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Being Great DEMANDS Follow Up With People.

Today’s business tip is really nothing more than a simple common courtesy, yet it seems to have become a lost art for many in today’s hyper-frantic 24×7 world in which we conduct business. It has to do with returning people’s phone calls, responding to emails, confirming you’ve received information others have sent you, and/or completing tasks that you agreed to as outcomes of meetings or working in teams.

We can get overwhelmed with work when we’re working harder than ever and putting in more hours. For many of us, our workload has increased significantly when we inherited the work performed by others in our organization laid off. But that does not justify refusing to extend others the courtesy of a call back, email reply, or status update on the work we agreed to contribute.

This failure to follow up may have something to do with a more subtle issue of deciding to be passive aggressive when we don’t want to talk to the person contacting us or we put off doing the tasks that were assigned to us or we volunteered to do. When this happens, our reputation demands we act in the most professional manner.

Whatever the motivation, when you make a commitment to follow up with someone or take on an action your decision not to follow through speaks volumes about you…and it’s not positive. Your reputational brand is a transferrable skill that you take with you. By establishing a proven track record of reliability and accountability, it becomes a part of your USP – Unique Selling Proposition.

A further motivation for having the professionalism to follow through on commitments has to do with the very small world that we live in. We all know Kevin Bacon through six degrees of (LinkedIn) interconnectedness.

When you make a bad impression with others (whether it’s with peers in your organization or acquaintances you know in your social or professional network) it can become a Scarlet Letter that brands you as someone that lacks respect for others.

So, is there someone you owe a call to? Pick up the phone and call them, or return those emails sitting in your in-box.

Consider it an invaluable step in your ongoing career and professional development.

Your Employees Hate You and They're Telling Everyone

Psst! Your Employees HATE You and They’re Telling People

In any place of work, employees have an annoying habit of talking to each another. Sure, they complain about their boss to their co-workers, but depending on how well (or poorly) their employer is treating them they may also talk to their friends and their family members.

So what, you ask?

Well, if that isn’t potentially damaging enough to your company, if they’ve been treated really badly they will keep talking to more people.

What if your employees are talking (negatively) about you to your competitors? Worse yet, what if they are complaining to your prospects or…GASP …your customers?
Are your actions as a manager (or boss) jeopardizing your business survival by unleashing a toxic sea of bad press through your employees’ collective ill will?
What are they saying…and where are they saying it?

Are your employees bad-mouthing your company on employment rant websites like Jobvent, JobGrades, WorkRant, and Telonu, or social media websites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace?

Yes? Then it is incumbent upon you to figure out why AND RECTIFY THAT!

Be honest. Are you personally or your organization guilty of the following?

• You haven’t given your people a bonus in years (or ever) even if they really deserved one. Did you reward yourself, your senior management team, even a select few employees you really like without regard to performance? Oh-oh!

• Have you even given your people a cost of living salary adjustment to compensate for increases in the cost of living? No? Danger, Will Robinson!

• Have you terminated people in the past two years, and made the workers you kept work harder by giving them additional responsibilities…at no additional pay increase? Do they work longer hours, or take work home with them to do nights and weekends just to keep their head above water?

• Have you stopped offering a holiday party,cut back on basic supplies (coffee, post-it’s toilet paper – don’t laugh! I’ve seen it) or forced people to share computers, phones, workspace?

The people that you laid off were friends of the ones you kept. Do you think that the ones left behind are motivated to work harder?

• Do you treat your people like children? For example, do you use software to monitor/track their use of social media at work? Do you limit their personal calls? Are you requiring them to sign in and out, limit their breaks and lunch time…whether they have abused workplace procedures or they are stellar employees?

• Do you exercise an autocratic leadership style that berates and belittles people, and demands they check in with you for every little action?

• Do you make them pay their own work-related expenses?

• Is your performance management/review process fair? Heck, do you even have one?

• How often do you communicate with your people? Do you encourage them, by telling them when they’ve done a good job?

• Do you ever do anything FUN for your people…a night out bowling? Afternoon pizza party? Throw bean bags at a blow up clown or darts at a board with your face taped to it?

Do you notice a THEME in this line of questions? Let’s say you’re “guilty” of some of these abusive employer actions. Is your answer to all these questions: “my people are lucky they are employed and receiving a paycheck?”

If that is your mindset and your firm keeps treating your people this way, rest assured they will leave you as soon as they get the chance.

Rather than punish your people for expressing displeasure in your horrible treatment, why not become a world class employer? Solicit their ideas all the time how to make your business better. Empower them to take calculated risks, and recognize them for their successes and their failures by learning from the failures.

What do you do to ensure that your people grow professionally? Do you challenge your workers to challenge themselves, think creatively, and act independently? Do you reward and recognize your workers? Do you communicate with them constantly? Have you promoted people?

