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Archive for the ‘Employee Tips’ Category

Grownups at Work

In ! Kristy, Culture, Employee Tips, Leaders, Uncategorized on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 6:55 pm

It is my sincere belief that if we would talk to each other at work like grownups, plenty of problems would be solved. Here are just a few:

We’d spend a lot less time, money and angst on 360-degree feedback assessments. The assessment companies make a killing off of our inability to tell each other the truth about performance, reputation and whether or not we’re jerks.

We’d save even more time by streamlining performance management systems and processes. If you knew at any given time how you were measuring up to your manager’s expectations, a bunch of forms and a complex rating scale would be unnecessary.

Speaking of managers… They’d get a great deal of time back in their workday if people were talking to each other about their issues instead of playing the telephone game. That’s the game of telling on their colleague to their boss, who tells the other person’s boss, who tells the other person, vaguely, that “there’s been some feedback about you.” And that extra time could be spent growing and developing people! Cool!

The benefits are apparent, so why don’t we talk to each other candidly? Could be that we see it as the manager’s job… And the manager could be inadvertently reinforcing this notion per the previous paragraph. Could also be that we fear the other person’s potentially defensive reaction or their retaliation. Could be that we just don’t care enough about the success of the company, the team or the colleague to make the effort. Maybe we just plain don’t know how.

You can find some fabulous skill building on how to have a constructive conversation, so if that’s what you need, go for it. But at the end of the day it’s about taking a deep breath, finding a private moment, and saying what needs to be said in service of the success of all involved. Et voila, grownups at work!


Going To Talk To Your HR Rep: Suggestions

In ! Jen, Employee Tips, General Work on Friday, April 2, 2010 at 10:10 pm

For the purposes of this post, let’s set aside sentiments that HR sucks, that you haven’t had good experiences with HR, you know someone who was blindsided by someone from HR, you can’t trust your HR manager, yada yada yada.

There IS value in going to HR: to voice concerns about harassment or questionable management actions, get advice on how to approach something or someone, among countless other reasons. Let’s say you’re planning to talk with your HR representative about something. Here are some tips from someone who’s been on the other side:

  1. Be sincere. Don’t try to sell your HR person on your viewpoint. Just tell it as it is.
  2. Be prepared. Have a purpose for your meeting and line up the who / what / where / why / how of the situation or concern you’re sharing. Don’t go in only having a vague idea of what you’ll be saying.
  3. Describe facts, not feelings. As angry or hurt the situation would make any rational person, you want to share things that can be seen or heard: behaviors, visible reactions, responses. “She looked offended” doesn’t mean as much as “she threw her arms up into the air and left the room” or “she stopped the conversation and said that she was offended by the remark.”
  4. Be clear on what you want. This doesn’t always apply, of course, but if it does, be able to articulate what you want to have happen as a result of your conversation. Even if it’s: “I’d like your help brainstorming ways I can approach my manager to discuss why he never acknowledges my projects in team meetings.” Sometimes I have meetings where I truly have no idea what the person I’m talking to wants to have happen next. And when I ask, they can’t say what they want either. Have a goal in mind.
  5. Talk first to the source of your problem if you’re coming to complain about someone. Show that you’ve first tried to deal with this issue professionally and directly on your own. It can be frustrating to talk with someone who has talked with everyone but the person with whom they’ve got a problem. This happens a whole lot more than you’d think. I once encountered a rift between two employees that (as best could be remembered) started when one person didn’t respond to the other’s “good morning.” Seriously. And because it wasn’t surfaced as a point of hurt right away, layers upon layers of passive aggressiveness and months of ignoring each other wound its way into legitimately recognizable bad behavior. And not a word between the two parties involved!
  6. Be open to feedback and other interpretations. Not everyone has the same level of understanding as you, of course. So be open to hearing how another person may respond to your situation. What may be reasonable and polite to you may not even be on another person’s radar.
  7. For policy violations: bring evidence, and realize that you may be sent to someone else. Many larger companies have policy or ethics hotlines, and those may be better venues for policy complaints. But don’t go to your HR person with only an accusation. Have the details ready to share and be verified. And don’t expect HR to go on a wild goose chase around an accusation—there aren’t enough resources to investigate say, someone you believe is cheating on expense reports, but you don’t have any facts with which to back up that allegation.
  8. Be civil. I once had an employee complain about his manager, absolutely rabid with spewing personal attacks on his manager’s character. His credibility would have been better served if he stuck to the particular incidents in question: dates, places, situations. Be as neutral as you can, and always maintain professional decorum and respect.
  9. Don’t come with incidents lacking merit or could be perceived as frivolous. Complaining about the number of smoke breaks someone takes every afternoon may turn the tables on how you’re able to have enough time to track the comings and goings of the smoker.
  10. Realize the limits of working for someone else. Until you’re the sole proprietor of your company, you will have to answer to a manager, or higher level managers, the Board of Directors, or whomever, and their rules.
  11. Be patient, it takes time, The process to investigate your concern may well take some time to make a well-informed decision. Don’t rush it. More may be going on than you can or should be aware of.
  12. Don’t expect overnight miracles. After you’ve spoken with your HR rep and the intervention (or what have you), has occurred, be patient. Be generous in allowing the time and space for improvements to be made, for people to change their behavior, for process improvements to take effect.
  13. Less is more. Don’t share every single last detail. Come with the big points, describe them succinctly, and simply say: “I have many other incidents to share with you, but I want to respect your time. Would you like me to continue down my list, or would you like for me to send you an email with the rest?” You will earn your HR rep’s appreciation. Give us the gist of what you have to say with evidence, but don’t tire with incident after incident. If you’ve reached an hour’s time, please don’t go further unless requested.
  14. Don’t expect confidentiality in all cases. If you are bringing forward a claim of legitimate harassment, your company has a legal obligation to investigate further. This means that your complaint and the person in question will have the light thrown on them and confidentiality cannot be protected.
  15. If you don’t know the process, ask for clarification. It’s totally okay and expected to ask your HR rep: “what happens next, after this meeting?” This has the dual effect of managing expectations and keeps the HR rep aware that you want to monitor what happens next, and that you’re keeping a timeline.
  16. Ask what else YOU can do. This question always wins me over. It shows that you want to take responsibility / accountability in this situation, that you want to do more, that you’re open to feedback, that you recognize there is more than you could be doing.

Good luck & if you have questions about a particular situation, talk with your HR rep, or email me.     jenleeo (at) me (dot) com

Learning & Development: Current, Free & Fast at Your Fingertips

In ! Jen, Development, Employee Tips, General Work, Learn on Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 12:12 am

Training budgets everywhere are being cut. So make proverbial lemonade out of free resources found online. When you’re having a performance review or development planning discussion, highlight what you’re learning and how you’re planning to apply it. You’ll show you’re resourceful, keen on personal development, and savvy to know that the bulk of professional learning doesn’t happen in a formal classroom. (Well, to be fair, the bulk doesn’t happen with your nose in a book or looking at a computer either, but work with me here.)

This is a great site for knowledge junkies.

My favorites for business learning:

  1. MIT Open Courseware. Their goal? Every course, all course materials, online, for everyone. Amazing. This includes the Sloan School.
  2. TED. Short for Technology, Entertainment, Design. If this isn’t bookmarked on your computer, you should do it yesterday. Great lectures on a diversity of subjects, including plain simple inspiration for you to get started.
  3. Wall Street Journal. Tied with Wired and the Economist. If I had to choose only one paper periodical to subscribe to, it’d be the Economist.
  4. Seth Godin’s blog.
  5. Executive Board. Follow relevant tweets.
  6. Businessballs is a mishmash soup of links. You can easily get lost there, but the clickage is fun and frequently fruitful.

If your company doesn’t have free access to business periodicals like Harvard Business Review, check with your local public library–ask for EBSCO access.

