Sunday, December 6, 2009
All too often, as employers or as parents, we expect the most important life skills to just develop by osmosis. We are willing to teach math, and grammar, and science and technical skill. But how much effort do we, as parents or as employers, put into teaching time management, conflict management, presentation skills, and communication? The skills we neglect to teach are the same skills that can make or break a person’s career in any field.
Consider how we teach children conflict management skills. How often do you hear both parents and teachers alike saying that kids need to learn how to work their problems out on their own? So, I guess this means we expect them to learn something from fighting, screaming, or withdrawing? How exactly does this teach them how to do it right?
Let’s just take a look at my youngest son. He is 11 years old. He is supposed to do his assigned homework 5 nights per week. He is also supposed to spend one hour per week, any time he wants, on a math website to practice math facts. He has to complete three pages in his spelling book each week and turn them in on Friday. He has at least 3 tests or quizzes to study for each week. He is also supposed to read 30 minutes per day, five times per week. That is just his school assignments. He also has daily chores in the house and he is supposed to practice his guitar 4 times per week for 30 minutes. Now, how is he being taught time management? He isn’t! I am on his case constantly, reminding him what he is supposed to do and making sure that he doesn’t forget anything. I am his time management brain. There is so much for him to do and remember that I just assume I need to watch over him hourly. But what exactly am I teaching him? Just as importantly, how many employers are STILL doing this for their employees?
So, what’s the answer? Well Workforce Echoes just happens to have courses available for many of these important but often neglected life skills. Taking time to learn these skills can go a long ways towards successfully keeping all those balls in the air and continuously moving forward. As a parent, well, I’ve decided to start teaching our courses at home as well!
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
This all reminded me of the importance of timing when it comes to effective communication. Don’t you hate walking into the office in the morning and have someone hit you with a problem before you even make it to your desk? That’s bad timing. How about if you want a raise; would you ask your boss when she is clearly in a terrible mood? Would you decide to interrupt and begin explaining some detailed assignment to your colleague when he is fully engaged in another project? Here’s a favorite; how about waiting until you are fighting mad to resolve an important conflict with your co-worker? We all know that anger makes us stupid, yet we choose to battle our most important battles when we are angry.
If you ignore timing, you may present a fantastic idea, with all the right facts and emotion, yet still have it shot down. If you had waited a day, the same idea might have been approved. People do not make purely logical decisions. That would be too easy! Our emotions often take over our reactions. So if you present an idea to me when I’m having a bad day, I am likely to find all the potential problems and holes with your plan. On a good day I might view your idea as interesting and inspiring.
Good communication involves some logical thought and curbing impulsiveness. Consider the other person’s current state of mind, time schedule, and emotions. It is in YOUR own best interests to wait till the timing is right. Don’t let a bad day spoil a great idea.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Our economic problems have made creativity and innovation all the more challenging. Businesses are cutting back everywhere and employees are over-worked. Perks have been taken away. Incentives have been put on hold. There is little or no time for training or conferences or extra time off.
The problem here is that we are now too busy to think. A hectic environment, with “to do” lists several pages long is counterproductive to creativity and innovation. Stress also zaps creative energy. Creativity doesn’t just happen. It requires time, freedom, a break from routine, and a continuous exchanging of ideas.
I recently attended a conference for which I had to travel away from my office for a week. As usual, I came back from the conference filled with great ideas. I actually had time to think while I was away. Everyone I talked to at this conference felt the same way; that is, they always leave conferences or training programs ready to implement something new. But then the inevitable begins to happen. No time to think. There is so much work to be done that those new ideas begin to take a back burner, and, if you aren’t careful, will be forgotten. Keeping those new ideas moving forward takes concerted but worthwhile effort.
What’s the answer here? Simple. Setting aside time for creative thought should be viewed as a method to improve business rather than as a couple of hours wherein work is not being done. Brainstorming sessions are NOT a waste of time. I like to take every idea that is tossed out and, rather than thinking why it can’t be done, think through how it COULD be done. Set aside negative thinking and let imaginations prevail. Put together cross-functional teams, from all levels of the organization, and have them come up with a solution to a problem and a workable implementation plan. Monitor and encourage progress. Set up systems that foster the exchange of ideas.
