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Are You Setting the Right Work Goals?

28 Aug

wondering-150x150Today’s guest post comes to us from Brandon Smith. Therapist, professor, consultant and radio host, Brandon brings an upbeat, witty approach to the challenges of workplace health and dysfunction. Brandon is the founder of theworkplacetherapist.com – a resource dedicated to eliminating dysfunction at work, improving workplace health and restoring optimism and focus in the workplace. Brandon also currently serves as faculty at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School where he teaches and researches on topics related to leadership, communication and healthy workplace dynamics.

Setting the right work-related goals is critical for keeping you moving forward and avoiding getting “stuck” in the wrong role, company, or occupation. The challenge is that one size does not fit all. There are a myriad of combinations that may work for you. To that end, I’m going to tell you what works (and has worked) for me and for others. Consider this your menu to sample from as you move into the next year. You’ll see, I definitely have my “specials of the day.”

The Forest

As it relates to work and career goals, most of us fall short when it comes to possessing a long-term vision of where we see ourselves professionally. We get caught up in the trees and lose sight of the forest. As a result, we end up wandering in the workplace woods for a very long time. If we aren’t careful, we become pricing specialists for the tire industry. Consider the following exercise to overcome the forest dilemma:

Step 1: Gaze into my crystal ball and look five years into the future (or ten years if you are ambitious).

Step 2: My crystal ball only shows perfect. Describe what perfect looks like for you. What would your perfect life look like? Consider things like: where you would live, what your job would be, what your family situation would look like, and so on.

Step 3: Forgive yourself. Inevitably, there will be questions you don’t have answers to. Don’t beat yourself up. Work with what you know. If you know you want to live next to the ocean but you don’t know what your job would be, no sweat. That little piece of information is still extremely valuable . . . particularly if you currently live in Omaha.

Step 4: Given where you see yourself down the road (five or ten years), track back to this year and ask yourself: What do I need to get done this year to set myself up well to move toward my long-term vision?

The Trees

You’ve stuck your head above the tree line, and you’ve gazed at the big picture. Now consider the trees standing in your way. In other words, once you have your longer-term goal and a related goal for this year, you can more adequately take on a more specific work-related goal.

For a helpful framing of your work-related goal(s) for this upcoming year, consider the following three big categories. In Harvey Coleman’s book Empowering Yourself, The Organizational Game Revealed, he offers a simple yet extremely helpful acronym: P. (performance), I. (image), E. (exposure). Consider these as helpful “tree” categories to get you moving down the path you’ve set.

Performance—Goals that have to do with how you do your job. This can include doing your job better, learning new skills, or even removing tasks you are doing from your job that either you don’t do well or shouldn’t be doing at all (delegation). Naturally, while important, Coleman argues this category only makes up about 10% of one’s long-term success.

PIE-150x150Image—How others perceive you. Your brand. If you’ve had the fortune of getting 360 feedback this year, you might have noticed components in your feedback which are more about other’s perception of you than your performance (Ex: You always arrive late to meetings, people can always tell when you don’t like what they are saying by your eye-rolling, you cut others off, you don’t dress professionally, and so on). A critical category to be sure. Coleman weighs this category as contributing a meaty 30% to your long-term success.

Exposure—How much visibility you are getting with and from others. Do others talk about you in meetings when you aren’t there? Are you networking with the right people? Do the right people “know” you? Upon first glance, this category seems nonessential. Au contraire. Coleman argues exposure makes up a whopping 60% of your long-term success. Expose away . . . appropriately of course.

Your Compass

All that stands between you and that sandy white beach is you. Get moving. As a mentor of mine always says, “keep it simple.” Narrow your work-related goals down to one or two. No more. If you can do that and stay true to your compass, you’ll be working under an umbrella in no time.

Is Your Coworker an Emotional Vampire?

31 Jul

Today’s guest post comes to us from Brandon Smith. Therapist, professor, consultant and radio host, Brandon brings an upbeat, witty approach to the challenges of workplace health and dysfunction. Brandon is the founder of theworkplacetherapist.com – a resource dedicated to eliminating dysfunction at work, improving workplace health and restoring optimism and focus in the workplace. Brandon also currently serves as faculty at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School where he teaches and researches on topics related to leadership, communication and healthy workplace dynamics.

vampireLarry was a mysterious colleague. “Charming and captivating” were words his coworkers used to describe first meeting Larry. Larry just seemed to emit a certain attractive quality. It would reel you in like a moth to a flame. But then something strange would happen. The more time spent with Larry, the more his coworkers would complain of feeling drained and exhausted. Larry became known for turning 30-minute “touch base” meetings into 2-3 hour marathons where he would talk, preach, reenact, dream, and generally suck up the energy in the room. Unfortunately, while Larry was feeding off of the energy in the room, his coworkers suffered. Larry would leave the meetings energized with an extra hop in his step while his coworkers crawled to the door, exhausted and drained from Larry’s endless one-way banter. Larry is part of a dangerous office breed: the emotional vampire.

