Five Reasons You Need to Hire a Coach

Connor is a former business student of mine who just got his second promotion since joining a national retail firm three years ago. He’s managing a group of professionals and reached out to me to provide coaching as he takes on his new responsibilities. He has a boss, of course, who can provide direction and help him through the learning curve, but Connor wanted someone who could not only help him navigate the role, but provide unbiased input as well as a sounding board from a source that wasn’t writing his performance review.

Connor and I talk through relationships with his team, especially those he finds more challenging to manage. We’ve worked through the company’s new performance management system and how it can be used positively despite the fact that it’s not perfect. I’ve shared some tools with him that will help him build relationships while helping his team reach their goals, and Connor has asked me questions about managing his own career and influencing his bosses.

Executive coaching has seen strong growth in the past decade. Coaching credentials are varied, although the International Coaching Federation (ICF) is probably the most well known and respected certifying bodies. They offer a solid program that ensures coaches have good model to follow. But there are many excellent coaches whose credentials are based on experience more than certification.

Why You Need a Coach

We all understand the role of a coach in athletics – they’re the ones on the sidelines during the game giving direction, correcting missteps, and providing encouragement. But before game day the coach spends hours teaching game strategy, instilling discipline, and focusing on conditional and strength development. The coach doesn’t play in the game, but they know the game inside and out and provide invaluable input that leads to improvement and, ideally, a win.

The executive coach has a similar role. They assess, teach, provide feedback, instill habits, and act as a cheerleader on the sidelines. But in the world of business or nonprofit management, is a coach really necessary? After all, I went to college, have years of experience, and have done pretty well on my own. That may be true, but sometimes we don’t see roadblocks that are keeping us back, or opportunities that are right before us.

A coach can help us see those things, plus help us create a strategy and associated processes to achieve our goals. If you’re interested in getting to the next level in your career, a professional coach can help you.

The Five Reasons You Need a Coach

A professional executive coach can provide five things that you might not be able to do for yourself.

  1. Assessment. A skilled coach has a bag of tricks they use to assess your strengths, aptitudes, default mindsets, etc. This is the starting point for most coaching relationships.
  2. Expertise. Although your coach may not be an expert in your industry, they are experts at insight and drawing parallels from experience in multiple industries. They can shed light on things from a unique perspective that challenges you to see the world differently.
  3. Accountability. One of the greatest benefits of a coach is the accountability they provide. Their objectivity allows them to challenge you without emotional baggage that comes from a friend or boss.
  4. Processes and Tools. A coach teaches a coachee valuable models and processes that build positive habits.
  5. Achievement. Strategy creation provides measurable achievement for you, and a good coach will provide insights and means to move you toward achieving meaningful, intentional success.

Some specific outcomes of coaching are:

  • In one study conducted by MetrixGlobal LLC, companies including Booz Allen Hamilton received an average return of $7.90 for every $1 invested in executive coaching.
  • A recent study of Executive Coaching in a Fortune 500 firm by MetrixGlobal reported a 529% return on investment and significant intangible benefits to the business.
  • A survey by Manchester Inc. of 100 executives found that coaching provided an average return on investment of almost six times the cost of the coaching.
  • An internal report of the Personnel Management Association showed that when training is combined with coaching, individuals increase their productivity by an average of 86% compared to 22% with training alone.
  • A Hay Group study of Fortune 500 companies found that 21 to 40% utilize Executive Coaching; Coaching was used as standard leadership development for elite executives and talented up-and-comers.
  • A 2001 study on the impact of executive coaching by Manchester Inc. showed an average ROI of 5.7 times the initial investment or a return of more than $100,000, according to executives who estimated the monetary value of the results achieved through coaching.

(Retrieved from ActionCOACH.com)

What To Look for in a Coach

Coaching is about creating the future, so finding a coach who will equip and enable you to do so is critical. So how do you know if you’re getting a good coach? And by good I mean someone with whom you have rapport, a person you feel comfortable with, and someone who can move you toward achieving your life and career goals?

Erika Anderson, writing for Forbes.com, identified some important elements in coach selection. Before committing to a coaching relationship, conduct an interview and really make sure you get answers that make sense to you. Paraphrasing Anderson, a good coach will:

  • Provide clarity about the process. They’ll provide a roadmap of the process they’ll use.
  • Facts and feedback. A good coach will try to get the perspective of those with whom you work most closely, rather than relying on your view.
  • A learning approach. Skilled coaches go beyond dialogue and move toward ability and action.
  • If your prospective coach is talking openly about other clients, they’ll do the same with you.
  • Measurable outcomes. Your coach should be able to provide you with solid examples of helping coachees achieve their goals.

Coaching certification may be less important than other credentials, depending on what you’re looking for. The important thing is that you have confidence in the coach’s ability to take you through a process that will get you closer to your dreams.

