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Two signs of a toxic workplace environment (and how to fix it)

46636958 - mature businessman arguing with his two co-workers in officeWhile no workplace environment is perfect, there are some companies that have toxic cultures. A toxic work environment can severely impact productivity, zap motivation, and significantly reduce employee retention. Not surprisingly, company leaders and managers have a great deal of influence over workplace culture. Here are two signs of a toxic workplace environment — and some steps to take to fix it:

Poor communication. Communication is one of the biggest issues companies struggle with, both in the workplace and in their personal lives. Business leaders must make a commitment to communicating effectively and often to their employees. Yet some companies provide little information to their employees on a daily and weekly basis. In good times and bad, employees need to understand their company’s mission, their individual roles in their companies, their company’s current condition and where their company is headed. They also need to get constructive feedback regularly — each employee deserves to know what they are doing right and wrong — not just at their annual performance review. An employee should never have to guess whether how they are doing.

Favoritism. Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to succeed. Leaders can experience unconscious bias just like anyone else, which might entail favoring some employees over others for reasons other than pure achievement and dedication to their jobs. For instance, unconscious gender bias is still common in workplaces, where women are sometimes perceived to be less focused in their jobs due to children or more likely to leave their jobs in the future when they want children. As a business leader, it’s your job to make sure that employees aren’t under the impression that only a select few favorite employees are liked by management and get opportunities to advance.

The power of saying ‘no’

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As humans, we aren’t hard-wired to say ‘no.’ Psychologically, it’s a lot easier to say ‘yes’ to avoid possible conflict. But accepting everything — or most everything — that comes your way at the office and in your personal life can quickly spiral out of control. Learning to say ‘no’ is a vital skill.

Whether the request is from a client, employee, business partner or your child’s school, you likely get several invitations each week, many via e-mail. Create a few responses that you can easily cut and paste into e-mails, such as ‘I would love to attend, but my schedule is extremely full for the next month’; or ‘This sounds like an incredible community service project, but I have already committed my time to other causes right now.’ or “Thanks so much for the kind invitation, but unfortunately my schedule makes it impossible to participate at this time.’

Everyone has must-do projects and assignments. But there are plenty of time-intensive events and projects that you have a choice as to whether you want to participate. Consider whether each request aligns with your company and/or career goals. And be realistic about the time involved in each request — it’s easy to underestimate the amount of time it takes to prepare a quality speech or presentation or organize a one-day event.

The power of saying “no” extends beyond the office. Many busy professionals take on a lot in their personal lives as well. Organizing an event at your child’s school may take many hours at a time when your child may just want to spend time with just you. Make sure you’re examining each request by others and make sure it aligns with your personal and family goals.

Three strategies for dealing with a dishonest employee

46636958 - mature businessman arguing with his two co-workers in officeDishonesty is a common human trait and everyone has lied at least a few times in their lives. In the workplace, however, dishonesty can create serious problems. If you’re struggling with an employee who is dishonest with you and members of their team, here are some ideas for dealing with the situation.

Have a private discussion. Rather than making an example of your employee in front of their peers, ask for a private meeting with them (in-person is better than via email or over the phone) to discuss the matter with nobody else in earshot of what might be an uncomfortable situation.

Approach the situation mindfully. What if you discover in your private meeting that your employee has a good reason for his or her dishonesty? For instance, if your employee has been repeatedly showing up late for work or leaving early, they could be dealing with a family emergency (a sick child, for instance). Provide your employee with an opportunity to explain themselves.

Implement accountability procedures. Once you’ve had a discussion with your employee, it’s time to start implementing measures to ensure dishonesty won’t become an ongoing issue for that individual (or the entire team). Some accountability procedures that can help you improve communication with your team include: 1) reminding all employees (rather than singling anyone out) that they are always welcome to communicate any concerns with you, no matter how small that concern may seem, 2) offering flexibility to employees who might be struggling with a personal or family issue and 3) modeling honest and ethical behavior and highlighting that type of behavior among your team.

How effective is your feedback?

47055764 - pensive man in eyeglasses listening to psychologistDone wrong, feedback sessions can be counter-productive and nerve-wracking for all concerned. Done right, feedback can be the path to employee greatness. Effectively communicating what works and what doesn’t to employees is a skill; and as with any skill there are a few principles.

Keep your cool. You may be annoyed or even angry. Leave those emotions behind. That means no sarcasm, yelling or eye-rolling. A defensive employee won’t be receptive. Let employees know you’re on the same team. Conduct the session in private.

