The Business Blog

Preparing for Promotion

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My boss is planning to retire next year, and I know that several of us in the department will apply for his position. We all have about the same qualifications and experience. What can I do to make myself stand out from the pack?

Don’t assume that everyone knows you are interested in the position. Have a discussion with your boss and ask for his insight about being considered or recommended. Depending on the grade level of his position, there may be a formal succession plan in place, or at least some criteria that has been established, for selecting his replacement. If there is, you need this information so that you aren’t sitting on the sidelines assuming that it’s an even playing field when it may not be.

You also need to talk with your peers and other associates to evaluate the level of support you have for the position and what their thoughts are about his replacement. This may give you some information about what you may need to do in order to compete once the time comes.

In the meantime, work to stand out by going above and beyond in your regular duties and by accepting extra assignments, if possible. Volunteer to work on committees, task forces and community projects. Make sure that you are seen as someone who seeks solutions and consensus, and as someone who has strong leadership abilities.

Preparing for Promotion

Posted on:

My boss is planning to retire next year, and I know that several of us in the department will apply for his position. We all have about the same qualifications and experience. What can I do to make myself stand out from the pack?  

Don’t assume that everyone knows you are interested in the position. Have a discussion with your boss and ask for his insight about being considered or recommended. Depending on the grade level of his position, there may be a formal succession plan in place, or at least some criteria that has been established, for selecting his replacement. If there is, you need this information so that you aren’t sitting on the sidelines assuming that it’s an even playing field when it may not be.

You also need to talk with your peers and other associates to evaluate the level of support you have for the position and what their thoughts are about his replacement. This may give you some information about what you may need to do in order to compete once the time comes.

In the meantime, work to stand out by going above and beyond in your regular duties and by accepting extra assignments, if possible. Volunteer to work on committees, task forces and community projects. Make sure that you are seen as someone who seeks solutions and consensus, and as someone who has strong leadership abilities.

Management Responsibilities

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As a fairly new manager, when I have employees come to me and tell me they would like to talk to me as their manager but in the strictest of confidence, I many times feel uncomfortable. How do I handle these types of employee conversations when it could damage their trust in me as their manager?

When an employee starts out a conversation by telling you that they want to talk in strict confidence, before they go any further remind them that if they tell you something that requires you to take action, then you will do what you must do as a manager and leader. Many times, what an employee tells you will be about themselves or something they may be going through and you don’t have to do anything but listen and understand. Other times, they may divulge something that you are required by law or by ethics to report to your boss or perhaps even the authorities. It could even be something about another employee that you will need to further investigate.

It can sometimes be a challenge when faced with this type of discussion, but be prepared to make it clear up front that you will take the necessary action if your good judgement calls for it. As a leader, it is important to know that you have a greater responsibility to act upon certain situations than you do outside of your leadership role. This is something you should make clear to anyone that begins a discussion requesting confidence.

Once your employees know that you will do what is right, even in the face of challenge and adversity, chances are good that they will trust you completely and not feel that they must precede their statements with a request for confidentiality.

Communication Skills

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In my last two performance evaluations, I’ve been told that I need to improve my communication skills, but I haven’t been given many specifics on what I need to do. Can you help me with any general workplace communication pointers?

I encourage you to ask for more specific feedback that defines which communications skills are lacking as well as suggested improvements that you could take immediate action to implement. You might request another brief follow-up meeting with your manager to seek the information as well as to let your manager know that you are taking constructive action to address the concerns.

In the absence of specifics from your evaluating manager, I would suggest that you seek input from your peers and other managers as to how they see you and your communications skills. There are very specific behavioral styles that dictate the way people communicate and receive information, both at work and in their personal lives. Some styles tend to mesh better than others. Gaining an understanding of your style can help you see how others perceive you and how you might adjust your approach when interacting with other styles.

For example, if you are a strong, results-oriented person and you are working primarily with more methodical, detail-oriented individuals, you may be perceived as being abrasive and pushy which is not entirely the case. So, get input from those who know you well and who have observed your communications skills in action. Put it all together to assess how you are coming across and what you need to do to improve.

