Monday, November 24, 2008

When Was the Last Time You Made a Career Deposit?

When I was a child, my mother often talked about living through the Depression. As the oldest child, she was sent to live with relatives when her family could no longer afford to feed all three children. Even though her time away from the family only lasted about a year, it greatly affected her life.

She hated antiques. She thought of them as old, and old stuff meant poverty. She wasn't a tightwad, but neither did she spend money she didn't have. She carefully monitored the family finances every month, and was meticulous in balancing the checkbook and making sure that something went into savings every month.

She never forgot the lessons of such a difficult period in her life, even though she was only about 6-years-old.

I've been thinking of her stories about what she learned from the Depression as I've watched -- along with everyone else -- the devastation many people are experiencing because of this economic mess. And what I see makes me realize that when we have gotten past this difficult time, we will not only have learned economic lessons that will govern the rest of lives, but career ones as well.

How many of us have kicked ourselves for not being better networkers so that when the layoffs came, we didn't have many places to turn for help? How many of us have regretted that we didn't promote our skills and abilities better so that when bonuses were scarce, we didn't garner one for ourselves? How many of us regretted not attending those seminars or training sessions or take advantage of tuition reimbursement from our employers that might have helped our chances of landing a better position during these tough times?

Of course, hindsite is 20/20. But I do think that when we pull out of these difficult times, we need to learn important financial lessons just like those who survived the Depression did. We need to learn those financial lessons -- and those career ones as well.

Specifically, it's time we all stopped living just for the next promotion or title and started putting something in our career "savings account." For example, career investments should include:

* Going back to the early days of your career and re-establishing contacts. You might be surprised that the guy who washed dishes at your first job now owns his own company, or that the girl who was an intern with you now is a top executive. Check out online sources to track people down and start investing in these contacts.

* Fix your burned bridges. Sometimes in the heat of the moment we say or do things that we regret. Now is the time to start making overtures to those who may think you'd run them over with your car given half a chance. Your reputation is the most important commodity you have -- you don't want anyone thinking less of you because you never know who they're influencing.

* Get a second opinion. Have someone you respect in your industry review your current resume. Even if you're not currently looking for a job, get some ideas on where they think "holes" exist, and what you can begin to do to patch them.

* Help someone. Every day, try and do something on the job that helps another person, whether it's pitching in with a project, making a recommendation for someone on LinkedIn or writing an article for an industry newletter. It's a way of saving a little bit all the time in your career "bank."

What are some other lessons we can learn during these difficult times?

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Friday, November 14, 2008

10 Good Things About Working Longer Hours


With the economy in the crapper, most people I know wouldn't even think of uttering the words "work/life balance." As more people are laid off, it's up to the survivors to pick up the work load and do it without complaint -- if they want to keep their job.

But it's tough. Real tough. That's why I thought I'd end the week with a sort of optimistic view of what many of us are going through right now -- work/life imbalance.

So, without further ado, here are ....

10 Good Things About Working Longer Hours

1. Your mom feels so bad for you she's started doing your laundry.

2. Your neighbors are dropping off meals at your house, thinking you died. (The tuna casserole was excellent.)

3. The dog has quit shredding the drapes. It's no fun when you're not around to yell about it.

4. The overnight security guard at work has been letting you in on some really good deals. It's amazing the stuff that falls off the back of a truck!

5. You won $5 from the cleaning lady who said no way would a sleeping bag fit under the desk. Way!

6. No standing in line for coffee at Starbucks. You're first in line when the doors open.

7. Living in the same suit for five days straight has really cut down on your dry cleaning bill.

8. For Halloween, you didn't have to buy a costume. You went as one of the "undead" and won first prize in the scariest costume category.

9. Your stalker finally gave up and went away, saying your schedule was just too exhausting.

10. You don't have far to go for your weekly groceries -- the vending machine is just down the hall!

Are you working longer hours? How do you remain upbeat?

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Workers Behaving Badly: Why Our Stress May be Bringing Out the Worst in Us



After 9/11, I was struck by the sense of caring we showed for one another. It was a horrible, stressful time, but it seemed to bring out the best in us. We began to look out for one another, even at work. We shared our mutual pain about what had happened, and even expressed our fear for the future. Office squabbles seemed ridiculous, and petty jealousies even more so.

