Oh, the places you will go (when working on strategy)

pexels-photo-269448.jpegIt started with my sales plan.

I had comfortably identified my ideal clients (women in technology — like me), and I was working on new services that would help them most.  I had my own thoughts on the topic based on my experience, but almost immediately I had questions.  I’m a generation-x woman who developed as a consultant in a variety of industries.  How would the needs of a woman be different if she:

  • Is a baby boomer?
  • Is a millennial?
  • Has worked in only one industry?
  • Has worked in only one company?
  • Works as a scientist (chemistry, biology, etc.)?
  • Works in a manufacturing facility? An office? A lab?

(Oh, how I sometimes hate my analytical mind.)

So to get some answers, I decided to do a survey.  After all, I had many technical and scientific women in my connections (and they have many connections of their own), so why not ask them?

That was 20 days, two surveys and 55 responses ago.  My survey is still open, and I’m trying to be patient and not look at the data (and jump to conclusions) too soon; but since SurveyMonkey has this neat Text Analysis option (think word cloud), I thought I would just take a *tiny* peek.  Here is what I saw:

Greatest frustrations at work

Where will this data take me?  I’m not sure yet, but I know I will end up with sales and delivery strategies that will work best for my potential clients.  I think that is worth the waiting.

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5 Ways to Make Work-from-home Work

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© Evgeniy Agarkov | Dreamstime.com

This is not an article about how to arrange your home office or set up a VOIP to make client calls. This is about preventing your employer from revoking your ability to work from home.

Over the years, I’ve seen many businesses offer employees the ability to work from home — usually as a hiring or retention perk — only to declare it a failure a year later and begin revoking the privilege. I could write an article about how the business needs to change it’s practices for communicating and evaluating productivity before it is ready to try out-of-sight management; but this article isn’t for the business. This article is for the employee who has this privilege and wants to make sure they keep it; and while it might be unfair, you can lose that privilege even if you believe it is working.

Your employer might revoke work-from-home privileges for reasons completely out of your control, but here are 5 things you can do to reduce the chance it happens to you:

  1. Don’t call it “home.” This sounds stupid, but when people think about “home,” they think about sleeping late and trodding around in your pajamas all day doing random chores. Call it your “home office,” so that it is clear you have a place set aside to do business (even if it really is your kitchen table). This is about establishing that you clearly divide your work and your home activities.
  2. Discuss productivity expectations with your supervisor every week. The second reason managers go sour on work-from-home is that they don’t know how to judge your productivity in any way other than hours at work; and if they can’t see you, they wonder if you are working at all. Proactively lay out what you intend to get done for the week, and make sure your supervisor is happy with that level of work.
  3. Actually work. You think, “duh,” but employees “working from home” have sometimes crossed the line, treating it more like vacation time. Work from home can be convenient for reducing commutes, handling home service calls (in that 4-hour window) or even reducing childcare costs; but the idea is that you will still get a full day’s work done. You can spread the work out over a longer day, but it is not time off.
  4. Communicate from your home office frequently. Another common reason for disliking work-from-home is that you aren’t there to have quick conversations when something comes up. Sure, your supervisor could pick up the phone or send you an email; but in-the-moment, they would rather just stop at your desk, so if you aren’t there … Make it a point to drop an email once a day, and they are more likely to respond to that email with updates or open questions. Better yet: if you can integrate a tool like Slack into the office, you can have real-time conversations with your co-workers just like you were there. (Just make sure you actually respond in a timely manner, or they will begin doubting you are at your computer at all.)
  5. Have a strategy for accommodating special meetings that fall on a day you are in the home office. Regular status meetings should be arranged on days you are already in the office; but special meetings might be necessary to accommodate out-of-town clients or project emergencies. Putting work-from-home in front of important meetings sends a message that you aren’t committed to the success of the business (and can even make you seem ungrateful for the privilege). If traveling into the office isn’t possible, then work out a virtual attendance practice (Skype, Google Hangouts, etc.) so your face can be in the meeting.

Remember that it is still a privilege to work from home — one that not everyone can access. It is built on the principle that you can be equally valuable to the business regardless of where you work, so demonstrating that fact should be your goal at all times.

And like any new or alternative idea, work-from-home stays or goes depending on whether it works for the business. If you have the benefit and want to keep it, it is in your best interest to show the business that it works for them. That way, it can keep working for you.

For more articles like this, follow me on LinkedIn.