How You Know You’ve Been Bitten

Emotional vampires are sneaky and subtle. They move in as charming colleagues. They are captivating, entertaining, and generally interesting. The problem is that their energy comes from the people around them. Whether they hijack meetings to dream about big ideas or they take over discussions to complain about their workload, their energy comes from being heard and reaffirmed. They suck mercilessly until they are fed, leaving shriveled colleagues in their wake. How do you know if you’ve been bitten? Three signs:

  1. The emotional vampire talks about him/herself relentlessly—They find ways to take what you are talking about and turn it to themselves. They listen very little and talk incessantly.
  2. The emotional vampire has no boundaries and no respect for others’ time—They grab you in the hallway, causing you to be late. They never ever end meetings on time.
  3. You feel exhausted after you spend time with them—They usually start off meetings semiflat and end meetings looking and acting “high.” Those in the meeting with the emotional vampire have the opposite experience. If you find yourself bringing coffee to meetings in anticipation of the energy drain you’ll likely experience, you may have an emotional vampire on your hands.

Your Garlic Strategy for Keeping Emotional Vampires at Bay

I’ve fought my fair share of emotional vampires in the workplace, and I have the fang marks to prove it. After barely escaping their clutches on more than one occasion, I’ve learned that there are certain things that you can do that emotional vampires despise. Consider the following strategies:

  • If possible, never meet with them in person—Emotional vampires have to meet in person in order to effectively drain other’s energy. For them, it is not a preference, it is a need. Refuse to meet with them in person and offer a phone call instead. You’ll see them squirm, protest, and revolt. It seems fangs can’t penetrate through phone lines very well.
  • Never answer your phone when they call—When emotional vampires call, never answer your phone. Force them to leave a message so you know what they want and call them back on your time. If you don’t, they’ll catch you off guard and derail your day.
  • Always open every conversation with a “hard stop”—Emotional vampires suck and suck and suck until you tell them to stop. Your best preemptive strategy is to open every interaction with an emotional vampire by announcing, “Unfortunately, I only have ten minutes to talk.” It forces them to get to the point and keeps them relatively in check. Note: Whatever “hard stop” you announce, just be aware that they will not adhere to it, so be sure to give yourself a buffer.
  • Be aggressive and take charge—Emotional vampires tend to prey on our professional courtesies and politeness. They take charge of conversations and quickly turn the topic of conversation to themselves and what they want to talk about. They do not like aggressive conversationalists. If you are the one asking the questions of them and if you keep redirecting them back to the agenda, you’ll soon see that they will begin to avoid you. You prevent them from getting what they want, and they don’t like that.

Emotional vampires leave shriveled hollow shells of colleagues in their wake. Stop them in their tracks with the strategies outlined above and they might just see the light. Then again, like most vampires, emotional vampires don’t care very much for the light and may just look for another home that is darker and less bright. Either way, you rid your workplace of those nasty pests.

Good luck, stay sharp, and keep your garlic handy.

Is Your Workplace Negative?

20 May

Negative WorkplaceToday’s guest post comes to us from Brandon Smith. Therapist, professor, consultant and radio host, Brandon brings an upbeat, witty approach to the challenges of workplace health and dysfunction. Brandon is the founder of theworkplacetherapist.com – a resource dedicated to eliminating dysfunction at work, improving workplace health and restoring optimism and focus in the workplace. Brandon also currently serves as faculty at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School where he teaches and researches on topics related to leadership, communication and healthy workplace dynamics.

My Work Place is Negative

I get it. The last several years have been tough. “Do more with less… there won’t be any raises this year… you are lucky to have a job… we may have to close our doors tomorrow…” Working day-in and day-out under these conditions can get to anyone. A therapist colleague told me a story that I think captures this sentiment perfectly. Several years ago he had a client who was in a highly toxic, negative and abusive relationship. No matter what he did, he couldn’t get her to change her perspective. One day he finally came to a realization. Here’s what he told her, “I’m a very healthy person. And yet, if I were in the relationship you are in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, I would be just as broken-down, lost and as negative as you are.” Workplace negativity can get to us. To that point, here was a question I received over the past week from a reader that I think sums up many of our collective feelings of frustration at the office:

Where we work, the morale is terrible. Everyone is overworked, frustrated with our demanding customers and generally burned out. As a result, we are handling stress in negative and unhealthy ways. What specific tools can we use to change the negative and unhealthy ways we are handling stress? For example, I would like to put a punching bag in the back so we can hit it as a way to vent and then hopefully go about our business a bit happier.

