Research Careers Blog

Creating an engaging work environment

Editor’s note: Tore Haggren is senior vice president, voice of the employee at market research vendor Confirmit, San Francisco.

It’s no surprise that the attitude of your employees has a direct correlation to the productivity and success of your business. While this is important, companies often spend too much time focused on how to keep employees happy, thinking that the happier you make them, the harder they will work for you. In fact, the general feeling of happiness is not enough of an indicator of how a business and its employees work together to achieve success.

If you’re looking for the real key to success, it’s in measuring employee engagement, which has a much more comprehensive set of criteria than happiness alone. Engaged employees don’t simply work to get paid, or to move to the next step on the ladder – they work because they care about the company, the quality of their work and the overall business results. While happiness is still important, there is a deeper connection in engagement vs. happiness alone that comes in part from employees being mindful of business goals and understanding that they play a major role in achieving those goals.

While this sounds good in theory, companies are still struggling to engage their workforcestruggling with how to engage their workforce. A recent Gallup report found, “The bulk of employees worldwide – 63 percent – are not engaged, meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest in discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes. And 24 percent are actively disengaged, indicating they are unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to coworkers. In rough numbers, this translates into 900 million not engaged and 340 million actively disengaged workers around the globe.”

Employee engagement doesn’t have to remain a mystery to companies. There are ways to approach your employee engagement strategy and think about what will work best for your business and employees.

If your business needs to rethink its approach to employee engagement, keep these ideas in mind:

Customer experience and employee engagement go hand-in-hand. Engaged employees are more likely to engage customers but most businesses treat customer-related activities as an entirely separate entity to employee engagement, and vice versa. Engaged employees will be able to provide better customer experiences and drive greater profitability. They can also provide valuable insight into customer experience and offer a view that an organization may not derive from customer feedback exclusively. Don’t separate the two from each other.

Leaders hold the key to employee engagement. A recent report from Aon Hewitt highlighted that engaging leaders think, feel and act in different ways than do typical leaders. Leaders have a multiplier effect on engagement in that they affect engagement through control over all the top drivers, in addition to having a direct effect on the engagement of others through their interactions. If you want to increase employee engagement, start with your company’s leaders and identify areas where you can improve. If you’re investing in an employee engagement program, make sure you involve your organization’s top leaders. The most successful employee programs need full internal buy-in.

Tailor your feedback approach. How do your employees want to interact and share feedback with you? The right feedback channel vs. the wrong channel may make a huge difference to your employees. Don’t just rely on standard surveys on an annual or biannual basis. Forward-thinking organizations now complement traditional HR surveys with a wealth of methods to monitor, measure and react to changes in employee engagement. Short, relevant and timely surveys either on paper, online, a mobile device or SMS may give you better and more timely insight into how engaged your workforce is.

Share results and celebrate success. Satisfaction does not equal employee commitment. Employee commitment is not that same as employee engagement. When we talk about measuring engagement, we are talking about understanding the level of emotional commitment that employees have to a business. To create that emotional commitment, you must be transparent with results, acknowledge hard work. If you ensure that you’re closing the employee feedback loop, whether that’s acting on direct employee feedback or feedback about customer experience that’s been shared by employees, this will bolster engagement. Some companies have virtual high-fives on employee intranets, encouraging employees to share customer success stories and offer kudos to coworkers for their hard work. Keep in mind that the opportunity to celebrate success, no matter how big or small, is something that you should always take advantage of.

What are some of the other ways you’re creating employee engagement? Share your thoughts below.

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Business etiquette from coast to coast

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.

If you have done any kind of travel, especially for business, you will have noticed there can be huge differences in the way we communicate, ways of dress, leisure activities and business practices from coast to coast. Our cultural norms – how we behave socially or in business from region to region or age group to age group – can feel as dramatic as visiting a foreign land.Business Partners Shaking Hands

According to social and cultural psychologists, the stereotypes we hear are true – the East is more old and established and the West is more new and free – and this does not change in the business world.

Crossing the communication border

The way people speak – the words, tone and dialect they use – is one of the biggest differences we see from coast to coast. This can be especially challenging in business settings.

How we greet each other is often unique to a region. In the Northeast, people are less likely to greet others with a “hello” while walking to their office, unless they know the person. In the South and the West, however, if you pass someone in the hallway or are sharing a long elevator ride, it would be odd not to smile or extend a casual greeting to the individual.

And of course, if you are in the South you can expect to be greeted with a cheery “Yes, Ma’am” or a “Hi ya’ll!” from all levels of the corporate ladder. By simply paying attention to a greeting, you can easily understand where someone’s roots are planted.

Differences within cross-regional communication also apply to indirect communication. In New York City, busy business people move from home to work with purpose. They are accustomed to the busyness around them – to the point where the sounds they encounter from point A to point B fall on deaf ears.

Emma Stone solidified this in an interview about filming the latest Spiderman movie. Busy New York office workers hustled along and were so oblivious to the action (where cars were literally being blown up) that they had to hire people to react to the situations. You are less likely to see that kind of reaction on the West Coast. Though just as determined and focused in their business life, if cars are blowing up around them, they’re likely to stop and watch the action.

When it comes to business communication, the most important thing to remember is to be open and flexible – and if you’re unsure of what behavior is expected or appreciated, just ask.

Dressing for success

Take for example a recent client’s visit to coastal California. In what we would call the business hub of the city, she found businessmen and women dressed in casual attire. Gentlemen rarely wear suits – opting for pressed khakis and a nice polo shirt in its place. Where suits and ties are a rare occurrence in the West, gentlemen seem to shower with them on in the East.