You might think that you and the rest of your team just don’t have the luxury of extra time to be creative. But think again. It may actually be that you don’t have the luxury of NOT taking time to think. The economy will eventually begin to bounce back. If your business is going to be one that participates in the expansion, now might be a good time to allow creativity and innovation to become a normal part of your organizational culture. Put together an innovation team and let the ideas flow.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
First, keep your emotions in check. Yes it is possible to be honest and polite at the same time. Focus on your end goal for the conversation and don’t give up. If you start throwing in comments like “I can’t ever get you to listen” or “your plan makes absolutely no sense” then be prepared for defenses to go up and the conversation to end poorly. Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements. Emotions will flare if you attack personality traits in any way. Stick to the facts as much as possible.
Second, take a few moments to consider your manager’s communication style. Does she prefer facts and figures or does she make decisions on gut reactions and an emotional pull? Does she prefer when people get right to the point, or does she like to hear all the details? Perhaps your natural communication style just doesn’t mix well with hers. Adapt. Provide the type of information that you know is important to her. Is she all about the bottom line? Do your research and have estimated bottom line projections. Adapting to your audience is always critical with persuasion.
Third, remember the dynamics of what goes on in people’s minds during potentially confrontational situations. If your manager begins to feel threatened or annoyed by your idea, her defenses will quickly go up. Don’t ignore this. Stop pushing your ideas and focus on her. Why is she feeling defensive? Ask questions, clarify, and bring the conversation back into the safety zone. Once things are back under control, continue delivering your plan.
Developing your great idea is the easy part. Gaining buy-in for the idea and then making it happen are the challenges. Learning to effectively present those great ideas will have a huge and positive influence on your career. It is worth the effort.
Monday, October 19, 2009
First, find your strongest talents. It is so easy to begin a business and try to be a jack of all trades. In order to clearly define your strongest talents, talk to people who know you well. Also think about the types of projects that get you excited to head off to work. Fine tune what you do well and focus on that aspect for your business. It might mean turning down work that doesn’t fit your talents, but you will be more believable to your clients and more successful in the end.
Second, have a plan! Take the time to complete a business plan. Every successful business owner will tell you that a plan is essential, yet the lack of a creative plan is why so many businesses fail. Without the clear directions that a plan defines, you may not be happy where you end up. Remember that the world is changing fast and you must also take time to continuously fine tune long term plans. Do your goals still make sense given the changes that may have occurred in the past six months? If you do not set aside regular time to evaluate, you risk getting tunnel vision and missing great opportunities.
Third, network, network, network. Join associations and attend conferences. You will meet people who have successfully accomplished what you are trying to accomplish. You will get fresh ideas and meet people who could help you down the road AND who you can also help. Just like with so many things, running a business is all about relationships. Build them, everywhere. I have found that sometimes the most valuable aspect of attending a conference is the people that I meet. We share ideas and experiences and it has helped tremendously.
I often hear that “small is the new big” these days. In other words, small companies are taking over business in many ways. Small companies can adapt quicker and maintain lower overhead. There are also so many ways to market a business now at low or no cost that small companies are able to compete with large business. Expensive print and TV advertising is no longer a must.
One thing I know for sure. Everyone I talk to who is successfully self-employed, would never go back into the corporate world. That says a lot. Good luck!
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
I was out doing errands a couple of days ago and encountered two VERY ANGRY drivers; both of whom seemed to be angry at ME! First, I had the nerve to stop at a yellow light. Often I do view yellow lights as a signal to speed up. But this time, I decided to do the safe thing and slow to a stop as the light turned red. As I did this, the man behind me leaned on his horn, swung around me, opened his window, shook his fist and screamed some obscenity as he ran the red light.
A few minutes later I was driving through a parking lot searching for a parking space. I saw a space ahead on my right. I drive a big van so I have to swing a bit to the left in order to pull into the right hand space. I swung to the left and some car comes barreling around the corner and nearly hit me head on. I guess I was on her side of the road. She actually got out of her car with arms flailing around in order to scream and tell me what an x%$j*@ I was. Nevermind that she was driving 40 MPH through a parking lot.
It would be nice to think that I’ve never been as ridiculously angry as these two people. But, we’ve all had those days. May as well take our aggression out on strangers!
