Research Careers Blog

5 ways to enhance your relationships while working remotely

Working remotely Editor’s note: Kara Goldin is founder/CEO of Hint Inc., a producer of unsweetened flavored waters. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title “5 steps to being a rockstar while working remotely.”

More Americans than ever are working remotely at least one day a week according to the 2013 Census Bureau report.

About 13.4 million people or 9.4 percent of U.S. workers worked at least one day at home per week in 2010, compared with 9.2 million people, or 7 percent of U.S. workers in 1997.

In terms of productivity and morale, that’s great for the U.S. Up to three-fourths of my team at Hint works remotely in sales and field marketing. Working off-site does mean that you need to make sure your manager and CEO know how you are adding value to the company as it may not be as immediately apparent as people who sit at headquarters every day. Follow these five tips to have the best of both working worlds:

1. Check in daily. Communication is critical when you’re working out of the office but you need to make sure you’re not being annoying. At least once a day, touch base with your manager, whether it’s over the phone or via e-mail so your boss knows what you’re up to. This is a great opportunity to share your wins.

2. Connect widely. You should also regularly engage with coworkers in other locations. Be generous with your contacts and leads and they’ll return the favor. One of the most effective ways to connect with coworkers you may not see face-to-face regularly is to solicit advice. If you run into a particular barrier, ask around for tips on how others have dealt with a similar issue. From a CEO’s perspective, this means you have more advocates throughout the company. Reaching out also underscores that even though you’re working from home you’re still adding value to the team and thinking of the company first.

3. Schedule a weekly meeting. If you don’t already have a weekly status check-in with your manager, ask for one. This will allow you to share your progress, ideas and successes regularly.

4. Be uber-prepared. It’s not enough to schedule a daily and weekly check-ins. You have to show up and sound knowledgeable, too. Bring all the materials you might need – and more. If you’re on a call or a meeting, the worst thing you can do is say, “I don’t have it in front of me” or “I don’t have that information.” That’s not the best impression to make in front of the people who are in charge of your compensation and career. Instead, bring talking points so you can succinctly discuss what you’re working on, your big successes of the week and anecdotes that show how you’re working through any problems you’ve encountered since the last call. And always bring one or two smart, strategic questions for the team to show that you’re partnering with people in other company locations.

5. Make it personal. You’re not a robot and there’s more to you than your work persona. Find something innocuous to bond over – like sports, craft beer or your latest favorite workout – and create informal relationships with other members of team. This will help you not only enjoy your coworkers but will also ensure that you’ll have people going up to bat for you down the line.

Posted in Corporate Researchers, Employment Tips | Comment

Research says: Research is a career worth pursuing!

At Quirk’s, we’ve heard enough from our readers to know that, despite all the exciting changes happening in the industry (e.g., mobile research, storytelling, neuromarketing, big data, etc.), it isn’t always sunshine and roses. It’s a lot of hard work for sometimes not a lot of recognition – especially from the C-suite.

five-starsSo it might surprise some of you to hear that from the outside looking in, MR is a thriving industry and you are in a position to be coveted by many! A 2014 article from Yahoo Education that lists five dead-end degrees and five hot degrees to pursue, based on a study from the Georgetown University Center on Education, places marketing research to the winning side. The Georgetown report noted that while the average unemployment rate for all recent college graduates is 7.9 percent, this figure differs significantly from one degree to another.

Yahoo Education combed through the Georgetown Report’s study to identify which degrees to avoid and which might have brighter prospects.

On the dead-end degree list:

  1. Information systems
  2. Architecture
  3. Anthropology
  4. Film, video and photography arts
  5. Political science

On the hot list:

  1. Nursing
  2. Elementary education
  3. Finance
  4. Marketing and marketing research
  5. Business management and administration

The unemployment rate for marketing and marketing research recent graduates was 6.6 percent, according to the Georgetown study.

One reason that rate is so low? “Every single organization, if they plan to be successful, will have a marketing function,” says Dawn Edmiston, assistant professor of management and marketing at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.

SiliconIndia also picked up Yahoo’s story and listed “Market Research Analyst” third on its list of five fast-growing professions worth chasing.

Why it’s booming: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, businesses at present rely on complex data to get to know their consumers’ habits. And in doing so, companies are able to find out the right sets of audiences and market directly to their target population. The data might be of no use until and unless the research analyst puts his ideas into it and interprets them.

Career expert Nicole Cook says, “You have a number of software programs that can run data but until you interpret the data, it’s just numbers. … Market research analysts provide the human interpretation part of it. You can have someone fill out a piece of paper without anyone there but you need humans to put the data in layman’s terms.”

Posted in Corporate Researchers, Employment Trends, The Business of Research | Comment

5 practices to boost your personal and professional standing

Editor’s note: Margaret Page is founder and CEO of Etiquette Page Enterprises, a Western Canadian training organization, and author of The Power of Polite, Blueprint for Success and Cognito Cards – Wisdom for Dining & Social Etiquette.

WatercoolerAt one time, the line between our labor and our leisure was abundantly clear: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. was work; evenings and weekends were for play. But today, in the age of the new workplace order – where going to the gym happens on the job and chatting at the watercooler is encouraged – the line between personal and professional time is blurred. It’s important to remember that whether you are spending a day on the golf course with a client or speaking to one of your friends in a board meeting, the rules of professionalism still apply.