A West Coast business person was surprised on a recent business trip to New York City because of how different the corporate culture felt. Men and women in suits scurried from the subway to the office – grabbing a bagel at the local food cart. Said business person exclaimed how New Yorkers moved with intention. She, herself, felt that she couldn’t keep up with them, and she wasn’t the one in 3-inch heels! The atmosphere in the West is definitely more laid back and casual.

In the South where temperatures and humidity are higher, you rarely see women wearing pantyhose to the office unless required by a dress code. An interesting tidbit to note: women who work in the White House or on Parliament Hill must wear stockings or hose and closed toed shoes ALL year round. Though this may be surprising, those that work closely with other cultures must set a high standard and respect other’s cultural beliefs around dress codes.

Since wearing inappropriate clothing to a foreign area can sometimes be awkward and embarrassing, there are things you can do to ensure the comfort of others when faced with cultural and regional differences. Do your homework before your next business trip by making Google your go-to resource. Enter in the address or area, such as downtown Vancouver, where you’ll be prompted with a street view that allows you to see how people are dressed! Or, simply search for the city’s business attire, such as business attire Vancouver, for a host of resources that discuss etiquette catered to that city.

Mixing business with pleasure

It is becoming more and more common to mix labor with leisure – that is, business with pleasure. Attending a cocktail party at your boss’ home or gathering the team for a brainstorm session over lunch at a colleague’s apartment is not uncommon nowadays. And if you do visit someone’s home for a business-related function, one of the things that can differ from one coast to the other is whether to remove your shoes. Most likely, if you came from a colder climate where part of the year is under snow, you grew up removing your shoes at the door, before entering someone’s home – winter or summer. It just became a habit. And when you enter someone’s home today, no matter where you live, it’s the first thing you do.

Whereas those that grew up in climates where the walkways remain clean all year round are encouraged to leave their footwear on. Bare feet or sweaty socks on carpets or hardwoods can be damaging and is really not a good practice but in the battle between dirty shoes and stocking feet – socks wins!

Outdoor leisure activities also differ from region to region. Since the weather in the West is moderate, golf is a popular business leisure activity. It’s also not uncommon for business people in metropolitan cities such as Los Angeles to take their clients to NHL, NFL or MLB sporting events or to even experience the city’s nightlife. However in the South, you can expect an invitation for something more adventurous, such as hunting. In the Northeast, leisure activities can range from fishing to a night at the theater.

If you know your business travels will include an activity that’s unfamiliar to you, it doesn’t hurt to do some light research. If you are feeling uneasy about your abilities to do said sport, expressing a light-hearted joke with your company at the start of the day will help ease your tensions.

We’ve all heard the expression that begins “When in Rome…” When it comes to traveling for business relations, the expression holds true. It’s important to be respectful of local customs and traditions. Prior to scheduling your business travels, it is essential to check the region’s observed holidays. Where Jewish holidays are honored in Southern Florida and the North East, the Midwest and the Southwest are known to embrace the traditions of Cinco de Mayo. However in cities such as New York and Los Angeles, you will likely find that only traditional holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are observed. These are all important to keep in mind when scheduling business trips.

Respecting cultural boundaries also takes effect in more intimate circumstances such as hugging and cheek kissing. Some things to consider are how long you have known the person and whether you are friends with them outside of the business arena. The setting also comes into consideration here. What if their boss is present? No matter how well you know the person, a handshake may be the better choice in this situation.

Is the gap narrowing?

While it’s true that there are definite cultural nuances, it’s also true that these differences seem to be narrowing as younger generations move into the business world. Co-working spaces are opening across the country – east to west. Millennials and Gen Y are slowly changing the way we work and it’s happening everywhere. Working from co-working spaces or coffee shops have become the norm for this generation and working traditions are far less formal than what generations before them are accustomed to.

No matter what part of the country you are in, the most important thing to remember is that you are in someone else’s backyard – not yours, so avoid making any judgements. By being respectful, receptive and inclusive of new cultures and norms, it may be a deal breaker for your clients. And when in doubt, let it go. No one is trying to offend you!

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Nine habits you can do without in 2015

Editor’s note: Geoffrey James is a business journalist writing for, Boston.

The New Year is an excellent time to expunge work habits that irritate coworkers and make you less effective. Achieving success requires more than just doing the right thing. Success also means changing the behaviors that hold you back.

Here are nine habits you can do without in 2015:

1. Doing the bare minimum.Erasing Bad Habits

If you accept a task, you owe it to yourself and to others to make your best effort. If you don’t want to do something, have the courage to refuse the task. Doing a half-*ssed job is just being passive-aggressive.

2. Telling half-truths.

Honesty is the best policy. However, if you’re afraid to speak the truth, it’s cowardice to tell a half-truth that’s intended to mislead but leaves you plausible deniability. Either tell the whole truth or tell a real lie and accept the consequences if you’re found out.

3. Finger-pointing.

Few human behaviors are more pointless than fixing blame. In business, it’s usually irrelevant who’s at fault when something goes wrong. What’s important is how to avoid making the same mistakes again.

4. Bucking accountability.

Finger-pointing is common in business because some people aren’t willing to admit their mistakes. If you’re going to take credit for your accomplishments, you must also take credit for your failures. The two go hand in hand.

5. Hating on successful people.

When you direct your hate at success, you’re telling yourself that being successful means being hated. Since nobody in their right mind wants to be hated, you’ll subconsciously sabotage yourself so that people will continue to like you.

6. Schadenfreude.

Taking a secret pleasure in the failures of others makes your own success less likely. You end up gloating over what other people did wrong, rather than doing whatever it takes to make yourself more successful.

