Career Management Archive
Breakdowns happen. There will be days people won’t give you what you need to complete projects. Things will break. And you will look bad. When breakdowns happen, I always ask myself, “What could I have done to prevent this situation?” or “What did I do to help create this situation?” I see myself as accountable for whatever breakdowns occur.
It may sound odd that I always look at myself when breakdowns occur, even when it’s someone else who didn’t do her job, but it’s just easier. I can’t control anyone else. But I can control me (admittedly, some days I do a better job at this than others). When I can identify something I could have done to make a situation go differently, I feel more in control – aka better.
It’s like getting off a highway versus sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The alternate route may take longer, but at least I’m moving. I feel like I’m doing something and thus have more control. Taking responsibility for everything that happens to you is similar. When you’re accountable, you can do something to improve your situation. When someone else is accountable, you’re at the mercy of other people and have very little control.
There are, of course, exceptions to the practice that “we’re always accountable.” Terrible acts of violence, crime, and illness happen to people, about which they have no control. But in general, in our day-to-day lives, there is typically something we did to contribute to a bad situation or something we can do to improve it.
Here are four practices for improving difficult situations, even when you didn’t create the mess (alone).
1) Increasing accountability in the workplace: Ask more questions. If you’re not clear about what someone is expecting from you, ask. You’re responsible for doing good work, regardless of the type of direction you receive.
2) Increasing accountability in the workplace: Tell people what you think they’re expecting and what you’re planning to do, to ensure everyone’s expectations are aligned. Clarifying expectations beats doing several weeks worth of work, only to discover what you created isn’t what someone else had it mind.
3) Increasing accountability in the workplace: Ask for specific feedback as projects progress. Don’t wait until the end of a project to find out how you performed.
4) Increasing accountability in the workplace: Say “thank you” to whatever feedback you receive versus defending yourself. People will be pleasantly surprised and their upset will dissipate more quickly. That could sound like, “That’s good feedback. I’m sorry that was your experience. Thank you for telling me.”
5) Increasing accountability in the workplace: Admit when you make a mistake or when you wish you had done something differently. Don’t wait for someone to tell you. Saying, “I’m sorry. How can I make this right with you?” goes a long way.
I am always asking the following questions:
“What could I have done differently?”
“What did I do to contribute to this situation?”
“What can I do now to make this situation better?”
I encourage you to ask these questions, even when someone else drops the ball. You can’t control others, but you can control you. And your happiness and success is your responsibility.
There are two purposes of giving feedback and only two purposes – to encourage people to either replicate or change a behavior. Providing input for any other reason doesn’t actually qualify as feedback and only serves to damage relationships.
Sometimes we provide input because we’re frustrated or simply don’t like someone. Consider the purpose of your comments before you make them. If your intentions are pure – to help someone replicate or alter a behavior, then ask for permission and give feedback once given the green light. If you’re ‘just talking’ to talk or vent, say nothing.
Here are five criteria for when to give feedback and when to say nothing:
Giving feedback criteria one: You have the relationship to do so. You’ve built trust. The recipient will know your motives are pure – to add value and help.
Giving feedback criteria two: You’ve asked for permission to give feedback. Even if your title grants you the permission to give feedback, asking if the person is open to the feedback can increase receptivity.
Giving feedback criteria three: You’re not upset. Wait to give feedback until you’re calm, but don’t wait longer than a week (max two).
Giving feedback criteria four: Four months haven’t passed since the incident happened that you want to address. If the purpose of feedback is to encourage someone to replicate or change a behavior, the feedback needs to be given shortly after the event occurred. If you wait, the feedback is unhelpful and creates suspicion of other things you haven’t said.
Giving feedback criteria five: You have a specific example to provide. No example, no feedback. Feedback is supposed to be helpful. Telling someone they’re “doing a great job” is nice to hear but isn’t specific enough to be helpful or sincere. Likewise, telling someone their work isn’t “detailed oriented,” isn’t helpful without a specific example or two.
Evaluate your motives before you speak. Are you attempting to encourage someone to alter or replicate a behavior, or are you just sharing your unsolicited opinion? Give feedback for the right reasons, and retain your relationships.