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About the author: Todd Conkright, MA, CPT is a Certified Performance Technologist who combines expertise in human performance, six sigma process improvement, and the soul of a teacher to help clients achieve their personal and organizational dreams. If you’d like to talk with Todd about coaching or consulting, email him at info@cornerstoneglobaltps.com.

Message to Recruiters: Get a Grip on Candidate Experience

dance-couples-silhouettes--vectorGame or Dance?

There are many metaphors for the hiring process. It can be a game, where candidate and recruiter square off and move strategically across a game board to see who is still standing at the end. Probably the least combative metaphor is of recruiting as a dance, with each side going through their well-rehearsed moves to finish the choreography in synch. In this scenario the goal that both parties want is a beautifully danced number that leads to a job offer (and a position filled from the perspective of the recruiter).

Recruiting Past, Present & Future

Back in the day recruiting (now called talent acquisition) was a manageable process. Companies would post a position in the Sunday paper and on Monday applicants would type up cover letters and resumes on their trusty typewriter, place these items into a manila envelope, and mail them to the address in the add. Or for lower level positions, applicants would begin showing up Monday morning to fill out paper applications (and later electronic applications on PCs in the HR office).

This process naturally meant you had to get the paper on Sunday and spend time combing through the job ads, circling ones you felt qualified for, then going through the very manual process of typing a formal cover letter. Because this was such a cumbersome process, which I don’t think any of us want to go back to, and tended to limit applicants to locals, the flow of applications was manageable.

There was a polite and structured process that people understood. Rejection letters, although often curt and unhelpful even then, were sent out in a timely manner. Waiting for news from a company has always been a painfully slow process, but in the pre-digital age, there was an understanding of how long it should take.

During this era there weren’t many phone interviews, so a series of face-to-face interviews were part of the screening and selection process. Since the rhythm of business was in synch with the technology of the day, a cadence for the hiring process was maintained and communication was simpler. With fewer applicants to manage, employers could maintain a cordial and open communication with an applicant, who typically knew within a couple of days whether they would move on to the next step in the process.

Things are dramatically different today. Almost no one sends a paper resume and cover letter, and if they do, they are asked to go back through the online applicant portal so that they’re “in the system.” The system, then, is where hundreds of possible candidates for a single position upload their credentials into an online database that recruiters can search to find the best matches.

Technology allows recruiters to search through countless online resumes for key words to find individuals who have used those particular key words in their resume. Then it’s a process of elimination, where the recruiter begins de-selecting candidates by taking about 30 seconds to evaluate on computer screens, narrowing it down to under a dozen manageable candidates that they want to screen more formally.

Today’s Talent Acquisition Game

And this is where the game begins. The recruiter makes contact with the candidate, usually by phone, but increasingly by email, and starts the series of moves that will either get the applicant closer to a job offer or trigger a rejection letter (another email).

For most companies, especially larger ones with a well-oiled recruiting process, the steps and applicant typically goes through include 1) Some type of online questionnaire or behavioral/personality assessment; 2) A structured phone interview; 3) A face-to-face interview with the recruiter; 4) A face-to-face interview with the hiring manager and/or group of stakeholders; and, if successful 5) A job offer.

There are variances in this process, of course, depending on the level of the position and the rigor of the company. At any point along the way, the candidate can be eliminated from further consideration.

Some companies do a fairly good job of communicating with candidates throughout the process. The candidate experience is a proactive consideration for these employers who understand that how they treat applicants, especially as they get further in the screening process, impacts their brand image. If a company really wants to control their brand image they will take the candidate experience seriously.

From the candidate experience perspective, these five things make the process painful:

  1. Cumbersome process. I suppose, if the desire is to see who can survive to the end, a cumbersome process brings to the surface those candidates who are most resilient, patient, or desperate! But when our process is needlessly burdensome to the candidate, we really need to rethink what we’re doing and if it adds value to getting the right person into the job. A regular review from the applicants point of view may bring to light unnecessary steps or screening tools that are ineffective.
  2. Slow response times. Recruiters are busy. They have multiple positions to fill and dozens of applicants to screen. It’s understandable that it’s hard to keep applicants in the loop. But that’s when technology is our friend, reminding us how long someone has gone without feedback, or being scheduled for the next appointment, or sent a rejection letter. I know sometimes those delays occur because the recruiter is waiting for a decision from a hiring manager, or waiting for a background check report, or someone is out of the office for the week. The recruiter needs to be an advocate for the candidates, though, reminding everyone in the process that real people are waiting for them to decide or act. Send rejection letters promptly!
  3. Poor communication. We have so many communication tools available today, yet it doesn’t mean our communication has improved! For the person waiting for the phone call or email that determines the future trajectory of their career, lack of communication can mean days (sometimes weeks) on an emotional rollercoaster, wondering if the signs of encouragement from earlier conversations were delusional or empty promises. The key for recruiters is to give realistic timelines, track the time so that you don’t miss the promised deadline, and communicate proactively if something is delaying the process.
  4. Misleading or mixed messages. Sometimes recruiters give hope where there is no hope. They don’t want to let someone down, so they make it sound like things will progress to the next step in the hiring process when, in reality, they probably won’t. I realize there are times when a candidate is good, but maybe not great, and you may decide to take another look at them. The important thing is to see things from the candidate’s perspective and be honest with them. It’s OK to let them know you have other candidates who may be a better fit, but you will let them know within X days/weeks if you will continue to pursue them. And don’t be afraid to cut an interview short and say, You know what, I don’t think this is a good fit. Then at least you can see if any additional credentials or qualifications surface while the person is still in front of you. When you decide to pass on someone, give them 2-3 bullet points to either help them improve or encourage them in some way.
  5. Shoe-horned process. Often our processes are outdated and no longer fit the realities of today’s workplace, or pace. When we have assessments that have nothing to do with the job responsibilities, steps in the process that take more time than the value they create, or were added by an advocate who is no longer with the company, then the candidate experience will suffer and your organization’s brand will be tarnished. Whether a person is hired or not is only part of the issue. For every person hired there are dozens who started the process but were eliminated. How does your organization come across to these would-be employees? What will they say of their experience to future applicants, suppliers, or customers?

The candidate experience is, at best, an afterthought for many organizations. The churn-and-burn nature of talent acquisition leaves applicants feeling bewildered and frustrated, which can erode the brand of the companies they’ve applied to. I think most of us who apply for a position and never get contacted for an interview understand that there are so many competitors for a position that we don’t take it personally. But once a company invites us to the dance, we have expectations. If our toes get stepped on, or we get dumped for another partner, we are bruised.

Get a Grip!

Recruiters, get a grip on the candidate experience! Review the process regularly from the applicant’s point of view. You might even be brave enough to initiate a “voice of the candidate” survey! Listen to feedback and adjust the process to align your needs and objectives with the candidate’s. If your process is dehumanizing, reducing applicants to commodities to be sorted through, then you may be missing the boat when it comes to acquiring the best talent. Talent is not a commodity and the acquisition of talent is not a sport. It’s a way for humans to connect and determine whether one human can help another achieve goals while providing meaningful work. Recruiters need to keep this in mind to optimize the candidate experience in our complex work systems.

Rethinking Job Descriptions

A Useful Tool Gone Bad?

There’s little doubt that some sort of job description is important. They help organizations articulate the purpose of a position and how the work is to be accomplished. They spell out the competencies, experience, and other requirements necessary to succeed, and give the person doing that job a sense of what they should be focusing on.

For some, a job description identifies the boundaries of a position. Individuals like to know what they should and should not do, and like to be able to say, “it’s not my job.” Employers, of course, have gotten around this boxing in by adding the ubiquitous phrase, “and other duties as assigned.”

Thinking Upside Down – Person First, Then Description

But what if employers flipped job descriptions on their heads? What if, instead of using these expedient documents to create an exhaustive list of tasks, duties and responsibilities, job descriptions became generalized documents that allow for interpretation based on individual strengths and organizational needs?

Human Resources professionals like to create standardized, documented procedures to reduce variability and mitigate risk. That way we can keep people accountable and easily address deviance from the norm through our structured disciplinary processes.

But this obsession with conformity and repeatability has a serious negative consequence: it squashes the creativity and resourcefulness of employees and fails to tap into their unique strengths and interests.

When we attempt to turn an individual into a walking embodiment of their job description, we lose the advantage of the whole person. The whole person may not be a perfect fit for the job description, but if we exchange rigidity with flexibility, the whole person will rise to the occasion and surpass any goals of a job description.

It’s a scary thing to let go of structure. We like to predict outcomes by identifying the right inputs. The good news is we don’t have to completely eliminate structure to create a culture where people are allowed to apply a greater percentage of their abilities, ideas, and strengths.

As our workplaces evolve and adapt to new realities, new understandings, new ways of getting things done, employers have to tap into the vast reserves of wisdom, innovation, and productivity that go to waste every day because we have limited people through our processes and practices.

How to Give (and Receive) Performance Reviews

performance_reviewAll over the world supervisors are gearing up for their least favorite time of the year. Sometime between January and March employers involve their organizations in a time of reflection, evaluation, and planning. Well, that probably sounds too altruistic. In reality, the annual performance review process is painful, unproductive, and a downright waste of time.

Reviewers often fail to keep adequate records to evaluate well and seem to be surprised that reviews have snuck up on them again at the exact same time as last year! How did that happen?! As they continue to put out fires and keep operations moving forward, they have to carve out time to think about the past. It seems like a fruitless effort, but it’s a requirement, one in which the outcome often determines the merit increases of their staff.

