You will be passed over for jobs, projects, and second dates and never know why. Being passed over isn’t necessarily a bad thing, not knowing why is problematic. If you don’t know why you’re being passed over, how can you be prepared for next time?
Organizations are political. People talk. You’ve undoubtedly already experienced this.
If you want to manage your professional reputation, one thing you must know is who talks about you and what they say. How decisions get made in organizations isn’t always obvious. There are the obvious channels of decision making, like your boss and your boss’s boss. But there are also the people who talk to your boss and boss’s boss and have an opinion about you, who you may not be aware of.
Everyone in an organization has people they trust, who they listen to and confide in. Who those trusted people are isn’t always obvious. When you’re being considered for a new position or project, the decision makers will invariably ask others for their opinion. Knowing who does and doesn’t support you in a future role is essential to managing your professional reputation and career.
I don’t want you to be nervous, paranoid, or suspicious at work. I do want you to be savvy, smart, and aware.
It’s not difficult to find out who can impact your professional reputation at work, you just need to ask the people who know. Start with your boss. S/he likely knows and will tell you, if you ask.
To ensure you know who can impact your professional reputation, tell your boss:
“I really enjoy working here. I enjoy the people, the work and our industry. I’m committed to growing my career with this organization.”
- Who in the organization should I have a good relationship with?
- Who/what departments should I be working closely with?
- Who impacts my professional reputation and the opportunities I have?
- What skills do I have that the organization values most?
- What contributions have I made that the organization values most?
- What mistakes have I made from which I need to recover?
Your manager doesn’t walk around thinking about the answers to these questions. If you want thoughtful answers, set a time to meet with your boss, tell him/her the purpose of the meeting – to get feedback on your professional reputation so you can adeptly manage your career – and send the questions in advance, giving your boss time to prepare for the meeting. You will get more thoughtful and complete answers if your boss has two weeks to think about the questions and ask others for input.
Don’t be caught off guard by a less-than-stellar professional reputation. Take control of your reputation and career. Ask more. Assume less.
Write a comment about this week’s blog and we’ll enter your organization to win 50 professional reputation bookmarks!
Most training programs about giving feedback focus on negative feedback, because giving negative feedback is hard and makes us uncomfortable. But most people aren’t any better at giving positive feedback.
Most of the positive feedback people get at work really isn’t feedback at all. It’s vague, fluffy, and unhelpful. Aka, Cap’n Crunch – sweet but useless.
“Great job.” “You’re awesome.” “You’re great to work with.” None of this qualifies as real feedback.
The purpose of positive feedback is to make people feel valued and appreciated and to get them to replicate a behavior. Telling someone, “great job” or “you’re doing great work” will make the person feel good (momentarily), but won’t tell her what to replicate. These phrases are vague, and vague positive comments come across as inauthentic at best and unhelpful at worst.
Here are a few examples of what I refer to as real vs. fake feedback:
Examples of positive feedback:
Fake feedback: “Great job.”
Real feedback: “You researched three vendors when making a proposal of who we should choose to manage our payroll operations. You included all the necessary information for us to make a decision and presented the information in a one-page table that was easy to read. Your work made it really easy to make a decision. Great job!”
Examples of positive feedback:
Fake feedback: “You’re really reliable.”
Real feedback: “I know that whatever I give you to do will get done the first time I ask and will be accurate. I don’t have to ask again or check your work. You check your work for typos and mistakes before submitting it.”
Examples of positive feedback:
Fake feedback: “You make my job easy.”
Real feedback: “Last week you noticed an invoice that didn’t seem accurate. You researched the invoice and got the mistake corrected before I even knew there was a problem. You make my job easy.”
Examples of positive feedback:
Fake feedback: “You’re awesome.”
Real feedback: “You always do what’s right for the company. Last week you called a vendor whose service has been spotty. You provided them with feedback and asked for their plan to improve their service levels. This added a lot of value to our organization.”
The guidelines for giving positive feedback are the same as giving negative feedback:
- Be specific.
- Give an example.
- Give feedback close to the time an event happens.
To give specific and meaningful positive comments, you will have to observe performance, and that takes time. But if you want someone to replicate a behavior, tell the person specifically what she did well.
People are not us; they do things their way, not ours. This is so obvious. Yet violated expectations are consistently a source of lots of frustration and upset, both personally and professionally. “How could you not check your work before submitting information to a client?” “What do you mean you didn’t call that person back?” “You said what?!”
