November 2011

Listening to criticism

I’ve been thinking about criticism a lot recently. Whether you believe constructive criticism exists or not, feedback at work is more present than you think. The thing is, most of us don’t want to hear it. And that makes sense…it’s usually nothing we want to hear. We don’t want to hear we aren’t attentive to detail or not seeing big picture. We don’t want to hear we’re not team players or disorganized. I think most feedback isn’t official. it’s all over the place and you have to go hunting and looking for that information.

But here is the thing: feedback is vital to growth and improvement and in many ways directly related to getting promoted. Here are a few ideas on how to keep yourself open to feedback.

Listen in status meetings. Not all companies have broad vision statements that mean much. Status meetings tend to be horrible and one-on-one are rare, but make the most of them. Managers, Directors, VPs and CEOs often will talk about where they want the company to head or where the industry is heading. Ask yourself: “How is my day-to-day tasks and my personal objectives fitting in with that vision?”.

Talk to coworkers. Don’t get bogged down with day-to-day stuff, but reach out to top perfumers (top sales, top marketers, top analytics, top SEO, etc.) to see and learn how they’re doing. A-list employees often like to mentor and teach…see what you can learn yourself.

Read and learn. Sometimes looking outwards will challenge you to think differently about how you’re doing work. The reality is that upper management doesn’t always have a far enough foresight. It’s not their fault, they’re measured on the next quarter’s results, not where the division will be in five years. Here are some blog suggestions that might help you look beyond your day-to-day (they’re not all business blogs):

These are great for daily inspiration, but real value, I think, still come from books. They’re able to tell complete stories. Some suggestions (all affiliate links):

Think big. See bigger for yourself. Where do you want to go and where do you want to be and figure out how to get there.

Know thyself. It’s important to know who you are and what your strengths are. Focusing on your strengths, not your weaknesses, is the best way to move forward. If you’re just not detail oriented, then you’re not detail oriented. It’s just not efficient to spend all your time spending more attention to details — you’ll get bored and frustrated. What you want to do is use your strength and improve. So what if the criticism is in fact “you’re not attentive to detail enough”? The answer either is “you’re not doing the right thing” or “how can we get it done anyway”.

What’s your take? What could you add?

(Photo credit: Sanna Pudas)

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Employees haver more clout than they think

It’s interesting how so many employees feel they need their company more than the company needs them. I should say one thing before we get started though. A fulfilling job and career should be a partnership and not a power struggle — those rarely lead to great results. If you feel you’re in a constant fight, the answer might just be this company’s just not the place for you. So why worry about power?

The reality is that large organizations come office politics, favourites and so on. It’s sad, but that’s just how it is. As an employee, I think it’s vital you recognize, accept and increase your value. As Seth Godin has argued, companies strive to make ordinary products for ordinary people. So they want ordinary employees. They’ll make you believe you need them more than they need you. So what about you?

I think Theodore Roosevelt’s saying fits here: “speak softly and carry a big stick“. Employees have already more power than they think and the internet has, once again, changed everything.

Some numbers

First let’s talk about numbers. It’s estimated that the cost of of turnover can be up to 150% of employees’ renumeration. The cost could even by higher for managerial and sales positions (200 to 250%). So think about it, if a company’s average salary is $50,000 per year, the cost of turnover would be $75,000 per departing employee. If you have 1,000 employees and a 10% annual turnover rate…that’s $7.5 million a year in costs! Do your math as it applies to you…

How to stand on equal ground

Assuming the numbers aren’t convincing enough or your boss doesn’t have them top-of-mind, here are some ideas on how you can gain leverage:

Do great work. I’ve already said I’m not a big fan of saying do great work. A vast majority of us go to work wanting to do great. I think what’s important here is to look beyond your job description. Look at where the industry is headed and help the company move in that direction. Change takes time, so figure how to move your company in small increments. For example, maybe your company still relies a lot on traditional advertising, if that’s the case offer to take a tiny percentage of the budget and try an AdWords campaign or start listening to what’s being said online.

Play the politics game. Let me start out by saying I’m NOT a fan of office politics and even less of playing politics. If I did, I’d be a politician. But you can’t ignore it and you have to play it. I there are two ways to play the game — the cheesy way and the non-cheesy way.