7. Workplace gossip.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” When you spread gossip, you’re identifying yourself as small-minded and also showing that you can’t be trusted to keep secrets.

8. Creating your own stress.

While work may be stressful, you make it worse when you fail to disconnect on a regular basis. Rather than answer yet another e-mail, take a walk, read a book or listen to some music. Turn off your phone when you go to bed; whatever it is, it can wait.

9. Giving or accepting flattery.

An honest compliment is always welcome but flattery truly gets you nowhere. When you flatter, everyone knows that you’re brown-nosing. Similarly, when you accept flattery, you’re marking yourself as gullible and self-absorbed.


Adapted from Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know by Geoffrey James.


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5 ways to override the lazy brain and save your company

Editor’s note: Edward D. Hess is a professor of business administration, author of Lear or Die: Using science to build a leading-edge learning organization and Batten executive-in-residence at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

Humans are lazy thinkers. Although the brain comprises only about 2.5 percent of our body weight, it generally uses 20 percent of the body’s energy. That’s why the human learning machine prefers to operate in a low gear – on autopilot – as much as possible. It’s a conservation thing. As Nobel laureate and behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman puts it, “Laziness is built deep into our nature.” So (your slothful brain is probably thinking) what’s wrong with that? Well, the big problem is that business has taken the laziness model – also known as operational excellence – as far as it can go.Office cubicles - lazy brain

The lazy brain is why the operational excellence model – in which companies fight for dominance by being faster, better and cheaper – rose to dominance in the first place. We take what we already know, replicate it, improve it and repeat. It is much easier than innovative thinking.

Unfortunately many of the jobs this model creates can now be done by machines. Today the only real competitive advantage is an ability to learn and innovate. That’s it. And if your business is set up on the old model, it just doesn’t lend itself to learning and innovating.

The fact is that the old operational excellence model provides too many reasons NOT to learn – too many reasons to remain lazy, complacent and robotic. Steeped in the command and control paradigm of operational excellence, leaders (and employees) see learning as a high-risk activity. Combine a deeply entrenched attitude that risk-taking is a no-no with the brain’s inherent laziness and you get a company that can’t innovate its way out of the proverbial wet paper bag.

The implication is clear: If you want to survive the coming digital age of machines (the 21st century) you MUST give your culture a serious shake-up. You MUST engage and reward people so strongly that they’re willing to override their natural tendency toward laziness and continuously generate and share new ideas.

In other words, you have to create an idea meritocracy. Doing so requires creating a hybrid business model, one that prioritizes the need for innovation while keeping in play the best aspects of operational excellence – for example, its focus on relentless, constant improvement. Succeeding at this hybrid culture requires a commitment to learning. Lazy brains won’t survive.

Read on to learn how you and your employees can energize your lazy brains and revitalize your culture in the process:

Empower fast, cheap, customer-centric experimentation. Intuit is a successful and highly profitable company (Quicken, TurboTax and QuickBooks are a few of its products). About eight years ago, after becoming concerned that it was losing its edge, Intuit proactively created a new culture and installed new processes, all designed to create an idea meritocracy. One of its primary goals was to galvanize product development by discovering often-unstated customer needs and creating solutions for them.

Intuit wanted to empower idea generation and encourage fast, cheap, customer-centric experimentation by all employees. As part of the transformation, founder Scott Cook stated that decisions would no longer be made at Intuit based on PowerPoints and politics but by customers themselves, who will vote with their feet for the ideas they like best.

They designed the experiments to first test key customer needs or value assumptions so that they could move quickly on critical “must-have” data. Also – here’s the cheap part – they decided to start small in scope until innovators had more and better data to justify a larger investment.

In India, young Intuit innovators conducted an experiment on helping farmers get the best price for their products – even though management initially wasn’t interested in the idea. Operating under Intuit’s new “Caesar is dead” principle they forged ahead with their research and spent time with farmers to understand their business challenges. They found the farmers didn’t know what price wholesalers would pay on any given day in any geographical market for their crops. So, they created an app for mobile phones that provided farmers with daily prices from various markets. As a result, the farmers could choose to travel to the market that would pay them the highest price; 1.6 million Indian farmers now use the successful program.

Cook and other leaders have made this a prime example of how empowered employees can quickly and cheaply transform new ideas into products that materially improve people’s lives. Allowing employees to pursue their own ideas is a great cure for lazy thinking and one in which Intuit wins either way. If an idea succeeds, the company reaps the benefits. And if it doesn’t, the company still has energized, engaged employees who are motivated to try again.

Turn mistakes into surprises. Another major change was needed at Intuit to fully engage the workforce in this new culture of innovation and learning – specifically, a new mental model about mistakes. A lot of ideas just don’t work out. They may not be supported by data when they are tested or a process improvement idea that looked wonderful in theory may not work as expected in practice.

In an idea meritocracy, mistakes like these are not punished so long as financial risk parameters are respected. Instead, they are viewed as learning opportunities. There is no mistake so long as you learn. Intuit even calls mistakes or experimental failures “surprises.” First of all, while mistakes are not good, there’s no negative connotation with surprises. Surprises don’t elicit the same amount of fear and anxiety that mistakes do. And when we aren’t afraid, we’re more likely to take risks that have the potential to lead to big wins. Second, in many cases, those surprises ultimately point employees down a different path that could have great promise.

