Sunday, October 12, 2008

Successful Summer Intern Programs!

The Working Life: Making Your Intern Program Work for You

For many businesses, summer means a swarm of seasonal student interns. These youngsters bring energy, cheap labor and knowledge about the latest technologies into the workplace. Managing short-term, college-age workers can pose a unique set of challenges, though. With some effort, you can ensure that your company’s intern program is valuable, effective and worthwhile, for everyone.

The Typical Internship

Almost every type of organization uses internships, from small businesses to large government agencies. Interns are usually college or university students, but they can also be high school students or post graduate adults seeking skills for a new career. Internships are popular and desirable, for both the intern and the employer.

For the intern, it is an opportunity to gain experience in the field, determine if they have an interest in a particular career, create a network of contacts, or gain school credit. For the employer, internships provide cheap or free labor for (typically) low-level tasks and also the prospect of interns returning to the company after completing their education and requiring little or no training. It’s a great way to get quality work while at the same time developing a pipeline of future talent. It’s a win-win for both intern and employer.

Internships can be paid or unpaid. Paid internships are most common in the medical, science, engineering, law, business, accounting, finance, technology and advertising fields. Internships in not-for-profit organizations such as charities and think tanks are often unpaid positions. Internships may be part-time or full-time. Typically they are part-time during the school year and full-time in the summer.

What Makes a Great Program
The intern program is an incredibly valuable and important business tool. A great internship program covers four elements:

Element 1: Clear goals and purposes
Element 2: Structure and strategies to meet those goals
Element 3: Management support and buy-in
Element 4: The experience of the interns

In order to establish and maintain a successful program, those four elements must be assessed regularly. Your program is expensive in terms of time and dollars, so regular evaluation needs to be part of the strategy.

When evaluating an internship program you need to focus on how well you are delivering on the four major elements. This is crucial. Here are the questions you have to ask and answer for each element:

Element 1: Clear goals and purposes: Determine what you want to get out of the program. What are the goals and purposes? What do we want to get out of it? Is it recruiting and training new talent? Hiring cheap summer help? Marketing our company?

Element 2: Structure and strategies to meet those goals: How are we meeting these goals? How and where are we recruiting? How are we onboarding, evaluating and tracking the program?

Element 3: Management support and buy-in: Are the right people involved? Are the managers of the interns on board with the program? Do they understand the goals? Do they have the proper training and resources to create valuable experiences for both the organization and the interns?

Element 4: The experience of the interns: Are we providing the interns with a valuable experience for them and for company? Did we meet their expectations? Did they have the experience that we promised in our recruiting? Would they recommend our organization to other interns or prospective employees? Remember, your interns are not just free workers or potential employees; they will also be broadcasting their opinions about your organization. So make sure they say the right things.

How to Develop a Great Intern Program
For the company, the most important thing is to get really clear about the purpose and goals of your internship program. You have to know what you want to get out of it before you go any further. Start with your objectives and go from there.

No matter what you decide you want to get out of it, you have to work hard to create a positive experience for the intern. Great internship programs mean spending some time to really make sure your goals are in alignment with your intern’s goals.

Today’s youth are much more interested in doing real work than fetching coffee. Make sure you provide your intern with challenging and “real” work as much as possible.

I’ve worked with some companies that have developed dynamic and innovative intern programs. Here are some ideas that work for them:

  1. Create a meaningful onboarding strategy for your interns. This means bringing them together for an interactive orientation and onboarding. This will help set the tone and create a sense of team among your interns.
  2. Consider integrating professional development workshops and trainings. Bring your interns into sessions with higher ups. This helps integrate them and make them feel connected.
  3. Involve managers and senior leaders as much as possible. Use a cohort approach, sponsor meet and greets or other events to provide interns with an opportunity to network.
  4. Provide interns with a meaty project, something they can work on above and beyond their day-to-day tasks. This really gives them a sense of worth, accomplishment and enhances the idea that they are part of the company.
  5. Do a proper close out with them. Find out what they liked and didn’t like, what they would do differently, what worked and what didn’t.

Avoiding the Pitfalls
Great intern programs all have one thing in common: the organization takes it seriously. Great programs require a great deal of work, thought and follow through. Many organizations just kind of slap them together, but this is a mistake. Here are common mistakes companies make and how to avoid them:

Mistake 1: Not ensuring your managers are truly in alignment with the intern program goals. It is often challenging for managers to take on the additional responsibilities of an intern, but the people managing the interns are key elements in your program’s success.
Make sure you choose the right people to work with the interns and make sure you have trained them properly and that they are on board with the program’s goals.

Mistake 2: Not providing meaningful work or professional development for your interns.
Young adults want to gain experience. This is not about simply fetching coffee; it’s about introducing them to the workplace in general and your company in particular. They want to feel they have made a meaningful contribution, so give them something real to do.

Mistake 3: All flash no fire. This is when organizations that want to use their intern program as a recruitment tool spend the summer wining, dining and schmoozing their interns instead of actually trying to see if they would be a good “match” for the organization. Law Firms are really notorious for this. They throw boatloads of money at the summer law associates trying to lure them. Sounds great, but they aren’t really getting much for their money—research shows that there isn’t much correlation between the money spent and the retention it inspires, and lots of firms are re-thinking this practice. Find a way to make the internship meaningful to both parties.

Evaluating the Program
Effectively evaluating your program is crucial to its success. Here are the right ways to evaluate:
  • Hold meetings with the frontline folks who managed and worked with the interns. Do an “After Action Review” and ask: What were the interns' skill levels like? What work did you give them? How could you have utilized them more? What suggestions do you have for next year’s program?
  • Do exit interviews with the interns. Hire an outsider to do this, so they feel comfortable giving honest feedback. If that isn’t feasible, offer an online or anonymous survey. Getting honest feedback is crucial.
  • Keep track. You need to track quantifiable results from your program. This means you have to follow up with the participants and track returning intern ratio, referrals from interns and other quantifiable data.
The hallmarks of a great intern program are establishing clearly defined goals, providing proper supervision and meaningful work and then following up.

If You Are the Intern
Internships are a great way to test the waters of a particular field or company. Internships are also a great way to network and make contacts in your field. Plus, internship experience is great resume fodder. More and more organizations consider internships an integral part of career development, sometimes even more so than other summer jobs.

If you are entering an internship, here are some tips to make it worthwhile:
  1. Take your internship seriously—even if your employer doesn’t.
  2. Think of your internship as a 12-week interview.
  3. Be clear about your personal and professional goals for the internship.
  4. Find out about the company’s goals and find ways to meet them.
  5. Request meaningful work. Volunteer to work on big projects.
  6. Make connections. Network and socialize with colleagues and other interns. Take the time to really get to know a wide assortment of colleagues.
  7. Show appreciation. Write thank you notes and send emails.
  8. Stay in touch! Follow up with the company.

To Listen to an archive of this show:

Laid Off? Now What?

The Working Life: What To Do If You’ve Been laid Off

It happens to thousands of people every day. You get laid off from your job. For many, it’s a terrifying situation, but with a little work, not only can you handle it, you can find a way to move forward.

