Research Careers Blog

Why a big ego could be your downfall

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.

Man towering over building Not so long ago, our culture really (really) admired people with big egos. We called them rugged individualists, fearless leaders, MVPs, visionaries and go-getters. We respected these confident and successful folks for (seemingly) having all the answers. They were all too happy to stand their ground and argue their point, and we saw this as a sign of strength and leadership.

Now, everything has changed. Larger-than-life egos are fast becoming liabilities. Indeed, in what may first appear to be a paradox, ego’s mortal enemy – humility – is one of the traits most likely to guarantee success in the 21st century workplace.

In the tech tsunami of the next few decades, robots and smart machines are projected to take over more than half of U.S. jobs.

The jobs that will still be safe involve higher-order cognitive and emotional skills that technology can’t replicate, like critical thinking, innovation, creativity and emotionally engaging with other humans. All of those skills have one thing in common: They are enabled by humility.

Skeptical? Ask yourself this: Have you ever met someone with a big ego who was really good at being open-minded? Really good at reflectively listening? At putting himself in another’s shoes? At playing well with others?

Clearly, if you want to be an effective leader (or even a successful employee) in our brave new workplace, you are going to have to rein in your ego and become more team-oriented. And make no mistake: It won’t be easy.

We’re talking about self-work that’s never finished. For one thing, ego-based thinking is our brain’s default position – we naturally seek to reinforce what we already think we know. Also, we have to overcome a lifetime of cultural and behavioral big-ego conditioning. But if we’re to stay competitive in the smart machine age, it has to happen!

Here are seven suggestions to help you hone your humility:

First, know that you’ll have to work against your brain’s natural inclinations. Quieting our egos actually goes against our very natures! Cognitively, humans are wired to selectively process only information that is confirmatory – and to selectively filter out information that contradicts what we know to be right. In addition, we’re lazy, self-serving and emotionally defensive thinkers who are driven to protect our egos.

However, the science is quite clear that high-level and innovative thinking is a team sport. In order to learn, adapt and succeed, we have to be willing to look closely at our mistakes and failures, to really listen to people who disagree with us and to allow the best thinking and best ideas to rise to the top – which requires humility! The good news is, when it comes to resisting your thinking’s natural defenses, forewarned is forearmed.

Seek objective feedback about your ego. You can’t troubleshoot your ego if you don’t have an accurate picture of what it looks like. Since this isn’t an area in which you can trust your own judgment, have the courage to get people who know you well at work and in your personal life to fill out a 360-degree review about you – one that focuses on your emotional intelligence and your behaviors concerning open-mindedness, listening, empathy, humility, etc.

Explain why you need honest answers. Emphasize how appreciative you will be if they are honest and that candor will not diminish the relationship. After receiving the data, evaluate it with a trusted other. Thank everyone who had the courage to give you honest feedback. Reflect on the picture you received and decide what you want to do with that data.

Change your mental model of what “smart” looks like. In the past, smartness has been determined by the size of one’s body of knowledge. Not knowing the right answer was – and often still is – a big blow to the ego. But today we already have instant access to all the knowledge we want, thanks to companions like Google and Siri. The new smart means knowing what you don’t know and knowing how to learn it, being able to ask the right questions and being able to examine the answers critically.

Only those of us who can graciously and humbly admit that we don’t know it all will succeed in this new world. So change how you keep score. Engage in collaboration, seek out feedback and ask for help daily. That will push you toward developing the humility and empathy you’ll need to win in the new game.

Learn to put yourself in others’ shoes. Research says one way to become less self-absorbed and more open to the experiences of others is to actively work on being more empathetic and compassionate. Thinking of how others helped you and saying “thank you” on a daily basis is a positive way to begin the process. Reflecting on the people who add joy to your life helps too.

Suspending judgment so that I can put myself in another person’s shoes has always been a particular challenge for me. My mind always wants to jump to a conclusion instead of really considering what the other person is experiencing, thinking, or feeling. Active listening has been an important tool in helping me learn to set my ego aside. When I remind myself to focus all of my attention on what someone else is saying instead of on formulating my own response, I find that my understanding of the situation grows – and often, so does the amount of empathy I feel.

Remember, you don’t have to fully agree with someone’s opinion or actions to still treat them with compassion. Disagreeing with humility still leaves the lines of communication open and allows teamwork to happen in the future.

Quiet your mind to stay in the moment. Attention-focused meditation is a time-honored method of calming one’s inner self-intensity. Fully engaging with your current experience (as opposed to ruminating on the past or worrying about the future) enables you to maintain a balanced, healthy perspective. Staying in and responding to the present moment is also a powerful safeguard against ego-driven misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Personally, I have found that meditation makes me more aware of my physical reactions – breathing and heart rate. I now know that when my internal motor gets running really fast I tend to revert to a “me” syndrome, and that I need to deliberately slow myself down so that I can exhibit more calmness and openness to others. I have come to understand that as a teammate and as a leader I don’t have to be right all the time or the center of attention all the time – but I do have to work with others to arrive at the best answer.

Stop letting fear drive your decisions. We often play it safe because we don’t want to look dumb, be wrong or fail spectacularly in front of our friends and colleagues. In other words, we’re afraid of making mistakes and bruising our egos. Being okay with being wrong is a necessary and important part of developing humility.

Fear of failure, fear of looking bad, fear of embarrassment, fear of a loss of status, fear of not being liked and fear of losing one’s job all inhibit the kind of learning, innovation and collaboration that’s essential for your long-term job security. To proceed more fearlessly into the future, you need to understand that learning is not an efficient 99 percent defect-free process – so mistakes have to be valued as learning opportunities.

The faster and better you are at turning mistakes into learning opportunities, the less likely it is that you will be replaced by some machine. Having an ego that’s not afraid to acknowledge mistakes, confront weaknesses and test assumptions is a reliable strategy for long-term success.