Teach employees to work around their weaknesses. Bridgewater Associates, a large and successful hedge fund, implements its idea meritocracy through a culture and processes designed to help people overcome the common human obstacles to learning: their cognitive blindness, dissonance and biases, and their ego-driven emotional defensiveness. Bridgewater does that through radical transparency, constant stress-testing of one’s thinking by others, the daily rigorous use of best learning processes, complete candor, permission to speak freely and an egalitarian idea meritocracy where everyone has the duty to challenge ideas regardless of rank or position in the hierarchy.

Bridgewater also has installed root cause analysis as its standard process of diagnosing problems and examining results that differ from desired results. To do this well employees must be aware of their personal weaknesses and to either get training to improve those weaknesses or to team with others whose strengths complement those weaknesses.

Let employees pull the cord. Sometimes employees see big problems and mistakes but feel powerless to make a change. They figure bringing mistakes to the attention of higher-ups is above their pay grade and not a part of their job description, or they fear ending up being the proverbial messenger who gets shot. Of course, these feelings of powerlessness are terrible for morale and just encourage people (and their brains!) to keep going on autopilot.

The solution is to make it very clear to employees that they are able not just to point out problems, but to take bold action to correct them. At Toyota, an idea meritocracy was created by giving every employee in the factory the ability to pull the cord at any time to stop production. In other words, all employees were empowered to take ownership of preventing defects and mistakes.

In many cases, fixing a mistake required a team to discover the root cause of the problem and to devise a process that would prevent that mistake from happening again. Empowering line employees to take responsibility for continuously improving processes using root cause analysis helped Toyota keep employees engaged and was Toyota’s quality differentiator for years. Unfortunately, Toyota diluted that system in its drive for global expansion and global sales leadership.

Make it a duty to dissent (even when you have to shoot down a HiPPO). Google’s culture is built on driving innovation and experimentation – in other words, trying new things. To support this culture, pay level is irrelevant in decision making, and so is experience or tenure – unless the experience provides data used to frame good arguments. In fact, Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman, stated in the book How Google works that Google employees are told not to listen to HiPPOs or the highest paid person’s opinion.

At Google, permission to speak freely is not enough – one has a duty to dissent. This means that relative rookies can – and do – raise objections and present alternate ideas when they disagree with their bosses. A similar duty to dissent can be found at UPS, which has an employee-centric culture of constructive dissatisfaction, meaning that everyone has the duty to find ways to improve.

Allowing dissent is yet another way to combat lazy thinking. When employees know their voices not only will be heard but are needed, they’re far more likely to engage in the kind of thinking that leads to big ideas and positive changes.

Idea meritocracies are able to continuously improve or innovate faster and better than the competition.

Seek to engage all employees in constant improvement or innovation through everyday learning. No matter what product or service you sell, in order to compete in a technologically advancing, highly globalized competitive environment, you must be in the business of learning. You must build a culture where lazy thinking is snuffed out and big thinking is encouraged and rewarded.

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Conference networking 101

Editor’s note: Russell Trahan is president of public relations agency PR/PR, Fla.

Industry-specific conferences and conventions are a hallmark in business networking. As an attendee or a sponsored vendor, you will be inundated with a who’s who in your field – from the headlining heavyweights delivering keynotes and breakout sessions to the newcomers looking to create a name and garner beneficial connections – the chaos of the convention floor can prove a sensory overload for the experienced and first-timers alike. For that reason, before you pack your bags, you need a crash-course in event networking 101 to maximize your potential for expanded company visibility and name-recognition.

It is one thing to work a room at a local industry function but it’s another animal entirely when working the convention or conference floor, surrounded by hundreds – if not thousands – of like-minded individuals. There are numerous avenues to consider when preparing to attend but there are a few staples to put into action to certify that your experience is a valuable one and you come home with encouraging leads, a lengthened client-list or an increased customer base.

The convention begins before takeoff 

There are few things more uncomfortable than a cramped cabin, yearning for an extra-inch of legroom or breathing recycled air for an inordinate amount of time. With imminent discomfort on the horizon for a span of several hours, there is a tendency to double-down on the comfort one can control, which usually involves dress and demeanor. There’s no doubt that a loose-fitting outfit and an early-morning mimosa (or two) takes away some of the irritations of travel but if you’re heading to the airport in shorts and a T-shirt with a head full of bubbly, you’re already starting your convention experience incorrectly.

The movie cliché involving a manic driver late to a meeting, weaving in-and-out of traffic, directing choice gestures at other drivers, just to arrive on-time and realize the guy he cut-off is the same guy he’s delivering a sales presentation to is exaggerated but true. When you’re making your way through the airport, the convention is already under way. Every interaction should be treated as potential business. This means dressing and acting as you would on the convention floor and ensuring your conduct and attire remain professional – because you don’t know who is who.

Meetings have been scheduled in the airport Starbucks line, so while the inclination may be to travel in a relaxed fashion in comfortable attire, most working professionals will tell you they would trade a few unpleasant hours for a newly minted contract.

Exhibit A

For many companies, a large portion of their annual budget – as well as their time – is dedicated to their annual conference or convention. While investing in a sponsorship that involves a booth setup in the exhibit area can prove costly, it can also prove lucrative when the convention floor closes.

A booth gives your company a physical presence throughout the convention and exponentially increases your visibility. As opposed to conversations and business card exchanges, you have an area replete with banners, boards detailing your products or services and of course your carefully chosen convention representatives.

Curiosity will often bring attendees to your booth to see what you’re all about, and as such, you should guarantee that it is managed by your most customer service savvy staff. Arrive early each day to make sure everything is in working order by the time the convention opens. Create a schedule with time-blocks that corresponds with the daily convention activities so you can plan one-on-one meetings with any potential clients away from the hustle and bustle of the booth.