First of all, it’s important to remember that getting laid off is not the same thing as getting fired. When you get fired, it basically means that didn’t perform the job you were hired to do to the satisfaction of your employer. Getting fired is usually due to performance issues, breaking company regulations and policies or the inability to work effectively within the organization.

Getting laid off, on the other hand, usually means that your employer had to reduce its workforce. This is generally due to economic hardship or restructuring, and you or your position were part of the trimming of the proverbial fat.

While the reasons and intentions behind a firing or a lay off are different, the impact is often the same. You are out in the cold with no job and it feels terrible.

Prepare Yourself
In today’s climate, it is best, as the Boy Scouts know, to be prepared. Rarely does a lay off or a firing come out of the blue. The minute you start hearing rumors or seeing the signs you should start to prepare yourself for the worst-case scenario. Here’s what to do to prepare yourself:
  1. Review your salary and benefits package so you have accurate information of what you can negotiate with HR. The more prepared you are the better off you will be to negotiate an optimal severance package.
  2. Make a list of things to discuss with HR, including benefits severance, help with future employment, training, etc.
  3. Update your resume. This is critical and should be done while still employed. It is much easier to create a positive resume when you are coming from a place of success rather than a place of despair. Do it while you still have a job.
  4. Reconsider any upcoming large expenditures, like trips or other purchases. Now is not the time to buy a new car or go to Paris.
  5. Make sure you have 3 to 6 months of liquid living expenses.
  6. Update your Rolodex or PDA with contacts you may need and start to network immediately. Copy your e-mail address book, phone numbers etc. You may not be able to later.
  7. Gather or copy any awards, accommodations, citations, letters of recommendation, etc. from your workplace that you will need.
The general idea is to reduce as many hurdles as possible to transitioning out of your current job and into another one. You may not have a lot of time or a lot of notice to clear out, so you need to be ready. And with a resume, it is a lot easier to make a minor revision than a major overhaul. So keep your resume updated just to be on the safe side.

The HR meeting

While all the tips above are critical steps, you need to be especially prepared for your meeting with HR. It may come very quickly, with little or no notice. One day you are gainfully employed and the next you are out of a job and sitting in front of your company’s HR person who is handing you a check and telling you your computer access has been cut off. So you need to have your wits about you.

Even though you are being laid off, you can still negotiate. And depending on your position, you may have a lot of things to negotiate. Think of this as a business transaction. There are lots of things to discuss, and this is where being prepared can really help. You will or may need to discuss:
  • A severance package
  • Vacation time, comp time and sick time buy out
  • 401 Ks, stock options and other financial compensation tools
  • Your expense accounts
  • Health insurance – how long will the company pay? What is your share?
  • Other benefits like company cars, club memberships, education and other perqs
  • Transition services like training, employment counseling, relocation, etc.
  • Reference policy and reference letters
  • Copies of awards, commendations, etc.
Before you are shown the door, you need to have your head about you to be able to discuss these and possibly other things with your former employer. And the more prepared you are the better your outcome.

Leaving nicely
Though you may be sorely tempted, now is not the time to tell management what you “really” think about them. I’m not saying you need to empathize with the company that is letting you go, but it is important to remember that it probably was a tough decision for your boss or the organization. No one relishes cutbacks.

You want to leave on the best possible terms for two reasons. First, your next employer may call them for a reference. Second, many companies rehire laid off employees when their economic situation improves. Don’t burn any bridges. Leave nicely.

Wallow, Then Get Going

OK, so you’ve lost the job and now you are at a loss. This is serious. Getting laid off is a major life change that delivers a psychological blow. It rapidly forces people into an unexpected and many times undesirable change, one that is surrounded by a sense of fear, anger, and ambiguity. It’s a hard thing to handle, and it is imperative that you take
some time to adjust to this jarring turn of events. My advice is to take a few days to a week to wallow, feel sorry for yourself and decompress. This is the time for the sweat pants, Oreos and daytime TV.

Then, after a few days, that’s it. No more wallowing. Get up, dust yourself off, get dressed and accept that your new job is to find a job.

The first thing to do is to find out if and when you are eligible to file for unemployment. Check with your local unemployment agency. Programs vary from state to sate, but they generally run between 14 and 21 weeks. There is also a 13-week federal extension program that is worth exploring.

What you don’t want to do is dip into your 401ks or other retirement accounts. Every working person should have 3 to 6 months of living expenses salted away for a rainy day. This may be it. In your meeting with HR, you should have determined your severance package and benefits, like health insurance, so you should have a good idea of what your income and expenses should be in the near term. Sit down and budget your expenses. Now is a good time to cut back where you can.

Next, start networking. Get out there and let people know that you are on the market. Get that resume circulating and start lighting up the phones. Call friends and colleagues. Troll for information. Work your network. Keep in touch with your former HR person and stay updated.
For many people, however, being laid off is a great time to re-evaluate your professional goals and interests. For some, this is the opportunity to make that career change they have longed for. You can use your lay off to make changes in your career development. If you can afford to, take a class, learn a new skill, explore other fields. Take a temp job or internship in that field. That’s a great way to start exploring a new field, start a new network, gain new skills and meet potential employers.

If you don’t want to change careers or fields, temp work is still a great way to get your foot in the door of another company. You can earn money while networking, staying professionally sharp and meeting potential employers.

Many others, however, have been in the same field for 20 or more years. For them, getting laid off is truly terrifying. They may not have the new skill sets to find new jobs. For this group, you will need to find a recent college grad, maybe your son/daughter/niece/nephew, to show you some tips. Don’t let the new fangled Internet distract you from the core competencies of job searching, which are always a stand out resume, superb interviewing skills and a strong network that can alert you to opportunities.

With planning, preparation and perseverance, you can get through being laid off and find another or a new career.

To Listen to an archive of this show:

Dealing With Difficult Co-Workers

The Working Life: Dealing with Difficult Coworkers

The Saboteur. The Exploder. The Demeanor. These monikers sound like characters out of a James Bond novel. In reality, they are sitting in the cubicle next to yours.

Accompanied by the Jerk, the Complainer, the Empty Pit, the Victim, the Micromanager, the Know-It-All, the Gossip and the Constant Competitor, these difficult and obnoxious coworkers can drive you to distraction. Worse, they can impact your work and the work of others, poison the atmosphere and hurt your company’s productivity, not to mention its bottom line.

Dealing with difficult coworkers is a skill that can be mastered, however. With a little knowledge, a lot of understanding and a few tips, you will be able to marginalize these negative forces, overcome workplace difficulties and get back to work.

Use Your E.Q.
One of the best ways to deal with difficult coworkers is through your emotional intelligence. People with high E.Q.s are able to understand the motivations and sources of bad behavior, and this is critical to dealing with the problem. Most difficult people are people with very low emotional intelligence; they have no clue what they are doing or either don’t know or don’t care about the impact of their behavior. But you should use your E.Q. to recognize difficult coworkers and try to discern the motivation behind their behavior. That, in turn, will determine your reaction to it and whether the behavior warrants intervention.