By implementing a few of these strategies, you will become a preferred employer who has their employees’ ultimate respect and loyalty. Your people will run through walls for you, achieve amazing results, stay with you when times are rough, and help you not only survive but thrive in these transformational times. Your people will still talk about you, but it will be glowing rave reviews that create a strong reputational brand that will make top talent flock to you and the press cover what you do.

So, if you can’t be altruistic do it for purely selfish reasons.

Or, keep doing what you’re doing. I’m sure your workers like spending most of their days playing Solitaire, chatting on Facebook, and searching for a new job.

Put Your People's Untapped Talents to Work For Your Organization's Success.

In nearly EVERY organization that I have worked for or consulted with, most employees have tremendous skills that AREN’T being utilized.

Here’s why…

Nearly every organization hires its people to accomplish a set of pre-defined tasks associated with a job vacancy. They then force their employees to fit into the role defined by the job description.

However, if you look at every employee in your organization’s core competencies, you will find that there are many untapped talents that each possesses that are not being used.

Rather than allow these skills to lie dormant, why not redesign their job to take advantage of the depth and breadth of background they possess through their: prior work experience, training ,education, language proficiency, customer service, cultural diversity, volunteer work, hobbies, interests, and passions.

The employee will feel more engaged which will make them feel happier and thus…MORE PRODUCTIVE! That will build a more loyal workforce, increase your employee retention rates, and reduce the significant recruiting costs associated with filling vacancies when people leave.

The beauty is, it only takes minutes to implement such a strategy – call it a HUMAN CAPITAL AUDIT.

Here is how you accomplish this…have every employee’s manager sit with each employee and list the employee’s primary roles and responsibilities for their current job in one column.

In the column to the right, list all of their top competencies. Then they should decide together which competencies are currently being used (you will be surprised how few of your people’s collective top skills are being leveraged.) Then you design an action plan to begin integrating their most relevant skills into their job.

Assign a time-frame to begin using each unused skill. List any contingencies or barriers that will prevent them from accomplishing this in the agreed to time-frame.

Once you conduct this human capital audit for all your people, your organization will begin benefiting immediately from the unleashed talents that your people start leveraging in their day to day jobs.

In today’s challenging business climate, the key to your organization’s competitive advantage and long-term success is right under your nose…in your people.

Here’s to your continued success in 2011!

Four Qualities the Best Organizations All Share

Certain organizations understand that it is critical to transform themselves by only accepting great performance. There are four common characteristics that are shared by world class organizations in any industry. they are:

1.) Talent Management/Employee Best Practices: These organizations understand that pay is only one of many motivational tactics they can use to gain their employees’ loyalty. They run reward and recognition programs, and provide formal coaching and mentoring. They treat their partners like they were part of their organization, offer conflict resolution solutions through HR, and exhibit best-of-breed recruiting, on-boarding, retention and compassionate outplacement programs. They implement 360-degree performance reviews, and leverage human capital audits to match each employee’s core competencies with their job responsibilities to unleash their people’s untapped talents.

2.) A Strong Moral Compass: These organizations foster civility throughout their culture, aggressively encourage team-building, leverage inclusion, and promote a sense of collective employee social conscious/corporate capitalism by endorsing volunteer work. They offer their employees flexible work schedules and job-sharing rotation options, provide great benefits, and conduct women/minority/disabled employee promotional initiatives. They recycle, practice green initiatives, and stay ahead of EEOC compliance regulations.

3) Focus on the Future: They aggressively build and defend their intellectual capital portfolio (patents, copyrights, and trademarks), and create employee idea generation programs to solicit all the very best ideas from their people. At their core they constantly seek out ways to transform themselves from good to great. They ensure the survival of their business through business continuity efforts and succession planning, constantly assess Merge & Acquisition strategies for opportunities.

Further, they develop a culture of adapting and excelling in times of constant change by leveraging a wealth of problem -solving strategies. They embrace change and encourage their people to take calculated risks and try to fail greatly. They focus on the trends and developments in their own industries as well as technological advancements and marketing, sales, operations, and customer care “best practices.”

4.) Communications: these organizations excel at communicating both internally and externally. their success in communicating all begins with their people, by holding regularly scheduled town hall meetings, management round tables, breakfast with the CEO, and management by walking around. they use intranets, webinars, daily/weekly emails, and fireside chats to keep all of their people knowledgeable. They assess performance constantly and not once a year.they embrace 360-degree reviews to have direct reports evaluate bosses and peers evaluate people they work with in other departments. These organizations are not afraid of sharing information with partners, vendors, suppliers, shareholders…even competitors! They communicate on a constant basis with their clients through client road shows, surveys, “mystery” shopping of their locations, customer care engagement etc.

the bottom line is, it is no longer a viable survival strategy to continue using command-control, top-down dictatorial run structures and accepting “just good enough” is no longer an option to ensure an organization’s future survival.

