The work from home trend has taken off. According to CNN Money, the number of people telecommuting has increased 115% in the last decade.
A number of indicators show that that will only increase. Organizations have moved on from the trust issue and realized just how much hosting a worker on their own real estate costs.
Additionally, the nature of many jobs doesn’t require people to be face to face for many – if any – of their responsibilities. I worked in a large corporate environment just last year. It was on a campus of about a dozen buildings. When we scheduled meetings, we would usually include a call in number for any remote folks. Invariably, we would get one or two people in a large conference room, with everyone else calling in. Some worked at home. Some were in the next building and didn’t want to walk over. Some were seated adjacent to the conference room but simply wanted to multi-task at their desk. Continue reading The Lost Art of Hallway Conversations→
I had a friend start a new job. Once he got acclimated with his surroundings, he developed a daily routine once he got to work. He would always be there by the required 8:30 am. He would hang up his coat, stop at the restroom, grab his coffee cup, and get some coffee in the breakroom.
If someone he knew was in the breakroom, he might spend a few minutes chatting. He would then go to his desk and power up his laptop and get to work. His routine was very similar to that of his coworkers. He even noticed that his peers usually spent more time chatting than he did.
After he had been there a couple of months, he was called to his boss’s office. She asked him why he was habitually late to work.
In marketing, how you brand your product is the most important aspect you consider. Virtually everything you do affects your product’s branding. The brand is essentially, how the public views the product. The packaging, where it is sold, its price, advertising: everything affects the product’s brand.
The same is true in your personal branding. Everything you do can affect it. How you dress, how you act in public, what you post on social media, and how you perform. They are all inputs that make up your personal brand.
Truth in advertising
The point of branding a product is essentially to put it in the best light for the optimal number of people in the market in which you’re selling. If you’re branding toothpaste, you want the most people with teeth to think your toothpaste is the best.
You could do that by making it more whitening, better tasting, and more convenient to use. You could massively advertise these benefits to plant in consumers’ minds that you have the greatest toothpaste on the market.
But if those benefits don’t actually exist, you can get into trouble from the government for false advertising.
The same applies to your resume or what you tell people about yourself. If you tell them you have experience that you don’t, it can come back to bite you in a couple of ways.
First, an organization that is hiring you may very well do a background check. They may request and call your references and ask them about your claims. If these prove to be wrong, or even questionable, they may not hire you.
A second way this can hurt you is if they hire you under the assumption that you have the experience you touted as part of your brand. Just as the toothpaste didn’t whiten teeth, it won’t take them long to figure out that you can’t do that job. This can result in an embarrassing and awkward firing and a long-term scar on your brand if future employers talk to your past employer.
Think long term
Advertising toothpaste for benefits it does not have could increase a company’s profits for a temporary basis. But making false claims will result in much lower profits over the long term. It could even put a company out of business.
Lying about yourself to inflate your personal brand will do the same. Who you really are will come out. And misrepresenting yourself as something you’re not is a great way to limit your career opportunities.
Inconsistency in your personal branding
When you seek a position in consulting, certain things are implied. Consulting firms generally hire people to work for clients. They must hire people who are intelligent, capable and professional. These characteristics are often implied. The firm will interview people to verify that each person they hire has these characteristics.
You may interview with them and demonstrate your intelligence. You may have many accomplishments and act professionally. The caveat is that the consulting firm wants people who consistently demonstrate these capabilities. They can’t place people in front of a client that is professional only part of the time.
If you act like a true professional in all of your interviews, that’s wonderful. But if they check your social media accounts and see that you’ve posted inappropriate pictures and posts, it will hurt your personal brand.
We’re all a little less professional when we’re out with our friends having a few drinks. But posting inappropriate pictures and other content socially shows a lack of intelligence and professionalism.
Applying ethics to your personal branding
The essence of personal branding comes down to honesty. You want to convey the most positive image you can of yourself. You want to promote your greatest strengths and downplay your worst weaknesses. But you must be honest.
You have an ethical duty to yourself, to your profession, and to your employer. Ethics can be taught. Ethics can be regulated. But more than anything, ethics should be part of your core. It should drive everything that you do.
Decisions on your behavior should not be calculated based on whether you get caught. Setting and following a standard of ethics will ensure a long, happy and successful career.