Some people just like to vent, and have no idea that this is annoying and distracting to others. Some people like to cause trouble and make others miserable. Some are simply stunted emotionally -- they never learned how to play nice with others. Others get corrupted by power. Some coworkers may be in over their heads, which creates a situation of personal stress and fear.

Still others are replicating behaviors that have made them successful in the past, but which now serve to undermine the workplace. Some are just overly ambitious and are trying to get ahead at any cost. And others may just be reacting to the unwritten value system of the organization. It’s sad but true, there are many organizations that actually promote and reward difficult behaviors.

Assess, Strategize and Act

Very often, we are terrified to confront others in situations where we really should. In many cases, we enable people to behave poorly by not standing up to them and asking that the behavior stop. This is because most people don’t have an effective model or paradigm for making clear requests and delineating clear boundaries. But dealing with difficult people can usually be handled in 2 or 3 minutes using a well thought out and simple request. There is a right way to do this: assess, strategize and act. Here are the steps:

  1. Don’t take it personally. Detach yourself emotionally from the situation. Take a walk, calm down and sort through your emotional landscape until you can look at the situation clearly and objectively.
  2. Assess the situation honestly. Ask yourself, What is really bothering me? Why does it bother me? What value of mine is being trampled? What boundary is being crossed? How is this hurting my job or ability to perform my job? Can I ignore the behavior and do my job?
  3. Third, explore your contribution to the behavior. This is crucial, as many people suffer from a “victim” personality. You know the Victim. This is the person who is always blaming others for their failings or for their poor performance. This is the person who is always waiting for others to change their evil ways and is never willing to look at their own contribution to the problem. So, take a good hard look at yourself. What has been your contribution to the situation? How are your actions, opinions, perspectives, or behaviors impacting the situation? You have to be willing to change your own behavior before you seek to change others. Name your contribution and own your piece of it, so that you can change and stop.
  4. Fourth, determine what behavior you want changed or stopped. Think about what exactly you want to change.
  5. Think about and practice how you will speak to your coworker. You must find a way that will resolve the situation and not perpetuate it. Remember, don’t phrase it personally. You do not want to come across as attacking the person, just seeking change in a behavior. Make the request in a calm, clear, non-personal and unemotional manner. Do not judge or use the word “should.”
  6. If you are a manager or supervisor, use business tools to make the request and follow up. This includes memos, e-mails, follow-up meetings, performance reviews, etc.
There are lots of mistakes you can make when dealing with difficult or irrational coworkers. First, don’t take it personally. Don’t get emotionally hooked or drawn in by this person. Second, don’t respond at their level. Instead, use your E.Q. and take the higher ground. Third, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that people “should” behave differently or behave to your own internal code of conduct. Understand that others do not necessarily accept your value system and internal ethos. For example, just because you think that managers should care about their employees, or that managers should be fair and give you credit or that coworkers should be teammates or should be respectful and friendly, doesn’t mean that is the way it is. Get real about your workplace.

It is never easy to approach a coworker about bad behavior. In many cases, you do not need or want to go over the person’s head. It should be dealt with one on one. But there are many times when it is advisable to include a third party, either a supervisor or someone from HR. This should only be done if you’ve tried to resolve the situation yourself to no avail, if the difficult people begin to create a toxic and threatening atmosphere, when their behavior is threatening organizational productivity or if you believe that person is truly unhinged. Then get a higher up involved.

When the Boss Is the Problem

If the toxic person is your boss, then you have a tough situation. In any workplace, it is a smart move to “manage up,” which means you should manage and establish a relationship with your boss in a mutually beneficial fashion. You need to make the boss look good and do what it takes to be in his or her good graces. There is nothing wrong with a little ingratiation (which is not the same thing as brown nosing). If you’ve established a good relationship with the boss, you may be able to talk it out. But if not, you've basically got three choices, none of which is great.

First, leave the company. Second, accept the situation and develop strategies to unhook yourself emotionally from your boss’s behavior. Third, try to change your situation at work. Get a new job within the company, try to get your boss fired, or try to change your boss’s behavior.

None are terrific options, but if you choose option two, here are some tips to detach yourself emotionally.

  • Tip 1: Reframe how you see things. Change your mental model about what is going on. Instead of seeing your boss as an insensitive jerk, try to see him as someone who is scared and in over his head.
  • Tip 2: Hope for the best, but expect the worst. Stop expecting your boss to be someone he/she isn’t. Prepare for worst case encounters
  • Tip 3: Practice emotional detachment. Stop linking your self worth to jerks at work. Find another way to value yourself.
  • Tip 4: Limit your exposure. Meet with your boss as rarely as possible. Do whatever you can to create buffers.
  • Tip 5: Build pockets of safety. Find people with whom it is safe to vent and create strategies. A sort of victim support group.

Study and practice
It is not easy to handle and deal with difficult coworkers or supervisors. Even with the above tips you will need to practice your approach. There are lots of places to get help, though, and here are three books I highly recommend for further study: “Working with you is killing me,” by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster; “The No Asshole Rule,” by Robert Sutton; and “Crucial Confrontations,” by Kerry Patterson.

With a little understanding, a little detachment and some practice, you can figure out the problem, the source and what to do about it.

To Listen to an archive of this show:

Emotional Intelligence At Work

The Working Life: Emotional Intelligence

Many different things go into the making of a good leader and a strong individual. Knowledge, drive, ambition, resourcefulness, force of will, intellect, etc. But there is one factor that almost all successful people share - emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to use your emotions in a positive and constructive way in relationships with others. It's about engaging with others in a way that brings people towards you, not away from you. Emotional Intelligence is about recognizing your own emotional state and the emotional states of others and being “choiceful” about how you interact and engage with them. It is about choosing to engage people in a positive and constructive manner, and it can help tremendously in the workplace.

The E.I. Personality
Emotional Intelligence is divided into 4 basic competencies. Each competency has several skills or personality traits.

1. Self Awareness
This is recognizing how emotions affect one's performance. It requires an accurate self assessment, a candid sense of one's personal strengths and limits and then being able to accurately identify one's own areas of improvement. Self-aware individuals are reflective and learn from experience. They are open to candid feedback, new perspectives and self-development.

2. Self Management
This is the ability to manage one's internal states, impulses, and resources. It means being choiceful in interactions with others and the ability to manage or control reactions to difficult situations. Personality traits include self control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability, innovation and optimism.

3. Awareness of Others (Social Awareness)
This is the awareness of other people's feelings, needs, and concerns. It means having empathy, seeking to understand others and being able to read and tune in to the emotional state of others. Social awareness skills include understanding others, developing others, service orientation, leveraging diversity and having political awareness.

4. Relationship Management
This competency is about successfully engaging with others. It includes the ability to communicate, relate and listen well to others and to induce desirable responses in them. People with this ability understand that emotions are contagious. They can adapt their communication styles to people and situations.

