How To Handle Difficult Conversations

Guest Post by: Christine Brown-Quinn, The Female Capitalist

Do you shy away from having those conversations that are truly uncomfortable, whether that be about a pay rise, performance or a particular conflict situation? Have you ever over-practiced the conversation in your head, and in the end hesitated to actually deliver the message as the timing no longer seemed ideal?

While having difficult conversations may seem natural to others, it’s really a skill any of us can learn… and the sooner the better! Not taking action of course doesn’t resolve the issue. In fact it makes matters worse as we tend to internalise the stress, increasing our anxiety levels and decreasing our ability to successfully navigate the situation. And worse yet, that difficult issue just got bigger as we haven’t dealt with it on a timely basis.

Those conversations that we dread having are actually the ones that can change the trajectory of careers. That certainly was the case for me – my ability to embrace those tough talks defined me as a senior professional. The key is to adopt the right approach to get the outcome you’re looking for.

Here are my top tips for tough conversations:

1. Bring your best self – schedule those conversations at a time when you’re feeling the most rested, positive and calm. Also think about what might be the best timing for the person you’re going to have the conversation with. You want to have their full attention.

2. Capitalise on positivity – begin your conversation with a ‘power lead’ – think about something positive to say about the current situation. What’s working well? What are you feeling energised about?

3. Be curious about the other person –cultivate an attitude of discovery and curiosity. Have the intent to learn as much as possible from the conversation. While you do want to have the end goal in mind, remain open and flexible on how to get there.

4. Share the bigger picture – provide context and background to the issue you want to discuss. This shows respect for the other person and de-personalises the issue.

5. Build up your muscle – strengthen your abilities by doing. The more tough conversations you undertake, the easier it gets. While the issues or content of the conversation may be different, with practice your stress levels will decrease, and thus your ability to master the situation will increase.

As I built up the habit of having these tough conversations, I had much less anxiety about having the conversations, and was calmer when I did have them. Each conversation gets easier and you actually start to enjoy the possibility that these interactions can be game-changers, making our work place (as well as personal relationships) that much more fulfilling, enjoyable and fun!

 

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Six Rules for Effective Networking

Guest Post by: Sandra Buteau, GUAA Coaching Partner

If you cringe as soon as you hear the word “networking,” you should know that you are not alone. Many of us in the world feel the same way. During the course of my professional career as a leadership and career coach, networking has been a recurring theme discussed in practically every single one of my coaching engagements. No matter where you are in your career, you need to embrace networking to expand your professional reach or move up to the next level.

Last month, as a guest Webinar speaker for the Georgetown Alumni community, I encouraged participants to view networking from a different perspective and consider it as a way of making connections, talking to people, seeking information, and building community by interacting with others. Think about it not only as a great opportunity to hear fresh ideas and open doors to help you progress in your career no matter your profession, but also to develop new friendships whether on a personal or professional level.

Some individuals have a natural talent for interacting with other people in professional and social settings while many others struggle and agonize at the thought of putting themselves out there. The good news is that networking is a skill that anyone can learn if you are committed to it and challenge yourself to go out of your comfort zone from time to time.

To help you navigate the process of making connections effectively, I present to you my 6 Rules for Effective Networking.

1. Bring your true and authentic self to any networking efforts. Do not pretend someone you are not.

2. Instead of being afraid of making connections with strangers, change your frame of mind to view networking as sharing, learning, connecting, having good conversations and interactions with others.

3. To be an effective networker you must first adopt the attitude of a giver. Give every person you meet your undivided attention. Listen carefully and ask open-ended questions seeking to learn as much as you can about the other person to support or offer your help with no expectation that something will be given to you in return.

4. As you are building and maintaining your personal network, focus on quality of the relationships. Networking is not a numbers game. If you are planning to attend an event, avoid committing yourself to meet everyone that you come across. Be prepared to devote time and energy to develop meaningful and long-lasting connections.

5. Think of networking as a two-way street. Effective networking requires “sharing.” Someone helps you out today and you help them out later.

6. Always be prepared to make connections. Be open to starting conversations and speaking to everyone around you. You will be surprised that when you ask someone to tell you their story, amazing connections can develop.

What do you commit to do today to move forward in your networking journey?

