Thursday, June 30, 2011

Can You Take the Feedback?

In my blog articles I often suggest that a 360 degree assessment is important in order for personal and professional development. For those who are not familiar with a 360, it is a confidential questionnaire sent to a leader’s direct reports, colleagues, boss, and customers that rates the individual on a series of behaviors, skills and attitudes that are deemed important for success in their leadership role. It helps one identify blind spots and strengths and is a benchmark for professional development. I use the tool extensively in my coaching practice.

If you don’t want to hear feedback though, then a 360 is useless. And it is surprising to know how many leaders do not want to hear feedback. I had one President and company owner tell me forthrightly “I don’t like feedback” when I asked him if he would do a 360. (He didn’t do one.) I’ve also had clients who agreed to the 360 but then dismissed the results with such statements as “They don’t know me very well”, and “I know who said that and they are referring to an isolated incident.”

I have to caution my clients not to try to guess who said what, because invariably they are wrong, and due to confidentiality, I can’t tell them that. I just tell them a story about a VP who was upset about some negative feedback and was certain she knew who it was from. She stormed into her colleague’s office, slammed down the 360 report, and said “I need to talk to you about this.” The other vice president sheepishly looked up at her, reached into his in-box, and pulled out the questionnaire. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to it”, he said.

In one of my volunteer roles I work for someone who hates to receive feedback. Twice in ten years she has asked for written feedback via anonymous questionnaires. I collected the questionnaires and before I gave them to her, I read them (since they included feedback for me too). Every single thing written was positive. But because she hates feedback, it took her a few weeks before she could bring herself to read them, which she finally did only after I told her there was not a single negative comment.

And that is what you will often find, just as my clients do who submit to my 360’s – they get a lot of positive feedback. Sometimes it is surprising to them to know that what they do or say is noticed and appreciated.

As a speaker, trainer, and coach I distribute and read evaluations after every assignment and workshop. Frankly, it is the part of my job I like least. I always take a big breath before reading them, steeling myself for something terrible. Luckily, my dread is usually replaced by relief and a justification that yes, I am in the right job doing good stuff. Once in a while, though, I find myself rationalizing poor feedback – “That person is just not happy in their job” or “I just can’t satisfy everybody.” But I know that due to feedback I have received I have been able to improve my work.

Recently I spoke with a friend who ventured into a new career role as a publicist. She had just finished working with her first client, who, she said, rarely took her advice on things he could do himself to increase his visibility. As a result of course, he didn’t get quite the level of recognition he was expecting.

So if you do ask for feedback or advice be prepared to take action on what you hear. If you don’t ask but get some anyway, then take a hard look at where the advice is coming from. If it is from someone you respect and is experienced in what they are talking about, take the information to heart. It can make a difference in your success.

In another article I wrote about how to gracefully receive – and ask for – feedback. In this one, I just want to encourage you to ask for feedback. Don’t ask if you aren’t going to act on the information. Don’t ask those who you don’t think will tell you the truth. And don’t ask those who aren’t in a position to know you well enough to give you thoughtful feedback.

But if you want to be more successful at what you are doing, do ask.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Stamp Out Indifference with Common Courtesy

Indifference is one of the most common offenses that managers make toward their employees. Sure, there are bullies and narcissists, liars and crooks. But they are, luckily, the exception. What disgruntles employees the most is (probably unintentional) indifference.

What do employees want? A lot of things, sure, but at the root of them all is respect. And not acknowledging, noticing, or involving employees shows a lack of respect.

I’m not going to talk about compensation, benefits, bonuses, perks and rewards. I’m not talking about challenging work, new responsibilities and promotions. I’m not even really talking about positive feedback. All of these are important for a high functioning organization.

I’m talking about simply noticing. And letting it be known that you notice. Really, I’m talking about good manners.

Little acts of omission make a big difference, and add up to feeling like one is not valued at their workplace. Things like:

• Walking into a room and not being acknowledged.
• No “Thank you” for doing something, whether it is in your job description or not.
• Not being listened to, even when your ideas are meant to be helpful to the organization.
• Having a meeting with someone who is constantly checking their phone.
• No “Good Morning”, eye contact or nod of the head, even after you greeted the other person.