Augment your experience: deliver a workshop

A superb way to create some buzz around Audience at the conference hall.the convention is to deliver a presentation or workshop. One great aspect of these events is that there is constantly something going on, from quick informational sessions to multi-hour seminars – and often, organizers are looking for individuals to fill out their extensive schedules.

If this opportunity is available, it should be considered a must. Attendees can read about your expertise or services but there is no better way to get your ideas to stick than delivering a presentation. These workshops should be formatted as content-driven and informational – not as an in-person advertorial. Pique your audience’s interest by offering a solution to their problems or an approach to make their lives easier and your skills will prove impactful – and potentially profitable. Use your platform as an in-person sales-pitch and your efforts will go unnoticed.

The convention is over but networking has just begun

You return home exhausted from multiple days of non-stop presentations, long hours working the booth in the exhibit area and networking with your colleagues in the industry – but your work has only just begun.

It seems like a simple concept – follow-up – but it’s astounding how many professionals believe their face-to-face efforts will be enough to immediately lead to a windfall of new business. Your mindset upon returning home should be one of “they met me and they met my competition.” Separate yourself from the pack. E-mail your new contacts and convey how much you appreciated their time during such a busy event and offer dates and times to continue your conversation. Twiddling your thumbs and waiting for the phone to ring often results in a net-zero gain – being proactive is the key to new clientele.

Regardless of your industry or your status within it, your calendar should be highlighted with the dates that you’re attending annual conferences or conventions. The potential to recruit new clients and customers or craft longstanding relationships is boundless and will boost your standing as a company or individual. Networking is a cornerstone of business and a convention or conference is the premiere medium to make the most of your efforts.



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It’s time to take a risk! 6 tips for taking a (professional) leap of faith

Editor’s note: Scott Petinga is chairman and CEO of business development company The Scott Petinga Group and his flagship company AKQURACY is a data-fueled communications agency, Minneapolis.

T.S. Eliot famously said, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.” This could not ring more true in business, with risk often propelling professionals and businesses to new heights. But risk is often out of our comfort zone and many are reluctant to take those barrier-shattering leaps of faith.Leaping over the mountains

As a former Marine, cancer survivor and serial entrepreneur, I’ve learned a thing or two about risk. If you’re happy languishing in a gelatinous pool of indifference and stagnation then, by all means, keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re ready to take a leap and change things for the better, here’s some wisdom to get you started:

1. Realize you take risks every day. Getting up, answering the phone and heading out the door are all risks, albeit minor ones. However, every time you do those things you’re putting yourself out there – you’re even risking rejection daily in your professional and personal life. You do these things every day and survive. Trust me, it won’t kill you. You are very capable of risk taking. Now it’s time to ramp it up. You’ve already got a toe in the water so jumping in the rest of the way isn’t as big a shock. Taking risks is a state of mind. Knowing you can do it on a small scale makes it a lot easier to start taking risks on a larger one.

2. Find comfort in the uncomfortable.
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. You don’t have to go sky diving or base jumping – although you certainly can if you want – but you do have to go beyond doing what you’re used to doing and stretch out into new territory. Learn where you’re most comfortable, most skilled and most proficient and then step right past that to a place where you feel the most uncomfortable, uncertain and unsure of yourself. That’s where the real progress begins. Consider any world class athlete, artist or entrepreneur. No matter what their area of expertise, they put in the hours and continually push the limits to achieve beyond what anyone thought possible. You don’t break world records – or break out of ruts – without making that push.

3. Risk it right now.
At this very moment you have everything you need. Sound impossible? It happens to be true. You just may not appreciate it. Do you have food, clothing and shelter? Then you have everything you need and once you live by this simple philosophy taking risks becomes far easier. The most important part of this notion is that most business opportunities don’t wait around, so take action now. Don’t make the mistake of waiting on someone or something to come along to make taking that leap of faith more viable. Perfect timing is a fallacy – there are few if any such moments in life. Don’t wait so long that you can’t take a risk even when you want to, only to be consumed with remorse for what could have been. Now is the time to capitalize on opportunities. Make it so.

4. Do your own thing and do it your way.
The concept of going your own way and doing your own thing is not new. The problem is most people don’t do it because it bucks tradition, goes against the grain and frankly, it scares the s#%! out of most people. But on the other hand, it can provide you with a hell of a lot of freedom and provide you a life-long exemption from blindly or reluctantly following protocol. Mavericks live according to their own agenda and goals and, even in the corporate world, there is more latitude to blaze new trails in business than you might think. The key is to look at each task for the opportunities they present. Sure, there may be a perfectly fine or traditional way of doing something to achieve a good result. But when you have a better approach or process in mind that can achieve an even more desirable result, it may just be time to go rogue. In today’s cut-throat culture, originality is perhaps your greatest gift. Use it.

5. Fail. Don’t just give yourself permission to fail. Actually fail. Go out there and fall on your face. It’s the only way you’re really going to learn anything. The lessons you learn from those failures will be the ones that propel you to success.Here’s an idea: try living life like a two year old. In other words, fall down often, screw up repeatedly and occasionally be defiant. Children are extremely resilient and as adults we lose this enviable quality. Throughout our career we proverbially fall down, get bruised and even skin our knees. We might even literally shed a few tears. But, perseverance and tenacity, honed with hindsight-based perspective so as to not repeat the same mistakes, are the keys to staying the course up the ladder of achievement.

