degree. The quality of the university may help lend you even greater credibility, and it's a great conversation starter if you want to compare and contrast programs with other people holding master's degrees.

When Everybody Does It

If you frequently see people in your industry including MBA after their name in emails, on business cards and in company profiles, feel free to follow suit. One example where your MBA accreditation is expected to be on display is if you teach college courses, since not all associate college professors have advanced degrees. However, remember to keep in mind that people with whom you interact on a regular basis, such as return clients, don't need to continuously see your degree. Also, your title should appear after your full name and never after your given name only. You finally earned that marketing or accounting MBA online . Whatever your area of specialization, your MBA is an achievement that only a few people share. Feel free to write MBA after your name whenever it's appropriate, you earned it.

About the Author: Darryl Sobczak is a contributing writer and a human resources consultant. He regularly writes about business etiquette on his blog.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Engagement Starts With Your Leaders

Create a culture of high energy and commitment throughout your organization by first setting an example through the Four Levels of Leadership.

It's not all bad news. As a business survivor, you have set new, exciting strategies to propel your organization toward opportunity and inevitable future change. It's a long journey, and strong leaders understand that this is a critical time to galvanize their team and ensure their employees are active participants in creating and sustaining the momentum. To be successful, it's imperative that leaders create a culture of new energy and excitement—engagement—within the organization.

What Is the Leader's Role?

When focusing on engagement, it's important to understand who in the organization is really ready and who may need some help moving forward. During times like these, a certain pattern of behavior sets into many organizations. Generally, the leaders creating strategy are living in the future, concentrated on indicated trends six months out. They are looking at the next quarter's timeframe. Workers primarily function in the present, concentrated on accomplishing the key tactics of the day to day. Many workers find it difficult to shift into the mindset of future strategy and need time to process.

As a leader, it is your job to educate the entire organization, from top down, clearly identifying the path ahead. The challenge is to continue to move forward, with your employees feeling more than just clear and confident about the strategy and direction, but also excited and invigorated about the potential. As a leader in today's business environment, you are in the energy business—the human energy business. You are called to build a sense of engagement, helping employees realize the growth potential for the organization, the team, and themselves.

It's important to understand what we mean by engagement. Energy, not time, is the currency of engagement. Engagement is the combination of the perception of changes and events happening around you, and the level of energy experienced. So, highly engaged people have a positive perception of changes going on around them and they put a high level of energy into their work and everything else they do.

The Choice Model

The purpose of a leader is to engage others in committing their full energy to the creation of value and success. But no matter how strong a leader you are, you cannot change people; they have to make the choice to change. Wilson Learning has created the model available for download below to illustrate how choice works. When it comes to choice, there are three states of decision:

  • Proactive
  • Reactive
  • Inactive

People go through a process to get to a decision, moving around the model for different reasons at different points in their lives and careers.

When people are fully committed, participating in activities, and willfully complying with organizational decisions set in motion, they are in the proactive state. They take ownership of what they do and how they do it. When people are resistant to change, grudgingly complying and perhaps motivated to "get even," they are in a reactive state. These people can act as deterrents to an organization's growth and progress. Those who step back to wait and see, pretend to comply, or disengage entirely, are in the inactive state. This also can have harmful effects on advancing your strategy.

As a leader, it is critical that you understand the concept of the Choice Model, and then you can assess where employees are and help move them to proactively committing their energy to the organization and themselves.

The Employee's Role

Remember, you cannot engage people. People choose to be engaged or not. Your role is to create the conditions in which they choose to be engaged. With a little bit of your help, it might not be so difficult for them. Before you can really help, it's important to understand your employees' perspective in a situation of great change. Many studies focus on why people leave; more important is why they choose to stay and engage. Here are some questions your employees may be asking themselves as they decide to engage:

  • Why should I get excited about work?
  • What do my leaders and mentors expect?
  • Am I in a culture that cares about me?
  • How will I know how I am doing?
  • How do I work effectively with others?
  • Is leadership providing a good role model and positive example?

By placing yourself in your employees' shoes, you are better prepared to help them move toward being committed and engaged. But beyond just empathizing with employees, there is some work for you to do on your own. Strong leaders experience their own individual effectiveness through the Four Levels of Leadership.

The Four Levels of Leadership

How can you be successful in leading an engaged organization? Leaders today, like employees, need to work through their own Choice Model and be proactive in not only deciding to engage, but also in deciding to lead the organization toward a culture of engagement. An organization's culture is created from a set of shared beliefs, practices, customs, and behaviors. By working through the Four Levels of Leadership, you can begin the process to increase your own leadership effectiveness and create a culture that works best for your organization.

