Thursday, December 23, 2010

Yes, Virginia. Titles do matter.

I've had many conversations on the topic of job titles and their importance in corporate America recently and I wanted to share with you my perspective. For quite some time it's been fashionable to say that titles are unimportant and there are some very good reasons why ignoring titles might be a good thing. But on this topic I need to go against the grain and say that unfortunately titles are very important especially during a job search and I can prove it! Read on.

Generally speaking looking at history there was a long period of time when titles were paramount. This is way back when companies were rigidly hierarchically structured and job descriptions were straightforward and more or less standardized across corporate America. Back when, for example, "Vice President" was rare and meant something about scope of responsibility, influence, experience, organization size and salary. There were strict established protocols regarding engaging your manager's manager or someone else's manager. Organizations of any significant size or success were never very "flat".

Then (my guess) sometime during the recession of the early 1990s, as in any recession, employers needed to find ways of squeezing more productivity from a shrinking and depressed workforce (editor's note: sound familiar?). They couldn't hire more resources or pay their current resources more money. So what did they start doing? Employers did the cheap thing and doubled people's work, gave them raise-less promotions with new fancy titles. Essentially they "enhanced" their titles. This phenomenon is known as title inflation. (editor's note: the linked article claims that title inflation really began back in the 1970s which I can believe. But I also believe it accelerated in the early 1990s. My only proof is anecdotal though.) What title inflation did was devalue ALL job titles except ones where some type of certification is necessary such as Doctor or Lawyer.

Almost in parallel it also became "cool" to be a flat organization. In the working world "hierarchy" automatically meant "bureaucracy" and "inefficiency". To be "flat" equaled being "efficient" which I also don't believe is automatically true at all. 

With everyone running around with fancy titles this title devaluation created the belief system that titles are unimportant and that other things such as salary and job satisfaction are very important. And those are very important but not at the expense of the title. Why? Well I'm not in the recruitment industry but I do know many recruiters. If you ask them most will tell you that  especially in a poor economy when a hiring manager is doing a job search for a particular position, for example "Vice President", they get a deluge of resume responses from candidates that have held that title before why would they bother to consider someone that never held that position even in name? Right there you've been weeded out because of a lack of a title. Additionally a lot of the filtering these days is done by computer via keyword search. You may have the most relevant experience in the world for a particular position but if the recruiter's resume filter doesn't find the words "Vice President" you and your resume won't even get a passing glance. Done and done.

There are exceptions of course. Start up companies are far more flexible at looking beyond titles but mid-size to large companies don't bother. Why should they given the influx of candidates?

Another big exception is networking. If you have a strong, positive connection to a hiring manager that will also likely trump the lack of a title.

But titles do matter. There - I said it. Mind you lots of people I deeply respect, including past mentors, assure me that titles don't matter but I respectfully and humbly (and unfortunately) disagree. It is simply not what I've experienced or am hearing from folks in the field.

So if you are in receipt of a title-enhanced, raise-free promotion or job offer don't be so quick to reject it on that basis alone because it may open doors in your future that would otherwise be shut.

If anyone out there can argue otherwise I'd love to hear it! This is definitely an area where I wish I was wrong.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Interruptions are disastrous!

Jason Fried asks "Where do you go to get something done?"

Apparently most everyone's answer is anywhere but the office!! Why? Because that's where you are constantly interrupted!

Jason is the founder of a web application development company and is passionate about efficiency in the workplace. In the following TEDTalk Jason goes on to illustrate the reasons why interruptions are so disastrous to productivity, creativity and efficiency. He also suggests 3 steps to improve this situation.

And while the talk dings "managers" (rightfully so :) ) I agree with every word. I highly recommend watching his funny and insightful presentation.

So where do YOU go to get something done??

Jason's excellent TEDTalk here.

*Note: after this post was written I found CNN decided to feature this talk on their website as well!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Turnaround Expert - How do you become one?

Professionally I'm known as a "turnaround guy". Time and again I get hired to run or am 'bequeathed' programs and projects and teams that have failed in the past for a variety of reasons. Getting the reputation as a turnaround expert isn't such a bad thing. It implies that you deal well with confrontation from day one, that you are able to establish credibility very quickly and that you are able to inspire and motivate teams of folks who are likely not in a good mood given their recent results.

Below are four straightforward (but not necessarily easy) steps I have taken with much success to change the negative course of a project:
  1. Eliminate bad elements - First thing I do stepping into a failing situation is ask everyone what's not working in their opinion and in their own words. I pay particular attention to complaints that can be directly tied to the poor results attained rather than the "he said/she said" or "blamestorm"* that arises when things aren't going well. Mind you, I don't prevent people from "blamestorming" away (i.e. "it's all the business' fault because they keep changing their minds") because you do gain a lot of contextual and behavioral info. That's valuable too in the short and long term. The key thing here is you must LISTEN to everything that's being said and like a detective work out where the "crimes" are being committed - in other words, where things are going wrong. Sometimes the things that are wrong are the processes or information being used. Those are easy to correct. Other times it's lack of the right amount or kind of resources. That's a bit more difficult to correct quickly. The hardest "bad element" to purge are team members themselves. Sometimes though that is simply necessary because one "unproductive" or "negative" person on a team can easily bring everyone and the project down.
  2. Find out what motivates the team and give it to them - This blog has covered motivation many times because it's such a key ingredient in success. Motivation is a powerful influencer. Find a way to connect a project's success to each team member's needs and desires in some way and you have created a self-fixing engine. Make sure to figure out (and write down notes!!) what each and every person needs out of this project and their jobs. Make a commitment to work on those needs and keep people posted on progress. Perhaps someone needs a little extra time off and another needs to go to a class. Perhaps a third person needs a little monetary incentive at the successful conclusion of a project. Whatever it is take it seriously. What I've found over time though is simply having a manager care enough to ask the team these types of questions is motivation enough.
  3. Fix some 'low hanging fruit' problems quickly - You've probably heard the expression "you need money to make money" well it's equally true that there's nothing that generates success like success! If you can start to turn around small things people in and around the team, including management, will notice. They all start to feel good about these positive changes however small and a "can do" attitude starts catching on. I have seen it myself many times. Small wins snowball into big wins and pretty soon you're done!
  4. Hit the 'reset' button - you've got to get everyone, and I mean everyone, on a project team to hit the 'reset' button. This means each member of the core and extended team letting go of the past. Everyone needs to let go of past behaviors, results, habits and feelings and start anew. (If you can include your internal or external customer on this one too that would be optimal but not always realistic.) This is the most difficult of the 4 steps because people like to hang on to the past for dear life for a variety of reasons sometimes just to cover their own backsides. How to do this? I like to propose a team "amnesty day". From such and such a day forward no one is to refer to the past other than in a factual fashion to get work done. Make people imagine that they are meeting everyone on the team for the first time and that the project didn't exist before that day. This is a cleansing, second chance step that everyone needs once in a while to move forward and be successful.
This list is not meant to be comprehensive as there are many other things to do to turn around a project. This list is also inwardly focused rather than outwardly (i.e. towards the rest of the organization). That's how you turn a project or even yourself around - you start at the core and work outward. I'll have another post discussing more outwardly focused steps at a later date.