Freelancing Won’t Help You to Build Wealth

Guest Post by Patrick J. McGinnis, a venture capitalist and private equity investor who founded Dirigo Advisors, after a decade on Wall Street, to provide strategic advice to investors, entrepreneurs, and fast-growing businesses. He is the author of the new book THE 10% ENTREPRENEUR: Live Your Startup Dream Without Quitting Your Day Job.

The gig economy is here, it’s real, and it’s global. As many as 53 percent of Americans can now be classified as freelancers. While that number includes your (hopefully) friendly Uber driver, it also encompasses a growing number of white collar workers as well, who offer legal, financial, accounting, or design services on demand. This is a direct result of recent instability in once-staid industries like law and finance that has pushed many professionals out of firm life and into consulting roles. As a result, software giant Intuit projects that temporary workers will represent 40 percent of the workforce by 2020. It seems that in the future, nearly half of workers – no matter the color of their collars – will be free agents.

While the rise of the “gig” economy, as the growing dominance of freelancing is often called, has been great for consumers and small business owners, it isn’t necessarily good news for the people providing all these services. Freelancing offers flexibility and a home for workers displaced by the changing labor market, but it also suffers from a fundamental flaw: When you’re a freelancer, there is no company stock plan. You get paid based on the hours you work and nothing more. You have no ownership in any of your projects and you don’t have the possibility of owning a share, even if it’s a small one, of something that can grow in value over time.

Given that reality, how can you make the most of your time as a freelancer in the gig economy?

 Think like an owner

When you’re a freelancer, you are also, in a fundamental sense, an entrepreneur. Over time, you will build a list of clients, expand your network, and assemble a track record of achievements that are your own. In that sense, freelancing can offer a path to building your own firm, so it’s never too early to establish credibility before the wider world. That means taking some time to create a brand, build a website, design a logo, and order slick business cards. Thanks to the sharing economy and inexpensive online platforms, you can accomplish most of these tasks by investing a few days and a couple of hundred dollars. You can also legally incorporate your company quickly and easily with a minimal investment of capital. Even if you’re not yet sure whether you plan to work for yourself over the long term, you’ll always have these resources if you want to moonlight on the side.

Be a 10% Entrepreneur and look for opportunities to earn sweat equity

Don’t restrict thinking like an owner to your own firm. You can also endeavor to own stakes in other people’s businesses as well. Specifically, you can become a 10% Entrepreneur, allocating at least 10% of your time and energy to offering your services in exchange for shares of a company – commonly known as earning sweat equity. This practice is relatively common because most startups have more to offer in the way of equity than they do in cash. As a result, there are many services, such as advising on a business plan or legal documents, making critical introductions, or creating a logo or website, that young businesses will consider as an in-kind capital contribution in exchange for stock.

While it it naturally riskier than simply walking away with a pocketful of cash, getting paid at least partly in equity can be surprisingly lucrative. Take the case of David Choe. Choe is the graffiti artist who took stock in Facebook as payment for murals he painted at their headquarters. Today, those shares are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

With freelancing here to stay, thinking like an owner, with respect to your business, as well as the businesses of others, can represent a powerful strategy to build long-term wealth. Not every company you work with is going to be the next Facebook, but as you gain experience, you will learn to spot the companies that are poised for growth. Not only will these companies become reliable clients, but if you earn sweat equity, they can also become long-term partners.

Interview with the Co-Founder of Solemates Monica Ferguson (B’00)

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?

There have been a lot of rewarding moments as an entrepreneur, but I think when Oprah Winfrey devoted a half page in her magazine and called my invention/product “genius”. It was great.

What do you wish you had done earlier in your career?

I wish I had learned basic HTML/CSS earlier in my career.

What trends do you see in your profession or industry?

As a retail brand, we are constantly navigating the changing face of brick and mortar retail (i.e., its decline), as well as how to strike the right balance in the digital space with the investment that goes into our branded website in a world dominated by Amazon.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done professionally? 

For sure it was the decision to leave Goldman (the second time) to start my company.

What is the best career advice you have ever received? 

Be comfortable being uncomfortable.

How has Georgetown shaped you?

Georgetown helped me understand what it was to have the courage of my convictions; and the importance of acting in accordance with my beliefs.