Grade yourself daily. There’s a reason why to-do lists are so popular: They work! Create a checklist of reminders about the need to be humble, open-minded, empathetic, a good listener or any other ego-mitigating quality you wish to work on. Make the list as detailed as possible. Review it before every meeting and grade yourself at the end of each meeting. For example, if you want to work on being a better listener, your list might include the following tasks:

  • Do not interrupt others.
  • Really focus on understanding the other person.
  • Suspend judgment.
  • Do not think about your response while the other person is still talking.
  • Do not automatically advocate your views in your first response.
  • Ask questions to make sure you understand the other person.
  • Ask if you can paraphrase what the other person said to make sure you heard them correctly.
  • Really try to understand the reasons the other person believes what they believe.


If you reflect and work on managing yourself every day, you will notice a difference in your humility-to-ego ratio. To start, I advise picking two behaviors you want to change. Seek help in creating your checklist and ask for help in holding you accountable to that list. Give someone permission to call you out when they see you acting in opposition to your desired new behaviors.

The journey to becoming a more humble person will not be short. It will take persistent hard work. But I firmly believe that you will find the journey to be liberating and fruitful.

With humility comes more meaningful relationships, better opportunities, and of course, an increased chance of staying relevant and competitive in the smart machine age. In that age, individualism and internal competition will be out, and teamwork will be in. Self-promotion will be out, and self-reflection will be in. Knowing it all will be out, and being good at not knowing will be in.

In short, humility will be needed to maximize one’s effectiveness at thinking, listening, relating and collaborating. You will need others to help you out-think a smart machine! Work on yourself starting now, so they’ll want to engage with you tomorrow.



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Employee engagement: What you can learn from horrible bosses

Editor’s note: Amy Jones is a director of human resources at research firm MaritzCX, St. Louis. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “How NOT to engage your employees: What we can learn from horrible bosses.”

Employee engagement is a concern for any organization worried about the retention and productivity of its employees. Companies want to know what they can do – what program they can roll out, what software they can implement – to increase engagement and ultimately increase customer satisfaction. Since we know the two are linked, it is vital to engage those employees in order to have success within your company.

But this blog is not about the next big idea. It’s about a few small ones that can be applied every day by the managers of your company. These are lessons in what NOT to do to engage employees, as told to me by people I’ve worked with over the years.

1. Don’t give negative feedback that’s not specific.

Horrible BossesJennifer, a recent college grad in her first professional job, was charged with leading a meeting. After the meeting (on a Friday) her boss said he didn’t think it went well. She asked him what she could’ve done better. Jennifer hadn’t led many meetings before and she desperately wanted to improve. Her boss said he had to think about it, and so she obsessed all weekend about what went wrong and what criticism he would give her. On Monday, downtrodden and sleep deprived, Jennifer went into her boss’s office and asked for clarity. After he’d thought about it all weekend, what constructive advice could he give her? He said he didn’t really know, shrugged it off like it was no big deal and told her they should move on. Imagine how that felt. Not so engaging. If you’re going to deflate someone’s balloon, at least tell them why.

2. Don’t be a zookeeper.

Mike, a manager with over 20 years of experience, told me that when someone comes into your office and puts a petty problem on your desk (), your job as the boss is to not only send them back to work with that monkey, but add another one as well. (Mike liked to call the petty problems “monkeys.” I always have the image of the children’s game with the plastic monkeys with interlocking arms that go in a barrel.) He explained it like this: As a boss there are plenty of big problems you should be working on but the whining, gossiping and bellyaching must stop with you. If your people feel that your office is an emotional dumping ground, they will behave accordingly. You are not being sympathetic! You are enabling bratty behavior in the workplace from adults, who – last I checked – are paid to be there. You are also demotivating the employees who don’t dump their emotional garbage on you but who see that it’s an accepted practice.

3. Don’t let your trust issues incapacitate you, your team and your organization.

Jackie – a project manager who’d been with her company over five years at the time of this example – once worked for a boss who didn’t trust anyone with information. Not the staff, not her peers on the management team, nor the administrative assistant. This manager knew everything she needed to get her job done, yet she couldn’t get it done because there was no one she thought she could rely on to move things forward. Was she surrounded by poor performers on the verge of being fired? Did they all have loose lips and reputations for not being trustworthy? Not at all. So, why would an overloaded manager not share information and allow her team to do something else besides tread water? Jackie couldn’t tell me. Maybe the woman operated under the assumption that trust must be earned, instead of assuming that everyone is qualified to be in the roles they are in, and with that comes a certain responsibility or need to know certain things. Maybe she didn’t trust herself, and that stopped her from trusting her team, which stopped the company from trusting her entire group. What happened in that case? Engagement was so low that the team ended up scattering to the wind, all moving on to different opportunities.

Managers have real power to affect employee engagement. Think of all the scenarios that occur in a single day at a company that have the potential to increase or decrease the discretionary effort of its employees. What is the effect of those events compounded over a week? A year? How much faster could you go if all your managers were great engagers? Food for thought.



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3 ways to maximize your power and potential as a leader

Editor’s note: David Waits is founder of Waits Consulting Group, Inc., Zellwood, Fla.

leaderA local newspaper has a daily section titled “Progressions” allowing companies to publicly recognize employees who have been promoted to leadership positions such as general manager. The announcement is a very nice recognition for the new leader but the promotion, in and of itself, doesn’t make the person a powerful, productive leader. The promotion does allow the new leader to exercise the roles and responsibilities of the position but the promotion has very little to do with the leadership effectiveness of the person who received it.

The power of the position and the potential of the leader are maximized only when the leader understands and leverages their performance, presence and profitability.

1. Performance is simply what you do. Like it or not, at the end of the day, quarter or year, leaders are evaluated by what they get done and get done through others. Leaders are paid to get results. They are not paid for their intentions or mere activity.

