8 vital tips for starting a new job

 To launch a new job

you need a good plan

Are you looking forward to your first day in a different job? Or maybe you’re preparing to welcome a new colleague?

My worst first day at work was 30 years ago, but I still remember it vividly. I was a few years out of law school and shifting to a new firm in the nation’s capital. The title on my business card read “partner,” instead of “associate,” in deference to the clients I was able to bring along with me.

Well in advance, I caught up with all my own client activities. On the day, I arrived in a new suit, with an empty briefcase, eager to make a good impression in the Washington office of this Virginia firm. But the attorneys who had interviewed me all were out of the office that day, and nobody else seemed pleased to meet me.

Welcome Aboard! (c)thinglass fotolia.comI found my way to the most senior Washington partner and introduced myself. Before quickly dismissing me he said, “At the interviews they all thought you were so great, but frankly I don’t see it. You’re going to have to prove yourself before anybody here gives you work.”

The first friendly word was from the kind firm administrator, who took me to lunch and warned me about a few things. She told me that there had been controversy over my title. And she hinted that, in this male-dominated firm, both attorneys and support staff would need some time to get used to the idea of working with a woman lawyer.

The cool welcome was a challenge, but the most uncomfortable part of the day was that I had absolutely nothing to do. This was back before there was a web to surf, and I struggled to look busy. Instead of hustling over the weekend to finish my client work, I should have prepared a long list of things to do.

That night, I called my father, holding back tears. Thinking to cheer me up, he described his experience with new jobs: “The first day is always the worst day. The first week is always the worst week. The first month is the worst month. And the first year is the worst year.”

I don’t buy into the pessimism embedded in Dad’s view of new jobs. But in that case he was prophetic. In successive days, weeks, months and years my life in the firm continued to improve, and I soon felt fully accepted. But things got better partly because I learned a critical lesson. I went to work on my second day with a plan of how I would keep busy, and I never again assumed that the firm leaders would carry the responsibility for my success.

These days I find it hard to imagine even a law firm making so little effort on employee orientation. Often, in a process human resource experts call “onboarding,” organizations develop elaborate plans to assure that a new hire can quickly get to know key insiders and stakeholders, learn about performance expectations, and become familiar with the culture. Leaders may work hard to help recruits get a feel for the environment and develop realistic expectations about their roles.

But even when you’re supported by onboarding pros, at the start of a new job it makes sense to have your own plan. And whether you are joining a new company or changing slots in the same outfit, you can ease your entry into a new position by focusing on basic principles of workplace success:

  1. Learn what your boss wants. Perhaps at the start your boss will be vague about what she needs from you. Of course, you should ask about your expected deliverables and the best way to report on your progress. But don’t count on clear, complete answers. Do some detective work as well. Notice how your boss interacts with her other direct reports, what she typically wants to know, and how she sends information up the line. Get a sense of what she must do in order to be successful, and look for ways to help. Study the organization’s mission and consider how your contribution — and hers — fit within the big picture.
  2. Get to know people. When managers and professionals run into trouble with new positions or projects it’s generally not because they don’t have the technical skills. They are more likely to fail because they misunderstand the culture or don’t establish working relationships with the right people. During your first months be methodical as you reach out to teammates, customers and anybody else with information to share.
  3. Listen and learn. When you meet individuals and attend meetings, ask questions and actively listen to each new person. Resist the urge to talk about yourself and your successes in the old job. Keep an open mind, avoid offering criticism before you understand the history, and be cautious about choosing sides among warring factions.
  4. Set short-term goals. As you start to feel that your feet are on the ground, create realistic objectives for your first few months, then for the first year. Reconfirm your understanding of your boss’s expectations, focus on areas that seem to be high priority, and identify some relatively easy near-term achievements. Don’t try to do everything at once, but identify specific preliminary steps — like introductory meetings — to move you in the right direction.
  5. Do what you say you will. One of the worst ways to start out is to create a trail of broken promises. Deliver on every commitment you make, no matter how small. For example, if you offer to make a phone call or send along information, do so immediately.
  6. Be on time. A simple way to demonstrate respect and enthusiasm is to meet all deadlines and show up on time for every meeting and appointment. This can be more challenging than usual if you’re following a different schedule and in an unfamiliar environment. But it’s worth the extra effort.
  7. Adjust your attitude. It’s not unusual to experience a letdown soon after you start your job. Once you are beyond the excitement of the move, you may realize that not everything is meeting your expectations. If you get the feeling that the honeymoon is over, it will be time to make an important choice. You can give in to your disappointment and become preoccupied with how they’ve let you down. Or you can choose to focus on the positive aspects of your situation and commit yourself to doing what it takes to reach your goals.
  8. Manage stress. Recognize that the process of adjusting to your new assignment will involve moments of uncertainty, which can translate into a high level of stress. Have a plan for managing anxiety, and be sure to include a fitness program. You may feel like you have no time to work out, but that’s shortsighted. The time you spend on keeping your cool and boosting your energy is an investment in success.

