Thursday, March 19, 2009

Five Steps for Survival When You've Been Verbally Reprimanded

Everyone knows that when a boss starts "paper-trailing" you -- giving you written reprimands that go into your personnel file -- you're in deep doo-doo.

That's because written reprimands are what bosses do when they're seriously considering booting you to the curb -- or have already made up their mind and are just going through the paper thing because human resources makes them.

But what happens when you get a "verbal" reprimand? Is that the same as a "paper" reprimand?

Well, yes and no.

Obviously, it's not paper, so that makes it different. And, if the boss were really fed up with you, he would be writing down what you did (or didn't do) and shooting off a copy to HR. But when he just verbally disses your performance, you've been given a (brief) reprieve to get your act together.

Usually, a supervisor will say something like, "This is your official verbal warning" or something to that effect. When you hear that, it's your cue to either a) start dusting off your resume or b) craft a battle plan to save your butt.

And, in this economy with the crappy job market, I'd suggest you focus on Plan B.

So, let's look at an action plan when you get a verbal warning from the boss:

1. Set the tone. Ask for a time to talk to your boss when you won't be interrupted. Trying to discuss a serious issue such as your performance while on an elevator or in the break room pouring a cup of coffee won't serve your interests well. By asking for a meeting, you show that you're taking what he said to heart.
2. Ask for specifics. The boss saying, "You're not a team player" isn't going to be very illuminating, so ask if he can provide specific instances of this behavior. Don't be confrontational or defensive: Listen and take notes.
3. Set goals. Just as in a formal yearly performance appraisal, you should always have a clear road map of where you need to go. In this case, you're looking for things you can do right away to show the boss you're serious about meeting expectations. Then, ask about long-term expectations: Have those changed since your last evaluation?
4. Follow up. After you've had your meeting, use your notes to write a formal e-mail to your boss, outlining your expectations and goals. Tell the boss how much you appreciate the feedback. Make sure you send your boss e-mails when you've met those expectations: Bosses aren't the only ones who can paper-trail. Keeping track of your accomplishments is a good practice not only for employees who are in trouble, but as a way to have solid proof of your contributions. Set up regular appointments with the boss to make sure you're staying on track.
5. Kick your own butt. Once you've got a good idea of what the boss expects, it's time to take a hard look at your performance. Is the verbal reprimand an indication of a more serious problem? Do you need anger management classes, or perhaps more training in an area that makes you defensive because you lack the necessary skills? Are you deliberately doing a poor job because you resent a co-worker or the boss? This is a good opportunity to find a mentor who is willing to give you honest feedback and help steer you back on course.

What other steps should someone take after a verbal reprimand?

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Creativity Can Help Save Your Job -- Here's How to Find Yours

Be creative.

These are the words being echoed in workplaces across the world.

Be creative in coming up with new ideas to grow the business.
Be creative in finding ways to outsmart the competition.
Be creative in finding ways to work more efficiently.
Be creative in coming up with ways to cut costs.

They're just words, but two words that pack a wallop for a lot of people.

Be creative. OK.

What if your idea of being creative is taking a different route to work? Or wearing a blue shirt with brown pants instead of black? Bosses have said over and over that those who add the most value will be the ones who keep their jobs. Does that mean if you're uncreative, you could be in danger?

Probably not. If you're adding value by doing a great job, then there's no reason to believe your lack of creativity will hurt you. At the same time, coming up with new ideas is a sure-fire way to not only solidify your position currently, but possibly even garner you a promotion -- or increase your appeal to other employers who may be willing to pay more for your creative talent.

And let me be clear here: Creativity is not just the purview of those in areas such as marketing or design. Every workplace needs creativity in order to survive in today's highly competitive marketplace. You may not believe you're a creative person, but I bet you are. You may just need to exercise different muscles in order to really get yourself in top shape so you can call on your creativity more often.

So, let's look at some ways to develop your creativity:

1. Play. I'm not talking Guitar Hero. I'm talking about learning to look at everything in your world as something to explore. There's a reason that kids rip into toys on Christmas morning and then spend more time playing with the box it came in. It's more fun because it can become anything and everything for that child. Start playing with things in your job -- would you be more productive if your desk faced another way? Should invoices be another color or another shape to avoid getting mixed up with other paperwork? Why can't all meetings have a big bucket of Legos for everyone to play with? Experts say that children learn through play -- so why have we stopped playing as adults?

2. Challenge yourself. The next time you're stuck in traffic, look at what's in your glove box. Think of how you could use each item if you were a) stranded in the woods b) asked to make an art project or c) had to describe each item using at least 10 words. You can also do this while at home -- just use items in a desk or kitchen junk drawer.

3. Understand "no" is your friend. Lots of creative folks are told "no." John Grisham is a famous case, receiving dozens of rejection letters for his first novel. Why do you think artists are often starving before they are multimillionaires? It's because they were told no over and over again, but kept plugging away. Often, being rejected really boosts your creativity. So if your boss says "no" to an idea, that just means you're being pushed into a new realm of creativity. Be grateful for it and keep thinking.

4. Be vulnerable. No one likes to do things they're not good at. You don't want to take ballroom dancing lessons if you're so klutzy you can't take a flight of stairs without tripping. You may think art classes are for people who actually know the different between white and ivory. Not so. In fact, the more inept you believe yourself to be at something or the more you don't like it, the more you should embrace it. If you're conservative, take the most liberal person at work to lunch. If you hate country music, listen to Hank Williams. Learn to speak another language. Only by exposing yourself to new and different experiences can you start to jump-start your brain into seeking out new ideas.

5. Go for it.
Once you begin embracing your new-found creativity, you may be shy about sharing it. You may hesitate to propose your new ideas to the boss or co-workers. I'll be honest -- they may reject them in the beginning. After all, if you've not been known for your creativity, people may be a little taken aback when you seem to have morphed into something new. We often have a hard time initially accepting change. But don't let that stop you. Once you consistently offer new ideas, others will begin to see you in a new light -- as someone who is creative and energetic, as someone who is willing to pursue new ways of doing things in a challenging marketplace. And who doesn't want someone like that around?

What are some other ways you can become more creative at work?

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