To feel so stressed and frustrated that the idea of hitting something sounds like the perfect cure truly says it all. And to the reader’s question, what is the right solution? Is a punching bag in the back room the answer or is it something else? While a punching bag may sufficiently empty out the negativity from our veins, it doesn’t resolve the core issue. Negativity has infected our workplaces and unless treated, no amount of punching bags are going to fix the problem.

Stomping Out Negativity At Work

Below are a few different treatment options for eliminating negativity at work. Feel free to take them in combination. Daily doses are recommended.

  • Leadership needs to declare war. A critical starting place for eliminating negativity at work is for leadership to take a stand and declare all-out war against any forms of negativity at work. This can be the boss or a team decision. Regardless, those who lead need to announce that negativity is no longer welcome and they must be prepared to confront it at every turn. What does this mean? I’ve seen leaders who are serious about fighting negativity send an employee home when they become “infected.”
  • Make it a game. A second treatment option is to turn the negative moments at work into positive events by reframing them. In other words, make it a game. For example, I worked with an insurance company several years ago that had developed an interesting way to combat negativity at work. During the week, customer service reps would take a beating with disgruntled customers. At the end of each week, reps would meet and share their most difficult customer interactions. Whoever had the most difficult or challenging encounter won the “crazy customer” trophy. A huge oversized trophy, the “crazy customer” trophy would live at the desk of the rep who won it until the next week when more stories were shared. Games and fun competition can take a negative event and create a more playful team experience.
  • Throw out all the bad apples. Sometimes negative work environments are the product of a bad apple – an employee who is so negative he / she is poisoning everyone else. If there is a bad apple coworker in your midst, inviting them to leave is a necessary first step.

There you have it – strategies for eliminating negativity at work. Feel free to combine any of the above remedies. Take regularly and often.

Of course, if nothing else works throw up the bag in the back and wear it out. Who knows? You might find you have a future in the ring.

Signs Your Boss Is Not Listening

1 May

payattention  Today’s guest post comes to us from Brandon Smith. Therapist, professor, consultant and radio host, Brandon brings an upbeat, witty approach to the challenges of workplace health and dysfunction. Brandon is the founder of theworkplacetherapist.com – a resource dedicated to eliminating dysfunction at work, improving workplace health and restoring optimism and focus in the workplace. Brandon also currently serves as faculty at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School where he teaches and researches on topics related to leadership, communication and healthy workplace dynamics.

Is your boss listening? Do you feel heard?

Before we start down the path of how to be heard, we need to assess the situation. How bad is it and is it the boss that’s the problem or is it you? Consider the following telltale signs that your boss is a poor listener. Any of these signs by themselves are indicative of poor listening habits, however in combination the results could be disastrous. Note how many behaviors you see from your boss.

  • Your boss never asks your opinion
  • You meet with your boss less than once a month
  • Your boss never does what he / she agrees to doing in your conversations
  • When your boss paraphrases what you said to him / her, they almost always get it wrong
  • When your boss asks you a question and you answer it, they ask it again as if your answer never happened
  • When you talk, your boss does any of the following: stare at you blankly, type, check their phone, simply get up and walk away
  • Your boss talks and talks and talks… at you

Signs You Don’t Feel Heard

Equally important is how you experience this behavior. To what degree is this behavior affecting you, your performance and potentially your career? Note the following “costs” of having a boss that is a poor listener. The more statements you answer “yes” to, the more likely your mild frustration will turn to feelings of not being valued, cared for or seen. Deep stuff for certain.

  • Your ideas go unrecognized or unacknowledged
  • Your are only seen a certain way in the organization (your job / role… not what you are capable of)
  • Your career progression has stalled
  • You don’t think your boss cares about you

Looking in the Mirror

Now that you have assessed your boss’ listening skills as well as your own experience of being heard, there is one last question to ask yourself: Is it your boss that’s the problem or is it you? That’s a complicated question but an important one. It could be that there are things you aren’t doing to get heard and as a result you are really to blame for this dynamic. Or perhaps you are projecting historical patterns and beliefs onto your boss. In other words, do you have a life pattern of no one listening to you? As one client shared with me, “I grew up with stable but disconnected parents that never really listened to me. They never put forth the effort to get to know me as a person and what I thought. On top of that, I was the youngest of six children so my siblings never listened to what I had to say. As a result, I walk in the world doubting any one really wants to listen to what I have to say. Believe me, it has caused me more than one problem at work particularly with bosses.”