The most frequent request we get at Candid Culture is for feedback training. The call usually goes something like this, “The communication isn’t great at our company. Managers don’t give a lot of feedback. People don’t talk directly to each other when there are problems, they talk about each other. Can you help?”
Sure, we can help. But once we’re having this conversation people are already frustrated. Trust has been violated and relationships and reputations have been damaged. Instead of waiting for problems to occur, expect the unexpected. Set clear expectations before people don’t proofread reports, miss deadlines, and do other things you wouldn’t dream of doing.
How to avoid violated (often unstated) expectations? Ask more questions.
Here are five questions you should ask every person you work with. And if you do, your workplace will have fewer frustrations and violated expectations:
- What’s most important that you’re working on right now? What are your goals this quarter?
- What are we both working on that we can work on together? Or what should one of us stop working on?
- How do you like to communicate? Phone, in-person, by appointment or drop by’s.
- How do you like to receive information – email, voicemail, text message or instant messenger?
- If I need information from you and I haven’t heard back from you, what should I do, and is it ok to do that?
- What are your pet peeves at work? How will I annoy you and not even know it?
- How do you like to be interrupted? (You’re going to be interrupted. You might as well have a preference.)
I know. That was seven questions, not five. I could keep going. But this is a good start.
Here’s the philosophy and practice: People aren’t you. Anticipate challenges, breakdowns, and violated expectations, and talk about them before they happen. Make requests. Ask questions.
It’s always easier to ask for what you want than to give feedback.
Many organizations have moved from cubeland to open plan offices in which employees sit in rows of desks with no barriers between them.
There’s considerable research on the workability of open plan offices. Some of what’s written says that introverts do worse than extroverts in an open plan office. I disagree. I’d say that how a person learns/takes in information determines how well she’ll do in an open plan office.
If you’re a visual or kinesthetic learner who learns by seeing or doing, you’ll be less distracted by noise than an auditory learner who learns by hearing. Auditory learners hear everything and are easily distracted by talking, music, and other noise. Visual and kinesthetic learners often don’t hear distractions, so they do better in an open plan office.
Here are seven steps to make an open plan office a more productive environment:
- Schedule a meeting during which people sitting together can discuss the working environment they need to be satisfied and productive. Then facilitate a discussion during which the group creates 5 – 7 behavior guidelines each person agrees to follow when at their desks.
- Post the list of agreed-upon behaviors on a poster that is large enough to be read from any place in the work environment. Leave the poster up indefinitely.
- Give each person in the group permission to talk to individuals who violate the guidelines. This is very, very important. For the most part, employees won’t tell another person she is talking too loudly, eating food that smells, has too many visitors at her desk, listens to music or videos without headphones, or takes phone calls via speaker phone. People will suffer in silence and choose to work from home or in an empty office or conference room rather than speak up about the behaviors that frustrate them. Ask the group to grant each other permission to speak up when guidelines are violated. Giving each other permission to speak up will make future conversations possible – difficult but possible. Without permission and these agreed-upon behaviors in place, people will suffer in silence or talk about each other, not to each other.
- Ask everyone in the work group to take feedback graciously, responding with “thank you for telling me,” rather than with defensiveness.
- Two weeks after making the list of guidelines, get the group together to review the list and make any necessary changes to it. Discuss behaviors that were omitted, aren’t realistic, and are realistic but aren’t being followed.
- Then follow up by facilitating a monthly conversation during which group members give honest feedback about which guidelines are being followed and which are not, and problem solve as a group. These conversations aren’t a chance to embarrass or call people out in a group setting. If one person is violating a guideline, that conversation should happen individually.
- You will need a strong facilitator for the group discussions. The facilitator must tease out people’s thoughts, while making sure no one gets blasted in front of the group. Don’t let concerns that you know exist be brushed under the rug. Group members must openly and regularly discuss what is and isn’t working about their work environment, or frustrations will build and unhappiness and dissension will ensue.
It’s not too late to put these practices in place, even with a group who has been sitting together for a long time. Just schedule the conversation and explain why you’re having it. People will be relieved and grateful.
Working in an open plan office is challenging. It requires good communication and compromise. Don’t wait for problems to occur and frustrations to build. Have a conversation today.
You disagree with something someone above you said or did. How do you tell the person without actually telling him?