I hope this was helpful! If you have other turnaround tips please share! 

*blamestorm - is a pejorative term I've heard at IBM and seems to sum up those set of behaviors quite nicely (i.e. a storm of blame that rains on everyone's parade).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On giving thanks

"Gratitude is the best attitude." - Anon

I've already written a post about happiness wherein I assert that a key step to attaining it is having gratitude for what one already has. As we approach the American holiday of Thanksgiving I wanted to share some thoughts:

In the United States we are given an entire day off to reflect on and be grateful for the bounty before us. In that spirit lets each of us take the opportunity, even if only 5 minutes, to take an important step towards happiness and give thanks to someone or something however small. Gratitude is truly the best attitude even in, or perhaps especially in, tough times.

I am certainly grateful for the readership of this blog. I am very thankful for the time you are taking to read these postings and sincerely hope you benefit from something somewhere. Thank you.

If you celebrate this holiday I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving! If this is not a holiday for you then I wish you a very happy 5 minutes (or more) of Gratitude!

Additional note: (via the Dan Pink blog, one of my favorite bloggers and current authors)

With 2010 winding down, Dan Pink asked Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith (authors of the book, "The Dragonfly Effect") if they’d answer a question for Pink Blog readers:

“What are three ways people can use the remaining six weeks of the year to both spread their idea and boost their satisfaction?”

Here is their wonderful response - appropriate for this post on gratitude (and happiness!)

Monday, November 22, 2010

The 3 "secrets" to getting your NEXT JOB

As one can imagine given the U.S. economic situation of the past 2 years I've had lots of conversations with mentees (and others) employed and unemployed centered around finding a new job. Everyone wants to know the secrets to success especially in tough times - I'm about to give the 3 most important ones. (Or perhaps these aren't secrets for you so just take this as a strong reminder of what you should already be doing...  :)  )

A few years ago while I was working with a well known outplacement agency I came across a fascinating statistic they had compiled from measuring the success path of their own clientele over decades of job searching: (paraphrased by me) on average it takes 20 to 30 conversations with different hiring managers before obtaining a final offer of employment. This blew my mind. I know I'm writing this but it's worth repeating: on average it takes 20 to 30 conversations with different hiring managers before obtaining a final offer of employment. A hiring manager is literally someone with the power to hire you - a decision-maker (so typically someone in Human Resources doesn't count). In better job markets the number is closer to 20 and in worse job markets the number is closer to or even above 30.

The next related statistic was also eye opening: and how does one get to have these 20 to 30 conversations with hiring managers? One has to have 20 to 30 job search-related conversations a week which produce information on target industries, companies and most importantly networking connections to hiring managers at your target companies. Whether there's a job opening posted or not the key step (and secret numero UNO) is making connections to and conversing with people with the power to hire. It's that simple and yet usually that difficult because it means putting yourself out there in a persistent, professional and disciplined way. These conversations don't have to be long -  20 minutes maximum. But you do need to get out there and make those phone calls and have those networking coffee chats and lunches. There is no way around it and you don't want a way around it because it will benefit you in a multitude of ways.

Perhaps these statistics feel somewhat inflated - perhaps they really are. No matter they drive home the point that sending out resumes, creating internet search agents, waiting to receive emails and phone calls are all nice but success lies in getting out there proactively and building your network. You want to discover job openings before they are even posted (also known as the "hidden" job market). You can only do that by talking with people and making sure you are available as the opportunities arise.

I'll use this quote again: Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” - Seneca

20 job search conversations a week is quite a tall order so what's the key there? How do you get to do that? You do that by leveraging each conversation you have into obtaining your next conversation. This is secret #2: Never leave a job-related conversation (unless it's an actual interview) without doing the following 2 things:

  1. Ask the person you are speaking with who else they might know and could possibly introduce you to in order to help you learn about your target industry, geography, company or job opportunity. You could say something like "Who else would you recommend I speak with about possible future openings at ABC Company? What's their email or phone # and would you be ok if I told them you sent me?"
  2. Set some kind of time frame when you'll reconnect with the person you are currently speaking with. Even if it's only to thank them or keep them posted on your progress. An even better reason would be if you've uncovered some way you could help them in return for meeting with you and recommending others to speak with (see #1)
The final secret I'd like to share is: you will receive help if you help others. Have you come across a job opportunity that isn't a fit for you but might be very interesting to someone in your network? Then by all means pass it along whether that person is employed or not! You never know if someone is ready for a professional change. If you helped someone else get a job you will have made a friend forever! Be proactive at feeding your network with your own connections and job opportunities. It will come back to reward you in the future.

In summary, the 3 secrets are:
  1. Have plenty of job-search conversations each week. There is no internet/job posting/resume-sending plan that can replace proactive, in-person or over the phone real-time conversations.
  2. Ensure every conversation leads you to the next conversation.
  3. Help others find opportunities and you will be helped more than you know!
Good luck out there! It's rough but getting better.....

Friday, November 19, 2010

How to create a mentoring program - some resources

Most of the time I use this blog to present new ideas or old ideas in new ways about mentoring. Sometimes though I just like to use it to point you to useful information on mentoring as in today's post.

Clearly by virtue of my authoring this blog you know I find tremendous benefits in mentoring. These benefits are not limited to the individuals who participate but also expand to include companies that foster a mentoring environment! To quote an article listed below:
Mentoring programs are one of the most effective tools in achieving business results. The authors of the book, War on Talent reported, “Of those who have had a highly helpful mentoring experience, 95 percent indicated it motivated them to do their very best, 88 percent said it made them less likely to leave their company, and 97 percent said it contributed to their success at the company.”
Some kind of mentoring program, whether formal or informal, will benefit and can be established at any size company. For example, a quote taken from another article:
 IBM started its program to build knowledge, foster learning, and connect people in a company with 386,000 employees. The culture of mentorship runs so deep that every IBM employee is either being mentored, mentoring others, or doing both. “A lot of our people work virtually, and mentoring can erase geographic and business-unit borders,” says Sheila Forte-Trammell, who manages IBM’s mentoring programs.
Whether it's to groom future leaders, help onboard new employees or improve job satisfaction, morale and loyalty there are a myriad of reasons companies would want to build on the power of mentoring programs. Below are a couple of articles that talk about how to start just such a program. If you are in a position to get a mentoring program started these articles are valuable tools. If you are someone hoping for something like this at your workplace perhaps you can forward these links to your manager or to someone in HR responsible for employee satisfaction.

If you have any additional ideas on how or why to start a mentoring program or ways to create incentives for mentors and mentees please send them along or comment below!

Recommended reading:
Here's a great article by Greg Smith entitled "How to Create an Effective Mentoring Program" which gives a wonderful overview of a typical mentoring program.

Here is another article which is quite comprehensive on "How to Start a Mentorship Program". The author discusses reasons for mentoring and the usefulness of establishing goals for your program. It also points you to some additional resources.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tips for starting off with a new mentee

A reader writes: "How do you engage your mentee?  What activities/discussions are good to do together early on?"