1. Practice good grooming.

It’s great that you ran a few miles with a client over your lunch break or took a spin class with your assistant. Always take the time to have a shower or at the least rinse off. Nothing affects someone’s credibility more than poor grooming. If you worked up a sweat, you need to take time to refresh – no matter how much work is waiting for you.

2. Choose your words carefully.

If you drop a language bomb, the effects of it will linger. And like all bombs, language bombs spell danger. The words you use leave a lasting impression on those around you. Although Sandra Bullock’s slip at the 2014 Critics’ Choice Movie Awards may have awarded her a few startled chuckles from the crowd, it also overshadowed her acceptance speech. Do a quick search of “Sandra Bullock + Acceptance Speech” and you’ll find dozens of videos and commentary on the slip, with very few details about the actual monologue.

When you drop an F-bomb, credibility goes down and caution goes up!

3. Meet people on their terms.

The golden rule of treating others as you would like to be treated is no longer enough in this age of connectivity. Instead, consider the platinum rule: Treat others as they would have you treat them. Some people prefer to use e-mail to communicate, while others use texting, social media and Skype. And yes, there are still those who prefer a phone call. Everyone has a preferred mode of communication so find out what that is for each business contact – and use it.

And that’s just the first step.

If you want to build lasting relationships with clients and colleagues, know and appreciate their model of the world. Perhaps you’re working with a client who has specific days of the week blocked off for meetings. Note this so that you can schedule meetings on those specific days. Having this awareness and making the effort to be accommodating goes a long way in building strong business relationships.

4. Know when to stop talking.

How much of your own personal challenges – or successes – do you share with your clients or colleagues? Even though you’ve become friends with some of your business connections, you must still keep professionalism in mind when sharing personal information. It would not, for example, be appropriate to share the gruesome details of your spouse’s infidelity with someone you work with – no matter how close you are. Keep the information at a classified level if you’re reaching out for support from co-workers and refrain from seeking advice from clients or your boss when it comes to your personal life. Instead, seek out someone from HR for support or find a coach or therapist you can work with.

The converse is also true here: When you are on the receiving end of the conversation, be available to lend an ear but be very careful not to get pulled into personal drama. The line can become very fuzzy if you open the door too wide. Take the time to listen and encourage them to seek professional support if needed.

5. Leave things better than you found them.

What things? Everything: people, plans and projects – whatever you are involved in. Sometimes we don’t realize the implications of our interactions. Too often “average” and “good enough” are the standards that people reach for. While average is great for your blood pressure, it is not inspiring in the workplace.

How do you want people to feel when they interact with you? Worse? Exactly the same? Or better? You really do have the power to make or break someone’s day. Sometimes it’s the simplest gesture that makes the biggest impact.

Imagine if you approached life, business and everything else that matters with a vision of leaving it better than you found it. Or if each time you did something you wanted to do it better than the time before. If you set the bar high, you will always have a job, a career, a place to go and people who want to be connected to you in some way.

While it’s true that the way we conduct business these days has changed, the way we present ourselves is fundamentally the same. If you are well-groomed, speak profoundly, connect with others and make a positive difference in the world, you will succeed at work and at play.

Posted in Employment Tips, The Business of Research | Comment

MR job prospects show promise of upward mobility

Editor’s note: Karla Ahern and Naomi Keller are market research executive recruiters at Evanston, Ill.-based Burtch Works Executive Recruiting. This post originally appeared as an article in the April 2014 issue of Marketing News under the title “State of the research job market, spring 2014.”

Last summer, we looked closely at trends in market research hiring as the economy moved toward recovery. At that time, we were beginning to see steady growth in job availability as well as a renewed sense of urgency within the marketplace.

Upward-mobilityAs more jobs became available, candidates were going on and off the market more quickly, often interviewing and fielding offers from multiple companies. As a result, hiring authorities recognized the need to act fast to snag the best employees and to critically evaluate their compensation packages. Most of this activity was happening on the client side in the pharmaceutical, technology and retail industries. In 2014, we’re seeing this growth and urgency continue with some interesting, new trends.

First off, we’d be remiss not to address the few rough patches in the landscape. As the economy continues to recover, retail and restaurants have been slow to rebound. The difficult winter has not helped these industries and some well-known companies have begun taking a hard look at headcount. Additionally, some CPG companies are seeing declines in market share, potentially due to consumer adoption of high-quality, lower-priced, private-label brands. However, in the field of market research, consumer behavioral changes inherently represent great opportunities for growth and investment in research will always illuminate the best strategies to address these changes.

Expansion of consumer insights

In recent client conversations, a frequent talking point has been their recommitment to the expansion of consumer insights departments. This is great news for the industry as a whole, whether you work on the client or supplier side. Reinvestment in research should ripple throughout the industry and if corporate entities lead the charge, we’ll likely see suppliers and consulting firms staff up to meet the increased demand. So far, we’re seeing a split as corporate departments expand: Some are pulling more of their research in-house whereas others are broadening their research capacity while continuing to outsource to vendors.

More director-level roles

As a result of this growth, we’re also beginning to see more director-level roles open up. Last year, the majority of openings were at the manager to senior manager level but as companies commit to expanding their insights teams, they want experienced market researchers at the helm to guide long-term strategy and growth and, in some cases, help build a consumer insights function from scratch. This trend should prove beneficial for both junior- and senior-level candidates because as employees move up or out, roles will be back-filled, allowing career mobility for junior- and mid-level employees.