Lots of people think they can’t give direct feedback when talking to someone at a higher level. I’m here to tell you that that’s not true. The ability to speak freely has little to do with titles and more to do with the quality of your relationship. When you’re comfortable with people and have mutual trust, you can say (almost) anything, regardless of titles and levels. But that’s not the true purpose of today’s blog. So I’m going to stick to the topic at hand –what to say when you feel like you can’t say very much.
When you don’t have the relationship to say what you really think, manage up by asking a question instead. Engage the person in a conversation. At some point during the conversation, you’ll be able to say what you think.
For example, you question a decision but don’t want to overtly say you question the decision.
Here’s how the conversation could go:
“I wasn’t involved in the conversations to select our new payroll software. Can you give me a little history? What had us choose our current provider?”
“What software features were important when selecting the software?”
“What problem were we trying to solve that drove the need to make a change?”
“What do you like about the software we picked? What don’t you like?”
** Obviously this is meant to be a discussion, not an interrogation. Ask one question at a time and see where the conversation goes. You may ask all of these questions and you may ask only one.
The point is to gather more information. Manage up by seeking to understand before you express an opinion. As the conversation progresses, you might see opportunities to express your point of view.
Here are three suggestions if you’re going to practice the technique of asking questions as a way to manage up and eventually give feedback:
1. When you ask a question, come from a place of genuine curiosity. If you aren’t truly curious and asking questions is just a technique you found in some blog, it will show.
2. Watch your tone of voice. If you can safely add the words “you dummy” to a question, you have a tone issue.
3. Be patient. Asking questions may feel easier than giving direct feedback, but it also takes more patience and time.
As the conversation progresses, you might be asked for your opinion. Before saying what you think, remember, no one likes to be told that s/he is wrong. And the person you’re talking to likely had a hand in making the decision you’re questioning. Be careful not to judge.
Instead of overtly judging, consider saying something like:
“I think the new system has potential and also has some limitations. Do you want feedback as we use the system and get to know it better?”
“What specifically would you like feedback on? What are you not looking for feedback on?”
“What’s the best way to provide input and to whom?”
You can speak more freely when you have the relationship to do so and have permission. Until you have both, earn the right to give feedback by asking questions from a place of genuine curiosity. And only provide your point of view when you’re asked and are certain you have all the information to defend your position.
People are too afraid to tell the truth at work. We’re afraid that if we give honest performance feedback, people will get upset. They will. We’re afraid that if we say what we think, we’ll get marginalized, put in a corner, never to be given cool work again. That’s unlikely.
We tiptoe around the people we work with, afraid to hurt people’s feelings and rock the boat. This doesn’t work. Without honesty in the workplace, performance won’t improve and problems won’t get solved.
Here are five ways to increase honesty in the workplace:
Increase honesty in the workplace tip #1: Overtly tell employees that it’s acceptable, safe, and expected that they will make mistakes. If people are afraid to make mistakes, they’ll never risk trying anything new.
Create an award for the person who failed while trying to do something new. And present the award very publically, sending the message that it’s ok to fail.
Increase honesty in the workplace tip #2: Set the expectation when you hire and onboard new employees that they will receive regular and balanced (positive and negative) performance feedback. Tell candidates and new employees that giving and receiving honest feedback is part of your organization’s values and culture, and if employees don’t want to give and receive this type of feedback, they shouldn’t work for your company.
When you interview employees, ask about a time they received negative feedback and what they did with that information. People who can’t answer this question aren’t self-aware or open to feedback. Don’t hire them.
Increase honesty in the workplace tip #3: Create safe places and occasions to give regular feedback. Ensure managers and employees meet one-on-one at least monthly to discuss performance. Give teams a chance to openly talk about how projects are going. Debrief significant projects and pieces of work by asking what did and didn’t work. And ensure managers are asking for employees’ feedback on what the manager can do differently to make work an easier place to be. Feedback goes both ways – up and down. Managers earn the right to give feedback when they’re open to receiving it.
While you’re going to ask for feedback, it doesn’t mean that you’re a dumping ground. It’s perfectly ok to tell employees what you want feedback about and what you don’t. If you made a decision and aren’t looking for input, don’t ask for input on that subject. If you receive unsolicited and unwelcomed feedback, say “no thank you.” A feedback-rich culture doesn’t mean you accept feedback on every topic all the time. It’s ok to set boundaries.
