Research Careers Blog

5 job reference etiquette rules to follow

It makes good business sense – and is respectful, professional etiquette – to stay in touch with your former bosses, according to a press release from professional reference checking firm Allison & Taylor.

As your career advances, your efforts to stay connected with past employers could pay dividends many times over when they provide you with favorable professional references. Conversely, failing to maintain a solid relationship with your references could have long-reaching professional consequences.

“As an employer, if a prospective employee’s former boss neglected to return your call looking for a professional reference, what message would that convey?” asks Jeff Shane, of Allison & Taylor. “A personal commentary can make or break a successful job search.”

Allison & Taylor suggest five job reference etiquette rules to follow:

  1. Call your former bosses and ask them if they are willing to be good job references for you. Be sure to thank them for supporting you in your job search if they agree.
  2. Let them know each and every time you give out their name and e-mail address.
  3. Keep your former positive references informed of your experiences in climbing the corporate ladder and your educational progress. Provide them with career updates. He or she will be more inclined to see you in a stronger light as you progress.
  4. Remember that spending time with a potential Thank You hand written lettering greeting cardemployer takes valuable time out of your former bosses’ day, so try to give something back. For instance, after receiving a good job reference, write a personal thank-you letter or (at a minimum) send an e-mail. Better yet, send a thank-you note with a gift card or offer to take your former boss to lunch or dinner.
  5. If you get a new position, call or e-mail your former boss and thank them again for the positive references. You can then provide your new professional contact information.


Additionally, it’s critical to be certain of the feedback from your professional references. If you are not 100 percent convinced that your professional references and past employers will relay positive comments about you to prospective employers, have them checked out. A professional reference check can either put your mind at ease, or supply you with the critical information and evidence that may be blocking your job search efforts.

Allison & Taylor estimates that 50 percent of their references come back as lukewarm or negative. If a reference provides unfavorable or inaccurate information to a prospective employer, there are steps that can be taken to rectify the situation. You can take steps to prevent this continued spread of negative information, either through a cease and desist letter or through more aggressive legal recourse.

Posted in Employment Tips, Employment Trends, For Employers | 1 Comment

Considering consulting? 4 pitfalls to avoid

Editor’s note: Aaron Zwas is a consultant, strategic technology advisor and author of “Transition to Independence.”

Career stability isn’t what it once was.

Considering consulting?That’s why many workers frustrated with today’s corporate climate are venturing out on their own, offering their skills and experience to those very same corporations, but on a consulting rather than full-time basis.

Certainly, there’s a lot to be said for going independent. You have more freedom and a healthier balance between work and family. It’s the be-your-own-boss opportunity many people crave.

But not so fast. Before you take the plunge, there are drawbacks worth knowing about.

When I made the transition about 15 years ago, I didn’t have a lot of guidance. I didn’t really understand what I was getting into, so there was a bit of trial and error. The good news is that others can learn from my mistakes.

If you’re considering going it alone, here are four pitfalls you’ll want to avoid:

  • Prepare yourself financially. The transition from working for someone else to being independent almost certainly will require you to dip into savings. Take every precaution as you prepare yourself financially. A conversation with an accountant is a good start and so is reviewing your monthly budget to see if you can cut spending. Build up savings – preferably enough to sustain you through one year of expenses – before ending full-time employment.
  • Set your social calendar. When you’re independent, you have no co-workers to chat with, bounce ideas off of or play tennis with on the weekend. If you’re not careful, it can be a lonely existence. To compensate, set up regular dates with friends and family. You can also take up new interests or hobbies. Get out of the house and be with other people.
  • Stay focused on your expertise. Being a one-person team has its advantages but it can also be a double-edged sword because many independents get pulled in too many directions by spending time on activities unrelated to their expertise. There’s no problem in admitting you don’t want to take on certain activities. For example, bookkeeping could be a chore you despise or aren’t suited for. You might want to contract out and let someone else handle it.
  • Spend time on your personal brand. Some independents thrive without any branding efforts, but most need to do at least a little branding. A logo, a Web site, business cards, a presentation template, social-media accounts and a blog can help you create a professional image.