I think Instacart is a brilliant idea. I make a grocery list online, someone else goes shopping for me, and drops my groceries on my porch. What a great way to save time, unless I want a certain brand of canned tomatoes with no rosemary, and two green bananas and three that are almost ripe and one that is ripe right now. Meaning, if I want my groceries a certain way, I need to go shopping myself. No one else will pick precisely what I would. And delegating work and managing people is the same.
No one will do something just like you will. They might do it better or worse, but either way, work won’t be done just as you would do it. If you want something done precisely your way, you’re likely going to need to do it yourself.
There is little more demoralizing than working hard on a document and having your manager red line it with edits that aren’t wrong, they’re just not her way. This kind of feedback makes employees wonder why they bothered doing the work in the first place. Employees find themselves thinking and possibly saying, “If you’re going to change my work to be more your way, you should just do it yourself.”
This isn’t to say that if you have a vision for how work should be done that you shouldn’t delegate. Managers need to delegate work or they will be focused on the wrong things, exhausted, and resentful, and employees won’t grow, develop, and be properly utilized.
Managers need to set clear expectations, follow up to review work, provide regular feedback as the work is in process, and then expect and accept that completed projects won’t look just like what they would have done. Employees might produce great work, but it likely won’t be a mirror image of what the manager would have done herself.
If getting work that is slightly askew from what you would have done works for you, delegate the work. If work produced must be a certain way, you should likely do it yourself, or risk both you and your employees’ frustration.
Here are six steps on how to delegate, a skill I think most managers can strengthen:
How to delegate step one: Provide clear instructions to the person to whom you’re delegating. If you have an image of what something should look like, provide a sample document.
How to delegate step two: Ask the person to whom you delegated to tell you what you’re expecting. Don’t ask, “Do you have any questions?” The right answer to that question is, “No,” and gives you no insight about the person’s understanding of your expectations. Instead, ask, “So I know I’ve been clear, what am I asking you to do?” Or you could ask, “Based on what I’ve said, what do you think I’m looking for?” There are lots of ways to assess a person’s understanding. You simply need to get the person talking.
How to delegate step three: Don’t assume people know what to do. We have all left someone’s office with a new project thinking, “I have no idea where to start.” And then that project goes on the bottom of the pile.
Ask the person, “What are you going to do first?” If they give you an answer that tells you they know what to do, step back. They’ve earned some freedom. If they give you an answer that will not lead to the results you want, step in and offer help.
How to delegate step four: Ask to see work as the work is completed versus reviewing all of the work when the project is done. Giving a lot of upgrade feedback after work is completed is demoralizing to employees and wastes a lot of time. Tell employees, “I’d like to see your progress every Friday (or whatever interval is appropriate depending on the length and complexity of the project). This isn’t to micromanage you, it’s to ensure you don’t do a bunch of work that I will want changed. I don’t want you to waste your time.”
How to delegate step five: Give candid feedback when you review work. Don’t say something is fine if it’s not. Make changes while the work is in its early stages versus when it’s almost complete.
How to delegate step six: Resist the temptation to edit work or give feedback on work that is correct but wasn’t done your way. Remember, if you want something done your way, sometimes it makes sense to do it yourself.
When it makes sense to do something yourself: When you must have something a certain way and you’re the only person who can and will do it that way. If you’re ok with things not having the same words, formatting or flavor you’d put on them, delegate. If you need your bananas to look a certain way, go pick them up yourself. And both options are right answers. It’s ok to want what you want.
I had a colleague at my last job, prior to starting Candid Culture, who was a peer and a friend. We were at a similar level and would periodically sit in one of our offices, with the door closed, engaging in office gossip, talking about the bad decisions our company’s senior leaders made. One day I realized that these conversations were exhausting to me. They were negative and didn’t make me feel better. In fact, they made me feel worse.
Some people distinguish between office gossip and venting, asserting that venting is cathartic and makes people feel better. It doesn’t. Venting and office gossip are one in the same and both will make you tired and feel worse about your job and organization.