EI in the Workplace

Emotional Intelligence is extremely useful at work. Most workplaces rely on different people working together to create a product or service. The workplace is not “all business.” It is a social network and, as such, it is a hotbed of emotions, egos, stress and conflict. Emotional Intelligence can help you develop robust relationships, solve problems using both logic and feelings, maintain an optimistic and positive outlook, cultivate flexibility in stressful situations, help others express their needs, respond to difficult people and situations calmly and thoughtfully and respond to change with grace and calm.

Many people assume that a high IQ is more important than high EI skills. While both are important, many studies show that EI is a much more accurate determinant for success and career growth than technical skills or a high IQ. Today's workplaces are fast moving and full of change. The ability to roll with the punches is huge. You'll get the best out of your employees if you create an emotionally intelligent workplace and you'll be a better employer or leader if you use your EI.

Emotional Intelligence really comes into play when it comes to managing and dealing with difficult people, including customers, employees, colleagues, and bosses. Your ability to understand and empathize goes a long way. EI is important for managing change, understanding the political landscape for a new project, dealing well with setbacks or workplace obstacles, motivating and influencing others and working with or for a team with different personalities.

Some people are born with natural EI sills. In certain fields, EI goes hand in hand with success, like sales. Some people are natural born salesmen. Many companies actually use EI competency testing as criteria for selection into highly engaging positions like sales. A recent survey showed that companies that selected their sales people by using EI competency criteria decreased their first year turnover rate by a whopping 63 percent.

But EI can also be taught and many companies hire consultants like me to host workshops to train employees on emotional intelligence. If companies are truly committed to creating a positive workplace, this can be a great way to start.

EI works on the self-employed as well. First of all, very few people actually work “alone.” Even if you are a sole task producer you still have to create something for a customer and client, so your ability to manage your relationships, even if it is just one or two, is pretty important. And you still have to manage yourself. Your state of mind will absolutely affect your work product. Being able to manage your own emotional landscape will definitely help improve your work product and process.

How Employers Can Use EI
Employers and managers should think about what kind of climate will get the best out of their employees. It always makes me cringe when I see leaders use oppressive tactics to drive performance. It really isn't a successful long-term strategy, especially if you hit hard economic times. A person's relationship with their employer is and has always been a leading factor in an employee's decision to stay or go, and contributes greatly to their productivity.

So if you want to improve your image as a leader, get feedback and be willing to make improvements in yourself and your management style. And remember, being emotionally intelligent is not about “being soft” or forgoing the bottom line. It's about creating and maintaining constructive and generative relationships and environments, and that helps your bottom line.

EI is critical for top leaders. In fact, the higher your position in a company, the more important emotional intelligence becomes. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, the biggest reason that managers fail is because of poor interpersonal skills. Another survey showed that 85 percent of the difference between a good leader and an excellent leader is emotional intelligence.

You can easily see this when you ask people what qualities they think make a great leader or boss. Eighty-five percent of the qualities they name are usually EI qualities while only a handful turn out to be technical skills. EI is critical for a good leader.

How to Measure Your EI
There are lots of books out there that you can use to test your EI. You can also go online to find lots of tests, like

Employers are always looking for people who are not only book smart, but are also charismatic, optimistic and resilient. They want people who are not afraid to use emotional intelligence to get ahead. Find out where you stand so you can use your EI to get ahead. Whether you are an employee, a boss, a manager or are self-employed, EI is a critical component of your success.

To Listen to an archive of this show:

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Working Life: Introvert vs. Extravert Leaders

The Working Life: Introvert vs. Extravert Leaders

Are you an innie or an outie? I’m not talking bellybuttons; I’m talking about your leadership style. Leadership, like personalities, comes in different shapes and sizes. There are extraverts and introverts. Some leaders are the “strong and silent” type while others are larger than life characters full of charisma. There are challenges inherent in both, but they can be overcome with a little education.


Introversion or extraversion is not about how shy or social you are. It is about how individuals derive their energy.

An introvert’s essential stimulation, their source of energy, comes from within, from their inner world of thoughts, ideas and reflections. The introvert directs and receives energy from his inner world. They like to focus on their own inner world of ideas and experiences. They direct energy/attention inward and receive energy from reflecting on thoughts, memories and feelings.

The extravert, on the other hand, gets their essential stimulation from the outer world, the world of people and things. The extravert directs and receives energy from the outside world. They focus on the outer world. They direct their energy and attention outward and receive energy from interacting with people and from taking action.

This is not about sociability or shyness; it’s about where your energy comes from. I know lots of shy extraverts and lots of gregarious introverts. Introverts can certainly be very social and engaging, but the difference is that it is extremely exhausting for introverts to engage. It drains their energy to focus externally.

How do you know what you are?

It’s important to understand two things. First, introversion or extraversion is a personality trait, or more precisely, a personality preference that rests within every person. A preference is a manner of interacting with the world that feels the most comfortable naturally and frequently.
Second, everybody has both qualities in their personality. But, according to psychologists and personality researchers, we tend to lean consistently one way or the other.

The most widely understood and researched metric on introversion/extraversion is the Meyers Briggs Type Indicator, also known as the MBTI. It is an excellent test to take to determine your personality type. You can simply Google MBTI or the words introversion and you will be directed to lots of information and sources for learning more about your personality preference.

A quick place to start, however, is to simply assess the way you feel about interactions based on the energy explanations above. Are you energized by interactions or enervated by them?

How introverts and extraverts differ in the workplace

Introverts and extraverts can have significantly different characteristics in the workplace. It is all about where you prefer to focus your attention and get your energy. In general:

  • Are attuned to their external environment
  • Prefer to communicate by talking
  • Prefer action over reflection—can act and respond quickly
  • Work out ideas by talking them through: They speak to think
  • Learn best through doing or discussing
  • Share thoughts freely
  • Are sociable and expressive
  • Extend self into the environment
  • Enjoy working in groups
  • Are drawn to inner world
  • Prefer written communication
  • Prefer reflection over action—may need time to “process” before action
  • Work out ideas by reflecting and thinking: They think to speak
  • Learn best by reflection
  • Guard thoughts until they are (almost) perfect
  • Private and contained
  • Defend against external demands
  • Enjoy working alone or with only a few people
Extraverts are very good at remaining aware of the external environment, maintaining their networks, and taking quick action. Introverts are really good at paying attention to the infrastructure, conceptualizing problems, and looking deeply into issues. Both possess excellent, though different natural skill sets.

The leadership difference

The Introversion/Extraversion personality preference is important to leadership because it directly pertains to how people relate to other people, especially in terms of communication and engagement with others.

In every industry or sector, three of the most important skills leaders need are the ability to inspire, motivate and enable others to act. To do this requires a communication and personal engagement style that promotes a sense of trust and confidence with one’s employees and co-workers.

Because introverts are more naturally inclined to focus their energies within they sometimes forget the importance of connecting and communicating with others consistently and openly. In a sense, the introverted leader often has to work a little harder on the people side of leadership.

