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Manage Your Career- Regardless from Where You Work

Many years ago, before starting Candid Culture, 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  to support a significant salary increase for you, so I can’t even suggest one.”

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.

Manage up

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 three ways to manage up while strengthening your business relationships.

All of these practices work whether you’re working virtually, hybrid, or in the office full-time.

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

Your boss is busy doing their own work. As a result, you need to let managers know about the work you’re doing. Don’t make them 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 them 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. Managers know 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.

Don’t assume 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


Reduce Work Overload – Ask for Help

It’s not easy to admit when we’re overwhelmed and need help. In fact, it’s such a hard thing to say that instead of asking for help, most of us either work harder or longer or job hunt. Admitting work overload isn’t a weakness and it isn’t bad. It’s all in how you handle it.

If you find yourself with work overload and you aren’t sure what to do, consider taking these four steps.

Eliminate work overload step one: Every time you find yourself doing something that someone else could and should do, write it down, including how much time the task took. Doing this will create awareness of how much time you spend doing things that may not be the best use of your skills and experience. Then work with whomever you need to in your organization to align that work where it belongs. This practice isn’t to make you sound like an entitled prima donna. It’s an entrepreneurial way to approach your work.

work overload

The business owner’s mantra is, “If I can pay someone less than I get paid to do something, I should do that.” Consider how you can apply that practice to your workplace, without appearing to be someone who won’t ‘wash windows.’ Meaning, you don’t want to be or appear to be someone who isn’t willing to do grunt work. Every job has it. But those tasks shouldn’t be where you spend most of your time unless your job description and annual goals say so.

Eliminate work overload step two: Watch out for and eliminate time suckers. This includes people, problems, and processes. If you find yourself in meetings all day long, consider which meetings you don’t really need to attend or send someone else on your team. If someone in your organization calls you daily to have personal conversations, tell the person, “I’d love to talk with you and I’m working under a deadline. Can we catch up later?”

Eliminate work overload step three: Sometimes doing 110% percent isn’t important. Notice when you’re doing more than you need to and when that additional work doesn’t add significant value. I.e., you put together an elaborate PowerPoint presentation and then spent five more hours printing and stuffing folders to mail to coworkers’ homes. Next time, focus on the content and worry less about the aesthetics.

Eliminate work overload step four: Lastly, know when and how to ask for help. The last organization where I worked, before starting Candid Culture, was very fast-paced and lean. I worked all the time and consistently felt overwhelmed. I eventually went to my boss to ask for help. I made a list of everything I was working on and asked him to rate each item based on how important he saw the project/task. He put an “A” next to the things that needed to get done first, a “B” next to the things that came next, and a “C” next to the things that were the least important. He told me to do the A’s first, then the B’s, and if I got to the C’s, great, if not, no problem.

The meeting was eye-opening for me. I assumed he thought everything on my list was an “A” and that left me stressed with an inability to prioritize. Hearing how he perceived my workload reduced my anxiety and gave me permission to ease up on projects I’d previously considered timely.

Don’t suffer in silence. But do approach reducing work overload in a positive way. Rather than whining to your boss and coworkers, end conversations that you know are a time drain, limit work that doesn’t add significant value, and ask for help prioritizing when you can’t do it for yourself.

work overload

Working with Difficult People – When to Give Up

Unless you never interact with other people, there’s probably someone in your life who repeatedly engages in a behavior that annoys you. You’ve probably made requests about what you’d like the person to do differently, and hopefully you’ve given feedback. But the behavior hasn’t changed.

At some point, we have to accept that people are who and how they are. People can and will change certain behaviors, if their motivation is high enough. But other behaviors won’t change, and if you want to have the person in your personal or professional life, you have to accept the behavior and the person as they are. Accepting frustrating behaviors can be very difficult, at least it is for me. I admit, I often have this conversation myself, “Why won’t they…? I don’t get it. It’s not that hard. How many times do I have to ask?”

Here are five strategies for working with difficult people:

Working with difficult people strategy one: Decide on the behaviors you absolutely must have from others. We want certain things. We need other things. Get clear on what you need.

Working with difficult people strategy two: Make requests before breakdowns occur. It’s always easier to make requests than to offer negative feedback. Be sure you are being explicitly clear in your requests. For example, “Please include me in meetings” is too vague. Instead, try, “Please invite me to all client meetings, so I can stay connected to clients and projects.”