It’s more common than it used to be to have an onboarding program and first year roadmap. But even if that’s the case, keep your personal objectives in mind as well. Ask yourself: what do I need to do to get off to a great start? And what are the next steps?

image credit: © thinglass – Fotolia.com

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Posted in Career management, career resilience, career success, First day at work

When to stop worrying about prestige

Your best work adventures

may begin when you

stop worrying about status

Last week I wondered about “Lucy,” an acquaintance who had a chance to move to a different kind of job. She thought the shift would put her on a career track with more interesting opportunities than her current role. But she seemed likely to decline because she would lose her “VP” title.

I felt sorry for Lucy. She had a chance to try something that looked exciting. But she was tortured by the thought that her colleagues would think her work life had hit a snag.

Then I read a compassionate passage in Michael Korda’s entertaining book, “Horse People.” Writing about the herd behavior of horses, Korda said, “However peaceful horses may look grazing in their fields or dozing solemnly on their feet in their stall, they are always busy, in the sense that their mind is constantly aware of their status, and brooding over anything that might seem likely to change or challenge it. In short, it ain’t easy being a horse…”

That’s just like Lucy, I thought. Just like a lot of people. As social animals, humans may become preoccupied by their status, fretting over anything that challenges it. They might even pass up a wise move because others could regard it as a step down. In short, it ain’t easy being human.

Unlike herd animals, however, we don’t have to always give in to the pressure from the crowd.

 Gold vip iconOf course it’s normal to want respect from our colleagues. In his classic theory of human motivation, psychologist Abraham Maslow identified the need for esteem as a basic driver of human behavior. And leaders understand how important it can be for team members to feel accepted and valued by the group.

At work, the desire to look like a winner can keep us hustling when we secretly want to just throw in the towel. And praise and appreciation from our peers can make it all feel worth it, once a big push is finished.

The desire to move up and look good may bring energy to your career. But sometimes the wish for status or accolades can waste your time or lead you to the wrong choices. Here are five situations when the wiser move may be to let go of your all-too-human yearning for standing or prestige:

  1. When you’re the leader. Have you worked for a manager who was preoccupied with the trappings of her position? Perhaps she’d insist on an early meeting, but then show up late and play with her phone once the discussion began. Weak leaders may play power games to underscore their high station. Stronger leaders tend to treat everyone with respect, focus on the work, and forget about symbols of rank.
  2. When you get a promotion. In the first months of a new role, it may be tempting to talk a lot, to demonstrate your qualifications and knowledge. And it can feel reassuring to show off the power that comes with senior standing. But now that you have the position, be modest about it and concentrate on listening, learning and building relationships.
  3. When a job change could bring opportunities. The idea that your career should keep you moving up some kind of hierarchical ladder is old-fashioned and can be self-destructive. These days, our long professional lives are more complicated and may include lateral shifts and even fresh starts. If you’re starting to feel stuck or insecure on your current track, be open to a change in direction. A short-term loss of grade or title is a small price to pay for a shift that could recharge your professional life. Tell yourself to put aside concerns about what other people think. Eventually smart observers will recognize a good strategic move.
  4. When you’re ready to reinvent yourself. If you want to smoothly navigate a major work life transition, the starting point may be your willingness to look like a beginner. I struggled with this when I chose to retire from law and business and start a new career as an executive coach. As an attorney, I drew confidence from my areas of expertise. I had to reframe my thinking before I was comfortable going back to school to learn something new.
  5. When you feel anxious or obsessed. It’s healthy to want respect from others, but self-respect is even more important. If you need public recognition in order to feel good about yourself, it may be time for reflection or counseling. A neurotic need for prestige, or an outsize fear of embarrassment, can make you miserable and jeopardize the success you want so much.