Now, successful leaders come in many shapes and sizes. Great leadership requires the development of many, many skills. So, while I don’t think that either type is more innately skilled at organizational leadership, there is some data to suggest that introverted leaders may have a few more challenges to overcome in the American workplace culture. So, in some ways extraverts have a bit of an advantage. But it is hard to tell whether this is about skill or the perception/projection American organizations place on their leaders.

For example, a recent study found that: 60 percent of the population are extraverts; 40 percent are introverts; 71 percent of executives identified themselves as extraverts; and 29 percent of executives identified themselves as introverts.

So it is definitely fair to say that the American business environment selects extraverts as leaders more often than introverts, and that generally speaking the workplace has more extraverts in it than introverts. It is also true that the qualities of extraverts are the ones most people commonly associate with leadership.

Challenges for introverted leaders

Introverts possess many skills that are associated with great leadership. Introverts are associated with deep reflection and a desire to think through decisions. Introverts are naturally disinclined to be in the middle of the fray, if you will, so they can provide an outside perspective on what is happening. They are very good at analyzing and assessing. Because they are listening more than talking, introverts can also gain deeper understandings of situations.
By the same token, introverts face greater challenges than extraverts. These include isolation; projections or aloofness, snobbery or being disinterested; lack of communication; and lack of engagement.

Leadership is largely about motivating and inspiring others. Great leadership is about rising above the transactional into the transformational. In order to do this, one must be adept at engaging and inspiring others. And the only way to do this is to focus on the outer world. This is not impossible for introverts; it is just more difficult for them. It requires a bigger stretch and a significant energy commitment.

Here are some specific strategies introverted leaders can utilize to become better leaders:
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Learn to think out aloud. Include others in brainstorming.
  • Use listening skills to create trust and build rapport. One of the greatest “projections” people make about introverts is that they are great listeners. So use this to your advantage.
  • Don’t forget what to reflect back what you’ve heard. People want to know that they have been heard.
  • Involve others and articulate your thinking. Share information freely. Introverts have a habit of delivering full-blown solutions or edicts without articulating the thought process or motivation behind them, so learn to articulate your thinking and involve others.
  • Be accessible. Engage others substantially. Network!
  • Followers need to see you. They need to trust and understand you. They need to think you have their best interests at heart. So get out there.
  • Take care of your solitude. Carve out specific times of solitude for recharging yourself.
Challenges for the extravert
Extraverts don’t have it made, though. There are lots of challenges for them, too. Their outward energy can intimidate other people who may not feel they are being heard. Extraverted executives may overwhelm and intimidate people, push ideas prematurely, and unintentionally reveal confidences. Then, when ideas are leaked or taken as decisions rather than mere brainstorming possibilities, the executive feels betrayed. Extraverts have to be careful. They like to think out loud, which can lead to problems.

Here are some ways extroverts can be better leaders:
  • Ask yourself, why am I talking?
  • Provide space for other people to contribute.
  • Ask more questions, and really listen. Resist the urge to immediately start providing your opinion.
  • Tell introverts ahead of time what you’d like to discuss.
  • Be careful what you say. Remember, as leader, your talking out loud may confuse people. What you say carries a lot of weight. Too much talking out loud may make you appear indecisive. If you are going to “extrovert” or brainstorm ideas, make sure people know that is what you are doing.
  • Be careful of oversharing. Not everything needs to be discussed out loud.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Networking Now!

The Working Life: Effective Networking

With all the demands on our time made by our professional and personal lives, many of us assign networking a low priority. After all, we already have so many commitments to our co-workers, friends and family, that is difficult to set aside extra time to venture out and meet new people. But networking is absolutely essential to a strong career and a strong professional life. A little effort will go a long way.

What is networking?
Networking is the art of building and sustaining mutually beneficial relationships. Networking is about meeting people and building relationships before you need them; finding ways to be of service to others; sharing knowledge and contacts; connecting with and to other people.
The world is a social system. All walks of life are based on social interactions.

We accomplish things in this world by working with other people. Networking is important because it can help you strengthen the social relationships necessary to succeed. Having a strong network can help you reach many of life’s goals. Think of networking as a key part of your career foundation.

However, it is important that you understand that networking is NOT selling anything, asking for a job, schmoozing, hustling, manipulating, or using other people. You aren’t asking for anything when you network; you are building a relationship, a beneficial one, of course, but a relationship first and foremost.

Networking isn’t easy. Building relationships is time consuming. Many of us already feel overscheduled, overworked, overburdened, or just want to leave the office after our 9 to 5 day. Our time is precious. But the question you have to ask yourself is, can you afford not to network?

Think about your personal and professional goals. People generally like to help other people. Most people have a bigger network than they realize; they just don’t know how to utilize it.
By not consistently widening our circles of acquaintances and contacts, we may be severely curtailing our chances for advancement and success. I’ve read that on average most people know about 250 people, and each of those people know another 250 people and so on and so forth. Imagine the information and resources that could be available to you if you use that network to your advantage.

The who’s and how’s of networking
You should network and create alliances with people you like, people you find interesting, both inside and outside your industry. Network with people who have common goals. Connect with people whom you like and who like you. Make time for people who make you feel positive, energized and worthy. And, even though networking should be broad, you definitely want to network with people that can help you, because someday, they just might.

The Internet is an increasingly popular place to network. Chat rooms and social network sites are great for either initial contacts or for maintaining contacts, but face-to-face is where you can really cement and build strong and lasting relationships. People are still people, especially in the business world. There is nothing like a personal encounter to build a relationship. Or a career.

In terms of actually getting out and networking, there are two approaches, structured and organic.

The structured approach tells people that you should go into every networking situation with clear goals of whom you want to meet and what you want to achieve. The organic approach, on the other, is about just letting natural attraction work its magic.

Whichever approach you use, just remember one thing: that in order to be successful you have to be authentic to make a real connection to another person. Think of it like dating—you don’t want to be seen as that desperate person hitting on people. You don’t want to come across as pushy, rude, aggressive or single-minded. You want to be genuine. And never forget the goal is to connect with a person, not their title.

The etiquette of networking
Let’s start with a business card. When it is appropriate to hand one out?
First of all, your business card is not disposable; don’t be throwing it around like confetti.
Your business card is an extension of you and your professional stature and should be treated as such. Offer your card to people only after you’ve made a meaningful connection. Never ask someone senior than you for their card; they should offer it first. And don’t offer yours to them unless they ask for it. That said, when you are about to enter a networking situation, always keep a supply of cards handy and easily accessible, along with a pen. When the CEO of your dream company asks you for your card, you don’t want to fumble for it.