Management, distracted and overburdened, may overlook how important common courtesy is. And since you are the leaders, what you do and say is often picked up and re-generated throughout the company. If employees observe that it’s not important to acknowledge a good job, then they will perpetuate that. Soon an atmosphere of indifference permeates the department.

If there is a lot of turnover in an area, it may not be due to manager “abuse” but manager indifference. Not communicating, not acknowledging, not noticing, are all acts of omission that can create a culture of disrespect.

Quite often, the perpetuators of this indifferent behavior are not even aware of what they are doing. Managers who are not self-aware are the biggest culprits in the population of so-called “poor managers”. They just don’t realize what they are doing – or not doing – and the impact on everyone around them.

Stated in a 2006 Sirota Intelligence Survey: “While almost half of senior-level managers feel they are shown a great deal of respect, just one-quarter of supervisors and only one-fifth of non-management employees feel the same way. In fact, one out of every seven non-management employees actually feels they are treated poorly or very poorly.”

On a brighter note, in a more recent Sirota Intelligence Survey 82% of respondents (1.3 million employees of all levels were surveyed worldwide) agreed with the statement “My immediate manager treats me with respect and dignity.”

However that is a decrease of 6% from a 2009 survey. And, only 57% agreed that employees get a fair hearing for their complaints, a decrease of 7% from the year before. Fifty-six percent agreed that “Senior management’s actions are consistent with what they say”, a decrease of 5%.

For more data on the positive side, here are some areas that are trending upward:

 Normative Item (abbreviated text)
2010 % Fav

I am satisfied with the availability of the information I need to do my job


Rate the effort made by management to get ideas and opinions from employees like yourself


Top management encourages reporting important information up‐the‐line, even if it’s bad news


I have the authority I need to do a quality job


The upward trend is a positive sign, but obviously there is a lot of room for improvement. I wait for the day that the scores are in the 90’s.

Courteous behavior is a simple start. Just remember the golden rule – don’t you like to be acknowledged and noticed? Find ways to acknowledge and notice others so they will feel respected and valued. And respect is the gift that is returned almost immediately.

If you haven’t got a good 360 degree feedback system in place, devise one now. Take to heart the information you receive, and engage a coach or just a trusted colleague to help you improve. It can make all the difference in the world between being a poor manager to being a revolutionary one.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Invest the Time to Develop Your Direct Reports

How much time do you spend developing your direct reports? According to research by the Corporate Executive Board, managers average 21% of their time on developing direct reports. Assuming a regular forty hour work week, that is over eight hours -one day! - per week.

I don’t know how they are defining “developing direct reports” but in my experience it is the conscious effort to provide coaching, feedback, challenging assignments, mentoring, and training with the express purpose of helping the employee develop the right skills for their career advancement.

Coaching employees for development is very different from coaching them to improve their performance. Managers need to do both, but unfortunately due to time constraints or shortsightedness, they primarily coach when they see a need to correct or improve sub-par performance in order to meet expectations.

Even though developing direct reports is (or should be) one of a manager’s highest priorities, with the way managers are overloaded, this vital leadership skill often ends up getting shoved aside. I am surprised at the 21% figure. Even my coaching clients – who are coached on this skill – don’t spend that amount of time on developing employees. Nor do they need to.

Every interaction with an employee is a chance for development. It only take a few minutes to ask what they like best about their job, what they find most challenging, and where they would like to see themselves in the company. An astute manager then takes this information, combines it with their own observations of the individual, and keeps it in mind whenever they are assigning new responsibilities or pondering training opportunities for their staff. Now that they know how the employee would like to grow, they can tailor their development efforts to those areas. Each time they talk to this employee they can update them as to what they are doing on their behalf, and ask if anything has changed about the employee’s goals, strengths, or challenges.

Even if there are no obvious advancement opportunities within your department or company, managers should have a development conversation with every employee. Those star employees need even more time from you –a formal career development plan can be written out, with periodic meetings scheduled to see how things are progressing.