Now it's seven years later, and we're facing another horrible, scary time. We see empty chairs at work, evidence of the people who have taken early retirement or other buyout packages. Almost every one of us know someone who has been laid off. Our own employers have stated they will not be filling empty positions for now.

And yet, office politics are on the rise. Gossiping, backbiting and negative campaigning dominate the airwaves, and we seem to mimic that behavior at work.

So, instead of pulling together on the job as we did after 9/11, we seem to be our own worst enemies right now. Of course, much of that is due to the enormous stress in both our private and professional lives. No one can predict what will happen next week, let alone in the coming year.

If makes workers feel powerless, and that's a lousy feeling. It makes us want to grab whatever we can and hold on, everyone else be damned. But here's the thing: We actually DO have a lot of control right now. We have control over how we treat one another.

It's not a easy thing to admit that we've been a jerk to people we work with, either through our silences or our short-tempers or our snide comments. But we've got to own up to our bad behavior, because until we do, we won't begin to fix what needs fixing.

So, today, I want you to think about the person in the cubicle next door or down the hall. I want you to think about how fear and anxiety has made you and others behave, and what you can do to start making things right.

Remember, the evidence supports the fact that when we are friendlier to one another at work, when we genuinely care about one another, we are not only happier but more productive. And right now, that's definitely a very good thing.

What are some ways to improve relationships with others at work?





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Monday, October 27, 2008

The 5S concept: Will a Misplaced Stapler Get You in Trouble?


Watch out: 5S may be coming to your workplace. And if it does, well, you have my condolences.

I first read about 5S several months ago, and hoped it was a bad blip on the radar screen, sort of like a new High School Musical cast being assembled.

But no, there it was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning. For those who haven't heard of 5S (sort, straighten, shine, standardize and sustain), it was originally designed for the manufacturing floor as a way to keep things neat and tidy to increase efficiency. Everything has a specific place, and unnecessary stuff is tossed so that no time is wasted looking for something, seen as especially important when people share a workspace.

Now, 5S has made its way to the upper floors and into the cubicles, and I'm getting a very bad feeling about it.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for keeping chaos to a minimum in the workplace, and disorganized, messy work spaces aren't good for anyone. But as someone who has covered the workplace for decades, who has interviewed hundreds of bosses and hundreds of employees over the years, I think this idea is going to be about as welcome as a weekly performance evaluation.

Why? At a time when people are so concerned about their jobs, when companies need every mind engaged in coming up with new and innovative ideas in order to remain competitive, when bosses are just trying to keep employees focused and not watching the stock market go nuts -- we're going to focus on whether a desk is neat? Or whether a person's sweater should be allowed on the back of a chair?

I realize some people think this concept is great, and a perfect solution to the problems of inefficiency and disorganization among team members. But I've seen this thing cause a backlash before, and I just believe when people are being asked to work longer hours, with little or no pay raise or bonus this year, that telling them they put the stapler in the wrong drawer is going to be a bit grating on already frayed nerves.

If you ask a couple who has been together a long time what the secret to their relationship is, many of them might reply it's being respectful, kind, communicating well and valuing what the other person has to bring to the relationship. I'd agree with all of those things. And I think most bosses would agree that's what they also value in their team members.

Do they want to be policing the office looking for points to deduct for lack of neatness? Are employees going to be trying to find ways to keep a picture of their kid or a beloved pet from being banned from their workspace instead of focusing on their work? Will 5S only lead to lower morale -- and lead to greater inefficiency, rather than improve it?

I sure hope not. I sure hope that companies don't go overboard on 5S at a time when we need everyone engaged, enthusiastic, energized and upbeat (the 3E's and 1U method) -- but I'm not counting on it.

What do you think of 5S? Are companies focusing on the wrong things at work these days?


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Friday, October 24, 2008

10 Things Overheard at the Last Management Meeting


As an employee, it's often nerve-wracking to see managers troop into a meeting during these difficult financial times. What are they talking about? Is it good? Is it bad? Are they debating who is going to get laid off? Plans for a big project? What critical decisions are they making that the fate of dozens -- perhaps hundreds -- of employees hinge upon?