Intentions matter but results rule!

“I meant to have a discussion with the underperforming team member but I just haven’t had a chance to talk to them,” says the well-meaning leader. The question is not, “Did you talk to them?” The question is, “Did the underperforming team member’s behavior improve?” Intentions without actions create nothing. Action – having the talk with the underperformer – that doesn’t produce results is simply activity not productivity. Performance is measured by results.

Aesop rightly stated, “When all is said and done, more is said than done.” Performance, measured by results, is the metric of your leadership ability.

2. Presence is who you are. You can’t be one type of person and another type of leader! Although you can try to fool people – and even obtain pseudo-success for a short season – time will ultimately reveal the real you. Who you are in the core of your being will determine your presence. How big is your presence?

Someone who is physically large is noticed when they simply walk into a room. Former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal is over 7-feet tall, weighing in at over 300 pounds. Everywhere he goes, his physical presence is commanding.

When you enter a room, are you noticed? Are you respected? Do people want your input? Are you listened to? Are you commanding? Your presence is the key to positively and powerfully influencing people.

Remember, a title or position does not a leader make. A position can be conferred on you. When something is conferred it is placed and bestowed on you by someone else. It is recognition of a position. Your position allows you to perform the roles and functions of a leader, but it is your presence that determines your effectiveness. Presence is inferred upon you. Something inferred involves a conclusion. People are concluding, “This person has a dynamic presence about them that makes me want to follow them!”

Are you working as hard on who you are as you are working at the job you do? Your job functions are important and your ability to be highly functional in your job as a leader is directly proportional to your presence. Your presence increases as you grow as a person. When you become great at who you are, you become remarkable at what you do! Constantly invest time and money in personal growth.

3. Profitability is the value you bring to those you lead. The bottom line number reflects profitability but it is more than that. Is your team profitable because of you?

In the arena of interaction with those you lead, are you profiting from them? Are they better – more profitable themselves – because they are around you? Do you inspire? Do you motivate? Do you create synergy?

There are many world-class athletes playing in team sports who have tremendous individual skills, yet their team fails to obtain championship status. Michael Jordan was arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. His greatness wasn’t only measured by his ability to make baskets and his incredible desire to win but by making others better. Many of his years in the NBA he was surrounded by, at best, serviceable role players. Yet his presence made others profitable because he brought out the best in his other team members. He helped raise the entire team to a winning, championship level.

Your potential is maximized and your power exploited when you leverage:

  • Your productivity: your effective actions, not your noble intentions.
  • Your presence: constantly investing in yourself, stretching and growing to increase the size of your presence.
  • Your profitability: evaluate yourself by looking to the outcome – is there profitability in your leadership in the bottom line and are people better because they have been influenced by you?


When you maximize productivity, presence and profitability it is likely you will not only show up in the progressions section of your local newspaper but also make the front page headline as well. If you are not on your newspaper’s front page, you will certainly make the headlines with the most important people in your sphere of influence – those who are following you.



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How you can improve productivity by focusing on company culture

Editor’s note: Eric Bloom is president and founder of Manager Mechanics LLC, an Ashland, Mass.-based IT leadership development firm, and author of the forthcoming book, Productivity Driven Success: Hidden Secrets of Organizational Efficiency.

What does productivity mean to you? To many, it means more time, money and resources to get other things done. For example, if you have five people working toward the completion of a specified task and can find a way to complete it using only four people, you can have the fifth person working on something else. Productivity is the art of doing more with the time, money and resources you have at your disposal.

Business cultureMake no mistake, productivity requires change. If your organization views the ability to change as an important business attribute, then ongoing productivity improvement can be the status quo. If your company is set in its ways, refuses to streamline its processes and shuns innovation, then productivity improvement is not required. Given today’s business environment, a company that does not progress will soon stagger under its own weight and fade away. That said, if you are working at or own this type of firm, the best way for you to be productive is by updating your resume. Conversely, an internal productivity culture that continually strives for optimal efficiency gives your organization the opportunity to enhance its market position, maximize its profits, increase its market share and position it for future growth and success.

There are six cultural attributes needed to give your organization the ability to accept the small – and sometimes large – changes that productivity enhancements require.

1. Cultural awareness:

One of the most important business attributes of people leading the productivity charge is cultural awareness. This is the ability to understand your organization’s internal politics, idiosyncrasies, strengths, weaknesses and how it gets things done. To make matters more complicated, organizations have subcultures. For example, the help desk may have a different internal culture than software development.

Before moving forward with a productivity initiative, you must first ask yourself the question, “Does this organizational change require cultural change first?” The answer may be yes or may be no, it will depend if the changes being made are aligned and consistent with the current organizational culture.

2. Innovative mind-set:

Innovative opportunities to enhance productivity come in many forms. It could be the successful creation, implementation, reuse and/or improvement of an existing IT or business process that reduces costs, enhances productivity, increases company competitiveness or provides other business value.

Finding these innovative solutions requires a willingness to look at your existing operational processes with a critical eye – even if you were the one who originally designed them. You must think about your processes from different perspectives if you wish to improve them.

3. Management focus:

Like all organizational initiatives, productivity related projects must have management support. If not, they most likely will not get funded. If they do get funded, they will eventually wither on the vine. If you’re the project’s executive champion, great! If not, you must find one that can provide you with the resources and political clout needed to move your productivity innovation from idea to ongoing business practice.

4. Employee communication:

Virtually all productivity enhancements are a form of change and this change must be communicated to those affected by it:

  • Be clear in your own mind about what you want to say.
  • Be consistent over time in your messaging.
  • Be aware that varying audiences have different needs and worries.
  • Explain rationale in a way that listeners can best relate to the issue.
  • People are persuaded more by human dimension than statistical facts.
  • Showing your genuine passion and enthusiasm has potential to create similar feelings in your listeners.