A little advance preparation can go a long way in helping you become a successful independent. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that consulting is more than a job – it’s a lifestyle. Even on my worst days, I’m grateful for the freedom I have.


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The power of purpose-driven employees

Editor’s note: Eliakim Thorpe is a speaker, consultant and founder of the T.H.R.I.V.I.N.G. Organization: A New Philosophy to Transform Organizations.          

Matthew and Janice are emerging entrepreneurs who recently went into business together. During a lunch meeting at a local restaurant they began to discuss their future profit projections and how well their business is performing financially six months after its opening. What began as a conversation about dollars and profit margins quickly turned into a debate over the Great Recession, and the benefits of transforming an organization primarily driven by profit, to an organization led by purpose-driven employees.

Matthew prefers to discuss profit strategy, profit projections and profit margin regardless of the current economic conditions impacting revenue. He firmly believes that the organization can be financially resilient during economic turmoil if a profit strategy is developed. Janice believes in maximizing human capital; not necessarily every employee, but those who’ve demonstrated passion, dedication and an unwavering commitment because of their belief in the values of the organization. She is confident that if people change, the organization will change and weather any economic instability.

Rose, a well-respected manager, joined in and shared her perspective on the importance of organizational transformation that must be internally-driven by people, and not solely motivated by bottom lines. She believes that if human capital is not leveraged properly within an organization, transformation can never occur and the development of a profit/revenue strategy will be insufficient in an ever-changing global economy. Conversely, some of the most resilient organizations can encounter troubles because they fail to realize the importance of organizational transformation. The most successful brands implement organizational transformation designed to change people and not organizational structures.

Purpose signpostRose and Janice are correct. The engine to every economy is people. Without people there is no economy. Purpose-driven, passionate, talented and dedicated employees make transformation successful. As an enterprise, you evaluate what is in your control and what you can influence. You can’t control market conditions, inflation and the decline of the economy. But you can control the growth of people and the emphasis you place on having a transformed workforce during a prospering and declining economy.

When you embark on your leadership journey to foster a transformative work environment, it is critical that you can ensure consistency and long-term success. There are four keys to reproducible results for business leaders, entrepreneurs and executives to consider on the path to transformation.

1. Engaged employees

During any transformational process, it is imperative that the organization understand that people power the transformation. Organizations must understand that the greatest commodity at their disposal is not products, profit or capital – but people. Every dimension of a transformational company is tightly connected to its people because they are the greatest asset of any business.

Your workforce must be your company’s cornerstone if it is to be successful, profitable and sustainable. Without people, there is no organization! When your workforce feels – and truly believes – that they have a direct stake in the future of the company, they become invaluable assets toward your transformative goals.

2. Organizational culture

Every organization must learn to be intentional about the attitudes, behaviors, values and guiding principles it broadcasts. Whatever a leader broadcasts becomes its organizational culture. Organizational culture is built upon convictions, conduct and character. If the manager or leader is unable to demonstrate these 3 C’s, it will create bad attitudes, unwanted behaviors, limited perspectives and a difficult working environment.

Developing this culture requires a committed and consistent articulation of its values that contribute to the social and psychological environment of any organization. A culture that includes expectations, experiences and a shared philosophy by all provides guidance on how an organization interacts with its employees and its customer (in a larger context, its community and society). In essence, organizational culture is simply the temperament of an enterprise led by its leader who is skilled with setting the temperature. The temperament of the leader will determine the culture of an organization. A strong organizational culture becomes the GPS when an organization loses it way!

3. Performance increase

Every organization wants a greater ROI. Greater output and increased productivity come at minimal cost when employees are engaged and there is a strong culture that courses through your company. Many businesses define performance as the intellectual and physical energy of an employee which is designed to meet a specific job responsibility. It is leveraging the capabilities of its workforce to generate greater output. The better the alignment with vision and value, the more likely people will rise to greater output. The components of a productive and high-performing organization include decisive and quick thinking and decision-making, fast to-market strategy and the ability to maintain momentum. Leaders must be skilled at energizing the workforce gifts and talents if greater productivity is desired. When employees are motivated, greater productivity is manifested!