Even though we’re not teenagers anymore, we want to look cool. But for us grownups it’s mostly a game. Let’s remember it’s just a game, so we can choose to stop worrying about status symbols when they’re holding us back or tripping us up.

And if you’re tired of your team members’ preoccupation with petty symbols of their standing, have a little compassion.  Worrying about rank can be an indicator of pain.  Remember: it just ain’t easy being human.

photo credit: fotolia

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How to love your job again

Feeling workplace blues?

Try 7 tips from Kerry Hannon

For making work fun again

My pal and occasional colleague Kerry Hannon has written two books and countless articles about following your heart to find the work you love. In the last few years Hannon has traveled across the country, interviewing folks who have reinvented their work lives and speaking frequently about how to navigate career transitions.

Hannon says that many people love the dream of starting over with a different kind of career. But the truth is that often a big shift may not be practical. In her latest book, Hannon has changed gears to focus on how you can make your current job more satisfying.

Love Your Job – The New Rules for Career Happiness” is Hannon’s guide for people looking to find or reignite purpose and joy in their work. She says, “If you want to be happier, you have to do something, to take action.” That doesn’t always mean a big swerve from the past. “It does, however, often call on the courage to make necessary but sometimes uncomfortable and even painful changes.”

9781118898062_cover.inddIf you want to find more fun and meaning at work, here are seven ways to get started:

  1. Begin with a journal. Hannon suggests you dedicate a notebook or computer file to your “Job Remodeling Journal.” Launch your effort by writing for 20 minutes every day for a week. Let yourself go, as you talk about what you’d love to see in your dream job. Perhaps you might list people who seem happy at work so you can ask them about what they love in their career. Next, try writing about the times your professional life was most rewarding. Hannon recommends that you create a “budget” in which you list the pros and cons at work. From there, start planning action steps for building on the best parts of your job and addressing the liabilities.
  2. Know when it’s burnout. Sometimes you’re feeling miserable but the problem is not really that you hate your job. As you journal you may realize that the biggest issue is you’re just too tired. Job burnout can be experienced as physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with self-doubt and uncertainty about the value of your work. If you’re feeling burnt out, the solution must start with you, and goes beyond what happens at the office. Consider taking a vacation, or perhaps a series of shorter breaks. And look closely at your health and fitness programs.
  3. Stop complaining. According to Hannon, “It’s remarkably easy to fall into the trap of whining and grumbling about a boss, coworker, or employer, but it rarely makes things better.” Her advice is blunt: “Do something. Get over it.” Sometimes you can’t make progress until you “stop the looping chatter.” Hannon suggests that you read over your journal, looking for the specific things you can change. Start working on those aspects of your job by identifying small steps.
  4. Get in shape financially. Human resources professionals say that personal financial challenges are a frequent cause of employee stress, poor health and low productivity. If money problems keep you up at night, your work suffers. On the other hand, Hannon says, being financially fit gives you the freedom to make choices. As a result, “You are not trapped and held ransom by your paycheck.” Hannon urges you to do what it takes to eliminate debt. The relief can transform your work life.
  5. Kerry Hannon

    Kerry Hannon

    Enrich your job. Hannon says if you make a number of small tweaks to your current job it will become more interesting and full of opportunity. As a start, stay informed about the trends in your field. “Just being in the know can inspire you to think of projects and tasks.” Also, find ways to do even more of the kind of work you like best. And at the same time search for additional kinds of duties. When they ask you to take on another task, “accept the invitation gratefully … and then figure out how to do it,” she says. Another strategy for job enhancement is to network more actively with colleagues. Reach out to people you don’t know well, look your coworkers in the eye, find opportunities to smile and chat, and keep building new connections.

