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.

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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.

 

 

From Surviving to Thriving

Guest Post by: Linda Hardenstein

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, but I do know this isn’t it.”

It’s frustrating to be unsure about your career path, or to be unhappy at work. Especially when you have talent, knowledge, skills, and abilities to contribute.

“Making it Work” Doesn’t Work

Being miserable in your career causes stress and burn out. It can have a profound, negative effect on your health, your relationships, and your wellbeing.  I found that out the hard way when exhausted, overworked, and burned out, I fell down a flight of stairs on the way to a business meeting. I heard my neck crack and wondered if I’d ever walk again. The emergency room brought a stark reality into focus – I was miserable. I had no life. It was time to stop tolerating unhappiness and start living!

How did I go from just surviving to thriving in my career? Here’s 5 steps I took, and you can too:

  1. Decide. There is great power in letting go of what is no longer benefitting you. Deciding to release what’s in your way opens the door for what’s next to show up.

“Everyone has been called for some particular work and the desire for that work has been put in his or her heart.” – Rumi

  1. Find Your Purpose. Each of us is born with a distinct set of talents and gifts with a special role to play and a unique contribution to make. Knowing your purpose shows where you fit. It helps you understand where you don’t. One of the quickest and easiest ways to discover your purpose is with the unbiased guidance and support of a career coach.
  2. Align With What You Were Born to Do. You can’t help but live out your unique design. The problem arises when you’re doing what you are designed to do in a job, or a place, that doesn’t resonate with who you are. If you’re at odds with something — a boss, a co-worker, your company’s mission, work that takes away from living the life you really want, or a lack of recognition for what you contribute — you’re out of alignment with who you are. Doing work that is in alignment with who you are, brings ease, joy, a sense of meaning and accomplishment.
  3. Be Open. Giving up what you think you “should do,” or going against what a well-meaning parent or teacher told you to do, isn’t easy. For fulfillment, meaning, and motivation, let go of who you thought you should be. Be who you are.
  4. Take Action. Once you’re clear that it’s time to find the right job, synergies and opportunities will line up to support your intention to fulfill your purpose. Inspired action will lead you to the next step and the next one. Before you know it, you’ll be thriving in your job and life because you’re doing what you were born to do.

Linda Hardenstein, MPA, PCC, coaches professionals to find their purpose and authentic careers to have more meaningful lives. Contact her at linda@lindahardenstein.com.

© Linda Hardenstein, 2018

Asking for Recommendations and References: How to Not Annoy People

Asking for recommendations, letters of reference, or listing someone on as a reference in your job search can be awkward. Whatever type, your first step is  not asking whether that person will write (or provide) you a strong recommendation, it is asking if they are comfortable writing/providing a STRONG recommendation.  A luke-warm recommendation is the last thing you want!

In terms of written letters of recommendation, graduate programs may ask if they are “sealed.” In other words, if you are aware of the letter’s contents.  If this is an option, take it.  The program/school will most likely weigh the letter more heavily if it’s confidential and most recommendation writers will provide you a copy anyway.  In most cases, you will not need “sealed” letters and you will receive the letter directly and see it’s contents allowing you to assess the strength of their case.

Here are some tips for navigating the world of recommendation request and reference lists:

1.  Communicate.  Give them all the details they need to make their life easier – and put it all in one place. You may even want to set up a 15 minute meeting or call to go over your request.

  • What type of recommendation or reference (grad school, promotion, award nomination, job search, etc.) are you asking for?
  • What are the parameters (how long, what format, how and when should it be submitted)?
  • If you are asking to list them as a reference for an employer tell them a bit about the employer and the position to which you are applying. Also ask the contact information that is best to list.

2.  Give enough notice.  There is nothing more annoying than a last minute request for a letter of reference. Provide at least 2-4 weeks lead time to the author to ensure they have enough time to write you a strong recommendation. [Note: professors who are asked to write multiple letters every year may need even more lead time.] If listing someone as a reference definitely give them a heads up BEFORE they get a call from a potential employer.

3.  Provide context. Give them the whole story so they can talk about you from multiple perspectives.

  • What type of organization/company/school are you applying to and why? For example, let them know what type of graduate program you are applying to and why that particular program so they can incorporate that into their letter.  If you are applying for a volunteer or board position or award, give them the background on your qualifications and the organization’s mission.
  • What aspects of your personal/professional background are you hoping they can focus on?
  • Provide any corresponding documents (personal statement, resume, cover letter, etc).

4.  Make them diverse.  Think about who will resonate most with that employer/organization. Do you know anyone who currently works there or who has worked there in the past?  Do you “know someone who knows someone” in a significant role at that organization?  Whether you are providing a list of references or packet of recommendations, be sure to include a variety of perspectives.  Employers will definitely want to speak with someone who has managed you directly. If that is your current manager that is great, but that isn’t always possible.  Graduate school programs will most likely want to hear from a former professor.  Professors, colleagues, managers, mentors, and advocates are all potential references.

5.  Say thank you.  The only thing more annoying than not enough notice is not being thanked for writing a letter.   A handwritten note is always a nice touch (or homemade cookies!).

6.  Keep in touch.   Let them know the outcome!  They are now invested in your search.

7.  Ask more people than you need.  You never know if something will come up and one of your references/recommendations will not come through by the deadline.  Having an extra also allows you the luxury of picking the best of the bunch.

We want to know: do you write recommendations and have tips to add to the list?