How much does ethics play in your decision making?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
I had a boss once who was incredibly smart. He started his career in technology as a developer. He worked his way up to team lead, manager, director, and eventually VP.
While he maintained his technical knowledge, he also developed a deep level of business acumen. The combination of the two led to a fast-tracked career for him. He was well known and admired throughout the company. He advanced quickly.
Despite his esteemed reputation, he had one serious flaw. When he gave direction, people often didn’t know what he wanted. I would sit in meetings with him and he would ask someone in the room to follow up on something. After he left, the person he spoke to would ask the room, “Do you know what he wants me to do?” Continue reading Do your orders create confusion?→
I once worked on an engagement where the president of the company flew in for the monthly steering committee meeting. He would schmooze the client, take them out to lunch, and assure them of their importance to the firm.
And that was true. This was one of the largest engagements we had in the firm. This was a very important client.
We had many consultants on the project. While some were offshore, more than half of them were in the same building in which the steering committee took place.
The first couple of times, we convinced the president to meet with the team. We felt it was important for the president of the company to give them some of his time and say thank you in person. They worked hard and we thought it would be a good morale boost.
It was. The team felt good meeting with the president of the company. They liked being thanked.
We did it again the second month he was in town. Once again, it made the team feel good.
On the president’s third visit, we suggested meeting with the team. He demurred. “They don’t seem to like it.” He said. “Nobody asks any questions. It’s just awkward.”
It’s true that nobody said much in these meetings. Many of these people were lower level team members. Some were just a few years out of college. They’re also technical folks. Many of them are more comfortable writing code than dealing with people. Many were probably a little intimidated by him.
Regardless of their response, they enjoyed meeting with him. That twenty-minute exposure to the brass made them feel appreciated. It made them feel important. Many went home and bragged to their spouse about meeting the president of their company.
The president continued to fly in every month for the meeting. But he never met with them again. The team members knew that he was on site. They knew he didn’t meet with them. We tried to explain that he had an early flight for some other meetings. But they still felt blown off.
These meetings made the president feel awkward. There was uncomfortable silence after he thanked them for their work. He missed the point though. That meeting wasn’t designed to make him feel comfortable. It was designed to boost morale. The meeting was about the team members, not the president.
Leaders have two jobs
I’ve seen many examples of this from people in leadership positions through the years. A leadership role is really two jobs. One job is the day-to-day work that has to get done to achieve the organization’s goals. Reports need to be reviewed. Meetings need to be attended. Decisions need to be made.
The other job is the leadership part. A leader has to make sure people are happy and motivated. A leader needs to communicate the vision repeatedly to make sure everyone is working in lockstep to achieve the organization’s mission.
If a leader only focuses on the daily task work, but doesn’t take time for leadership, they really can’t claim to be a leader.
Long term effects
Time management experts talk about the difference between important and urgent tasks. When we prioritize our to do list, we tend to focus on the urgent issues, putting the important tasks on the back burner.
The here-and-now forces us to be tactical. Leaders need to look forward strategically to make sure that the organization is going in the right direction.
Does your organization have the right skills to compete in the future? Time should be spent assessing that concern. If it doesn’t, how will you deal with it. It could involve training of your existing staff. You may need to bring in the right people with the necessary skills. It may require some of both. But neither will be addressed if you don’t take time for leadership.
I’ve worked for leaders who avoid communication with lower level folks. Leaders are busy people. They don’t have time to answer every question from every person in the company. That’s what the chain of command is for, right?
But when someone talks to you, it doesn’t take that much time to listen to them. If you look at your watch every thirty seconds and do whatever you can to end the conversation, it sends a message. The message is that you don’t care about the concerns of someone in the organization that serves you.
It’s common to have a monthly or quarterly meeting to communicate updates to the team. In consulting, team members are often scattered about at various client sites. This periodic update meeting is a rare chance for consultants to feel a sense of a home base. It’s a chance to catch up with people they don’t see often and to hear what’s new within the firm.
There are many reasons for management to cancel a meeting like this. There are a thousand other commitments. A meeting like that takes a lot of time to prepare for.