4. New product innovation

Creativity and ingenuity must be at the forefront of product innovation. Employees want to create impact. The best way for that to occur is to allow them to be part of the innovation-based projects in your company by letting them get their hands dirty. Ideation is important, but being part of implementing the ideas that come to life can be a more exciting and meaningful growth opportunity for your employees that will inspire them to perform.

Additionally, provide your employees the resources to be innovative in their work. When given the right tools and resources, the best employees will instinctively challenge themselves to be more innovative – and will perform better. When an organization is immersed in a transformational culture – not just ideation – innovation occurs.

Organizations that are successful in their transformational endeavors are people-centered, purpose-driven, solution-focused, service-oriented, profit-savvy and innovatively positioned to create lasting change. The challenge in business leadership or entrepreneurism today is the ability to be resolute and steadfast in an economic climate that appears to promote profit above partnership with consumers to create lasting change in and around the community. Organizations are more likely to face adverse economic conditions if they are primarily driven by profit. Investment in people must be at the center of any transformational organization.

Close observation of successful organizations during adversity found that those who believed in transformational leadership styles and a workforce with a transformative and evolved culture resulted in a boost in profits, highly-motivated employees and stronger organizational outcomes.


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Searching for success: Creating an experiment of excellence

Editor’s note: Tracey C. Jones is a U.S. Air Force veteran, entrepreneur, speaker, publisher and author of Beyond Tremendous: Raising the Bar on Life.

For many, success is an elusive goal. They feel powerless and resort to blaming their circumstances for the condition of their lives. But success is more scientific than you think. It follows the same universal laws found in natural science. When you look at it this way, you can take concrete steps to ensure you practice the science of success and create an experiment of excellence in your very own life.

The function of followership: How engaged are you as a follower? Contrary to popular belief, the job doesn’t make you; you make the job. The more engaged, authentic and proactive you are, the greater your rewards. Every time you engage in effective followership, you exponentially increase your chances of success.

You may feel that your organization doesn’t value your active followership. This may be true. It takes an authentic leader and a collaborative culture to value active and engaged followers; however, the type of follower you are today determines the type of leader you’ll be tomorrow. They are two sides of the same coin.

The exposure to experience: You truly grow under adverse circumstances. Trials are not noble; they are character-building. Pressures forge and solidify our core, and a mind stretched can never go back to its previous form.

The quickest way to success is to cram 50 years of failure into 15. An intern once asked a seasoned executive how he became so successful. The executive replied, “Good judgement.” The intern asked how he got good judgement, and the elder replied, “Experience.” The young man then asked, “Well, how do you get experience?” to which his mentor replied, “Poor judgement.” Every experience, good, bad or ugly, adds a key to unlocking a future door. Make sure your key ring is full.

The momentum of motivation: Do you feel stuck? The reason could be the Law of Inertia which states that all objects tend to “keep on doing what they’re doing.” Each one of us generates our own motivation. This is why people with the same opportunities experience different outcomes. Force equals mass times acceleration; therefore, if you want a greater force to “get you off your mass” you’ve got to apply a higher degree of acceleration. When you dial into your internal cheerleader, you will be a body in motion that stays in perpetual motion.

The added benefit of motivation is that it is has a highly transferable quality. Thus, the more of it you generate, the more it multiplies. People also refer to this as atmosphere. Atmosphere doesn’t just come out of nowhere; someone has to generate it. You can be a thermometer that merely reflects what’s going on around you, or you can be a thermostat and set the temperature in your organization.

The vector of vision: Vision is simply seeing what needs to be done and doing it. Often Success compass directionpeople fool themselves into thinking vision is some type of mystical prophecy only a genius can see, when in reality the great visionaries are people who took action and got things accomplished when no one else would or could. Vision is what directs your everyday path and decision. Vision also has a moral quality that aligns with your values and convictions. Vision is a constant drip, a directional plumb line that centers everything we do.