Posted in Career Development, Productivity | Tagged | 3 Comments

Creating Winning Teams

© Marcia Jacquette

Last weekend, I accompanied my son and his marching band to Indianapolis for the Bands of America Grand Nationals. I’m no stranger to marching band (having been involved in high school), but at BOA, I saw some amazing stuff. I saw kids who are probably awkward music geeks at home transformed into incredibly agile dancers and talented actors bringing a story to life without words. It was hard to believe they were high school students — I felt like I was watching a performance from a certain famous French-Canadian acrobatic company (you know which one.)

Of the 100 bands present, there was a 37 point difference between the top and bottom scores. I did not get to see all 100 bands (I mean, I love band, but I have my limits), but I saw a large number of them including all of the top 12, and something stood out to me about the bands that rose to the top.

Commitment.

It was clearly written on their faces. It was present in every step from the time they entered the field to the time the show reached it’s conclusion — commitment to their show, their role and each other. That is how you get a group of people to complete something so perfectly — so successfully. It is the most obvious evidence of a strong and successful team.

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni presents a model for developing a successful team — a hierarchy of team dysfunctions, really, that can be turned over to present a hierarchy of needs. Commitment is the middle level of the hierarchy, built on the underlying functions of trust and conflict. With commitment in place, a team then rises to accountability and attention to results — that drive for feedback to continuously perfect itself that is a hallmark of the very best.

As I watched each band perform, you could see (even from third tier seats) which teams were truly engaged with their show, and which were only marching from dot to dot. This is not a judgment on any of the performers — it takes courage to put yourself in a professional football stadium and perform in front of judges and thousands of observers. Rather, it is an observation that any team — even a team of teenage musicians — needs leadership that understands and feeds the hierarchy of team needs to fully realize their potential and win.

Want to know how to get your team to victory? Contact us about our Stronger Teams assessment and coaching program.

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Does your recruiting game have what it takes?

Candidate bio on tablet

© Katarinanh | Dreamstime.com

The job market has become a jungle, especially when it comes to attracting Millennials, which now make up the largest segment of the labor pool.

The rise of online tools has changed the recruiting game. Hyper-connectivity means that both employers and job seekers can gain information on each other quickly. Highly talented individuals find themselves being wooed by a number of attractive employment suitors, and there is no time to try to figure out what they want and adjust — to win that choice candidate, you need to make a strong impression from the start.

But how do you know if you have what it takes?

A lot of research has been published in the last two years about the Millennial consumer. These marketing principles apply not only to selling products, but also to selling yourself as an employer. For example, one survey found:

“Millennials (58%) expect brands to publish content online before they make a purchase and rank authenticity (43%) as more important than the content itself (32%) when consuming news. Millennials don’t trust traditional media and advertising and are looking for the opinions from their friends (37%), parents (36%) and online experts (17%) before making a purchase.”

In a nutshell: online authenticity backed by personal endorsement. 

This aligns with the latest Gallup State of the American Workplace report, which showed the top three resources employees used in job searches were company websites (77%), referrals from current employees (71%), and suggestions from family members and friends (68%).

Combine this with what we know Millennials are looking for at work, and three fundamental components emerge for a winning Millennial recruitment strategy .

1.    You need to have a strong employee engagement program. Simple recognition programs and employee satisfaction surveys are not enough. You need to have a program that contains all the basic elements that drive real engagement. (Not sure what you have? Start by asking these questions.)

2.    Your environments (virtual and physical) must reflect engagement with authenticity. You will make your first impression online. Does your website feature your actual workplace? Does it demonstrate opportunities, recognition, and purpose? And when they come in for an interview, will your physical space agree with that first impression?

3.    Cultivate brand ambassadors. How many of your current employees recognize and can describe the components of your engagement program? If you’re not sure, try pulling a few aside and asking them some of the engagement questions. Find ways to remind current employees about what they have, and it will both boost their level of engagement and enable them to speak on the company’s behalf.

Millennials are the future of the workforce, and attracting the best candidates means meeting them with the engagement and authenticity they are looking for; and investing in a strong engagement program will not only win you the best new candidates, it will keep your strongest employees engaged with you for years to come.

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12 Questions to Gauge Engagement

Meshed Gears

© Alberto Ruiz | Dreamstime.com

Per the Gallup State of the American Workplace report, only 33% of American employees today are engaged at work; and 51% are actively looking for a new job. Keeping your best employees (and attracting the best new ones) requires a strong employee engagement program.

Does your program have what it takes?