The cheesy way is probably what you see all the time…brown-nosing, lying, backstabbing, etc, and that always leeds to is subpar work, but quick profile raising. It’s not very sustainable, so you have to continue doing it, effectively doing no value-added work.

The non-cheesy way is slower to gain traction, but much more stustainable; as Chris Brogan and Julien Smith wrote in Trust Agents (affiliate link) — make your own game. Put the work first and the politics second. The politics part envolves grassroot work — get your coworkers to love you by being helpful. It also involoves targetting the right people to play politics with. Who has more influence at your company? Your direct boss, or his boss? Cheesy politiking looks at the immediate, non-cheesy looks beyond. Get noticed by higher executives and top performing employees. Don’t get caught up in the day-to-day office politics. Focus on the larger picture.

Be active online. Even if your passion isn’t what your comapny does or what your position is, social networks allow you to open new doors. For example, let’s say you love gardening and you have a blog about that. If you stick with it, you’ll increasingly be known as a gardening-person. At some point you’ll get noticed by companies in the field which could open-up some great opportunities. On the flip side, strong online presences can directly increase your influence within the company. Blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Facebook allow you to broaden your social sphere and brand yourself. Use that.

Who you know and what you know. Go out and meet people. The more people you know, the more you get exposure to great new opportunities. Go to local events in your field…and even better, go to events not directly related. It’s not only who you know, but what you know. Reading books and blogs on various topics allow you to expand your knowledge, figure out new ways to do things. That will lead to new and fresh ideas…stuff you can then try at your company.

Get bills and expenses under control. One the biggest leverages companies have is the salary they pay out. The more money we make, the more stuff we buy and debt we accumulate. Getting all that under control will, in essence, reduce your company’s importance over you. I’m not a financial planner, but there are somethings to look at:

  1. Reduce your debt (credit cards, lines of credit, financing, etc.);
  2. Increase revenue sources (you are your own company, look at getting other sources of income that can supplement your current income);
  3. Save up for the necessities (Save up a few months of rent/mortgage, food and heating so that you know you have a good cushion).

Again, a fulfilling career is based on trust and hard work, but it’s important to realize that you aren’t a disadvantage. It’s an equal partnership. It might seem the employer has all the power, but don’t let yourself believe that.

(Photo credit: JD Hancock)

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“dreams are usually the first thing to get bumped from the to-do list when the day gets full.”

This Domino Project book came out a little while ago. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s a collection of essays and the proceeds go to buying mosquito nets in Africa. For every book bought, 2 nets are sent off. That means with each book purchased, we get a little closer to ending malaria.

This is not any old collection of essays. It’s written by “62 business thinkers pushing you to rethink the way you work.” If you’re in any way, shape or form in business or part of an organization – large or small, this is DEFINITELY a book you want to pick up. Where else are you going to get insights from Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, Tom Peters, Mitch Joel, Sir Ken Robinson, Gary Vaynerchuk and so many more…

It’s the type of book you’ll go back to time and time again to review your notes.

…and if anything, pick up a copy or two to help end malaria

If you can’t see the video, click here.

I’ve also put together a Twitter List of End Malaria authors if you would like to follow that.

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By taking courageous action, we always build confidence because we get a return on our investments that far exceeds our initial anxieties and fears.

Marcus reached out to me a little while back to review his book Get Noticed. Getting noticed is increasingly difficult, but still as important as ever — if not more. The internet has given us the ability to stand out in ways that were never possible before. But the shear amount of information being shared has made it that much more difficult.

This book goes back to the basics of getting noticed. If you read a lot on the topic you might not find much new stuff in here. What I did like though is the way it’s written. Each concept is clearly explained and easy to apply. So much so, that some of the topics pop-up for me in the right circumstances. For example, what to say when you meet new people instead of the lacklustre “What do you do?”

If you’re looking looking to get noticed, this is an easy read with easy to apply concepts. Give Get Noticed a try.

If you can’t see the video, click here.

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Information overload

If you work at a company, chances are you’ve already heard something along the lines of “what are we doing with […]” If you’re in HR it might be “What are we doing on BranchOut or on Monster?”. If you’re in marketing it’s probably something like “What are we doing on Facebook and Twitter?” Your first response might be to go to Google and find what the best practices are and get some ideas.

Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Groups, Pages, Circles, Connections, Friends, Followers, Lists, TV, magazines, books, radio…It seems like everywhere we turn, there’s more information being thrown our way on any topic you can think of. I’m starting to think this isn’t the best deal for us. Information overload is a barrier to making choicesIs there so much information that we can’t ever make a real choice? 

Leaving the information in the background

Of course, the great thing about all this information is that we can get an answer to pretty much any question. The danger is really when the focus changes to consuming as much information as possible and we’re all reading the same information (How many social media consultants haven’t read SocialMedia Examiner? Not that there’s anything wrong with that…). That’s a dangerous game that can’t be won because, well, there’s just too much of it.

No-choice is a waste of time

Whether you’re at work or home, lack of choice is a waste of time. It might just be wasting time if you’re reading, Mashable, SocialMedia Examiner, AllFacebook, InsideFacebook for information on how to start a Facbook page. Why? Because your competition is doing the same. Try running your own race.

How can we stand out?

Don’t get me wrong, those blogs have tons of value. It might just be a priority thing. Reading all this information before getting started might lead to a solution that’s like everyone else’s. If that’s the case how are you going to stand out? How about getting your team together and figure what your customers want and determine how to deliver that? In other words, figure out what you want to do, THEN seek help and advice from Google to implement your idea.

Is all this information preventing us from making choices? Is it causing us to strive for a safe, ordinary choice?

(Photo credit: miz_ginerva)

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The irony of limits

I’ve been thinking about limits lately. They’re liberating, but restricting at the same time.

You can probably agree that setting limits is one of the best things you can do to move forwards and get closer to your goal. Limits allow you to know when to say no and focus your attention and energy on what’s important. That is, until they become a tool that prevents your from learning and growing.

Saying “no” can easily lead to tunnel vision. Keeping your heart and mind open to opportunities is the greatest way to excitement, serendipity and adventure. After all, keeping my mind open lead me to drive across Canada, travel up and down the West Coast and across Europe and even to my current job — Digital Strategist at TMP Worldwide.

Sometimes veering off course can be the best thing…

So the real question is, when do you set limits and when don’t you? How do you juggle both?

(Photo credit: Marc Smith)

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Pick yourself

There’s a common misconception in the work environment that the boss is the one with control; the one who has the authority and all the decision power. While he technically does, he’s really just someone with a rubber stamp. As a matter of fact, I think a great boss is one who’s main job is to facilitate, but beyond that it’s up to you. Regardless, because of this misconception, most of us just follow blindly, accept and wait: Wait for promotions, orders, authorization and approval. “I’m not my own boss, there’s nothing much I can do about […]” The thing is, you actually have more say than you think.

What gives the freelancer the possibility to pick herself?

Here are a few items I believe make employees think a freelancer has more choice that them:

  • The opportunity to chose clients and projects
  • The ability to work wherever at whatever time
  • The chance to learn new things and meet different people.

Or that’s what is perceived. I don’t know if it’s always true.

Things that give you more power

  • Raising your hand: Setting your limits (in other words, saying “no” to tasks and activities that add little value) frees up more time to so you can schedule your day better and set time aside to learn new things. Setting your limits also means setting your priorities at work AND at home. Watching TV instead of working out is a choice. It means working out isn’t a priority for you. It’s that simple.
  • Learning outside of work: Most large organizations offer some sort of training in a variety of fields. But regardless of whether your company does, with the tons of content being generated online on every possible topic you can think of, there’s really no excuse not to learn whatever you want to learn. If you don’t have time, see previous point.
  • Doing great work. I’m not a fan of saying “do great work” because what is great work really? I think great work is something that moves the needle, what do you say? It will vary greatly depending on what you do. If you’re a secretary it could mean making certain processes more efficient, hence saving the company time and money. If you’re a doctor, it could mean finding a way to convince peers to work in remote regions. Figure out what challenges there are and find a solution. It’s not easy, but it will give you more freedom to chose your projects.
  • Not being bogged down by subpar equipment. Upgrading computers, software and systems is costly. The bigger the company, the bigger the price tag. The consequence is lost time and increased costs to the company. If it’s really that big of a pain for you, bring your own computer to work or buy your own camera. You don’t need an allowance.
  • Not worrying about job descriptions. Is there anything worst than someone saying “that’s not part of my job description”? Not only is it annoying and inefficient, it gives complete control of your work life to someone else. Ignore the job description and set your own limits. Keep in mind you were hired to do something, you can’t flat out ignore that. You’ll have to go above and beyond. [NOTE: The same goes for a freelancer. If they were hired to do HR consulting, the client doesn’t want to hear about improving the sales process. Unless the two are related.]

