Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How to Hang on to a New Job

I know many people hate networking. Hate. It. They feel uncomfortable promoting themselves to others, and many won't even do it when they're desperate for a job. But if these tough times have taught us one thing, it's that if you don't network, someone else will. And, they'll be the ones to get promotions, new jobs and opportunities you'll miss because you're still whining how you don't like to network.

Networking is here to stay. Get used to it. Do it when you're unemployed, do it when you're employed and do it at your kid's soccer game. Just do it.

As you can tell, I feel pretty strongly about the subject. It was the focus on my latest column for Gannett...

You may think that once you land a job you don’t have to sell yourself to others anymore, that your days of trying to establish connections with strangers is over and you can finally just settle down to doing a job and earning a paycheck.

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

The truth is that in this job market, no one should give up the skills they developed while searching for work. Instead, you should keep those abilities honed and ready for use in your new position.

“You’ve got to realize that networking inside a company is just as important as when you were networking on the outside trying to get in,” says Thom Singer, a professional speaker and business consultant who often advises others on networking and communication skills.

While your focus when landing a job was on proving you had the necessary experience and could hit the ground running, you need a different game plan in your first days and weeks in a new job. A recent OfficeTeam survey found that 32 percent of workers said that becoming used to a different corporate culture and colleagues would “pose the greatest challenge” when re-entering the workforce after unemployment.

“You want to reach out to people, and ask them for their help. Make them an ally – show that you want to collaborate and you’re not a threat to them,” Singer says. “This is where you make it about other people. You ask them to show you the ropes.”

And never – never – he says, tell others: “This is how we did it at my last company.” You should not, he says, have the attitude that you’re going to jump in and fix all the problems.

Some may consider this confusing advice. After all, doesn’t the new boss need to see that you’re hot stuff and he made the right decision in giving you the job?

Singer says it’s equally important to a manager that a new employee mesh with the existing team.

“Most bosses are very aware of what’s going on. They know who is helping who,” Singer says. “So, you show you’re inclusive by saying that you worked on something with Mary. They’re going to know who did the work and who was willing to share the credit.”

At the same time, taking such steps may help protect your job in the long run. “When companies make cuts, it’s a lot harder to let go of someone who is popular and well-liked as opposed to the loner,” Singer says.

How else can a new worker forge strong in-house ties? Some ideas:

· Recognize the power brokers. Of course you need to impress managers, but don’t forget that many employees without important titles hold key positions. Be friendly to office managers, receptionists, mail room clerks and IT personnel who can help you navigate office politics, provide insight into the company culture and smooth your way in everything from getting office supplies to having a computer glitch fixed.

· Say “yes.” “If you get invited to lunch or out after work, don’t say you have too much work, but find a way to go,” Singer says. “It’s important to your career that you become part of the group, and if you turn them down, they may just stop asking. Then you’re always going to be seen as an outsider.”

· Walk the halls. Don’t confine yourself to becoming friendly with only those in your department. Be friendly and introduce yourself to others in the organization, even if you’re only passing them in the hallway. “It’s very smart to have ties that run throughout a company. That way, if your department has cuts, you could always try and make a lateral move,” Singer says. “That’s going to be much easier if you know other people in those departments.”

Finally, for those who think they can slack off on their networking now that they have a job, Singer has some advice. "Don’t make the mistake of letting your network disappear. In this economy, there are no guarantees,” he says.


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Monday, February 1, 2010

6 Questions to Increase your Accountability Muscle

Some days I feel like I can hardly keep up with all the public figures behaving badly. Behaving badly and then lying about it. Then, apologizing for behaving so badly. And lying.

That's why I was interested in discussing the issue of personal responsibility. Are we capable, I wondered, of taking personal responsibility? What impact does that lack of accountability have on the workplace? It's a question I explored in my latest column for Gannett:

When ex-baseball player Mark McGwire recently admitted taking performance-enhancing steroids during his career, critics charged that his a truthfulness fell short when he contended he still could have hit his record-breaking number of home runs without the drugs.

Failing to accept complete personal responsibility – without excuses or addendums – is a practice that’s infected every nook and cranny of our society today, including the workplace, says Linda Galindo, an executive coach and accountability expert.

“Mark McGwire is an example of someone who tries to explain away why he did what he did,” Galindo says. “When you do something like that, your authenticity starts to be diminished. It’s just an example of the level of ridiculousness we’ve reached.”