I’ll use an analogy I read in one of Deepak Chopra’s books. When you put a plant in the closet and don’t give it light or water, it withers and dies. When you put a plant in the sunlight and water it, it grows. And the same is true for people. Wherever you put your attention will get bigger and stronger. Whatever you deprive attention will become smaller.
In addition to draining you of energy and ensuring you focus on the things that frustrate you, office gossip kills organizations’ cultures. If employees can’t trust that their peers won’t talk about them when they’re not there, there is no trust in the organization. And this lack of trust feels terrible. It makes employees nervous and paranoid. A lack of trust sucks the enjoyment out of working because we feel we have to continuously watch our back.
Office gossip isn’t going anywhere. It’s a human phenomenon and is here to stay. But you can reduce office gossip.
Here are five steps to reduce the office gossip in your workplace:
Reducing gossip in the workplace step one: Address the gossip head on.
Tell your employees, “I’ve been hearing a lot of gossip, which is not good for our culture.”
Reducing gossip in the workplace step two: Hold regular town hall meetings, and give employees more information than you think you need to about initiatives, organizational changes, profitability, etc. Employees want to know how the organization is doing and what they can do to contribute. In the absence of knowledge, people make stuff up, not because they’re malicious, but because they have a need to know. Employees don’t have to fill in the gaps with office gossip when you inform them.
Reducing gossip in the workplace step three: Create a no-gossip-in-the-workplace policy.
Tell your employees, “We want people talking directly to each other, rather than about each other. As a result, we’re putting a no-gossip policy in place.”
Reducing gossip in the workplace step four: Draw attention to gossip.
Perhaps suggest, “Every time you hear gossip, wave two fingers in the air (or something else that’s equally visual).” This will draw attention to office gossip without calling anyone out.
Also, ask your peers and friends not to gossip with you. End conversations that contain gossip. This will be hard to do, but if everyone does it, it will become much easier.”
Reducing gossip in the workplace step five: Have an agreed-upon consequence for gossip.
Tell employees, “Every time we hear gossip in the workplace, the gossiper owes a dollar. Every quarter the gossipers will buy the office lunch from the office gossip jar.”
The keys to reducing office gossip are to draw attention to the gossip, have a consequence for gossiping, and over communicate so your employees don’t have to fill in the gaps themselves.
Venting and office gossip are the same. If you’re talking about someone else, unless you’re planning a conversation with a coworker or friend to address a challenge or problem, you’re gossiping. And talking about what frustrates you will only make you more frustrated.
My advice: Do something about the things you can impact and let the other stuff go. Talk about the things that matter to you. Resist the temptation to speak negatively about the people around you. And know that anyone who will gossip about someone to you, will also gossip about you.
When I was in college I wrote a paper making the case that most of the decisions we make are based on fear. My professor told me that I wouldn’t want the grade she’d put on the paper and told me to rewrite it. Clearly, she disagreed. Many years later, I still believe the premise of what I wrote. Much of our decision making is fear based.
We make decisions based on fear of what will and won’t happen.
Is that a good decision? What will happen if I say or do that? Will I get in trouble? Will I get what I want, or will there be negative consequences? Will we make or lose money? Will I lose my job? What impression will that decision make on other people?
Fear is pervasive. It hides in our brain and guides our decision making, without us even being aware of its presence.
I’ll never forget driving up to an ATM machine with one of my closest friends from high school. We were 30 at the time, long past high school, and were in a very quiet and safe neighborhood. And yet my friend told me not to go to the ATM machine after dark because it wasn’t safe.
Says who? A long time ago, someone told her that it wasn’t safe to go to an ATM machine at night. And she believed that she’d be robbed at night, at any ATM machine, anywhere, throughout her adult life. Not sound decision making nor a rationale fear.
Regarding decision making, who is running the show, you or your past?
When decision making, you know what’s best for you. When you quiet the noise in your head and listen, you know what to do. Trust yourself.
Tap into your real desires. When desire overtakes fear, the world will be at your feet. But it can take a lot to even identify that fear is running the show and to know what those desires are.
Trust yourself. Not your fear. When fear rears its head, go to a quiet place, literally and figuratively, and ask yourself:
What do I really want? What should I do? You’ll know. Don’t ask 100 people what you should do. Or do ask other people for advice, but be careful with the answers you get. Underneath all that worry and concern, you know what you want. The key is to listen and be willing to trust yourself.