Make it positive. There’s nearly always something you can praise. Find it. But remember, it’s not about making employees feel good. Feedback is about improving performance. Positive phrasing such as “I liked your approach on that project, but what if …” can help employees become creative partners in the effort to improve performance.

Be specific. If you don’t know exactly what employees need to do to improve, you can’t expect them to know, either. “I need more from you” is not feedback. “I need more help from you in keeping the departmental records up to date,” is better.

Limit the issues. Try to keep feedback to just one or two points. Important feedback can get lost in a laundry list of issues. A long list of things to do better can also make people feel under siege. That’s why regular feedback is so important.

Stick to the issues. Write down what you want to talk about, and stick with that. If another thing that bugs you occurs during the feedback session, make a note and address it in a future meeting.

Praise in public; criticize in private. Public criticism can ruin an employee’s day. More importantly, it can cost the company money by harming that employee’s productivity. No one minds being praised in front of others.

Should you adopt a Results Only Work Environment?

43642131 - stressed businessman working quickly with many computerThe Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) approach was initially developed by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson in 2001 as a way of attracting top talent through non-traditional management methods. ROWE is based on a simple premise: Work output matters more than making appearances and sticking to the clock on the same schedule as everyone else. It heavily emphasizes task delegation, employee independence, and work flexibility (both time and location), which could be ideal for introverts, working parents, students, and employees with difficult commutes.

ROWE isn’t perfect, of course, but adopting even a partial ROWE strategy could be enormously beneficial for your employees’ satisfaction and productivity. Here are a few considerations to make before incorporating it into your management approach:

Does Location Really Matter?

If many of your employees spend the majority of their days on computers, then why does it matter that they complete assignments in the office? Many employees could be more productive on their own time and in their own location (not having to commute to the office, for instance).

Does your team need face-to-face collaboration?

ROWE isn’t for everyone. Even the CEO of Best Buy tried ROWE, only to later switch back to traditional approaches to work. Some people don’t work as well on their own isolated from the rest of the office or at home. Some employees need the structure of the office environment and face-to-face collaboration with other team members. Some projects and tasks are best handled by a team in the same location.

Surprisingly, a recent university study found that the Millennial Generation actually prefers face-to-face communication, which indicates that allowing employees to work anywhere they want could hinder your team’s communication. It can be tough to communicate only by e-mail and phone. Face-to-face communication can rapidly solve problems and put out fires, while a ROWE strategy that allows employees to respond to emails and calls whenever they’re available can be detrimental in urgent situations.

What are your priorities for your team?

Ultimately, you need to ask yourself: What are my top priorities for my team? Do I value having them all in one place with me and seeing the visual proof of progress towards task completion? How does each team member work best? ROWE could certainly be useful for reliable employees with challenging work/life conflicts (e.g., living far away from the office, erratic schedules for their children or college classes, etc.) and employees who simply prefer working as independently as possible. But ROWE is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. The key is to use ROWE when it makes sense — to an employee and to the company.

A new year, a new look for your Linkedin page

26475166 - linkedin website on a computer screenA well-kept, professional Linkedin page is a great networking tool. Is it time to give your Linkedin page an update?

Start with your photo. How long has it been since you had a professional photo taken? If you can’t remember, it’s probably time for a new one! Next up: Your Linkedin URL. Are you using a customized Linkedin URL? You can improve your Google search ranking by using your first and last name — with no spaces — as your unique URL. If that combination isn’t available, you could add on another identifying word to the URL, such as one of the strengths you want to be recognized for — leadership or management, for example. While we’re on the subject of strengths, you’ll want to identify four or five of your top strengths and use those words in as many of your profile descriptions as possible. For step-by-step instructions to customize your Linkedin URL, check out this guide.

Have you fully personalized your Linkedin page? The most successful networks are built by adding a personal touch to all of your professional interactions. Do this by staying in touch with colleagues from current and past workplaces. Every so often, send a customized, personal note or some helpful information to members of your network. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations. Posting these on your LinkedIn profile will add to your credibility.

Don’t forget to post friendly, helpful and professional content on a regular basis. For example, you could share congratulations to a colleague who earned a promotion or an interesting article relevant to your Linkedin contacts. For example, find a plethora of leadership articles and insights in Linkedin’s leadership center. Linkedin has similar centers for entrepreneurs, small business owners and many other types of business professionals.

It’s a new year — make sure your Linkedin page is an effective tool for helping you connect with other professionals and help others hone in on your strengths and personal brand.

Three ways to increase employee engagement

57289202 - motivated workforce and staff employees smiling artEmployee engagement is a major concern for managers today. Research shows that employees who aren’t engaged on-the-job are often less innovative and productive. And they are more likely to switch jobs at the nearest opportunity. Don’t let employees feel disengaged under your watch. Here are three ways to keep your team motivated and engaged.