Real accountability, Galindo says, means that you take ownership of your results – good or bad – and don’t point the finger at anyone else. It means that if you make a mistake, “you say what you did and what you learned from it and what you’ll do differently in the future,” she says.

If you’re on the slippery slope of evasiveness, she says, you end up spending more energy dodging honesty that you do taking responsibility and learning and growing from your experiences, she says.

Still, Galindo acknowledges that in this bad job market workers may fear being fired if they do admit a mistake, but she says taking on personal accountability can actually help a career. She says that shifting blame, telling lies and dodging questions doesn’t keep the truth from emerging later.

Further, a boss may be even more irritated by the evasion and the time lost trying to track down the real story – and fire you for not owning up to it in the first place.

If you make a mistake, Galindo recommends telling the boss that you want to take ownership of the situation, but you’d like some time to assess where you went wrong, and some solutions to the problem, she advises. Always make it clear to the boss, she says, “that you want to be there, and you want your job and you want to do better,” she says.

Galindo, author of “The 85% Solution: How Personal Accountability Guarantees Success,” (Jossey-Bass, $22.95), says that ways to increase your personal responsibility and accountability include asking these questions:

1. Are you responsible whether the results are good or bad? You have to decide to own the results completely, no matter the outcome. No excuses.

2. Do you recognize your own power? You alone have responsibility for managing your career. You can’t give that away unless you want to.

3. What are your expectations? What do you expect of others? Of yourself? Clarify with yourself and others what you expect. Ask questions to make sure you understand situations and avoid misunderstandings.

4. Are you dealing with the present? Let go of past annoyances or angers or regrets. You can’t change the past, so it doesn’t matter what “should” have happened. Worrying about who to blame or longing for what “could have been” is a waste of time and energy. Instead, focus on the present and how you want to react.

5. Do you always tell the truth? No one is perfect, but trying to cover up a mistake only makes it worse. Besides, when you lie you don’t really fool anyone – including yourself.

6. Are you policing yourself? “Personal accountability is a commitment. It’s ‘I’ messages. It’s saying that you want to own the problem and move forward,” Galindo says.

Galindo says that employees feeling more pressure these days to perform can use personal accountability to actually make their lives less stressful and gain clarity about their career.

“You end up paying over and over again for not being accountable. You have to decide that you’re going to step up and answer for your results,” she says. “The question is: Are you ready to step up and take responsibility for your own success?”

Do you see a lack of personal responsibility in your workplace? What impact does it have?


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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

3 Ways to Give the Best of Yourself


I love that little button on my TV remote. I use it a lot. Commercial comes on?


A program with talking heads yelling at each other?


In today's workplace, I think a lot of people long for a "mute" button. Unfortunately, not only do we not have the option of tuning everything out, but the increasing stress levels have made it just a bit too loud -- in all kinds of ways.

Recently, I looked into the issue of incivility and stress in the workplace, and what we can do about it. Here's the column I did for Gannett:

As you check your e-mail, return phone calls, gather materials for a meeting in five minutes and try to ignore the fact you haven’t had time to eat lunch, the last thing you may find time for in your busy work day is taking a breather.

Who has time to pause these days? To catch a deep breath when there are ringing phones and buzzing pagers and deadlines and endless workloads? If you pause, you think, all the balls you’re juggling might come crashing down around your head. If you take a take a break, you believe, you’ll only get further behind.

But Nance Guilmartin believes that’s exactly the type of thinking that has led to so much incivility in the workplace today. The inability to give ourselves a moment to gather our thoughts, she says, is what has led many people to make bad decisions, engage in fruitless arguments and ratchet up the stress.

“We’re stretched to the snapping point,” says Guilmartin, an executive coach. “What people need to understand is that even though they can’t change what’s happening, they can change how they handle it. They don’t have to be the victim of what they can’t control.”

Guilmartin says that workers need to learn to stop the habit of “knee-jerk reactions” to situations or people at work, and instead take a minute to consider what they’ve heard and ask questions to make sure they understand the situation before commenting. She says taking a pause allows us to “tap back into our long-lost common sense.”

In her book, “The Power of Pause: How to Be More Effective in a Demanding, 24/7 World, “(Jossey-Bass, $24.95), Guilmarten tells the story of a nurse who was advised to slow down, and reacted with disbelief. As a busy professional with multiple patients, limited resources and time and the unending stress of ill or dying patients, the nurse was incredulous that anyone would tell her to “take a moment to catch her own breath,” Guilmartin says.