Excellent question! And an important one especially if you have someone, a mentee, who is brand new to mentoring and isn't sure if this time you are going to spend together is really worthwhile.

Before getting to the 'engagement' part of the conversation it's extremely important to set the ground rules first. Only when you've established a comfortable and confidential space for discussion can you then dive into the good stuff. I always start off a new relationship with the following rules:

1. Everything said during our mentoring conversations stays with us without exception unless explicitly stated otherwise. Without establishing confidentiality and, over time, trust it will be impossible to fully reap all the benefits these conversations have to offer. Both of you have to feel that you can talk about and say anything whether it's as delicate a topic as something against your boss, your company, yourself, etc. The freer you each feel the more in depth the conversations can be and the closer to "truth" you both get. There is no greater sin during mentorship than breaking this confidentiality.

2. Mentoring is 2-way street! I've said this before in the blog but I'll say it again. Mentoring is really a shared learning experience even if it starts out with one person 'advising' another person. I like to make clear at the beginning that I expect to learn from my mentee as much as they expect to learn from me. We all bring different talents and perspectives to the table and I like to make sure my new mentee knows that I recognize that and expect that kind of 2 way engagement.

3. If I am in the same company as the mentee I make sure they know that I will not participate in any performance or promotion conversations about them. The only way to have a 2-way barrier-free dialog is to set the rule that nothing said will be used against or for the person should that topic come up with other managers in the organization. It simply isn't fair to them or to anyone else. Our mentoring relationship stands outside of the company and the fact that we both work in the same firm is a 'coincidence'.

Now onto the fun to start off....

Most people's favorite activity, whether they admit it or not, is to talk about themselves. So I like to make the first few conversations a lot of fun for the mentee by asking them a lot of questions about themselves and actively listening to their responses.

Once the general "resume" type and logistics questions are out of the way here is a set of questions I like to ask:

  1. Why did you seek out a mentor?
  2. What do you expect to get, if anything, from a mentor?
  3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  4. Are you happy?
These questions are focused on them and on what they need from this relationship over time. That last question usually leads off into an important direction and has provided an arc for the next set of meetings. (But not always.)

At some point early on I like to make an explicit, verbal commitment to help the mentee in any way I can. Making this commitment deliberately and early in the relationship can be really powerful. As an adult I believe it's rare to find someone that is willing to make such a commitment to help you professionally. I have literally seen people's faces light up when I've said that I'm there for them. That alone, for me, makes mentoring worthwhile.

Speaking of questions here are some questions other mentors have said they use with their mentees/clients:
  1. What does success look like?
  2. How / why were you successful this past week?
  3. Is there something you have always wanted to do but never tried? possibly never even told anyone?
  4. What would happen / what could and would you do if all obstacles magically disappeared?
  5. What does it feel like to be you?
The obvious qualities you want to exhibit with your mentees always are: 1. empathy/sympathy 2. respect 3. curiosity 4. enthusiasm. How we each do that varies but just keeping these qualities in mind during all conversations will help tremendously. Demonstrating curiosity, empathy and enthusiasm should naturally and organically engage your new mentee.

Finally a key part to ensuring engagement from a new mentee is something that is a little out of our control and that's chemistry. You both have to a certain extent "hit it off". Not every pairing is going to hit it off and that's ok. You and your new mentee may find that for whatever reason it's not meant to be. If that happens move quickly to recognize that without recrimination and send them on their way to find a mentor who'd be a better fit for whatever reason. If you don't enjoy each other's company you'll have a hard time staying engaged!

I hope this answers the question! Thanks again for writing in and keep them coming.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Determining my audience

There's nothing like 2+ weeks away from your normal, daily life to allow for reflection and a chance to approach that life with a new (or at least refreshed) pair of eyes.

Today's post is about this blog itself.

When I registered "On Mentoring" 2 years ago and when I finally started seriously blogging back in June my primary target audience for this blog were other mentors/coaches. I wanted to create a forum for the sharing of knowledge and exchange of ideas, tips, stories and questions about Mentoring. I believe Mentoring is an inherently good thing - an investment that pays for itself in multiples both personally and professionally. Companies that invest in creating formal or informal mentoring environments, even if it's only to say they support the idea, tend to have happier and more engaged employees. I'm passionate about this area and if I could in some small way contribute to inspiring new mentors or growing the existing base I would be very happy.

My secondary target audience were mentees or mentees-to-be. I also wanted to inspire folks to seek out and find mentors to discover the personal and professional benefits when engaging in a mentoring relationship. As in my case today's mentees would hopefully turn into tomorrow's mentors too!

What I have found over the past six months that most of my audience (from the comments, emails, tweets, questions and personal interactions I receive) are actually "mentees-to-be". Most folks that read this blog seem to be people who'd like to have mentors for themselves but for whatever reason aren't able to find that person and so view me as their mentor. This is an unexpected but positive result!

So my question is: should I turn this primarily into a direct mentoring blog or is what I'm doing sufficient to satisfy both types of audiences? I will anyway always answer all types of questions but the answer to my question will change my approach, writing style and mix of topics to a large extent which is why I'm asking! My concern about this secondary focus is only that there are so many advice blogs out there already. Who really needs another one? Whereas a blog targeted to other mentors appears to me as more of a focused, niche area (and therefore a "good thing" in this very populated blog-o-sphere).

Please send me your advice or thoughts in any manner you feel comfortable - comments on this post, private email (, tweets, etc. I'd appreciate the feedback!

Either way I'll be back next time with one of several posts already underway. Thank you!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The 5 Elements of Luck and The Analogy of the Spider

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." - Seneca

I sometimes wonder when sitting down to write a post whether what I'm going to discuss is truly adding to the body of knowledge that's out there in some way. Whether it's a brand new concept or an old concept re-framed in a way that helps more people make use of it I strive to present something fresh. In the spirit of the latter (the re-frame) I'd like to use this post to discuss LUCK.

The concept of "luck" is a favorite of mine especially because it is used by so many people to explain so many things. Granted in life there are no guarantees and the flip side of "no guarantees" is "luck". But the luck concept is often misused as an excuse for inaction, procrastination and self-defeat.

Luck is a term that pops up in many of my conversations with mentees/clients. I'll hear things like: "So and so got the promotion instead of me because he was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time.", "I never have any luck.", "She got that job offer because she was lucky enough to know a friend of the hiring manager", etc. etc.

To deal with these comments and feelings I always bring up one of my favorite quotes on the topic: "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." It is attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca. I love it because it pretty much takes "luck" out of the luck equation. It opens a window for people to take more responsibility for what happens in their lives rather than attribute it to good or bad luck.

"Luck is what you have left over after you give 100 percent." - Langston Coleman

What does it mean to work and be prepared for that opportunity you are seeking? What steps can one take to get 'luckier'? I am far from the first person to make and use the analogy of a spider but this analogy is quite apt. In order to find food and stay alive a spider must select a good location, build a web, wait ever so patiently for its prey (its opportunity), recognize when its prey has arrived and act at the precise moment to exploit its catch most effectively. The spider can't rely solely on 'luck' for its survival. And yet it has no way of knowing if a fly will actually find its way into its' web. These "spider steps" are precisely the ones we all have to follow as well to get 'lucky'.