But when they do cancel that meeting, the consultants miss a chance to connect with the firm. Regardless of the reason the meeting is cancelled, many will immediately assume the worst. They must be avoiding the announcement of bad news.
Communication is important within any type of organization. It’s even more important within consulting firms. When people are spread out at many locations, they need the connection that communication provides.
Meeting in person is important. If that can’t be done, a weekly newsletter providing critical updates allows people to at least know what is going on. It’s not the personal touch, but it’s better than nothing.
People in leadership positions are busy people. They need to do everything they can do to keep the lights on. But they also need to take the time for leadership. They need to be focused on the future and make sure they are navigating the ship in the right direction.
The people in the firm want to be led. The personal touch of a brief meeting and saying thank you means more to them than most leaders realize. Communicating regularly with your staff can make a world of difference in their effectiveness and their level of morale.
How often do you take time for leadership?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
I remember the performance evaluation I received after the first year of my career. My boss was a great guy. I liked him personally. But he was a bit non-confrontational.
The review was outstanding. Anyone reading it who didn’t know me would think I was going to be CEO in just a couple of years. I was great at everything.
But I knew that wasn’t the case. I had one year of a professional career under my belt. I felt like I did well. But I had a lot of things to learn. I walked out of his office with a nice feeling. But more than anything, I felt a little empty. Continue reading A Personal Weakness Assessment→
Most of us get more emails in a day than we would like to admit. Most of us have at least two email accounts: work and personal. As a consultant, I have an account for my firm, my client, and two personal accounts.
I have a daily routine of going through and killing all of the junk items. I unsubscribe when appropriate.
Then I have to go through all of the remaining emails that may or may not apply to me. Some I have to act on. Some are just sent to me as an FYI. Many of them I look at and wonder why I was included. This can be more annoying when it becomes an on-going thread.
On the other hand, I learn in meetings and side conversations that an email thread was sent around to a group that I should have known about, but I wasn’t included.
Removing people from an email thread
Often, an email is sent to a large group of people because the sender is unsure who can resolve an issue. As the thread evolves, it develops into a conversation with only a few critical participants.
Any remaining people may see the on-going thread as noise. At that point someone, preferably the original sender, should ask who on the thread would like to be removed.
Other times, it may be obvious that some people should be removed from a thread. Make sure the email isn’t being sent to unnecessary or inappropriate recipients.
Adding people to a thread
It is also imperative to make sure the right people are involved. Some people need to be involved to help resolve an issue or participate in a conversation.
A critical manager may need to be involved so that he or she is aware of an on-going issue. The best way to add that person is to “Reply all” to the email, add that person to the recipient list, and add a “+ Bob”. This helps make it explicit to everybody that the person(s) has been added to the thread.
If a manager just needs to know the outcome, it may be better to wait until the thread comes to closure. At that time, you can forward the final email of the thread to the manager. Provide a short summary of the issue and its resolution. Make sure to copy anyone who needs to know that this person has been informed. If the manager wants additional detail, the entire thread is below for their reading pleasure.
Copy the right people from the beginning
When sending an initial email, it’s hard to know if it’s going to be an epic thread that goes on for weeks, if not months. But when you send any email, consider the fact that it might. Stop for a moment to consider the list of people you are sending the email to.
Do you need to have everyone on that list or can you add people later if it evolves?
Are there others who should be on this distribution that can lead to a faster resolution?
An additional consideration is multiple people with similar names. I once sent an email to someone named Chris when I meant to send it to Christine. This leads, at a minimum, to delays when you send to the wrong person. You also could be intending to send sensitive information within your organization. If you accidently send it to the wrong person, it could be a major security breach.
Be careful with “Reply all”
Sometimes someone will send out an email asking a group of people to provide them with some information. This usually warrants a simple reply to the sender. Does the whole distribution list need to know your lunch order for that meeting next week? Reply All only when it’s necessary.
Email has become the communication mode of choice. It’s quick and easy to send an email or reply to one that has been sent. But in our need to be quick and efficient, we often don’t stop to think about what we are sending and to how many people we’re sending it to.
Take a moment every time before you hit Send to think about the distribution list. You may begin to save people a little unnecessary time out of their day.
How often do you copy the right people?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
I saw a great cartoon the other day. It was drawing of two cave men pushing a cart with square wheels. Another cave man is offering them round wheels to replace the square ones. To which they respond “No Thanks. We are too busy.”
