The Business Blog

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.

Delegating Effectively

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I have just been promoted and am working on delegating more to my team. How do I give up the need to control every assignment and trust the job will get done?

Understanding and learning how to effectively delegate is a critical leadership trait that all new managers must hone — and as quickly as possible!. Notice that I use the word ‘effectively’ because like every other skill, you must learn how to effectively use this one for your maximum advantage. Delegating is extremely important to your success for two main reasons: your own time management, and the development of those for whom you are responsible. For many people, learning to delegate and to let go is a challenge.

Start out with smaller, maybe less important tasks that you feel more comfortable delegating, and that won’t stress you out if they aren’t completed exactly to your satisfaction or on time. When you first begin to delegate, you will likely fight the urge to micro-manage the details and this is where you have to really work on yourself. Set reporting timelines for your subordinates to submit progress updates on specific tasks. Hold regular conference calls with your team so you can gauge the overall progress when you have many things going on at once, which you will as you move up in your responsibilities. As with any new skill you are learning and developing ,there is initial discomfort when you practice it. This is because you are stretching yourself and going out of your normal comfort zone. Discomfort is okay and is to be expected.

Remember back to when you were in an individual contributor role and how you felt when you were given an assignment, especially one that was new to you. You may have been slightly apprehensive but you were most likely proud and rewarded that your boss had the faith and confidence in your abilities to give you such an assignment. This boosted your self-confidence and ability to take on even more responsibilities. This will be what you are doing when you dole out those delegated assignments, not to mention the fact that you are getting the work done through many channels which is great for your overall team development.

Last, and just as important, I suggest you look around at your team and ensure you have the right people in the right job assignments. If you don’t, then make the necessary changes to get the right people in place. This is a mistake that many managers make when they let too much time go by before making what can be tough decisions. Once you do this you should be confident in the fact that your individual team members are more than capable and ready to take on each and every assignment, growing in the process.

Now . . . go delegate one task! Good luck!

Give Constructive Feedback

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I am a relatively new manager and have little experience in giving feedback, especially when it involves difficult issues or performance deficiencies. How do you prepare for and deliver constructive feedback without hurting the relationship?

When you prepare for such a discussion, start by clearly defining the issue. Separate your emotions from the facts that you need to review and discuss. Emotions such as fear, anger, stress, and anxiety are a few that can be attached to difficult situations. While these emotions may be understandable and even justified, they won’t help you in solving the issues at hand.
Next, detail any and all performance deficiency specifics that are related to the issue. Look at this challenge in an objective, professional manner, focusing on the facts alone. Anticipate what the employee’s reaction may be and prepare your responses accordingly to keep the meeting on topic and on track. Have a written outline in front of you with the points you need to make and the goals for the meeting.
By preparing with meeting objectives and a clear agenda, you will be able to better control the discussion and accomplish what you had planned. Even though you may be dealing with negative behavior, it’s important to keep your tone and demeanor as positive as possible. Let the employee know that improvement is possible and what he or she must do to achieve it.

Executive Leadership Coaching

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What is an executive coach? How do I know if one would be beneficial for me and my career?
Executive coaching is a formal engagement in which a qualified coach works with an organizational leader in a series of dynamic, confidential sessions designed to establish and achieve clear goals that will result in improved managerial performance. The relationship between a manager and a coach is different from other types of professional relationships. For example, a coaching relationship focuses on enhancing performance while a mentoring relationship usually has broader objectives. An executive coach is much more involved in execution and outcome assessment than the typical consultant might be. A coach is not an authority figure, but is someone who is engaged with their client on all levels to provide assessment, challenge, and support.
Above all, a coach is someone who is there for the professional client for collaboration and to offer the type of counsel and support that the executive may not otherwise receive. A great coach will work with clients to assess individual circumstances, strengths, weaknesses, and developmental opportunities.
In some circles, having a coach is something to brag about. In other situations, a coach may be brought in as a reaction to a certain set of circumstances that indicate a performance deficit. In today’s business climate, coaches are seeing an increased demand across the board at the ‘c suite’ level. An executive coach is a perk to which some top executives feel entitled and that some leaders negotiate as part of their total compensation and benefits package. Some companies provide coaching initiatives for new, transferring and high-potential employees, while other individuals seek out coaches and pay for them on their own. In my practice, I see a variety of circumstances that prompt individuals and organizations to engage me in the role of advisor and coach.
If you are considering an executive coach, keep in mind that your perception of coaching greatly affects your readiness to benefit from having a coach. If you have a positive perception of coaching and think that it could help you, you’ve taken the first step toward realizing its benefits. You should assess your own readiness for what will be a serious commitment and an occasionally uncomfortable experience. There are coaching readiness questionnaires that I use with my clients to help them fully understand and assess where they are before the coaching process starts.
When you work with a coach, you can expect to change your skills and your behaviors and develop better leadership abilities. Resistance to any kind of personal change is normal, realistic, and to be expected. It’s not a light decision to engage an executive coach. Only you can accurately assess your thoughts, feelings, and needs. A great coach will use some very sophisticated behavioral and competency based assessment instruments that will enable you to clearly understand where you are starting and what you will need to work on.
Executive coaches have become much more common than they were even five years ago. If you decide that you’re ready to benefit from coaching, take time to find a well-qualified coach with whom you can relate on a personal level. Selecting the right coach has a dramatic impact on successful results. Engaging a well-qualified coach that is a good fit for you will positively affect your individual growth and your future career path. Good luck!

