Research Careers Blog

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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Market research makes the list of top 10 most underrated jobs

Hey researchers, think your job is underrated? Well now you’ve got proof! Many highly sought-after, fast-paced careers are overrated, according to a new CareerCast report on the top 10 most overrated and underrated jobs. Advertising account executives, senior corporate executives and public relations managers might have high appeal but difficulty breaking in to the profession, high stress levels and poor prospects are among the reasons these jobs made it on the overrated

The report suggests that individuals seeking great opportunities and high growth potential should consider the most underrated jobs. Market research analysts made the underrated list with an average annual salary of $60,300 and a projected hiring outlook of 32 percent – the highest projected hiring outlook in the underrated category.

On top of making (on average) more than overrated careers such as event coordinators and having a better job outlook than a career as a surgeon, traits such as the opportunity to make a difference and low stress levels make this underrated field more fulfilling in the long run.

Market researchers have long felt the pressure of being the underdog, but being listed as one of the top underrated jobs is far from a bad thing. “While these jobs may not attract as much attention, they can be more fulfilling than a high-stress, high-profile career,” said CareerCast Publisher Tony Lee, in a press statement. Other careers that made the underrated list: geologist, legal assistant, multimedia artist and veterinarian, just to name a few.

Find the full report and the top ten 10 overrated and underrated jobs here.

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Peer relationships are critical to job happiness and commitment

Editor’s note: Darcy Jacobsen is a content analyst and blogger for social recognition solutions provider Globoforce, Southborough, Mass. This is an edited version of report titled, “Globoforce survey finds peer relationships with colleagues are critical to modern work experience.”

Co-workers have a big impact on the experience of working for a company; yet how strong that impact is had never been explored in-depth until now. Globofoce’s fall workforce mood tracker survey proves how important relationships are to our overall happiness and commitment at work.

U.S. workers say that peer relationships are critical to job happiness, commitment and creating more memorable milestone experiences.

The fall 2014 Globoforce workforce mood tracker* examines the current attitudes and perspectives of U.S. employees about work friendships and how those peer relationships and peer recognition impact the work anniversary experience. The report’s key findings reveal how vital work relationships are and how companies can leverage this camaraderie to improve years of service awards, boost employee commitment and engagement and improve their bottom line.

Relationships are critical to the modern work experience and increase employee commitment

U.S. employees say work friends have become central to engagement, happiness and the quality of employees’ lives:

  • eighty-nine percent of survey respondents say that work relationships are important to their quality of life and 93 percent value the respect of work friends or colleagues;
  • sixty-four percent of employees with between six to 25 co-worker friends love their companies, compared to only 24 percent who don’t have friends at work; and
  • forty-eight percent of employees with between six to 25 friends are highly engaged, compared to 28 percent with no friends at work.


Years of service awards that include co-worker participation, emotion, and recognition yield more powerful results

As opposed to receiving a “congratulations” solely from a manager, the impact of the anniversary experience increases exponentially when peers, emotion, and recognition are involved:

  • U.S. employees surveyed are 28 percent more likely to feel appreciated if they work in companies where co-workers are included in their anniversary celebration and 44 percent more likely to identify themselves as highly engaged;
  • respondents are more than five times more likely to find the experience emotionally moving when peers and recognition are involved in the service anniversary experience
  • ninety-five percent found an anniversary with emotion and recognition to be a positive; and experience, and were three times more likely to say it made them feel more valued


Traditional anniversary celebrations paint a bleak picture; employees yearn for a more shareable and meaningful milestone experience

Being given a gold watch or lapel pin for an anniversary can negatively impact employee sentiments, as employees find little connection to this type of celebration:

  • fifty-nine percent of surveyed employees say traditional anniversaries change nothing at all when it comes to feelings about their company;
  • forty-five percent of respondents prefer anniversary celebrations that include shared memories and congratulations from co-workers and managers (more than twice as many as any other choice); and
  • sixty-five percent say shared memories and stories from co-workers would make their anniversary more meaningful, while 72 percent would prefer recognition of career accomplishments.


“Our Fall Workforce Mood Tracker survey proves how important relationships are to our overall happiness and commitment at work,” said Eric Mosley, CEO of Globoforce. “The current workforce is one that thrives on positive emotion. With new social technologies at the forefront, HR leaders have an opportunity to transform how employees get the emotional validation they seek for their work and tenure with a company.”