Broken down here are those steps, those ingredients, those elements of good luck - use them to pursue your goals:

1. STUDY - deeply study the areas of interest related to your goal. Never before in the history of the world has it been easier to do research on any topic. The Internet - this great, intertwined Oracle - is at your fingertips making a mind blowing array of resources available to you. Presumably a spider had to learn how to spin a web (I'm not a biologist but for the sake of this analogy work with me here!) and study a few webs before building one for itself. For example, if your goal is to find a new job then study the job market in the industry and location desired. Especially study companies where you would like to apply. Learn everything there is to know about these companies and then learn a little more.

2. PREPARATION - sure "study" can be considered part of the preparation step but once you've done all of the "intangible" work - the reading and learning about your area of interest it's time to move to a more active and tangible step. That's what I'm calling "preparation". It's the filling of the forms, the polishing of the shoes, pulling out the rolodex/contact list and the mental preparation required to focus on the objective you've set for yourself. This is an active step - it is the planning. To continue the job search example this is where you decide and write out your career goal, decide how many networking phone calls and meetings you will have each week, decide which job boards and newspapers to monitor, set up your recording mechanism to keep track of your contacts and research, etc. etc.

3. EXECUTION (SPINNING THE WEB) - as the spider does it's time to spin the web. It's all about executing on your well thought out and prepared plan. Put it into action - do everything you can do increase your chances of success. As Langston Coleman says - once you've given it 100% then the rest is up to luck. In the job search example this is the ACTION part of the plan. This is when you go and make the phone calls, send the resumes, meet the people, go on the interviews, etc.

4. PATIENCE - this is the hardest step. Once a spider's web is spun it's all in the waiting. The spider is not sure when the prey will fly into the web but it almost always will at some point. Once you're confident you've done everything you can to achieve your goal it's time to wait. Waiting can be hard work no doubt. But this is not a passive waiting where you just wait for the universe to decide your fate. It's an active, intentional waiting where you monitor your plan and perhaps tweak your web based on the monitoring. A good friend of mine once commented that when people see someone successful no really knows the background story of how hard it was to get there. We all tend to focus on the success part and not so much on the path or how long it took for that person to achieve that success. We rarely recognize the patience it required.

5. KNOWING WHEN TO ACT AND ACTING - Once the opportunity does arrive it's critical to recognize its arrival (I have seen people wait for an opportunity and yet completely miss perfectly great ones when they arrive especially if those don't fit 100% with what they had expected or imagined). After recognition one must evaluate the opportunity and act upon it at precisely the right time to maximize its potential. You've received a job offer? Great! Is it what you wanted or close enough to what you wanted? How much should you negotiate? etc. When the spider moves on its' web to act on its' prey it moves confidently and with purpose just as you should. Taking advantage of the opportunity is the actualization of "luck". It's all the preparation and work coming to fruition.

I acknowledge that there is some "luck" out there - timing is everything as they say. 'Luck' may be that one person has to wait for an opportunity less time than another despite similar conditions and preparation. Nevertheless I believe that the end goal - the opportunity we seek - is in front of all of us if we put in the work to get 'lucky'. Recognizing these 5 elements of luck [study, preparation, execution, patience, acting on the opportunity] and working them to our advantage to reach our goals will maximize our chances against "the house". I hope this posting was helpful.

I wish you all Good "Luck"! :)

"I'm a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it." - Thomas Jefferson.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tips for finding a mentor when you're unemployed

The following question came to me via Twitter: "what's the best way for the unemployed/self-employed to find a mentor?". Terrific question!

One clear difference between someone who is employed vs. someone who is not or is self-employed is access to resources. (By 'self-employed' I'm assuming the person works by themselves or owns a small company for the sake of this discussion). Not that an unemployed/self-employed person doesn't have access - just that it takes more work to reach out and network with people when you don't have a company full hundreds of folks running around you.

Start off by making a list of folks that you already know that would make a good mentor in your opinion - a list of "candidate mentors". Perhaps there's already someone in your life who you'd like to emulate and who has the time and inclination to do so. If you need help developing this list of mentor candidates then ask around! If you are comfortable approaching your previous managers I'd ask them. Prior managers who already know you well may be able to come up with names of folks that would make a good fit. You should also ask friends and family if they themselves have mentors or know people who do. Just like finding a new job finding a new mentor is all about networking!

Other suggestions to develop a candidate mentor list:

  1. Use your local industry group. Ask their leaders for ideas. Usually people who head local or national professional organizations have contacts who are willing to be mentors. They may even be interested in mentoring themselves!
  2. Your local religious group or organization may be a fruitful path. Private organizations such as these tend to cut across corporate hierarchical structure and afford you access to a wide variety of people too.
  3. If you are self-employed and work with vendors ask the vendors for suggestions as they will likely know other folks in your industry (granted you want to avoid people with whom you are in direct competition with).
  4. If you are willing to go the paid Business Coach route again I'd ask for recommendations from peers or former peers.

Once you've developed your candidate mentor list then, as described in more detail in an earlier post about asking someone to be your mentor, set up a short meeting with each of them and talk about what starting a mentoring relationship means to you and why you would be honored if they'd become your mentor. Most people will be at the very least flattered by your request.

The bottom line is whether unemployed, employed or self-employed the key to finding your mentor is through networking and recommendations - much like finding your next job or client!

I hope this answers your question and offers some tips. Thanks again for the great question! Keep them coming!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

7 steps on how to say "no" and have people still like you

Although spelled only with 2 adjacent letters of the English alphabet the word "NO" can sometimes be the hardest word for people to pronounce especially in response to requests for time or services in a work situation. The reason it's so difficult is rooted in fear. Fear that if you say "no" you could lose your job, lose an interesting opportunity, be cast as inflexible, not a team player and worst of all: someone won't like you.

But many times it's important to say "no" or at the very least "not yet". Overcommitting yourself is as bad a sin as undercommitting. Setting boundaries is critical to ensuring what you do produce is focused and of high quality. "Say what you're going to do and do what you say" is a creed I live by and one critical to success. It will build trust in you and "your brand" and through this will bring you power. Setting boundaries will also help you keep your sanity.

As important as it is to set boundaries this type of conversation can still be considered or easily turn into a confrontational one. Many people avoid confrontation. There are certain techniques to handling confrontational conversations to be discussed in a later post. The aim of this post is to turn a confrontational refusal into a cooperative and constructive way to move forward. So, how do you do that?