Working With A Boss You Don’t Trust

In ! Jen, Careers, Change, Employee Tips, General Work on Tuesday, March 2, 2010 at 3:33 am

A friend recently asked for advice on working with her manager whom she doesn’t trust. I immediately started sharing ways she could try to reestablish trust and she cut me off. Things were too far-gone, she said. She had been there, done that. Now she just needed survival advice: how could she work day-to-day with this manager she didn’t trust—someone who would never, ever, win her trust? Polling a few friends who specialize in this area, we came up with 16 ways:

  1. Start planning your exit strategy. If you feel the trust damage is irreparable, you cannot continue to work for this manager. You must start planning your graceful exit. This will: a) navigate routes for you to get out of there, and b) increase your confidence and spirits in no insignificant way. This one current job is not the alpha and omega. Most importantly, your confidence will improve when you start envisioning a better situation.
  2. Depersonalize this. To the extent that you have made a good faith effort to make this work, as you bide your time looking for another job, take your boss’s behavior less personally. It’s not you, it’s him. You’re likely not the first, and sadly, you’re likely not the last to have this experience with him.
  3. Don’t gossip. Don’t engage in any gossip about your boss. Don’t engage in any gossip with the boss. If the boss initiates—or if anyone initiates gossip about your boss, change the subject or walk away. Don’t acknowledge, agree, or disagree on whatever the deets are—just get away.
  4. Document expectations. After meetings and after key events, follow up with an email to your boss that recaps your conversation. “As we discussed earlier this afternoon, I’ll be providing you with the following deliverables by the end of the week.” This is a good practice in general, but when you’re concerned about not getting credit, or getting slammed for doing something wrong, you need to protect yourself by ensuring you understand what’s expected of you, and leaving a little paper trail to which you can refer back.
  5. Ask regularly: am I meeting your expectations? Ask this on a specific activity, project, and in general. Doing this has at least two significant advantages. First, it invites feedback that may be valuable—feedback that may or may not have been shared without your first soliciting it. Secondly, it pieces together a fuller picture of your performance. Presumably, you’ll address negative feedback straightaway, so you’ll be on a positive feedback path
  6. Focus on behaviors. Ask for examples. Get as specific as possible. Don’t focus on internal motivations or intentions. What you see and deliver is what counts right now.
  7. Get stakeholder feedback. Collect kudos from people you work with, internal customers and clients, and ensure your manager is aware of your good performance from others’ perspectives. Do this with understated elegance, however. If you slather it on, it’ll have the extreme opposite effect of being attractive information. You want to give your manager a well-informed, multiperspective picture of the value you bring to the organization.
  8. Underpromise, overdeliver. Turn it on to 11 and really shine in your performance. Don’t be a clockroach and don’t have your performance just “get by.”
  9. Don’t act like a victim. This situation is not your identity. God forbid your manager is one of those people who gets a sadistic thrill out of inflicting grief on others. But don’t hand over your power by showing your resentment or fear.
  10. Derive what you’re getting out of this. Get outside your head and try to be clinical about what you’re experiencing. It may not feel like it now, but think of your boss and working with him as being a good story you’ll tell in a future interview. The story of how you remained the consummate professional and did your best work while working with a challenging manager.
  11. Invest in your development. When your boss says “you need to work on XcompetencyX,” don’t argue the point. Find a powerful seminar that addresses that perceived deficiency, one that is known for parallel power networking. In my hometown of Chicago, we have the Executives Club and Economic Club among others, which have a solid reputation—and intimidating power player member and event attendee lists. Get there and…
  12. Network your heart out! It doesn’t matter what level or what position you are. Be prepared with at least five intelligent & relevant things to share and you can make yourself memorable. Always have business cards or personal networking cards on your person.
  13. Remember your priorities. Keep pics of your family and friends in your office/cube to remind you of what’s really important. Start a gratitude journal: simply writing what you are grateful for on a daily basis. Contribute in other ways by volunteering in your community and giving back. This job experience does not define you unless you let it.
  14. Disconnect trust and respect. You don’t have to trust your manager. You don’t have to respect your manager as a person. But you do have to respect his position, level and authority. At least until you’re out from under his management. Compartmentalize these two things and you’ll find it easier to deal with him.
  15. Report legitimate harassment. If your manager’s engaging in legitimate harassment, you must tell someone. Keep in mind, there is no legal protection from asshole behavior. However, if it is conduct of a sexually harassing nature, or legitimately harassing nature, consult with HR or the Policy Hotline, or someone internally in a position of power you trust. Approach your concern in as objective a manner as possible—your credibility is on the line, too. And keep in mind there were scads of people before you who have brought forward concerns of questionable merit. Stick to the observable facts, be prepared, and stay emotionally neutral. Hysterics, histrionic flailing and melodrama will erode your content credibility. (Sorry, just being honest.) Just give your employer a chance to correct the problem. At minimum, ask for suggestions on what you can do to help your situation. Everyone likes someone willing to take action himself.
  16. Don’t perpetuate the madness. Take from Shakespeare’s line in Romeo & Juliet: “he was as civil as an orange.” Strive to be always civil and professional. Take solace in knowing that everyone ultimately gets their comeuppance. In your next job, release the baggage of the former….get your wings stronger and fly!