How do you tell if the problem is really you? Simple. Look around. If you co-workers have the same issue with your boss, it’s probably not you. However, if you seem to be the only one struggling with being heard by your boss, look in the mirror. The culprit may be staring right back at you.

Do you think there are some signs that I missed? Let me know via Twitter by mentioning @theWPTherapist.

Telltale Signs You Have Lost Work Life Balance

13 Feb

HR Work Life BalanceHave you lost work/life balance? Maybe you never had it in the first place. Fortunately, there are some telltale signs that you’ve teetered over the edge. Review the following list and make a mental tally on how many of these apply to you. Hint: If you say “YES” to 5 or more you are probably out of balance whether you realize it or not.

Work Signs You’ve Lost Balance

  • You work more hours than your boss
  • You always get the best parking spot at work because you are the first one there
  • You know the members of the night cleaning crew by name
  • You consistently get recognized for your “rigor” and /or others have referred to you as a “machine”
  • You have been asked by co-workers “when do you sleep?” and you realize they aren’t kidding
  • You talk to your friends and family in work-speak
  • You are known by name at the airport and / or the hotels you stay at (extra points if you consider those nice folks who work at the airport and hotels your “friends”)
  • You schedule appointments to talk to your friends and family on Outlook, etc… (extra points if you schedule appointments to speak with your spouse)

Family Signs You’ve Lost Balance

  • You often greet your children with “you’ve gotten so big since the last time I saw you” (just be sure not to say that to your spouse)
  • You’ve worked on holidays during the past year
  • You get visibly nervous when you have no cell phone reception
  • You didn’t take a vacation over the past year (extra points if you are proud of that)
  • It’s been over a year since you’ve seen any of your best friends
  • You’ve forgotten at least one important birthday over the last year
  • It’s been over 6 months since you were on a date (or had a date-night with your spouse)

Health Signs You’ve Lost Balance

  • You typically eat your meals while you work (extra points if you have forgotten to eat a meal at least once over the past month)
  • You are at or near your heaviest weight
  • You can’t remember the last time you exercised
  • You have eaten lunch from a vending machine more than once over the past month (extra points if you bragged about it)
  • You sleep less than 6 hours each night on average (extra points if you sleep less than 5 hours a night on average)
  • You feel either anxious or depressed more than 50% of the time
  • You feel apathetic about most things in your life

There you have it. Signs you’ve lost work/life balance. If you still aren’t sure, when in doubt just ask those closest to you. They’ll tell you the truth if you have the courage to hear the answer. Sometimes, it takes that slap in the face to wake us up to the reality that this isn’t the life we wanted after all.

Have I missed any signs? Let me know your score on Twitter by mentioning @TheWPTherapist and @SageHRMS.

Tips to Managing Change: The Compelling Why

16 Jan

hr-change-managementGetting others to change is no easy task. Whether we are talking about one person or a whole organization, if we want to increase the probability of successful change we have to start the right way. John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor and the guru of change, recommends that any good change effort should start with a high level of urgency. In essence, what Kotter is suggesting is that we need to give a compelling “why” that will serve to overcome any resistance we may face. In this post, I’m going to offer to you some practical ways to craft the perfect “why” in order to lay the foundation for successful change.

A Compelling “Why”

A good “why” or reason for change should have sound logic and a strong emotional tug. Getting people to change is akin to getting an addict to break from his or her addiction. You won’t get there with logic alone. You’ll need to throw in a healthy dose of emotion to get them feeling suitably uncomfortable. Many forms of emotion can work: sadness, fear, anger, worry, etc… However, there is one emotional lever that has the highest probability of success: anxiety. In essence, anxiety is urgency. Your goal is create a compelling why that leaves the person feeling so uncomfortable, so anxious, that they want to do “something” and they want to do that “something” right now. It’s at that moment that they are ready to hear your plan for action. So, how do we establish urgency? Consider the following two types of urgency.

Urgency Type 1: “You are going to die”

This form of urgency is equivalent to laying out a “worst case scenario.” It is extremely powerful in shaking people out of their patterns and forcing them to overcoming their fears. After all, what’s worse than some version of death? With this approach, your goal is to lay out a picture of impending doom. Perhaps that doom takes the form of the organization falling off of the proverbial cliff and ceasing to exist unless something is done soon. Or perhaps it takes the form of impending job loss if the individual doesn’t change. Or perhaps it paints a picture of the individual losing something else precious to him or her (family, friends, followers, etc…). Regardless of what you choose, this version of urgency entails that you hit them right between the eyes with quickly approaching storms. The trick to creating anxiety and heightened urgency utilizing this approach is to be sure to also attach a short time horizon. For example, I could say to you “you are going to die if you don’t change.” In response, you might say, “we’ll yeah, we are all going to die one day.” However, if I said to you, “you are going to die in 30 days if you don’t change now” all of a sudden, you are bit more interested in what I have to say.