* The globoforce workforce mood tracker study was commissioned by Globoforce and conducted from August 13 to 18, 2014 by independent market research firm MarketTools, Inc., through an online panel of fully employed persons (age 18 or older) at companies with 500+ employees in the United States. There were 716 responses generated for the survey, resulting in a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points at a 95 percent level of confidence.


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Hiring managers: Why talent isn’t always enough

Editor’s note: Walt Grassl is a speaker and author of “Stand Up and Speak Up.” Recently retired from aerospace, he now works in public speaking near Los Angeles.

Bob and Mark are new managers who are having lunch in the company cafeteria. They are discussing their respective hiring strategies for the upcoming college job fair that their company is sponsoring. The conversation turned into a debate on what type of graduate made the best employee.talent

Mark prefers to hire the 4.0 GPA graduates, regardless of how driven they appear or how well they seem to “play with others.” He figures he could instill the drive and the teamwork.

Bob believes in hiring smart, but not necessarily the smartest (3.0 and above GPAs) who demonstrate determination and good collaboration skills. He figures they are smart enough to learn and their drive and teamwork would carry the day.

Patricia, a seasoned manager, joined in the discussion and shared her thoughts about the importance of hard work and talent in the workforce. She believes that if people don’t have a minimum amount of talent, hard work may not be enough for them to be successful. Conversely, some of the most talented people aren’t successful in their careers because they don’t work hard. The most successful people have talent and they work hard.

Patricia is right. Hard working, talented people make the best employees. As an employee, we must consider what is in our control and what can we influence. We cannot control how much talent we have. But we can control how hard we work and how hard we persevere when times get tough.

Here are five character traits for hiring managers to consider:

Reaction to praise

Studies have shown that when people are praised for their intelligence, they tend to avoid risk when given a choice their next assignments. Why? If they are less than perfect in the future, they are afraid of not looking as smart. However, when people are praised for their hard work in completing their assignment, they welcome more challenging assignments. If they work hard on a task that their leadership recognizes has a high degree of difficulty and they come up short, they have a history that indicates their hard work will be acknowledged.

Ability to adapt to change

In the workplace, success often depends upon the ability to change from one process to another. Often times, highly talented people have a set way of doing things and it works extremely well for them. They do not like to change what worked in the past and made them the success that they are. Change requires hard work, and while many talented people do well adapting to change, some who feel that they have extraordinary talent are not as flexible.

Willingness to learn

Many talented people feel that they do not have anything new to learn in their chosen field. They believe what got them there is enough.

Those who are determined and who work hard often spend a lot of time and effort to maintain their skills and learn new skills. They often display the most current knowledge of new technology and ideas. Having employees who will improve themselves over and above the company sponsored training is critical to an organization wanting to innovate and improve.

Different expectations

People who are highly talented may believe they are entitled to a certain pay level, promotional opportunities and respect. They can be the workplace equivalent of rock stars and elite athletes.

Those who succeed based on hard work over talent tend to have more realistic expectations.

Those who depend on demonstrating their work ethic and their determination to succeed often will find that their hard work pays off in terms of promotions, pay increases and the level of respect they earn in the workplace. Unlike their more talented co-workers, they tend to avoid resting on their laurels.

Not everyone who is talented depends entirely on their talent to find success in the workplace. Many of those with a great deal of talent work hard, often as hard as their less talented co-workers. However, in some cases, those who are highly talented often feel that they need not work as hard to get ahead.  Nearly anyone who sets their mind to finding success can be successful, however without hard work, few will ever find a level of success that will pay off for them over time.

Goal setting

People who set goals are usually more successful than those who don’t. The best goals to set are “stretch” goals. Stretch goals are attainable and challenging, but realistic. If you set goals that are too easy, you will accomplish them more often but not be as satisfied. Satisfaction comes from pursuing a goal, not from ultimately achieving it.

Focus on one objective at a time and always have the next goal in mind. To accomplish more difficult tasks, break these down into smaller tasks. Try to have mini goals along the way and try to map out several different paths to your target: this allows flexibility if one path becomes blocked. Activity itself generates the impetus for further activity.

Studies have observed that when facing difficulties, those who believed that their performance is transformable through effort, not only persevered but actually improved, whereas those who believed that talent is everything regressed.

Determination and perseverance are important traits in the workplace. Employers want employees who are determined to get things done, to make things happen and to constantly look for better ways of doing things. We are more likely to continue in the face of adversity if we think talent is only peripheral to our future success. Persistence and purposeful effort are more important than talent.