Here are the basic steps I've found successful in saying "no" to someone's request but remaining on good terms with them:
  1. Acknowledge the request head on. Don't beat around the bush. You want to make sure that you understand the request and ensure it is actually a request of you. (It would be embarrassing to say 'no' to someone who isn't actually asking you to do something. That's happened to me in the past! Misunderstandings happen. Let's minimize those.) Restating the request demonstrates that you've listened carefully and are in the moment dealing with the issue. For example if someone came over to ask you to create a presentation for them you could start by saying "I understand you'd like for me to create this presentation by the end of this week. Is that accurate?"
  2. Validate the need. You want the person requesting your time to know that you know this request is important. You want to treat both the request and person making the request with respect. By validating their needs you get the both of you onto the same team. It de-personalizes the next several steps. If you are on the same team it's not about personalities - it's about the best and most effective way forward to satisfy this important need while not distracting you from your priorities. Be empathetic to their need because tomorrow you may be the person making a request of them. Continuing the presentation communication example above you could say something as simple as:  "I know this presentation is incredibly important and urgent."
  3. Decide if it's really a "no" or a "not yet" and prepare your response accordingly. In considering the importance of the request, your priorities, your existing commitments and your talents with respect to completing the request decide if you can take this on at all. If so, can you take it on in the time frame requested? If the answer is "yes I can do it but not in the time requested" make sure to figure out a commitment as to when you can offer to do it.
  4. State clearly your response. If it's a "not yet" share your time frame and ask if that works (and if it doesn't work then this may end up being a "no" in the end). If this is a "no" deliver the response firmly but at the same time empathetically and respectfully. For example, "Unfortunately I'm unable to fit this additional project in at this time. That's probably not the response you wanted to hear."
  5. Explain your response. This doesn't have to be elaborate but do give a reason. If it's due to a personal reason you'd rather not share you can keep the explanation high level. The requester doesn't have to agree with your response and explanation necessarily but it is your truth and the sooner that's acknowledged the sooner everyone can move forward and figure out how this thing can get done. I recall reading sometime back about an experiment showing that people are generally more receptive to messages if you give a reason even if that reason doesn't make sense than if you didn't give any reason at all and just delivered the message. Part of it is that it seems that our brains are programmed to be more open to messages and requests once we simply hear the word 'because' without actually hearing the rest of the reason. From personal experience I think this is spot on. Back to the example you could say something like: "Unfortunately I've got 2 other presentations to deliver in the next few weeks. When I work on presentations I want to make sure I deliver something high quality. To take on a 3rd presentation would dilute my ability to focus on producing a great end product. I would hate for you to get something substandard."
  6. Offer alternatives (this one is very important) Don't leave your requester high and dry. You've listened to them and empathized with them. You're both on the same team (in terms of this exchange) now. If it were your request being refused wouldn't you want to hear some tips on how to move forward? Of course you would! So once you've said 'no' immediately follow up with ideas on how the requester can proceed without your participation and still be successful. "Have you asked Becky or Mike to help you out? They are just as well-versed on this topic as I am. Perhaps I can send you a related presentation I did last year that you could use as a starting point or as a template. Would that be helpful to you?"
  7. If possible offer to initiate the alternatives. Building off of step 6, actually spend a little energy and get that person started on the alternatives you suggested. This is a little 'extra credit' but very powerful. Perhaps you can arrange an introduction to someone that can help with the request or perhaps use Google to quickly point them in the right direction with data they need. If you've offered to do something make sure you go and actually do it and do it quickly. That way you can send them on their way and get back to focusing on what you need to do without having to worry about fulfilling a promise later. Step 6 and 7 together offer them a resource and path forward. If you don't leave them empty-handed they are more likely to remember this exchange as a helpful one rather than one where you refused to do something they wanted. (I've gotten away with this for years! ;) ) "You don't know Mike personally? No problem. Let me introduce you. I'll let him know how important this project is and let you take it from there."
Hopefully this offered some tips on how to turn a "negative situation" into a positive one! If you have other suggestions please leave them in the comments! 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tips for asking someone to be your mentor

[UPDATE: Watch my YouTube video answer on this topic by clicking here!]

A reader of this blog wrote in and asked: "How do you ask someone to be your mentor? (these people are typically very busy and you are asking for some of their precious time). What qualities do you look for in a mentor?". Thank you for these 2 great questions!

I've been very lucky in my professional life to have had several mentors throughout my career. 5 in total to be exact - 3 formal ones and 2 informal ones. As I've written previously my first mentor was not sought out by me but after gaining so much benefit, both professional and personal, from that relationship I reached out for mentors since then.

The first part to getting a mentor is identifying possible candidates. Much like dating there has to be a certain "match" and an interest on both sides. If there are people around you that you admire or wish you could emulate that puts them on the list of your candidate mentors! If not then ask for recommendations. At one company I found my mentor by asking my boss. Asking your manager is recommended anyway as it accomplishes two things: 1. it lets your manager know your desire to grow through mentoring and that you're taking strong interest in your career by making this type of commitment; 2. it also lets your manager know that you'll be meeting someone outside of our immediate organization to talk about topics usually reserved for 'the boss' such as your career. A good boss will be very encouraging of your mentoring desires and may know folks at their level (or higher) that would be a good match for you! Or they may know great Business or Life Coaches who specialize in career and life coaching for hire.

Once you've identified your list of candidates set up a short meeting, perhaps coffee, with the individual at the top of your list. Typically these folks are very busy so be respectful of their calendar and be patient to get that initial meeting. If this person's name came from a recommendation perhaps the person that gave you the recommendation can set up an introduction. And please do keep that initial meeting short to demonstrate that you keep your commitments when it comes to people's time.

If you are going the paid Business Coach route you still need to set up an initial conversation because you still need to ensure a great "match". Especially if you are paying for them! Many Business Coaches will set up initial consultations for free.

When meeting time arrives start off by explaining the purpose of the meeting (i.e. to see if there is a mutual interest in starting a mentoring relationship). Explain why you think this would be a good match. If possible enumerate the qualities you've seen or heard about the candidate mentor/coach that you admire. It's important to establish rapport early in the conversation or quickly recognize that it's difficult to do so and may not make a great fit. Don't be shy! Be eager! Most everyone would be flat out flattered that they are being approached with this kind of request even if in the end there isn't a fit. Talk a little bit about yourself - what you do, where you see yourself going. Also talk about what you expect to get out of a mentor and what kind of time commitment you expect. Do be sure to be flexible as you are the one essentially asking a favor even if in the end the relationship ends up being very beneficial to both of you. Both of you should have enough of a conversation to decide if you'd like to proceed.

Hopefully the answer is "yes" to proceeding from both of you but be very prepared to hear "No" from the candidate mentor. Don't take it personally! I've had some candidate mentors say no to me because they were already mentoring 3 other people and simply could not take on an additional person. You may hear "no" because the person honestly feels that they can't offer you much help or time. Not everyone is prepared to be a mentor and that doesn't make them a bad person of course. You may decide "no" on your part because the qualities you thought the candidate mentor possessed were not quite there. If this isn't your mentor that's fine just move to the next person on the list or grow your list through conversations with peers and friends.