Emphasize company culture. Whether you work out of a brick-and-mortar office or you manage a virtual team, consistent emphasis on the company’s goals and culture will help you foster an environment of trust, optimism, and determination among your employees. Reiterating the goals you’re collectively striving towards and thanking employees for their contributions to this culture is an important task.

Get better at delivering criticism. Nothing is more disempowering than being yelled at or harshly criticized by your boss. Employee engagement not only involves positive moments of teamwork and appreciation, but also moments of constructive criticism. Deliver bad news in a respectful way that will help your employees improve their performance, rather than leaving them wondering whether to just give up. And make sure employees know when they are doing a great job. Regular feedback is a key to keeping employees engaged.

Offer perks employees want. Not all employees need office ping pong tables, monthly beer tastings, and casual Fridays to be happy. You might be surprised to learn that some employees who are parents may want more flexible schedules and the opportunity to work at home more than they would want a raise! Get to know your employees’ wants and needs. Other employees may be more interested in workshops and training to learn new skills relevant to their jobs. Sometimes, a change as simple as allowing an employee to work 10 to 6 instead of 9 to 5 can make all the difference in the world.

Are you a manager … or a leader?

45902376_SWhat is the difference between a manager and a leader? While managers primarily serve to manage the work that other people do, effective leaders inspire those who report to them. Your job title may be more management-focused than leadership-focused, but studies have shown that managers who emphasize leadership skills over management skills in the workplace tend to have happier and more productive and passionate employees.

Effective leadership can help employees reach their true potential and succeed in their careers. While a manager may simply employ a “take it or leave it” approach to communication, a true leader adapts to their employees’ needs while providing the constructive criticism they need to improve their on-the-job performance. Constructive criticism involves highlighting some things employees are doing well, while also mentioning areas for improvement in a neutral tone (e.g., “I saw you did a great job with this last assignment, but you submitted it two hours late on Tuesday – it’s important to get projects in right on deadline so others in the office can begin their own work on that project immediately.”

Effective leaders set high but not unattainable goals for their teams. It might be tempting to aim high and settle for less if necessary, but sky-high expectations can be seriously demotivating for employees if they feel doomed to fail. And in the fast-paced work environment, finding time to thank your team for their hard work might seem difficult as you jump from one assignment to the next. While a manager may adopt the mentality that finishing projects and getting paid should be their own rewards, a leader would consider calling the team together for a quick round of cheers and congratulations after a particularly difficult project, and surprising employees with occasional perks. A leader would also tie together the success of individual projects to the success of the company as a whole.

Effective leaders also know their team members — and not just how they perform at work. They understand and support their employees’ personal lives, individual challenges and life goals. Emotionally investing in your team will pay off over the course of their careers with your company, so don’t miss this opportunity to create a workplace that encompasses so much more than just work.

Steps to a happier and more productive workplace

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Studies have shown that happy employees are more productive in the workplace, but sometimes there is a misalignment between what managers think will make their employees happy and what actually makes them happy. Some companies assume that awesome perks like ping pong tables, free coffee and flexible work schedules are sufficient for maintaining their employees’ morale.

But some perks might be masking more serious problems when it comes to your employees’ feelings towards your company’s goals, its leadership, workplace culture, and ease of communication with bosses and colleagues. Rather than assuming your employees must be happy, it’s important to regularly check in with them. Unhappy employees are more likely to leave their jobs to find more fulfilling work elsewhere if you don’t strive to meet their needs.

Here are a few places to start:

  • Provide enough feedback. Use empowering phrases in electronic and face-to-face interactions to let them know you’re noticing the good work they’re performing. When it comes to criticism, make sure it’s constructive rather than harsh with no proactive feedback from which they can learn from their mistakes.
  • Encourage your team members to share their ideas: Be willing to listen and genuinely consider their opinions and ideas. Don’t make them feel that you’re the only one who matters in the decision-making process because then they won’t bother sharing what might otherwise be valuable insight.
  • Be more patient and flexible: If an employee is struggling with an assignment or perhaps dealing with a personal crisis at home, be willing to accommodate them, within reason.

Top 4 ways to Sell Yourself in the Interview

Selling Yourself Part III: Top 4 Ways to Sell Yourself in the Interview

 

If you’ve been in a job search, you’ve likely put a lot of time and energy into the process by the time you get to the interview table. All your research, networking, and preparation are like the rehearsal to a show. You know you’ve got the “stuff” to be the best. How do you impress this on your audience in the span of an hour or less?