Creative Problem Solving for a New Millenium

Today’s fast-paced world demands new approaches to problem solving. The ancient Chinese proverb: “If you only have a hammer every problem is a nail” highlights that we all approach problem solving with a preexisting set of skills, biases, values, and past experiences that might not apply to the new challenges that we find ourselves facing or may be insufficient in seizing new opportunities. We therefore need to expand our toolbox of solutions to approach problem solving in a fresh new light.

Today’s blog is dedicated to providing sure fire ways to unleash your creative juices and add tools to your arsenal. Using the strategies below, you will be able to approach problems in a new way to conceptualize, analyze and implement new ideas.

Whether you’re searching for new products or services, conducting a job search or thinking about transitioning to a new career, these sure-fire problem-solving strategies will help you to unleash your full potential.

SKETCHING: Remember all those times you doodled in class when you were bored by your teacher/professor? Well, turns out that sketching is a powerful tool to help your mind wander aimlessly while firing up those neurons. Keep a small notepad with you. You can sketch when the mood hits you, and jot down all those ideas as they pop up. In my daughter’s school they call it “Stop and Jot.”

BRAINSTORMING: This time-tested strategy works for a reason. You get a group/team together, have a moderator outline the problems and assess a myriad of solutions in a working group format. Brainstorming however has many flaws. More vocal, aggressive, and self-confident outspoken members tend to dominate the forum even despite effective facilitation, thus the quieter, more introspective players are blocked out and their ideas go unheard. One way to counter this natural group behavior that comes out in brainstorming is to pursue brainwriting.

BRAINWRITING: Overcomes the inherent shortfalls of brainstorming. With brainwriting the moderator asks each participant to write down 3-5 ideas to solve a problem. This is all done anonymously. Then the moderator collects their answers and passes them out so others can add ideas, thoughts, or question the initial respondent’s list. You do this a few times and then get together as an entire group to go through each thread of ideas.

ASKING WHY: Ask anyone who has little children or has been around them, and they will tell you the most annoying question you can be asked over and over is…”WHY?” However, when you question accepted processes, systems, approaches, or ways of doing things you can force yourself and those around you to consider new perspectives. Along those lines, you can and MUST demand that it is no longer to answer any WHY with…”that’s how we’ve always done things.” That is an unacceptable answer in light of the unique challenges we face.

STARBURSTING: In a team, you start by writing down an idea, problem or challenge in the middle of a six-point star. Then you collectively answer each of the 5 W’s and H (who, what, where, when, why and how.) Come up with as many potential solutions as possible without editing yourself. Then choose amongst the ideas that can be implemented.

PROVOCATION: Make a statement that is provocative and seemingly flawed on its face value, with the intent of sparking debate. For example, if you are leading an architect’s team building a new commercial building, you might consider starting a meeting by saying: “the building we design doesn’t need a roof.”

The goal of provocation is to spark “What if” scenarios to support that (seemingly false) claim. Example, the building we design shouldn’t have a traditional roof, but rather a roof with solar panels or green/eco-friendly feature to capture and re-use the energy from the heat of the sun.

METAPHORICAL THINKING: This creative problem solving exercise features combining two seemingly unrelated ideas, concepts, features, products in order to come up with new solutions. For example, if you were trying to determine the best way to apply the collective time your Team spends working on a task, you would blend the two seemingly unrelated ideas of TIME and MONEY.

REFRAMING MATRIX: The approach with re-framing is to force your team’s participants to consider challenges using a different perspective than they typically use. This FOUR PERSPECTIVE approach forces them to consider the following:

The PRODUCT/SERVICE Perspective: Is something wrong with the product/service we offer?
The PLANNING Perspective: Is our business/sales/marketing plan(s) faulty?
The POTENTIAL Perspective: If we increase our workload, project focus, offerings, how will we achieve this?
The PEOPLE Perspective: Do we have the RIGHT people and are they working at the RIGHT tasks/in the RIGHT roles.

ATTRIBUTE LISTING: This exercise is ideal to help you identify new product and service offerings.

Start out by listing all the functional groups of offerings your company, department, team offers. For example, a Student Affairs Department in a college delivers services to students around student development, counseling, career services, housing, health & wellness, etc.

Your team will then list all of the different services/products offered in each category/group. For example, career services offered by Student Affairs includes job fairs, resume writing, cover letters, interviewing skills, etc. The goal is to mix & match different services in different categories to formulate new offerings.