Vectored vision is what keeps us on course in life. As a proverb says, “Where there is no vision; the people perish.” So if you want to stay on the path to success keep your GPS calibrated to your true north.

The physics of failure: The second law of thermodynamics states that an effect can never be greater than the cause. The universe tends toward an increasing state of disorder, and that includes you. To defeat the forces of natural chaos, you must implement a series of internal transformations. These include healthier eating, becoming a better thinker and increasing your positivity. A robust body, mind and soul are foundational to a successful life.

Many people think that life gets better by chance when, in fact, it only gets better through change. Emerson stated that cause and effect are two sides of the same coin. You cannot create a different outcome, nor even maintain the status quo, without injecting your life with some empowering forces. There’s no smoke without fire. If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got. So if you want to escape the black hole of failure, drill down to that root cause, commence countdown and launch yourself out

The tension of time: Everything you do is woven into the fabric of time. Existentialists go so far as to say you do not exist in time; you are time. So what are you doing with your life clock? Are you killing time or filling time? Do you have a sense of the potential that each second of life affords you? The pain of grief can stop the clock and freeze you in place, but the pleasure of passion can make the time fly. As Albert Einstein said, “That is the way to learn the most, when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.” When you dial into your passion, the tension of time fades away. We are aware of it, but not stuck in it. Every action looks to the future but enjoys the here and now. So find what you love, do it and transcend time.

Obey these laws of success and increase your choices in life. Choices equate to opportunities. Disobedience only leads to diminishing our choices, and diminished choices can lead to a life of regret. So if you want success to be a factor in your life, remember: it’s not luck, chance or fortune … it’s science!


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Taking risks to find learning opportunities

Editor’s note: Gregory Lay is a speaker, speaking coach and trainer at

Failure Success Option Directional Sign Drawing

“What do you mean, I’m not making enough mistakes??”

Ron sat dumbfounded at his boss’s desk, wondering if she’d lost her mind.

“Take a breath,” she smiled. “The point is that you’re not reaching your potential because you’re too worried about making mistakes.”

“Of course I try to avoid mistakes. Didn’t you just fire somebody for making too many mistakes?”

“Actually, no. That situation was because the same mistake happened regularly and the employee wouldn’t follow an improvement plan. The difference is that repeating mistakes can get you fired, but learning from mistakes can get you promoted!”

“So how many mistakes am I expected to make?”

“That’s your challenge right there!” exclaimed the boss, laughing. “Stop worrying about the number of mistakes you make. If your mind-set is that somebody is waiting for you to make a mistake, you’re stuck in a self-conscious rut.

“Instead, imagine your customers and your team curious to hear what creative solution you’ll come up with next! The ones that work give you a reputation as an innovator and the ones that don’t work give you a chance to learn and improve.”

“I do have an idea to try out on you to see if,” Ron began, but the boss interrupted.

“Will it help your customers?”

“I think so. If we…” But again, she interrupted.

“Then do it. You know your job; now have confidence to try ideas to improve your job.”

Ron could tell the conversation was over. “Guess I’ve got work to do,” he smiled.

“Good!” the boss replied, holding out a sheet of paper. “Here’s a checklist to help.”

How to make smart mistakes

  1. Dare mistakes to happen.

Freezing to avoid mistakes is not growing. Learning comes from listening to helpful feedback and feedback comes when you’re in motion. Mistakes become teachers when we recognize, communicate and implement course corrections.

  1. Consider values and objectives.

Planning only for immediate challenges leads to frequently having to change shortsighted plans. Weigh ideas against long-range goals and organizational values and be willing to take risks to achieve those worthwhile objectives and values.

  1. Don’t kill an idea with research.

Begin when you have a reasonable fraction of data you think you need. The rest of the information will come as feedback when you’re in motion; you’re expected to make adjustments as you learn. Standing still to gather the last tidbits of information is indecision and some of the information you’ve gathered may even be outdated by the time you begin.

  1. Make team decisions.

When team members have input into a choice, they’re committed to making their plan succeed. If a mistake looms, they’re committed to making corrections rather than assigning blame.