  1. Leading Oneself. It all starts with you. You need to lead yourself before you can lead others. It's about being clear on your own sense of purpose and why you chose to be a leader. As with the old adage—"If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything"—you also must have a clear sense of your values as a leader. These values guide you through decision-making and other actions you take. You also must know and understand your own leadership strengths.
  2. Leading Others: One to One. The skills you use to facilitate the individual growth of others often are regarded as foundational, such as communication skills, goal setting, and delegating. You need to have these basic critical skills to effectively lead individuals.
  3. Leading Teams: One to Group. In addition to one-to-one skills, leaders need to lead and inspire individuals to work effectively together and achieve results as a team. As organizations have flattened by removing the middle management layer and leaders' span of direct reports has increased, leading one to one is no longer efficient. Most leaders don't have the luxury of spending time on an individual basis and must move toward leading on a one-to-group level. With the increase in virtual teams that act on a global basis with multiple complex relationships, the skills of leading one to group are multifaceted and include problem solving, leading meetings, facilitating dialogue, and managing conflict.
  4. Leading a Work Culture. The act of leading a work culture is distinct from the other levels. Many leaders focus on improving their one-to-one and one-to-group skills. However, today's leader needs to understand what it takes to create a culture that enables the full engagement of all employees. Leading a work culture is about leaders understanding their responsibility to engage others to commit energy to the organization.

A real opportunity exists for organizations to increase employee engagement and build a culture of engagement when leaders build their strength through the Four Levels of Leadership.

To get started, here are three steps you can take today, right now, to become the leader you want to be:

  • Demonstrate a clear commitmentto your own leadership purpose and values.
  • Be a positive role modelfor the beliefs, practices, customs, and behaviors you want all employees to exhibit in their interactions with one another and in their day-to-day work.
  • Encourage all employeesto understand and sharethose same beliefs and behaviors, and coach to them.

The culture of the organization will happen whether you influence it or not. And as you move your organization through these new, exciting times, are you willing to run the risk that your employees' behavior is less than or not what you need it to be? Are your leaders actively involved in establishing a culture of engagement? If not, they need to be, with you setting the example.

At Wilson Learning, we believe that you become a successful leader by taking these steps to proactively sustain the new strategies and direction of a stronger company with a culture of engagement.

Tom Roth is chief operating officer for Wilson Learning Worldwide. As such, he is responsible for the strategic direction and business performance of Wilson Learning Worldwide operations.

Thanks to Tom Roth, Chief Operating Officer, Wilson Learning Worldwide / TrainingMag


Don’t Like Your Job? Don’t Jump From The Frying Pan Into The Fire!

I had a conversation with someone recently about wanting to leave their job because the workload had become overwhelming.

One of their comments was…

"Anywhere I go has to be better than this, it certainly can't get worse."

I pointed out that it certainly can get worse! Often people get so focused on a negative aspect of their job or organization, they don't see the good things they have or how other circumstances can be worse.

Some background from this conversation, and other points to consider…

Look for the good. In the conversation I had, the person really did have a lot of work piled onto them over the past couple of years. There were multiple reasons for it, including the fact that the company is struggling through economically tough times and can't hire the additional staff they need. And the person was highly effective at their job, causing others to give them more because they knew it would be done well.

In the cloud of feeling overworked, however, they didn't pay as much attention to how much they were being appreciated. As they thought through some of the recent interactions with their boss and others, they started to realize their work wasn't going unnoticed. They were highly respected and valued. They were getting the maximum salary increases that the company would allow. And they were regularly getting recognition for accomplishments and achievements.

While they certainly weren't overstating the downside of the workload, it did help to realize the likely long-term career investment they were making and knowing they were valued.

The grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence. In difficult times, most companies expect more from their employees. In order to regain financial health, they need higher productivity from every resource they have. While it's not always the case, it's not unusual for most companies to be increasing workloads on their employees at the same time. Changing companies doesn't necessarily lighten the burden.

Furthermore, when loads are increased, tensions often increase as well. Company cultures will usually determine how that tension is exhibited. Do they show respect to employees, express some empathy, and help people understand they are valued? Or do they simply 'crack the whip', yell or shame people into submission.

A tale of two companies. There are two companies in my area that are great examples of the point. Both are successful companies, financially. Yet they have very different cultural environments.

One is well known as a very tough place to work. It requires a thick-skin. Managers have been known to scream at employees. There is virtually no loyalty; today's performance is all that counts. And as a result they have a relatively high degree of turnover and they have to offer significantly higher than market salaries to hire the people they need.

The other company tends to pay significantly below market salaries. Yet they always have people interested in positions there and they enjoy extremely low turnover. They excel at helping people along in their careers. They make people feel valued and appreciated in a multitude of ways. They recognize people that enhance their culture and generally make it a great place to go to work each day.

In the case of the conversation I had. They thought they might be better off taking a job at the first company I described for a bigger salary. They wrongly assumed it couldn't be worse than what they had now. They were definitely wrong. Even if the workload decreased, the lack of appreciation and sense of worth can make each day much more miserable.

Be careful not to jump from the frying pan into the fire!

Thanks to Harry Urschel / CareerRocketeer