  6. Create more flexibility. “When I ask people to name one thing that would make them happier about their jobs, they say independence in some way, shape or form,” Hannon says. The option to work flexibly gives us a sense of autonomy, and that is a good way to make your work life immensely more enjoyable. Two increasingly popular ways to give you back some control are telecommuting and flexible work schedules. “When you feel trapped and micromanaged in your office environment, the sense of control of your own time and virtual freedom can do wonders to help you get reconnected with your work again,” she says.
  7. Learn new tricks. “If you’re feeling stuck in your job and don’t know what to do next, charge up your brain cells,” Hannon says. Even if you have only a hazy notion of what interests you, start exploring libraries, classes or the web and learn something new.

The core message Hannon wants you to take away from her book is that you can turn it around and rebound from your malaise or grim work environment. You have to own it. You consciously choose whether to continue being unhappy or pick an alternate path and change it up, even if it’s in baby steps.

 For more ways to bring energy to your work life, see:

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6 ways to get more from meetings

Stuck in endless meetings?

Make better use of that time.

How much time do you devote to meetings? Your first answer might be: “Too much!” But seriously, do you have any idea what percentage of your work life is spent meeting with people? Try calculating it. And if meetings take just 20 percent of your time, and you work 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, that’s a whopping 400 hours annually.

I often talk with coaching clients about how to cut down the number of hours they spend sitting at a conference table. You can reduce meeting time by:

  • Agreeing with your colleagues to maintain shorter default times. For example, if your team always gathers on Monday mornings for an hour, commit to a new time limit of 45 minutes.
  • Say “no.” Sometimes your presence isn’t all that important, and you can be excused simply by explaining that you have another commitment.
  • Run better discussions.       Particularly if you’re the leader, you can recapture wasted time by establishing good group habits, like always having an agenda, and insisting on punctuality.

Business meeting, brainstorming in flat style.But no matter how adept you are at managing your own meetings, and avoiding some others, you probably still spend a big chunk of your work time convening with colleagues.

You may sometimes feel like my client “Sharon,” who was frustrated because she felt stuck. Sharon wanted the chance to lead a team. But Jenny, her mentor, warned that some senior colleagues felt Sharon wasn’t ready to be a manager.

Sharon complained, “If I didn’t have to waste so much time sitting in their useless meetings I could really show them what I can do.”

Jenny countered, “You can’t get out of those meetings, so why not make better use of them? That’s where people see you in action, so think of those sessions as a chance to show off your strengths. Instead of coming in late and appearing distracted, aim to be one of the most productive people there.”

Convinced it was worth a try, Sharon developed a plan for being a stellar attendee at each required meeting:

  • She’d rearrange her priorities to allow time for preparation, like reading the agenda and other materials sent out in advance.
  • While prepping, she’d identify at least two comments or questions to contribute to the discussion.
  • She’d ask herself, “What is the goal of this meeting? And what can I do to help get there?”
  • Before arriving, she’d set a personal goal like, “today I will come across as calm and organized.”
  • Once the discussion began, she’d listen carefully to each speaker, taking notes to help her stay focused.

The plan worked. Meeting leaders began noticing that Sharon seemed more engaged and was adding more to the discussion. They started to count on her support, and that led to her getting better assignments. After a few months, she did get a promotion, and with it came the chance to be team leader for an exciting project.

To her surprise, once Sharon launched her plan she found other benefits as well. Her job started to feel more interesting and satisfying. She felt more connected to her colleagues. And she had fewer moments of boredom and frustration. “By trying to act engaged,” she said, “I found out that it’s more fun to be engaged.”

The fact is that meetings represent a significant part of a professional’s life. And as long as you have to spend the time, why not get the biggest possible bang for your buck?