Occasionally, I have to utilize this technique with clients. Consider “Tonya,” a client of mine several years ago. Tonya had taken on a big role that had tripled her work load, and she was not handling her new responsibilities well. She was yelling at her direct reports, she regularly locked herself in her office to avoid distractions and she wasn’t doing any of the actions I had prescribed her. She was failing miserably and things were coming to a head. At our next meeting, it finally came time to have the conversation. I said to her, “Tonya, it has come to my attention that if you don’t change, you are going to be fired in 30 days. Do you understand what I am saying? Repeat back to me what I just said so I know you know how serious this is.” Her eyes became as big as marbles as the gravity of the situation finally hit her. Change had begun.

One caution with this approach: too much doom and gloom can lead to paralysis. If you tip too far and put it on too thick, it can appear that the situation has gotten too out of control or it is simply too late to take it on. A little bit of this “hot sauce” goes a long way.

Urgency Type 2: “You can have everything you’ve always wanted… if you hurry”

This second type of urgency paints a vision of great things happening if we act now, but the longer we wait, the more likely it is that this perfect vision will slip through our fingers forever. You often see this approach used when organizations are trying to change their strategy or enter into a new market. Leaders will set out a vision of an untapped market that is a wonderful land of eager customers and high margins as far as the eye can see. But wait, competitors are starting to pay attention. The time is now to make the move. While this approach is a fantastic tool for leaders, you don’t have to be a leader of an organization to use it effectively. You could use the same approach to get another person to change their role or approach within the team in order to increase their value and importance. I utilize this same approach when I’m coaching young professionals that deeply want to make a career change but are afraid of the change required. I tell them, “my experience has been that if you make this change now, you can have the career you’ve always wanted. However, I’ve also noticed that by age 38, the window of opportunity slams shut. By that age you have family obligations, greater career responsibilities, a more defined career path, etc… Your clock is ticking so you better move now.” It reminds them that there are seasons for opportunity and sometimes you have to act in the face of fear if you truly want something.

Hit ‘Em With Everything You’ve Got

The very best change agents are masters at combining both forms of urgency into one message to ensure the message sticks. Combining both urgency types is the equivalent of your doctor prescribing you a strong antibiotic as well as a steroid to ensure you knock out that nasty infection. So, consider packing an extra punch by combining both forms of urgency. Illustrate the impending doom if one does not change as well as the potential wonders that await him or her if they change right now. A powerful combination to be sure.

As a good mentor of mine would say, “Change is hard, what is the easiest way we can get there.” He couldn’t me more right. However, don’t confuse “easy” with “comfortable.” If you want to get others ready to take action, you’ve got to get the urgency rate as well as their level of discomfort high enough that they want to take action, but they just don’t know how. Anxiety and urgency are uncomfortable itches that we all desperately want to scratch when we feel them.  Get others uncomfortable enough and change might be just around the corner.

Is Your Boss Playing Favorites?

10 Oct

Does your boss have a favorite at work… that isn’t you? You know what I’m talking about. Your boss makes “googly” eyes at the favorite. The two are routinely spotted whispering together, plotting. And when the time comes to choose someone for one of the better tasks, you know who your boss is going to pick and it won’t be you.

Here’s the most frightening element about favorites at work, they wield more power today than ever before. Why you might ask? Simple. Leaders (and organizations for that matter) are avoiding any and all risk at every turn. They don’t want to take a chance on anything and anyone who is “unknown.” Our friends in the job market will attest to that. Consider the following recent survey that was conducted by researchers at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. In polling senior executives at large U.S. corporations they found:

  • 92% have seen favoritism at play in employee promotions.
  • 84% have seen it at their own companies.
  • 23% said they practiced favoritism themselves.
  • 29% said their most recent promotion considered only a single candidate.
  • 56% said when more than one candidate was considered, they already knew who they wanted to promote before deliberations.
  • 96% report promoting the pre-selected individual.

Are you getting this? If there’s an open job, over half the time the boss has picked a favorite, and if they have, it’s a virtual lock that the favorite is gonna get it. So what can we do? Simple. Become the favorite.