It would be interesting to a fly on the wall during these sessions. That's why I thought I would speculate about 10 things overheard at the last management meeting:

1. "I told you we have auditors."

2. "We need to make some decisions about personnel. Anyone got a quarter? OK -- call it. If it's heads, Trish goes. Tails, it's Larry."

3. "We've got to find a way to cut down on distractions around here. All those in favor of moving our next meeting to the golf course, say 'aye.'"

4. "I could have been the next David Hasselhoff, but noooo --I had to get that MBA."

5. "It's unanimous: We use the 'Deal or No Deal' model for payroll this next quarter."

6. "So, no one really batted an eye when I told them to re-use envelopes. But the 'bring your own toilet paper' memo didn't go over so great."

7. "Hey -- I'm hitting the dollar store after work to pickup up a few 'forced early retirement' gifts. Anyone wanna come along?"

8. "It was all I could do to keep a straight face when I told my staff: "Don't panic. Everything's fine."

9. "I just found a great new website to help with performance evaluations. It's called "make-em-squirm.com."

10. "Oh, Lord. Is that the FBI?"

What else might be overheard in a meeting of managers these days?

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Say Buh-Bye to Flexibility and Hello to Longer Hours


I went on eBay the other day to try and purchase a crystal ball. Unfortunately, the ones that were available didn't come with a guarantee, so I decided to pass.

I mean, who wouldn't want a crystal ball to see into the future -- to see how we're all going to survive this mess and whether or not the Rays really can go from being the worst team in baseball to winning the World Series in a year's time?

OK, so when the crystal ball thing didn't work out, I decided to just talk to a lot of different people about the situation on the job today. I didn't talk to just experts, but also regular folks who worry about their jobs, who wonder if their bosses are telling them the truth and if they need to be looking for a second job.

While this is unscientific, this is what my gut tells me -- after decades of covering the workplace -- what you may see come to your workplace:

1. Less flexibility. Companies already are operating lean, but because of the nervousness about how deep and long the recession will last, employers will want employees to really buckle down. And that means that bosses or companies offering flexibility options such as working certain hours or working from home may start to cut back those choices because they want to stick really close to workers right now. So that means where and when the boss works -- so will you.

2. Less tolerance for whining. Bosses are tense. I mean really tense. Maybe they're not showing it to employees, but trust me, they're very stressed by what is going on. They want to be there for employees who are worried about their jobs or the economy, but they can only take so much whining. Those workers who don't recognize when to suck it up and just shut up and work are going to put themselves in jeopardy. Remember: There are lots of great, qualified people out of work right now, and the boss's pickings to replace you have never been better.

3. More generational conflict. Things between older and younger workers have sometimes been tense, but there's always been the argument that baby boomers are going to be retiring in droves soon, so employers will be forced to pay attention to what younger workers want. But with so many baby boomers seeing their portfolios and 401(k)s tank, chances are good many of them are going to stick around much longer. And that's not going to sit well with GenX and GenY, since it mucks up their plans. Employers are going to have little patience (see No.2) for workers who can't get along.

4. Longer hours. Maybe you thought your workload couldn't get any worse. Guess what? It can.

5. Fewer benefits. Those goody packages used to attract and retain top workers are going to start drying up. Companies have pretty much cut as many bodies as they can, so they're going to look for other ways to trim costs. So, if you're thinking of using your company's tuition reimbursement, adoption assistance, gym memberships, etc., do it now. Before too much longer, they may be gone.

What other trends do you think we'll see -- or already are seeing -- in the workplace because of the struggling economy?

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Friday, October 17, 2008

10 "Uh-Oh" Signs at Work




If one more person tells me not to panic, well, I might just panic.

The truth is, we get up every morning and we're not sure what is going to happen. The stock market will rise. It will fall. Chicken Little will go running down the street screaming something about the sky.

So, while it's easy for all the experts to tell us not to panic, it's kind of hard not to be a teensy bit apprehensive about what might await us every day. That's why I'm giving you this checklist so that you can be aware when it might be time to panic. Not that I'm a doomsayer. I'm just sayin'.