The DO IT Approach:

D” Define the problem
O” Open your mind and apply creative solutions
I” Identify the solution(s)
T” Transform…implement the solution(s) using an action plan

WALT DISNEY CREATIVE STRATEGY: Walt Disney was one of the most creative and prolific business people and a true visionary in America’s history. Not only was he a great visionary and creative genius, but he was also exceptional at using a formal process (neurolinguistic language programming) in order to get the most out of the people he worked for. Here’s how he did it:

Have your team meet in a conference room or space. Have 3 separate areas. Start out in the DREAMER area. Every one must visualize a time in their life when they were a dreamer and came up with a tremendously creative idea. What did they feel like? What were they thinking? When everyone is done, move to the REALIST area. Everyone must think about a time in their career when they effectively planned, solved or executed a problem. What were they thinking? How did they feel? When time is up, have everyone move to the CRITIC area. Ask all the participants to think back to a time in their work life when they had to critically assess/determine if an idea or proposed solution would actually work.

Make the team go through this exercise 2 or 3 times, until they are confident that their approaches can stand up to the collective scrutiny of the team when they meet to discuss their findings.

Dare to be GREAT: Just being good enough can no longer be our goal to strive for, when so many of our business/industry, academic, and political systems are failing us. We need entirely NEW approaches. We need to demand greatness. Jim Collins in his book ‘Good to Great’ wrote that “Good is the enemy of great.”

Steve Jobs who ex
perienced the highest of highs and low of lows being fired from his job as CEO and founder of Apple wrote: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.”

So, why not try to implement some of these approaches to problem solving. You’ll be amazed how many actionable new ideas and solutions you can come up with.

Networking Skills to Get Everything You Want

It never ceases to amaze me how few people there are that understand how to network effectively. Given how important it is to make a first impression, and how valuable our network of relationships are in our personal and professional lives, you’d think that more people would try harder to network effectively.

Well, no worries. Here are some strategies that you can employ in your 2011 networking activities, to win friends and influence people.

1) Develop a Strategic Networking Plan.

Whether your goal is to find new business opportunities or conduct an effective job search, you need to have a strategic networking plan. In the plan, your create a comprehensive profile of your target (whether its an employer, client, vendor, partner, supplier, etc.) Be as detailed as you can in your description. Include information about where they went to college (undergraduate and graduate programs), what industry associations do they belong to, what events do they attend, what conferences do they go to, what panel discussions are they going to participate in, where are they speaking/presenting at, what if any volunteer organizations do they support, what programs such as coaching/mentoring are they involved with.

You then want to create a plan on how you are going to get yourself “in front” of these people. You want to be at any and all events in your area that are attended by target clients/employers.

2) Meet People Through MeetUp.

Go to www.meetup.com and search for groups of professionals in your city/home town that share your professional interests and background and send a request to that group’s organizer requesting to join these groups. Once you are accepted, you will receive emails alerting you to when the groups plan a networking event.

3) Research Event Attendees BEFORE You Go.

Once you accept an invitation to attend an event through MeetUp, go to LinkedIn and research the other registrants, to see if they are someone you want to target at the event. If these people fall under the profile of your ideal networking target on your strategic networking plan, memorize their face and one or two key things that you are going to make a point to bring up at the event.

4) People Like You MOST When They Talk About THEMSELVES.

Have you ever gone to an event and there is someone who trolls to crowd, stopping only for a second to hand everyone their business card? You know the type, the one who looks and acts like the used car salesperson. They don’t bother to find out anything about you. How does that make you feel?

Instead, try asking those people that you researched beforehand some great probing questions like: “So, what do you hope to get out of tonight’s event?” Another great question to ask your fellow networkers is: “Can you tell me what your ideal customer (or employer, if you are using the event for job seeking) profile is?” One thing my wife has taught me after 20 years of marriage…people LOVE to talk about themselves.

Don’t spend more than 10 minutes speaking with any one person. The goal at networking events is a simple one…you want to make a connection, and find out enough just to see if you can help them. If so, ask for their business card and agree on who will take ownership of following up next, to schedule a follow up meeting.

5) Employ the “5-2-1” Rule of Thumb.

In networking you have to make an immediate impact with the people you meet. In the first five seconds, you have to say something about yourself and your personal brand that resonates with your networking peers. For example: “Hi, I’m Ethan the compassionate career coach.” The goal is to say something that makes them say: “Wow, what does that mean.”

That’s the FIVE in 5-2-1.

Your answer to that should be no more than two minutes and make them so interested that you walk away from that encounter with them saying “I have to schedule an hour to meet with that person in the next week or two.

That’s the TWO in the 5-2-1.

Then you schedule a follow up meeting either right there on the spot or you take ownership of reaching out to them later to set up that next meeting.

That’s the ONE in the 5-2-1.

So the take away is, you want to approach networking strategically, be interested in learning about other people and taking every opportunity to get better at it.