To find out, see if you can answer these 12(ish) questions:

  1. What are the company’s goals?
  2. What positive impact does the company intend to make on its industry or community through those goals?
  3. What are the goals for each position, and how do they align with the company’s goals?
  4. How will each position contribute to that positive community impact?
  5. What are the possibilities for progressing within the company? Is there more than one path?
  6. How does the company recognize and reward employees who contribute to the company goals or make that positive community impact?
  7. Is there a mechanism for employees to recognize each other for their contributions?
  8. Are managers hired or trained for their coaching skills?
  9. Is continuous feedback a part of the culture here (as opposed to the dreaded annual review)?
  10. How actively engaged are management team members? How many of them have been recognized by their peers for their impact?
  11. How will this position enable me to use my greatest strengths? And how will it enable me to stretch and find new strengths?
  12. How flexible is the physical work environment? Can an individual adjust it to increase his or her personal productivity?

Investing in a strong employee engagement program (and knowing how to talk about it with employees and candidates alike) will make you a competitive employer.

How engaging is your program?

Posted in Recruiting | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Is “Love What You Do” Dead?

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© Bartpeereboom | Dreamstime.com

“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” (Marc Anthony)

I believe that, if you are going to do something for 40+ hours a week, you should love what you do.

There has been a lot of backlash over this concept. Several people (some who write books and for prestigious ezines) do not agree that this is possible. Some of their complaints:

  • People don’t have one thing they love
  • Money may not follow, so it delays/prevents financial stability
  • Doing something every day may ruin the passion
  • It’s selfish and narcissistic
  • It devalues unglamorous labor

In reading these contrary opinions, it’s very clear to me that the authors interpret the “do what you love” directive very differently than I do. In a nutshell, they believe that you must identify a passion, then chase it until you (hopefully) make money. That is not at all the way I see it.

In support of my opinion, I’ve had 5 different careers, and I’ve always loved what I did (and when the time came that I didn’t, I knew it was time to make a change). That doesn’t mean that I chased 5 different passions, per se. My earliest jobs were (very pragmatically) pursued to bring in a paycheck and pay down student debts, but I loved those jobs nonetheless. Why? Because I believe that there are many different reasons to love what you do:

  • Location: do you have a short commute? Is there a walking path or a gym at the office? Does it have an awesome cafeteria? (If you laugh at that last one, you’ve never been to lunch at an SAP facility.)
  • Culture: are people collaborative and pleasant? Is there a camaraderie? Is social responsibility or continuous growth encouraged?
  • People: do you respect your coworkers? Are they really good in their field? Or perhaps very caring? Are they the kind of people you can learn from?
  • Mission: do you believe in what the company does? Do you believe it plays a key role in an industry or in bettering society?
  • Job opportunities: do you get to do unique things? Work independently? Work from home? Take on growing responsibility? Are there paths to management or to other areas of the business available to you?
  • Job satisfaction: do you feel good at the end of the day? Do you get a sense of accomplishment from the work? Do you feel like you are part of something bigger?

Maybe this is about whether your glass is half-full (there is something to love in any job if you look for it) or half-empty (there’s only one job for me, and everything else sucks!) ; but either way, here’s the truth:

You have the power to choose whether you love what you do. 

Just because you can’t have your dream job (because there really aren’t a lot of paid video game tester or professional donut taster positions out there) doesn’t mean you can’t love the job that you do get.  Open up your thinking a little and find a way to do some of what you love in whatever you end up doing. To get started, think about the following:

  • What do you like to do?  Include everything you enjoy not only as hobbies but also in your work.
  • Now take what you like to do and really ask yourself: what do I LIKE about doing that?  For example, if you love snowboarding, what is it you like about it? Being outdoors? Going fast? Being in control? Doing something physical? All of these can be features of a job other than professional snowboarder.
  • What kind of environment do you like to work in? Alone or with teams? Formal or informal? Social/loud or reserved/quiet?
  • Are there particular types of customers or industries that you want to help?
  • How do you see yourself growing through your work?

When you assemble the answers to all of these questions, you will find that there are more ways to do what you love (or love what you do) than you thought.

I love what I’m doing. How about you?

For more articles like this, follow me on LinkedIn.

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A Better New Year

7 CelebratePic

© Marcia Jacquette

Each January, with the clean slate of a new year ahead of us, we resolve to make a change or two in our lives. You know what I’m talking about — the infamous New Year’s resolution. While I am sure there are some people out there who have succeeded in these annual improvement programs, most of us have a different experience: a week or two of ambitious work, followed by an excuse to fall off the wagon, and then shame and defeat. This is why my gym is always packed the first week of January, then back to normal levels by the end of the month.