Here’s some advice. SOLVE THE REAL PROBLEM! Stop yelling at the wrong people! In any conflict situation you have three choices; you can ignore it, you can handle it poorly, or you can handle it well. You DO have a choice. Perhaps you are choosing to ignore too many problems. This often leads to resentment and increased anger. Handling a problem poorly will also escalate conflict. You get mad, scream and insult the other person, and then realize that the problem is now larger. Problems just seem to crop up all over the place. Then you get in your car, run red lights, and scream uncontrollably at innocent people on the road.
Here are three tips for controlling anger.
• First, remember that it IS a choice. You can choose to walk away and calm down first.
• Second, always remember your goal. Why are you having the conversation? What do you want? Is the relationship important to you? Focus on your goal in order to control emotion and allow logic to come back into focus.
• Third, remember that when you allow anger to take over, all brain power is lost. You WILL regret it. Choose to handle the situation well.
When you ignore too many problems, or handle problems poorly, you’ll find more and more reasons to be angry. That anger then destroys relationships, creates more problems, and even makes complete strangers want to hit you!! Remember that you do have a choice.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Do you remember the freedom you felt when you went to college? You went from having MANY rules to follow from both parents and teachers. Be home by 11:00. Clean your room every Friday. No cell phones in class. If you’re late for class, you get detention. THEN, you go off to college. If you don’t want to clean your room, you don’t. If you want to carry a cell phone, you do. If you don’t want to go to class, you don’t. HOWEVER, you ARE held accountable in that if you flunk out, you’re out. No two ways about it. That freedom college students feel, yet also being held accountable, may be one of the reasons so many people think that college was one of the best times of their lives. The students with good habits and judgment rise to the top and the students with the worst habits and judgment flunk out.
Nordstrom, the famous upscale department store, used to hand ONE rule to new employees. It was given to them on an index card. The rule was:
Rule #1: Use good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.
In recent years Nordstrom has added to those rules, most likely because problem employees took advantage of the “no rule” policy.
In most organizations, especially big business, rules are definitely needed. But the lesson here is to examine those unnecessary rules and policies. Which ones are in place because SOMEONE didn’t handle an employee problem well? Often, effective performance management practices can eliminate the need for a controlling rule or policy that zaps the joy out of work for the employees who DO have good habits and who DO use good judgment.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
In our last blog we discussed those employees with the “can do” attitudes. These are your engaged employees. Although some employees are naturally more motivated than others, there ARE some things you can do as a manger to improve engagement.
Remember a common sentiment most of us share; if I don’t matter, you don’t matter. If employees don’t feel that they are noticed and important in their company they are not likely to be “engaged.” We all want basically the same things. We want to be included, respected, and involved. Employees must feel that their jobs matter AND their opinions matter. Great leaders make everyone feel that they matter. You make them FEEL as if they matter by making them matter! There is no room for pretending here. Take time to listen to their opinions and ideas. Sometimes your way may not be the best way if it results in unmotivated and disengaged employees.
Managers should also offer challenge and, where possible, freedom. A challenge makes life interesting. Challenging work assignments have been directly linked to positive employee engagement. Without an occasional challenge, boredom and complacency set in. Studies have also proven that engagement increases when employees are given freedom to learn and choose how to best accomplish their assigned goals. Offer this wherever possible. Engagement pays off in the end!
Learn more about motivation in our course “Clocked In But Checked Out” at www.workforceechoes.com.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
This is a lesson I grew up hearing from my mother, a very busy woman. I didn’t fully understand the truth in the statement until many years into my working career. If I need help, I do indeed tend to call very busy people. They are the ones who will enthusiastically help me out. They manage to accomplish many goals and still take on that extra task, attend that extra meeting, help a friend, offer a new idea, or plan that new event. Now, we all know people who SAY they are really busy, but don’t seem to accomplish much of anything. These are your “pretend” busy people. They either don’t have the motivation to do much of anything, don’t understand what “busy” really means, or are just busy running in circles. Either way, these people are not the ones to count on when you need something done.