Merit increases have their own challenges, since “management” allots a specific dollar amount or percentage to each manager, which they have to figure out how to divvy up to their team. This often means juggling performance scores so that the budget isn’t exceeded. What a mess!

So what can supervisors and managers do to make the most of performance reviews? Here are three things to keep in mind if you’ve once again been surprised by the review cycle and have to get them done in a hurry.

  1. Adjust your mindset about reviews. Know why you are giving them, and consider what the benefits are of performance reviews. If you can modify your attitude toward evaluations and begin seeing them as an opportunity to recognize people for what they’ve done well and coach those who are struggling in certain areas, you will become more objective and solutions-minded as you prepare to write the evaluation.
  2. Focus on the purpose, not the process. When you view the performance evaluation process as a once-a-year pain-in-the neck you will likely approach the process (and your staff) negatively. But if you have made performance management a part of your everyday leadership, the annual review is just one step in the process.
  3. Make it a dialogue, not a monologue. Because supervisors often rush through the process to meet the deadline for annual reviews, they present the performance review as a monologue, checking off the score and a brief explanation as they make their way down the page. This one-way street approach denies the humanity of the employee who has little room to participate in their own performance review until the end when the supervisor says, “any questions?”

These three things will set you on a path to making performance appraisals more positive, productive, and purposeful – and hopefully a lot less painful!

If you’re on the other side of the desk, receiving a performance review that is less than dynamic and obviously rushed, here are some things that you can do to get the most out of the process:

  1. Set YOUR tone. Because you expect this years’ review meeting to be just as meaningless and frustrating as last years’, you are shut off to any other possibility. Whether your manager is taking the process seriously or not, you can set the tone by approaching the meeting with an attitude of discovery and a chance to have some positive face-to-face time with your boss.
  2. Ask questions. Don’t let your manager get away with their typical monologue of essentially reading the review verbatim, hardly making eye contact. If they aren’t coming up for breath, interject a question mid-stream. Don’t waste this opportunity to find out more about why they rated you the way they did. Make your questions positive, not attacking or defensive.
  3. Prepare! Since your boss may not have kept the best records and may be judging you based on your most recent performance or with lots of generalities, bring examples of your work. Take time to prepare a timeline of the past 12 months and what you were able to accomplish in that time. What were your successes? How did you provide value? And when did you drop the ball? Be prepared to talk about lessons learned and renewed focus.

Annual performance reviews are often forced upon the workforce, but individual managers and employees can make them better. Performance evaluation doesn’t have to be a dreadful, migraine-inducing endeavor. Really! It all depends on how you approach it – the mindset you bring with you and the preparation you undertake. Your organization may have a stupid process that seems like a departure from the day-to-day culture, but you can choose to make the most of it whether you are the giver or receiver of performance feedback.

Here’s hoping you exceed expectations!

Project Management Skills Should be Required for Everyone!

Project Management Lifecycle

An organization I work with recently switched to a new email server. The plan was that at the flick of a switch everything would migrate to the new server and in less than five minutes everyone would be up and running. A week later the mess is still being cleaned up.

Very few IT projects that I’ve participated in have been implemented without some unexpected glitch. In fact, I think the mantra of many in IT is “expect the unexpected.” The point being, as optimistic as one might be, it’s a good idea to think about what could go wrong and plan accordingly. And just as importantly, communicate accordingly.

In the scenario I described above, even if the switch would have worked and the system was up within minutes, there was additional set-up that every user needed to complete to activate the system. No one anticipated this. No email message with self-service instructions was provided, so the IT staff has had to work individually with everyone in the organization to get them set up.

Unfortunately, situations like this happen all the time.  We get focused on the core task and forget what is happening up and down stream. As a college professor I believe a critical skill that every college graduate must learn is basic project management. The project management body of knowledge (PMBOK) focuses on five key processes:

  1. Initiating
  2. Planning
  3. Executing
  4. Monitoring and Controlling
  5. Closing

There are also nine areas of knowledge that are central to managing any type of project:

PMBOK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not everyone who leads a project will need to be concerned with every aspect of these nine areas of knowledge. However, a basic education in project management will promote the acquisition of a project management mindset that identifies areas of risk, possible derailments, and contingency plans. When employees are taught to anticipate what might happen, whether in customer interactions or technology implementations, communication can help control the process and curtail the need for inefficient crisis management if things go wrong.

The key to managing any project is asking the right questions before the project moves an inch. Here are a few that apply to almost all projects, and should be asked by everyone whether they are managing the project or not.