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Personal or professional: simple rules for proper social media etiquette

Editor’s note: Margaret Page is the founder and CEO of Etiquette Page Enterprises, British Columbia, Canada.

Like children with a shiny new toy, adults introduced to social media jumped in and started playing: posting personal photos to Facebook, accepting requests for “friendship” from long-lost high school pals and checking in everywhere from the coffee shop to their favorite local eatery. What fun! Suddenly we were getting an inside look into the lives of people we hadn’t connected with in years!social media

But unlike a new toy, social media didn’t come with any real instructions. We unwrapped, signed up and off we went sharing our world with… the world. As more and more people glommed onto this new way of communicating, the seeds of chaos were planted.

Rules of engagement

Without guidelines on how to use social media, disaster is just a tweet away. Many people and companies have found this out the hard way. Embarrassing gaffs, impulsive rants and misguided comments have ensued.

What you post on social media sites is out there forever. The Internet never forgets; a selfie posted after a night on the town or a tweet about a colleague can cause more damage than you think. It’s dangerous to assume privacy settings protect you. Even if you’ve locked down your Facebook page, once it’s posted to the Web you can guarantee someone who is not directly connected to you will find it. All it takes is for one of your friends to share it with their friends.

And what you say CAN and WILL be held against you! Your future boss, clients, partners, voters and vendor are watching.

A good rule of thumb, whether you are engaging on social media for personal use or in business, is this: “If you wouldn’t say it loudly, in front of your mother (or boss!) you shouldn’t post it online – anywhere!”

With so many companies supporting BYOD, it’s more important than ever that a clear social media policy is in place for employees. Your employees are representatives of your brand and in business, perception is everything. To protect yourself from the embarrassment of a social media faux pas, create a policy that clearly states what you expect from your employees when it comes to social media use. Set clear boundaries, especially for those who are part of your brand building process.

Do I know you?

In this world of connectivity, how connected are we really? Has the word “connected” lost its meaning? With our ability to connect to anyone, anytime, anywhere through social media, the term “connected” has been watered down. Think about how many of the generic “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” invitations to connect you receive each month. Very few of them are from people you have truly “connected” with outside of social media. It feels a little like “the person with the most fans and followers” wins. But do they, really?

Before there was LinkedIn, you wouldn’t dream of asking a new acquaintance to buy something from you just minutes after you met. And, you certainly wouldn’t show up at a networking event in yesterday’s outfit. Just like offline networking, building relationships online, follows the same basic etiquette rules.

Here are a few to keep in mind:

  • Be professional. On Twitter, don’t be the egg; post a professional photo of yourself on your profile. This holds true on all social media sites. A business colleague should recognize you from your online picture. Include information about yourself. Your social media profiles are the equivalent of your business card, so be sure you keep it updated as your professional information changes. Always keep your basic contact information updated and link to your other professional profiles.
  • Introduce yourself. Want people to get a sense for who you are? Post interesting, value-added content on your social media accounts to showcase your professional expertise. This is especially true with LinkedIn. When you update your status with useful information, you’re building trust among your network – opening doors for introductions to new connections.
  • Be authentic. Just like in real life, no one wants to connect with “that guy.” You know the one: the guy in the sleazy suit who spends his time schmoozing. One of the biggest mistakes people make when connecting on LinkedIn or Facebook is not personalizing the message in the invitation. Swap out the default message with something like “George. I really enjoy your blog at The leadership content you share is so valuable. I’d like to add you to my professional network and get to know more about your business.” This will let the recipient know how you found them and why you want to connect. In turn, they will know that you aren’t connecting for the sake of just adding to their numbers.
  • Listen. Building connections through social media isn’t just about pushing out content on this network or that. If you’re not taking time to listen and engage with influential people (the ones you are hoping to connect with), you’re missing an opportunity. Choose a handful of key people you want to build a business relationship with, read what they are posting, and where there is an opportunity for you to add value – jump in!

Whether you are connecting with people in the online world or at a dinner party, knowing how to present yourself in a positive way is the same. Think before you speak translates to “think before you tweet.”



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Steps effective leaders take when handling disappointment

Editor’s note: Alesia Latson is a speaker, trainer, coach and founder of Latson Leadership Group, Boston, Mass.