Steps to Becoming the Favorite:

  1. Let your boss know what you are up to – Part of becoming the favorite is keeping yourself “front and center” in your boss’ mind AND not a source of worry or frustration. How do you do that? A simple way is to provide your boss a quick status update at the end of every week on how things are progressing. If they know what you are up to, they are more likely to trust you.
  2. Make your boss’ life easier – Anticipate what your boss needs and try to meet those needs without being asked. Be proactive in putting out your boss’ fires and they will love you for it.
  3. Make your boss look good – Get kudos and recognition and then pull your boss into the spotlight. Making your boss look like he or she is doing a great job is a fantastic way to get in his or her good graces.

So, what should you not do? Pretty simple, the opposite of everything I mentioned above. In addition, keeping quiet and silent, hoping to be discovered is a sure-fire way to get lost at work. We wouldn’t want that.

Today’s guest post comes to us from Brandon Smith. Therapist, professor, consultant and radio host, Brandon brings an upbeat, witty approach to the challenges of workplace health and dysfunction. Brandon is the founder of theworkplacetherapist.com – a resource dedicated to eliminating dysfunction at work, improving workplace health and restoring optimism and focus in the workplace. Brandon also currently serves as faculty at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School where he teaches and researches on topics related to leadership, communication and healthy workplace dynamics.

How to Deliver a Dysfunction Free Performance Review

7 Aug

Today’s guest post comes to us from Brandon Smith. Therapist, professor, consultant and radio host, Brandon brings an upbeat, witty approach to the challenges of workplace health and dysfunction. Brandon is the founder of theworkplacetherapist.com – a resource dedicated to eliminating dysfunction at work, improving workplace health and restoring optimism and focus in the workplace. Brandon also currently serves as faculty at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School where he teaches and researches on topics related to leadership, communication and healthy workplace dynamics.

More often than not, workplace dysfunction is a sneaky and unpredictable thing. Your boss flips out without warning simply because your report is an hour late. Your co-worker smiles at you in the break room only to be secretly plotting to get you fired the first chance they get. However, there is one time of year that dysfunction can be anticipated – performance review time. This season is particularly ripe with dysfunction, headaches, heartbreaks and generally heightened levels of anxiety and stress. Think of it as that season later in life when we are all more likely to get diagnosed with a major illness. We all know it’s coming and we know there are things we can do to prevent it. But do we? I can speak for myself and say that that season may be sooner than later if I don’t get my act together.

Diagnosing Causes of Performance Review Dysfunction

There are some common causes of dysfunctional performance reviews. Here are some of the most dangerous dark clouds that hover over the performance review process, guaranteeing unhealthy outcomes:

  • When politics are at play – Sometimes the performance review process is a useless and de-motivating experience that could and should be avoided as a result of unhealthy politics being at play.
  • When the review is chock full of surprises – Surprises may be a good thing when it comes to birthday parties and vacations (at least according to my wife), but they have no place in a performance review.
  • When the review becomes a personal attack – Performance reviews are about… get ready… performance. I know that’s a shocker. When the review process become an attack on one’s character, or when they don’t strike the right balance of personal investment and objectivity, the outcome can go horribly wrong.

Disease Prevention

Avoiding the dysfunctions associated with performance reviews are the equivalent of brushing / flossing daily and going to the dentist every 6 months for regular check-ups. You need to stay on top of it. Let’s take a step back. Imagine if you didn’t brush or floss (at all… not even one time) and didn’t go to the dentist for a whole year. When you finally did show up at the dentist’s office after 12 months of no contact and negligence, I doubt that would be a pleasant and predictable experience (not to mention the bad breath).

Here are some ways we can ensure a healthy performance review conversation. Thanks to my good friend Stacie Hagan, Chief People Officer at Earthlink for the following list on how to conduct performance reviews (the concepts work for both managers and employees):

  • Do Them All the Time – Yes, that’s right. Reviewing performance is good and should happen every day. Don’t have the calendar dictate when to give feedback. Do it when it’s needed. Periodic reviews required by the company should never offer anything new, but merely recap what was already said.
  • Listen as Much as You Talk – Both manager and employee have unique and valid views on the work. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what they are? Share your thoughts. See where they match and where they differ. Build a plan that makes you both feel good about the future.
  • Assume Responsibility for Each Other’s Success – A performance review is NOT about establishing one person’s dominance over the other. We’re all adults – working for the same company – trying to achieve the same goals. Talk about how you can help the company be successful by helping each other succeed.
  • Make Notes – You got it ‐‐ fill out the form (if there is one). Why? Because we all know that if the company didn’t require performance reviews, none of us would ever have these conversations, despite our best intentions. (Ok, some small percentage would. The same percentage who exercise regularly; eat a balanced, low fat, high‐fiber diet; see the dentist every six months; and make their bed daily.)