Direct management experience

The expansion of consumer insights teams and the increase in director-level roles also appear to be contributing to an increased need for candidates with direct management experience. From manager roles upward, many of our clients are telling us that they want employees with demonstrated leadership success. Job seekers should be sure to highlight these skills on their résumés and during interviews to stay competitive. For candidates without direct reports, we recommend emphasizing vendor management and project management experience, if applicable.

Confidence is returning

As we ease out of this long winter, the signs of continued job growth are clear and confidence is returning to companies and candidates. For those who were waiting out the economic slowdown, now may be a good time to start exploring the market. Even those who aren’t looking for a career change can benefit from understanding how the landscape is shifting and how these new trends will affect their current role and their careers overall.

Posted in Employment Tips, Employment Trends, The Business of Research | Comment

3 tips for getting more honest – and useful – employee feedback

Editor’s note: Barry Banther is the founder and CEO of Banther Consulting, Tarpon Springs, Fla., and author of A Leader’s Gift: How to Earn the Right to be Followed.

EarThere are five simple words that can spell doom for a leader: If I had only known! These are the words you utter right after a major client cancels a contract, a customer stops ordering or an error occurs that will cost you thousands out of your own pocket. That’s why the best leaders and the most competent managers thrive on employee feedback.

So why don’t more of us go out of our way to encourage quick and candid feedback? Our first response to this question is typically focused on our team. We aren’t convinced that they really get the big picture; we don’t want them to get distracted from their current work; or we simply don’t value their opinion. But the best advisors will tell you that it’s not the leader’s associates but the leader’s perspective that is the problem.

If a leader isn’t careful, they can begin to believe that they alone know what’s best. No one else could possibly have all the necessary information for a decision like they do and no one has the company or the customers’ best interest at heart like they do. And this is the kind of thinking that leads to mediocrity at best and outright failure at worst.

Just think of the examples where feedback wasn’t encouraged and the results were troublesome (e.g., the Toyota accelerator problem, the rollout of the national health care Web site, etc.). In each situation, someone possessed very important information but was not encouraged to share it.

A corporate culture of harm, where listening to employees isn’t valued, impacts business every day across America. Among the most successful working professionals there is one constant truth: Trust between leaders and their associates is built upon a transparency that reflects a freedom to speak and to be heard.

But it takes more than listening to get the kind of feedback an effective leader needs. In many employee surveys, respondents will tell you that they don’t believe their leader is genuinely listening most of the time.

A typical employee survey may ask “If your supervisor could improve in one area that would make a difference in your work performance, what should it be?” Among the numerous cynical answers (some possibly too rude to print), a common theme might stand out: “Value my opinion enough to look at me and listen whenever I am trying to tell you something; I could save you from a lot of trouble.” When the person who leads us doesn’t listen to us, we can sense it – and we don’t like it.

So how can you turn that attitude around? How do you create an environment where you are getting consistent and candid feedback? There are three leadership skills that are essential. Without them, you will always be working with half-truths and misinformation. With them, you will become proactive, anticipating both challenges and opportunities before everyone else and your reputation as a leader who develops followers will soar.

1. Stop, drop and listen.

When an associate is talking with you, don’t multitask. Stop whatever you are doing and listen. A director in a major urban hospital was accused of frequently checking his e-mail and text messages while meeting with his team. He agreed for one week to keep the phone in his pocket or on the desk and look right at his associate and just listen.

Within a week, the improvement was staggering. Countless team members commented on how much they appreciated his new behavior. But more importantly, one associate who was usually hesitant to share much told him of an impending problem that would have been catastrophic for the hospital. Merely giving his undivided attention proved invaluable to his business.

2. Suspend judgment.

Some young managers are often wrong but never in doubt! In fact, many believe that if they don’t act like they have the answer, their employees will lose respect for them. This thought process is backward: Pretending to have all the answers is the chief cause of not being respected.

If you are prone to snap judgments and haven’t disciplined your mind to routinely suspend judgment, you will assess, judge and determine your response without getting all the feedback. And you might be right 75 percent of the time. But the 25 percent of the time that you jumped to a conclusion could cost you your career. When you are getting feedback from a team member, learn to hold back on your first response and make no judgments until you have exhausted the conversation.

3. Search deeper.

Rarely will an employee reveal everything to you about something right off the bat. As the leader, it is your job to bring out what the other person is thinking. Ask questions to dig deeper for what the person is trying to convey: How do you mean that? Can you give me an example? Why is this important? How will this affect us?

Which do you think will get you more feedback: a statement you make that ends in a period or a question mark?

That’s what John F. Smith, CEO and president of General Motors, did. He undertook the most significant reorganization in the company’s history and succeeded in engendering this practice of listening among the management team. As a result, GM went from near bankruptcy to turning a profit! Smith concluded “Good things happen when you pay attention!”

Chances are very good that right now your associates have information you need to hear. Practice these three skills constantly and the trust and feedback you gain could make a big difference in your career.

Posted in For Employers, The Business of Research | Comment

8 reasons why opportunity never knocks on your door

475041627You’re a hard worker. You stay late at the office and never complain. You’re your boss’ go-to person on big projects and you never let her down. You’re always taking on extra responsibility even when your plate is spilling over. And yet, your career trajectory is as flat as a board.

