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Monthly Archives: June 2011

10 Rules for how to be a “good employee”

Over the years of being an employee, having employees, and coaching employees and Managers to build positive relationships, I’ve learned some common things that make an employee a “good employee”. Here’s my list. If you have others to add, please do so in the comments! And don’t worry, there will be a future post on how to be a “good boss”.

  1. Do every job to the best of your ability, regardless of how boring or simple it may seem. There will be times that you’ll have to perform less strategic tasks like data entry or filing. Do these things with as much focus as the tasks you enjoy, and present the completed work to your boss in a form you’re proud of. Large companies are always looking for people with potential, and this will help to show you have what it takes.
  2. Be curious. If you don’t fully understand something, ask! I’d much rather someone ask me about things than smile, nod, and walk away bewildered and unable to complete their work. No matter where you go to work, there will be phrases, acronyms and a whole language that is new to you. Ask what people mean, be curious about what people do, and you will be better set up to do your own work.
  3. Be solution-focused. There’s no doubt, you’ll encounter problems. But before complaining to your boss, think about some possible solutions. And don’t despair – there is always an answer. Things will always work out somehow – maybe not exactly how you initially planned, but they will work out.
  4. Challenge your boss (respectfully) Their opinion is not always right. It’s true. The boss is not always 100% right. Bosses make decisions, form opinions, and see things in a certain way based on their experience and knowledge. Just because your boss proposes something doesn’t mean it’s the gospel. Don’t be afraid to offer an alternate view. This will be seen as courage by a good boss. In the end, though, know what you are willing to “fall on the sword for” and what isn’t worth it.
  5. Get things done on time. If your boss doesn’t tell you a deadline, ask. If you are worried about meeting it, first look at what else you’re working on and re-prioritize. If you’re still worried, let your boss know ahead of time. Don’t leave them hanging or wait until they ask for your assignment. Show them you’re responsible enough to manage your time, and you’ll be rewarded with more flexibility and responsibility.
  6. Inform your boss of roadblocks. There will be times that you have gone as far as you can without your bosses help. Don’t be afraid to ask for support. If you don’t, you may run the risk of missing a deadline (see above).
  7. Figure things out. OK, this seems somewhat contradictory to being curious and informing your boss of roadblocks, but be resourceful. If you’re not sure how to do something technical, use the “Help” function. If you aren’t sure of the style of something you need to write, checkout previous examples. Of course, if you’re stuck, ask, but do what you can to figure it out first.
  8. Have your boss’ back. If you’re providing information that your boss will be presenting or making a decision based on, make sure it’s accurate. Your boss is not going to have time to dive into the detail, so point out anything that she might not see upon first glance. Make sure she’s ready for opposing viewpoints (remember, your boss’ opinion is not always right).
  9. Take initiative. If you see something that needs to be done, do it. If you have a solution that will make a process easier or more effective, bring it forward.
  10. Listen to constructive feedback. Even if you don’t agree with the feedback you’re being given, your boss is perceiving your actions in some way that is causing it. Listen. In my experience, most bosses think about the feedback they’re giving you and only do so to help you improve. Reflect on it, and use it to improve your actions or at least other people’s perception of you.

What other “rules” for being a good employee have you discovered?

Pic by Sxc user Clix

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How to give constructive feedback

I recently wrote a post about receiving feedback, because I think this is an important art that many leaders lack.  Even more important for a good leader is to master the art of giving meaningful (A.K.A. constructive) feedback.

Giving honest, meaningful feedback with the goal of helping others to improve will engage their hearts and minds and build your leadership credibility.  Unfortunately, giving constructive feedback is something that many leaders shy away from.  Others use the “seagull” style of feedback.  Here are some of the things I’ve learned about effective feedback. Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

I believe in all forms of feedback, three principles hold true: Feedback must be sincere, specific, and timely.  

Be Sincere. Think about the feedback that you’re giving.  What’s the purpose behind it? How will improvement help them and your business or team?  Is the feedback about something you’ve seen or experienced or is it second-hand (this is never as effective).  It is much more sincere to explain “I noticed you did ____” rather than “I heard that you did ____”.  If you have to use second hand information, make sure you fully understand the situation.  Start the discussion by asking them to tell you about what happened.  Probe for how it went, would they do anything differently, what did they learn.  Often, by simply asking thoughtful questions, you can get them to give themselves their own meaningful feedback.

Be Specific.  There’s nothing worse than getting feedback that your performance is substandard but not knowing what part of your performance is below standard.  Feedback without specifics will simply de-motivate, kill confidence, and lead to further substandard performance.

Be Timely.  Don’t wait until an annual performance review to give feedback for improvement.  Not only have you wasted a year of work that could have been improved, but you are not being fair.  Give feedback when it happens, regularly.  The more often you give feedback, the more comfortable it will be for you and for them.