Brush and Floss Daily

So, if you want to have an uneventful, productive and healthy performance review, whether you are the boss or the employee, treat it just like going to the dentist. Brush and floss daily (provide regular feedback) and have frequent “check-ups” (at least twice a year but shoot for quarterly if possible) and you’ll be cavity free. Avoid brushing / flossing and wait until the end of the year for the conversation, and pain is practically guaranteed. Not to mention, the breath… Yuck.

 

You Need a Vacation. Do You Take It?

2 Jul

Vacation from Human ResourcesAre your work and life priorities out of alignment? Are you feeling exhausted and burned out?  With the summer upon us, it is natural for us to begin planning a vacation – that respite from the chaos of work.  So, how do we give ourselves permission to take a break and what is the right kind of break to take? I have a neighbor of mine who’s mantra is “I need a break.” And she doesn’t hesitate to give herself one. She simply takes a vacation whenever the urge arises. In fact, she took so many vacations last year (I lost track at over 15) that she was physically gone from her home more than she was there. The irony is as soon as I welcome her back and ask how her latest vacation was, she immediately responds with “I need a break… a vacation from my vacation.” Clearly, whatever she is doing is not working. There is an art and science to taking a break. This post is about solving that puzzle for you.

The Science

Experts routinely point to the need for taking a break in our lives as a means of keeping us renewed, refreshed and recharged. Vacations can serve this purpose well. They allow us to disconnect from work, reconnect to what matters and often come back with a fresh perspective. What we also know is that as a culture, Americans tend to take vacations at a significantly lower rate than other developed nations – in some cases only mere days vs. the weeks of “holiday” our European counterparts commonly enjoy. Arguments have been made that this lack of downtime in our culture has contributed to our higher rates of burnout and may even lead to higher divorce rates and greater family instability.

The Art

So, the answer is that we need to take a three week vacation, right? Not so fast. Here’s where the “art” of vacationing comes in. It varies from person to person. So while we know we need to take a break, there are several important things to consider as you determine the right break for you:

Are you better idling the engine vs. turning the engine off?  I recently took a week and a half vacation – a long vacation for my standards.  I turned off the engine, but not just one engine. I turned off my work engine, exercise engine, spiritual engine, etc… Jump starting all of those engines since my return has proven to be quite difficult. Here’s what I’ve learned about myself: I do much better with “idling the engine” vs. turning the entire engine off. In other words, a long four day weekend does the trick vs. taking several weeks off. What about for you?

Can you leave work for that long without it piling up? The reality is that with nearly all organizations running lean and doing “more with less,” it is all that more difficult to leave work. So, can you find a way to leave work without returning to 1,000+ e-mails? Consider delegating and / or giving plenty of notice to everyone around you to minimize your workload upon your return.

Will you still have a job when you return? An even worse reality in this economy is that in some cases when people leave for extended periods of time, if the organization runs “too smoothly” without them, it might highlight they aren’t necessary. Don’t leave if the axe is still falling in your organization and more downsizing could be looming. That’s a time to make yourself seen and valuable, not missing and unnecessary.

Sight-seeing vs. beach chairs and daiquiris – what recharges your battery? Ask yourself what renews you. Is it high levels of activity and adventure or the opposite – quiet and relaxation? Knowing this can prevent you from taking the wrong vacation and coming back needing a “vacation from your vacation.”

Who’s going with you? Kids? Significant other? Friends? Going solo? Who you bring with you will directly impact what gets recharged and what might not get recharged. What do you need? Choose wisely or suffer the consequences.

Be sure to enjoy the build-up. For many of us, the planning process can be just as rewarding (if not more so, ironically) than the actual vacation itself. Planning the perfect vacation can give us a short-term goal to look forward to when we are in the midst of stress so be sure you are enjoying the anticipation and planning.

Finding the Right Plan for You

Here’s where I wish I could tell you what you need to do. Unfortunately, I can’t. I can tell you what I’ve learned about myself over the past year. I’ve learned that long vacations don’t work nearly as well as do short breaks for me. I’ve also learned a painful lesson that if I don’t take time to recharge, I’ll come dangerously close to burning out. So what am I going to do about it? I’m planning four mini-vacations (essentially long weekends) this year to keep myself recharged. Some will be with kids, some won’t. I’ve already got the first two on the calendar and I can’t wait!

In the end, learning how to take a break and recharge is an art and a science. We know we need to do it, but the “how” varies for each person. Try some new things next year to strike the right balance for you and let me know what worked for you. If I can’t use it, I know my neighbor will be happy to.