  1. What, exactly, is changing? What will be different when we’re done?
  2. What might go wrong? What will happen if things go awry? What makes for a good project implementation?
  3. What is my role? Do I need to communicate information down the line?
  4. Do I have critical information or concerns that I need to share with someone in charge?
  5. What assumptions am I making about the project?
  6. Are there others who may be affected by the project who don’t know as much as I do? What might I need to share with them?
  7. What could be done to make the project as smooth as possible?
  8. Would it help to create a FAQ document? A job aid or quick reference guide? What would help me do my job easier – that’s usually important to everyone.
  9. What has been communicated about the project? Is it sufficient? If someone walked in off the street could they make sense of what was happening?
  10. What are my co-workers most likely to ask questions (or grumble) about?

Failure to effectively manage projects results in inefficiency, including re-work or additional work, and causes hours of grumbling among staff. A little pre-planning and an extra communication effort can make a huge difference in the execution of a project. Going back to my original example, if the questions above were given any consideration, a whole week of stress, confusion, and reduced productivity could have been avoided.

The One-Page Project Manager: Communicate and Manage Any Project With a Single Sheet of Paper

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Absolute Beginner's Guide to Project Management (2nd Edition)
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Making the Pieces Fit: Right Person-Right Job-Right Organization

A couple of years ago, when I was managing a group of trainers for a large financial services firm, I needed to backfill a position when a trainer was promoted within the company. We lacked internal bench strength, so following the culture of promotion from within wasn’t a viable option. I would have to hire externally. Personally, I welcomed this opportunity because I felt we needed some “new blood” in our organization.

As I sorted through dozens of resumes and began narrowing down the candidates, there was one individual who stood out to me as unique. What he lacked in industry experience I was confident he could overcome with his ambitious, unconventional perspective. I wanted to shake up the rest of the trainers, and I was committed to hiring a diverse team to broaden the perspectives of the group and encourage them to learn from one another.

So I ignored the concerns of a couple of people I had invited to participate in the interview process and went with my gut. What I learned is that sometimes your gut needs to listen to the guts of others!

Jerry was probably the worst hire I have ever made! Almost from the beginning, when he was a participant in the training class, he began stirring things up, but not in the exciting, positive way I had envisioned. Over the next two years I coached and disciplined him until it was obvious we needed to sever the relationship altogether.

What I now know is that company fit is a two-way street. An article published in 2005 by researchers at the University of Iowa (Kristof-Brown, Zimmerman & Johnson, Personnel Psychology, 2005) addresses Person-Environment fit. Fit can be considered from various angles, such as person-supervisor fit, person-organization fit, person-workgroup fit, and so on.

Recruiters and hiring managers may have some instinctive knowledge, and maybe even some formal training, in screening individuals for organizational fit. There is a desire to find out if someone will be a good fit for the culture as well as provide the necessary skills and experience to do the job. Often, though, organizations do what I did with Jerry – they fail to look at things from multiple perspectives, so they miss things that could become a problem down the road.

The most useful person-environment factors to consider are vocation fit, job fit, organization fit, and workgroup fit.

Vocation Fit

Remember the career interest inventory you took your senior year in high school? Your results showed a laundry list of possibly occupations based on what you selected as most and least desirable in the assessment. I think some of mine included funeral director, teacher, librarian and zookeeper. Often there is little personal counseling that goes along with these assessments so you spend a lot of time trying to figure out what you might want to be when you grow up!

We assume that individuals have figured this out before they start applying for jobs, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked why someone wants a particular job and they respond with “I really like to help people.” That’s great! But why help people through this job? Why does it satisfy you? Why is this career of choice? I ask my college students what they plan to do after graduation and most of them say “get a job.” Minimal effort seems to be put into discovering strengths, passions, interests, and vocational fit.

Job Fit

Assuming the individual has made a thoughtful vocational choice, the next step is to consider job fit. My wife used to laugh at me early in our marriage when I would look through the want ads and circle jobs (yeah – remember the days when you had to get the Sunday paper to find out who was hiring?!) that I didn’t have the credentials for but was convinced I would be a perfect choice for! Or I would apply for jobs at companies that I would not enjoy working in.

As job seekers we get into the desperation trap of “I just need a job – any job – and I’ll keep looking if its not the best one.” With bills piling up we quickly jettison the idea that we need a job where we can thrive – we’re just trying to survive. We become overly optimistic and let the dollars guide us.

The opposite happens with organizations and hiring managers. I’ve made desperate hiring decisions just to fill a position quickly, then regretted it later. In the call center world we called it “butts in seats.” In retail we had a similar approach – the “fog a mirror” test. The assumption is that its better to have someone…anyone…than no-one. Some industries just come to expect a certain amount of turnover.

But have you noticed the difference between the fast-food associate that is a good fit and the one who isn’t? They are in the right vocation – customer service – and in the right job. They smile, interact, and do their work with pride. In some ways its harder to measure this as people climb the ladder. They have the experience, skills, and credentials. But do they fit with your job?