Disappointment is inevitable for leaders. At times your people will disappoint you, and there will also be instances where you disappoint others. So the fact that disappointment occurs isn’t the challenge. The real issue to address is how you respond to the disappointment.leadership

Unfortunately, far too many leaders react to disappointment with anger and punishment. You’ve likely seen the scenario. An employee loses a key client, misses an important deadline or does any number of common things and the leader responds by demoting the employee, removing responsibility, not allowing the employee to take vacation time, firing the employee or taking other disciplinary actions.

Such consequences are really nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction on the part of the leader…and a missed opportunity for the leader to shine. In reality, how you handle disappointment speaks volumes of your leadership style and your credibility in your organization.

To make the most of a disappointing situation and use it as the coaching opportunity it is, consider the following suggestions:

  • Manage yourself before you confront the employee. Before talking with the employee about the disappointing situation, you first have to manage yourself. In other words, you have to be clear on what your intention is of the conversation. Because you’re in a position of authority, what you say during these moments will have a ripple effect. Of course, this isn’t to say that you aren’t justified in your anger or justified in your disappointment. You most certainly are. However, your expression of those feelings has an impact on how others view you and on what the employee will do in the future. So before initiating the conversation, take some time to step back and get clear about what you want to have happen as a result of the meeting. Are you simply looking to vent your anger? Is the goal on finding a solution to rectify the current circumstances? Or do you really want to help the employee learn and grow from the situation?
  • Assess your role in the disappointment. As part of managing yourself, take some time to reflect on your role in the disappointment. Before you declare, “I did nothing. It was entirely the other person’s fault,” realize that as a leader, you are ultimately responsible for your people. So ask yourself, “What role did I play?” and “How did I contribute to this disappointment?” Perhaps you didn’t give the employee enough training. Maybe you threw them into a situation that they were too “green” to handle. Perhaps you didn’t adequately prepare them for the meeting. Whatever the disappointing outcome was, chances are you had some role in it – even a small one. Acknowledge that prior to your conversation.
  • Assume good intent. When you take the stance that the employee didn’t intentionally cause the disappointment, it naturally takes the edge off of your approach and any anger you may have. And in the majority of cases, that stance is absolutely accurate – the employee didn’t set out to cause harm. They simply made a mistake or a bad judgment call, which resulted in a less than ideal situation. Additionally, realize that the employee knows they messed up and they’ve probably given themselves a thorough thrashing by now and are terrified to speak with you. Therefore, any anger you display will be mild compared to what they’ve already dished out to themselves. Of course, if there’s been an intentional violation of an important principle, value or standard that compromises the integrity of the organization, then anger is understandable. However, true anger should be reserved for the most egregious acts.
  • When talking to the employee, focus on the disappointment in terms of the outcome, not the person. Successful school teachers know that when you discipline a student, you focus on the behavior, not the child. The same is true for business leaders. Even if the disappointment occurred because the employee was negligent in some way, you need to separate what happened from the employee personally. State your disappointment in terms of the outcome and then explore with the employee the cause in an inquisitive and coaching way rather than a punitive way. Why? Because when employees feel punished or that the boss is scolding them, they become fearful, which decreases creativity and innovation on the job – the exact things you often need to rectify a disappointing situation.


Learn from disappointments

It’s human nature to lash out during disappointing times and because a leader can, he or she often does. But remember that how you handle disappointment reflects more on you as a leader than on the person who caused the situation. Additionally, realize that the majority of disappointing moments are actually coaching moments in disguise. Savvy leaders recognize this and make the most of these situations. So if you want to be viewed as a leader with courage, credibility, and reason, use the suggestions presented here the next time you feel the need to punish an employee for a wrongdoing. When you do, you won’t be disappointed in the results.

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7 negotiating mistakes everyone can avoid

Editor’s note: Eldonna Lewis-Fernandez is the CEO of Dynamic Vision International and author of “Think like a Negotiator.”

While even the word “negotiation” can evoke fear, stress and anxiety for many, the intent is quite simple: to discuss and ultimately agree on a deal. Whether it’s a multimillion dollar contract or just deciding where to meet for lunch, life is rife with negotiations. And, the negotiation process is a lot like a chess game where strategy reigns supreme – one thoughtfully considered move at a time. Make a careless, short-sighted, ill-conceived move and suffer the perilous consequences.