What was your favorite professor or class at Georgetown?

Advanced Financial Management (unlikely a common answer). It was the first class that showed me how numbers tell the story of a business. Accounting did not do that for me!

What is your favorite Georgetown memory?

Any memory that involves spending time with my friends; whether it was a class project, a dinner, or just sitting around our house. It was all so much fun.

Who is a source of inspiration and strength to you in your life and why?

My parents. They raised 4 children, have demanding careers, more friends than they can handle, and they have always made time for everyone and everything. I am inspired by their work ethics, sacrifice, and their energy.

What is on your desk right now?

An old fashion (paper) date book, an amazon Echo, a bottle of Smart Water, a to-do list, and a mess of sample products and packaging.

Who is your favorite author? 

Amor Towles, Jonathan Franzen, and Kristin Hannah

What is one part of your daily routine you couldn’t live without?

Coffee and exercise

What are your words to live by?

Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder (Gilbert K. Chesterton), but I erroneously attributed it to David Brooks for years.

 

Creating a High Performance Organization Culture

Guest Post by: Susan Levine (I’89)

There is a strong correlation between highly engaged employees and high performance organizations. Our people are our assets, our engine and our lifeblood. And no one would dispute the fact that our long term success will be driven by our ability to attract, retain, motivate and develop the best team in the industry. But not every organization has a base of highly engaged employees. So how can you take the pulse on your employees? Ask them!

There are a variety of ways that you can ask employees for their views – pulse surveys targeting a few topics the leadership team would like to understand are becoming even more popular. Whether you outsource or insource, the most important thing is to regularly engage your employees. If you do, it will be the beginning of an ongoing change in the way your company conducts its business.

First, decide what it is you want to measure and take the pulse on – firm strategy, firm culture, professional development, career path and incentives, lifestyle. Organize a team to design the questions. Senior leadership on the team in critical. Skeptics on the team are invaluable to the process and will ultimately enhance credibility and buy-in to the process.

Write questions that are simple and direct. For example, “I am engaged and motivated by [my firm’s strategy]”; or “[My firm’s] culture fosters collaboration and teamwork.” Don’t hide or ignore questions about topics you know will be potentially controversial. Your employees will appreciate your asking the tough questions. Finally, make the survey totally anonymous. If you really want to get honest feedback, you will want people to feel there will be no repercussions for the feedback they may provide.

And the most important question, by far, is the “Net Promoter Score”: “I would recommend [my firm] as a place to work to a friend or relative.” The question is asked on a 10-point scale. Promoters are those who answer a ‘9’ or a ‘10’; those with a neutral response are those who answer a ‘7’ or ‘8’; and detractors answer a ‘1’ to a ‘6’. The net promoter score is the percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors.

Ultimately, asking employees about organizational topics and being ready to share the results is the first step in the journey to creating a more engaged workplace. But you have to be willing to commit the appropriate amount of time to tackle important issues highlighted in the results and communicate progress to the organization.

In the next topic, I can discuss what to do with survey results and how you can develop a prioritized set of actions coming out of your high performance organization efforts.

Interview with Halo Top President and COO Doug Bouton (COL ’07)

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?

If I had to choose, I think the fact that we employee more than 100 people right now. It’s very rewarding to create great jobs for great people.

What do you wish you had done earlier in your career?

Unfortunately, my “career” has largely been Halo Top so not sure I would’ve done anything differently. I went to law school out of college and practiced law for a year or so before Halo Top. My legal background helped tremendously with the founding of and raising money for Halo Top so can’t say I even regret that aspect of my short career.

What trends do you see in your profession or industry?

There are plenty of trends in the food industry. When Halo Top started, it was in the middle of the healthy eating trend that continues to this day, which Greek yogurt largely spearheaded. In that sense, we’ve been fortunate to have the right product, right time – aligning with food/beverage trends like low-calorie, high-protein, and low-sugar. As far other trends, non-dairy/vegan is a big one that will last for a long time. I suspect things like gluten-free are more fad than trend and will pass but time will tell.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done professionally? 