Meanwhile, you can’t help but notice the coworkers who put in fewer hours than you but who’ve managed to get themselves promoted over you. Or that friend of yours whose long-shot cupcake bakery idea turned into a huge success. Or the countless wealthy businesspeople featured in the business magazines and blogs you read religiously who seem to have reached even greater success over the past few years despite the down economy.

What’s their secret? Is it just pure luck? Or something else? “I guarantee that the successful people you see every day don’t have anything you don’t have,” says Vickie Milazzo, author of Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman. “There is no single factor that prevents success or one that guarantees it. If you aren’t driven by your passion or continuously working toward important goals, then of course, you’re going to feel stuck in one place. But when you focus on your goals, plan your steps forward and have a little more faith in yourself, you can achieve wicked success.”

The first step, according to Milazzo, is to hold up a mirror and really examine what you’re putting in at work. “Long hours don’t always mean you’re more productive than everyone else,” she says. “If you are working longer hours and still getting nowhere, it is important to objectively assess the value of your output.

“For example, how much time do you spend complaining? Do you have to discuss every issue ad infinitum no matter how small? Are you a high-maintenance or low-maintenance employee? Are you stealing time from the company to manage your personal life and counting it as work? Figure out how to become truly productive and to continuously make progress toward project goals. The success you seek will follow.”

If you’re still stumped as to why success has eluded you, read on as Milazzo explains as few success obstacles and how to get around them.

You underprice yourself. You’d love to ask for more money but frankly, you’re afraid to. The economy still isn’t great so I’d better lie low, you reason. This just seems like common sense. But settling for less than you’re worth is a big mistake – even in the wake of the Great Recession.

“In fact, if you’re in the running for a new job or promotion, it might even cost you the opportunity,” says Milazzo. “When I’m hiring, I actually weed out candidates who underprice themselves because I assume they won’t perform at the level I expect. In my eyes and in the eyes of many other CEOs, job candidates actually lose credibility when they underprice themselves.

“Many people mistakenly think they’re doing their employers a favor by not pushing for more or that they’ll be more appealing if they don’t ask for what they’re worth,” she adds. “The bad economy might be the current excuse but I believe most underpricing occurs because many employees and job candidates just aren’t comfortable asking for what they think they’re worth.”

You’re viewed as a commodity. Commodities are easy to obtain and easy to replace. And that’s certainly not how you want to be perceived at your job – whether you’re an employee, a leader or an entrepreneur. After all, if the people you’re working with know that others share your skill set, they won’t have any reason to pay you more or give you advanced opportunities. They’ll be in control, not you. Do everything you can to ensure that you aren’t seen as interchangeable or dispensable.

“Don’t shrink into your chair and become the invisible employee,” advises Milazzo. “Do what you need to do to stand out. Get in the middle of everything and bring new ideas to the table. Build relationships throughout the company. If you’re able to make yourself invaluable and leverage the things that make you unique, you’ll also make yourself impossible to replace. And when that happens, you’ll be in control of your own price.”

You downplay your accomplishments. It can be hard to toot your own horn. But if you don’t announce your own achievements, you can bet that no one else is going to do it for you. With humility, make sure that you’re keeping your name, your accomplishments and your skill set in front of everyone. “Make sure you’re getting the recognition and credit you’ve earned,” notes Milazzo. “If you still have doubts, consider that announcing your accomplishments validates the investments others have made in you. Your boss, for example, wants to know that she bet on a winner when she hired you!”

You don’t network with big players. Generally, we tend to gravitate toward people who are similar to us: people who think similarly, who find similar things fun and who are in similar walks of life. That’s fine when it comes to your friendships, but you need to aim higher when it comes to networking. More than 60 percent of people find jobs through networking, for example, and you can bet that most of them didn’t achieve this goal because they knew someone at the bottom of the pecking order.

“No, I’m not advocating snobbery,” Milazzo says. “It’s normal to gravitate toward people who are the same as you – but in business, one of the main reasons people don’t get ahead is that they don’t get out of their groups. Make every effort to meet people who are a rung or two higher than you on the professional ladder. If you impress someone who is more successful than you are, they’ll have a lot more influence than someone whose position is equivalent to yours.”

You doubt your abilities. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll reach any goal you set for yourself if you don’t believe with your whole heart that achieving it is possible. Among other things, you won’t be confident enough to take calculated risks if you don’t believe that the limitations in front of you are surmountable. Anytime you find yourself entertaining doubts or trying to limit what you think is possible, remind yourself of your past successes. Let them infuse you with pride and bolster your resolve.

“Believing you can do it – whatever ‘it’ is – is 90 percent of the win,” says Milazzo. “When I walked into my first meeting with a potential client, my legs were literally shaking. I forced myself to remember that this attorney needed specialized knowledge that only I – a critical-care nurse – could give him. That reminder didn’t banish all of my nervousness but it did enable me to make the points I wanted. And I walked out of that meeting with my first client. I learned that when you expand what you’re willing to believe about yourself, you can transform who you are and what your life looks like.”

You need a mentor. There are two ways to develop the skills, habits, mind-sets, etc., that you’ll need to achieve success. The first is to go it alone and learn by trial and error in the school of hard knocks. The second (much smarter) path is to learn from others who have encountered and surmounted problems that are similar to your own. That being the case, surround yourself with as many mentors as possible and practice the skills they pass on to you.