I’m not going to say that New Year’s resolutions are bad. In my opinion, anything that inspires you to try to better yourself (whether its an annual holiday or a full moon) is a good thing. I will say, though, that putting yourself through a process that you expect will lead to defeat and shame is NOT a good thing; so if this has been your New Year’s experience, it’s time to launch a meta-resolution and change your approach to change. Here are 6 ways to get started:

  1. Really define your motivation. Write it down. Make it visual and visceral. If you are trying to lose weight (one of the most popular resolutions), don’t just say “for my health.” Actually define the things that will be different when you lose the weight, such as, “Being able to take a 5-mile hike with my kids and still have the energy to go out to dinner.”
  2. Set a realistic deadline. 21 days is a myth. In fact, research shows it takes 2-8 months to actually execute a lasting change (read about it here.) Think August, not February.
  3. Acknowledge that this will be hard. Certainly some changes are harder than others, but one of the biggest mistakes we make is pretending the change will take little effort. In fact, we are layering a new behavior on top of our already busy lives — that takes a lot of energy. Allow for it.
  4. Be willing to take baby steps. If we’ve set a realistic deadline, then we can make changes in smaller increments. That might seem too easy at first, but by week 3 (when we typically start to backslide), you’ll think differently. Take the easy days as wins!
  5. Plan incremental celebrations. Decide on 3-5 small goals and how you will celebrate each one; then CELEBRATE. Making change is hard, so you deserve it!
  6. Select a good, positive support network. It might be one person, or it might be a group, but your support network should give you positive reasons to keep on your path. Avoid anyone who tries to motivate you through shame — during the rough patches, you’re going to be hard enough on yourself. You don’t need someone else piling on.

So as you begin thinking about your 2017 New Year’s resolutions, think too about your change process. Consider kicking the usual shame and defeat out the door — that’s a lasting change you can feel good about, and the start to a better year.

PS – If you are tackling something especially big, consider using a professional coach. We are experts in positive support and accountability that leads to lasting change.

For more articles like this, follow me on LinkedIn.

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Efficiency doesn’t make you a leader

© Nattanee Srisuk | Dreamstime.com

© Nattanee Srisuk | Dreamstime.com

I was recently reminded (rather uncomfortably) about the difference between working for a manager and working for a leader. 

When you step into a position where you will be responsible for people and the work that they accomplish, you need to make a decision: are you going to be a manager or are you going to be a leader?

If you choose to manage, your focus will be on efficiency, so you will direct people on what to do and how to do it. Your focus is on the work, and the people are a means to getting it done.

If you choose to lead, your focus will be on development, so you will inspire people to achieve goals. Your focus is on the people, and the work gets done as a consequence of developing them and their skills.

Note that, in both cases, the work gets done; but there is a substantial difference in what happens after the work is completed. There is always more work to do, but people don’t always stay. When you choose efficiency over your people … well very few people like to be treated like a commodity resource, so you will have to find and train new resources again and again.

So how do you know whether you are a manager or a leader?

  1. Do you give your team members directions or goals?
  2. If a team member does something differently than you would, do you criticize or encourage?
  3. When they report progress, do you look for what they missed or what they got right?
  4. When they express a new idea, do you nurture or find fault?
  5. Do you communicate often, and do you include praise?
  6. Can you describe a personal benefit each person gets from being on your team?

Work doesn’t love or respect you, people do; and when people love their leader, they (and the knowledge and skills they hold) stick around. That sounds to me like a much more efficient way to get things done.

For more articles like this, follow me on LinkedIn.

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Are poor communications sinking your team?

© Elena Duvernay | Dreamstime.com

© Elena Duvernay | Dreamstime.com

We all know that strong communications is important to effective team work. If you read through the description for any leadership position, I can almost guarantee it will include “strong written and oral communication skills.”

And yet, poor communication is one of the most common sources of broken teams. How common is it? Tell me if any of these symptoms hit home:

  • Molehills become mountains – seriously. Every tiny hiccup brings the team to a halt.
  • Infighting – finger-pointing, openly and behind people’s backs.
  • People don’t come to meetings – or when they do, they don’t participate.
  • Poor coordination – forget collaboration, simple hand-offs between teammates fail to happen.
  • No one asks questions – even when they should.
  • A general lack of enthusiasm, commitment or engagement for the team’s objectives.

While there are many factors that can contribute to a dysfunctional team, I’ve found that strong communications above all else are at the heart of getting the team back on track. Why?

  • Communicating regularly and completely builds trust (which cuts down on infighting).
  • Bad news can be put into perspective when the team has the big picture (so the molehills stay molehills).
  • The more informed people are about the project or objective, the more effectively they define their contribution (which improves coordination).
  • When communications are bi-directional, and team members feel they have a voice, they engage (in meetings and otherwise).