The 10 "Uh-Oh" signs at work:

1. Co-workers are putting stickers, bearing their names, on your office furniture.
2. The security guard takes your i.d. and draws a big "X" through your photo.
3. The electricity has been turned off in your cubicle. And mothballs put in your desk drawers.
4. The boss's secretary begins crying whenever she sees you, offering you gum and saying, "I always liked you."
5. HR included store coupons in your most recent paycheck.
6. The guy at the deli where you eat every day takes your "frequent eater" card and tears it up.
7. The IT department has changed your logon to "dead2us."
8. John McCain returns your donation check with a note: "You need this more than I do."
9. The mailroom guy is using your mailbox to store his lunch.
10. You finally get the best reserved parking space in the whole company.

What are some other "uh-oh" signs?




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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Three Ways to Improve GenY's Bad Rep



Generation Y appears to have an image problem.

According to a recent survey by JobFox, recruiters aren't too keen on GenYers, and only 20 percent said they were "generally great performers" as compared to 63 percent who said baby boomers (age 43-62) were great performers, 58 percent lauding GenXers (age 29-42) and 25 percent saying traditionalists (63-plus) were great performers.

Ouch.

It gets worse. According to press release materials, "Gen Y was also classified as 'generally poor performers' by the largest number of recruiters polled. Thirty percent of recruiters classified Millennials (GenY) as poor performers, followed by 22 percent of recruiters who classified traditionalists as poor performers, 5 percent for GenX and 4 percent for baby boomers.

Double ouch.

But JobFox's CEO Rob McGovern thinks that managers and recruiters are missing the boat. Managers, he says, must "learn new ways to incorporate GenY views into the workforce."

OK, I agree. Managers and recruiters always need to be looking at how they can use an individual's strengths to help a company and boost the bottom line.

But I think it's more than that. I think GenYers (age 28 and under) need to be better at their own personal p.r.. I think that if they wait around to get the respect they believe they deserve, they may find themselves waiting a long time. Because whether they deserve the slacker reputation or not, the problem is that it exists.

Believe it or not, however, GenYers are being handed a golden opportunity to turn things around as the economy takes a nosedive. How? Let us count the ways:

1. Staying sane. GenY has lived a life of upheaval. They've grown up with AIDS, 9/11 and Britney not wearing any panties. They don't get rattled easily. Right now the older folks in the workplace are pretty well freaking and stressing about everything from how to make their house payment to watching their 401(k) tank. If GenYers demonstrate that -- while they understand the seriousness of the issues right now -- they are still upbeat and positive about life, it could have an enormous impact. Inspiring others to keep it all in perspective can demonstrate real leadership, and that's just the kind of reputation they need to develop.

2. Save others time. No one is more crazed these days that workers trying to balance the demands of their private and professional lives. But GenYers have grown up juggling, and have found technology enhances their lives. Young workers are in a great position to help other workers find ways to use technology to make their lives better. There's no way that anyone would be called a slacker for helping give someone more time with their kids or do their job better. Just be careful: You don't want your help to come off as smug or arrogant. Read Chris Brogan's post to make sure you do it right.

3. Provide the global view. The world has been delivered to GenY through television and computers since they were old enough to use a sippy cup. They have friends working in Darfur, they listen to bands from Japan and think nothing of IMing contacts in Istanbul or Tazmania. If they can keep their workplace informed on how events in Cambodia or Russia or Brazil may be impacting their business and bottom line, it could be enormously valuable. And let's face it -- those that contribute to the bottom line are seen as valuable -- and top performers.

While there are plenty of people telling managers that they need to treat GenYers better and learn to appreciate them, I think that GenYers may have to do some of the heavy lifting. They shouldn't wait around for someone to discover their strengths -- they should find subtle, but very meaningful ways to change perceptions that will have a real impact on their career success.

What are some other ways young workers can improve their image?


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Monday, October 6, 2008

Politics and Money Worries: A Volatile Mixture on the Job


There's no escaping the economic news lately, and most of us go to work every day just trying not to think about our dwindling 401(k) plans or pensions. But even if we're trying to block it out, most of us are carrying an extra level of stress as we try to do a job already demanding more of of us than even a year ago.

Add to that the upcoming presidential election, and we're creating a volatile situation where our workplace can become a boiling point for a lot of pent-up anxieties, says one workplace expert.

Christine Probett, a San Diego State University lecturer and former Goodrich executive, says workers are increasingly anxious, frightened and emotional about the future, and that nervousness with the economy means that clear communications from top brass are critical.