“I’ve been in business for three decades and I still learn every day from my students, staff, writers, speakers, business experts and more,” says Milazzo. “And in the early days of growing my business, I devoured every book on business strategy I could find, even though none were aimed precisely at the niche I was creating. Aggressive learning is a competitive advantage in achieving any desired goals.”

You are too bogged down in the little things. In today’s world, we’re constantly sabotaged by nonproductive energy wasters. There are e-mails to read. Facebook statuses to update. Receipts to locate for that already-late expense report. Dishes to be washed. Files to be organized. And on and on. These are the easy, albeit often unproductive, tasks that make us feel good. They may not get you any closer to accomplishing your greater goals but at least you’ve checked a couple of things off your to-do list.

“Unfortunately,” says Milazzo, “this addiction comes at a high price, because that cheap check-mark high is guaranteed to frustrate, overwhelm and stress you out in the long term. By majoring in minor things, we never get to our big commitments. Breaking these addictions opens the door to achievement. Remember, what you engage and focus on is where you will yield results.”

You aren’t going after your BIG goals. When is the last time you set a goal and really went after it? Milazzo encourages people to identify their “big things” – those goals that connect to their passionate vision. Then choose one to schedule their day around. For example, your big thing might be to get promoted. So today you might agree to take on a high-profile work project in order to put you in the running for that promotion. “Set a target date for each of your big things,” says Milazzo. “And begin working steadily toward achieving each of them. Start strong and you’ll experience genuine elation from achieving real goals and solving real problems.”

“You can’t snap your fingers and suddenly become successful,” she says. “And the successful people you envy weren’t able to do that either. They worked for it. They set big goals. They didn’t settle for small-time achievements. Success can be yours too if you make the same big commitments.”

Posted in Corporate Researchers, Employment Tips | Comment

Top 10 tips for repairing your credibility

158762133Has your credibility rating taken a hit lately? If you’re honest, you might have to admit to a slip-up or two. Perhaps you were late more times than you would like to admit, you missed several deadlines or you told a few white lies to clients and somehow you turned into one of the office’s top gossips. There may even have been a couple of bigger transgressions.

Now, you’re dealing with the fallout. You have a sneaking suspicion that your fellow employees would rather not have you on the team. Water-cooler whispers tend to stop when you arrive – and start again when you walk away. And when the time comes to suggest names for a project, yours is no longer on the short list.

Is it too late to redeem yourself? Probably not, say Julie Miller and Brian Bedford. Chances are you haven’t hit the credibility point of no return just yet – but salvaging your image requires making a herculean effort to be more accountable in 2014.

“Credibility is a bit like Humpty Dumpty: easy to crack and substantially more difficult to put back together after the fact,” says Miller, coauthor along with Bedford of Culture Without Accountability – WTF? (What’s the Fix?). “That said, restoring your credibility isn’t impossible, either, as long as you’re willing to follow a specific set of rules from now on.”

“When your credibility has taken a hit, you have to understand that it’s not just your pride and reputation that are suffering – you have also disappointed or hurt other people in a tangible way,” adds Bedford. “So while a sincere apology for your behavior is the first step, it’s certainly not the last one. Moving forward, you will need to show others through your behavior that they really can depend on you, and that you won’t drop that particular ball again.”

Here, Miller and Bedford share 10 rules to help you repair your credibility after it has taken a hit:

Credibility repair No. 1: Cop to it when you screw up. It’s only human nature to make excuses when things go wrong. How often have you said, “It wasn’t my fault,” or worse, “It was his/her/their fault, not mine,” when you knew perfectly well that the blame should be placed at your feet?

It’s always best to fess up as soon as possible and take the heat, because, as Miller and Bedford write in their book, “The truth almost always comes out and the impact is worse than it would have been if the person had owned up to it in the first place.” Plus, points out Bedford, the way you handle your screw-ups defines the kind of person you really are. Are you credible or are you a lying weasel?

“By the way,” he adds, “if you’re feeling especially brave, proactively address your 2013 screw-ups with your boss and coworkers. Let them know that you’ve seen the error of your ways and that you will be changing your behavior in 2014. It won’t be easy – fessing up never is. But they’ll respect you for acknowledging your faults and that respect will increase as you boost your credibility with your improved behavior.”

Credibility repair No. 2: Always do what you say you’ll do. Doesn’t it make you crazy when someone says “I’ll get back to you tomorrow on that” and days later you haven’t heard a word? Or, “We’ll make sure you get it on Monday” and nothing happens?

“Don’t be that person,” instructs Miller. “If you make a commitment to do something, move heaven and earth to do it. If you can’t – because circumstances beyond your control have impacted you – let people know immediately, with a plan to fix it. You’ll find that generally others are pretty understanding when you give them legitimate advance notice.”

Credibility repair No. 3: Tell the truth. Remember those little white lies you told to get out of a commitment (“Oh, that e-mail must have gotten lost in my spam folder!”) or those misleading statements you made that contained enough truth to sound legitimate?

“Do that too often and you’ll become known as someone whose word isn’t worth much,” comments Bedford. “Telling the truth can be hard but it’s always worth it in the long haul.”