5. Self and organizational learning:

Organizational learning is born through a combination of formalized education and business experience, both of which are driven (or suppressed) by the organization’s internal culture. Educationally, different employees need different types of training in order to grow. Technologists need to learn new technologies. Senior executives need to keep abreast of industry trends and corporate best practices. Lastly, all employees need to maximize their interpersonal skills, business skills and emotional intelligence. These skills collectively help IT employees of all levels to not only identify the efficiency of the organization but also provide the business savvy to make it a reality.

Professional curiosity in both individuals and organizations cause them to be introspective and more aware of their external environment. Introspection causes people to ask the question, “How can I improve?” External awareness causes people to ask the question, “What can I learn from my surroundings that can help me and/or my company successfully move forward?” Both of these questions lead to innovative thought and help drive productivity.

6. Conflict avoidance and resolution:

Productivity drives change and change drives conflict. The ability to minimize this conflict helps facilitate change, which in turn drives productivity. Your personal and organizational ability to deal effectively with conflict can make or break your ability to enhance organizational productivity.

If your project is being slowed or stopped by a specific individual it is good to remember that most of the time people are not against you, they are for themselves. This means that if you can understand the reason behind someone’s objections, you can very often turn a presumed adversary into an ally.

When you gain an understanding of your company’s internal culture with respect to these six cultural attributes, you can enhance your entire organization’s productivity. With this knowledge in hand, analyze the impact these factors are having on your organization’s ability to foster innovation, communicate internally, expand corporate knowledge and implement change. Lastly, where appropriate, devise a plan to slowly move toward a true productivity culture. This culture, in turn, will be your steppingstone toward continuous improvement, change management and full utilization of the time, money and resources that meet your organization needs to grow and prosper.


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Analyzing the current representation of minorities in market research

Editor’s note: Rill Hodari is the founding president of the Association of Minority Market Research Professionals (AMMRP), Chicago.

As anyone who has done mass consumer research knows, although a U.S. Census representative sample solicitations is sent out, the final data set is rarely representative. And often when you let the responses come in without any extra controls – in other words letting them naturally fall out – total minority representation is typically 4 to 5 percent. That is 4 to 5 percent for all minority groups.

Similarly among market research and consumer insights professionals, minority race/ethnicity representation is much lower than the U.S. population proportions even though extra efforts are made by some companies to increase representation. Table 1 shows the racial/ethnic composition of marketing research employees during the typical employment ages of 20 to 69 years old. Conversely, a recent estimate of racial incidence puts minority representation among analyst/associate and manager at 17 percent, with Asians over-represented at 10 percent and African-Americans and Hispanics underrepresented at 5 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

Table 1 shows the racial/ethnic composition of marketing research employees during the typical employment ages of 20 to 69 years old. One reason for this demographic distribution may be due to low awareness of market research careers but since low awareness this is something that impacts the field in general, it should impact all groups equally. In addition, it should be noted that although the corporate market research practices may have started in the 1920s, U.S. minorities may not have started to participate to a significant degree until after the 1980s. So the chronological delay in the history of minorities in market research may also impact current representation.

Doing further analysis we find there may be even more dynamics at play. A review of over 200 LinkedIn profiles reveals that although 60 percent of the profession report having graduate level degrees, over 90 percent African-American and Asian market researchers report having at least a graduate level degree. Hispanics are so underrepresented, a read on their education level is difficult to evaluate. For African-Americans, this educational hurdle is actually an economic barrier since Blacks still lag behind the general population in achieving higher education correlated with economic constraints. So access to the profession at the collegiate level is particularly critical in order to more effectively increase African-American representation. In addition, the collegiate field of study is more diverse among White, non-Hispanic market researchers in that they have majors in business, marketing or social sciences but also in communications, psychology, history or various physical sciences. African-Americans and Asians often have less range in their majors and are generally more in line with the typical business, marketing and statistics profile. This shows that potential minority research candidates suffer over-adherence to the requirements in order to gain career access compared to their non-minority counterparts.

Another finding from the review of the LinkedIn profiles shows that African-Americans and some Hispanics can tend to have more mobile careers. On average, Blacks and Hispanics change companies more than their White, non-Hispanic counterparts. The data also shows that people with longer tenures at a company have a greater change to advancing into leadership positions. One might hypothesize that this career mobility behavior may impact effective advancement and even attrition rates among African-American researchers. Whether or not these trends really have a direct relationship, it is certainly more evidence that there are unique minority experiences within the profession that need to be identified and better understood.

Suggestions for measuring and constructing solutions

Recently the University of Southern California at Annenberg announced that they will produce an annual diversity report card on the entertainment industry. Given the similar gaps that the market research profession faces in terms of diversity, I would suggest that similar reporting be conducted. The Association of Minority Market Research Professionals has initiated a good start in measuring not only the racial composition of the profession but the experiential differences. Longitudinal tracking would go a long way in crafting and implementing effective organizational changes to bring the profession in alignment with where it needs to be in order to take advantage of an increasingly diverse talent pool. Collaboration with other professional organizations and corporate stakeholders are essential not only to build profession-wide buy-in but to also craft relevant, actionable recommendations and bring a broad skill set and resources to the table to ensure research quality.


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Learning to connect with your audience as a marketer

Editor’s note: Upekha Makumbura is the digital marketing executive of London School of Marketing. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Mastering the art of presentations as a marketer.

Group of business peopleAs Marshall McLuhan famously said, the medium is the message. What you say is fundamentally affected by how you say it – and marketers know more than anyone that this is true. Strong presentation skills are crucial for transmitting the points you want to get across, especially when you intend to inform, persuade or motivate your audience. These skills take practice to master but once you have them they will set you in good stead for all your marketing communications.