“When people get nervous – as they are now with the economy – it’s really important that companies keep their workers informed about what is going on,” says Christine Porbett. “If they don’t, the rumors will start to fly. People will begin making stuff up.”

I recently interviewed Probett for my Gannett News Service/USAToday.com column, and she says that she was once told by an employee that the way the employee separated fact from fiction was by asking three different people about a rumor. If it was confirmed by those three people, then the employee accepted it as fact – and that meant she could pass it along to other workers.

“In a company, there are enough rumors going around that you can get 100 people to confirm a rumor as fact,” Probett says. “Just because you heard it doesn’t make it fact, but that’s how it happens.”

She says any during tough economic times, every closed-door meeting can spawn speculation among employees.

“If management has a meeting, they better come out of that meeting and communicate about what was discussed with the people who work there,” Probett says. “Even if all they can say is that they can’t talk about it. It’s better than out-and-out-lying about what was said."

Further, Probett says the upcoming elections also have added another layer of drama to a workplace that is already trying to deal with workers stressed by rising consumer prices, unemployment and unsettling news from Wall Street.

She says that employees must be very careful about what they say regarding elections at work, because they might be setting the stage for what is known as a "hostile work environment".

Specifically, under federal law, a “hostile work environment” means that “unwelcome comments or conduct based on sex, race or other legally protected characteristics unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”

“A lot of people are talking about this election, and it brings up a lot of issues,” Probett says. “We’re either going to have an African-American man as president, or a woman as vice president. There’s a lot of energy and emotion tied up in that. Diversity is one of those issues that creates a lot of tension and disagreement in the workplace, because sometimes it’s hard for one person to understand where someone else is coming from.”

That's why it's important that employees clearly understand what they can and cannot say at work regarding the election. If they're not clear, and the company has no set policy, it might be best to keep a low profile regarding political views. According to an American Management Association survey, 35 percent of business people said they are uncomfortable discussing their political views with colleagues.

“I would discourage people from wearing buttons supporting a specific candidate or party, and not allow signage or fundraising while at work,” Probett says.

If you're having problems with someone at work regarding politics, Probett says you should resolve it as you do any conflict.

“Don’t let the issue get bigger. Talk to the person, and tell them what you believe the problem to be. Don’t name call, and make sure you listen when they talk. Once you understand where the other person is coming from, try to come to a resolution. Then, move on. Don’t hold a grudge,” she says.

Are you feeling more stress on the job? How are you handling it?

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Is Any Job Worth a Bad Boss?


When there are stressful times in the workplace, you can bet it's going to bring out the best in a lot of people -- and the worst.

Unfortunately, job seekers may not discover which category a boss falls into until it's too late.

For example, good bosses will understand that the continuing tough economic news means they need to rally the troops, to stick close to employees and make sure employees see they are calm in the face of bad economic news, determined to keep doing the best possible job. They make sure their door is always open to listen to worker concerns, and even spring for a pizza every once in a while just to help lighten the mood.

And then there are the bosses that crack under the strain. They hole up in their offices, the door tightly closed. When they do emerge, they are uncommunicative with workers, except to criticize or be short-tempered. They may be sarcastic, rude, insulting and thoughtless. Employees become tightly wired and depressed, alternately sniping with one another or lapsing into brooding silences.

Enter the hapless job seeker. With shiny shoes, a bright smile and firm handshake, the job candidate enters the door of a company, hopeful that in this crappy job market, he or she may land a job.

Many are desperate. They try not to let that show (a definite no-no in the job search world), but they know their current company is sinking fast, their industry on the rocks, their job security a thing of the past. They need another job, and they need it now.

So, they may be willing to overlook a few things they would not have in the past, when job seekers had the upper hand in a thriving economy. Now, with rising unemployment, they don't care about the long commute, the less-than-generous benefits, the lack of stock options. In other words, they are willing to overlook a lot of the frayed edges if it just means they can keep a paycheck coming in.

Understandable. You gotta do what you gotta do. But there is one area that may bear closer scrutiny: the boss.