Here are 5 tips for setting up team communications that work:

  1. Make them regular and as often as practical. Weekly is a good place to start, daily for fast moving, agile situations.
  2. Make sure at least some of them are in-person. If you have a distributed team, make an effort to have some meetings “together.” Skype and Google Hangouts work well for helping your remote people be present.
  3. Make sure to share the good, the bad and the ugly. Some leaders think bad news will demotivate the team, but nothing disengages the team faster than lies of omission.
  4. Make an effort to solicit input from the team as often as is practically possible. Involving more people in the decisions takes a little longer, but it increases commitment from the team.
  5. End meetings with next steps. Make it a round table (where each person says what they are doing next), and you increase engagement and coordination among the team members.

So if your team is struggling, show off your “strong written and oral communication skills” and up your communications game.  It might just right your ship.

For more articles like this, follow me on LinkedIn.

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Volunteering vs. VolunTELLING

© Eleni Seitanidou | Dreamstime.com

© Eleni Seitanidou | Dreamstime.com

I recently contributed to an article about the new role of volunteering in the workplace. Offering volunteer opportunities (or corporate social responsibility, CSR) is fast becoming a positive differentiator in recruitment and retention. On the surface, this looks like a win-win-win: companies look good, employees feel good, and the community partners gain some much-needed support.

But in the ensuing discussion, one colleague pointed out that this has also given rise to the volunTOLD phenomenon: companies wanting the benefits of a CSR program decide to implement it come hell or high water. Management picks a partner organization and requires its employees to give time to it. In implementation, it becomes part of everyone’s job description to volunteer (which, of course, isn’t really volunteering). Inevitably, a program like this fails to garner the recruitment and retention results desired, and eventually the company gives the whole thing up declaring it was nothing but a big lie and a fad.

“Life is a journey, not a destination.” (And so is corporate volunteering.)

To actually see the benefit of establishing a CSR program, you have to focus beyond the end result of volunteering, because it is the way you implement the program that brings the greatest benefits. A successful program inevitably begins with the employees in a grass-roots fashion. It occurs bottom-up, not top-down. Here is why this approach works best:

  1. When you ask the actual volunteers how they want to volunteer, you get stronger commitment.
  2. Committed volunteers make the most passionate and dedicated leaders.
  3. It provides an opportunity for employees who may not have leadership experience to develop those skills (which can benefit both the employee and the company).
  4. Additional employees will volunteer in order to hang out with their coworkers — it gets popular support.
  5. When managers participate (as volunteers), it builds a stronger trust relationship with the employee leaders, and that is a foundation for better teamwork on the job.

So if you have a company and you want to give a CSR program a try: please, please, please don’t volunTELL. Here are some simple steps to developing a better program:

  1. Determine what you are willing to commit to the program as the sponsor. Will this be a once-a-year thing? Or is there a monthly commitment? How much time will you give to the employee leader to organize the program? Different companies can tolerate different levels of commitment, but I warn you not to be too stingy here. This is your primary way of showing your commitment to the program, and that will impact how successfully it will resonate with the employees.
  2. Ask the employees what they would like to do. Take a simple survey. Ask where people already give their time or would like to if they had an extra-hour per month to do it.
  3. Once you have a winner program, ask who would be interested in leading it. Have people apply like any other job; but remember this is an opportunity for you to develop a new leader in the organization. Look for employees who may not hold leadership responsibility now, but who have some traits you would like to develop. If you really want to use this to develop leaders (or are nervous about making a poor choice), consider making it a termed position (like 1-year) to spread the opportunity around.
  4. DO NOT MAKE PARTICIPATION MANDATORY, but do give time to those who want to participate. Volunteering (like anything else) isn’t for everyone, but if you want a thriving program, giving people a half-day once a quarter or year to do good works is worth it. Think carrot, not stick.
  5. Shout about it. Make sure to thank the participants, recognize the successes of your new leader, and celebrate what they accomplish. Even if its just internal publicity, this is the secondary way you show your commitment to the program.

Corporate social responsibility is not a miracle of recruitment. When you think about it, it is a logical benefit to offer employees, especially those of the Millennial generation who have shown themselves to be drawn to social issues. If you treat it like a fad, you will get shallow results; but if you truly commit to the program, you will see the legendary benefits you’ve heard about.

PS – Contact me if you want some help 🙂

PPS – For more articles like this, follow me on LinkedIn.

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