  1. Don’t ask – tell.

Playing “Mother may I?” wears out your boss and leaves you powerless. Come up with a plan you believe in and report it matter-of-factly with your overall action plan. If the boss has questions, you’ll hear them, but don’t try to make the boss responsible for your plan’s success or failure – that’s your territory.

  1. Take calculate risk.

Safe plans have lower learning potential. When you see an opportunity, leap at it! Whether succeeding brilliantly or going splat, you’ll have learned what happens when you do that and generated new feedback to enhance your learning. Remember to thank people for their feedback, regardless of whether it was delivered kindly or soaked in vinegar. Then, let people (especially your team) know what you learned and what you’ll do differently next time.

  1. Serve your customer.

Correct decisions and mistakes are each made on behalf of your customer. Let them know how wise and brave they were when risks succeed and how confident they can be with your corrective actions when you notch a magnificent mistake. Any explanations you must make will make sense when you’re in service of your customer.

  1. Be accountable.

This is not a blame game. If a risk turns out to be a mistake, take full accountability and spearhead the effort to correct the outcome and document what you learned. Blame turns mere mistakes into failures and ruined relationships.

  1. Share credit; take accountability.

When risks pull through with no major mistake, spread credit lavishly, making sure top management hears about the team achievement. Not merely so that others enjoy working with you, but because learning isn’t only from correcting mistakes – people also learn and are inspired by seeing what it looks like when they get credit for mistake-free work.

Risk analysis isn’t about avoiding risk; it’s about identifying obstacles and knowing what you’ll do when problems come up. Having a Plan B and even Plan C makes it more likely your exploration will carry the twin labels of educational and successful!


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Business manners? Putting your best foot forward

Editor’s note: Kate Zabriskie is president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm.

“I sat there and watched the two of them completely engaged on Facebook. Never mind the fact that I’m a customer, and they are supposed to be helping me. The sad thing is: I’m not sure that they even realized how rude they were. Needless to say, I will never ‘like’ that place. I only go to that store when I’m desperate.”

“I sent in a donation and never heard a word from those people. I guess they missed the gratitude lesson in Fundraising 101. The next time I think about contributing to a cause, you can bet I’ll pick a charity that knows how to say ‘thank you.’”

“After speaking with that woman on the phone, I felt violated. I know she needed the answers to the financial questions in order to help me but something just seemed wrong about the whole thing. I can’t put my finger on it, but it wasn’t a good feeling.”

At one time or another, most consumers – including you – have had the unpleasant experience of being treated rudely, ignored or abandoned altogether by people whose job it is to provide you with a given product or service. Amazing? Not really. Infuriating? You bet. Correctable? Absolutely.

Sadly, genuine good manners seem to be less common these days, and why is that? Do people believe they’re simply too busy? Do they not know what they are supposed to do? Did no one ever teach them what is acceptable? Who knows? And frankly, the reason or reasons for failure are less important than the solution: consistent application of some often overlooked fundamentals.

Here are six suggestions for adding social niceties and common courtesy back into your business exchanges:

Start your interaction on the right foot.By definition, you’ve only one chance to make a first impression. Don’t squander it by being indifferent. Begin with a simple display of common courtesy: smile; stand or sit up straight; and greet people with “hello,” “good morning,” “good afternoon” or “welcome.” You won’t regret it.

Say “please” and “thank you,” and do it often. “Please” and “thank you” are the WD-40 of solid customer service. Used with sincerity, those three words build rapport, demonstrate respect and quiet the occasional squeaky wheel.

Looking at phone during a meetingBe mentally present when interacting with people. For starters, stop toying with pencils, rubber bands, paperclips, etc. that telegraph your boredom. But wait, there’s more: put away your smart phone; close your tablet; mute your intercom; make and maintain eye contact; and listen to what is being said to you. You will step up your effectiveness and efficiency by giving your customers and clients your undivided attention. That doesn’t mean your interactions will take more time; in fact, they might take less because your consumers will reward you for putting them first.