6. Repeat.
Taking risks is not a one and done proposition. It takes tenacity, the ability to keep forging ahead, trying new things and pushing past obstacles to achieve results. Tenacity determines how hard we fight for our dreams. A tenacious person never has to look back at all the missed opportunities. Once you take that first dive off the edge of the cliff, subsequent dives become a lot easier. In fact, they become a way of life. After experiencing the exhilaration and ROI of risk taking, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

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Overcome limits and become a great project sponsor

Editor’s note. Russell Harley is a project manager and PMO director, Seattle.

Most everyone in the project management field knows about the triple constraints of time, resources and quality. The old adage says you can only pick two of the three for a project; however, there is also another limiter to projects, which will be called the triple limiter for the purposes of this article. This limiter is just as important as the triple constraint. The limiter is the project team, the project manager and the project sponsor.

Unlike the triple constraint, you can have all three of the limiter functioning at high levels, low levels or anywhere in between. However, the sum of the parts is not greater than the whole in this case. The weakest one of the three in the limiter will limit how successful the project will be and how the issues that arise will be dealt with.

Since there is a huge amount of information about team building, team management, and an article on Five Ways to be a be a More Effective Project Manager already written, it seemed like a good time to write about project sponsorship and the ways to become a great sponsor.

Be there

This seems so simple but it is ignored so much of the time. If you are a project sponsor, then be involved from day one. Not just with a weekly meeting with the project manager but with the entire team. If the project is important to the business, then it should be important enough for you to actually be involved from the beginning.Project meeting

So attend every single project team meeting, especially the project status meetings. If the entire team knows you will be there on a regular basis, then they will make every effort themselves to also attend. Regardless of what everyone thinks, a project manager just saying people having to attend a project meeting is definitely not the same as the team knowing that a sponsor will be attending on a regular basis.

Having the majority of the project team also attend regularly will have a huge positive impact on the project. So if you want the project to be a success, this single action can reap huge dividends in this regard. “But what if I really do not have the time?” Ask, “Can I delegate?”

Glad you asked. In simple terms: Don’t delegate.

However, if delegation is absolutely needed, then what you really have to do is create a new project sponsor. This new person that the project sponsorship has been turned over to should have all the abilities the original sponsor (i.e. you) had: control over resources, budget, etc. Typically this is difficult to do in a corporate environment since levels of controls are based on job titles by human resources and/or finance.

So if a vice president delegates sponsorship to a director, for example, the director may not be able to make the decisions that the vice president could. This creates an artificial bottleneck when the director has to go to the vice president, explain the issue, why the decision needs to be made, etc. Not a good place for the project to be in. Especially one that is fast moving with critical time-frames.

Trust your subject matter experts (SMEs)

As a sponsor, you obviously helped form the project team – you were involved, right? If not, see the first heading again. So you chose people for their technical expertise, in regards to the project needs. So when an issue arises and the SMEs on the team make a recommendation, do not second guess them. Or worse, go to other internal/external sources to see if they are right or not. As soon as you do either of these, the team is destroyed and no one is going to put their best effort out going forward.

If you want a second opinion – and sometimes it is a good idea to do so – ask the SMEs themselves to come up with two or three other ways. Of course if the project manager is doing a good job, then this would already have been done. Once you have all the options from your SMEs then make a decision based off of the options they presented you. This way, trust is built and the project team feels they are listened to versus being ignored. Unfortunately, ignoring the project team’s recommendations by project sponsors happens all too often.

The project manager is NOT a sponsor

Since the project manager is going to all these meetings anyway and knows everything that is going on (not likely) then let’s make them the sponsor. While this might sound good, it is a really, really bad idea. If you take this thinking to the fullest point, then the project manager could also be the project team too. What a cost savings.

This is a very weak form of delegation. Even if you could give the project manager all the decision making tools and authority to be a sponsor, you have completely removed a critical part of the checks and balances of a project. There would be nothing to stop the team from making sure they got what they needed, regardless of what other things the business needed to be completed. Even for projects that are more important than this one.
Hopefully these suggestions will improve project sponsorship for those chosen to be sponsors. As stated before, having a great project manager and a great project team with a poor or absent sponsor will not do as well as an average team with an involved sponsor. Active sponsorship with weekly involvement can turn even a failing project around.

But rather than waiting until a project is at a critical failure point, would it not have been better to be involved from the start so this could have been prevented or at least mitigated? In the interest of saving time, sponsors often only commit to weekly (if we are lucky) or monthly meetings with just the project manager. Even the greatest project manager is not going to be able to convey everything that went on in a week, much less a month, versus the sponsor actually being present too.

But by taking the suggestions above, you, as a sponsor, will actually save time by doing these things. You will be able to understand the project, the issues, resolutions, etc. in depth. So when you are asked by peers and those above, you will look like an expert and know what you’re talking about; versus saying, “Let me check with the project manager and get back to you.” So is that not worth a few hours a week of your time?

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Are you a reluctant leader?

Editor’s note: Walt Grassl is author of Stand up and speak up, public speaker and Internet radio show host, Los Angeles.

Do you know someone who is very comfortable doing a job that has no leadership dimension, even though you just know they will thrive as a leader? Many of them have a condition that is sometimes referred to as altitude sickness. This is not the medical condition, which occurs when you are at high altitudes and cannot get enough oxygen. This altitude sickness refers to the fear of success, the fear of reaching great heights.leader

Jesika leads a department of engineers at a design and manufacturing company. Two years ago, she realized that her organization was growing too large for its current structure. To keep a workable supervisor to employee ratio, she needed to split the biggest section into two. This left her with a supervisor position to fill. She preferred to fill the position from within the existing organization to provide career growth paths for her existing employees. She sat back in her chair and thought about which of her employees might be candidates for the new position.