It’s easy for us non-cave people to sit in our third person realities and ridicule this irrational behavior. But if you didn’t see yourself in it, you may be in a little denial.
As humans, we are usually victims of routine. We get into habits and don’t like to change them. I often catch myself doing things out of habit. If I step back and think about it, I may rethink my actions and figure out a better approach.
More often, this happens when someone else observes my behavior and asks, “Why are you doing it that way?”
I usually respond with something intelligent like, “Well that’s how I’ve always done it.”
Even after someone explains a simpler or more efficient way to do things, I sometimes resist. Even when people offer me round wheels, I like living in my comfort zone.
Taking a different approach to something usually involves additional thinking. If you drive the same way to work in the morning, you usually can do it without much thought. You habitually turn where you need to turn. You probably park in the same general area every day.
If someone tells you an alternate route that might be faster, you’re suddenly out of that comfort zone. You have to concentrate a little more on where and when to turn.
The same happens at work when we do something routinely. You may do it that way because it’s the easiest and most efficient way. But the situation may have changed. There may be a better way now.
Changing the way we do something often requires an investment in time as well. If we changed the wheels on the cart, we would have to stop what we’re doing, take the square wheels off and put the round ones on.
Sometimes I don’t feel like I have the time to invest doing all that work. But if I’m honest with myself, I’m probably just too lazy to change my ways.
I’ve caught myself doing intense manual work to make changes or find data in a large spreadsheet. And I’ve caught myself saying that there has to be an easier way.
I’ve had to force myself to investigate the many Excel commands that I’m not familiar with to find the easier way to do it. I not only find that easier way. But I also learn a new Excel function that I can use later. (I usually learn a couple of functions just finding the one that works best for that situation.)
Routine is generally good. It can make you more efficient when you can do things with little effort. But it’s important to frequently stop and analyze what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. Is there a better way?
You might just find some round wheels.
Are you using square wheels anywhere?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
We live in divided times today. And as much as we want to complain about it, it is nothing new. Abraham Lincoln famously said “a house divided cannot stand.” There are many examples of major disagreements throughout history. We humans can be a disagreeable group of people.
You see it on projects on a daily basis. We disagree about how to implement software and who to hire for a project. Different people disagree in different ways. Some people get mad and start to yell when someone disagrees with them. Others stay calm and try to plead their case.
Can’t we all just get along?
A good consultant is able to work with diverse people with diverse goals and diverse opinions. They figure out how to “herd the cats” in the direction of a successful engagement.
Here are some tips on bringing people together and getting to agreement when warring factions butt heads.
What problem are you trying to solve? When people disagree, sometimes they are simply disagreeing on what the actual problem is. The first step is to make sure they agree with what they are trying to solve. This gives them a common vision and the first step toward agreeing with each other.
What assumptions are you working with? In the U.S., we have Republicans and Democrats. There are two primary differences between them. The first is the role of government. Republicans want a limited role, while Democrats usually advocate more government involvement. The second is taxation. Republicans want lower taxes, particularly for the rich. Democrats want to tax the rich to pay for the increased government programs.
Each group is working on diametrically opposed assumptions. Trying to bring them to agreement is a great challenge because of the vast difference in their assumptions.
What do you agree on? Try to find areas where they agree. Most Republicans and most Democrats agree on world peace. They may disagree on how to get there, but finding their common beliefs and values is a great starting point.
Finding as many points of agreement as possible, not only provides a starting point, it develops trust between the two. When they realize how much they have in common, they realize that they are not that different. They’re likely to approach their differences in a more cooperative light.
Find a middle ground. Once you have identified their areas of agreement, it might be easier to identify opportunities for compromise. Points of agreement are a bridge; a meeting of the minds. With that connection point, you can begin breaking down additional walls to see if there is any point of compromise.
The tricky aspect of compromise is that both sides need to give a little. But it takes one person to start the process. If you can convince one person to give in a little, it sets the example to his counterpart. They will be challenged to give some more. It may take each side to give just a little in multiple alternating sequences to get anywhere.
