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Under Commit In 2019 – Make New Year’s Resolutions and Set Goals That Set You Up to Win

Tis’ the season to over commit.

It’s the start of a new year, when many of us begin thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. We vow to lose 20 pounds, save 10% of our income, get promoted at work, take an exotic vacation, be a better partner, etc. etc. Also known as “how to set yourself up to fail” in five easy steps.  The reality is, we might do one or two of those things, if that.

Why not set yourself up to win instead? Instead of setting huge goals that are unlikely to happen, why not set more realistic goals that you can and will likely do?

If you manage people, perhaps you’re thinking about how you can be a better manager in 2019. Or you may be thinking about how you can accelerate your career. You may decide to meet with your employees more frequently, or ask your boss for more feedback, or ask for new and different work. You may think that doing these things will help you strengthen your relationships with your employees and your reputation, and advance your career. Doing any of these things might help you strengthen your business relationships and help you get ahead. But they might not, if those things are not important to your employees, your boss and/or your organization.

In 2019, put energy and resources into the things that truly matter to the people you work with, rather than the things you think they think are important. And the only way to know what the people around you really want and need, is to ask them.  Don’t assume you know what is important to your boss, direct reports and coworkers, ask them. Ask more. Assume less.

There are countless examples of managers who went to great lengths to make their employees happy. They gave bonuses, cool projects, and time off. And their employees quit anyway. Or, trying to make a manager happy, employees stayed late, beat deadlines, and took on additional work, and still got a mediocre review. Rather than doing what you think others want, ask them!

How about this for a New Year’s resolution — ask your boss, direct reports and key customers these questions as you begin the New Year:

  1. What’s the most important work I did in the past 12 months?
  2. What’s an area, in 2018, I exceeded your expectations?
  3. How did I let you down?
  4. If I could do one thing differently this year that would make the biggest difference for you and/or the organization, what would it be?
  5. Where do you think I should focus my energy in 2019?

It may be intimidating to ask for feedback from your peers and direct reports. But you won’t know what to do more, better, or differently if you don’t ask.

The right answer to feedback is always “thank you,” regardless of what you really want to say.  Saying “thank you” makes you a safe person to whom to tell the truth and makes it more likely you’ll get more information in the future. So bite your tongue and respond to all feedback with, “Thank you for telling me that. I’m going to think about what you’ve said and may come back to you to discuss further.” They’ll be relieved, and you’ll strengthen your professional image.

It’s easy to assume what others want and are expecting from us. The problem is, we’re not always correct. Thus we expend energy doing things that others don’t find valuable or important, otherwise known as wasting time and resources.

Your time and budget dollars are valuable. Use your time and money for things that others actually want, versus what you think they want. In 2019, dial it back. Make realistic, attainable goals that are aligned with what the people around want and need. And in return, you too will get what you want and need.

Setting goals at work


How to Say No

Saying no is hard. We don’t want to disappoint or let people down. And yet, you can’t say yes to everything. You can say no and still sound like a responsible, easy-to-work-with, accommodating professional.

Here are four techniques for how to say no:

Thank the person for asking. “Thank you for asking me.”

1. Saying “thank you” acknowledges the other person and buys you time to think about his request.

2. Tell the person you need some time to think about his request. Ask, “Can I have a few days to think about it? I’ll get back to you by Friday.”

You don’t need to reply in the moment. I often regret things I agree to without thinking through the request thoroughly.

3. Consider what you really want and are willing to do. It’s much worse to over commit and under deliver than to simply say no or renegotiate requests.

4. Get back to the person in a timely way (when you said you would) and tell him what you’re willing to do.

How to say no at work

How to Say No Option One: Simply say no.

Example: “I really appreciate you asking me to write the proposal for the __________ RFP. I’m not able to do that. Can I recommend someone else who has the expertise and will do a great job?”

Don’t give a bunch of reasons for saying no. People aren’t interested in why we can or can’t do something. They just want to know if we will do it.

How to Say No Option Two: Agree and negotiate the time frame.

Example: “I’d be happy to do that. I can’t do it before the last week of the month. Would that work for you?” If the answer is no, negotiate further. Ask, “When do you really need it? I can certainly do pieces by then, but not the whole thing. Given that I can’t meet your timeline, who else can work on this in tandem or instead of me?”