As anyone who has had a bad boss knows, a rotten manager can affect you in ways you never dreamed. You can't sleep. You can't eat -- or overeat. You yell at your kids or partner when you get home, you develop bad headaches and stomach pains. You feel like you've aged 10 years overnight and secretly envision the boss getting hit by a bus. (Not killed of course, just in the hospital for the next five years.)

That's why it's still important that while you may be willing to settle on a lot of things when you go for a job these days, don't settle for a bad boss. And here's a bit of good news: The bad bosses are being exposed as never before. It's going to be easier to learn who is a lousy manager simply because he or she is cracking under the strain.

Here's some ways to find out a boss's true colors:

* Ask to speak to other employees. Sometimes you will not always be given this opportunity, and other times, the workers may not be truthful because they fear for their own jobs. Ask questions such as: "What has been your favorite assignment and why?" "What gives you the greatest satisfaction working here?" "What three words would you use to describe your boss?"
* Find the favorite watering hole. This may be a neighborhood pub, or a lunch spot where employees hang out. It may even be a nearby park. The idea is to strike up a conversation away from the eyes and ears of the boss so that you can get an employee to open up about the true management style of the boss.
* Be objective. Just because one employee trashes the manager doesn't mean the boss is terrible. It could be that this person doesn't get along with anyone. Try and talk to several employees so that you can get a real feel for what's going on.
* Don't think you're special. I'm always amazed by job candidates who take a position knowing the boss is an ass. They always think they can find a way to get along with the manager, that they somehow possess special powers to overcome a bully boss. Not so. If the boss is a jerk to the majority of workers, chances are you're going to experience the exact same thing.

What are some other ways to spot a bad manager?


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Monday, September 22, 2008

Has Your Confidence Turned Into Arrogance?


As we can all witness after the latest debacle on Wall Street, there are plenty of big egos when it comes to big business.

A picture is emerging of decision-makers who have reaped millions of dollars in in compensation and benefits as their companies went down the toilet. Now, of course, Congress is getting involved, and those big egos are going to be aired -- and criticized -- in public.

Most of us will tut-tut their behavior ("Those greedy bastards," we'll grouse), and some of us will even learn a thing or two from their bad personal and professional judgment. Unfortunately, many of us will go back to behaving just as we always have -- as the same kind of arrogant beings intent on achieving our own ends through our own means.

Don't get me wrong. I know that confidence is needed in the working world. Without it, you'll get run over and be nothing but career roadkill. But there comes a point -- and I think this is it -- when we need to all take a hard look at how we go about getting what we want.

In other words, has your confidence turned into arrogance?

My dictionary defines arrogant as: "Overly convinced of one's own importance; overbearingly proud; haughty." Now, contrast that with the definition of confidence: "A feeling of assurance or certainty."

We all know those who are arrogant in the workplace. We don't really like them. We don't want to be on teams with them because they believe they are walking books of knowledge on just about any subject, and they rarely listen to anyone but themselves. They believe that just by showing up, success will follow.

But recognizing that arrogance in ourselves may be tougher. We believe we have earned the right to our views, and don't have time to suffer fools. We are impatient with others who don't seem to "get it" and wonder why they don't understand our talent is special and unique. We don't think we are arrogant, just confident.

I can't predict what the outcome of this Wall Street bailout will be, because I'm not an economist. But I can tell you that with the closer scrutiny of leadership behavior in the coming months, it's going to trickle down to all parts of the business sector. There is going to be less tolerance, I believe, of arrogance.

That's why today I'm hoping to save you some pain in the coming months. I challenge you to think about whether your confidence has turned into something more damaging. I urge you to think about not how you see yourself -- but how others see you. Do your actions really align with who you are and where you want to go?

Think about:

* Listening. Do you brush over others' opinions, or not ask for them at all? Even the most confident person values ideas from other people, but the arrogant worker believes he/she has all the answers.
* Admitting mistakes. Arrogance doesn't leave any room for acknowledging an error; pride prevents learning anything from a mistake. Those with enough confidence to own up to a mistake not only earn more respect from others, they gain useful insight on avoiding the problem in the future.
* Reaching back. When you have confidence, you're not afraid to help train or educate workers with less knowledge or skill. You see it as a chance to enhance the overall product or effort. If you're arrogant, you see it as a waste of time to work with those less skilled than you (which takes in almost everyone).
* You believe your own press. You're mentioned in company newsletters as a star performer, the boss recognizes you in meetings for your contributions and if you Google your name -- whoo boy! You start to rest on your laurels, believing your touch to be golden. While that is certainly a boost to your confidence, and should be enjoyed, you need to remember that your career success can often rest on a "what have you done for me lately" attitude. That's why it's important to make sure you interact often with people who disagree with you -- or don't even like you. They'll keep that ego from heading into arrogance.