Credibility repair No. 4: Speak up when you see something wrong. Remember that time when one of your peers was throwing his weight around and bullying one of his employees? Not wanting to get involved in the drama, you took the “none of my business” approach to dealing with the problem. You chose not to speak up about the guy’s bad behavior to keep yourself out of the line of fire.

“Here’s a reality check,” says Bedford. “Ignoring someone else’s bad behavior is just as bad as committing the act yourself. When people see you ignoring these problems, especially when you’re in a position to do something about them, they think you’re approving the bad behavior. They assume you’re the same kind of person as the manager yelling at his employees. Don’t be guilty by association. Speak up and show that you value fairness and respect.”

Credibility repair No. 5: Give constructive feedback (and do it thoughtfully). Miller and Bedford say, “Most people don’t like giving feedback and like getting it even less.” That’s because feedback usually involves suggestions for improvement. (Ergo, your work isn’t currently up to snuff.) That’s why it’s important to give helpful feedback and to do so in a way that won’t offend the recipient.

“When you decide that feedback is required, give it some thought and plan what you’re going to say,” advises Miller. “Don’t just blurt out your spur-of-the-moment thoughts – chances are, you’ll make a mess of them. You may even come off as superior or hostile. Instead, choose a time and place when the recipient will be most receptive. By showing that you truly care about the other person’s feelings and performance, you’ll reinforce your credibility as a coworker, supervisor, friend or mentor.”

Credibility repair No. 6: When you’re on the receiving end, accept feedback gracefully. Hopefully, if someone has chosen to give you some feedback, it’s the product of a lot of thought and is meant to make you better.

“Feedback should be considered a gift,” says Bedford. “Treat it that way – even if the person delivering it isn’t as gentle as you would prefer. Pay attention, learn and improve your performance going forward. A willingness to accept and incorporate feedback also helps your credibility, because it shows that you put your work, not your pride, first.”

Credibility repair No. 7: Be respectful. No matter how many other things you get right, if you’re a total jerk, people aren’t going to think very highly of you.

“You might be having a bad day, but that doesn’t give you the right to lash out at someone,” says Miller. “Turn the scenario around whenever you’re tempted to be curt, condescending or nasty. If you were in a service position, for example – say, a bank teller or grocery store cashier – you’d dread dealing with those inevitable customers who dumped their frustrations on you. Yes, being respectful can sometimes require effort and restraint. But it costs nothing, helps maintain and build relationships and makes you a better person.”

Credibility repair No. 8: Say yes only when you mean yes. There are a lot of reasons why you might say yes to another person’s request when you truly don’t feel comfortable doing so. Maybe you’re a “pleaser” who hates disappointing others. Perhaps you want to avoid conflict. Or maybe you simply want to shut down an interaction that’s dragging on and on.

“Whatever your reasons, ‘yes’ doesn’t ultimately work unless you mean it,” points out Bedford. “You’ll either have to perform a task you don’t believe in or don’t want to do – which is bad – or you’ll have to break your word – which is worse. Say yes only when you mean it. Even if others don’t like hearing ‘no,’ your credibility will stay intact.”

Credibility repair No. 9: Over-commit and over-deliver. The world is full of people who want to do only the bare minimum. When you push yourself to commit to just a little bit extra, then make sure you get it done, you set yourself apart in the best possible way.

“Take the opportunity to differentiate yourself, even if it means staying at work a bit later or learning a new skill,” advises Miller. “Pretty soon, you’ll have a reputation for being someone to rely on, someone who’s good to have around.”

Credibility repair No. 10: Be on time. Sure, there are legitimate reasons why even the most responsible person might be running late: a fender bender, a sick child or an unfortunate coffee spill, to name just a few. And yes, everybody gets a pass on this one from time to time when life’s curveballs happen.

“But by and large, being late – especially if it’s a habit – is disrespectful,” points out Bedford. “It communicates that you don’t value others’ time and that you think you’re more important than they are. On the other hand, being on time just takes a little effort and a little planning but will garner a lot of respect and appreciation.”

“Focus on these 10 things in 2014 even if your credibility is doing fine – but especially if it isn’t,” concludes Miller. “Soon, you’ll differentiate yourself from the credibility-optional pack and you’ll be the first name picked when it comes time to assemble the team for the big projects of 2014!”

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Effective employee feedback is neither a sandwich nor a seagull

93459282Editor’s note: Kevin Higgins is the CEO of Fusion Learning Inc., a New York sales training company. He is also the author of Engage Me: Strategies From The Sales Effectiveness Source.

Managers recognize that their teams need feedback to improve and be successful. However, many provide feedback without having a clearly defined way of doing so effectively. Feedback ends up as a one-way conversation delivered from the manager to the performer.

One-way feedback conversations come in one of two types. The first is the sandwich, where the manager presents the performer with what they did well, “sandwiches” in negative feedback in the middle and wraps it up with more positive feedback. It’s a habit based on years and years of history “giving feedback” – and it’s a habit we have to break. Remember, if you tell the performer, the conversation is one-way, but if you ask them, it is now two-way.

The second is the seagull model, which is even worse. This is a situation where the manager doesn’t attempt to engage the performer – they simply state negative feedback and move on. This is why I liken it to seagulls: They fly by, poop and fly on.

You never want to provide seagull feedback. Feedback must be a two-way process with self-discovery by the performer being the first and most critical step.