How to Say No Option Three: Say no to the request but say what you can do.

Example: “I can’t do _______. But I can do ________. How would that work?”

A review of how to say no:

  1. Acknowledge the request by getting back to the requestor within 24 hours.
  2. Give yourself time to think about and respond to requests.
  3. Negotiate requests to your and the requestor’s satisfaction.
  4. Agree on what you can and are willing to do.
  5. Keep your commitments.

Saying no is always hard. But it’s always better to say no than to ignore requests, or to say yes and do nothing.

how to say no at work


Get What You Want at Work – Face Your Fears

When I landed my first ‘real’ job after graduating from college I was so scared, I almost turned Face Your Fearthe job down. It took me five years to finish my first book, How to Say Anything to Anyone, in part because I was afraid no one would like it.

It seems anything worth doing is worth fearing.

I’m not talking about taking risks for the sake of risk – driving as fast as your car can take you, not paying your bills to see what will happen, or offering a counter point of view at work for the sake of doing so. I’m talking about pursuing the things you really want, that speak to your true purpose.

Being afraid doesn’t mean you can’t do something, nor does it mean that you shouldn’t. Feeling some fear just means what you want is outside of what you know you can do. But it’s the edge and the unknown that is juicy and rich.

During the past few years I’ve pursued things I’m terrified of, that I don’t know I can do. Yet I want these things, so I pursue them in the face of fear. And I have to admit, that as I get closer to getting what I want, the fear doesn’t dissipate, it actually gets worse. As I can almost taste having what I want, I get more scared. And sometimes I pull back, thinking, maybe I don’t really won’t those things. Maybe I was wrong. Then I remember why I want what I want and step back into the pursuit, despite the fear.

Don’t misinterpret fear as a reason not to do something.

A few suggestions for how to face your fears at work:

1. Write your desires down and/or tell people what you want.

  • You’re more likely to get what you talk about wanting.

2. Take one step towards having what you want.

  • Talk to someone who either has what you want or can help you get what you want.

3. Put yourself in the place of most potential, where you can get what you want.

  • If you want to work in a certain department, express interest in working on a project that serves that department.
  • Tell your boss and people in leadership in your desired work area of your interest.
  • Apply for a job in that area.

4. Be positive and persistent.

  • No one wants to give a complainer an opportunity, and it takes time to make a shift.

The key is to take one step, then another, then another. And when you feel fear, don’t let it stop you. Fearing the next job or opportunity doesn’t mean you can’t do it well, it just means you haven’t done it yet.

When you need encouragement to face your fears, hang our inspiring magnets at your desk. You have to believe in yourself just as much as the people around you believe in you.

How to Face Your Fears


To Manage Your Professional Reputation, Learn Who’s On Your Team

Manage your professional reputationYou 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.”

Then ask:

  • 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!

 

Manage your professional reputation


Surviving a Matrix Management Structure

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 authorimatrix managementty 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?

Request:

  • 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.

Matrix Management

Career Management – Ask More. Assume Less.

A professional athlete would never get on the court or field without knowing exactly what will score him points and penalties. But many of us go to work every day without knowing how we’re being evaluated.

If you’ve ever had a performance review or received feedback that caught you off guard, or have completed a project and were told your work wasn’t quite what was expected, you didn’t have enough information upfront. Don’t wait for people tocareer management tell you what they need and expect (which often happens after breakdowns occur), set clear expectations at the beginning of anything new and as you make progress.

The people you work for and with should tell you what they expect. They should give you feedback along the way. And many won’t. Your career management is in your hands, and that’s a very good thing.

When you start a new job, project, or any responsibility ask the person delegating the work some of these questions:

Career Management Question one: What does a good job look like?

Career Management Question two: What’s the criteria for success?

Career Management Question three: How will you know you picked the right person for the job?

Career Management Question four: Why is this project a priority right now? How will it impact the organization?

Career Management Question five: What kind of updates would you like? In what format, how frequently, and with what level of detail?

Career Management Question six: How often do you want to review my work?

Career Management Question seven: Who in the organization should I include or work with on this project?

Career Management Question eight: What history, pitfalls, or landmines do I need to be aware of? Has anyone tried to do this before, with what outcomes? Who in the organization supports this project? Who doesn’t?