Surviving Performance Reviews

In ! Kristy, Employee Tips on Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Ah, the performance review. As well-intentioned as the best organizations are about encouraging frequent informal feedback, stressing the “no-surprise” review, and creating a simple process, performance reviews can be stressful and awkward for even the most awesome employees and great managers. A few tips for the journey:

Remember that your performance review is not what people are going to read at your funeral. A review is one limited, admittedly subjective perspective on how you performed in one area of your life during a limited timeframe. It’s not a judgment of your entire career or your entire person. Put it in perspective and don’t let it rule your self-concept.

Gather a broad perspective on your performance. If your company has a formal system for gathering stakeholder feedback, offer your manager a diverse list of people who’ve had direct contact with your work over the past year. Focus on internal customers but don’t forget other managers, peers who’ve collaborated with you, and direct reports who can comment on your leadership competencies. If you don’t have a formal process, you can still offer stakeholder feedback to your manager in the form of emails and work products that will give evidence of the value you added through the eyes of others.

Get explicit. When writing your self review, include as many specific descriptions of great performance as you can. Quantify the impact of your work on specific business outcomes. If your system includes a review of core competencies, cite examples of your behavior that show how you exemplify each competency.

Listen to feedback. Listening to feedback and accepting feedback as valid are two different activities that we often assume have to happen at the same point in time. When you are receiving a tough bit of feedback, 1) Remain neutral. 2) If the giver of the feedback is making generalizations, ask “Can you give me some specific examples that will help me understand how I might have given that impression?” 3) Thank the person for the feedback. 4) Take some time to process the feedback and decide what you will do about it. Sometimes we ignore feedback because it wasn’t delivered in the exact right way by someone we respect… but I still believe we should mine even the most abrasively delivered feedback for the kernel of truth that might be hiding. 5) It’s always your choice whether to accept feedback as valid and act on it.

If you’re a people manager: PLEASE be courageous. If you’ve never heard the “no surprises” rule of reviewing performance, here it is: There’s a reason it’s called a performance review and not a performance surprise. Your employees should not be hearing any feedback for the first time in a review. It’s unfair for so many obvious reasons, I can’t bring myself to list them here. If you don’t have the courage to bring it up when it happens, shame on you. Turn in your office door and your pay increase because you probably aren’t courageous enough to manage other people.

Move on. Your performance review may very well suck. You may become a victim of the “meets expectations” bell curve because your manager is afraid to rock the boat. You might get hit with a piece of surprise feedback because your manager was too chicken to bring it up to you when it happened. You might get a tiny, tiny piece of the tiny, tiny merit increase pie. Decide how much control you will give your review and don’t let it overtake your self esteem.

So if we all hate the review process so much, how could it look different in the organization of the future… what are your thoughts? Stay tuned for mine…

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