Be informative

Have you ever switched off while someone else was making a presentation? It’s not enough that your audience is trapped in a room with you: you have to give them a reason to listen. Marketers often make presentations that are specifically intended to share information, for example when marketing managers review past progress with their team, or address other areas of their company. When you make a presentation of this sort you need to make sure that your audience is gaining information that they value and understand why you are making your points.

Look for facts to support your key points, fill in background research to back up any conclusions you draw and consider what your audience is mostly likely to be interested in. However, don’t overwhelm them with reams of unintelligible data or overcomplicated explanations. There is only so much that can be absorbed in one sitting, so make sure you select and emphasize the most important points. The golden rule is that less is more, especially when it comes to slides. It can be useful in some contexts to provide links to further reading so that if audience members are interested in pursuing a specific point, they will know where to look.

Be persuasive

Ultimately, persuasion lies at the heart of every marketing communication. Marketers will often make presentations to clients and consumers, to pitch new products, ideas and approaches. The aim is to convince your audience to accept your proposal. That means you need to convince them of the problem that your proposal is a solution to.

To make a successful persuasive presentation, you need to lay out your argument in a logical sequence that will lead your audience on a journey with you. To make that journey seamless, your listeners should always understand the connection as you move from one point to the next. Start with an introduction that grabs attention. Leading with an anecdote that presents the problem at a human level will immediately help the audience to identify with it and draw them into your argument. You will then need to define the issue that needs to be changed or resolved before you propose the product, service or concept that will address it. Your conclusion should reiterate the main points – it is at the beginning and the end of a presentation that you are likely to have their full attention. You can tie the presentation up neatly by returning to the theme of your introduction – if you used an anecdote at the beginning, it can be useful to return to it at the end, this time discussing it in the context of your proposal.

Always keep in mind the goal of your audience – to learn something they didn’t know before. Make sure that you are giving them facts they will find useful. This shows that you are addressing their need, which will in turn make them more attentive to your argument.

Be motivational

Usually, the purpose of a presentation is to encourage an audience to take action. Whether you want to motivate your team by offering information they can use to enhance their work, or encourage your customers to invest in your product or services, you need to make sure the audience are on your side. This is not an easy task. In fact, the Business Blueprint blog cites a survey in which only 40 percent of respondents in Australia found workplace presenters to be engaging, while 75 percent “believed they would gain more respect for their knowledge and expertise in the business world if they were better public speakers.”

To engage your audience, you need to engage with them. If you want to change their minds, you need to consider what opinions they already hold. What will reinforce ideas they already have? What will surprise them? What will make them resist your message? If you have a marketing qualification, such as a CIM professional diploma, you will recognize many of the challenges and opportunities involved at this point, and have the means to address them. Getting into the mind-set of your audience will help you tailor your presentation to achieve optimal results.

Above all, aim to be positive and engaging in your style. Connecting with your audience on a human level will help them to connect with your viewpoint. The trick to this comes down to confidence. Thoroughly researching your topic beforehand, and rehearsing your presentation several times, will help you feel more prepared. Also think about how you will present yourself: dress appropriately for the environment but in an outfit you feel comfortable in. Stand up straight, avoid referring notes and make regular eye contact with your audience. When answering questions, take a moment to gather your thoughts. This shows that you are taking the question seriously, comprehending what is being asked and framing your answer to address it precisely. This is your presentation, feel in control of it.

Many find public speaking a daunting task. However, being able to present yourself to a group is an important skill, and once you have developed it, there is no limit to where it can take you.

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What to do when your trusted employees defect to the competition

Editor’s note: James Pooley is an attorney and the author of Secrets: Managing Information Assets in the Age of Cyberespionage, San Francisco Bay Area, Calif.

nondisclosure agreement In today’s competitive global market, managers know that employees (including really valuable ones) are likely to change jobs every few years or so. Like it or not, employee mobility has just become a fact of life. But even worse than the cost of recruiting someone new to fill the vacancy when a key employee leaves, there’s one big, looming worry that’s sure to ratchet your anxiety up to critical levels: “She knows everything!”

The fear of an ex-employee sharing your vital secrets with her new employer is, indeed, a well-founded one. In the hands of the competition, information about your products, processes, strategies and client base can dull your competitive edge and hurt profitability at a time when every penny counts. Sometimes it can even bring down a company.

For employers whose main capital base is intangibles like goodwill or know-how, the thought of losing employees who have access to information assets is an absolute nightmare. After all, HR can get back a departing employee’s keys and laptop – but they can do nothing to remove the valuable knowledge in his or her head.

At the extreme end, situations like this can threaten a corporate empire. For example, when an executive with knowledge of the Thomas’ English Muffins “nooks and crannies” recipe left to join a competitor, he was stopped by a court. Every business, whether or not it has a secret recipe or highly specialized technology, almost certainly has information that gives it a competitive advantage, and it usually has to be shared with employees who may not be around tomorrow. The good news is there are ways to mitigate the risk.

Having recently completed a five-year term as deputy director general at the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva, where I was responsible for management of the international patent system (PCT), I am very familiar with the fields of intellectual property, trade secrets and data security. My new book Secrets, which explains how to recognize and mitigate the risk of information loss that’s so prevalent in our hyperconnected world, is a must-have guide for executives and managers, knowledge workers, consultants, security professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, lawyers and accountants – anyone and everyone who works with information.

Here, I share nine ways for employers to minimize the risk associated with departing employees:

Realize that no one – not even your protégés – will stay forever. One mistake leaders often make is assuming that, because of either loyalty or gratitude, the employees they’ve trained and closely mentored will stick around indefinitely. But the truth is that all employees – even protégés – come and go. And if care isn’t taken to prevent it, they can leave with sensitive information.

Many years ago, a client complained to me about an employee who left his company after he “taught him everything he knew.” My client was caught off guard – he expected that the employee’s gratitude for teaching him the business would fuel a permanent loyalty. In the real world, and especially the business world, it rarely works out that way.