Regarding the 2nd question about qualities to look for in a mentor success really depends on the chemistry between the two individuals. Will you feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics with each other? Is this someone you can trust? Did you feel you established a good rapport with the person after that initial meeting? Below is a good list taken from the article: "6 Qualities of a Good Mentor":

  1. Authentic – the mentor “practices” what he/she “preaches.”  A good mentor will not only tell you what the best approach is, but is utilizing the approach him/herself.  The mentor doesn’t send you in one direction while he/she goes another saying, “you have to learn the hard way.”  The purpose of working with a mentor is to learn from the mentor's mistakes.
  2. Personally Involved – the mentor should take a personal interest in the mentoring relationship.  The mentor should get to know you, how you work, what your goals are, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and any other pertinent information that you (the mentee) believe to be relevant.
  3. Listens – a good mentor will genuinely listen to your concerns and not be eager to get the conversation over.  You shouldn’t be a list item on your mentor’s day sheet.  He should know your current projects by name and be able to ask you, first hand, how things are going.
  4. Continues to Learn and Grow – a good mentor knows that he couldn’t possibly know everything there is to know in any given field today – the world has become much too complex.  Things change, people change, circumstances change – and it’s all great.  A good mentor will remain open to new ideas and even try them.
  5. Assumes You’re Great – a good mentor doesn’t assume that you’re a loser just because you are coming to him for advice.  He recognizes that you have talent and are successful already, (otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to afford his fee! [Editor's addition: or that you wouldn't necessarily recognize the benefits of mentoring even without a fee!]).  At the very least, he should see your potential or otherwise not take you on as a mentee.
  6. Builds You Up – A good mentor is tuned in, tapped in, turned on, and in their wholeness, they will uplift you.  When someone fosters insecurity in you, they are not tuned in, tapped in, turned on, and they’re not a good mentor for you in that moment.

I agree with all these qualities and would explicitly add one more: trustworthiness - can this person keep things confidential? You need to have an open and safe place to discuss anything and that space isn't created if there is fear of information getting out. Establish the "all our conversations stay in the room" rule at your first session.

I hope this helps give some tips on finding a great mentor! Keep the questions coming and thanks again!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Preparing for a 'showdown'

A mentee once asked me "What do I do to prepare for a showdown?"

A 'showdown' is a meeting that is expected to be confrontational. Attendees have very different opinions of or approaches to something. It is also usually considered by the participants as "high stakes" (so we aren't talking about figuring out "where to go for lunch today?"). Showdowns also occur when their is a perceived power imbalance between participants or emotional baggage between participants that aren't necessarily tied to the meeting topic.

So what to do when you have to participate in a crucial meeting with layers upon layers of related and unrelated challenges? Here's the advice I'd give the mentee:

  1. Be prepared - take the time to seriously prepare for this meeting. Do your homework! This means 2 things: 1) make sure you know your material cold. 2) Learn as much as you can about everyone's point of view before the meeting starts. I am a big fan of "having the meeting before the meeting" so to speak. I advocate going to as many attendees as possible beforehand and invite them to share their perspective with you in order for the actual meeting to be more efficient and productive. This will also allow you to focus and be prepared for the issues likely to arise. (It's not guaranteed that everyone will share all their concerns with you beforehand - but you can try!)
  2. Be open - being open to others' opinions will have 2 very powerful effects. First, it will go a long way to diffusing a tense meeting. Showing that you value other people's opinions will put other participants at ease and actually afford you some "goodwill points" towards your argument. Secondly, by being open to new information you might actually learn something and perhaps even change your mind! Or an even better result would be for folks with opposing viewpoints to work together to formulate a 3rd path forward which takes into account everyone's input. This can only happen with an open mind and a positive attitude.
  3. Be confident. This doesn't mean being arrogant. The more you've prepared the more confident you will feel. And the more confident you feel the more naturally open you're likely to be during the meeting. If you are not confident that your approach/solution is valid it's unlikely anyone else is going to be arguing for or agreeing with you. In fact, if you aren't confident going into the meeting that's a worthwhile feeling to pay attention to and explore. Perhaps in the back of your mind you aren't sure and need to do more research or propose a different way forward. So go in there and be confident or do something different until you do feel confident.
I like to start 'showdown' meetings with a direct and sincere invitation to everyone to have an open mind. I state that everyone's perspective is valued and needs to be heard and considered. I then "confess" that while I'm certainly coming into the meeting with a preference I am open to having my mind changed. The last thing I do by way of introduction is ensure we all agree on a clear and crisp description of the problem at hand and invite everyone to alter or improve that description. The point is to start off on the same page about the problem. If I'm not leading the meeting I still try and make sure all these points come across early on.

Of course the above approach doesn't work 100% of the time. Nothing is guaranteed. You may find someone there that's bent on making you fail. Many times in real life "other considerations" prevail over working through a showdown most logically. We tend to label these "other considerations" under the banner of 'politics'. Even in the face of politics the above steps are still going to give you the highest probability of rallying the crowd to your side and leading you towards success.

If you have other suggestions for dealing with 'showdowns' I'd love to hear them!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Happiness is not that elusive

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” — Thornton Wilder

On a fellow named Nic Marks gives a wonderful talk about the "Happy Planet Index" asking people to reconsider how one measures a country's success. He'd like for us to replace GNP and GDP as measures of national success and well-being with this index that measures happiness as a function of planetary resource usage. Putting planetary resource usage aside for the moment "happiness" is a wide and complex topic to enter in with your mentee. But isn't their happiness and well-being something you as their mentor inherently care about?

Periodically I'll ask my mentees if they are, in general, happy. No matter the answer I get I always want to know why. If they are unhappy I like to dig deeper to see if there's something we can work out together. If they are happy I'd like to learn what makes them tick and perhaps also learn a thing or two that could help me be more happy. Mentoring is, after all, a 2-way street.

What I like most about Nic's talk is his straightforward boiling down of the actions one can take today and everyday that have been proven to lead to happiness. And those actions aren't that hard! I would recommend watching the whole presentation but if you don't have the time you can advance the time marker to 13:08min where Nic discusses the 5 things you can do to improve the sense of well-being in your life. I list them below but Nic talks about them in a little more detail.  They are:

  1. Connect - Be social 
  2. Move - Be active
  3. Take notice - Be observant
  4. Keep learning - Be curious
  5. Give - Be generous

I'd like to add a sixth one:

    6. Give Thanks - Be grateful

We've all heard the cliches that there's someone out there worse off than us. That's almost definitely true but may not strike the right chord. Comparing oneself to others usually leads to competition, stress and unhappiness. Gratitude for the abundance one already has independent of what others may or may not have is the key. Whether it's outward gratitude expressed to someone in particular or gratitude that's inwardly focused when one recognizes the "positives" of life - both will work!

There are several techniques for "practicing gratitude". Some people pray. Some people make sure to say a specific "thank you" to at least 3 people a day. Others make daily written lists of what they are grateful for from that day. Still others may have a ritual or a picture or a thing on their desk that reminds them to be grateful. Whatever it is a well-placed reminder to focus on "the treasures" one already has will spark an important, positive feedback loop in the brain.

I derived the title of this post from the fact that these are all steps right in front of each and every one of us and we can all start immediately. None of these 6 activities have any barriers to entry. They cost nothing to engage in and yet are powerful and effective. They can and will bring about a sense of well-being if put into practice over time. Try it - you'll like it!

For Nic Marks' talk click here.