By no means is this list exhaustive. What else can you add? How do you shift the balance of power at work?

(Photo credit: mamnaimie)

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The opportunity

I was watching  an interview with Wil.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas. It was generally interesting but a line that really stood out to me was when he said:

Each tour is a once in a lifetime opportunity

It’s great that he’s able to approach a fairly routine part of his life as “once in a lifetime opportunity.” Going on tour might seem more exciting than heading to the office each day and a lot of days aren’t that easy. But often all it takes is a change in outlook and perspective; it’s a frame of mind. Train yourself to look at each day is an opportunity to meet new people, do great work and make a difference and pretty soon you’ll be looking at your days in a different light.

It’s not always easy, I get that. I have good days and bad ones and I don’t always succeed. But take a step back, look for what will be great about the day and go with that.

Sounds too easy? Try it.

How is today going to be an opportunity?

(Photo credit: Stig Nygaard)

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You are not a snowflake

Roughly 10 years ago, in a classroom filled with 300 or so undergrads, our Social Psychology Professor told us:

You are not snowflakes! Sorry, but your mom was wrong, you are not a precious, individual little snowflake.

Getting noticed at work (whatever you call work) isn’t an easy task in the best of circumstances. At a large company, you’re competing with all your colleagues, at small business, you’re competing with limited resources and as a freelancer you’re competing with others in your field. It turns out that in social situations, the majority of us act and react in a fairly predictable fashion. Our behaviour pretty much resembles a bell curve where most of us are in the middle and act in a similar way and very few of us are on the fringes. In other words, if you look around, there’s a good chance you are doing the exact same thing as others to get noticed.

Business encourages predictability

Seth Godin often says that business are like factories. They favour predictable behaviour and outcomes whether you’re on an assembly line or in front of a computer. All in the goal of doing ordinary work for ordinary people. In other words, they encourage our natural tendency to be the same.

Becoming a snowflake

Listen carefully and you’ll probably hear others say something along the lines of “I’ve worked so hard at this, I deserve a raise/recognition/a promotion/the contract”. If you pay really close attention, you might even catch yourself in the act.

But I’ll let you in on a secret, hard work is the predictable behaviour…it’s what’s expected.

That curve just goes from “very little work” to “way too much work”. Some people are at the fringes and work less or way more than others, but the majority put in an honest day’s work. What you want to do is step out of the bell curve altogether — it’s not that hard. You want to do great work (not busy work) and you want to get recognized for what you do. Forget about the hours spent.

  1. Where do you want to go. Not everyone has the same goals — some want to be CEO’s, some entrepreneurs and others like their freelance work. Start out by determining where you want to go, because the worst thing you can do is tag along for the ride. Not knowing where you want to go is the best way to get nowhere. Don’t compete for someone else’s objectives. Having a goal in mind, will help you figure out how to get there by allowing you to set limits. [Note: you are allowed to changed your goals and objectives at any time.]
  2. Cut out the busy work. The thing that leads you to believe you’ve put in more work than others is “busy work.” That’s anything that takes up time and doesn’t add much value. Those things include meetings, emails, Twitter, news sites, etc. And we all get bogged down by it. Start by managing your time and If you want something way more detailed, pick up a copy of Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Workweek (Expanded and Updated): Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (Affiliate link). Or better yet, just unplug yourself.
  3. Promote yourself. The thing with VP’s, managers, clients and whoever else should to be noticing you, is that they have their own priorities to worry about. They don’t have the time to stop and figure out just how awesome you are. To some of us, self-promotion is a bad word, but reasonable self-promotion is expected and even welcome — a boss once told me I needed to showcase more of the great stuff I was doing. Just remember, you’re not a used-car sales man. Use moderation and taste, but CC a boss on a positive email once in a while, keep a “brag folder”, forward thanks from clients to the boss and the team that’s worked on the project, etc.
Most of your colleagues are doing the same exact thing as you are to get noticed: They “put in the hours.” Next time you’re wondering why you’re not getting noticed at work, stop and do something different.

(Photo credit: Aaron Alexander)

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