3 ways the quarantine can make you a Stronger Leader

It’s undeniable – the Coronavirus quarantine has made an indelible mark on our working culture. However, as some have pointed out: while all of this has been chaotic and stressful, it has also given us an opportunity to pause and reflect on the way we live and work.

Whenever something unexpectedly bad strikes, you can take two positions. You can be the victim, lamenting how this is all unfair and just waiting for something to change so you can go back to the way it used to be; OR you can let go of those concepts and consider what new knowledge or tools this crisis has given you that could make you a better, stronger leader.

If you are ready to settle in to some professional introspection, here are three lessons the quarantine has offered:

  1. People can successfully function independently. The key to managing team members (remote or not) is having a strong accountability strategy. When expectations, dependencies and consequences are clearly understood, most employees rise to the challenge without close supervision. Those that do require close supervision are now standout outliers. Does your culture focus on rewarding the independent or punishing the outliers?
  2. Meetings are not the best way to communicate. On the first day of the lockdown, we all learned the limits of our online tools. Remote network access and online meeting solutions were not designed to handle the load, so teams turned to alternatives like Slack, email and even old fashioned conference calls. These platforms encourage concise, focused and efficient communications that work. Does your culture rely on meetings or promote other forms of communication?
  3. Ability is greater than image. For the past 6 weeks, people have been getting their work done without makeup, wearing stretchy pants and sporting some intense quarantine dos. Without the distraction of outward appearances, we are forced to focus on what really counts: whether they can do the work. What kind of dress expectations does your culture promote and how does it impact opinions on value?

When all of this passes, we will have the opportunity to go back to work and be the same person we were or be something greater because of the experience. Which will you choose to be?

Posted in Career Development, Leadership, Teams | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Taming Workplace Drama

I recently presented a 45-minute workshop on controlling drama to a packed room. We had to turn people away. I’d like to believe it’s because I’m awesome* as a presenter, but the truth is that we have too much drama in our lives, and it is making us tired — everyone wants a way out.

But nowhere is drama more exhausting than at work. Here we are in an environment with (usually very high) expectations for our performance, and our attention and energies are being siphoned off by unnecessary tension and trauma. And yet, some people seem to be able to rise above all of that and succeed. How do they do that?

Here’s a quick tutorial on handling work drama and getting back to work.

  1. Recognize the drama. Sometimes it starts as someone just casually complaining about someone else — the kind of thing we hear around the coffee pot all the time. Sometimes it comes at the end of a meeting where someone feels like they went unheard. These things are so common that we never stop to question: is this drama unfolding? The answer is frequently “yes.” Complaining about someone behind their back (which is usually at the heart of the drama) serves no purpose other than to create drama. Call it when you see it.
  2. Recognize where you are. Did you just hear it? Commiserate? Agree? Essentially, you need to recognize: are you on the inside or the outside of the drama?
  3. Stay outside the drama. If you are on the outside of the drama (you just heard it), you can refuse to get into it. Walk away with a shrug or a non-committal sound, and you are done.
  4. Step away. If you’ve already put yourself inside the drama (said something that has made you an “ally”), walk away to put some literal distance between you and the drama — clear your head so you have room for a new perspective.
  5. Consider what is really best. We often think that we are being a good friend (or coworker) by siding with someone in the drama. In reality, we know that drama does nothing to promote a professional image or get our work done. To be a good friend, we need to help our friend move out of the drama. Ask yourself: what would be best for them in this situation? How can you help that friend resolve the issue causing the drama?
  6. Know when to walk away. Some people just love the drama, even when it isn’t good for them. Recognize when someone just doesn’t want help, then walk away and stay outside of it. Will you lose that relationship? Possibly, but would keeping that relationship help or hurt you?

While workplace drama is inevitable, we don’t have to join the cast. Stay out of it, and you get to keep your energy, attention and reputation focused on the things that matter.

* Ok, I really am an awesome presenter. 😉

Posted in Career Development, Leadership, Productivity | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

First Thing to do About that Sexist at Work

Short answer: make sure they are really a sexist.

First, let me be clear: if someone makes a remark that is blatantly racist, sexist or any other kind of -ist, that is what it is. There’s no excuse for it. This article is not about that.

This article is about those times when we assume what it is. I’m talking about those marginal situations — times when someone does not act the way we expect, so we suspect the worst.

For our sanity and career’s sake, we need to cut that out.

Let me give an example: a young woman has been working for a company for a few months as an infrastructure manager. Her boss (the CTO) has been with the business for 10 years and has been teaching her everything about the systems. She feels she is ready to help the development teams with their infrastructure needs, but the teams continue to go to her boss. She wonders: is it because I’m young, or because I’m female?

I wonder: is it inertia? After all, if your boss has been giving direct support to the teams for 10 years, why would they go anywhere else?

Again, I’m not saying discrimination doesn’t exist (far from it, in my personal experience). I’m just concerned that the current climate has made us over-sensitive and prone to make assumptions too quickly — incorrect assumptions. Assuming that someone else is some kind of -ist is not fair to them, and it keeps you from developing a strong working relationship (so it’s not really fair to you either).

So for your own sake, I’m asking this: in the absence of something overt, assume good will. Look for another reason why someone is acting the way they are. Work based on that alternate theory and test it out in your interactions. One of two things will likely happen: you will learn that it was a misunderstanding and develop a better working relationship, or you will learn they really are discriminating and, well, then you know for sure where you stand.

Be vigilant, but be fair and you’ll be successful.

Posted in Career Development, Leadership | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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

pexels-photo-269448.jpeg(Go here for a copy of the final report.)

It 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:

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.

Posted in Coaching, Defining Your Business, Technology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

5 Ways to Make Work-from-home Work


© 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.


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.

Posted in Leadership, Teams | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Recruiting | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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?


© 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.

Posted in Career Development | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Productivity | Tagged , | Leave a comment