Now, your appearance and demeanor are crucial to successful networking. I talked above about authenticity and being genuine, and this is imperative. You don’t want to appear slick and on the take. You’ll get the most out of business networking by being authentic, engaging, and memorable. Here are some tips:
  • Be sincere.
  • Make a positive impression with good manners, eye contact, body language and an excellent handshake.
  • Focus on the other person. Be curious about who they are, ask questions and listen.
  • Remember people’s names.
  • Focus on quality interactions, not quantity.
  • Be positive and upbeat.
  • Never complain or gossip. You never know who knows whom and what might get around.
  • Don’t dismiss someone just because of his or her title.
  • Don’t scan the room. Even if you are just curious, you will be labeled as the guy who is looking for someone better to talk to.
After a business networking event, it is crucial to follow up properly. Immediately send a note or an e-mail to people whom you enjoyed meeting and tell them what a pleasure it was. If you made an offer to connect that person with someone else make sure you follow up. Networking is a two-way street. You have to give to get.

If you find someone you really liked, then get together for lunch or coffee.
Remember, meeting someone is just the start; building a relationship takes a little more effort. But networking the right way is always worth it.

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The Working Life: Effective Retention Strategies

The Working Life: Effective Retention Strategies

We all know how important it is for businesses to find, attract and retain a talented workforce. In today’s world, workers, especially younger ones, change jobs much more frequently than they did 10 years ago. Turnover has a huge financial and organizational cost as businesses struggle to recruit and train new employees. So what are the secrets to retaining quality employees? Do younger workers want different things than more seasoned workers? How do you keep young talent from jumping ship?

What’s the problem?
The problem is that, in large measure, today’s workforce is restless. A recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that nearly three-quarters of any given workforce is looking for employment elsewhere. SHRM reported that 41 percent of employees were passively job seeking, 31 percent were actively job seeking while just 28 percent were not searching at all.

A full 50 percent of workers polled said they were likely to increase or begin a job search as the job market continues to improve.

And that’s one of the root causes of the problem; a strong job market and strong economy make workers restless, as they seek other, better employment opportunities. At the same time, a tight labor market means there are not enough skilled workers to go around.

The highest turnover is in middle management and non-management, and turnover is highest among the youngest workers, those in Gen Y and Gen X. Younger workers are much more likely to seek opportunities elsewhere if they are not getting what they want at an organization. And this is a problem because if you don’t keep your pipeline of talent happy, productive and retained, you won’t have much of a pool to draw from.

Retaining talent is a bottom-line issue for all companies, and 75 percent of human resource directors say they are concerned or very concerned about it. Keeping workers happy and productive is imperative, especially among the youngest sector. Here’s how to do it.

What’s the best way to retain young talent?

Obviously, money and benefits are very important to employees, and companies with good pay packages will do a good job of recruiting and retaining employees. But all things being equal, your competition probably has similar pay packages, so the question is, what sets your firm apart? How do you make your company a preferred employer?

This comes down to one, simple, yet complex factor—how your employees feel about working for your organization. And with the Generation X and Y workers, where turnover is the highest and where retention is a problem, companies have to understand what those workers need, and give it to them.

While, most people want similar things out of work: to be respected, to contribute positively and to be paid well. Younger talent place a higher value on things like professional development, relationship with their boss, and opportunities for advancement. Remember, young folks want to launch a career. Therefore if you want to retain them you should integrate some retention strategies that are aligned with their goals and your goals.
I recommend the following retention strategies:

I. Onboarding

Employee retention begins on day one. Studies show that new hires begin to question their decision to join your organization after their very first day, which is why employee orientation is absolutely key. The most frequent complaint about employee orientation is that it is boring, overwhelming or non-existent. This is where onboarding comes in. Onboarding differs from conventional orientation in that it is a comprehensive approach that serves to introduce and integrate new employees.

This approach is extremely important for young talent. Onboarding is your first opportunity to deliver on recruitment promises; you must reaffirm their decision to “buy” into your employment. In it, you must build cohort, solicit their input from day one, provide an authentic overview of your organizational culture, and get senior leaders involved. Show them how their work contributes to the organization. Use career and organizational success stories.

Young workers want to see how they will fit in, they want to be part of a team, and they want to be assured that their work is meaningful. Give them that from day one and your retention task will be a lot easier.

II. Professional Development

This is all about training. Employees want to have the skills to succeed.
This is especially true for young talent. The problem is that traditionally, organizations offer professional development as a “reward’ for service. Why do they wait?
Remember, this is about career launching. Training and development is a critical investment for individual and organizational success. If they are lacking skill or certain professional “sensibilities” then find them appropriate training. Don’t wait until the gap becomes a festering wound.

Training must be facilitative, interactive, and fun. Young people today need the “soft skills” as well as the hard, technical skills. Gen Y does not learn passively; they learn through active engagement, so be sure that your training is tailored to what works best for them.

III. Manage, Coach, & Mentor

Managers and supervisors of young talent must become adept at managing, coaching, and mentoring them. Gen Y is used to having adults invested in their success. They are used to being coached and mentored at home and at school, so they need this in the workplace as well.
Gen Y has defined expectations from their managers: They want respect. They want to be treated as colleagues not “kids” They want their managers to take an active interest in their well being. They want consistent and honest feedback. They want reward and recognition. They want a clear delegation of task with a flexible process. Again, recognize what they need and give it to them. If you don’t, someone else will.
Your organizational culture must support personal and professional development. In order to make this work, you have to provide your managers with the skills they need. And you need to hold them accountable. If your managers aren’t ready consider outside sources or structured coaching and mentoring programs

IV. Meaningful Work

Meaningful work means people feel like they are making an important contribution to the organization’s mission. For young talent it is an opportunity for them to showcase their talents and skills and develop professionally. Young talent will not be happy only doing menial labor; they want to contribute something they believe is meaningful.
You must find a way to give them substantial work. Give them a seat at the table.
Create strategic initiatives for them to tackle. Be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. Show them how their work contributes to the organization. Recognize and reward contributions. This is the groundwork you laid in your onboarding; now you have to deliver.

V. The Stay Interview
I am convinced that if more companies did this, turnover would be much lower. The stay interview is a situation in which you find out why your employees are staying. It’s an interview where you find out what your employees love or hate about your organization, sort of a how’s it going, state of the union sort of thing. Stay interviews are a great way to find out what your organization is doing right so that you may leverage it to make better strategic retention strategy decisions.

Rather than waiting for the exit interview, why not find out now what is working and what isn’t? It seems kind of insane that we ask people why they leave—as they are leaving! This information doesn’t really help us in real time, does it?

Stay interviews should be focused on the positive. They shouldn’t just be a bitch session, though you do need to find out if something isn’t working. Use appreciative inquiry, like:
  • What will keep you here?
  • What might entice you away?
  • What is most energizing about your work?
  • Are we fully utilizing your talents?
  • What is inhibiting your success?
  • What can we do differently to best assist you?

By using these strategies, your company can build a retention strategy that will keep all your workers longer and happier. The key is to understand that your youngest workers approach their careers differently. Once you understand this, you can be proactive and accommodate theses differences, and that will help you retain them.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Successful Retreats

The Working Life: Designing an Effective Offsite Retreat

The offsite retreat. Some people love them. Some people hate them. And it’s easy to see why. If done well, retreats can be a powerful way to help organizations bring about positive change. If done poorly, retreats can be a waste of time and can actually make things worse.