Working with difficult people strategy three: Make requests at least three times. With each successive request (nicely) remind the person that you’ve made this request in the past and it still isn’t happening. For example, “We’ve talked about this in the past. Help me understand what’s happening.”

Working with difficult people strategy four: If you’ve made a request at least three times, give feedback as to what isn’t happening and why that causes challenges. For example, “We’ve talked about inviting me to client meetings a few times. It’s still not happening. I’m getting calls from clients with questions I can’t answer because I’m not included in the meetings. Can you help me understand why I’m not being invited to meetings?” Read chapters nine through eleven and chapter thirteen of How to Say Anything to Anyone to get more examples of how to give clear and specific feedback.

Working with difficult people strategy five: Know when to give up and accept the person and behavior as they are. If you’ve made a request and have given feedback three or four times, you likely aren’t going to get what you want. The person either can’t do what you’re asking or doesn’t want to. Now you have a decision to make.

Decide how important the behavior is. Is it a deal breaker? If it’s not a deal breaker, stop expecting the behavior to happen and accept that it won’t. When you accept that you won’t get what you want from someone, you’ll suffer less.

Strategy five is really the crux of this blog. Knowing when to stop expecting something and coming to peace with that decision will give you great freedom. In order to let go of the expectation, you have to decide that it’s really ok for you not to get what you want. Ask yourself, “Can I live with this behavior as it is?” If you can’t, you have a hard decision to make. If you can, then stop expecting and asking for the behavior; you’ll feel better.Working with Difficult People


Making Difficult Conversations Easier – Be Authentic

Avoiding having difficult conversations because you’re uncomfortable? Afraid you’ll hurt someone’s feelings? Worried you’ll damage your relationship? Why not just say so?

The people you work with want to work with other human beings. And part of being human is expressing how you feel.

It may seem that admitting that you’re nervous or uncomfortable weakens your position and diminishes your power. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Saying how you feel and being willing to be vulnerable are signs of strength. People with strong egos can admit when they are uncomfortable, people with weak egos feel too threatened to do so. Vulnerability and authenticity help other people see you as human, and make people feel closer to you. And people want to work with other human beings, not emotionless androids who never show their cards.

how to have difficult conversations

If you’re nervous, say you’re nervous. If you’re afraid you’ll negatively impact your relationship by speaking up, say so. If you’re not sure it’s your place to raise an issue, say that. You won’t lose anything by stating your concerns. You only stand to gain.

Starting difficult conversations could sound like this:

Having difficult conversations option one: “I’m not sure it’s my place to talk about our department’s Customer Service Survey results, but I care about our reputation and have a few thoughts. Is it ok if I talk about them with you?”

Having difficult conversations option two: “I’ve got some input that I’ve been hesitant to share, but I think the information could be helpful to you. I care about you and your career, and I want you to be successful. Is it ok if I share my thoughts?”

Having difficult conversations option three: “I’ve got a few things to talk with you about, but haven’t brought them up because I’m a bit concerned about how you’ll react. Is it ok if I share them with you? I’m saying these things because I care about our department, and I’m noticing a few things I think we can do differently, for better results.”

You probably noticed that in the examples above, I stated that I was concerned about speaking up, asked for permission to do so, and stated the reason I wanted to provide input. Your motive for having difficult conversations is very important. When people trust your motives, you can say anything. When they don’t trust your motives, you can say little.

Don’t be afraid to say how you feel. If you’re afraid to speak up, saying so won’t reduce your credibility, it will likely increase it. State your concerns, explain why you’re speaking, and ask for permission to give feedback. Doing those three things will help any message be well received and is likely to make it easier for you to say what you want to say.

difficult conversations


Managing Interruptions at Work

As crazy as it sounds, it can be difficult to get work done at work. There are the drive bys – people who want your opinion on EVERYTHING before they make decisions, the interrupters who have just one question, several times a day, the visitors who want to update you on EVERYTHING happening in their personal lives, and coworkers who host meetings at their workstation, take phone calls on speaker phone, and who listen to music without headphones, while loudly eating potato chips. All of these distractions are enough to make many employees want to find a quieter place to work.

The concept that it can be hard to get work done at work is crazy. We’re at work to work. And yet many employees, with and without a door, get in at 7:00 am, before others arrive, so they can “get some work done” and stay late because they “got nothing done all day.”