The first few years of Halo Top were really tough, really stressful. I would’ve been easy for my business partner and me to give up. Persevering through those 3-4 years, in hindsight, was probably the hardest thing that I’ve done professionally. I’m also most proud of what we’ve done and what we’ve accomplished because I know personally just how hard and precarious it was. We could just as easily not be here today, Halo Top wouldn’t exist, and I would be personally bankrupt if we didn’t catch a bunch of lucky breaks and keep on keeping on.

What is the best career advice you have ever received? 

If you’re not happy, stop talking about it and make a change.

How has Georgetown shaped you?

Georgetown has shaped me in more ways than I can count. I think the two most important ways in which it shaped me are:

  1. critical thinking (especially as it relates to self-reflection)
  2. holistic education

Georgetown was the first time that I was really challenged to critically think about all of my beliefs and opinions, and the importance of critical thinking – in business and in life – cannot be understated in my opinion. Georgetown also emphasized the importance of a holistic education – focusing on activities, relationships, and social education beyond the classroom.

What was your favorite professor or class at Georgetown?

Professor McKeown – Problem of God

What is your favorite Georgetown memory?

House parties, Georgetown Day activities, 2007 Final 4 trip to Atlanta, pretty much all of my theology classes. Too many to count.

Who is a source of inspiration and strength to you in your life and why?

The easy answer is my parents. The values they taught me, the work ethic they instilled in me, and the love and support they have given me are the main reason why I am who I am and have accomplished what I have accomplished.

What is on your desk right now?

Papers, clutter, and more crap than I care to admit.

Who is your favorite author? 

Don’t really have one. I read anything – biographies and other non-fiction, fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. Literally anything.

What are your words to live by?

Pick just about any Drake lyric.

The Number One Thing You Need to Get Started on Becoming Part-Time Entrepreneur

Guest Post by: Patrick J. McGinnis, a venture capitalist and private equity investor who founded Dirigo Advisors, after a decade on Wall Street, to provide strategic advice to investors, entrepreneurs, and fast-growing businesses. He is the author of the new book THE 10% ENTREPRENEUR: Live Your Startup Dream Without Quitting Your Day Job.

In less than a generation, two clear and unrelenting trends have transformed the workplace.

First, traditional careers have lost a lot of their luster. Corporate roles are notoriously less reliable and less lucrative than they were in the past. Even once highly prestigious paths like law, finance, and medicine, have lost their appeal thanks to falling pay, layoffs, and an unwillingness by many companies and industries to change with the times.

Second, even as many traditional careers and companies remain stuck in the past, transformational change is afoot when it comes to how we work and live. In less than a generation, our society has been transformed by technology – it is now deeply woven into the fabric of our personal and professional lives. As such, it is ubiquitous, it is cheap, and it is only getting cheaper.

When you’re carrying around a smartphone, it’s almost too easy to forget the considerable investment you needed to make to run your own business just ten years ago. Building a website represented a considerable investment and telecommunications were expensive. Now, thanks to companies like Squarespace, Skype, and Google, you can basically put yourself in business with an investment of a few hours and a few dollars. The basic infrastructure you to get going, from email to storage in the cloud, is basically free. Once you’re up and running, you can then promote a business with a very minimal investment thanks to social media.

The falling price of technology, coupled with widespread connectivity is a game changer for anyone who has dreamed of doing something entrepreneurial. It’s never been cheaper and easier to start and manage a business, technology focused or otherwise. You need little more than a laptop, an Internet connection, and a smartphone to run the day-to-day operations of a small business. You also probably need very little money or to hire full-time employees to get started. Most importantly you don’t need to punch a clock from 9 to 5. You can make the rules, working when you’re like and from wherever you’d like.

You Can Become an Entrepreneur on Your Own Terms

The decline in the price of starting businesses, coupled with the falling appeal of traditional careers means that a growing number of professionals are opting to become part-time entrepreneurs. Rather than shouldering the considerable risks of leaving their jobs to launch new ventures, they enjoy the best of both worlds. They can try new ideas and perhaps even fail, but they do so without jeopardizing all of the rewards that have come with years of success and hard work in their careers. By spending at least 10% of their time, and if possible their money, working on new ventures, either as an investor, an advisor, or a founder, they can build lasting value – and diversification – for themselves. They are 10% Entrepreneurs.