Many people shutter at the word, “Sell”.  The reason is because they are usually thinking of pushy, one-and-done sale of something they didn’t even need or want. No one wants to be that person. What if, however, you had the solution to world hunger, or violence, or finally a cure for cancer that was 100% effective? Would you be afraid or shy to talk about those things? No! The reason is because you know that people need what you have and they will be better for it.

Let’s bring that line of thinking to your interview. The definition of the word “sell” is “to persuade someone of the merits of”. This doesn’t mean you’re not bragging, boasting or BS’ing!  You are presenting what you have to offer that will ultimately make lives better in some way. Hold your head high, get excited and be ready to “wow” your audience. The following are the most effective ways to sell yourself in an interview.

  1. You are there to SELL, not to be SOLD.

This is a key distinction that you must understand when you are going into a first interview. It’s important to have questions but the type of questions you have are very telling to the interviewers. JFK so famously and wisely said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” That they key point here. You need to have done enough research and self-reflection in advance of your interview to know that the opportunity would be a good one for you. There’s no way at this stage that you can know that it’s the best one and that’s not the purpose of a first interview. Time to evaluate that will come later, once you have learned everything you can. Taking up the time of an interviewer to figure out whether you want them before they know if they want you can be a turn off not to mention that it takes the opportunity away from the interviewer to decide if they want you.

  1. Seek to understand BEFORE being understood

Keep the conversation focused on them; What they are looking to achieve?  What challenges do they have? How they measure success? How can you best contribute to their success? How things will be better when they fill the position? These are the types of questions that are important to give to understand before you talk about yourself. Time is limited so you want to make sure you share details about your abilities that are most relevant and concise. Too much information that doesn’t directly align with the needs of the job can cause the interviewer to think that even if you are capable, the job is not a fit for your overall skill set and you might be a flight-risk.

  1. Connect the dots: Pain and Remedy

Now that you understand why the position is necessary and what impact the company is looking for, you can address your abilities, desire and motivation to do those things exactly. For example, let’s say their web-site is 10 years old. It’s not optimized for mobile and it looks antiquated and stale. Knowing that, you can share more about your experience creating or enhancing web-sites. If this was not a pain point for them, it would not be the best use of time to talk about these skills no matter how well it illustrates your intelligence and creativity. Remember, the conversation needs to center around them and their needs.

Notice that I said a moment ago, that you can address the abilities, desire and motivation for the job. This is important because it will help you to most effectively connect the dots between their pain and your remedy. What if you don’t have the ability to address a particular aspect of their need but you would be interested in learning? You would never want a string of answers to be “I can learn”, “I can learn” and “I can learn”. However, simply restating a need they have expressed and then following with “That sounds like a fascinating project, I would love to help you with that” can be very powerful.  Asking for or suggesting a way you might begin learning about the area right away is also a great way to show that you’re ready to dive in and that you will walk the walk. I suggest before your interview, get a notepad and draw a box in the corner of it. As you review the job description, pick out the needs that are emphasized. Then when you are sitting down with the interviewer, check your understanding but saying something like, “I noted from the job description that you need….”, “are those the most important aspects of this role?” What are the most critical contributions you’re looking for?” Then, bullet point the answers in the box so you have quick reference to draw from when it’s your turn to talk about your abilities, desire and motivation.

  1. Don’t tell, SHOW.

There is no better way to deliver your message than by showing what you are trying to convey. First, consider how you show up. Are you dressed at a professional level that is appropriate for the position? Do your clothes, accessories and scents allow YOU to be center stage when they look at you? What about your appearance could upstage you? Bright colors, overly trendy clothing, strong cologne or perfume, and showing too much skin can be very distracting. You want to keep the focus on your conversation and engagement with your interviewer so eliminate these possible distractions.

The next way that you are going to show and not tell is through story telling. Story telling is by far the most powerful way to make a point. The reason is partially because listening to a story activates both sides of the listeners’ brain as opposed to listening to statements which more often only calls on the left side of the brain. When a person is listening to you with both sides of their brain, your words translate into facts and logic as well as images and emotion. The effect is that you send a stronger and more memorable message.

Beginning your story with a statement like, “I can tell you a quick story” has another interesting and positive effect on your listener. For most people, storytelling holds its origin in childhood. Stories would likely have been told by care takers who sat with them or held them while they told the story. Children listening to a story in this way are comfortable, entertained and engaged. When you say, “I’m going to tell you a story”, it biologically signals to the person that it’s time to get comfortable and engage with you. That is a powerful way to set the stage.

 

To your success! Now go win your audience.