If you’ve been in your job for a long time or have been working on a project for a while, it’s not too late to ask these questions. Simply approach the person with whom you’re working and say, “I want to be sure I’m doing great work on _____________ project. Can I ask you a couple of questions about the desired end results and how we should be communicating as I make progress?”

Lots of people aren’t the best delegators. They give us a project, ask if we have any questions, and provide a due date. Don’t fall into the trap of completing an entire project and then asking for feedback. Even if the person delegating the work doesn’t want to see your progress, ask for that feedback. Schedule weekly or monthly review meetings, present the work you’ve done, and ask for feedback. If you get to the end of a project or responsibility and are surprised by the reaction, you didn’t ask enough questions at the beginning and middle of the project.

People will tell you everything you need to do a good job, if you ask. Take control of your career. Ask more. Assume less.

career management


Career Advancement – Sit with the CEO

Last week I was at an event where no one sat with the CEO. The whole organization was present, and the CEO’s table was empty. What a career advancement missed opportunity for the people who work for this company.career advancement

Perhaps no one likes the CEO, or employees are afraid of him, or employees are concerned they’ll get labeled as a suck up for sitting with him. None of these reasons are legit.

The CEO is just a regular person. S/he puts her pants on just like you do every day.

Most employees have limited exposure to their organization’s most senior leaders. Don’t miss an opportunity to build business relationships with your organization’s senior leaders.

Here are four career advancement strategies:

Career advancement strategy #1: Senior leaders have very limited access to most employees. Most will make quick decisions about employees with the limited access they have. If you’re at a meeting with a senior leader, speak up (provided you have something useful to say). If you don’t speak up, when appropriate, you might be (unfairly) labeled as having little to offer.

Career advancement strategy #2: If you’re at an event with senior leaders, talk and/or sit with them! It’s not necessarily a chance to wave the flag for your favorite cause or company initiative. It is a chance to get to know these folks and have them get to know you.

 Career advancement strategy #3: Be less afraid. Tell the truth, tactfully. Be careful not to insult someone or something, and speak up more.

Most employees are afraid of being fired and are convinced that if they offer a counter point-of-view they’ll be at worst fired and at best marginalized and never given another cool project. I haven’t found that to be true.

It’s not so easy to get fired in this country. People who don’t do a lot of work or who do mediocre work are often not fired. And you’re worried about being fired for speaking up? Pick your battles, be wise about how you voice concerns and ideas, and worry less.

Career advancement strategy #4: Suggest solutions to problems. People who talk only about problems but don’t offer to do anything about those problems are seen as annoying complainers. Offer to be the person who spearheads the solution. Don’t worry about if it’s your job. Just don’t step on others’ toes in the process.

You make your career happen, no one else. You can talk with your coworkers and friends all day. Don’t miss opportunities to get to know the key decision makers in your organization. Fear less. Talk more.

career advancement


Manage Up Better to Get More at Work

Fourteen years ago, during my annual performance review, my manager said, “You had a great year. You rolled out 18 new training programs and got more participation in those programs than we’ve ever seen in the past. But you’re all substance and no sizzle. You’re not good at sharing the work you’re doing, and as a result my boss doesn’t know enough about what you’re doing and to support a large raise for you, so I can’t even suggest one.”

Manage up

That happened to me ONCE, and I swore it would never happen again.

Too many people believe that if they do good work, the right people will notice and they will be rewarded appropriately. Part of this thinking is accurate. To be rewarded appropriately, you need to be doing good work. But the people in a position to reward you also need to know what you’re doing and the value you’re adding.

You need to find a way to share the value you’re providing without going over your boss’s head, sucking up, or alienating your coworkers.

Here are four ways to manage up while strengthening your business relationships:

Manage up tip number one: Ask your manager’s permission to send him a weekly update of what you accomplished during the week. This should be a one-page, easy-to-read, bulleted list of accomplishments or areas of focus.

Your boss is busy and most likely doesn’t follow you around all day. As a result, you need to let him know about the work you’re doing. Don’t make him guess.

Manage up tip number two: Periodically share what you’re doing with the people your manager works for and with. That can sound like, “I just wanted to share what my department is accomplishing. We’re really excited about it.” Ask your manager’s permission to do this and tell her why you want to do it (to ensure that the senior people in your organization are in-the-know about what your department’s accomplishments).