Open work environments can be productive and interruptions can be minimized, but managing interruptions at work will require some clear guidelines and direct communication, which many workplaces are missing.

interruptions at work

Managing interruptions at work – practices for creating a work environment that works for everyone:

Write workspace practices down, share them with all employees, post the practices in every work area, and discuss them frequently.

Examples of practices for managing interruptions at work:

  1. Use a headset for all phone calls.
  2. Pay attention to your volume. Speak as quietly as possible.
  3. If you have visitors at your desk for business or non-business related conversations that last longer than five minutes, take the conversation to a conference room, empty office, or local coffee shop.
  4. Use headphones to watch videos and listen to music.
  5. Avoid prairie dogging—calling down a row, hallway, or over a cubicle wall. Instead, walk to the person’s desk, call, or send an email or text message.
  6. Turn off all auditory alerts on computers and cell phones, so your coworkers don’t have to hear pinging and ringing all day. The people you sit with don’t need to know every time you receive an email, text, or Facebook message.
  7. Finally, but MOST IMPORTANTLY, give all employees permission to make requests and give feedback when workspace guidelines are broken. It must not only be acceptable but expected that employees will say something when a guideline is broken and the workspace gets too loud.

Most employees will not speak up when others are being loud. It’s easier to find another location to work than risk a coworker’s defensive response. And no one wants to be ‘that person’ who complains about how loud someone is. If employees aren’t comfortable speaking up and making requests, offer training on how to have these conversations, and provide written examples of what employees can say that is respectful and clear.

Guidelines for dealing with interruptions at work:

You’d think that having a door would make people immune to workplace distractions, but that’s not the case. Employees with offices also deal with drivebys and interruptions. The key to dealing with both is communication.

  1. Don’t wait for problems to occur. Anticipate challenges and talk about them before guidelines are broken. It’s much easier to make a request than to give feedback.
  1. Each time a new person joins a team, department, or workspace, ask everyone on the team to share their work-related pet peeves, how they like to communicate, and how they prefer to be interrupted. Everyone deals with interruptions, so you might as well express a preference. If you’d prefer people email you to ask when you have time for a quick question, make that request. If you’re ok with people interrupting you without notice, let people know. If you’re not distracted by noise, tell people. If you are, make that preference known.

People are too hesitant to speak up at work for fear of damaging relationships and hurting people’s feelings. The best thing leaders can do to improve the working environment (or any workplace challenge) is to set clear expectations, create opportunities to talk about how things are going, and make it ok to speak up. Suffering at work is optional. Everyone is accountable for the work environment, and you won’t get what you don’t ask for.

interruptions at work


Reaching Your Goals – What Changes Do You Need to Make?

It’s normal to want things but do things that prevent us from getting those things.Reaching Your Goals

I want to get more sleep, but I lie in bed playing with my iphone long after I should be asleep. I want to be in better shape, but I find every reason not to work out. I want to do more local work, but I don’t pursue work in Denver. Who in Colorado wants to hire me to speak or do some training? Ok, back on track.

To have something different, we need to do something different, and that often means giving something up. Letting go of a habit or pattern is challenging. There’s a reason we do what we do. Our habits provide something – comfort, distraction, fun, etc. If you’ve ever done a ropes course or graduated to a more challenging ski run, you know you need to let go of what feels secure to get to the next level. And letting go can be scary and difficult. But if we don’t let go, we get stuck where we are.

Make a list of things you want that you don’t have now. Perhaps you want to:

  • Learn a new skill or take on a new responsibility at work
  • Buy a house
  • Save more money
  • Be in better shape
  • Pursue a hobby

Then I’d ask, what do you need to give up (aka stop doing) to have what you want?

You need to do something differently, or you would already have what you want. Doing something differently could be as simple as telling someone who can help you get what you want. We often tell our coworkers and friends what we want from our job, but we don’t always tell the people who can help us get what we want.

If you want a different job, tell someone in your organization who can help you get what you want. Then create a plan with actions you’ll take, milestones, dates, and measurable outcomes, and follow up until you attain your goal.

Lastly, accept when you can’t get what you want from a person or organization, grieve, and then make a big change. If you have consistently pursued a role in your organization and in two or three years haven’t moved toward that goal, chances are you won’t get that job at that company. It’s likely you need to leave.