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” — Epictetus

Monday, September 6, 2010

Motivation Part III: Self-motivation

This posting is for mentors and mentees alike. One of my favorite topics is motivation. Today I'll point you to a nice, brief article about self-motivation: How To Motivate Yourself

Of the steps mentioned the 2 most critical ones in my opinion are:

  1. Break down big goals into smaller more achievable goals. Some goals have good, natural break points (such as weight loss - 25 lbs can be done 5 lbs at a time). With others you can set aside a certain amount of time to work on that goal (even using a timer to help with time management). For example, you need to re-organize your closet? Do it in 15-30 minute chunks every day or week and over time you'll notice significant improvement.
  2. Celebrate the successes - especially the small ones! Celebrations create a positive feedback loop that will help you gain momentum to propel you towards your goal.
Another aspect not mentioned explicitly in the article is getting passionate about your goal. This does not mean getting 'obsessed'. I had an uncle that loved the phrase: "If you can't do what you like then like what you do." It's hard to get motivated to do something you hate. The key then is to find something that you like about achieving that goal and reframe your thoughts around that positive aspect. For example perhaps your goal is weight loss and to achieve that you need to exercise. I hate exercising. So I focus on an aspect that I can enjoy. I like to exercise to music and so when it's exercise time I get excited not so much about the exercising activity but instead on the fact that I get to blast my music for 30 minutes. Others may focus on what they'll look like if they stick to their exercise regimen over time.

"Tricking" yourself into liking what you do will get you far in many aspects of life especially if you are currently "stuck" in a job. Rewarding yourself after achieving milestones will also help you like what you do. The good news is that the more you practice thinking positively and finding the silver lining the better at it you will get. And the easier it will get! The additional good news is that if you master this 'trick' it will help you in all aspects of life and not just work. If you have tricks on learning to like what you do please share them in the comments section! I'd love to read about it.

For past postings on different aspects of Motivation please see:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What to do about a 'bad' manager Part I

A mentee once asked me "what can I do about my bad manager?"

Ah, what an interesting question and one many folks are asking as this economy forces more of us to stick to our current jobs longer than we may like. It is also a situation that has to be handled very delicately and diplomatically because in the end the boss is still the boss and presumably has the power and leverage in this situation.

When encountering this issue I like to first understand what the person means by 'bad' (by the way, other unprintable adjectives have been used in real life but I chose to stick with 'bad'). I generally categorize the feedback into 2 buckets: 1. "not on the same wavelength"/"communication issues" and 2. "incompetent leadership/management" or in other words "truly bad management". This second bucket will be addressed in another post.

So let's take the first bucket. Here's the kind of conversation I would have with the mentee:

Clearly not everyone was meant to click with everyone else. Perhaps the rapport you felt during the interview process has faded or more likely you have a brand new boss due to an organizational change. I would first want to find out if the issues are communication related. For example are you a 'move towards' person and your boss a 'move away' person? Are you a visual person (where drawing pictures aids the communication immensely) and your boss is someone that prefers to talk everything out (pictures don't mean much)? Are you a strategic thinker and your boss a tactical thinker? Or vice versa on any of these example questions?

If you can't answer these questions it probably means you haven't yet paid enough attention to the dynamic of your manager/employee relationship.

Another aspect to examine carefully is the existence of other workplace issues for you that are being projected onto your manager. For example, budgets are pretty tight in tough economic times and they tend to get even tighter towards the end of the year. I know of companies where you couldn't even purchase pens in the 4th quarter. That is incredibly frustrating but not necessarily the manager's fault. It's critical to separate circumstances out of your manager's control from their talent as a manager. The circumstances are what they are and it's best to focus your energy on creative ways of dealing with those circumstances rather than assigning blame to the boss.

Back to the "communication"/"not on the same page"/"not see eye to eye" reasons. If you determine that your manager is in fact talented and well-intentioned then something else must be off. Your styles may be different. Your approach to communication may be different or even in conflict (i.e. they are "big thinkers" but you need detailed conversation to be successful in your job). Here are some suggestions to move forward:

  1. Start off by resetting your opinion of your manager! If he/she is well-intentioned and competent you need to internally recognize that before proceeding because if you stay stuck with a negative opinion it will show one way or another. And that will only hurt the situation further.
  2. Analyze and identify what the differences between you and your manager are in order to tailor your approach to resolving those gaps. Review the questions listed above and figure out the answers. You may simply have different personalities. To use an MBTI-type example you may prefer to be "directed" but your manager prefers simply to "inform" you. (more in depth in another posting on this one).
  3. Make a list of these possible differences in your brain or on a piece of paper.
  4. For each item on that list make another list of possible workarounds. For example in the case where your boss is always thinking and communicating at a very high level/strategically and you need tactical guidance perhaps you can find an alternate person to work with to figure out a certain set of work issues. Perhaps your manager can even suggest who to talk to in those cases if you explain your need for this level of conversation in order to be successful at work.
  5. To the extent that the workarounds involve your manager or aren't obvious take the opportunity to sit down with your boss and openly discuss your perspective on the differences. Ask for their perspective and their suggestions for workarounds. Approach this conversation with the intent of searching together for an improved relationship. An open and honest conversation aimed at making the relationship better and helping you do a better job will be more than welcome by a good manager!
To summarize - if you actually have a good boss but it's just not working out make sure you separate the circumstances around your manager from your manager him/herself, figure out if you have different communication styles, personalities or approaches to work life and then build workarounds first with yourself and then in partnership with your manager.

I hope this provided some useful context and suggestions. In a second post on this topic I will explore ways to deal with a "truly bad manager" - someone who should never have gotten into management in the first place!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Building your personal brand

[A broken arm has slowed my postings somewhat - but only temporarily.]

This post applies to mentors and mentees alike.

Like it or not unless we work in a silo we each have a brand at work - a "personal brand". Some folks may interpret this as "reputation" or "track record" or "popularity". But I think our personal brand is all that and more. Ultimately it is what is evoked in other people's minds when they see or hear our names. Think of someone at work whose name simply being mentioned makes you cringe. Now think of someone (perhaps your mentor) whose name makes you smile or relax or energized. There are a set of actions and communications that have occurred from and around that person that have etched these intangible associations, these feelings, in your brain. I believe that successful people actively manage this aspect of their work presence much like brand managers apply "marketing techniques to a specific productproduct line, or brand. [Brand management] seeks to increase a product's perceived value to the customer and thereby increase brand franchise and brand equity. Marketers see a brand as an implied promise that the level of quality people have come to expect from a brand will continue with future purchases of the same product." The product here being the person him/herself - you!

This may all sound a little too capitalistic but when "personal brand management" is done with integrity it can actually propel someone forward and allow them to achieve goals more easily. Once your brand is established you'll find people naturally helping you maintain that brand image.

This is not a new idea at all. In fact there is a great article about this topic called "A Brand Called You". I just don't see many people advancing their careers in this way yet. I like to suggest this approach to mentees who feel stuck in their careers.