There are several really good behavioral based assessment tools that I use with clients that are extremely effective in improving workplace communication. See if your organization has access to similar instruments. With the right information and some effort on your part, you can form new and better communication skills and habits.

One more thing – be sure to document the steps that you have taken to improve so that you can present your actions to your manager at your next performance review.

Taking Charge of Professional Development

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Other than an annual performance review that is administered by my immediate manager I do not get much, if any, feedback on how I am doing. I really want to develop skills that will serve me well in competing for future promotions. How should I go about putting in place a structured developmental plan that will provide me with regular beneficial feedback?

There are specific steps that I will recommend for you to take in order to get regular feedback, however this may be more challenging than it seems. The reason I say this is that you should first look at your organizational culture and determine whether it is a feedback rich environment. If it is not and this is more of an mandated exercise than a true developmental tool, then you have your work cut out for you in seeking additional feedback.

We know that organizations in which there is regular and ongoing feedback generate more creativity and innovation. However, when there is limited or little feedback, such as in your case, it is difficult to foster more unless the culture supports it.

Regardless, I would still attempt to set up regular meetings with your immediate manager as well as establish mentors outside of your chain of command who can give you ongoing and regular feedback to further your development. Presenting your request in a positive light as a way to improve your performance as well as to help the company will hopefully help you get some action.

Data Resources

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There are tons of articles about our work world today with lots of statistics sited. Where do you go for the most trusted and reliable research based data about the workplace today?

There are many fabulous resources that produce valid and valuable research data the many elements of today’s workplace. I find that non-profit organizations are some of the best resources, and I use several of them. Two which are at the top of my list are Catalyst and The Center for Creative Leadership. Catalyst was founded in 1962, and is the leading nonprofit membership organization expanding opportunities for women and business. The Center for Creative Leadership exclusively focuses on leadership education and research, and provides unparalleled expertise in solving the leadership challenges of individuals and organizations around the world. I find that these two organizations produce excellent research based on in-depth studies that span the globe.

In my opinion, these are the best to start with for tracking almost any specific data relative to today’s workplace.

Romance in the Workplace

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What do you think about office romances? 

My short answer is that is it best to keep work relationships professional and to stay away from romance if you possibly can. However, having said that, sometimes things just happen when you work closely with someone in a demanding environment. Many successful personal relationships and even marriages have started as working relationships. Let’s face it, when you spend the majority of your time with the same people and you get to know them well, you inevitably like some more than others. We are, after all, human.

So while I suggest that you try not to complicate your professional life by mixing in a personal relationship, let me give you the dos and don’ts if you just can’t avoid it or if you’re already in an office romance. When you first sense that a relationship is clearly budding into something serious with someone in your immediate workgroup, I suggest that one of you begin immediately to try to transfer out of the group. The first step to take is to separate your working relationship from your personal relationship, especially if one of you is senior to the other.

If you are peers, it is not quite as complicated but it’s still not a good idea to work together. Resentment as well as issues of favoritism and unfair practices can, and usually will, arise when there are personal relationships within the workplace. These issues can have an adverse impact on reputations and can even derail career paths.

People love to talk, and a budding romance in the office is fabulous fodder for the gossip mill. Don’t let yourself be the target of rumors and innuendo that ultimately can negate your hard work and deter your long-term success. If you don’t wish to change your personal relationship, then it’s generally best for one of you to change jobs.

Diversity in the Ever-Changing World

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There is so much written and discussed about the topic of diversity but then I also hear of women’s initiatives and other affinity groups. Don’t all of these groups fall under the diversity umbrella? I would appreciate an overview of diversity and what it means in today’s workplace.

The short answer to the first part of your question is yes, all of the various groups you refer to are a part of a diverse workplace and are representative of a particular group that contributes to that diversity.
Let me give you the overview of diversity that you asked about which I think will help you better understand when and how the term is used.

We can break diversity down into two categories, or types, that are present in today’s workplace – vertical diversity and horizontal diversity. Vertical diversity refers to the wide range of ages in the workplace, with four generations working alongside each other, and horizontal diversity refers to all other types of different groups to include those of various races, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, and religious beliefs.