Here are six strategies for maximizing the return on the hours you spend in conference rooms:

  1. Do the homework. You won’t fool anybody when you’re searching through your papers or tablet, trying to catch up with the crowd. When you put the meeting time on the calendar, schedule some minutes for any necessary preparation.
  2. Be on time. Even if the culture tolerates casual start times, late arrivers show a lack of respect for their more punctual colleagues. By typically being there at the appointed hour, you can help to set a more productive tone. And once you’re there, you can make use of any delay by doing a bit more prep or networking with the other folks.
  3. Understand the purpose. It’s easy to dismiss many meetings as pointless, but that doesn’t get you anywhere. Somebody had something in mind or you wouldn’t be sitting in that room. You will be able to make a bigger contribution if you have some sense of the objective. Dig a little, and you may find several reasons why you’ve all been called in, like:
  •   Sharing information.
  •   Brainstorming and solving specific problems.
  •   Establishing goals, making plans and keeping track of milestones.
  •   Creating a collective sense of purpose.
  •   Encouraging collaboration by helping people get to know each other.
  1. Set your own goals. Of course, you always want to do your part to make the meeting productive. But beyond that, you’ll get more out of your participation if you have your own games to play. For example, if you’re trying to broaden your brand, your objective might be to speak knowledgeably about areas outside your normal portfolio.
  2. Listen. One reason so many sessions feel useless is that attendees just aren’t paying attention. If just one or two of you start listening carefully you can change the dynamic. And if you make a habit of being truly engaged, chances are that when it’s your turn somebody will hear what you have to say.
  3. Follow up. Often the success of a meeting depends on what happens next. Do your bit. Keep track of any commitments you make, and do that work. If you’re particularly interested in aspects of the conversation, find ways to continue the dialogue later. And let people know if you found their remarks to be helpful.

The bottom line: If meetings are part of the job, complaining about them is at best a waste of time. Instead, create your own plan for getting as much as you can from the hours spent around a conference table.

Photo credit: Fotolia
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Tips for talks that keep them engaged

 Have a speech coming up?

Want to sharpen your style?

Finding more opportunities to make presentations can bring new energy to your career. Public speaking allows you to stand out, show what you know, and connect with a wider group of people. The more talks you give, the more you build your confidence and polish your style. And the prospect of presenting helps you identify what’s important and work harder to know your stuff.

I often encourage clients to raise their profiles by finding speaking venues. This might mean offering remarks at a company meeting or sitting on a convention panel. Or it could involve inventing an event that gives you the chance you need.

If one of your goals is to do more speaking, take note of how successful delivery styles have evolved over the years.

LibbyheadshotMy favorite expert on public speaking and workplace communications is Libby Vick, who once worked on Capitol Hill and is now a member of the faculty at Northern Virginia Community College. When I asked her about recent trends, Libby (who also is my sister) said, “Speeches are shorter and the audience of today is much more visually oriented. And, for better or worse, the younger the audience the more they expect an element of ‘entertainment.’”

A format Libby now uses in her classroom is based on the increasingly popular Ignite talk videos, where the motto is “enlighten us, but make it quick.” Ignite presenters talk for exactly five minutes, and during that time the audience sees 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. Libby said, “The idea of having visuals – without words – throughout the speech is a new concept, and it seems to work.”

“Another interesting aspect of Ignite is the premise that storytelling is the key to a successful presentation. And this can be applied to any subject,” Libby said. “For example, business audiences are often bored by PowerPoint charts and graphs, even in pretty colors.”

“So let’s say the ‘story’ you want to tell is that a once thriving industry is now suffering layoffs. Instead of a graph, you can have a slide that’s a photograph showing a plant at full production, followed by a slide that shows the same plant half empty. The story is told and the point is still made, but in a way that holds the audience’s interest,” Libby said.

If you want a fresher approach for your next talk, Libby’s advice is:

  • Shorten the length of your speeches.
  • Add visuals, including photographs.
  • Know the story you want to tell and do that quickly and creatively.
  • Stretch your public speaking skill by trying to tell your story in just 5 minutes in the Ignite format. (Click here to see Libby doing just that.)

In most work-related occasions, you’ll probably need to be engaging for far more than five minutes. Here are ways to keep attendees interested during longer programs:

  • Work on keeping eye contact, which might mean choosing not to put your statements on slides.
  • Present with another person, using an interview or conversational format.
  • Create mini-breakout sessions, where participants form small groups, quickly explore a question, then report back to the whole crowd.
  • Arrange to call on specific audience members for brief comments on points where they’re expert
  • Encourage and build on audience feedback.