This is the hardest part. When arbitrating this between two sides, it usually requires creativity. Providing hypothetical situations can force each side to see the other person’s perspective. You might describe scenarios where one person’s approach would fail and their counterpart’s would be successful.
Based on their deeply-held assumptions, they may think your scenario is unlikely or impossible. It is your job to convince them that it may be more realistic than they think. This should be done as equally as possible with both sides of the argument.
The ultimate creative solution may look completely different than what either side proposed. The critical point is to make both of them feel like they own the solution together.
Document any agreement. You probably won’t succeed every time. Some sides are just too stubborn. They may be under too much pressure from their factions to give an inch to compromise. But if you are successful at getting either side to compromise, make sure that it is written down and published. This enforces the agreement and reduces the chance of either team backing out of the agreement.
When documenting the agreement, all credit should go to the warring parties for getting to agreement for the common good.
Whether you live in the political world, the business world, or some other type of community, you will always deal with people who disagree. Some are more willing than others to work towards a solution of compromise. Some simply can’t be budged. But working in a strategic, creative, and methodical approach with two groups that disagree can help in getting to agreement.
Have you ever been successful facilitating two parties to agreement?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
Our current president has been given the opportunity of doing something that many new presidents do. With his party holding a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, he has leverage.
This gives him the ability to push legislation through congress with relative ease. Bill Clinton and Barak Obama both started their presidencies with majorities in both houses.
This led them to use their leverage to push legislation through congress as well. But those two former presidents lost those majorities in the mid-term elections two years later.
While there are many factors involved, it is safe to say that taking advantage of their majority leverage may have offended some voters. This could have caused them to swing to the opposite party when voting for congressmen two years later.
I’ve seen similar occurrences in the business world. Someone has a very powerful position and uses it to manipulate people. Sometimes they mistreat their employees, making them do unpleasant tasks or publicly berating them. Sometimes they force policy through to the chagrin of their peers within the company.
But the same thing can happen that happened to the former presidents. Someday that powerful manager is going to need something from some of those people he was so abusive to. Then they learn a valuable lesson: Overplaying your leverage has political consequences. Those people may be a lot less willing to cooperate with someone who showed them no respect in the past.
While working in business and politics are different animals, we all know that there are plenty of politics that go on in the business world. It may be necessary to “play nice” with people even if you have the power to be otherwise.
As a parent, some of the best advice I received from a friend was to pick your battles. Kids get out of line a lot. If I had reprimanded them every time, that’s all I would have done. And the kids would probably get pretty tired of my demands.
I learned that you let some things go and pick the fights that are worth fighting.
Two types of power
The same thing goes for getting things done at work. You could force things through with all of your power. But that could be short lived. In the business world, you have two types of power, official and unofficial power.
Official power is the power that the company bestows on you for your position. If you’re the boss, you have official power over the people that report to you.
Unofficial power is what you get from people that will help you out. If you are nasty to the people that work for you, they will probably do the minimum work that they must do under your official power. But if you treat them well and they respect you, they will give you additional unofficial power. This will likely get more done for you by your people.
You get unofficial power from other people within the organization. When you cooperate with your peers and help them get what they want, they will likely grant you unofficial power. You will get their cooperation for help on a project or to help get a policy changed.
Overplaying your leverage can hurt both types of power. You don’t get much unofficial power if you are seen overplaying your leverage too often. It could also stunt your growth in the company. Make enough people mad and the word gets out that you’re not a team player. If that gets back to the executives, they may be more likely to pass you up for that next promotion. That’s a big hit to your official power if you can’t build on it.
So here are some tips for balancing your power in the workplace.
Play nice. Perhaps you have a powerful position. You may be able to get your way at the expense of another department’s manager. But you may need that manager’s help someday. Establishing a reputation as a team player could give you more unofficial power than your official power. And that could come in handy.
Treat people like you would like to be treated. Some see it as a sign of weakness to be nice to people. “I’m not here to be liked. I’m here to get things done.” But being kind and fair is not being weak. In fact, it could give you enough unofficial power to make you much stronger.
Give and take. Some people see everything as a competition that they must win. They don’t stop to think what the other person may want. That type of person doesn’t see win-win scenarios very often. They only see things as win-lose and they don’t want to lose. Open your mind and negotiate with people in a way that will make them want to deal with you again.
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.