Ask for permission. If you work in a business that deals with people’s finances, health or other personal matters, get in the habit of requesting permission to discuss sensitive information.

You may or may not always get the answers you want, but you will give your customers and clients a sense of their control, and in the process of doing that you will affirm your own professionalism.

Let the people you serve know what happens next. You do what you do day in and day out, and you know how your business works. Those you serve may not. Eliminate uncertainty and reduce anxiety by taking time to familiarize people with processes.

Be genuine. Your call is very important to us. So important, in fact, that we are going respond to it in the order in which it was received by someone at a location on the other side of the international dateline. So very, very important that while you wait for that distant person to wake up, we’ll entertain you with a medley of boy-band favorites interrupted every thirty seconds by a voiceover that says, “Your call is very important to us.” Convincing? Genuine?

In a world crowded with sincerely insincere messages, you can stand out from your competitors by taking the time to put yourself in the position of your customers. In short, that’s what good manners are all about. Use them, and you can’t lose.



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Three words that can spell career disaster

Editor’s note: Todd Cohen, CSP is a speaker, sales culture expert and author of Everyone’s in Sales and Everyone’s in Sales; STOP Apologizing.

The English language has an unending supply of words and phrases that are built to create conversations that convey meaning and leave impressions. How you use and deliver these words makes a huge impression on people and leaves them thinking and feeling a certain way about you.

Business Every conversation is a selling moment that constructs lasting images in others’ minds. Considering how important first impressions can be, there are three words that are absolutely deadly to sales, your career and your very psyche. These three words, when uttered, send an extremely negative message to everyone around you. These words – just nine simple letters and one apostrophe – can have an incredibly detrimental effect on your ability to create new relationships, establish credibility and attract others. Ready….?  Here they are:

“I’m just the…”

These three words by themselves send a very strong message about how you feel about yourself and how you view your value and contributions to your organization. “I’m just the” sets up a cascade of unflattering perceptions and opinions in the mind and hearts of the people being spoken too. It creates an indelible image that you have little to no value.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg in regard to these three, seemingly harmless little words. They can negatively impact you in a number of ways.

  1. This expression is one you are so wired to say, and it sends the message that you don’t matter. It’s akin to saying, “Please don’t take me seriously.” There is another dimension to the very damaging effects of these words. Imagine you are approached by your supervisor, manager or a colleague and they ask you some questions about a situation. The questioning could be entirely innocent or pointed – eliciting a defensive response in the form of “I’m just the” in an attempt to deflect blame or responsibility. These words are an intentional or unintentional way to defer accountability. It’s the unconscious way these words are used that set you up for failure and disengagement.
  1. It’s similar to using but when you should say and. Using the word but is a bad idea because it negates everything that has been said up to that point. The same result occurs when you say, “I’m just the.” You make it harder on yourself to get what you need, and it drastically affects your ability to leave a lasting, positive impression. You must engage people to further your goals. Let them know you matter!
  1. It sends the clear message that you don’t have confidence in what you do and how you contribute every single day. One of the most common questions in business is, “What do you do?” When faced with that question, you typically have a few seconds to make your mark. Don’t waste that opportunity by starting with “I’m just the.”
  1. It telegraphs your insecurities. Everyone has them, and anyone who suggests that they are not insecure at some level is actually insecure. Secure people are OK with their insecurities and face them with courage and determination. Life can be hard enough without adding to it with these three words.
  1. Clients and decision makers like confidence. Project confidence and be able to articulate what you do quickly (your value proposition) and capture people’s imagination and passion. Don’t squander that golden opportunity with the following answer … “I’m just the” and then your title. Snoozer.
  1. It’s competitive out there! When you use these words you don’t differentiate or set yourself apart in any way. You might as well say, “Please ignore me and talk to the next person.” When people attempt to engage you in conversation, believe that they want to try and find some common ground. Your job is to engage with others and to display an open willingness to taking the conversation to a deeper level.
  1. It’s all about attitude and mindset. “I’m just the” speaks volumes about your attitude and mindset. Whether accurate or not; once the message is sent then perception is set. Perception becomes reality and then it becomes very hard to turn that ship around. Don’t make things harder on yourself than need be. Perception is reality.
  1. It does matter what people think! When you were growing up did your parents ever say, “It doesn’t matter what others think?” While that may be true in certain situations, when it comes to selling yourself, explaining your position or seeking consensus it does matter what people think. Please be very careful about your word choice when you are engaged in a conversation. Don’t make it easier to be dismissed by others by uttering the words “I’m just the.”
  1. Respect. When you hold yourself accountable and refuse to hide behind “I’m just the” you show the world that you accept responsibility for your position or your opinion on a situation – regardless of outcome. Avoiding this phrase will earn you respect and admiration.