As crazy as it sounds, your manager is afraid of you – afraid of your defensive reaction to feedback.
The normal reaction to feedback is to get upset. The problem is, no one wants to deal with our upset. It makes them uncomfortable. So managers and peers alike start to pick and choose what to tell us. Not wanting to deal with our reaction, they start to pick their battles. The more defensive we are, the less feedback we get. The less feedback we get, the less information about our performance we have. The less information we have about our performance, the less control we have over our career.
All of us have been passed over for an opportunity at work – a promotion, raise, project, etc. – and for the most part, we have no idea why, because no one wants to risk our defensive response to tell us. This lack of knowledge makes it hard to manage your career. And to be frank, defensive people are extraordinarily difficult to work with. Having to watch every word, walk on egg shells, and be choosy about what to address and what to avoid is exhausting. Be receptive and thus easier to work with.
I teach managers to screen out candidates who aren’t coachable and receptive to feedback. Work is hard enough without hiring people who aren’t coachable. Being open to feedback makes you easier to work with.
Here are three ways to be open to feedback and increase receptiveness:
Tip one to be open to feedback and increase receptiveness: Don’t underestimate the power of your emotions and the intrinsic drive to defend yourself when receiving feedback. Not defending oneself is extremely challenging. And even the most minor reaction sounds defensive. I.e., “Thank you for the feedback. Here’s why we did it that way…”
Tip two to be open to feedback and increase receptiveness: Wait a few minutes, hours or days, and respond to feedback when you’re calm. That could sound like, “Thanks for telling me. I’m sorry that happened. I’m going to think about what you said and get back to you by the end of the day.”
Tip three to be open to feedback and increase receptiveness: Come from a place of curiosity when seeking feedback versus thinking “there’s something wrong here” and “I’m bad.” Be curious about how you impact others and the impression you make. Seek feedback to understand both.
Working in a matrix management structure often means being accountable to several people/having multiple bosses, and having lots of accountability without much authority – both challenging. The key to making a matrix management structure work is lots and lots of good communication.
It’s not uncommon for people working in a matrix management structure to be frustrated. People with dotted line employees or managers often say they’re unsure of who they really work for, who to go to with challenges and needs, and that they don’t have the authority to lead people or processes. All of these frustrations are avoidable and manageable.
If you work in a matrix management environment and are thus accountable to multiple people, take charge of the management structure by asking the questions:
- Who is my ultimate boss?
- Who has input on my performance feedback and review?
- Who writes my performance review?
- Who decides on raises and promotion opportunities?
- Who do I go to when I need help?
- Quarterly (at a minimum) joint meetings with all the managers you answer to
- That all the managers you’re accountable to provide input on your performance appraisal
- That all the managers your report to participate in your performance discussion(s)
Follow the same practices for people who dotted line report to you. If you’re accountable for someone’s results, but you’re not his/her direct supervisor, ask for quarterly meetings with the employees’ boss. Ask to participate in the appraisal process, and keep the lines of communication between you, the employee, and the direct supervisor transparent and open. Talk regularly. Agree on who sets expectations and gives feedback. Be sure you know your role and the direct supervisor’s role.
The key to making a matrix management structure work is:
- Everyone knows who does what and who has what authority
- Joint meetings happen regularly
- Expectations are clear
Ask more. Assume less.
Many of us are hesitant to give peer feedback. We worry that giving peer feedback will damage our relationships. We wonder if we have the right and if it’s our place to give peer feedback. And we are concerned about what the consequences of giving peer feedback will be.
Giving peer feedback isn’t so different from giving feedback to a friend or even a direct report. While you have an implicit ‘right’ to give a direct report feedback, doing so without building trust will ensure your feedback falls flat.
People respond to feedback in predictable ways. Most people get upset and defend themselves. This is normal and natural. Negative feedback conflicts with our desire to be thought well of, which all people (despite what they might say) want. People are more open and less defensive when they trust the source of the feedback and trust the sources’ motives. Follow these practices when giving peer feedback and your feedback will hopefully be well received.