Organization Fit

There are a few ways to look at organization fit. First, is there values alignment? Job seekers have to find out if what they believe about life and work meshes with what the company believes about life and work. Do they produce products and services that we think are harmful in some way? I once worked for a company that provided customer service for companies that sold adult videos, psychic readings, and online gambling sites. I didn’t know that until after I started working for the company, and it gave me some heartburn to be associated with such a company.

My first human resources job was for a century-old food manufacturing company that was hiring their first HR Manager in the company’s history. It took them at least two years to pull the trigger on posting the job. The average tenure of the executive team was about 20 years, so most of them started with the company right out of college and never left. As a young, ambitious, and out-of-the-box HR Manager, I was in for an awakening! I had a blast going in and setting up a new department, having the autonomy to create priorities and projects. But after about three years I had done all I could do because my desire for progressive programs did not fit the culture. They needed someone who would maintain what I had set in place.

As organizations become more active supporters of a variety of causes, from gay rights to immigration reform to global warming, job seekers have to do their homework to decide whether they fit with such an organization. It requires asking specific questions about values, priorities, and practices. Read articles about the company to see what may be below the surface of the company web site.

Workgroup Fit

At the workgroup level both the job seeker and the employer need to evaluate whether there is a good fit with a particular team. I’ve worked in large organizations that are a conglomeration of multiple sub-cultures. If the workgroup is in a location apart from corporate headquarters, how is the culture different? Is there dysfunction, infighting, or an “us vs. them” mentality when it comes to working with other departments?

When I worked for a regional department store chain I was in one of the premier stores in a large mall in a large city. I would visit our stores in smaller cities and the culture within the store was completely different. There is a different talent pool, with smaller towns typically having less turnover. I’ve often found that the less turnover there is, the more likely the workgroup is receptive to change and new ideas. This isn’t always the case, but it’s important to check out.

Over a ten-year career in retail I worked in or managed virtually every department. As a 20-something male, I was assigned to manage a cosmetics department of 30 women for a couple of years. What an experience that was. Talk about a challenging workgroup fit!  Why my boss thought this was a good position for me, I don’t know. And why I accepted it shows that I didn’t give much thought to workgroup fit!

Evaluating Fit is Everyone’s Job

Job seekers and employers both have a responsibility to evaluate fit. At the highest organizational levels processes need to be in place to ensure values and priorities are clearly communicated at every level and location of the organization. Human resource policies and practices need to promote evaluation of fit, with hiring managers receiving training on how to screen at the four levels of fitness.

With high unemployment and fierce competition for jobs it will be difficult for job seekers to honestly evaluate fit, especially at the organization and workgroup levels. Individuals will accept positions out of desperation, blindly hoping that they can push through the discomfort they may have with the workplace. It won’t take long for things to surface and productivity will likely suffer. Co-workers will be affected and HR will be called in to help fix the situation.

We will continue to see tension within our workplaces from a failure to consider fit from employer and employee angles. Misalignment of skills, values, personalities and priorities cause friction and misunderstanding. As an HR Manager I frequently had discussions with hiring managers over whether it was better to keep a position open longer, taking a risk with productivity, or to keep searching for the right person. It’s difficult in the moment, because there are lines of customers waiting to be helped, or projects put on hold, or machines running at less-than-capacity. But in the end, the productivity and positive ripple effects for the workgroup and organization when the right person is in the job typically outweigh the less-than-stellar outcomes of a poor fit.

Suggested Resources

Who: The A Method for Hiring

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Match: A Systematic, Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time

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What Color Is Your Parachute? 2012: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers

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Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type

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Designing Your Provocative Career Path

A few years ago I volunteered at a community Career Center. Many of the clients had been in their positions, or at least with the same company, for 15-20 years or more. Then something changed and they found themselves unemployed or laid off, dazed and confused in a land they hadn’t prepared for. There were office workers who didn’t keep up with automated office technologies, computer programmers who didn’t see the end of the mainframe coming, and laborers who didn’t see their skills becoming obsolete before their eyes. They were devestated, which is an understandable response to job loss, but unable to wrap their minds around the changes their new reality would require. Those who learn to proactively design their careers will have a much easier time adapting when change happens.

Another interesting thing I noticed as I counselled Career Center clients is that it is really difficult for most of us to define our vocations apart from job descriptions. Try it. When someone asks you what you do, is your immediate response to give your current job title? I’m a blah-blah-blah for so-and-so. So what!? What does that tell me about who you are and what you do? In order to have agility amid rapid change, we need to rethink the way we define who we are. That way, if our current position goes away or morphs into something else, we are prepared to adapt.

Most of us won’t land in our dream job by going with the flow. We have to take control of the rudder as we navigate the seas of the marketplace or we’ll end up on a shore we didn’t really want to be on. To have fulfillment & significance, we must create the future we desire using what we learned about ourselves in our Discovery and Dream exercises.