Holding an effective retreat is hard work, but organizations can get a leg up if they follow some basic rules.

What is it?
A retreat is an offsite gathering of a group of similarly engaged people – co-workers, team members, managers, board members – with the purpose of digging deeply into issues. The gathering is held offsite so that the group can focus and not be distracted by the goings on in an office or by their day-to-day life. Retreats are an opportunity to bring people together to have conversations that they don’t normally have.

Why do it?
There are lots of reasons organizations hold retreats. Sometimes they are held to solve a problem, sometimes to explore a new strategy, sometimes to evaluate, sometimes to train; it depends on the objective and the company’s need. Leaders should seriously consider using a retreat when they want the support, input and creativity of their organizational members or partners. A well-designed and well-facilitated retreat can be very effective in:
  • Helping change a strategic direction
  • Dealing with sources of conflict and confusion
  • Generating creative solutions for entrenched problems
  • Getting people on the same page and pulling in the same direction
  • Improving working relationships and increase trust
  • Creating a common framework and point of reference
  • Fostering a collective vision
  • Generating honest and enlightening conversations
  • Helping people feel heard in issues that are important to them

That said, here are 7 excellent reasons for holding an offsite retreat:
  1. To explore serious organizational concerns or obstacles. Suppose productivity is low or turnover is high, retreats can be a great avenue to explore causes and potential solutions for thorny organizational issues.
  2. To tap into group creativity. Retreats are a great opportunity to tap into the collective wisdom and creativity of a group. Taking people out of the day-to-day parameters of office life can greatly increase the creative process.
  3. To tackle tough decisions. No matter how strong the leader, tough decisions will require the support of organizational members. Involving members in the decision-making on critical issues can result in high quality decisions with large-scale support.
  4. To create a collective vision of success for the organization, department, team or group. Day-to-day organizational life doesn’t hold much time for big picture thinking among and between organizational members and groups. Often, tensions arise as different players have different goals and priorities. Retreats are a great way to align and design different parts of an organization with a common vision and commitment.
  5. To explore and foster change. Whether you need a change in culture or a change in business processes, retreats are an effective way to explore and promote new ways of doing things. This can be especially important for leaders who are considering change. Getting input and involvement early in the change process will greatly increase the odds of creating successful change.
  6. To improve organizational relationships and align members’ behaviors, attitudes and perceptions. Organizations are complex social structures. Sometimes relationships, behaviors and attitudes go awry. A well-designed retreat can go a long way to explore, align, and improve relationships, behaviors, attitudes and perceptions.
  7. To evaluate or correct your course. Sometimes the most effective thing an organization can do is to simply take a breath and a 1000-foot view of how things are working. We call this the temperature check. What’s working well? What could be improved? Providing people with an opportunity to play a role in deciding what needs to change (or not) is an excellent way to build support and commitment for organizational goals and priorities.

There are, of course, lots of bad reasons for holding a retreat. Even though well intentioned, your reason may be not be sound.

Here are 7 bad reasons for holding a retreat:

  1. Tradition. Many people think that annual retreats are a good idea just because they’ve always done one. They think just the act of bringing people together is a good idea. But having a retreat without a serious purpose is a bad idea. A retreat is not a party or a picnic. People don’t generally appreciate having their time wasted. Pointless retreats will breed cynicism faster than you can imagine.
  2. Making an individual problem a group problem. Oftentimes leaders have a few non-team players and they decide a retreat is the best way to deal with these issues. Resist that urge. While an offsite can be a great way to surface and negotiate differences, the issues raised in a retreat should be germane and actionable to everyone in the room, not just a select few.
  3. Talking at participants instead of with them. Retreats are not a one-way conversation. Retreats are not the appropriate venue for lengthy presentations or agenda pushing. While it is important to keep people well informed, daylong presentations do not constitute a retreat. People associate retreats with participation and change. Don’t confuse or mislead the participants.
  4. Retreat as reward. Many organizational leaders want to use a retreats as a way to reward hard work. This is a mistake. People rarely see retreats as rewards. Because they are likely to have even more work as the result of a day (or two) out of the office, attending a pointless retreat will not foster a sense of gratitude. If you want to reward employees, have a picnic, or give them a bonus.
  5. Improving morale. A retreat in and of itself is not going to improve morale. While using a retreat to explore morale issues and improvement ideas, do not confuse the diagnosis with the treatment. In fact, holding a retreat can actually worsen morale if action isn’t taken from ideas or concerns raised in the retreat.
  6. The covert agenda. This means not putting real choice on the table. People view retreats as an opportunity to provide real input on real change. Leaders will sometimes use a retreat as a way to “get buy-in” on an issue in which they have already decided. But it is dangerous to involve participants in a retreat on an issue that is already decided. Do not use a retreat to push a covert agenda or give people a false sense of participation. This will create a sense of ill will that will take years to overcome.
  7. No intention (or ability) to follow through or act on participants’ suggestions. When you ask people for their input, you raise expectations that this input will be implemented in some way. Do not disappoint them. Also, be wary of holding retreats where the topics are out of your and/or their sphere of influence or control.

How to do it
Now that you know why (and why not) to hold a retreat and what you can expect to get out of it, you have to take the time to design and execute one. A good retreat can improve communication, energize and motivate, improve engagement and or improve skill sets. A bad retreat can make matters worse. Good retreats require weeks, if not months, of solid planning in order to be effective.

Sadly, most people groan when they hear their organization is holding a retreat. Many people have had terrible experiences with retreats or imagine them to be as bad as their company meetings. Very few organizations do retreats well. Heck, most companies don’t even do meetings well, let alone plan and execute an effective retreat, so you can’t really blame people for their attitudes.

But by following some guiding principles in designing your retreat, leaders can plan and execute an effective offsite.

1. Know your objective and goals. Retreats should be designed and conducted in order to create organizational action or change, with a distinct goal in mind. Everything at the retreat, from participants to location to design, must fall from your specific retreat goals. Ask yourself: What will be different as a result of this retreat? What will this retreat create?

2. Be realistic. A one-day retreat with 30 people goes by pretty quickly, so try not to bite off more than you can chew. Keep your agenda proportionate to the length of the retreat and to the number of participants.

3. Invite the right people. Once you have your goals established you need to think about who you need at the retreat to accomplish those goals. Invite the people with the power, influence and information you need to reach successful results. Participants should also be involved in planning whenever possible. People always support what they helped to create.

4. Market the retreat wisely. Retreats carry a lot of baggage and expectations and people are naturally skeptical. It is essential that the project is announced properly and openly. And make sure both those who are invited and those who are not invited all have a common understanding of the purpose and process of the retreat.

5. Keep it focused. Retreats must relate to the actual day-to-day work of the organization. Don’t wander.

6. Keep it organized. Retreats must have structure and purpose. And you must know the message you want to deliver and stay on it.

7. Follow-up. This is, without a doubt, the most critical determinant on whether a retreat is deemed successful and effective. It is also the number one thing that most retreat conveners fail to do. Transparent follow up and follow through is absolutely essential.