The water-cooler favorite was Donald, who, for years, has been lobbying for a move into management. But, Donald was not well liked by his coworkers. He was not good at working together with his team. On more than one occasion, he mentioned that if he were supervisor, people would do what he said. When rumors of an organization change started circulating, the thought of Donald being in a supervisory role was negatively impacting morale.

No other employees had expressed interest in moving into supervision. Jesika remembered that when she first became a supervisor, she did not want the job. She reluctantly took the job after her boss convinced her that often, reluctant leaders are the best leaders. They lead from a desire to serve, not a desire for power.

The following are five signs to identify reluctant leaders:

1. Peers seek their counsel

Most organizations have two kinds of leaders: People with leader in their title and people who are sought out for advice by their peers.

When looking for reluctant leaders, observe your teams. Who do the team members respect? Who do they go to before bringing problems to the attention to management?

2. They are focused on team success, not individual glory

Some employees are too busy focusing on their tasks to help others with theirs. Others realize that if one employee is stuck, it hurts the team and they are willing to either help the other employee or direct them to someone who can. The latter are potential leaders.

Some employees take as much individual credit for the work of the team as they can. Potential leaders are selfless and focus on the achievements of the group. The latter are potential leaders.

And, when thing go wrong as they sometimes do, some employees are never at fault and are quick to blame others. Other employees focus on fixing the problem and correcting the root cause. The latter are potential leaders.

3. They are passionate about the work

Which employees have a passion for the work? They should take pride in a job well done and see their work as a reflection of their character. They sometimes stay late when in the middle of a key project, not to impress the boss but because they are caught up in the moment and lose track of time. That passion and dedication inspires others. If they constantly have their eye on the clock and don’t feel that the quality of their work reflects the quality of their character, they are not leaders.

4. They exercise good judgment

One of the key characteristics of a great leader is judgment. A sign of good judgment is when an employee seeks help. When they are stuck, do they immediately get help? Do they never ask for help and then when the task is due, blame the late delivery on the problem they couldn’t solve? Or do they spend a little time and effort on the problem, but when they see it will impact the schedule they reach out for help? The first two examples are not yet ready for leadership.

5. They are life-long learners

An employee who is a life-long learner has the potential to be a good leader. They realize that they don’t know it all. They are more likely to listen and fairly evaluate the inputs of others, in particular, their subordinates. This promotes innovation and encourages employees to speak up if they feel something is heading in the wrong direction, leading to happier teams and better quality decisions.

Employees who feel that they do not have anything new to learn and don’t fairly assess contrary inputs are at risk for stagnation and ignoring the warning signs of trouble.

Sometimes, the best leaders are the reluctant leaders. When assessing your teams, look for the quiet, unambitious employees who demonstrate the qualities of reluctant leaders and help cure them of their altitude sickness.

In thinking of all the people in Jesika’s department, Matt stood out. Matt was quiet, very technically competent and respected by his peers. On more than one occasion, Matt said he was happy doing design work and had no desire to become part of management. Jesika ran Matt through the criteria for reluctant leaders and he met them all; she felt he was just suffering from a touch of altitude sickness.

Jesika met with Matt and had a heart-to-heart discussion giving him specific examples of how he had all the characteristics of a reluctant leader. She also shared that she had also shared his reluctance prior to taking a leadership role. She asked him to take a day and consider accepting this challenge.

Matt slept on it and the next day agreed to become a supervisor. Jesika promised to mentor him and provide him with the training and resources he needed to be successful. Fast forward to today: Matt is a well-respected leader and has not let the power go to his head.


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7 ways to welcome new employees

Editor’s note: Jen Lawrence is the author of Engage the fox: a business fable about thinking critically and motivating your team, Toronto.

Joining a new company is a high-stress time for most people. A new company has its own set of rules, a distinct corporate culture and a unique cast of characters. According to PwC Saratoga’s Human Capital Effectiveness Report 2013/2014, 22 percent of hires, or one in five employees, leave within their first year. Successfully welcoming a new hire increases retention rates and can go a long way toward building employee engagement. Here are seven ways that a company can successfully bring a new hire on board.

1. If you’re happy and you know it, tell the new guy. Often a new hire has been recruited from a good job where she was recognized for her contribution and had a certain degree of job security. Changing jobs feels scary, particularly if there is a probationary period. New employees want assurance that you recognize their talent and are excited to have them on board. Let them know that you are keen to see how they can shape the future organization. How great would it be if your new hire received a welcoming email from your CEO: Welcome Mr. X, At Company Z we pride ourselves on being the number one distributor of mismatched socks in the world. I have set some aggressive growth targets this year and am thrilled to hear that we hired you, the number one seller of mismatched mittens in the Pacific Northwest … Everyone likes to feel valued.

2. Connect the dots. Everyone wants to feel part of something bigger: it’s a key contributor to job satisfaction. It’s up to you to make the connection between your employee’s skills and the goals of the organization. A new employee orientation session – whether formal or informal — is an opportunity to link the company’s mission, vision and goals to the skills and experiences of the new hire: Here at Company Z, we pride ourselves on building deep relationships with our customers. We were very impressed with how you nurtured the relationship with The Mitten Store and created an exclusive mismatched mitten holiday line for them. That’s exactly the kind of relationship building we value here. Now let’s talk about what we can do together …

3. Assign a relevant project right away. One of the key stresses of a new job is the employee does not feel like she knows what she is doing. One of the best things a company can do is to give the new employee a project that plays to her strengths and builds her sense of competence. Allowing a new employee to achieve some results right away will also help her build credibility with clients and colleagues. You might send Ms. X out on some mismatched socks sales calls with her new boss, the VP of sock sales, so she can start to foster some relationships in the sock world right away. Set up your new hire for success.

