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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Follow Your Instincts to Find Passion

Guest Post by: Christy Steele (C’06)

What was your favorite activity as a child? What was easy for you? These might sound like frivolous questions, but consider for a moment what truly brought you joy. Was it finding frogs in the pond? Drawing with colored pencils? Banging on the drums in music class? Solving math problems? The answers to these questions can reveal valuable information that will help you build a meaningful and fulfilling career.

As an artist and producer in the media industry, I have taken many left turns and woven multiple interests and skills into my work. I pursued my love of photography after college and found a job working as a photographic coordinator at National Geographic Magazine. I worked with world-renowned photographers, learned from experienced photo editors, and discovered that I have a passion for visual storytelling. Since leaving National Geographic, I have directed photo shoots for Science Magazine, worked on documentaries and television series for Smithsonian Channel, Animal Planet and Travel Channel, created videos and websites for individuals and small businesses, completed a post-baccalaureate pre-medical program, and acted on stage and in films.

Each time I make a decision about leaving a job or working with a new company, I try to determine whether I will feel fulfilled and engaged if I take the opportunity. Here are four guiding principles that I use when making decisions.

Ask what brings you alive.

If you can’t remember what excited you as a child, simply list activities that you love doing. This can include caring for a pet, organizing dinner parties, traveling, baking, or watching movies. As you consider all of the activities that bring you joy and satisfaction, you will begin to see common threads. Steven Spielberg once said “the hardest thing to listen to, your instincts, your human personal intuition, always whispers, it never shouts. Every day of your life you have to be ready to hear what whispers in your ear.” When you start incorporating the activities into your life that bring you joy, your soul will begin “whisper” to you.

Have a mission!

When you choose to follow your instincts and pursue the things you love, it may not lead you down a straight path. When you encounter uncharted territory, your personal mission statement will become your guiding compass. As Tony Robbins suggests, “If you have a big enough why, you can figure out how to do anything.” If you have a strong enough reason for wanting to get a new job, move to a new country, or start your own company, it will be harder for obstacles and setbacks to stop you.

Ask lots of questions.

Talk to as many people as possible who share your passions. Also talk to people who are passionate about their work even if their work does not align with your interests. Passion is contagious, and these conversations will inspire you and give you ideas. People love to talk about what brings them alive, so let them! These conversations will help you put your own interests, skills, experiences and passions into a greater context. They will also help you make meaningful connections. Through my documentary film series, Uncovering Passion, I put this practice into action by talking to dozens of people who love their work. I created short documentary films with some of these people and published them at uncoveringpassion.com.

Create space for great insights!

In order to identify what brings you alive and hear the “whispers,” you must cultivate a sense of peace and quiet in your body and mind. The best way to start doing this is to simply focus on your breath for a few moments every day. There are simple and powerful energy and breathing techniques like Emotional Freedom Techniques (also called “tapping”) and Presence Process that can help you reduce stress in your body and deal with negative emotions. But any activity like taking a walk, doing yoga, or putting your bare feet on the earth is a great start.

Follow your instincts and trust yourself. While your passions may not instantly translate into a successful job or career, following these principles will open doors and make life more fulfilling.

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

Back to the Grind: Making Your Post-Vacation Transition Easier

It’s summer. And hopefully all of you will be able to get away for a bit to relax and rejuvenate. Bonus points if you’re able to REALLY check out and not be on email the entire time!  While you may be relaxed and rested, all good things must come to an end and the return to the office is inevitable.  Here are a few tips to help make the transition back to work at least a bit less painful!

1. Create a to-do list and leave it on your desk before you head out.
There’s nothing worse than forgetting what you were even working on before you left the office.  Make yourself some notes right before you head out the door so you can at least reorient yourself when you get back in to the office.

2.  To check email or not check email: That is the question.
Some people argue that just checking out of work totally is the only way to really get a break and rejuvenate. Others say that in today’s tech savvy world that’s not an option.  I go for the hybrid approach where I check email twice a day, delete anything that is irrelevant or junk and respond to any fires. Other than that I’ll get back to you when I return to the office.  If I go through things throughout my vacation I find I’m less overwhelmed by an overflowing inbox when I get back.

3. Don’t schedule meetings the morning you get back!
I’ve done it and it’s the worst. Who wants a 9 am meeting on a Monday much less a Monday after vacation? It may sound like a great idea when you’re heading out of the office on a Friday looking forward to 7 days and 2 tickets to paradise but, trust me, you’re not going to feel as motivated when you are sporting your tan at the water cooler instead of beach side.

4.  Have a day at home before you head back into the office.
A day to catch up on laundry, unpack, and get situated can help make the first day at work a bit less painful.