Know what the law does – and doesn’t – protect. The law protects only trade secrets, not employee skill or general knowledge – but what’s the difference? The skill a worker acquires practicing her craft over time is hers to keep. The same thing may also apply to techniques and information she has learned over the course of her employment. However, if any of those techniques or pieces of information give her employer a competitive advantage, are not generally known and are safeguarded to a reasonable degree by the company, they are likely to be considered trade secrets.

If that explanation sounds confusing or open to interpretation, that’s because it is. Trade secrets can range from unique processes for creating goods – such as the legendary Coca-Cola formula – to seemingly inconsequential details, such as a key client’s favorite wine. There simply is no hard-and-fast distinction between these types of assets. However, if a piece of information – no matter how minute – is privately held and gives your particular company an edge over the competition, chances are the law will treat it as a trade secret.

Clearly convey your expectations to job seekers. Applicants probably aren’t thinking much about trade secrets but it’s still a good idea to be clear about your expectation that they will not bring with them information that could get you in trouble. A pre-employment interview agreement that spells out what prospective employees can and can’t use or disclose from their previous jobs is an indispensable precaution against inadvertent information theft.

Make it abundantly clear to new recruits that their previous employers’ private information must stay private. Promoting a culture of respect for others’ information rights reduces the chances of becoming involved in costly legal battles. Remind workers that there are no advantages to bringing competitors’ trade secrets with them, only risks.

Proactively re-recruit your best knowledge workers. Of course, the best information retention strategy is also an employee retention strategy: Hold on to your key people whenever possible. Proactively incentivize them to stay with your company by ensuring that they remain happy, appreciated and well compensated. Yet also keep in mind that money usually isn’t the primary driver for loyalty.

Happily for business owners, research has consistently shown that creative employees are driven by factors other than money. The motivation to innovate – and to stay put while doing so – can come from a desire for personal recognition, intellectual curiosity and even the wish to advance the interests of the company or the industry. If an employee produces a valuable idea or invention, make it known. Focusing on ways to keep the talent happy will almost always lead to better outcomes for your business.

Take advantage of nondisclosure agreements. As their name suggests, these documents legally bind employees not to share certain information assets (often trade secrets). Employees are less likely to compromise confidential information when they know it’s of such importance that the company has tied it to a document. Likewise, competitors are less likely to encourage new employees to divulge information acquired from previous employers if a nondisclosure agreement exists.

Anyone who might have access to your trade secrets should sign a nondisclosure agreement at the beginning of the relationship. For new employees, the best practice is to provide a copy of the agreement to review and sign before the first day of work. This will eliminate any question of whether the agreement was signed voluntarily, and whether adequate consideration was given in return for the employee’s promise.

Use noncompete agreements with care. Increasingly unpopular with judges (not to mention employees), noncompete agreements can be expensive to enforce and sometimes backfire. The terms of this kind of agreement can range from compensating workers for not seeking employment with any competitor to simply prohibiting competing for a certain period of time within a particular geographical area. (This is in contrast to nondisclosure agreements, which allow ex-employees to continue working in the field so long as the confidentiality of their former employer’s trade secrets is respected.)

Noncompete agreements are controversial in comparison with nondisclosure agreements. Some suggest that they interfere with the advancement of industry, because certain levels of growth and innovation are impossible to reach when employees are restricted from moving freely between jobs. Judges sometimes hesitate to enforce noncompetes because they impinge on the free movement of labor. On top of all this, workers can easily perceive them as roadblocks to the advancement of their careers, hurting company morale. In general, it’s best to find a balance between caution and fairness to employees.

Be sure to directly address the digital risk. While departing employees have always been able to take secrets with them, the chances of this happening have increased dramatically for many companies in the digital age. It’s critical for employers to be aware of the particular risks posed by employee-owned devices, the cloud, file sharing and more.

It’s likely that a social media mindset is present in most of your staff, meaning that they see information sharing as positive and normal. But what’s acceptable in their personal lives can be very dangerous in a business context. Technical controls like mobile device management and network behavior analysis software do help but aren’t sufficient on their own. The best way to mitigate the digital risk is good old-fashioned people management. In addition to the other tactics listed here, technology-specific training and messaging – as well as enforcement that’s visible – will reduce problems.

Take potential security breaches seriously. If you think one of your staff may have violated your confidence, don’t hesitate to determine what trade secret information he regularly had access to and whether there is any evidence of unauthorized access. Investigate whether the employee has exhibited any unusual behavior such as excessive copying, downloading, emailing or erasing of records.

If permitted by company policy and law, make a copy of the employee’s hard drive. Review his files, e-mails and telephone records to determine what (if any) company information has been disclosed outside and, if so, to whom. Only after gathering this information and consulting with legal counsel should you confront the employee.

Your main focus at this point should be discovering where the information has gone, not prosecuting the worker. The most important thing is retrieving the property and preventing it from further distribution. After that, legal counsel will advise you on how to proceed with the employee issue.

Never skip the exit interview. Even with voluntary departures, it’s important to share your concerns and learn about the employee’s plans. The potential for harm isn’t limited to stolen data – simple misunderstandings can also lead to distracting, expensive litigation. If there is no reason to believe that the departing employee has any intent to breach company confidentiality, simply arrange a meeting to learn more about her decision to leave and to reinforce your concerns and determination to protect the organization’s interests.

It’s possible that others may be involved, and a group departure is inevitable. If this is the case, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible to investigate and properly react to the threat a mass exodus could represent.

Profitable secrets falling into the wrong hands really can spell doom for a company – especially in a time when the vast majority of information is shared across the global network of the Internet. It’s essential for any organization that deals in information to actively protect its intangible assets from the watchful eyes of competitors. Fortunately, with responsible practices, secrecy is still possible in the online age.