Choosing to leave is often the most difficult decision to make. We work and work on a relationship or situation, and eventually realize, we will never get what we want. That’s a very hard pill to swallow. But if you’re certain you won’t get what you want, despite your efforts, move on.

Five Steps to Reaching Your Goals – Ask Yourself:

What do I want that I don’t have now?

What do I need to give up in order to have what I want?

Have I made a request of the person/people who can help me get what I want?

Can the person/people I’ve asked for help assist me, and do they want to do so?

With persistence and consistency, can I get what I want from this situation, or is it time to move on?

Keys to reaching your goals: Determine what you want; tell someone who can help you get what you want; be consistent and persistent and be ready to make changes. To have something different, we have to do something different.


Strengthening Business Relationships – Make Three Attempts

If you work with other people, there is likely at least one business relationship you wish was stronger. If only that person included you on necessary communications, didn’t gossip about you, or gave you honest feedback, versus telling you everything is fine and then working around you.

What often makes work hard isn’t the work at hand, it’s the people we work with – the power struggles, cc-reply-to-all when everyone doesn’t need to know, and the gossip that pervades most organizations.

You need to communicate and work well with the people you work with. And like any relationship, business relationships require work. But what happens when someone doesn’t return your efforts for a positive working relationship? They don’t return emails or voicemails, ignores requests, or goes above you instead of coming to you when issues arise?

don't chase

Make three attempts at strengthening a business relationship.

I’ll attempt to strengthen a business relationship three times before giving up. Phone calls, video, and in-person meetings count as an attempt to improve a relationship, emails and text messages don’t. Emails and texts are passive, one-sided communications. If you’re serious about strengthening a relationship, talk with the person, either in person or via video or the phone.

The conversation could go something like, “We’re going to be working together a lot this quarter, I thought it would be helpful to talk through how we both like to communicate and who will do what. When is a good time for us to connect via phone?”

Or, you could say, “A lot has happened this year – good and bad. I thought it would be helpful to talk about what did and didn’t work, so the rest of the year is smooth. Can we schedule a call to talk about it?”

Or, perhaps, “I want to talk with you about how we work together. I think we both know that this year has been hard. I’d love for us to have a good working relationship. Can we talk about how we want to work together going forward?”

It doesn’t so much matter what you say, as long as you start the conversation. Relationships don’t just improve by chance.

I’ll make attempts like those above three times (with the same person). If the person doesn’t reach back, says no, or cancels three scheduled meetings, I give up. Don’t chase people. The people who are interested in fostering a good working relationship will make the time and be willing to be uncomfortable.

What does it mean to give up? You are not the Golden Retriever of the workplace. Nor are you the 7-11 – always open. If someone isn’t interested in talking with me about how we can improve our relationship, I don’t keep asking. After the third no, I’m polite. I include the person in all necessary meetings and communications. I’m professional. But I don’t keep inviting. You can’t work with someone who won’t work with you.

Extend an olive branch. Be forthcoming, brave, and yourself. And if you get three nos’, work on other business relationships and leave this one be.

 


Hinting Won’t Cut It – Ask for What You Want

Years ago, a guy I was dating asked, “We don’t really need to do anything for Valentine’s Day, do we?” I was taken aback by his question (which was really a statement) and replied, “No, we don’t.” But I didn’t mean it. And when he blew off the ‘holiday’, I was furious and let him know it. Instead of having dinner on Valentine’s Day, we had an ugly conversation and a lousy rest of the week. Asking for what I wanted upfront would have been much less painful.

Why is it so hard to ask for what we want, especially from the people who love us? Learn how to get what you want on Valentine’s Day and every day.

We aren’t likely to get what we don’t ask for. The people in our lives can’t read our minds. They don’t know what we want. This is true at home and at work. If you want a report to look a certain way, sketch it out for your employees. If you want a meeting handled in a certain fashion, give detailed instructions. For the most part, we expect things to go well and thus we delegate insufficiently at work and hope to be pleasantly surprised at home.

I hope the people who love you are intuitive enough to give your heart what it wants on Valentine’s Day, and every day. But if they don’t, make it easy for them to please you by telling them what you want. For example, tell the person you love, “I’d love to spend the day together. I don’t care what we do, as long as we’re together.” Or, “I don’t care what you do for Valentine’s Day, but please do something to mark the day.” And if you want something specific, ask for it. “I’d love flowers, despite that they’ll die and are impractical. Anything but roses and carnations would be lovely.”