Here are some thoughts and steps to personal brand management and it all centers on open and honest communication:

  1. Say what you are going to do and do what you say. Keeping commitments is critical and many people do that well but that's only half the equation. Perfectly good, trustworthy people hestitate to make many (or sometimes any) commitments. You have to first make commitments in order to keep them which in turn builds your track record, trust and your brand.
  2. Be "out there". A key first step to brand management is brand awareness. People have to know you exist before they can formulate and store an opinion of you. Even if that means taking on an extra project, writing a white paper or presenting at a conference.
  3. Be open and honest with the challenges you face and invite feedback from all corners to help you with these challenges. Make sure to give credit and share the success when you've overcome these challenges. When folks see your gratitude and your public acknowledgement of help most will want to help you even more in the future.
  4. Keep communication channels open and running. Don't be shy about including folks in your communication especially around successes. Note: There's a line of diminishing returns here as too much broadcasting may end up being perceived as 'spam'. You need to find the right balance for your team and organization. I've found though that 95% of the time people tend to under-communicate rather than over-communicate.
  5. Be competent - know what you are talking about. You can't be a trusted brand if you haven't mastered your area sufficiently.
  6. Never be arrogant. That will kill your brand. It will put your brand in a place that's extremely hard to recover from.
Here are some additional thoughts and questions taken from the article mentioned above:
  1. "Start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from your competitors -- or your colleagues. What have you done lately -- this week -- to make yourself stand out? What would your colleagues or your customers say is your greatest and clearest strength? Your most noteworthy (as in, worthy of note) personal trait?"
  2. "Do you deliver your work on time, every time? Your internal or external customer gets dependable, reliable service that meets its strategic needs. Do you anticipate and solve problems before they become crises? Your client saves money and headaches just by having you on the team. Do you always complete your projects within the allotted budget?"
  3. " Ask yourself: What do I do that adds remarkable, measurable, distinguished, distinctive value? Forget your job description. Ask yourself: What do I do that I am most proud of? Most of all, forget about the standard rungs of progression you've climbed in your career up to now. Burn that damnable "ladder" and ask yourself: What have I accomplished that I can unabashedly brag about? If you're going to be a brand, you've got to become relentlessly focused on what you do that adds value, that you're proud of."
  4. "If you want people to see you as a powerful brand, act like a credible leader."
  5. "No matter what you're doing today, there are four things you've got to measure yourself against. First, you've got to be a great teammate and a supportive colleague. Second, you've got to be an exceptional expert at something that has real value. Third, you've got to be a broad-gauged visionary -- a leader, a teacher, a farsighted "imagineer." Fourth, you've got to be a businessperson -- you've got to be obsessed with pragmatic outcomes."
I agree that this is an overall touchy subject because this can feel like pure "marketing" but it's actually not. Pure marketing of yourself without the substance behind it and the integrity and partnerships that build it will get you nowhere past the initial flash. Personal success that does not in turn lead to team, divisional, company and business success will also get you nowhere. My belief is that thinking of yourself as a brand and carefully managing that brand will lead to a "win-win" situation for everyone.

I'll end with one more article quote: "A career is now a checkerboard. Or even a maze. It's full of moves that go sideways, forward, slide on the diagonal, even go backward when that makes sense. (It often does.) A career is a portfolio of projects that teach you new skills, gain you new expertise, develop new capabilities, grow your colleague set, and constantly reinvent you as a brand."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Motivation Part II: Elements of Motivation

What motivates you?

What motivates your mentee or employee?

For years I was convinced I knew the answer especially for those in technical fields. Generally people are primarily motivated by 1 of these 3 categories of things:

  1. The kind of work they do/projects they have
  2. Money
  3. Recognition

Figure out which is their primary category and give them as much of it as you can and that will make for a happy and productive person. If you have someone that gravitates towards highly visible projects then make sure to mention their name (or better yet, have the division head or CEO mention their name) at all hands meetings. If you have someone that is motivated by the latest technology then put them on bleeding-edge type projects or give them some extra research assignment that requires a new technical direction.

But more recently one of my favorite authors, Dan Pink, wrote a book called Drive which studies human motivation in depth. Through his work I discovered that those 3 categories are only part of the equation and not even the most important part! For the kind of work that is beyond the purely mechanical and requires even rudimentary cognitive skills and creativity the 3 elements of motivation for the 21st century are (with definitions from Mr. Pink):

  1. Autonomy - "the urge to direct our own lives"
  2. Mastery - "the desire to get better and better at something that matters"
  3. Purpose - "the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves"

There is a superb TED Talk where he introduces this concept and makes a case for all of us to rethink the elements of motivation. This video is absolutely worth your 20 minutes. After watching consider if and how you would change your approach to motivating people.

Dan Pink talk here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Learn = Teach

"The best way to learn (about a subject) is to teach (it)."- Frank Oppenheimer, physicist

The words in parentheses were added to the original quote sometime later by someone else but it rings true for me. There's a strong element of teaching in mentoring. But as I've said before it's a mistake to approach mentoring as only a one way activity. So many mentors I know learned so much from their mentees that it was sometimes hard to know who was playing what role. Usually someone seeking out a mentor is in need of filling a certain gap. My experience has been that within the corporate world many mentees seek out mentors who are in a professional role they would like for themselves. And that's great. The best part however is when the relationship deepens and expands past that initial goal.

"When the Pupil is ready the Master shall appear." - Unknown

I did not seek my first mentor out. My first mentor happened to be my manager at the time. (This is not the most optimal situation as many times you'd like to talk about your manager with someone else.)  I was hired as a technical lead but my team required a Manager - someone that would build a vision, set objectives, make and deliver on commitments, write performance reviews, etc. - a People Leader. I was only a Task Leader - and a perfectly content one at that.  After several months of working together instead of his hiring someone from the outside my boss felt I would be a good person to take on that leadership role. This would allow him to pursue more strategic activities for the division. To say I was reluctant at the time would be an understatement. First off I was perfectly happy to be doing what I was doing - which was working with computers rather than people. Secondly I was scared! "How could I possibly lead people especially those who were older than me?" was just one of a hundred questions that mystified my brain.

But somehow my manager knew I was ready. He asked that I try the role out for 6 months and if I didn't like it I could easily return to an individual contributor role with no ill effects. In fact he would see it as a positive thing that I at least tried it out. Just that one act alone, his creating a safe space for me to take my first tentative steps towards becoming a leader and later a mentor myself, was enough for me to consider him a master at this mentoring craft. That one act alone taught me so much of what it means to grow people including: 1. recognizing when someone is ready or almost ready for a new role, 2. bringing that opportunity to that person, 3. encouraging a person to try it out, 4. creating that safe space for them to try it out!

Although I had this great blueprint for how to grow people I didn't really "get it" until years later when an opportunity arose for me to mentor a direct report into a manager himself. I had to evaluate if he was ready. I had to get over my emotions over his advancement in particular his possibly moving laterally out from under me to another team. I also had to learn how to let go of things and allow him to really manage his folks his own way. At the same time I had to teach him exactly what I was finally able to fully put into practice which was how to grow folks on his new team. It was only when I had the opportunity to teach someone else this particular skill that I felt I graduated myself. In the teaching is the culmination of the learning. And so, seek out to teach what you most need to learn because you will be forced to learn and excel in that skill. Perhaps that's why many of us choose to be mentors in the first place! It is certainly a key reason for me.

"You teach best what you most need to learn." - Richard Bach, author

PS: I'd like one day to invite my first mentor to guest post an article here and hope that he'll accept! :)