In Design we move from “What” to “How,” putting our career strategy together and identifying what training, formal education, network connections and vocational stepping stones will get us from here to there.  While the Dream phase allows us to have our head in the clouds, the Design phase keeps our feet planted on the ground of reality. Not that we discount our dreams, but we realize dreams don’t become reality overnight and they require a lot of work to make them real.

One activity that’s part of Cooperrider’s AI Design model is writing provocative propositions. As you identify the themes and strengths that make you who you are, write out what is most important to you. What are the key ingredients to your desired future and what process will pull everything together? Paraphrasing Cooperrider’s idea of what provocative propositions look like, they should

                …stretch, challenge and interrupt the status quo

                …be grounded in reality – have possibility

                …be stated in affirmative and bold terms

                …be confirmed by those closest to you

Provocative propositions provide a clear, shared vision for…[your] destiny. (Cooperrider)

As you work on the Design of your career plan, be positive and courageous. You’ve come this far – don’t give up. Yes, it’s hard and possibly overwhelming if you have decided to take a new direction. But embrace a long-term perspective and see the months or years of preparation as brief as you move toward greater satisfaction and purpose in your work. Have fun with it!

Dreaming Your Way To Your Professional Future

Times of transition make great opportunities for us to dream. When I was laid off in mid-2010 I took the time to think about what I wanted the next chapter of my life to look like. I resisted the temptation to apply for every job that came along and instead spent time reflecting and dreaming. As we look at taking an appreciative approach to managing our careers, this stage of dreaming is essential. It’s the place we stop to really consider what we want to see more of in our professional lives.  It’s important that we ask ourselves questions like,

  • If I could do any job, regardless of pay and experience, what would I do?
  • What do I do really well and enjoy so much that it hardly seems like work?
  • What do I want to keep doing, let go of, or do differenlty?
  • How did I define success? What will it look like if I’m successful over the next five years?
  • Review the questions from Part 1 and think beyond your immediate answer.

Cooperrider (et al) says, “the Dream phase is the time to push the creative edges of positive possibilities and to wonder about [your] greatest potential (Appreciative Inquiry Handbook, 114). Imagine your future without limitations and create your own opportunity map. Once you have articulated a dream for the future you want, you can begin the Design phase.

Consider how your industry is changing and how you want to position yourself within your field. Have you lost your edge? Then dream of a new way to hone your skills, or find a niche where you can utilize your knowledge in a meaningful way.

As I allowed myself to dream during my period of unemployment, I took advantage of career transition assistance, completing several assessments and inventories to help me think through my professional story and the direction I wanted to head. I considered pursuing a non-profit direction to tap into my idealist nature, then swung back to “working for the man” to earn a dependable paycheck. In the end, my dream led me to start my own consulting practice where I could do what I do best in the area of performance improvement & organization development, but also spend some of my time doing pro-bono work for non-profits.

What’s your professional dream? What limits are you putting on yourself that you need to work through? Dreaming isn’t practical, but it’s important. In the next installment we’ll talk realistically about how to bring your dreams in line with your circumstances and map out a future that gets you closer to your ideal professional future.

Self-Discovery Critical to Managing Your Career

Part 2 of An Appreciative Approach to Career Management

Getting out of the default mode of career management means we have to do some soul-searching, stopping to really understand who we are and what we want out of life, specifically our work life. Some of us have a really hard time with this, especially if we feel we’ve missed opportunities, are somehow deficient in comparison to others, or believe that we have little control over our career trajectory.  Whether you feel hopeless or hopeful, you will benefit from some structured introspection. And an appreciative approach to managing your career will help you see the high points more clearly, and prepare the way for dreaming up a career path in which you will thrive.

The appreciative cycle of Discovery, Dream, Design & Destiny is easily applied to career management. Cooperrider and Whitney talk about the task of “disclosing positive capacity” through the Discovery phase. When it comes to managing and planning your career, an affirmative, appreciative method means you are looking for those things that make you feel most alive, the times when you’re at your best. There are many ways to do this exercise. You may want to spend some time in a quiet, peaceful place and think about those activities, accomplishments and successes you’ve had in school and work. Don’t allow negative filters cloud this process. This is your time to brag on yourself while also identifying what really makes you happy at work.

If you like structure, you can use instruments like Birkman On Demand (www.birkman.com) or Strong Interest Inventory (https://www.cpp.com/products/strong/index.aspx). It’s good to use a variety of assessments that help you find strengths, vocational interests, personality and other preferences. If you prefer, simply opening up a blank notebook and writing down what you think are your greatest strengths, attributes, interests, etc. Do what works for you. You might explore mind mapping, which has helped many people through career planning. A good example is at http://www.geekpreneur.com/managing-your-career-with-mind-maps.