The important thing to know and understand about diversity is that it enriches our lives, both professionally and personally. It brings such different backgrounds and perspectives together, and it creates synergies that otherwise aren’t generated. This results in greater ideas and increased creativity to all settings and in all situations.

Many studies have proved that when diversity is embraced and celebrated, organizations are higher performing, more profitable entities as a result. Diversity contributes just what it implies, a diverse range of perspectives and ideas, that ultimately better serve the world.

Making Successful Business Presentations

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Do you have any tips for making business presentations? I’ve been asked to give my first big one and I’m nervous! 

Most people have experienced the anxiety, trepidation and fear that often precede public speaking, especially if it the presentation is to a large or influential group. The good news is that experience definitely helps and you will become more comfortable and self-confident with every presentation that you design and deliver.

It helps to remember that being nervous before speaking or presenting is perfectly natural. Even the most seasoned professional can have the jitters before delivering a large presentation. The key word here is preparation, and the more speaking experience you gain the more you will understand its importance. If anything, you want to over prepare and over practice. Knowing your material inside and out will help ease any anxiety that you feel, and will help you deliver a more polished presentation.

It’s also important to anticipate any controversial points or difficult questions that you may encounter while you are behind the podium, and plan your responses accordingly. The fear of the unknown is at the root of most speaking anxiety, so thinking through potential scenarios can be very helpful.

In addition to being familiar with your material, become familiar with your audience. Find out who will be in the room, what levels in the organization are represented, and why your presentation might impact them. It’s important to know your audience so that you can connect with them through your presentation. By researching your audience in advance, you can incorporate stories, facts, or examples that will resonate with them and connect to the points you wish to make.

I’d also advise you to keep your presentation as concise as possible. No one enjoys sitting through unnecessarily long, drawn out speeches. Think about the main points that you want your audience to remember, and then hit those points as succinctly and directly as possible. Have a handout that includes more detailed information for those who are interested.

Practice your presentation before a trusted colleague or advisor; preferably someone who will understand the material sufficiently to critique both the content and your overall delivery. Then, practice repeatedly in front of the best presentation tool of all – the mirror.

Getting your first business presentation under your belt is an important career milestone. I wish you the best of luck!

Avoiding a Hostile Work Environment

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As a manager, I have had repeated complaints from employees about a fellow employee telling offensive jokes. Sometimes they are just overhearing them but are nonetheless still offended. How do I approach this employee when many of the complaints are based on hearsay?

This is another great question and one that is so very important for you to understand how to handle as a manager/leader. This one can get you into lots of trouble and can create additional problems if you do not handle it correctly.

The first rule-of-thumb as a leader and a manager who is responsible for people is that once you have knowledge of an issue, you basically own that issue and must take the appropriate action to correct things. In this case, when an employee is offended by something that another employee is saying, your workplace can potentially be deemed a hostile work environment. This is one in which all employees do not feel comfortable and may even feel threatened. Now that you have knowledge of this, it is your responsibility as the leader to remedy this situation swiftly and decisively.

When you receive a hearsay complaint such as this, you will need to investigate. Start by asking the complainant for their side of the situation, asking them if they did, in fact, tell what could be offensive or inappropriate jokes in the office. Make it clear that this behavior is inappropriate for the workplace and that they should immediately stop the practice of telling such jokes. Usually, this is all it takes to stop the offensive language; however, I would suggest you take it a step further. Take this opportunity to look at what training, if any, your employees have had in this area. I’m willing to bet that your company/organization has an acceptable conduct policy and if so, has everyone signed off on that policy? If not, make sure they understand what is acceptable and what is not, and have them sign statements that they have read and understand the conduct policy.

If there is a dispute over what the two individuals, the complainer and the complainant, are telling you and/or you have already done all of the above, then you should seek out other employees for written statements. Once you determine that the employee has indicated an understanding of the acceptable conduct policy and has chosen to violate it, then you must take immediate action to discipline and perhaps even remove the employee from the workplace, depending on the level of the complaint.