Guilmartin says she shared with the nurse the story of a friend who had been in and out of hospitals for a couple of years, and said she felt like nothing more than a “procedure” every time a harried nurse entered her room.

The friend told Guilmartin she would instead appreciate being seen as a person first, and a patient second.
Guilmartin said the message resonated with the nurse, who did indeed begin taking a breath before entering a patient’s room, understanding that the pause ensured that she gave the patient a better quality of care, and made her a better nurse.

“We have to learn to give the best of ourselves in the moment,” Guilmartin says. “And all it takes is the time to take one deep breath. Maybe you don’t have time to do more, but you can do more with the time you have.”

Guilmartin says there are a number of ways to be more successful and have more impact and satisfaction in our work, simply by changing a few bad habits that have cropped up in a non-stop, always-connected world.

Among them:
Don’t react with angry words. Either verbally or written in an e-mail, “you give your power away when you get furious,” she says. “You may win the battle, but you lose the war.” Instead, when frustrated or angry, pause and then try and regain control of the situation by getting more information. It could be that you misunderstood, the person may have accidentally misspoken, or you don’t fully understand all the issues involved.
• Listen. The workplace today is focused on developing a collaborative atmosphere where ideas are shared to drive innovation. That can’t happen, she says, unless people take the time to simply show respect by listening to another person without jumping in with snap decisions or judgments so they can move onto the next item on a to-do list. “The greatest thing you can have someone say about you is: ‘Wow. She’s a great listener.
• Be honest. “If someone comes to you and you’re waiting on an important phone call, be honest with them and say that you can give them only 50 percent of your attention because you’re focused on the upcoming call. Tell them if that's OK, you can give them what you can at the time. What this does is help the person come to trust you because you’re being honest.”

What are some ways you use to slow yourself down when things get crazy?


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Monday, December 28, 2009

10 gifts to give your career

As the gift-giving season draws to a close, it’s time to remember that you still have one more gift left to bestow: The gift of a better career.

No one can really predict what the several years will bring in the job market, but it’s clear that everyone has to make more of an investment in their future. That means being better prepared for downturns in the economy or your industry, and keeping an active network so that when bad times do hit, you’re ready to get the help you need.

Here are 10 gifts to give your career in the coming year:

1. Stay current. Invest time in reading the latest industry news. Know how national or international events may impact your business, and what you’re doing to prepare. Are you targeting projects so they anticipate market conditions? Those who help the company become more innovative or strategic will make themselves key players – and those are the people a company is more likely to retain and promote.

2. Get more training. Ask your boss for opportunities to train in other departments, or to attend seminars or classes at a local university. If the company won’t fund your efforts, look for free webinars or podcasts online that provide experts to expand your knowledge. Your resume should always be able to reflect that you’ve kept up on the latest training and skills.

3. Be the dumbest person in the room. Attend an event or sign up for an online class that really challenges you. Step outside your comfort zone and into a subject that you know nothing about. Becoming too comfortable in your career and with your skills can set you up for problems if you suddenly find yourself out of work. Always look for ways to expand your horizons and be able to show an employer how you faced a challenge and learned.

4. Embrace social media. You may think Twitter is only for posting what you had for lunch or Facebook is only for showing funny photos for your friends. But social media should be another tool you use to enhance your personal brand and make others see you as a tuned-in, interesting professional in your field. It doesn’t have to be a huge time suck – spend a few minutes a couple of times a day interacting with others in your field, posting interesting links or asking questions of other professionals.

5. Attend one professional event a year. Meeting with others in your field face-to-face is important, and these events often provide access to the latest trends or key movers in your field. Instead of a latte every day, start putting the money into a professional event fund.

6. Find a mentor. Ask someone you respect and feel you really connect with for feedback on what you’re doing with your career or in your job. This can be as simple as having a cup of coffee and saying, “I’d really like to have your opinion on this.” Or, you can ask a professional organization about helping you find a mentor who can help guide you through some career issues. Having someone in your life to add fresh ideas or provide a different prospective can be invaluable for your career.

7. Be consistent. You can’t post drunken photos of yourself on Facebook or have a screen saver at work that is offensive and then expect employers or colleagues to see you professionally. Don’t expect to show up late for work several times a week and then expect the boss to hand over a big project. Decide the message you want to send others and then stick to it.