Four practices for giving peer feedback:
- Think about why you want to give feedback. Really think about this. Is your desire to help the person change a behavior, or are you just being judgmental? If your intention isn’t to help someone replicate or change a behavior, say nothing. It’s not feedback you’re planning to give, it’s only your opinion you want to disseminate. One of my friends recently told me she felt my son’s name was waspy. Her comment wasn’t feedback as there was nothing I could do with the information. She simply gave me her judgmental opinion, which annoyed me.
Also consider why you want to give feedback. Do you simply want something done your way, or do you feel strongly that what the person is doing is having a negative impact on him/her or the organization? I worked with a business leader who red lined every document his staff created. He didn’t only change language that was wrong, he edited documents so they were written more akin to his writing style. This made his staff feel that they couldn’t do anything right and it wouldn’t matter what they produced, he’d revise even the most ‘perfect’ work. So they stopped trying. Evaluate your true motive. Just because something wasn’t done your way, doesn’t mean it wasn’t done well.
- Provided your motives are pure – you’re trying to make a difference for someone and his/her behavior is causing real challenges, it’s ok to speak up. Be sure you have the relationship to give peer feedback. Does the person know you have his/her back? If you speak up, will s/he trust it’s because you care about her or the organization, versus you just want to express your opinion and be right.
- Provided you are giving feedback to alter a behavior and you have the relationship to give feedback, it’s important that you ask for permission. A peer relationship is a lateral one. You each have the same ‘power’ (at least by title) in the organization, thus you don’t intrinsically have the ‘right’ to give feedback. You earn the right to give feedback by asking for permission and being willing to hear, “No, thank you.”
Asking for permission to give feedback might sound something like, “I’ve noticed a few things that I think are making ________ project harder than it has to be. Would you be willing to talk with me about it?”
Or, “Our weekly team meetings are tough. It’s a challenging group. I have a couple of ideas that might make the meetings easier to run. Would you be interested in talking about them?”
Or, “I have something I want to share with you. I feel awkward bringing this up because we’re peers and I’m not sure it’s my place to do so. But I care about you and want you to be successful. Would it be ok if I shared? Feel free, of course, to say no.”
- Lastly, don’t worry about giving peer feedback perfectly. You might follow our feedback formula to a tee. You might not. There is no one right way to give feedback. Speak from the heart. If you’re nervous to have a conversation, say so. If you’re not sure it’s your place to give a piece of feedback, say so. If you’re worried you won’t deliver the feedback well, say that. Saying how you really feel, being human and vulnerable builds trust, relationships, and credibility. People want to work with other real people, and real people have concerns. It’s ok to share them.
Giving peer feedback doesn’t have to be hard. Evaluate your motives. Ensure that what you plan to share is really feedback versus merely your opinion. Build trust, ask for permission, and speak from the heart. If you make a mess, you can always clean it up. Simply repeat the steps by saying something like, “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. I hope it’s ok I said something. I really want this project to go well for both you and the team. How could I have done that better for next time?”
The best way to get your next job is to be great at your current job and ask for more. And the same goes for asking for a raise. Do a great job, make your contributions known, and work with your boss to create a plan to help you get to the salary you want.
Saying or acting as if you’ve been treated unfairly and that your talents aren’t being recognized may be true, but it may also get you the reputation as a negative whiner. People want to work with positive and appreciative people. Demonstrate both when asking for more.
Below are eight steps for asking for a raise:
How to ask for a raise step one: Write down the accomplishments you’re proud of since your last significant pay increase.
How to ask for a raise step two: Find out what your job pays on the open market. Jobs are assigned a value and a pay zone that is often transferable across industries. For example, if an entry level accountant at a big four accounting firm is earning $60,000, the pay zone is likely $50,000 – $70,000. If said employee asks for $64,000, that’s realistic. If s/he asks for $85,000, she’ll be seen as out to lunch. If s/he wants to earn $85,000, with her current level of education and experience, she’ll have to switch careers.