The two-way effective feedback conversation has four easy-to-follow steps:

Step 1. Ask the performer what they did well.
Step 2. You add what you feel they did well.
Step 3. Ask the performer what they will do differently next time.
Step 4. You add what you would suggest they do differently next time.

Steps 1 and 2 build confidence. We need confident team members. Steps 3 and 4 build skill. All four steps create a confident, skilled and engaged team member.

Do we spend an equal amount of time in each of these steps? No. Definitely not! Different people have different capacities for feedback and different abilities to assimilate information. Those lacking confidence need more in Steps 1 and 2. Those who are very confident but lack skill need more time in Steps 3 and 4 – but be careful that it comes after reinforcing confidence in Steps 1 and 2.

Effective two-way feedback is common sense. The four steps are not a scientific breakthrough but they are not common practice. Making them common practice will engage your team.

Once this four-step process is in place and well-embedded in your culture, you’ll find team members are so well-versed in feedback that they can actually provide themselves with clear, actionable, realistic and balanced feedback on a daily basis.

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The 5 Cs of recruiting, engaging and retaining staff

Editor’s note: Kim Seeling Smith is a human resources expert and author of the forthcoming book, Mind Reading for Managers: 5 FOCUSed Conversations for Greater Employee Engagement and Productivity. For more information visit

166468204The war for talent is over and talent has won. Technology and globalization have dramatically changed the way we work over the last 20-30 years. However, very little has changed in how we hire and manage staff – which has led to low employee engagement and productivity and high employee turnover.

Instead of doing the routine, tactical and predicable work of yesteryear, the Social Age requires us to be more strategic, creative and innovative – more solutions-oriented. Yet, for the most part we are still hiring for skills and experience and using the same levers we have used for decades (if not centuries) to motivate and manage staff.

We must evolve our business practices to remain competitive in our digitally-connected, globally-oriented economy.

With any evolutionary process, a guide or road map proves invaluable. When your company decides to take the leap and join the Social Age, there are five Cs to adhere to so you can maximize employment efficiency and effectiveness, retain your staff and ensure that your employees are fully-engaged on a daily basis.

Correct hiring. We must start this evolution with hiring the right people. Without them, efforts to engage and retain staff become moot. The Industrial Age paradigm emphasized hiring for skills and experience. But skills can be taught and in today’s rapidly changing world, experience is far less important than agility and the ability to learn and adapt.

To not only survive but thrive in the Social Age, companies need to hire for both culture fit and competencies – those innate abilities that can’t be taught but will make them successful in the job.

Proper interviewing technique is essential to guaranteeing you get the right hire. Unlike the stock market, when it comes to potential job candidates, past performance is indicative of future results. The majority of interview questions have to be answered with past examples of how the candidate actually dealt with real-world scenarios.

Do not fall into the old trap of believing what a candidate would do is what they did do or, more importantly, will do.

Classify and manage appropriately. Even when you do everything right during the hiring process, you may still be surprised once the employee comes on board. Team dynamics or changing personal circumstances can affect individual behavior and performance.

You must continually keep your finger on the pulse of your staff – a daunting task to many managers who either try to devote equal time and energy across the board or who spend time with the wrong people.

Employees typically come in three flavors: Critical People, Squeaky Wheels and the Fat Middle. Most managers end up spending most of their time trying to grease their Squeaky Wheels, which perpetuates poor performance or behavior. Counterintuitively, by devoting the majority of your attention to your Critical People, you will bolster the productivity of the whole team. Squeaky Wheels? Train, motivate or move them on. Quickly.

Compensate fairly. Many companies diligently strive to create attractive incentive programs in an effort to engage and retain staff. Unfortunately, these efforts actually may be counterproductive to accomplishing these goals.

Studies have suggested that rewards can narrow our focus, innovation, creativity, strategic thinking and problem-solving – the very things needed from a Social Age workforce. Higher pay does not necessarily equal higher productivity. Managers should set their salary benchmark at or a little above market rate for individual functions. Even more importantly, managers should ensure that employees feel they are being adequately compensated for the work they do and this can only be accomplished by speaking to them directly.

Currencies of choice. Once your staff feels well-paid, real productivity and engagement can be unlocked by tapping into your their internal motivators or currencies of choice. What your staff really needs to be fulfilled and to go the extra mile is to:

– work for someone they trust and respect in a company they support;

– be appreciated and have their voice and opinions respected;

– have a firm career path that allows them to grow and develop;

– realize their underlying motivators; and

– be able to do what they do best every day.

By understanding and acknowledging your team’s individual currencies of choice, you can help to keep them engaged and decrease turnover.

How do you recognize which currencies of choice will motivate your staff? By talking to them. Unfortunately, many managers don’t talk to their staff enough, don’t know what to talk about or how to structure their conversations.

Communicate with FOCUS. FOCUS is an acronym that describes the best practices in leadership communication. Communication between staff and managers should revolve around:

Feedback. Ensure your team is updated on company information, initiatives and new hires. Give praise when it is due and maintain an open door for their questions, concerns or comments.

Objectives. The heart of sterling performance management is structuring specific and measurable job objectives and holding staff accountable for achieving them.

Career development. Many studies list career development as a main factor that employees gauge to determine whether to stay with their current employer or seek a new position elsewhere.

Underlying motivators. What does your staff need to go the extra mile and how do they respond to motivational techniques and rewards?

Strengths. According to The Gallup Organization, those innate abilities that make them unique and good at what they do is the No. 1 predictor of success.