Even when faced with the most daunting of deals, regarding the act of negotiation as a “game” may alleviate the apprehension and give you the confidence to make power plays that will ultimately facilitate your desired result. Unlike strategy games like chess, however, the most effective deals are a win-win proposition for all parties rather than a winner-loser result.

To help individuals maximize their bargaining prowess in business and in life, below are the seven most common mistakes that are made during a negotiation:

1. Lacking confidence: Many people think they need to show a certain kind of confidence, like being loud, bold or brazen, to successfully negotiate a deal. Others think that a lot of experience is required to be a good negotiator. Most of the time it merely takes tenacity and good old preparation to ensure you are aptly equipped to assert mutually desirable terms, anticipate objections and discern what are motivators or hot buttons will resonate with your opponent. Projecting confidence also means having heart, which is endearing to others whether or not you have years of negotiation experience. This can also result in the opposition having a less defensive stance, making them more amenable to your stipulations. Without projecting a notable level of confidence and backing that up with solid, well-researched information, failure will surely prevail.

2. Thinking something is non-negotiable: When you think like a negotiator, everything is negotiable! It’s a mind-set you have to operate from in order to become not just a good negotiator, but a great one. When you decide that the terms for anything can be changed in your favor, a world of opportunity presents. Of course, as with most things in life, there will be rules to adhere to with each deal on the table, which are needed to evade chaos and keep discussions on track. However, even rules are negotiable. They can be modified if you simply propose an ethical, viable and mutually beneficial alternative solution. Powerful negotiators are rule breakers.

3. Not building relationships first: This is probably one of the biggest mistakes individuals make in regards to negotiation and in business in general. Perhaps you have attended the standard networking event where you give dozens of cards out without having a real conversation with anyone. It’s time to slow down and start making real connections with people – particularly those you might be involved in a deal with later on. Find out something about them and their lives. Get personal. Much useful information can be gleaned during casual conversation, including what they value in life, what motivates them, what annoys them, their ethics, etc. Find out something about them personally and not just their business. You might be surprised how well you can leverage what you learn through a genuine conversation with someone.

4. Not asking for what you want: There is one key truth in negotiations: you must ask for what you want. Sounds simple enough, but in practice it can often be daunting. People naturally fear rejection or were taught not to be greedy as children so we instinctually refrain from asking for thing in life. However, in business rejection is never personal – it’s merely a reflection that you did not present a viable argument substantiating why you should get what you want. It’s the offer that is being rejected, not you, so keep emotions in check and re-calibrate your approach. “No” often just reflects a need for more information. Take heart in knowing that people say no an average of three times before they say “yes.” It is important to understand that if you don’t ask you don’t receive and the only way to master the art of rejection is to get rejected and keep asking. When negotiating, make it a priority to ask for exactly what you want. Most of the time you will either receive what you want or an acceptable alternative.

5. Talking too much: Talking too much is a sure-fire way to kill a deal. Have you ever been offered a product or service and the salesperson kept talking until he or she talked you right out of the purchase? If they would have simply asked for the sale and stopped talking, their chance for success would have increased significantly. Never underestimate the power of silence. There’s an old adage that says “he or she who speaks next loses.” When discussing a deal, if you simply stop talking and get comfortable with the awkwardness of silence, your ability to win your argument, sell the product or a get concession in the negotiation increases significantly.

6. Not documenting: The importance of getting the final agreement in writing cannot be stressed enough. Even better, always consult with a contracts attorney to review contractual documents or any agreement signingthat requires a signature. The purpose of a written agreement or contract is to provide protection for both sides and alleviate any ambiguity of terms. A myriad of problems can occur when the terms of a deal are not put in writing because what you think the other party said and what they think you said can be two different things. Documenting the agreement eliminates such perception problems and protects the interests of all parties involved.

7. Signing without reading: Before you sign on the dotted line, it’s imperative you read what you are signing – no matter how large of a packet it entails. Modern life is fast-paced and people are usually engaged in multiple things at once, making it difficult to focus and causing some to sign legal documents without reading them first. The result can be nothing short of disastrous. Make sure you read any agreement or contract in full to ensure you are not confirming terms you will regret and cannot undo, which can cause copious problems for your future.

Whether you are a seasoned negotiator or avoid wheeling and dealing with people altogether, you will vastly improve your results and be motivated to get in the game by knowing how to avoid these prime pitfalls. Whether seeking to gain advantages in your business or personal life, the art of thinking like a negotiator will profoundly impact your ability to actualize your desired outcome.

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