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

10 tips for newbie networkers looking to make hot connections this summer

Editor’s note: Alaina G. Levine is the author of Networking for Nerds and president of career consulting firm Quantum Success Solutions, Tucson, Ariz.

Dining together at a table in a gardenSchool may be out for the kids but for adults, summer is one of the best times to learn networking essentials. With all the time you’ll spend at the pool, backyard barbecues, baseball games and other summertime events, you’ll have plenty of chances to meet new people, discuss possibilities for collaboration (or even employment) and move your career into the stratosphere.

The hottest time of year offers some of the hottest opportunities to network. Summer events give you the perfect opportunity to make new connections, rekindle established relationships and share what you’ve been working on.

Here’s the best news for reluctant networkers: This is one of the easiest – and least utilized – times of year to network. Many industries do tend to slow down in the summer, giving you time to chat with people during their least busy time of year.

And thanks to the summer break itself, most people are in a good mood. They’re also thinking about what they’ve accomplished so far in the year and are making plans to hit the ground running when the pace picks up in the fall. They’re primed to respond positively if you ask to have a casual conversation about exploring the potential to collaborate.

My new book, Networking for Nerds: Find, Access and Land Hidden Game-Changing Career Opportunities Everywhere, offers concrete insight and step-by-step instructions to help even the most hesitant connector craft professional networks that are mutually beneficial and that support the advancement of career goals. Here, I share 10 networking principles to keep in mind during the summer social season:

Look for positive partnerships. Don’t think of networking as schmoozing or something slightly sleazy (like selling a used car). Successful networking is about crafting win-win partnerships that bring value to both parties – it is never about trying to extract something from someone.

Approach networking with the fundamental idea that you are seeking to find out what people need or what problems they have that you can help them with. Right off the bat, this will help you shed your reluctance to approach others with your projects and ideas.

Make sure your umbrella drink is half full. On the spectrum of summertime activities, networking should be on the fun side (with pool parties and fireworks), not a dreaded chore (like mowing the lawn or treating that poison ivy rash).

Think of it this way: It is always a privilege and an honor to have the opportunity to discuss topics that you and the other party are passionate about. So take pleasure in the gift of meeting new people and seeing what can come from the new exchange.

Stay on the sunny side. When you are networking and you meet someone for the first time, discuss only positive topics and steer clear of potentially controversial topics like politics and religion. You want to make a good impression and ensure that your new contact equates you with happy thoughts.

RSVP to professional events with a “yes.” Although many regions host fewer professional networking events during the summer, mixers and receptions don’t come to a grinding halt. There will still be people in town attending, even if they don’t arrive in droves.

If there are fewer people attending an event that can mean better networking ROI. Think quality over quantity in terms of networking. And don’t stress about having an opening line. Just walk up to someone and introduce yourself. The more you do this, the easier it gets – I promise!

Keep some business cards in your beach bag. Don’t hesitate to attend pool parties and barbecues in your region. While you’re splashing around, you never know who you’ll meet. And remember to bring business cards with you to every affair.

While the focus of these events is on fun, do carefully consider the way you dress and behave, as people are watching and making decisions about your brand. Perception equals truth in the minds of the public. If you’re looking for career opportunities, this is not the time to be three – or even two – sheets to the wind.

Host a summertime networking fest. If you’re really feeling adventurous, offer to throw a summertime meetup for people in your industry. Use and LinkedIn to promote the gathering.

You’ll get a chance to make new contacts and hone your skills in event planning and marketing. In addition, people will truly appreciate your initiative to bring everyone together and will take note of your expertise.

Volunteer your time. Since summer can be slow, especially with people leaving town for vacation, charities are often on the lookout for volunteers who can make sure that their mission doesn’t lag behind.

Summer is often the best time to find a volunteer opportunity, which – you never know – might later be converted into a paying gig. As a volunteer, you are able to give back to your community while making new contacts, showcasing your talents, honing new ones and learning about new industries.

Find a fun new group – and keep your eyes peeled for opportunities. While you are taking advantage of all summer has to offer, consider joining new clubs or taking classes in subjects that interest you. What better time to join a kayaking club, take an evening pottery-making class or begin learning a new language?

Any aggregation of people presents an opportunity to make new friends and to network. And since you are all engaged in an activity that you enjoy, everyone will be in a good mood and more open to making and solidifying connections.

Use social media to be social…and to network. In between posting pictures of your family’s summer activities, don’t forget to keep up your networking momentum by contributing value to professional conversations on social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

Use your summer break to explore these sites in depth and unlock their hidden potential. For example, take a tour of the underused “Find Alumni” feature on LinkedIn. You might be surprised by how many alumni are in your region or industry. Sharing an alma mater will likely make these individuals more willing to connect with you.

Explore sunny new horizons. As you network this summer, be open to connecting with people who are not in your industry or who seemingly don’t have anything in common with you. Remember, the six degrees of separation theory says that we are connected to every other person on the planet by no more than six degrees – and it’s surprising how often it’s proven to be true!

So, for instance, there’s a very large chance that you know someone who knows someone who knows the head of HR at a company in which you’re interested. Additionally, you never know what information you are going to learn until you engage someone in conversation. By networking, chances are you will leave with ideas and inspiration to solve your problems or navigate your career in novel ways. This has happened to me many times!

Hidden, game-changing career opportunities are everywhere, but even in the bright summer sun they won’t magically reveal themselves. The only way to access these clandestine gems is via networking. So even if it’s not your cup of lemonade, leave your comfortable lounge chair and do some mingling. Tapping into a new opportunity or creating a fruitful collaboration will make a great answer when people ask, “So, what did you do this summer?”