4. Given the new employee an exit strategy – literally. On my first day at a big firm, someone explained to me how to use my card key to get into the office. They did not, however, explain to me how to get out of the office. At the end of the day, I pushed, pulled, waved my arms, and flipped every switch I could see trying to unlock the heavy glass door. Finally one of the senior partners came down the hall, asked what I was doing, pressed a small button near the fire alarm that unlocked the door, and gave me the “I work with idiots” sigh. Tell your new hire where the bathroom is, any critical policies and procedures and any other key things she should know (you must never, ever wear matching socks.) New employees are on a steep learning curve and don’t need to feel dumb about the obvious stuff.

5. Appoint a new employee ambassador. Often HR or a hiring manager will appoint someone to show a new employee the ropes. It is important that this person have both the time and the inclination to take on the task. Don’t ask the person passed over for a promotion to welcome his new team leader unless you don’t mind him taking an approach à la The Office’s Dwight Schrute: “Hazing is a fun Appoint a mentor. way to show a new employee that she is not welcome or liked.” Pick a corporate cheerleader who will make the new hire feel at home.

6. Appoint a mentor. A mentor can help a new employee reduce the task stress associated with performing new skills and duties (let me show you how the CRM system is used in the sock world), and the relationship stress associated with having a new manager, colleagues and customers (you have three tough clients: let’s go over the relationship history.) A good mentor can help a new employee integrate into a company as quickly as possible and start to focus on results.

7. Don’t be pound foolish. The hiring process costs an average of $5000 per employee in terms of interview time, training and administrative costs. When a new hire does not work out, the associated cost of legal fees, time and lost productivity can cost anywhere from one-third to five times the employee’s annual salary. The above steps are not free but spending some time and money to prepare the new employee for success is much easier than dealing with a wrongful hiring situation.

Making an employee feel valued, competent and part of something great will go a long way toward making that person feel he has made a great career move. The quicker an employee feels this way, the faster he will feel engaged and be able to contribute to your organization.

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Work drama? It’s time for a constructive confrontation

Editor’s note: Tomás Garza is a conflict resolution and personal development expert at The Garza Initiative, Ore. 

To successfully navigate workplace conflict, managers must be able to confront team members in a positive, productive manner. Whatever the situation, whether two people are actively quarreling or whether one person’s behavior is impacting the entire work culture, a manager must be able to step in, take charge and do so in a way that does not contribute to the drama.

How, then, do you constructively confront team members? How do you both get your team disagreementpoint across and preserve team chemistry?

For any manager, these conversations can be crucial. Ongoing conflict and drama can, of course, have a ripple effect on everyone, and the last thing any organization needs is a dip in morale. Assuming this is not a situation that calls for firing, there is a great deal a manager can do to help resolve the problem, be firm and preserve group harmony.

In having these conversations, here are three things to keep in mind:

1) Use non-accusatory language

For many of us, it is tempting to place blame and pin an entire problem directly on someone else. After all, aren’t they the ones causing the disturbance in the first place? A constructive solution, despite our first impressions, involves shelving the urge to blame and taking a step back.

How you phrase things here makes all the difference. You can make the conversation productive by focusing the language on you. For example, you can say, “I notice you missed the last two staff meetings,” or “The other day I overheard your comments about the director.” The alternative would look like this: “You missed the last two staff meetings,” or “You made those comments about the director.” One statement talks about your observations, what you saw, noticed or heard. The other puts everything squarely on them.

This may seem subtle, just a matter of semantics, but in constructive confrontation your word choice matters. When you talk about your observations, people naturally feel less defensive. When people do not have their guard up, you will be able to get more accomplished.

2) Be clear

As a manager attempting to put a stop to harmful behavior, you must be clear in this conversation. Your group cannot afford any mixed messages. Therefore, be as clear as you can about the following:

  • What you heard or saw

Make sure there are no ambiguities here. If you didn’t experience any of the events first-hand, be sure you have gathered sufficient information. The person you are talking to needs to know exactly what it is they are doing that is damaging your group chemistry.

  • How this impacts the group

Be very clear on this. Often, people do not intend any sabotage but their behavior may, nonetheless, have a detrimental impact. It is perfectly fine to be direct about this impact; often the person really needs to hear it.

  • Your expectations

If you don’t clearly state your expectations for future behavior, this conversation will be a waste of your time. Unclear expectations create needless confusion and can lead to future problems. As a manager, you must say what you expect. Luckily, this can be done in a non-accusatory manner that strengthens the group rather than pulls it apart.

3) Listen

A conversation – even one you must have with an employee about their behavior – is just that, a conversation. This means it involves two people. Though you will need to come into the dialogue with an agenda and get your point across, the process will be infinitely more productive if you give the other person a chance to speak and, more importantly, to be heard. This means you must take the opportunity to listen.

When the other person speaks and feels you have heard them, their tension level goes down. Defensive posturing that might otherwise stand in your way will disappear. The person may even feel grateful for your hearing them out, and appreciated. This can be crucial to maintaining group harmony. Provided you take the opportunity to clearly state your expectations, there is absolutely nothing to lose in taking a moment and listening.

Also, if you listen attentively enough, the other person may offer suggestions or solutions you hadn’t considered. You will never know unless they get an opportunity to speak, too.

Consider these three suggestions the next time you have to confront somebody in the workplace. In most situations, you can preserve group harmony, show respect and appreciation for the other person and be sure you have clearly stated your expectations. It is indeed possible to become a pro at constructive confrontation. Do this and your organization will benefit.

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