Ask for what you want and see what happens.


The One Job Interview Question Hiring Managers Must Ask

There is one job interview question recruiters and hiring managers must ask. And the answer should be a deal-breaker.

The most important job interview question for any role in every organization: Tell me about a time you received negative feedback.

This is NOT the same question as tell me about a weakness. Or tell me about a time you made a mistake at work. Those are also important job interview questions to ask. But they’re not the most important question.

Let’s assume everyone you interview is age sixteen and older. Unless your candidates live in a cave, never speaking to anyone, it’s not possible to arrive at age 16 without having received negative feedback. The feedback can come from a friend, teacher, or parent. It doesn’t need to be work-related.

The point of the question is to discover whether the candidate is open to feedback. People who are not open to feedback are extraordinarily difficult to work with. They aren’t coachable. Any type of feedback they receive will result in resistance and defensiveness.

Employees who aren’t open to feedback won’t change or improve their behavior, regardless of how effective a manager is. Instead of listening to feedback and taking corrective action, employees who are not open to feedback will tell managers why they are wrong.

Everyone you interview has received negative feedback at some point. The question is whether or not candidates were receptive to the feedback. People who aren’t open to feedback won’t be able to answer your question.

If candidates can’t tell you about a time they received negative feedback, ask a follow-up question. Your job as the interviewer is to give candidates every possible opportunity to be successful. If you don’t get the answer you’re looking for, ask the interview question in two different ways, until you’re certain the candidate can’t or won’t answer the question.

If candidates can’t tell you about a time they received negative feedback, ask what their reputation is at their current job or was at a previous job. Candidates probably won’t be able to answer this question either. Most people don’t know their reputation at work.

Even if a candidate doesn’t know with certainty their reputation at work, the answer they provide will give you a sense of how self-aware they are. People who are self-aware are more open to feedback and are easier to coach and manage than people who are not self-aware.

I eliminate candidates who demonstrate they aren’t open to feedback, whether I’m hiring for Candid Culture or for one of my clients. I don’t care how credentialed or experienced the candidate is. If candidates aren’t receptive to feedback, they don’t get a job offer. 


Write Your Own Goals & Take Control of Your Performance Review

Many year-end performance reviews include whatever the manager and direct report can remember happening during the last six weeks of the year. For the most part, managers and direct reports sit in front of blank performance appraisals and self-appraisal forms and try to remember everything that happened during the year. The result: A vague, incomplete performance review that leaves employees feeling disappointed, if not discounted.

If you were disappointed by your performance review last year, don’t let it happen again this year. Take charge of your career by writing your own goals.

One of the first companies I worked for did the goal process so well, I learned early in my career how powerful well-written goals could be. Each employee set five to seven goals. Experienced employees wrote their own goals and then discussed those goals with their manager. Less experienced employees wrote their goals with their manager. Managers wrote goals for inexperienced employees. The goals were so specific and clear that there could be no debate at the end of the year whether or not the goal had been achieved. It was obvious. Either employees had done what they said they would, or they hadn’t. This made writing performance appraisals very easy. Very little on the appraisal was subjective. And this gave employees a feeling of control over their year and performance.

It’s great if you work for an organization or manager who works with you to write goals. If you don’t, write your own goals and present them to your manager for discussion and approval. Managers will be impressed you took the initiative to write goals and will be thankful for the work it takes off of them.

Goals should be simple and clear. It must be obvious whether you achieved the goal or not. There should be little if any room for debate. Sample goals are below.

Desired Outcome (goal):

• Improve client feedback – too vague • Get better-written reviews from clients – better • 80% of clients respond to surveys and respond with an average rating of 4.5 or above – best

Actions you will take to achieve the goal:

• Ask clients for feedback throughout project — too vague • Ask clients for feedback weekly – better • Visit client site weekly. Talk with site manager. Ask for feedback — best

Goal template:

Completed sample goal:

How to approach your manager with written goals:

Try using this language with your manager: “I want to be sure I’m working on the things that are most important to you and the organization. I’ve written some goals for 2024 to ensure I’m focused on the right things. Can we review the goals and I’ll edit them based on your input? And what do you think of using the agreed-upon goals to measure my performance in 2024?”

You have nothing to lose by writing goals and presenting them to your manager. You will gain respect from your manager, clarity of your 2024 priorities, and more control of your year-end-performance review. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.


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