At Workforce Echoes we have done extensive research on motivation and time management; two important ingredients to getting things done. Watch our blog over the next couple of weeks for tips on hiring, developing and retaining those “can do” employees who you can always count on for help
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
A key missing ingredient in this situation is communication. You can’t manage a problem that isn’t communicated to you. This lack of communication leads to clients, like me, getting an earful from disgruntled employees. I wonder how many people this nurse talked to, describing how awful it was to work in this doctor’s office. Not only might good customers walk out the door, never to return, but you may also have good employees walk out while the problem employees stay. Open, honest and frequent communication is vital in ANY business. Maybe tomorrow you could walk around your own office and find out what’s going on. See if Craig's List is up on anyone’s computer!!
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
In both your family and work settings, performance management is an on-going process. Do you wait to talk to your kids till the year-end performance appraisal? Hopefully not. How many children will keep their room neat and tidy if parents don’t monitor it? In turn, how many employees will go that extra mile if no one notices? Similarly, in management or parenting, there must be repercussions when expectations aren’t met. There must also be rewards for outstanding accomplishments and behavior. In both settings you must be sure that your rewards actually motivate and your repercussions actually deter. Just think about the kid who chooses to NOT come home by his curfew since staying out late with his friends is far more rewarding than the one minute of yelling he’ll hear from his mom. In the business setting, think about the employee who would rather sleep late and arrive late to work, since it’s likely no one will notice, than to get up earlier to arrive on time.
How about training and development? Well, again, good parenting practices cross over with good management practices. Many managers will opt to do things themselves rather than take the time to teach an employee, or provide training, so that he or she can do something better on their own. This leads to an over-worked and stressed out manager. At home we’ll see the parent who does EVERYTHING for their child. Again, this leads to over-worked and stressed out parents. Effective parenting AND effective managing involve taking the time to teach and coach on a daily basis. It might seem time consuming now, but it saves time down the road.
There are many more examples. I’ll leave you with my favorite. Your relationship with your child or employee is the key. Destroy that, and everything else will follow. Once trust and respect are gone, your child or employee will no longer be open to your advice, coaching, or guidance.
The next time you’re hiring a manager, you might consider an experienced and effective parent!
Thursday, August 27, 2009
I am a business owner too, and am well aware of the need to tighten the budget, buckle down and do what we need to do to make it through bad times. HOWEVER, don’t forget the value of motivated and satisfied employees. You might tighten the budget so much that productivity takes a nose dive along with the economy.
Most people are motivated by many factors other than money. Find those free or inexpensive methods to help employees feel appreciated and keep that motivation high to weather the storm. Is your training budget cut down to zero? This is a good time to start an in-house mentoring program. No money for bonuses? Give everyone an extra day off. No money for the annual Christmas party? Have a potluck dinner in the office.
Check out our guide on putting enthusiasm back into the workplace. It is filled with no cost or low cost ideas for adding fun into the daily work day.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
We all have those occasional great and creative ideas. But how often do they go nowhere? Often we’ll start trying to sell our idea before we’ve actually thought through all the details. Then everyone begins pointing out all of the obstacles and why your idea won’t work. Next time, try something different. Keep the idea to yourself a little longer. Research it a bit. Put together a short presentation and think ahead about how to work around potential obstacles. Think of every possible "NO" and find the answers that will make it a "YES." A well planned persuasive, inspiring and informative presentation, even if very short, may get your further than a half thought out idea mentioned over lunch. Use stories, they are more memorable than facts. Use pictures rather than wordy slides and bullet points. Also, don’t forget to REHEARSE! At Workforce Echoes we develop executive presentations for our clients and have found rehearsal to make the difference between selling your idea and stumbling through a presentation.
If you want to learn how to build inspiring and memorable presentations, check out the PowerPoint Live conference in October in Atlanta. We highly recommend this conference.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Is YOUR company innovative? We hear more and more about this topic because today the world changes more in a year than it used to change in 50 years. Technology, medical advances, communication, science and other areas are developing at exponential rates. It used to be that being creative and innovative helped your business stand out from the rest. Now it is the difference between surviving or getting run over.
Given our poor economy, many businesses prefer to look for quick solutions, low risk solutions, or the “low hanging fruit.” Leaders become risk averse. I read a great book related to this topic, “Blue Ocean Strategy” by Kim and Mauborgne. The authors contend that too many industries compete in over-crowded territory. The key is to find uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant. Think about all the huge corporations today that didn’t even exist 20 years ago. Cell phones, social networking, Ipods, and a long list of other once innovative thoughts have changed the way we live and communicate. Innovation is about seeing the opportunities in a problem rather than just the obstacles. Are bookstores going out of business? Not if they think outside the box, find opportunities, and change the way they do business. “We’ve always done it this way” just doesn’t cut it anymore.