If you’re not sure who can impact your career and thus who you should inform about your work, ask your manager. She knows and will tell you, if you ask.

Manage up tip number three: Use the word “we” versus “I.” “We accomplished…..” “We’re really excited about….” Using the word “we” is more inclusive and makes you sound like a team player versus a lone ranger.

Manage up tip number four: If you work remotely and don’t see your coworkers and manager often, make sure you’re keeping people informed about what you’re doing. Likewise, if you work flexible hours – leave early, come in late, and work at night – people will assume you’re working fewer hours than them and will talk about it to whoever will listen. So while the hours you work shouldn’t be anyone’s business, people in organizations talk about stuff like this.

Don’t assume that people know what you’re doing or the value you’re adding to your organization. Instead, assume people have no idea and find appropriate ways to tell them. You are 100% accountable for your career.

Manage up


Unhappy at Work? Know When to Go

There’s when things end and then there’s when we physically leave, and the two rarely coincide. Sometimes it takes six months, a year, or even longer for our body to catch up with our brain.unhappy at work

Knowing when to leave a job, a relationship, and even a party is a skill. If you’re unhappy at work, have asked for what you want, and know you can’t it where you are, develop an exit strategy and act on it quickly.

When you’re checked out, people know. Unhappiness shows up in our performance, attitude, and body language. And quitting and staying is bad for your career, reputation, and business relationships.

If you’re unhappy at work and are ready to make a change, there are a few actions you should take to keep your reputation intact while you make a transition:

  1. Make sure you’ve fully investigated your options at your current place of work before deciding to move on. Share your desires in a positive way, with people who can help you get what you want. Saying, “I’d really like to do _________, or I’d really like to work in the ______ department” will get you much further than saying, “I’m underutilized, undercompensated, and unappreciated.”
  2. Do your job and do it well. Don’t go missing in action.
  3. Only commit to things you know you can and will do, and keep your commitments.
  4. Confide in people about your unhappiness and future plans who are outside your current place of work. People talk. Assume anything you tell someone at work will be told to someone else.
  5. Take at least one action every day towards getting what you want. It can be easy to get into a rut when job hunting. Stay in action.

If you’re unhappy at work, it’s probably time for a change – either within or outside your company. Ask for what you want in a positive way. Do a great job on a daily basis, regardless of how you feel. Confide in people outside of your workplace. And take one action every day towards getting what you want.

Know when to go.

unhappy at work


Managing Up – Ask More Questions at Work

There is way too much guessing at work.  You may find yourself thinking, “I’m going to miss this deadline. I wonder what the consequences will be?” Or perhaps, “She said she wanted input on this project. I wonder if she really meant that, and how much feedback is ok to provide?” Or maybe, “He asked for a proposal. Is he expecting something elaborate, or will a one-pager do?”Managing Up

We often don’t know what others are expecting from us, so we guess. The problem with guessing is that we may do more work than we actually need to, and not in the way the other person wants it. Even worse, when we don’t work according to others’ expectations, they aren’t likely to tell us. Instead, they tell others and make decisions about us that aren’t positive.

I’m a fan of asking lots and lots of questions, preferably at the beginning of anything new. Anticipate all that can happen, get in front of breakdowns, and set clear expectations by asking questions. The people who participate in training with me get an entire box of questions to ask. And the homework is to go ask more questions of the people they work most closely with.  Asking questions will always be easier than recovering from violated and often unstated expectations.

If you want fewer breakdowns and frustrations at work, ask the following questions of the people you work with:

Managing up question one:  What do you want to do, on this project, and what do you want me to do?

Managing up question two:  What does a good job look like?

Managing up question three:  What will be different in the organization when this project is finished?

Managing up question four:   How would I frustrate you and not even know it?

Managing up question five:   How often do you want to receive updates from me?

Managing up question six:  Do you want to receive all the details or just big picture information?

Managing up question seven:  Do you want to receive the information in bullet form or paragraphs?

It’s never too late to ask questions like these. It’s ideal to ask the question at the beginning of a piece of work. But asking in the middle or even towards the end is fine too. People will appreciate that you asked, whenever you ask.

Ask more. Assume less. Suffering is optional at work.

Candor questions


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