Aging And The Fast Track

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My company is hiring all these younger employees, and I’m starting to feel outdated. How can I make sure that I stay on the fast track as I age?

Let me reassure you that you are not alone in feeling this way. For the first time in U.S. history, there are four generations in the workplace, working together as peers as well as managing each other. Much has been written about this mix because it has presented some new and different corporate dynamics. The wide range of ages can mean very different communication styles, workplace practices and diverse approaches to work.

I encourage you to really look at this as an opportunity for both your own professional and personal growth as well as a chance to mentor and advise younger coworkers. I especially encourage you to look at the younger workers as a resource for your own learning and development. Many times, older workers automatically feel superior to and maybe even annoyed by their younger counterparts. Open yourself up to truly interacting with these younger professionals by engaging them in discussions and seeking their perspectives. Far from being a roadblock to your success, they can help you stay current about the latest trends, especially if they are fresh out of college.

Try not to let you self be seen as “the elder” in the group. Instead, get in there and remain engaged at all levels with everyone. Remaining open to learning opportunities and to change is critical as you move through all stages of your career. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of feeling superior simply because you have more years of experience. Staying curious yourself will make others interested in learning from you. A willingness to grow will help maintain your position as a key contributor.

It’s helpful to view the process of staying on the fast track as cyclical. The more you stay engaged in learning, the more you will have to offer which, in turn, makes you even more relevant and valuable to everyone in the organization. Your experience, combined with your willingness to continue growing, will make you a stellar employee at any age.

One last reminder – attitude is everything! Keep a positive, young-at-heart, inquisitive outlook about the world and your age won’t be a factor to anyone.

Taking Charge of My 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 a 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.

 

Diversity In Our 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.

Networking

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There are so many networking groups in the area that I get a bit overwhelmed, feeling as though I should participate in all for fear of missing out on an opportunity. How do I determine which groups are worth my time?

This really can be a problem in today’s business world when the advice we get is to network, network, and network some more. Let’s face it, if you live in a major metropolitan area, there are multiple groups for every industry, sector, gender, and age from which to choose and participate. Ultimately, there aren’t enough hours in the day to join everything. Give yourself permission not to accept every invitation to every function that comes your way. Like everything else in your time management tool box, you must be smart with your networking choices. It’s important to ensure a return on the investment of your time, especially in the areas of business and personal development. So, here are a few things to think about when you decide which invitations to accept for networking opportunities. First, ask yourself what the demographic makeup will be in attendance. Will it be a group that is interested in your business? Will it be individuals that you can connect with for future business and for your own development? Most likely these questions will help you in effectively eliminating those invitations that likely won’t be productive for you. Second, determine what your main purpose would be for attending a particular function. Is it to meet certain people? Pitch your business? Connect with future employers? Once you identify the right group or groups for your networking time, look at ways to increase your level of visibility through leadership roles within the organization and speaking opportunities. These offer excellent opportunities for you to elevate your public visibility and name recognition, while increasing your self confidence and furthering your personal and professional development.

Handling Difficult Directives

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I’ve been given a directive from my boss that I don’t support. My team isn’t going to like it, either. How do I deal with this in an honest way with my employees and yet be loyal to my boss and the company?

This is a tough situation that all leaders will find themselves in at some point in their careers. My first advice is to get as much information from your boss as you can. What is the rationale behind this directive? Is it strictly a business decision? Have all aspects of the directive been thought out thoroughly? Are the consequences clearly defined? Why do you oppose it and why will your team oppose it?
Gathering all the information that you can about the background of an unpopular directive will help you better explain and support it. If you remain adamantly opposed to it and cannot, after gathering all the facts, give your full support, think about whether you want to state your position to your boss in a one-on-one discussion with her or him. Maybe it truly is something that she or he has not thought through and your voice could give additional reason to the situation, perhaps even helping her or to shift their course of action.
Ultimately, it is your responsibility to execute the directive in a way that does not undermine your boss or company whether or not you support it. With your team, you should stand up and state the reason for the directive, explain all the facts, and stay focused on any upsides to carrying out the directive. You should never state to subordinates that you are being forced to implement a directive or that it is not your decision. Once you get to the point of conveying the instructions to your team, you should clearly take responsibility for doing so without ‘laying blame’ on others just because it is potentially unpopular. There will always be some positives in any situation, so identify and stress those. Especially in unpopular messages, always give your subordinates the ‘big picture’ explanation behind a directive, letting them know why it is important to the business and to the long-term success of the organization.
These are always difficult situations when you deal with them for the first time, but like everything else, with practice and a experience in navigating such problems you will handle tough directives with greater ease and success in the future.

Managemnet 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.