As a matter of fact, it is even more important to have these development meetings when there are no obvious career paths within your organization for your employee. They are more likely to jump ship if you don’t sit them down and have a serious conversation, showing your interest in them and their career. That makes it a bonus for them to stick around, because having a manager that truly cares that they grow professionally -and acts on it - is rare. Just be clear with them that you are not able to help them prepare for any specific position, but that you want them to be ready if one does arise.

One of my clients – a high-tech department manager - once told me that developing his employees was his favorite part of his job. He got the most satisfaction from doing it, and wanted to do it as well as he could. I find that most people derive a high level of fulfillment from being able to coach, mentor, and assist employees’ growth. Unfortunately, their companies don’t formally place a high priority on it.

‘Developing others’ should be on every manager’s performance review, measured in number of promotions, number of career advancement plans, and direct reports’ feedback. From the process of helping them develop their potential, you get more productive, more loyal, and happier employees. The Corporate Executive Board reports that effective managers can increase the retention level of direct reports by 40 percent and performance levels by 25 percent by giving attention to development.

Take care of those valuable human resources, develop them, and the return will be measureable, not only in profits, but in your own feelings of well-being. And honing the leadership skill of ‘developing others’ can help you in your career advancement too.
If this boss wants to engender loyalty, he's got it backwards.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Great Sites for Job-Seekers

Last week, I wrote that the ‘real’ unemployment rate was 16%. This figure, which includes the ‘discouraged’ and ‘underemployed’ is from the US Department of Labor’s May report. Officially, the U.S. unemployment rate is 9.1%.

In honor of all the new graduates looking for work, and all those discouraged job-seekers, I thought I would devote some blog time to career information. I asked some of the best career coaches I know for their suggestions on helpful websites. A big thank you to Rosemary LeVasseur, Kimberly, and Cindy Haba for sharing their recommended resources!

For tips on planning and preparing for your job search, check out these comprehensive sites. You can find examples and advice on resumes, cover letters, salary negotiation, interviewing, networking, etc.

An efficient job search doesn't use a shotgun approach, blasting out resumes to companies that you don't know and that don't know you. You should put together a list of your top ten organizations that you would love to work for.

Researching the culture, history and stats for a company is essential. You’ve got to go beyond their websites, (which I assume you’ve perused thoroughly). Informational interviews at your target companies are invaluable. But first, explore the companies you are interested in, or find some, at these sites:

Here are some other places to find companies that, after doing a little more research, you may want to add to your Top Ten list:

Inc. Magazine’s Fastest Growing Companies in 2010
Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2011
Business Insider’s 25 Best Companies to Work For
Your local Business Journal’s Book of Lists

In order to line up your target companies, you need to talk to people. Through your current network, find people who work in these companies and ask for fifteen minutes of their time to pick their brains about what it’s like to work there. Don’t ask for a job. Network! Networking effectively is an essential skill for your career whether you have a job or not. It’s all about developing and maintaining relationships – finding out how you can help others and bring value to their lives. 

Most people naturally want to help others.  But if you exude an air of desperation or an attitude of entitlement or arrogance, people will be turned off.  Request just fifteen minutes for an informational interview, and use that time to ask about them and their careers. Enjoy meeting a new colleague, send thank you’s, and keep in touch.

Face-to-face networking still has the highest impact. But you can network on-line too. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and join some LinkedIn groups. Recruiters often use LinkedIn, and you can use it to make contacts-ideally at your Top Ten Organizations - through your LinkedIn connections.

Check out Twitter and Facebook, just make sure that all your on-line presences are aligned, showing the same you to the public. And make sure that anything you post anywhere is up to front-page standards: that is, no typos, with your best face forward for anyone to see.

For tips on using social media:

You should be spending most of your job search time researching your Top Ten Organizations and building your relationships, not only within those companies, but in general. Everybody you know should know exactly what you are looking for so they can give you appropriate tips. That’s what an “elevator speech” is for, although I detest that phrase. You should be actively involved with your professional association – volunteering, not just showing up for a meeting now and then.