Today’s guest post comes to us from Brandon Smith. Therapist, professor, consultant and radio host, Brandon brings an upbeat, witty approach to the challenges of workplace health and dysfunction. Brandon is the founder of theworkplacetherapist.com – a resource dedicated to eliminating dysfunction at work, improving workplace health and restoring optimism and focus in the workplace. Brandon also currently serves as faculty at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School where he teaches and researches on topics related to leadership, communication and healthy workplace dynamics.

 

Have You Lost Your Rock Star Status At Work?

23 May

Brandon Smith - The Workplace TherapistToday’s guest post comes to us from Brandon Smith. Therapist, professor, consultant and radio host, Brandon brings an upbeat, witty approach to the challenges of workplace health and dysfunction. Brandon is the founder of theworkplacetherapist.com – a resource dedicated to eliminating dysfunction at work, improving workplace health and restoring optimism and focus in the workplace. Brandon also currently serves as faculty at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School where he teaches and researches on topics related to leadership, communication and healthy workplace dynamics.

In most cases, the warning signs that you are losing your rock star status at work are the same whether you are an up-and-coming high performer or a senior leader who has been “on top of the charts” for decades.  Here are some of the more common that apply regardless of your role: 

  • No more applause – You used to get frequent kudos from your boss, but now – nothing. Nada. Just silence. Be very concerned with prolonged periods of silence. In the best cases, the boss may just be overwhelmed and can’t think of anything other than his or her own workload. However, in the worst cases it can be much worse. It could mean her or she is intentionally distancing him or herself from you in preparation for laying you off. This is a common self-protective practice with any boss prior to a lay-off in order to make the conversation less painful for him or her… but not necessarily lest painful for you.
  • No more gigs – You begin to notice that you are not getting asked to take on the big projects like you once were. At first, you are relieved because you were getting burnt out with the pace you were keeping at work (touring is tough, huh?). But, be wary. If being overlooked for projects becomes a trend, you could be in trouble – regardless of the reason you are given by your boss. Worse yet, if you begin to have work taken away and eventually find yourself with less work than your co-workers, you are losing relevance. Losing relevance means losing a job. Soon you’ll be playing in dive bars if you don’t watch out. Keep pace with everyone else’s workloads at a minimum.
  • You are no longer cool – There was a time when the organization couldn’t get enough of you and people like you. Be careful. In business, just like in music, there are trends, fashions and tastes that come in and out of favor. For example, there was a time in the mid-to-late 1990’s that if you had any knowledge of a computer and networking, you could name your price. Companies were throwing money and perks (even cars in some cases) to lure folks to their emerging I.T. departments. Today, the supply meets the demand. Graduates with degrees in information systems and computer engineering are running the show. Salaries are stable and being up to speed on the latest technology is no longer a differentiator – it is a requirement. Are you up to speed on the latest in your industry? Is your role and function still “cool?” Or are you suffering the fate of big hair bands of the ‘80’s? You may need to change your image before you are thrown out with last year’s fashions. Relevance is more important today than ever.

But there are some warning signs for the senior leader that are slightly different. A good friend of mine, Randy Hain, Managing Partner of Bell Oaks Executive Search and I came up with following list specifically related to “senior leader rock stars”:

  • You are no longer being included in strategy decisions – Have you noticed that you have much more time on your hands? That you are no longer “required” to be present at some of the strategy meetings that you once dreaded? Be careful. While you think this means they value your time, this may really mean that they no longer value your opinion.
  • Head hunters aren’t calling – The “real” rock stars are known inside and outside of their industry and they are wooed regularly. Even in this economy, there are plenty of jobs available to the rock star. So, when was the last time your phone rang?
  • You are not included in informal social gatherings – Do members of the senior leadership team invite you over to their homes? Do you and your spouse go out with other team members and their spouses? Do your peers make an effort to get to know you? If not, you need to ask yourself “why not?”
  • No one listens anymore – I recently attended a company-wide social event. The senior leader stood up to speak to kick off festivities and set the tone for the evening. The members of the organization looked up for a moment, saw who was speaking and then continued their conversations with each other. Are you getting ignored when you speak?

Any of these warning signs could mean danger so be on the lookout. On the flip side, what does it look like when you are on the rise in your organization? The opposite of all the warning signs above: you are regularly given kudos by your boss, you are given big problems to tackle in recognition of your superstar status and you have a unique skill set that is coveted by others inside and outside of your organization. If all of those positive aspects describe work for you today, your job is simple. Work your tail off to stay there. Being a rock star over time is no easy task. It involves hard work and constant vigilance for the warning signs of eventual decline, a responsibility that is solely yours. Don’t expect your manager to tell you, because they likely won’t.  Focus on keeping your fans happy, keeping yourself relevant and constantly monitoring your status in the organization and there is no reason you can’t stay “on top of the charts” for decades.

 

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