Increase honesty in the workplace tip #4: Don’t be daunted by people’s negative reaction to feedback. No one likes to be told s/he is wrong and no one wants his/her competence called into question, as a result, becoming defensive when receiving negative feedback is normal and natural. Not becoming defensive is not the norm. People might tell you you’re wrong, turn red, cry, yell, or go silent and pretend you don’t exist for a period of weeks. But everyone will survive. Try not to hire people who won’t talk to you for weeks after receiving feedback. Those folks need to grow up.
Increase honesty in the workplace tip #5: Remind people over and over and over that honest feedback is what allows employees and organizations to grow, evolve, and thrive. Not telling the truth creates stagnation and will ultimately lead to individual and organizational failure. The more you give and receive feedback, the more comfortable employees will be with the process.
Periodically give yourself a pep talk about being honest with your employees. Letting someone linger in a job in which s/he cannot be successful is not kind, it’s cruel. To talk about people when they’re not present, versus giving candid feedback directly, is also unkind.
We all need to man or woman up. Tell employees that everyone in the organization is expected to tell the truth and to do so directly, kindly, and tactfully. Likewise, everyone is expected to be open to receiving feedback graciously. Over time people will become more comfortable speaking up and receiving all types of input. And if you want a feedback-rich culture, the people who can’t or won’t speak candidly, aren’t the right fit for your organization.
Most hiring best practices tell you not to hire people like you, and instead create diversity in your workforce by hiring people different from you. And that’s sort of true. You should hire people with different skill sets, experiences, and ways of thinking. And you should hire people with a similar work ethic and values, or you will consistently be frustrated.
Here’s what I mean: If you live to work and hire people who work to live, that’s a values difference. If your view of what is reasonable regarding expected hours worked is different from your employees, that difference will cause conflict. If, like in our company, you value open, candid communication, but your employees can’t or won’t speak honestly, that’s going cause frustration. And these values and practices won’t change. Trust me.
The question is how to identify candidates’ values and work ethic before you hire them.
Here are a five hiring tips to ensure you hire people who reflect your values and work ethic:
Hiring tips number one: Describe what it’s really like to work for you and your organization. Don’t sugar coat the bad stuff. Tell the truth. Candidates will find out eventually. If the negatives of the job are deal breakers, your new employees will leave anyway.
Hiring tips number two: Check references. I’m shocked at the number of hiring managers who don’t check references. You might think that references have been so well trained to say nothing incriminating, that making the call is a waste of time. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Be personable, make friends with the reference, ask innocent sounding questions, and references will tell you everything you need to know.
Hiring tips number three: Require candidates to jump through some hoops during the interview process. Ask candidates to invest time doing a little of the work they’ll do on the job (this is called a Practical Interview, something way too few hiring managers do) and observing people work in your office. If candidates aren’t willing to invest this time, cut them.
Hiring tips number four: Ask how many hours candidates want to work and candidate’s preferred work hours, and believe what they tell you. If someone wants to work 35 hours per week and your culture is 50 hours a week, no matter how much your new hire wants and enjoys her new job, she doesn’t want to work 50 hours a week, and won’t do so for very long.
Hiring tips number five: Don’t ignore red flags or your instincts. If you think, “I have some concerns, but let’s see. Maybe it will work out.” Run the other way. It won’t work out. You’ll end up cutting that employee after months of training and coaching, or s/he’ll end up cutting you. It’s faster, cheaper, and easier to wait to hire until you find the right person.
Hiring rule of thumb: Be slow to hire and quick to fire.
Our company got a shipment of products this week that were partially defective. When I called our vendor to tell him about the defective products, he sighed knowingly. He knew part of our order was imperfect and waited for me to find the problems versus telling me himself.
I love surprise gifts, trips, and discounts. But I don’t like surprise errors and your internal and external customers don’t either.
Everyone makes mistakes at work. Making a mistake is not necessarily a problem. It’s how you deal with the error that matters more. Letting those who are impacted by a mistake be surprised damages your reputation and working relationships much more than coming clean as soon as you realize the error. Rather than waiting to get caught, tell your customers about mistakes and work together to make things right.
Here are a few ways to tell people you made a mistake, while saving face:
Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #1: When you realize you’ve made a mistake, pick up the phone and tell the person live, as soon as you know. Don’t wait.
Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #2: Apologize and work with your customer to develop a solution. Be part of the process. Don’t leave your internal or external customer holding the bag.
Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #3: Don’t give a bunch of reasons or justifications for what happened. It sounds like excuse management and no one cares. Your customers just want to know how you’re going to solve the problem.
Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #4: Say something like, “I realized we sent you a report with incorrect information. I’m so sorry. I’d like to work with you to make this right. Here are a couple of ideas of what we can do… Would any of these suggestions work for you?”
Or you could say, “I realized parts of your order are imperfect. I’m so sorry. Here’s how we’d like to make things right. Are these solutions satisfactory to you?”
Or consider saying something like, “I’ve realized we can’t fulfill your order by the date we promised. I’m so sorry. Here’s what I suggest we do to get you what you need in a timely way. Does this work for you?”
We all make mistakes. How you handle mistakes determines how your internal and external customers view you and how much they trust you. Come clean quickly. Take responsibility. Don’t provide a bunch of reasons for a mistake. Help make things right. And you’ll likely preserve your reputation and business relationships.
Summer is on the way, and it’s tempting to dress down at work. Here are a seven summer casual dress code do’s and don’ts that will help you be comfortable at work and preserve your reputation.
Summer casual dress code tip number one:
If you put on an item of clothing and wonder, “Can I get away with this?” you probably can’t.
Summer casual dress code tip number two:
Make friends with your iron. Capri’s may be fine in your organization, if they’re not fresh out of the dryer.
Summer casual dress code tip number three:
Never wear flip flops to work, unless it’s specifically stated in your company’s dress code that flip flops are ok, or if a senior leader wears them too. And what are considered flip flops isn’t always clear. I wore what I considered sandals to work, before I started Candid Culture, but they looked like flip flops to my boss, and he told them me not to wear them again. I assured him that there are no flip flops made of satin that cost what I paid for these shoes. He didn’t care, and I didn’t wear them again.
Summer casual dress code tip number four:
No one wants to see your belly button or bra straps at work. Well they might, but neither is appropriate.
Summer casual dress code tip number five:
Avoid wearing anything sheer, unless you have something that’s not sheer underneath it.
Summer casual dress code tip number six:
As always, during winter, spring, or summer, cover up the girls. Visible cleavage is a no-no at work during any season.
Summer casual dress code tip number seven:
Don’t wear shorts, unless your company’s dress code specifically states that shorts are ok. And if you’re going to wear shorts, keep them long, just a few inches above the knee. No daisy dukes at work. This applies to your company picnic too. Work events are work events. Dress knowing that whatever inappropriate choice you make for the company picnic will be discussed in the hallways the next day.
Company leaders and HR professionals, help employees make appropriate summer casual dress code choices. It’s not enough to tell employees to keep it appropriate during the summer months. Be specific. If shorts are allowed, tell employees how long they need to be. If tank tops are not allowed, circulate photos of acceptable and not acceptable clothing. If you allow sandals, but not Birkenstocks, don’t make employees guess.
Regardless of who your company’s org chart says you should work with, people work with the people they want to work with and around those they don’t. One way to get people working with you (by choice) is to get to know your coworkers better, and I don’t mean personally.
Most people don’t know the people they work with very well. Coworkers often don’t know what fellow team members are tasked with doing for the company, their past work experience, education, or working style preferences. They often don’t know how fellow team members like to receive information, but get annoyed when they don’t return unopened emails.
If you’ve had any team building training with me, you know I advocate getting to know people better by asking more questions.
Organizations spend a lot of money on team building. Teams go bowling, out to happy hour, and have pot luck lunches, etc. All of those activities are fun and build comradery, and that’s important. But comradery and enjoying spending time together outside of work won’t help a team learn to communicate or overcome challenges.
If you’re really committed to team building and working well with people, ask more questions at the onset and throughout working relationships.
Here are five team building questions coworkers should be asking each other:
- What are your pet peeves? How would I frustrate you and not even know it?
- Are you a big picture or detail oriented person? Should I send you information in bullets or paragraphs?
- What are you best at doing? What type of work could you be doing that you’re not doing now?
- What are you working on now? What are your priorities for the next six months?
- What’s something I could do differently that would make your job easier? (You will survive the answer. I promise)
Your manager may coordinate an activity that gives your team the ability to ask questions like this, and s/he might not. Either way, ask the questions and be forthcoming if others ask you for this information. It’s not just your manager’s job to get your team working well together.
Your daily experience at work – how much you get done, how easily you get that work done, and how much fun you have along the way – is largely dependent on the people you work with. Don’t leave your working relationships to chance. Be assertive. Get to know people better. Ask more questions and offer information about yourself.