May appear daunting

The process of changing the way you hire and manage your staff may appear daunting at first but experience shows that by taking it step-by-step, you can make significant changes quickly. The result will be a lifetime of more engaged, happier and more productive staff, as well as more free time, less stress and higher job satisfaction for yourself and your team.

Are you up for the challenge?

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5 tips for managing dueling staffers

Editor’s note: Barbara Jaurequi is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a nationally certified master addiction counselor and author of A.C.E.S. – Adult-Child Entitlement Syndrome.

462084163Child psychiatrist David Levy introduced the term “sibling rivalry” in 1941. Self-explanatory in its terminology, the concept of sibling rivalry is easy to grasp. The mechanism of employee rivalry works essentially the same way, with the employees in a competitive relationship, striving for greater approval from their employer or manager.

Many managers, in a desperate attempt to be perceived as fair, find themselves going crazy as they try to distribute praise evenly and acknowledge hard work equally. Moreover, when they are delivering criticism to one, they feel compelled to deliver it to the other, whether he or she deserves it or not, so they aren’t accused of playing favorites. Employees who are constantly trying to best each other don’t always deliver superior work because of their competition. In fact, the animosity they feel towards one another can stifle their creativity and cause them to deliberately undermine their opponent’s efforts. Furthermore, the tension between them can corrupt the attitudes of other employees and cause managers to lose objectivity regarding the rivalry.

Managers who recognize troublesome rivalries between two or more valuable staff members should seek to resolve these rivalries before they upset otherwise harmonious workplaces. The following is a list of tips that are easy to enact. Consistent application of these suggestions will help eliminate or lessen the negative impact of employee rivalries.

Collect data. Managers should keep their eyes and ears open when milling amongst their staff. Observe the two rival staff members as they interact with each other. Notice attitudes, body language and temperament. Pay close attention to the things that trigger negativity. Write your observations down. See if you can identify patterns of behavior. The important thing is for managers to recognize the symptoms of the problem such as arguing, gossiping and tattling on each other. Total resolution of employee rivalry may not be possible in certain circumstances; that’s when symptom-management becomes the goal. Effective management of the symptoms of employee rivalry can significantly improve an otherwise hostile work environment for everyone concerned.

Be willing to separate rivaling employees to reduce tension. This particular tip is a good way for managers to solve their rivalry problems with minimal managerial exertion. Consider, for example, that some personalities are very strong and, while not offensive to the majority of coworkers, may grate on the nerves of other employees. It is often like this with rivaling employees: They just don’t like each other. Their mutual dislike causes them to be overly observant about what the other is doing or not doing. They are too aware of the other’s responsibilities, deficiencies and positive qualities (which are usually deeply resented). Even the most brilliant conflict resolution specialist would not be able to overcome this sort of interpersonal problem, because the problem is personality-based and personality traits are enduring aspects of the self. They don’t change. Therefore, managers’ willingness to move people around could help reduce the kind of tension that leads to declines in productivity and employee morale. It may also reduce the number of tattle-tale sessions managers have to endure.

Know your limits. Managers need to decide how much energy they should spend on the problem of employee rivalry. If it has become a major disruption in the office, managers should address the problem with a plan for resolution in mind. On the other hand, if conflict resolution meetings are nothing more than fodder for drama-loving gossipers, a simple, private discussion with each of the rivaling employees would be a better way to go. Specifically, don’t make a big deal out of a small matter that might correct itself in time but don’t ignore a spreading cancer either.

Don’t strive for perfect fairness. Managers should not expect themselves to be perfectly fair, as per the opinions of rivaling employees. Rather, managers should strive to treat their employees impartially. For example, if you decide that one employee should be given an extra week to complete a particular project for whatever reason you deem worthy of the extension, then do so. But be prepared to do the same for the other employee if and when that employee needs extra time. However, don’t automatically extend the other employee’s deadline whether it’s needed or not just to be fair. Make your decisions on a case-by-case basis. If one employee comes to you crying “Unfair!” simply tell them that he or she does not have, nor is he or she privy to, all the information that went into your decision. Stick to your guns. Be unemotional, calm, deliberate and firm. Managers should not explain certain decisions or they will open themselves up to an inappropriate debate with a subordinate.

Conduct an honest self-appraisal of favortist behaviors. It’s important for managers to be aware of how their behaviors and attitudes may be perceived by those they supervise. It’s only natural for managers to have preferences when it comes to personalities and work habits. You may have a particular affinity for an employee who has, for example, a sense of humor similar to yours. Unintentionally, you may be favoring that person to a degree that is obvious and offensive to your favored employee’s rival. Consider if your preference for one employee over another is personality-based or if that employee is truly superior in terms of quality of work. If your favoritism is fueled by the former, it would be wise to check that! Better for you to make some behavioral changes than for you to lose a valuable employee who legitimately views your management style as inequitable.

* * *

One final thought about conflict resolution: Do some research about best practices before launching into a process with which you are totally unfamiliar. Better yet, get some hands-on direction about how to proceed. You will gain indispensable knowledge about how to handle similar situations in the future. Any consulting fees you may pay for such training would be money well spent. You will learn where, when and how to conduct resolution sessions. You will learn how to be objective, judicial and specific when laying out your directives and expectations and you won’t be blindsided by new cases of employee rivalry in the future.

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