What are some other signs of arrogance?


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Friday, September 19, 2008

Reality Check: Time to Pay Attention to the Details

Sheesh. My inbox has gotten so depressing in the last week. I've been hit with dozens of queries from experts wanting to explain what has happened on Wall Street and what it means for the average worker.

E-mail subject lines are a laundry list of bad news: depression, recession, job loss, bailouts, financial collapse, panic, layoffs. It's like a bad rap song for someone named "Unemployment Line."

I'm going to go along with all the other experts and give a giant shrug when asked what tomorrow will bring. But I will say this: It never hurts to start honing your interviewing skills. Because if you're not looking for work at another company, then you need to stay sharp and make sure you're on top of your game at your current job.

That means you dress professionally. You don't surf the Internet looking at ESPN or People.com when you're supposed to be working. You focus on making good connections with others in your company so that they see you as a valuable asset, and not an expendable commodity.

That's why I thought I'd end your week with this video that will provide a humorous reminder on what you should be doing -- and not doing -- on the job. We all need the laugh.


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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Are You Being Naive -- and Just Plain Stupid -- About Your Online Reputation?


If you do nothing else today, Google yourself.

I do not say this so that you can stroke your own ego by seeing how many "hits" you get. I say this to save your ass.

There's enough instability right now in the economy that everyone -- and I mean everyone -- needs to be in active job-hunting mode. That means in addition to ramping up your networking efforts, you need to immediately take steps to clean up your online footprint.

Last week I sent out a HARO request for my Gannett News Service/USAToday.com column asking for input on how to manage your online reputation. I received so much good stuff that I couldn't use it all. I also learned some disturbing information during my research: Most people only check out what's online about them several times a year.

Yikes.

That means anyone could be writing snarky comments about you, posting photos of you in a Borak-inspired swimsuit from your last drunken vacation or even making erroneous statements linking you to unethical or illegal activities and -- if you're rarely checking online -- it might be months before you discovered it. By that time, a lot of damage could be done to you professionally.

And that, my friends, could be disastrous at a time like this when we should all be actively promoting ourselves in the marketplace.

So, I'm going to share some really good advice and comments from online reputation management folks that I couldn't fit in my column:

* "Search for your name in Google, Yahoo! and MSN right away. (Google covers most of the Web, but MSN and Yahoo! may pick up web pages that Google missed or ignored.) Learn how to manage your privacy settings within each social network you use. (This is usually hidden away under "profile" or "preferences" tabs.)
-- Nestor G. Trillo, SEO expert, Avaniu Communications

* "Google offers a great service. You can subscribe to alerts, which will provide you with daily notices if your name is used on the Internet. The service is free and worth doing if you have a reputation to protect." --Chris Reich, business advisor,Teachu.com

* "Be transparent - this doesn't mean allow yourself to be trashed. It means fight back with facts. It also means telling the whole story; of using social media as a 'bright light' when dealing with false statements. Have lots of friends - they will come to your rescue and defend you. Don't be something online that you aren't offline. In short, your brand is your brand regardless of the medium." -- Justin Foster, founder/partner, Tricycle

* "We recently interviewed an individual for a C-level position with our company. He interviewed extremely well and the final check we did was his reputation in Google. What we found was alarming, not the least of which was a class action lawsuit against his old company." --Fionn Downhill,CEO, elixirinteractive.com