You’ve still got to find a job so might as well continue to look at those job sites. Here are the ones the career coaches recommend - pick 2 or 3 and stick with those, otherwise it’s just too overwhelming and you fall into the trap of over-reliance on these sites instead of focusing on your top-ten-company targeting and relationship-building strategies. - Not to be confused with Linked In

And to target recruiters:
For the inside scoop on recruiters, see

When it comes time to negotiate, be sure to make a list of your requirements, and then your “nice-to-haves”. Know what to trade and how. For salary information see  or

If you are in the Seattle area, contact me for a list of local job search and networking sites. And for those who are pondering making a total career change, there are other sites that are helpful that I can list another time.

If you are one of the underemployed, unemployed, or discouraged, just know that there is something out there for you where you can provide a lot of value, and be valued appropriately. If you have been unemployed for quite a while, you may have to change your job search strategy.  It may be worthwhile for you to get a career coach.  Meanwhile, I hope this post can help you with your search.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

CEOs: Finding Talent Requires Extra Efforts

In PwC’s recently published 14th Annual Global CEO Survey of 1,201 CEOs, two-thirds anticipate difficulty in finding the right type of talent for their needs. Over half of the respondents report that they plan to hire within the next year but are concerned about finding employees with the right blend of skills, creativity, and flexibility.

Although I consistently read - and know from my own connections - that employers have a difficult time finding qualified staff, I also know that unemployment is still high and people are still frustrated with finding work. Technology jobs are booming but there is little job creation elsewhere. Although companies are experiencing record profits, ‘real’ unemployment in the US is estimated at about 16 percent and wages are stagnant.

There is a real disconnect between what companies report and current economic statistics. According to the PwC study, 54% of CEOs plan to work more closely with governments and educational institutions to develop training programs that will meet their requirements. Interestingly, the front page headline in The Seattle Times today is “Cuts hit classes that lead to jobs”. The story says due to state funding cuts, nine community college programs are being eliminated including in health care, business and manufacturing – areas where graduates are consistently in demand.

Besides working with schools and governments (although perhaps not so much in Seattle), the Global CEO Survey reports that companies are looking for new strategies to attract and keep the limited amount of talent pool that is currently available.

Poaching from competitors, an active practice, leads to soaring salaries. Not surprisingly, this occurs most often among technical positions and those with executive experience. Accountants, health care workers, and industrial jobs in manufacturing, automotive, and chemicals are also in high demand.

Besides salaries, companies are working to come up with innovative ideas to attract young talent. Studies have shown that those in the Millennial generation choose training and development as their first choice of benefit three times more than cash bonuses. Ninety-eight percent of Millennials want to work with mentors and coaches.

They also value a work-life balance more than previous generations and, as one client recently mentioned to me, her Millennial employees are not willing to put in the 60 to 80 hours per week that her generation did when first starting out. (She admired this trait, by the way, and believes that they are on the right track to developing a healthy balance between their work and personal lives.)

The culture of a company is an important consideration for potential new hires. Management must foster a learning environment where mistakes are acceptable and teamwork is supportive and creative. There must be opportunities for challenging work and career advancement.

The CEOs from the study were from 69 countries and a variety of industries and were surveyed in the fourth quarter of 2010. In answer to the question,” To what extent do you plan to change your people strategy in the following ways over the next 12 months?”, the following answers were cited most frequently:

1. Use more non-financial rewards to motivate staff
2. Deploy more staff to international assignments
3. Work with government/education systems to improve skills in the talent pool
4. Incentivise young workers differently than others
5. Change policies to attract and retain more women
6. Increasingly recruit and attempt to retain older workers
7. Set compensation limits for executive talent
8. Grow our contingent workforce faster than our full-time workforce
9. Relocate operations because of talent availability

CEOs: Step up and do what you say you are going to do. If you have record profits and your own salaries are higher than ever, what’s holding you back from instituting the practices necessary in order to provide good jobs in a motivating environment?

This is an opportunity for you to put into place new partnerships with your communities. Partnerships that generate strategic relationships that will lead to more profits and a pool of talent for you, and educational infrastructure, good jobs and a stronger economy for your communities.

And this is a chance for you to be known as an employer of choice. When you become one of the Best Companies to Work For you can be extra-choosy about who you hire, guaranteeing you have the right team to move you forward.