Some ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s when giving meaningful feedback:

Do make it a two-way conversation.  Don’t practice seagull management (fly in, poop on them and then fly away).  Ask for their perspective, and whether they would do anything differently or whether they learned anything from the situation. Listen and respond with empathy.

Do think about what’s in it for them.  Don’t make it about you.  How will improving this help them develop and grow?  Watch out for turning this into a conversation about how you have improved or done things in the past.  It’s about their behaviour and how improving will help them.

Do maintain their self-esteem.  Don’t make it personal.  The feedback is about their actions or behaviour, not about the overall value they bring to the team.

Do be honest and direct.  Don’t give a “feedback sandwich”.  Managers are often taught to give positive feedback, slide in a little constructive feedback, and finish with more positive feedback.  Please don’t do this.  The outcome is that either they miss the constructive, meaningful piece, or they dismiss any of the positive.  Either way, you convolute the message and lose credibility.  Instead of sandwiching constructive feedback between to pieces of positive feedback, separate the two discussions.  Make the constructive feedback positive on its own by sharing your confidence in their ability to improve and committing to helping them.

Do meet them personally, in private. Don’t give this kind of feedback in public or by email.  Have enough respect for the person to meet face to face to give meaningful feedback.

Finally, don’t forget positive feedback!  Always take the opportunity to build confidence and positivity by recognizing work well done.  What you recognize will get repeated.  My three rules of sincere, specific, and timely feedback also apply to praise.

Pic by sxc user mzacha

 

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Listen Leaders! Show your people you value them

One of the most important elements of engagement is a feeling of being valued.  The problem is that many leaders don’t know how to show that they do value their teams.

When I’ve discussed this essential need of feeling valued, managers often think that they’ve done all they can to make employees feel valued.  “I got business cards made for her”, “He got the raise he asked for”, “I gave the whole team tickets to a baseball game last month,” “I don’t know what more they want.”

The funny thing is when I discuss the same need with the employee, they rarely mention any of these things.  What they want is to be listened to.  I often hear “I’ve been asking for a performance review for months now”, “He’s always too busy for me”, “She doesn’t care about my ideas or suggestions”.

Leaders often make the mistake of thinking that giving employees tangible things will make them feel valued, when what really makes a difference is taking the time to listen to them.

My advice for leaders: Listen!  

As long as your employees are paid fairly both internally and compared to market, that’s not the most effective way to engage them.  And in fact, the impact of giving them a raise will last no more than a couple of weeks.  So save a little money and spend a little time listening to members of your team.

Pic used with permission from Microsoft.

 

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Engage your heart and mind by making positive choices.

I am turning 37 next month, and have been reflecting on life and where it has taken me.  I’m not married, have no kids, and am working my a$$ off in corporate Canada.

I am not spending enough energy on the things that engage my heart & mind.

I neglect my dog and don’t spend enough time traveling, spending time with friends, family, and my dog, volunteering, golfing, and laughing.  (Alright, if you know me, you know I laugh a lot, but more doesn’t hurt!)  I find I don’t have time to do things that are good for me, like working out, cooking, and eating right.

My sister and I on our trip to Dublin

Am I where I thought I’d be at this point in my life?  Absolutely not!  Am I unhappy with where I am?

Absolutely not.

Sure, there are times when I think “Gee, it would be awesome to be (Cameron Diaz / Duchess Kate / my friend Lesley)” But then something happens (JT dumps her / paparazzi chase her / her job sucks) and I realize actually she is just a person who has ups and downs like I do.

I can’t think of anyone with a “perfect” life, and I’m generally pretty happy.  I love my job, my house, my dog, my family, and I have a great boyfriend.

Life hasn’t taken me here.

I’ve made choices throughout my life that have gotten me to where I am.

The things that I’m missing are things that I can change.  I can make different choices in order to focus on engaging my heart and mind.

Piper during a cottage vacation

My plan for 37:

  • Come home from work earlier, at least 3 days per week. (baby steps)
  • Laugh even more.
  • Make more time for family, good friends, and Piper.
  • Take a trip to Europe.
  • Find a new volunteer gig.
  • Join a new gym, and use it!

What choices are you making to engage your heart and mind and create a better life for yourself?

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2011 in Personal, Reflection

 

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Do pyjama (pajama for my US friends) days build engagement?

I was chatting with friends the other night and one of them mentioned that morale was poor at their workplace, so they were having a “wear your pyjamas to work” day.

Pic used with permission from Microsoft

Will having a pyjama party actually improve morale?  No way.

In fact, my friend was dreading it, and thought it was somewhat impractical in a work environment where half of the employees worked in a warehouse setting.

Events like this only scratch the surface of employee engagement.  Unless you get to the root cause, you won’t make a long-lasting improvement.  In fact, you could make things worse.  My guess is some people may have fun that day, others (like my friend) may hate it.  Regardless, any positive impact this type of event will have will be temporary.