Who should run the retreat?
In order to be effective and successful, your retreat will need someone to run it. That person may or may not be your company CEO, president, or manager. Very often, companies call in a professional facilitator to plan and execute the retreat. This is smart for many reasons.
First, a facilitator is a professional process expert but is a neutral party. Because leaders or employees have an enormous stake in the outcome of the retreat it is often difficult, if not impossible, for leaders to remain content neutral. Facilitators can also help plan and organize the retreat. They will focus on helping to foster innovative conversations, not on directing content. They will help surface different perspectives in ways that is often difficult for leaders to do. A trained professional will be able to help you think through different methodologies and conversation tools.

Another advantage to using a professional facilitator is that it allows the leader to be a participant. This helps people feel more comfortable in raising differing viewpoints if they see the leader as another participant, and in some ways a peer in the meeting.

Participating rather than leading is often difficult for a leader to do, but they should strive to use the retreat as a true opportunity to listen and learn. Whether the leader facilitates the retreat or is active as a participant, he or she should:
  • Provide space for others to speak. In other words don’t dominate the discussion. Be careful about “leading the discussion.”
  • Be honest. Tell people what you think. Just be aware that your opinion will naturally carry more weight and might make people hesitant to disagree.
  • Invite opposing viewpoints. Acknowledge and appreciate those who offer up different perspectives and feedback.
  • Be realistic about what can and/or can’t be changed. The point of a retreat is to effect change. If the participants start creating strategies that you know can’t be implemented—then be honest and say, “sorry, that idea will never fly with the board.”
  • Work the room. Use the retreat to work and converse with people whom you normally don’t get the opportunity to collaborate with.
  • Show appreciation and gratitude. And remember to tell people what you learned as a result of their candor and participation.

Given a clear purpose in mind, and when planned and executed correctly, an offsite retreat can be an incredibly effective, energizing and engaging tool for your company.

Just remember to follow up!

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Resolutions That Work

The Working Life: How to Make A Resolution That Works

Every year, people make countless resolutions about losing weight, traveling to exotic locales, exercising more or finishing that novel. But few people focus on what is one of the most important aspects of their life – work.

People spend most of their time at work, or thinking about work, or looking for work, or worrying about work, and it stands to reason that there is vast room for improvement there.

But change is hard, as everyone who has tried to schedule 30 minutes on that elliptical machine every day knows. A resolution usually involves creating something different in your life or giving something up, and that involves changing something about yourself – your behavior, your actions, your thoughts and your values. It’s not the commitment that’s the hard part, it’s the follow through.

Every year I work with clients who have resolved to make a change in their work life, from finding a new rob, to getting a raise, being more organized, working less, working smarter, spending more time on strategy rather than putting out fires, etc. Most resolutions are aimed at creating a more satisfying and productive work experience.

Invariably, my clients get tripped up by the paradox of their resolution: If your resolution is to create something new and different, you must be willing to destroy something old. You have to be willing to let go of old ways of doing things. And this means truly getting out of one’s comfort zone.

Making the right resolution
Don’t make a resolution just for the sake of it. But if you sincerely want to see a change, creating goals and making resolutions can be a powerful way to focus your energy. There is something very powerful about creating goals.

While the best goals involve a stretch, it is important that some goals are realistic. Having one or two easily achieved goals can help you feel successful and can empower you to take on bigger goals. But by the same token, don’t choose goals that are not really a stretch and are nothing more than items on a to-do list. Resolving to buy a new outfit doesn’t count.

If you really want to bring about some change in your life then it is essential that some (if not most) of your goals are a stretch. Think of your goals as a continuum. One the one end, you should have a few goals that are realistic and easy to achieve. On the other end of the continuum, you should have some BHAG’s or Big Hairy Audacious Goals. These goals should really set out what your perfect vision of life would be. In a continuum, buying that new outfit may be one of the first steps in your overall goal of improving your professional appearance and persona, for example, a resolution that may also include taking new classes, improving your vocabulary and posture, updating your resume, etc.

I see a lot of unrealistic goals in my work. Don’t settle on a resolution that is impossible – going from intern to CEO, for example. Furthermore, too many people make goals or resolutions that aren’t really in their control to actualize. For example, saying, “I resolve not to spend most of my day putting out other people’s fires” may not be in your control if you work for an organization whose modus operandi is very much last minute fire-fighting. To accomplish this resolution would require wholesale cultural change in the organization, something that is enormously difficult and time consuming, and isn’t in your control. Setting unrealistic goals and resolutions can lead to cynicism and dysfunction. Be realistic and optimistic, but not crazy.

An effective action plan
Once you’ve established your resolution and goals, it’s time to develop your action plan. The proper action plan should start with clearly defined goals, stated in a way that you know when you’ve achieved it. Don’t be vague. For example, saying, “I am going to be more organized this year” is great idea, but kind of fuzzy. Be specific, with concrete steps and goals. Instead of resolving to be more organized, resolve to do the following:
  • My desk will be clear of paperwork every night before I leave the office.
  • I will return every phone call and email within 24 hours.

You have stated the goal clearly and concisely, now it’s time to create an action plan. First, break it down. Many people don’t accomplish their goals because the goal looks too big or the actions required are too daunting, so break it up into smaller bits. Determine which actions are needed and create a do-able strategy for accomplishing them. Your mantra should be, “Will this action bring me closer or further from my goal?

For example, if your goal is, “My desk will be clear of paperwork every night before I leave the office,” then your strategy might be to take the last 20 minutes of the workday to file and organize. Therefore, your action plan would be to stop everything at, say, 4:30 p.m. and use that time to clear your desk. The goal is to clear your desk by the end of the day; the action plan is to schedule a time to do it. The key is to keep trying strategies until you hit upon one that works for you.

Involving your company
Many forward-thinking employers help their employees achieve their workplace goals. Highly effective organizations and teams allow for the accomplishment of both ordinate (individual) goals and super-ordinate (organizational or group) goals. An organization that doesn’t care about individual workplace goals will not be able to attract and retain top talent. It behooves organizations to create processes and dialogue around its employee goals.

This is easily done through providing employees with an opportunity to create IDPs, or individual development plans. Managers should take a very active interest in helping their people create and accomplish their IDPs. This requires dialogue and feedback.

There are also some distinct and important workplace-related health issues and resolutions that both the employee and the employer should consider. Carpel tunnel syndrome, weight gain, stress, burnout and other maladies are all work-related, and people should resolve to take more breaks, move around, be more active, improve their visual environment and take other steps to improve their overall health. Generally speaking, healthier employees are happier and more productive employees. Everybody wins.

The goal is near
Now, you’ve made the right, meaningful resolutions, developed a specific action plan to reach your goals and are well on your way. Remember to:
  • Review your goals along the way.
  • Consistently choose the actions and behavior that will get you there.
  • Keep your mantra in mind: Will this action bring me closer or further from my goal?
  • Reward yourself, not just when you reach your goal but for staying on track, too. You can do it.

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