* "I had a client, Josh Deming (not his real name) who had a reputation as a hard- nosed manager. After losing his position after an acquisition, he found himself in a job search for the first time in a number of years. Because he was highly respected, he thought the search would go quickly. On several occasions, he would get to the final stages prior to hiring with a company showing great enthusiasm, only to suddenly be dropped from consideration.
At this point Josh came to see me. We did a Google search and found that when we searched "Josh Deming", No. 5 in the Google search results was a link to an industry forum page where Josh was being trashed anonymously by some people that had worked for him calling him an unfit manager.
Here's what we did.
1) We changed everything (resume, cover letters, online profiles, etc.) to "Joshua P. Deming", his full name. People will typically Google what is on the resume. When "Joshua P. Deming" was Googled, nothing negative showed up.
2) We took advantage of a few key online profiles. Everyone should take advantage of LinkedIn. Google loves it and for most people, if they have a LinkedIn profile, it will show up first if you Google them. Professionals, executives and managers should also take advantage of VisualCV.com and ZoomInfo. All of these are relatively simple, don't require a lot of maintenance, and will boost online visibility.
3) We had Joshua write a book review on his favorite management book and post it on Amazon. This gave the opportunity to show a little thought leadership and demonstrate his management knowledge to help counter the negatives should a potential employer stumble upon the comments in the industry forum.
The result was that within weeks Joshua was hired." -- Don Huse, president/CEO, Venturion

* "...People have to realize that anything you put online stays there and can be used against you. It's all well and fine believing that your Facebook profile can only be viewed by your friends, but what's to stop one of those friends from copying what you write and posting it elsewhere? This recently happened on Twitter. A friend of mine had comments that were made privately, to a closed group of friends, posted on a blog, as part of an post attacking someone else in the marketing field." -- Simon Heseltine, director of search, Serengeti Communications Inc.

What else should someone do to manage their online reputation?


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Thursday, September 4, 2008

When Times are Tough, How Do You Keep Workers Focused and Engaged?


While no one would dispute the fact that workers are stressed because of continuing layoffs, stagnant wages and rising consumer prices, the pressure may be compounded for the people in charge of keeping workers enthusiastic and motivated -- managers.

I recently interviewed Michael Stallard, CEO of E Pluribus Partners in Greenwich, Conn., and he told me that at times like this, managers have to be even more vigilant about staying close -- physically, mentally and emotionally -- to their staff.

That's because employees can become unfocused and unproductive when times are so uncertain and challenging.

“Stress sort of short-circuits the brain,” Stallard says.

Still, Stallard says managers have some tools to help bring teams together, such as making sure all workers "feel like they’re connected.”

That means that managers need to make sure they keep an open-door policy" and assure workers they’re available to talk about any anxieties they may be experiencing. At the same time, Stallard says managers should actively work at finding ways to get employees out of the office, which can be ground zero for work stress.

“Go to lunch with your employees. Go for a walk with them. Spend time with them one-on-one, and let them express their feelings,” he says. “And make sure that when they are at work, you give them some tasks that they enjoy doing.”

Stallard advises managers trying to energize and engage employees during these tough economic times to:

• Stay focused. Employees should be reminded that they have an obligation to their other team members, and that means everyone must pull his or her weight and work toward targeted goals. Remind them how important their work is for everyone on the team, he says.
• Keep the panic at bay. “Let them know that if they’re feeling especially anxious, they should come and talk to you,” he says. “You’ve got to make sure they know they can talk about whatever they’re going through.”
• Use social media. Some employees may be more comfortable communicating through e-mail or social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter. “Face-to-face contact is always the best, but more managers have employees on different continents or in different cities. Social media is a great way to stay connected with your team and keep them engaged.”
• Remember to laugh. “Humor is a great reliever of stress,” he says. “Try and find ways to have some fun with your employees.”

But what if the worst thing happens – and a manager must lay off workers?

“The first time I had to lay someone off it made me physically sick,” Stallard says. “You have an obligation to be respectful, and show empathy. That’s critical. You also need to try and help them as much as you can in finding another job.”

Stallard says he strongly disagrees with employees being immediately escorted from a building upon dismissal from a job, which he calls “humiliating.”

“You should let them finish their day and communicate with the other employees,” he says. “One other thing to think about: The existing employees will remember how you treated those who left.”

Finally, Stallard says the key for managers trying to cope with these challenging times is to practice a management philosophy that treats people with respect and compassion through good times and bad.

“A lot of what goes into keeping people engaged through the tough times is the history of how you have managed,” he says. “It’s almost like you’re building up an emotional bank account.”

What else can managers do to help keep employees engaged and enthusiastic?


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