It comes down to a change in mindset. Full-time entrepreneurship is a terrific path for some, but it’s not obligatory. If you’re looking to pick up skills that will help you at your day job or even put you on a path to the next step in your career, there’s another option. Why not take a more sustainable path by integrating entrepreneurial opportunities into your current career? It’s a simple, yet somewhat radical idea: you don’t have to be an entrepreneur, but you can be entrepreneurial.

 

This new mind-set is based on a completely new set of rules: just because you work at an established company and receive a steady pay check doesn’t mean that you cannot join the ranks of the innovators and the disruptors. As a 10% Entrepreneur, you will search out and engage with projects, drawing on all of the skills and relationships you have built over the course of your educational and professional lives. By leveraging your base of experience and your network, you will develop new skills. Plus, you will be the owner of everything you create, no matter what happens in your day job.

10% Entrepreneurship is All About Mindset

If you’ve never really viewed yourself as an entrepreneur – even a part-time entrepreneur – changing your mindset can take time. When I meet people who are looking for more in the careers, whether in the form of diversification, upside, or satisfaction, I’m often surprised at how quickly they discard the idea of integrating part-time ventures into their lives. Their reasons are remarkably uniform: “I’m too busy,” or “I don’t have any good ideas,” or even “I’m afraid.”

One of the hardest things about exploring new ventures is the temptation to feel outgunned. You might ask yourself why should you, of all people, think that you can start something new if you’ve never done it before. Sure, you’ve got experience and relationships, but it’s natural to feel a little (or a lot) intimidated. when you’re putting yourself out there rather than representing a corporate brand on a business card. As a 10% Entrepreneur, you will need to put yourself out there. You will constantly be pitching to people, telling them what you can bring to the table, seeking to establish credibility based on your past experiences, your relationships, and your vision. It can be intimidating or even downright scary.

I get it. When I took part in my first few projects as a 10% Entrepreneur, I felt like I was walking around in a dark room in search of a light switch. Now 5 years and 20 projects later, I have built a valuable portfolio of investments in startups, real estate, and even a theater production in London. Each endeavor brings new experiences and challenges that assure me that I’m on the right path.

As little as a decade ago, there were plenty of other barriers to worry about if you wanted to start a new venture, but in their absence, mindset is now, in a fundamental sense, the new constraint to entrepreneurship. The challenge today is to to have the courage build something that is sustainable and that will create value, both financial and personal, over the course of your career. So if you’re convinced that part-time entrepreneurship is for you, remember that it’s mindset that will take you you from daydream to action. Also, remember that you really have very little to lose – when you are investing just 10% of your time and capital, what’s the worst that can happen? Even if you fail, you’ll have learned something. And when you succeed, you’ll see the world from a new and far more entrepreneurial perspective.

Speaking Tips: Last Things First

Guest Post by: Dean Brenner (C’91), The Latimer Group

Have you ever led a meeting, handed out the slide deck, began discussing the topic and while still on slide 1 or 2, most of your audience has already flipped to the last slide? I’m sure you’ve seen this before… Perhaps you’ve been the one flipping to the last slide, or perhaps you were the frustrated presenter. It happens all the time.

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is, “How do I prevent people from automatically skipping to the last slide?”

I usually respond by asking, “Why do you think they go there first?”

Everyone usually says some version of, “They want to see the summary information right away.”

And then I usually say, “Then if they want to see the last slide first, why do you put all that info on the last slide? Why make them wait?”

Business storytelling is counter-intuitive. This is not like a movie or a good book. The point is not to keep your audience in suspense until the very end. The point with business communication, especially in the 21st century, is to get to the point quickly, explain to people where you are taking them, and then backtrack just enough to explain to them how you got there.

Don’t make your audience wait. It will be better for them, and they’ll pay closer attention to what you have to say.

Good luck.

Dean Brenner (C’91) is a recognized expert in persuasive communication, and is the founder and president of The Latimer Group, an executive coaching and training firm that that specializes in creating powerful communication skills. Dean and his colleagues offer coaching and training to a global client list of Fortune 500 companies. In addition, Dean has written two books on effective communication, and is currently working on his third. Dean lives in Connecticut with his family. To learn more about Dean and The Latimer Group, please visit TheLatimerGroup.com.