How to ask for a raise step three: Learn your company’s philosophy on compensation. Companies often deliberately decide to pay in the top, middle, or lower part of pay zones. For example, if an industry like sports or entertainment is glamorous and lots of people want to work in that industry, jobs are likely to pay less. Perhaps a company has great perks and benefits and a really nice culture, and in exchange, pays less. Alternatively, some companies want to be known as providing the highest compensation and will pay for it. Knowing where your company falls on the compensation spectrum will help you determine a realistic number to ask for. Your Human Resources representative can answer these questions.
How to ask for a raise step four: Be prepared to present and talk about the impact you’ve made on your organization. Focus on accomplishments and how you’ve changed the business, not on how hard you’ve worked. Results get rewarded.
How to ask for a raise step five: Don’t give an ultimatum, unless you’ve already discussed a pay increase a few times, nothing has changed, and you’re ready to leave. Instead, work with your manager to create a realistic plan to get you to an agreed-upon pay rate. Put the plan, with specific milestones you need to hit, in writing and agree to discuss results quarterly. Managers may be hesitant to promise a future pay increase, but will support written work-related goals, which will help you make the case for a pay increase.
How to ask for a raise step six: Don’t be afraid to ask for a raise. You may not get the raise you want, but nothing bad will happen for asking, providing you do so appropriately. The initial conversation could sound something like, “I love working here and am really enjoying my job. Because of my contributions to our organization, I feel I’m worthy of a pay increase. Can we schedule a time to talk about what might make sense? And with your permission, I’d like to send a list of my most recent accomplishments. Would that be ok?”
How to ask for a raise step seven: Discover who needs to support your pay increase. Your boss may not have the ability or authority to give you an increase. Subtly ask what s/he can do. That could sound something like, “Who needs to participate in the decision to grant me a pay increase? Is there anything I can do to assist with sharing my accomplishments or making the case for an increase?”
How to ask for a raise step eight: Once you know what your job pays across industries and your company’s philosophy on compensation, ask for a realistic number that will make you happy. If you’re asking for large increase, consider incremental raises over a period of months. Ask for something that’s easy to say yes to.
If you think you deserve a pay increase, don’t be afraid to ask. Ask in a positive way, focusing on the value you’re adding to the business. Be patient and work with your boss to create a plan to get where you want to be. The worse you’ll hear is “no.” And if the answer is no, you’ve planted a seed and opened the door to the next conversation.
I’ve wanted to be an introvert my whole life. It’s going poorly. Introverts think, then speak. What an amazing quality. Extroverts, like me, wake up talking and then spend much of the day apologizing for what we’ve said.
While I covet introverts’ thoughtful communication style, they are at a disadvantage. The people we work with are busy and have limited exposure to coworkers. As a result, others judge us very quickly. If we don’t speak up in meetings or find another way to express our thoughts, people are likely to think we have little to offer. Regardless of your communication style, if you want people to know the value you provide, find a way to share it.
You can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t become a different person to get ahead at work. You have to be yourself. Trying to be someone you’re not, will be painful, frustrating, and short lived. Rather than trying to become someone or something else, find ways to express yourself within your natural style.
Here are four tips to communicate powerfully as an introvert:
Being introverted communication tip one: If you know you’re hesitant to speak up in a meeting, perhaps share your views with the meeting attendees individually – verbally or in writing – before the meeting happens.
Being introverted communication tip two: Make sure the people who can impact your career know your accomplishments. You don’t need to wear a billboard advertising what you’re doing, sending a monthly list of accomplishments and priorities to your boss and boss’s boss (clear this with your boss first) will do the trick.
Being introverted communication tip three: Find your own way of talking about what you think is important. Maybe your conversations will be over lunch with one or two people. Perhaps you’ll periodically email key people with ideas. The point is to find a way to express yourself that resonates with your personal style. Don’t keep all your ideas to yourself.
Being introverted communication tip four: Push yourself to speak up in meetings more than you might naturally be inclined to do so. Being prepared will help you speak up.
Know what’s on meeting agendas. When you feel strongly about a topic, prepare what you want to say. Take notes and consider practicing out loud. Do whatever you need to to feel comfortable expressing yourself in front of a group. And if speaking up in a meeting feels too uncomfortable, remember, people who don’t get a lot of exposure to you are evaluating you based on your contributions during meetings. Find a way to make your views known.