The trouble is, this is the direction many organizations turn when they want to increase employee engagement.  In a recent study by Aberdeen Group (2004), Employee Events was the most commonly used strategy to improve hourly employee retention, with 68% of companies investing in them.  The same study also found that this had the most uncertain return on investment.

The path to engagement is much more strategic, long-term, and challenging.  You have to engage their Hearts and Minds.

Here are a few ways to start.

Engage their minds:

  • Evaluate your compensation practices.  Are people paid fairly and equitably, both internally and compared to market?  Pay is not a motivator, but it can de-motivate people.
  • Improve your internal communication.  Do people have access to the information they need to complete their work?
  • Ensure that everyone has all of the necessary tools to do their job. Fix technology, provide access to resources.

AND Engage their hearts:

  • What is your organization’s vision, mission, etc.  Do they resonate with employees?  does everyone in the company know where your headed and what their role is in taking the organization there?
  • Take a look at all leaders’ style.  Make sure they’re aware of their strengths and opportunities.  Have them share this, candidly, with their teams.  An introspective look and a leader who is self-aware is much more able to flex their behaviour and engage people.
  • Empower people.  Hire people who are aligned to your vision, train them in your standards, and set them loose to do their jobs.
You can see all of these tactics are a lot more challenging and time-consuming than pyjama days, but I guarantee, if you invest in truly engaging your people, you will see a return on your investment.
 
 

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Top 5 networking (face to face) tips

If you’re here, you are probably somewhat comfortable navigating through “social networking” online.  But for many people, it is difficult to enter a room where you know nobody, in the hopes of networking to further your business/career/etc.

There are people who are experts at this, and I have watched and learned.  I also recently attended a workshop put on by the Junior League of Toronto, where Deb Lewis, CEO of CityEvents, talked about The ARt of Networking.

Here are my top 5 tips based on what I’ve seen and practiced myself.

  1. Set a goal.  Start small – “I will meet and exchange contact information with 2 people tonight.”  I might even suggest staying small – garnering 2 quality contacts, with whom you’ve connected, is often better than meeting and handing out your card to 15 people who won’t remember who you were.
  2. Prepare and practice your “elevator speech” – your 30 seconds to answer the dreaded question “What do you do?”.  Think about how you are different from others in your field, how you add value, and what your “Brand” is.
  3. Join odd groups.  I don’t mean strange, but uneven numbers.  I spent years of joining tables or groups of two, thinking it was less threatening.  To my chagrin, almost every time, those two people were in conversations which were difficult to break into, and I was left hoping a 4th would join us… Find groups of 1, 3, or 5 people.  Often, one of these people is less engaged, you can join in naturally during a break in conversation, and get to know that “odd” person.
  4. Talk less, listen more.  Ask the people you meet questions about themselves.  Find out what they do, what their challenges are, what their goals are, etc.  Not only will you be thought of as a great conversationalist, you’ll also gain valuable info that can help you show them how you can add value for them.
  5. Follow up.  This is key.  Within 48 hours of the networking event, follow up, by email, phone, or even a personal card.  (Of course, this tip assumes you’ve exchanged contact info – always bring your cards).  Mention something you discussed, and let them know that you’d like to stay in touch.  Depending on your conversations and your business, this may be an opportunity for a “sales” pitch – eg. “You mentioned your challenges with ____.  That’s what I specialize in.  I’d love to help you with that.”  Notice the sales pitch is about them, not you.

If you do all of these, you will quickly become more comfortable in that room where you know nobody.

This is not an exhaustive list, so please add your own tips and suggestions in the comments, or tweet them to me.

Pic used with permission from Microsoft.

 

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How to be a Superhero from TED Talks

I make a point of always smiling at people on the street, in the office, or wherever I may be.  I often have people commenting on this, and have actually wondered at times if it makes me come across as somewhat ‘simple’.

But then I saw this TED Talk by Ron Gutman, and realized it’s actually my superpower 🙂 Watch the talk and check out a few of my favourite points below.

Fav points:

A study of baseball cards found that the span of a player’s smile actually predicted longer life – if this is true, I’ll be living into my 100s, smiling away!

More than a third of us smile more than 20 times per day – I can easily say I do this, and actually think it’s quite low.

Children smile as many as 400 times per day – I think smiling makes me feel more youthful and brings fun into much of what I do!

Smiling helps reduce stress-inducing hormones and increase mood-enhancing hormones – it promotes health!  There have been many studies on this.

Smiling makes you appear more competent – True, and I mentioned this in my Jobseeker advice post.  Smile and people feel better around you and think you are confident and competent.

Darwin wrote: “Even the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds.” – the act of smiling actually makes us feel better!  This one’s my favourite.  When I’m feeling down, I tend to spend some time with my dog or watch one of my go-to feel-good movies, and I find myself smiling and in a good mood very quickly.  I wonder if it’s actually just the act of smiling that’s doing it.  I will test this… now I need a bad mood to come along.  Perhaps if I frown?

What power have you found in a smile?  How often do you smile in a day?

 
 

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