My final suggestion is that you finish with a bang. You miss a chance to drive home your message if your last comment is, “Well, I guess that’s all.” Instead, summarize your major points, or end with a pithy remark that you don’t want them to miss.

Libby Vick provided her photo.
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6 times listening may be the best strategy

Have a problem at work?

Listening may be a solution.

Regardless of how you define your key workplace objectives, I’m willing to bet that better listening skills could help you achieve at least one of them.

By “listening” I mean you not only keep your mouth shut long enough for the other person to talk, but you also shut down the voice in your head when it tries to tell you what to say next. You concentrate on the speaker, and you hear what they say even if it means you have to fight an urge to judge or be defensive.

Humans have a deep and often unmet need to be heard and understood. Neuroscience suggests that people go through life aching to have their concerns acknowledged and their presence felt. When we truly listen we meet that need and connect with the speaker in a special way, even though it might not seem like that at the time.

 listening  @Voyagerix - FotoliaAnd listening is such a fundamental part of human interaction that at some level we can usually tell if someone is actually hearing us, or just pretending. Research on “mindful listening” shows that people, and even animals, can sense whether we’re engaged in the moment or just waiting for our turn to talk. And when we deeply listen without feeling defensive or judgmental, we’re more likely to come across as genuine, charismatic and attractive.

Becoming a stronger listener can be like building your physical strength. You build your listening “muscle” by noticing your reactions to a speaker and then putting them aside. For example, let’s imagine your friend says, “you let me down.” You instantly think “that’s not true!” But instead of interrupting, you put that defensive thought aside and hear what else your friend has to say. Read more ›

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Posted in Career management, listening

8 times to stop worrying about looking like a suck up

Fear looking like an apple polisher?

It’s probably time to get over it.

One of the greatest TV characters ever was Eddie Haskell, Wally Cleaver’s oily conniving friend, still to be seen on reruns of “Leave It To Beaver.” Eddie was an archetype who no decent person wants to resemble — a two-faced sycophant, always scheming and currying favor to promote his plans

The fear of looking like a brown noser is so powerful among professionals that sometimes they shy away from obvious opportunities to make a friend or pursue a goal. Among my clients, the people who worry the most about resembling Eddie Haskell are often the straight shooters who look the least like him.

A good example is “Trish,” a quiet but talented financial wizard who wanted to eventually move to her dream job in another division of the company. Trish said she’d probably need support from Al, a senior colleague who knew the leaders there. She described Al as smart and accomplished, but self-absorbed and eager to be the center of attention.

I suggested Trish find ways to build her relationship with Al, and speculated that he might respond well to a bit of flattery. She said, “Yep – he probably would. But I couldn’t do it. I just don’t like to suck up.”

Even though it could mean a lot for her future, Trish didn’t want to cultivate a friendship with Al because he seemed arrogant and might expect her to kowtow. I said she needn’t grovel, and asked her to simply make a list of Al’s strengths and areas of expertise. Next, I suggested she spot opportunities where Al’s advice might actually be helpful.

Trish identified Al’s types of special knowledge and found projects where she could use his insights. Then she began to ask him for occasional guidance. To her surprise, Al responded warmly, and eventually became her mentor. Ultimately he guided her into the transfer she’d been dreaming about.

Trish’s reluctance to appear unctuous almost prevented her from getting to know the man who became her champion. She is not alone. Modest but otherwise self-aware people sometimes have a disproportionate fear of looking like a bootlicker.

Hand with appleAre you one of those who is reluctant to offer a heartfelt tribute for fear it will be taken as apple-polishing? Read more ›

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Celebrations support a healthy workplace culture

Build your team & boost productivity

with 13 ideas for workplace celebrations

Celebrations can enhance your workplace culture and help team members do even better work. Sharing appreciation for success and good fortune can support the well-being of individuals, foster a sense of community and promote the health of your whole organization.

open book with ribbonCreating a celebration can be a wonderful way to acknowledge achievements and encourage people to continue to excel. Positive reinforcement is a powerful motivator and a celebratory event can be a smart way to offer good feedback.