Posted in Corporate Researchers, Employment Tips, For Employers, Research Vendors, The Business of Research | Comment

Attracting new talent to MR

As part of a Quirk’s-hosted and Deltek-sponsored Webinar in May, 2015, Joe Rydholm, Quirk’s editor, moderated a conversation with execs from three research firms that explored some of the issues they’re facing running their companies. Panelists were Jim Bryson, CEO of 20/20 Research, Nashville, Tenn.; Duncan Lawrence, CEO and president of Morpace, Farmington Hills, Mich.; and Scott Young, president of Perception Research Services, Teaneck, N.J.

Young woman shaking hands with a representativeWhile the panelists answered questions around many topics – business efficiencies and profitability; technology; winning new business – some of the Webinar’s main highlights came from conversations focused on gaining talent and creating a positive and sustainable organizational culture. The overall message: marketing research firms are having good luck finding good people.

For many, this message is a breath of fresh air after years of experiencing the struggle of attracting new people to the industry. “Marketing research has a challenge because a lot of other industries are looking for those same talents and skill sets and research can be at a disadvantage because it doesn’t come across as the most exciting career – until you’re on the inside,” Lawrence said. “But once we have a chance to get them on the inside and show them some of the things that are available to them, then it’s a different situation. We’ve had a good run in that area, bringing people in from different backgrounds, and we’ve found that some of our best recruiters are the people on our own staff.”

Panelists discussed their successes in finding the right candidates and the attributes that are the most important for new MR hires to possess. Unsurprisingly, each of the firms find a broad skill set, inquisitive mind, interest in consumers and people skills to be top qualities to consider when hiring. “We look for talents, of course,” Bryson said. “But we look more for personal attributes as well, who a person is more than just what they can do.”

Lawrence echoed this sentiment during the Webinar, highlighting the role curiosity plays in making a firm successful. “You can teach people a lot of things but if you are not curious, if you don’t want to learn, if you’re going to sit on the sidelines waiting for someone to tell you what to do, things aren’t going to happen,” Lawrence said.

Technical skills and a mind for data analysis where not overlooked during the conversation. Panelists made it clear that the ability to understand and take on the challenge of creating actionable information when handling data overload is what separates the strong candidates from the weak. “You are looking for someone who can take a sense of data overload and turn it into a compelling story tied to a set of recommendations and actions,” Young said. “That’s the kind of thing that separates the people who are quote-unquote doing their jobs from the people who are truly taking it to the next level. I think sometimes some of the younger workers may default to wanting to give the client everything, for fear of leaving something out, but the challenge is much more, ‘How do I take this information and turn it into something that is manageable and actionable?’”

To hear more on attracting applicants, weeding out candidates and other topics the panelists explored, check out the event recording at

Posted in Corporate Researchers, Employment Tips, For Employers, Research Vendors, The Business of Research | Comment

9 quick tips for a successful interview

Editor’s note: Gimhani Gunasinghe is head of marketing and communications at London School of Marketing. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Start your career with a winning interview.”

Every career starts with an interview. And while it may only last for an hour, it could become the deciding moment in your marketing future. First impressions make a world of difference, so we offer top tips to help you get over your first major career hurdle.

Be prepared

A little research goes a long way. Don’t wait to be questioned on your knowledge of the company you are interviewing with. Drawing links to the company in each answer you make will impress your prospective employer, proving you have looked into their company and carefully considered the position you are applying for.

You are hired!Be courteous

Candidates are often prepared to show their best face to the interviewer, without considering that they are making an impression as soon as they walk into the building. Interviewers know that individuals are more likely to show their true selves before and after the interview, so be courteous to everyone you meet. After all, if all goes well, these could be your future colleagues.

Be confident

It is easy to get carried away with the fact that you need to impress your interviewer. While confidence is good, remember that boasting is not an attractive trait. Keep in mind the true extent of your achievements, and be realistic about the positives you can demonstrate without exaggeration.  Also remember one of the most frequently asked questions in interviews: “What are your weaknesses?”  Come prepared with an answer that shows your human side without compromising your ability to do the job.

Be professional

Your appearance speaks long before you do. Aside from maintaining good personal hygiene, be sure to dress professionally. Different companies have different attitudes towards attire: some prefer a laid back approach, while others are more formal. The research you have conducted into the company culture should indicate the appropriate style you choose for your interview. If you are uncertain, err on the side of formality.

Be inquisitive

At the end of the interview, you will usually be asked if you have any questions. This helps the interviewer to assess where your priorities lie. If your first concern is about holidays or salary schemes, you may give the wrong impression. You should ask at least one question regarding the work associated with the role, before asking about anything else. Also limit the number of questions you ask, and consider the manner in which you ask them. Show interest, but do not interrogate.

Be prompt

Punctuality matters. If you arrive late, it shows a lack of respect for the company and its employees. It also indicates that you are not able to meet deadlines on time. In order to prove that you value the time that has been set aside for you, aim to be five minutes early, ten at most. Make sure you know in advance where the interview is being held and account for traffic.

Be willing

A new role means there will be new things to learn. It is always important to demonstrate that you are keen to do so. Even if your competitors are more experienced, you can make a strong case for yourself by showing your willingness to learn and adapt. For example, if you are enrolled or are hoping to enroll in a CIM qualification, mention this. Your commitment to your education is sure to make a good impression.

Be calm

It’s normal to be nervous. The trick to controlling your nerves lies in proper preparation. Find out as much as you can about the interview process to familiarize yourself with it. Write down possible questions the company might ask and consider how you might answer them. This will be much easier if you know someone working in a similar role, or at a similar company. Your friends and fellow students may be going through a similar experience, so share notes with them.

Be observant

While at the interview, observe the company environment. If all goes well, you will receive a job offer, so pay attention to the details. If staff seem happy, this suggests a positive company culture. If everyone seems stressed, it could suggest poor management. Simple observations will tell you if this is an organization that you want to work for. After all, this is a two way agreement: you need to want to work for the company as much as they want to employ you.

Posted in Corporate Researchers, Employment Tips, Employment Trends, Research Vendors | 1 Comment