What's your strategy and goal for your business, school or association over the next 3 to five years? How do you want to be positioned in the marketplace? Are you paying attention to the trends in your industry, the met and unmet needs in your customer base?
Begin by encouraging new ideas and thoughts from all employees; then act on the best of those ideas. Hold a brainstorming session, evaluate the ideas, then put plans in place to turn the best ideas into action.
You can find Blue Ocean Strategy on www.amazon.com.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
“The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.”
Let me make a suggestion that might help you out. I’ll start by admitting that I don’t really have all the answers. Actually, I’ve realized that the more I learn, the more I think I need to learn.
George Carlin’s quote seems just perfect for many situations. But every now and then, try something new. Consider Stephen Covey’s famous quote:
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
One of the keys to communication, including persuasion, is to LISTEN. Often, there is not one best answer. I know it often seems like there is only one answer, but this mindset shuts down communication., and that won’t help you much at all. What seems “right” depends on your perspective, assumptions, experiences, skills, personality, family background etc. etc. You already know what YOU think. Trying being quieter and asking questions. Listen, really listen, rather than search for weaknesses in their argument. Instead, let your goal be to understand. The understanding and information you gather will help you formulate your own comments that will greatly increase your power of persuasion. If you truly practice the art of active listening, you might even alter your opinion on the topic. Maybe not! But, it’s a possibility. You will also have made the other person feel heard and hopefully understood, which makes them more open to listen to YOU.
Remember also that famous saying:
Wise men (and women) are quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
Check out our communication and conflict management courses
Friday, August 7, 2009
Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, in Time Magazine, defends jerks at work. See her article at this link:
She asks what American Idol would be like without Simon?
“Good point” you might think. But the American public loves tuning in to watch Simon and most respect his opinion. He makes about a hundred gazillion dollars a season for all those associated with American Idol. The benefits clearly outweigh the costs and I doubt there are many on the American Idol staff that want to see him leave. This is not your typical “jerk at work” story.
What do you think? Our suggestion is to identify and focus on specific unacceptable behaviors rather than telling the employee to stop being a jerk. We also highly recommend dealing with unacceptable behaviors immediately, before being a jerk becomes contagious in your organization. This isn’t to say that all jerks are lost causes. By focusing on specific behaviors that need improvement, perhaps you’ll get lucky and turn the jerk into a star employee.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
What is the purpose of coaching? Can we define that for the world, or should each business define the goals of their coaching program and strategy? I think the later. A recent article titled “Coaching, does it add value” by Maurice Duffy seems to offer an opposite point of view.
Duffy believes that too often, coaching is implemented “to address specific personal development needs, and becomes a 'soft' patchy interaction that meanders for months, making the coach money and the individual happy” but producing no measurable benefit.
Perhaps your coaching program was put into place in order to address personal development needs; assuming these needs meet the needs of the organization. Perhaps it is put into place to improve “soft skills” such as interpersonal communication. While I believe Duffy takes too harsh of a viewpoint on coaching, it IS important to fully define the purpose of your coaching program before investing a dime.
Read Duffy’s full article at: http://www.personneltoday.com/articles/2009/07/14/51419/coaching-does-it-add-value.html
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
"Companies and organizations who recognize that their employees are their only truly sustainable resource will add value by continuing to offer education and professional development opportunities. The smart organizations will be well positioned for the coming economic upturn with an educated workforce," commented Dr. Robert Deahl, Dean of the Marquette University College of Professional Studies.
See the article at: http://www.wisbusiness.com/index.iml?Article=166201
Friday, July 31, 2009
What do you hate about all of the current e Learning websites and options? Employees make plans to spend time on an e Learning program, but do not give it the priority they give to a conference or training seminar they sign up to attend. They allow other things, almost ANYTHING, to take precedence and the learning gets put off, week after week. Tracking completion and offering incentives for completing e Learning programs should be high priority. Even better, offer incentives for improved performance that results from the e Learning program.