8. Bring sanity to your schedule. Employees are being asked to do more work with fewer resources during these tough times. That has taken a physical and emotional toll on many people. They may feel they have even less time for a personal life, which compounds the stress. For a week, keep close track of your tasks and the amount of time they take. Then, look for ways to bring a better balance to your life. Enlist the help of family or friends to devise a schedule that makes sense for your well-being in the coming year.

9. Pick up the phone. E-mail and social media provide a great way to communicate with others, but to establish a more personal connection, use the telephone. If you’ve gone more than a week in speaking personally with key colleagues or customers, give them a call. Better yet, meet with them in person. Maintaining these personal connections is critical to creating a strong professional network.

10. Take the high road. Make a commitment to send e-mails that are polite and friendly. Don’t gossip at work. Give a sincere compliment to a co-worker every day. Use your personal cell phone out of earshot of others. Stress has shortened the fuse of many at work, and taking these steps will help make the day better for a lot of colleagues. Fostering goodwill is a gift to yourself and to others.

What are some other ways to help your career this year?


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Monday, December 21, 2009

Is your employer clueless about your needs?

As you can see from the previous post on Generation Y, anything to do with stereotypes in the workplace generates a lot of discussion. I decided to explore the issue further, really looking at what impacts us on the job -- is it our age? Our "generation"? Or is it something more than that? Here's a column I did for Gannett -- it certainly got me thinking more about this issue.

How old are you?

To what generation do you belong?

Based on the answers you give to those two questions, you probably are being treated a certain way in the workplace. Because of when you were born, your manager or co-workers may talk to you differently, react to you in specific ways or have preconceived notions about what you like and dislike.

For some, that may be OK. But for the majority? Kathy Lynch says they “hate it.”

Lynch, director of employer engagement at the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College, says that employers must understand that they have to look beyond an employee’s chronological age and the generational stereotypes that go with it or they can’t begin to really engage employees. If they can’t engage employees, productivity and innovation will suffer – and top talent will go elsewhere.

At the same time, Lynch says individuals also must understand that their age and generation may not truly define who they are, and they can become more “empowered” if they look at their lives in a different way.

For example, while baby boomers may be thought of as nearing retirement, the truth is that many in their 50s these days have begun new careers in new industries and may be more than 20 or more years from retiring – if they retire at all, Lynch says.

Lynch says that’s why her organization believes it makes more sense for individuals and companies to look at age and generations in the workplace in terms of:

1. Life stages. “This is where you are in life, such as being married or single, or having children,” she says.

2. Career status. “Are you defined by your relationship with your employer? Do you have a job or do you have your own identity?” she asks.

“We’ve found through our studies and workshops that depending on how people identified their stages, their experience in the workplace is different and what they’re looking for is different,” she says.

For example, Lynch says people who defined themselves as “early career” ranged in age from their late teens to mid-60s. But no matter the age, those in this career stage tended to say they were “less satisfied” with the meaning of their work. On the other hand, those who said they were “late career” ranged in age from their early 20s to their 80s and found “more meaning” in their work when at this stage, she says.

What employers can learn from these answers is that an employee deciding to leave a company may not have anything to do with his age or satisfaction with his work, but rather on where he identifies himself in his career. Lynch explains that a worker in his late 20s saying he is “late career” may be saying that he is ready to move on because he believes the employer has nothing left to offer.

While many experts caution that employers need to be projecting the retirement rates of older workers so that they can plan for future staffing needs, Lynch says it may make more sense to forget about specific ages and generations of workers, and instead focus on the “career plans” of workers. It doesn’t mean that age and generation should be completely dismissed because those things do impact people, Lynch says, but stereotypes can hamper getting the best from employees.

“Just because they’re 60 doesn’t mean they’re thinking about retirement,” she says. “They might be, but they might be thinking of a different job or a flexible work arrangement or staying and doing the exact same thing they are now. There are 50-year-olds looking for growth in their careers, and their employers need to be offering them training and opportunities.”

At the same time, Lynch says it’s not just employers that need to look at these age and engagement issues “through a different lens.”

“Many people in our workshops have these ‘ah hah!’ moments when we help them look at where they are in their career, no matter what their age,” she says. “We ask them to define their age in a more holistic way. It gives them a real sense of empowerment because they learn to ask themselves what’s most important to them right now, at this stage of their lives and career.”

Have you gone through different stages in your work life and what's important to you?


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