If you have ever wondered why you have not gotten something you want, consider that your use of these three words might have been the roadblock in your mission. Attitude is everything. Even if you have not said them aloud, you may still be telegraphing this mindset. Watch your words and watch what happens.

You are important and vital. Tell the world!



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Innovation and creativity: Creating a community-driven organization

Editor’s note: Arthur Coleman is vice president, product at research firm, Acxiom, Redwood Shores, Calif. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Defining innovation and creativity.”

Bright ideaWhat is innovation? What do we mean when we say a team or organization is innovative? We speak about individuals being innovative but we are just as likely to say they are creative and intend the same meaning. We tend to do the same for teams, although less so. It is rare to talk about a creative vs. an innovative organization.

So are creativity and innovation the same thing? And if not, how are they different? What does that mean for how we approach building an innovative organization?

Researchers in the area of innovation and creativity (two different but highly interrelated fields of study) tend to define creativity as the muse in the individual or team – the fount from which ideas and concepts emerge, often in a haphazard, unpredictable fashion.1 Three concepts are commonly associated with creativity: imagination, problem solving and struggle. Associated with imagination are words like unconventional, spontaneity, intuition and giftedness. Problem-solving includes concepts like intellect, ability and organization. And struggle is associated with the concept that creativity is hard – ideas have to be wrung from one’s brain through a process of conscious and unconscious struggle. It has also become associated with the troubled artist.

It is easy to associate creativity with an individual. So individuals and teams can be creative. But it is harder to use the word with organizations. Organizations are made up of people but we recognize that to talk about an organization beyond a certain size as being creative compared to its members doesn’t match the way we view creativity. Creativity is highly personal and large organizations are conceptually impersonal. One way to combine these concepts that seems to jibe with common conceptions is to say that an innovative organization is made up of creative individuals.

Innovation, on the other hand, is often defined as implementation of ideas generated during the creative process. That is, creativity is a precursor for innovation since creativity is what generates ideas that are innovated upon.2 That would suggest a linear relationship. The implementation of an initial creative concept (the innovation) also sparks a new round of creativity that leads to other innovations.

My guess is that if I asked most of you whether these definitions reflect your notions of the two concepts, you would say yes.

I am going to argue that the relationship between innovation and creativity is more complex. Innovation is implicit in creativity. It is an emergent property of creativity, much as consciousness is an emergent property of our brain’s activity. Asking where the brain’s electrical activity ends and consciousness begins is an impossible question to answer. The same can be said for creativity and innovation.

What this means for an organization trying to spur innovation is that the first focus should be on creating an environment where individual creativity can flourish. New ideas and organizing principals for the organization will emerge from that creative cauldron which can then be turned into innovations that allow the company to better serve its customers.

Managers (my own included) worry about creativity gone wild – that you will focus on innovation because it is creativity with a purpose. Rampant creativity is in many ways frightening because it is a powerful force that once unleashed is hard to direct and organize. So most companies focus on stimulating innovation because it is creativity directed at a goal.

That is a conceptual mistake. The first part of the mistake is that an organization’s innovation must be directed at a common goal. That may be well and good for incremental innovations. But incremental innovation is not enough to keep a company growing and healthy in a turbulent economy. Companies need to encourage some amount of radical innovation which, by definition, is outside the normal processes and agreed-to mission. That creativity is what ultimately identifies crazy new ideas that become the basis for the next billion-dollar opportunity. For a large organization to thrive in today’s marketplace it must tolerate some amount of creative anarchy where individuals operate in an open marketplace for ideas that managers can’t always see, can’t control and will feel uncomfortable with.