Getting the most out of the Discovery phase requires dedication to the process. Have fun with it! To stay in an appreciative mindset, I’ve modified the Discovery phase appreciative interview process (Appreciative Inquiry Handbook, 2003) for career management:

  1. Understand the power of appreciative inquiry. Remember to ask yourself questions about when things were working best in your career. Focus on successes. Find your positive core – affirm the smallest successes and triumphs and build a positive image of yourself.
  2. Manage the negatives. Appreciative career management isn’t about burying your head in the sand, but you do want to reframe negative situations from your career history so that you can move forward positively. Use a separate piece of paper to write down things you want to think about fixing and don’t get stuck in regret. Highlight the things you’ve been able to do that you didn’t believe possible beforehand.
  3. Be specific as you write down summaries and stories. Probe deeply and intently – learn from yourself as you reflect on your past. Think about what, exactly, you were doing – what was the work environment like? What were the conditions? What was your role? Who were you working with and for? Consider both behaviors (what you did) and values (what you felt) while you were engaged in different projects and activities.
  4. Identify the “life giving forces.” How did the culture or work environment foster success for you? Think abstractly about what was present in the organization when your had your peak experiences. Then start to pinpoint themes that define the ideal conditions that put you at your best.
  5. Have fun and celebrate who you are! Remember to keep an affirmative spirit to this exercise of Discovery. This is your opportunity to get to know yourself better and you may surprise yourself with what you’ve accomplished!

Appreciative discovery should be a very positive experience as you articulate your history with a focus on your career and education. This is not the time to think of the “woulda, shoulda, coulda” times in your life. Reframe setbacks in light of what you learned and how you have changed. Consider who you really are, not what others want you to be. Bob Buford, in his book Half Time: Moving from Success to Significance, says It is discovering what’s true about yourself, rather than overlaying someone else’s truth on your or injecting someone else’s goals onto your personality. Whether your story is a drama, a comedy, a tragedy or a mystery, it’s your story and discovering who you are when you’re at your best is an indispensable exercise as you manage your career.

An Appreciative Approach to Managing Your Career – Part 1

Cover of "Appreciative Inquiry: A Positiv...

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The late Peter Drucker, renowned for his practical insight on leadership and work life, said the biggest change of our generation, the factor that impacts who we are and what we do, is not technology, the internet, or e-commerce, but self-management. People today have more choices than any previous generation. Our life expectancy, and thus our working lifespan (the number of years dedicated to working), has increased to the point that the single-career life is unrealistic. We have to consider that we will have at least two careers, which may or may not have much to do with a previous career.  What is critical to note is that no one else is looking out for your career – it’s something you have to manage yourself. Taking an appreciative approach to managing our careers gives us hope, energy and focus as we ask ourselves positive, strengths-based questions.

Many of us have landed where we are by default, an unplanned trajectory that started when we got our first “real” job. From there we’ve floated the course of the river (or climbed the proverbial career ladder) and find ourselves pretty good at something we tolerate but don’t get excited about. We feel stuck because we have good benefits, a comfortable routine, and restist changing course now because it seems overwhelming if not unneccesary. But Drucker and others predict that we will be forced to change jobs either through obsolescence or redundancy. Since changing careers does not seem to be avoidable, we should take an intentional, positive route to prepare ourselves for the next vocational chapter in our lives.

What’s your story? When you think back over your life, the jobs you’ve had, the organizations you’ve been a part of, the volunteer activities you’ve signed up for, and the hobbies & social activities you find most enjoyable, what stories stick out in your mind? Storytelling is powerful, and being able to tell our own story, especially to ourselves, is extremely valuable. That may sound like a funny statement, but it’s true. Sometimes we are editors and minimalizers when it comes to our own stories, especially as it relates to ways we have excelled, advanced, and grown. How often do we allow ourselves to tell the whole story about our successes?  

What questions should you be asking yourself? The fact is, the framing of our questions directly informs the answers we give.  David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney observe in their book Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change:

Human systems grow in the direction of what they persistently ask questions about, and this propensity is strongest and most sustainable when the means and ends of inquiry or positively correllated.

In other words, if we ask positive, strengths-based questions we’re likely to get positive, strengths-based answers.  Generate questions that get to the positive core of who you are, then build on those questions to move toward designing a positive vocational direction for yourself. Some sample questions you might ask are:

  • What is the high point of my career, when I felt most engaged, vibrant, alive?
  • What achievements am I most proud of?
  • What do I do especially well?
  • When do I feel that I’m at my best?
  • What, specifically, am I doing when I feel energized about my work?
  • Imagine yourself ten years from now. What is different? How have you accomplished your dreams?

These questions will get you started in a positive way. We’ll go deeper in the next post to identify the appreciative cycle (discovery, dream, design & destiny) and finally some practical advice on managing your career.