Celebrations provide times when colleagues come together, get to know each other better and develop a shared perspective. Enjoying festive occasions helps workers become friends, and having friends at the office helps you do your best.

Arranging celebrations can provide a moment for reflection, allowing people to develop a collective focus on the right stuff. It’s a way to draw attention to the organization’s goals and values, and to remind participants that they work at a great place.

Consider these 13 ways to celebrate at work: Read more ›

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The way you talk can transform your team

 To help your team thrive,

agree on some structure &

communicate widely and often!

When I want a quick sense of whether a team is working well, I take a look at how the members communicate.

“Jenna” was an agency branch chief who wanted to help her 14 direct reports become more innovative and productive. Years ago her branch had been organized into cascading layers, with three deputy chiefs each managing two to four people. That kind of top-down organization made sense when it was the only way to assure the distribution of accurate information. But the old command-and-control model went out of date with the advent of email and other technology. So now the agency was much flatter, and its leaders were exploring new ways to organize the workload.

To foster collaboration and mentoring, Jenna had organized her group into project-focused teams. Since each person might be on more than one team, and some teams included professionals from other branches, Jenna was keeping her eye on six teams, each with three to five members. Several teams were active, energetic and highly productive. But a couple of them had gone dormant before they really got started.

As part of an effort to evaluate and restructure the teams, Jenna asked me to interview each branch employee. “Don,” an experienced and technically gifted lawyer, led one of the teams that hadn’t gelled. When I asked Don about how his team operated, he said he called meetings “only when they were absolutely necessary.” He said he was available to answer individual questions, but he didn’t want to encourage people “to waste time talking about each other’s problems.”

I said to myself, “Wow! Don’s poor team never had a chance.” Don had no idea that frequent and effective communications are key to building a team that gets things done.

TeamIt’s long been intuitively obvious that talking frequently is a basic step of teambuilding. But the new science of mapping team communication patterns suggests that how team members talk with one another may be more important than their skill, personality, intelligence and discussion topics combined.

A 2012 Harvard Business Review article offered a fascinating account of how MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory can chart and portray the interactions that characterize high-performing teams. When working with a client organization, the Lab’s experts equip members of the client’s teams with electronic badges that collect data on communication behavior. Read more ›

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Positive games can empower your career

How the games we play can

help us through tough times.

Board game with a block path on the cityWhen I asked George, a fairly new manager, about his work, he hesitated. Then he said, “Objectively, it’s going really well. But I don’t know how long I can stand it.”

The good news was that, after two years of building collaboration and creating expertise, George’s team was exceeding all its goals and had been recognized as a shining “center of excellence” within the large organization.

But now leaders in other divisions were trying to steal some of the glory and resources. They were attempting to poach George’s critical experts by having them reassigned away to other challenges.

When I asked George how many team members he’d actually lost, he said, “None. But I’m so exhausted from the constant fight to protect them that I’m not sure if I can keep this up. The stress is just too much.”

I thought about how much George loves board games and recalled a party where he and friends had played fiercely for hours. The intense players shouted and mocked each other. But at the end of the game they simply laughed about the competition and rejoined the festivities.

I asked George whether he could take a step back from the challenges to his team, and view his colleagues more like other players in a strategic game. Read more ›

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Beverly E. Jones

Watch for the book!

Think Like an Entrepreneur,
Act Like a CEO

50 Indispensable Tips to Help
Your Stay Afloat, Bounce Back, and Get Ahead at Work

Coming in late 2015
from Career Press

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Links to occasional colleagues

ECCA - Website
ThreeJoy - Website
Kerry Hannon - Website
Ohio University's Voinovich School - Website
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Congressional Management Foundation - Website
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Books with Bev’s Tips

Bev’s tips on career change are featured in the books and other writing of leading journalist Kerry Hannon. If you’re thinking about a career transition, try:

Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness

What’s Next? Find Your Passion and Your Dream Job in You Forties, Fifties and Beyond

“Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy and Pays the Bills”

Bev at Ohio University,
where she is a visiting
executive with the
Voinovich School of
Leadership & Public Affairs

Bev's garden at Buckeye Farm