5. Schedule lunch.
Ease into your first day back by scheduling lunch with a colleague that you need to catch up with.  Combination of work + fun is ideal. Plus, you probably won’t have too much food in your fridge.

6. Work on your favorite projects first.
Which parts of your job do you love the most? What are your pet projects? Work on those to help get your head back in the game.

How do you manage your vacations and transition back into the office?  Any tips to share?  We want to hear! In the meantime, happy summer Hoyas!

 

image source: officelols.blogspot.com

The Wonder of Wunderlist

The Alumni Career Services team recently decided that we have too many to-do lists: some on nicely laid out agendas and printed out lists, some on post its, some in our email tasks, even some on the proverbial back of the napkin.  And the lists are all encompassing: immediate action items, things not to forget, ideas for the future, articles to read… I’m a big believer in process and we definitely needed a process.

A facebook friend mentioned that her husband’s company was using Wunderlist and she would get updates from him on household to-do’s and the latest need from the grocery store. Intrigued, I checked it out. And now I am obsessed.

Wunderlist allows you mange all of your post-its, napkins, papers, and e-lists in one place. It’s simple in its concept and interface but also has organizational capabilities that, let’s face it, post-its can’t provide.  Even better, it allows us to communicate as a team around tasks and action items, interesting things or people we come across, etc, so it becomes part of our shared and collective “brain.”

1.  Create multiple to-do lists for work or for home.  With the growth of technology, our work and home lives are continuing to merge. Why not have one system for both?  I’ve told the ACS staff specifically that they can use this tool to keep track of their grocery list, fitness goals, books to read – whatever is helpful to them personally in addition to professionally.

2. Create shared lists.  I share lists with each staff member so that we can communicate quick to-do’s or topics to discuss at our next meeting.

3. Assign tasks. Similar to creating shared lists, you can assign tasks to staff members.

4. Assign due dates. What’s a good to-do item without a due date associated with it?

5. Create sub-tasks. As with most if not all professionals, one to-do is actually about 10!  Keep track of each of the pieces of a project via sub-tasks associated with it.

6. Add notes. Remind yourself of context or special instructions that accompany a task.

7.  Email directly to your to-do list. This is probably my favorite feature. It saves things from dropping so far down my in my inbox that I forget to follow up. It also saves me from emailing little to-do’s to my staff – I just add to our shared Wunderlist.

8.  Access from anywhere.   Wunderlist syncs across your devices – phone, ipad, and computer.

9.  Filter  your lists.  Either view by category, starred, or today’s to do’s to help you prioritize your day!

There is a free version of Wunderlist in addition to a pro and “for business” subscription that have nominal annual fees associated with them and some enhanced capabilities.  Check it out: www.wunderlist.com

Using Wunderlist already? Let us know what features you like best and how maximize the tool!

 

 

Building Relationships At Work

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As smart, strategic, and successful as you may be, often times getting things done is all about relationships: who you know, who you work with, who you can trust, and who you can rely on.  Building successful relationships at work is critical to your success. The bottom line is that if people like you and respect you they will be more likely to want to work with you.  If they want to work with you, you will be more likely to get things done. In a nutshell, it comes down to being likeable.

Being “likeable” has seemingly taken on bad connotations in the workplace… that you can’t be powerful or a leader if you are too nice… But being likeable in the workplace has nothing to with being too nice and everything to do with being respected, smart, fair, and a functioning contributor to the organization.  And being nice too can’t hurt.

Being likeable doesn’t have to mean that you are always in a good mood, that you don’t have high expectations, that you agree with colleagues 100% of the time.  Perhaps we should re-define likeable in the workplace to be respected, smart, fair, and a functioning contributor to the organization.   Likewise, being successful or powerful doesn’t have to mean that you are cold, distant, and aggressive.

And being likeable means that if disagreement does occur, it is less likely to derail progress and goals.

So, the questions become:
How can you balance being likeable with pushing forward on your priorities?
How can you say no or disagree but still be maintain critical relationships in the workplace?
How can you create relationships that further your team and organizational goals?

1. Build your brand
Be aware of, and continue to build your personal brand in the workplace. What are you known for? How would colleagues describe you?  Are you known for building bridges? Being innovative?  Diligent? High level strategist or detail focused? Once you start to understand your current brand (go ahead, ask your colleagues!), you can begin to either tweak, change, or build your brand. Check out this ACS webinar on the subject.  Having a great personal brand in the workplace can create a solid foundation for building relationships.

2.  Check in and reach out
Even if you don’t have a project that interfaces directly with specific colleagues at that moment, chances are you will in the future so keep those relationships alive and well in the mean time. If you see an article that may be of interest to them, pass it along… If they are in the midst of hiring on their team, keep your network in mind… Celebrate their successes even if they have nothing to do with your team… Send them a quick note to say hello.