But how do I know that people won’t go running off in a direction and create the next great hula hoop when we have a strategy of focusing on building ball bearings? That question underlies the second issue. It assumes your workforce doesn’t get it. That they don’t understand that this is a grown up game and people’s livelihoods are at stake. I don’t find this to be true. If for no other reason than “necessity is the mother of invention.” Creativity is stimulated by the problems facing us. Employees know who puts food on their table. Most understand that they are paid to bring their creativity to bear on problems related to work when at work, and so the problems they get at work stimulate what they get excited about, passionate about and ultimate what they apply their creativity to. Creativity stimulates invention. Invention is an individual activity. Innovation is an organizational activity that evolves from all the inventions that emerge from the somewhat chaotic creative, bubbling cauldron of ideas and conversations between employees.

If an organization fails at creating this community-driven marketplace for ideas and invention, then it may still find it achieves some limited degree of incremental innovation. But I will argue that such a company will never be a truly innovative organization as it will fail to quickly adapt to changes in its marketplace and will ultimately fail its mission.

1. Anderson, Niel; Potacnik, Christina; and Zhou, Jing. “Innovation and Creativity in Organizations: A State-of-the-Science Review, Prospective Commentary and Guiding Framework.” United Kingdom, Brunel University, 2012.

2. Reid, Susan and de Brentani, Ulrike. “The Fuzzy Front-End of New Product Development for Discontinuous Innovations: A Theoretical Model.” Montreal: John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, 2000.

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10 tips for attracting and retaining Millennial talent

Millennial talentSperry Van Ness International Corporation (SVNIC), a full-service commercial real estate franchisor of the SVN brand, released a new report on how employers, in the commercial real estate (CRE) industry and beyond, can attract and retain Millennial talent. The Millennial Commercial Real Estate Career Study (The SVN Study) was conducted in November of 2015 by SVNIC COO Diane Danielson as part of the company’s on-going efforts to assist their independently owned and operated offices to recruit top talent and diversifying their companies. While the study’s intent was to provide a look at how to retain Millennial talent within commercial real estate, we believe the takeaways are universal and will be beneficial to those looking to hire Millennials – specifically for commission-based jobs – within marketing research.

For the SVN Study, members of Generation Y, (born between 1980 and 1995), were surveyed in the U.S., Canada and South America about careers, specifically asking about commission-based jobs and what factors they look for when choosing future employers.

The study provided 10 recommendations:

  1. Expand your commission-based recruiting pool.
  2. Create a collaborative work environment through common goals, brainstorming and problem solving sessions.
  3. Boost your entrepreneurial spirit by rewarding innovation, supporting risk taking and encouraging employees to think like owners.
  4. Diversify your recruiting pools, existing employee base, leadership and board of directors.
  5. Ensure that upper management is genuinely ethical, transparent and open to mentorship programs.
  6. Demystify management and create a clear path for advancement.
  7. Highlight the high earnings potential and the training programs available to help Millennials succeed.
  8. Provide flexibility in work hours and locations by moving to a results-oriented, “core hours” system and cloud technology.
  9. Incorporate conscious capitalism into your company mission and vision.
  10. Engage in ongoing dialogs with Millennials.


To view and download the full Millennial Commercial Real Estate Career Study report, click here.

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What you need to know about non-compete agreements

Have you ever been asked to sign a non-compete agreement by an employer? Surveys show that around 20 percent of American workers have signed one. While there are many reasons that an employer may ask you to sign a non-compete agreement – one common motive being an attempt to keep company knowledge from getting to competitors – it is important for you to fully understand what you are signing as the agreements could limit your right to work for a competitor or even start your own business in the future.

In a recent video from the Ross School of Business, Michigan Ross Professor Norm Bishara discusses why non-compete agreements are popular a popular tool for businesses and provides five steps to take before and after you sign a non-compete clause.



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