3.  Use humor as a bridge builder
Diffuse tense situations when appropriate with a bit of humor. Not a stand up comedian? That’s okay… At least be willing to laugh along with those who are!

4.  Have perspective taking skills
We often get so wrapped up in our own projects, priorities, and deadlines that we forget to actually hear and digest what people are saying – both overtly and subtly.  Are they in the midst of a high pressure project? Understaffed? Dealing with personal issues? Who are their key stakeholders and how do they differ from yours? Understanding the various perspectives at the table helps make things feel less personal if there is disagreement. Understand how your role fits in with the overall organization (and in relationship to other teams).

6.  Honesty is the best policy
Instead of beating around the bush with colleagues, give them your perspective up front. If you own your perspective up front and overtly acknowledge the fact that theirs may be slightly different, you move the conversation into compromise and discussion as opposed to defense.

7.  Get to know colleagues outside of work
While everyone is busy and has multiple commitments outside of the office, taking advantage of office social gatherings – whether that is eating lunch together or or going to the occasional happy hour, is important to your relationship building.

8.  Don’t burn bridges
As infuriating as colleagues can be, in a world that is all about who you know it’s never a good idea to burn bridges. Networks among people in an industry and/or employer can be strong – don’t underestimate them.

At the end of the day, you may not always make decisions in the workplace that make everyone happy. Colleagues may disagree with you, they may even adamantly disagree with you. But if your colleagues respect and trust you, it will make it that much easier to swallow.

 

More Than Just Salary: Job Benefits to Consider


Negotiating your job offer is about more than just salary.  In order to truly understand your total compensation and bottom line in your bank account here are a few things to consider:

1.  Retirement Benefits
How much does the company contribute and how? Is it a pension or 401k plan?  Do you need to wait to be vested or does it start when you begin employment?

2. Health Care  
What plans are offered and how much is covered by the employer? Are your current doctors included in their plan? You may also want to inquire as to when health care benefits kick in (and when your former employer’s stop). For example, if your former benefits end on the last day of your previous job but your new benefits don’t begin until the 1st of the month after you start the new position this may be something to consider when negotiating start dates.  If you are NOT planning on utilizing the company health care plans because your spouse/partner covers you, you may be able to use this as leverage for a higher starting salary.

3. Flexibility 
In some cases flexibility is just as important as salary. Inquire as to whether the employer offers the opportunity to flex your hours or work from home. Some employers even offer the ability to work 4 10-hour days in lieu of 5, 8-hour days.

5. Transportation Reimbursement
Does the employer cover a portion of your commuting cost –  for example, subway fare or parking? Do they offer the opportunity to purchase these things pre-tax? If they do not cover these costs, what will your commuting expenses be compared to your previous employer?

6. Tuition Remission
Inquire as to whether the employer offers tuition remission and, if so, what the policies are. Things to consider:

  • How much do they cover and for what types of programs?
  • How long do you need to be with the company or organization before you can take advantage of this program?
  • Are there requirements as to low long must you stay once you complete the program?
  • Are there grade requirements?
  • Are you reimbursed for tuition after successful completion of the semester or does the employer pay up front?
  • Are there other options for paid professional development?
  • Are spouses or dependents eligible for tuition remission?

7. Relocation Reimbursement
Some companies will provide a stipend to cover moving costs. Can’t hurt to ask!

8. Vacation and Sick Leave
How much vacation and/or sick leave are you given as a new employee? Does it increase with time? Is it accrued? What are the standard set of company holidays?

9. Technology
Will the company/organization provide you with a lap top, IPhone, and/or IPad or reimburse you for service fees if you use your own? The little things add up!

10. Maternity/Paternity Leave Policies
Even if you aren’t considering a family in the immediate future, if you are considering a family at all this is a worthwhile policy to consider.  FMLA laws in that state will also play a role so look into your state’s policies.

11. Miscellaneous Perks
Depending on the employer they may have other interesting perks. For example, some private schools offer employees free lunch (again, it adds up!) or tuition remission for dependents. Other organizations offer paid time for volunteer activities, company cars, discounted gym memberships, discounted or on-site child care, even bringing your pet to work!

12. Profit Sharing or Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOP)
ESOPsprofit sharing plans, and stock bonus plans all differ as vehicles for employee ownership and, depending on the company, this may be a consideration. 

13. Signing Bonus
If the salary is outside your desired range but you would like to consider the offer seriously, see if you can negotiate a one-time signing bonus with the company.  Since that money would not compound, it may be a one time cost that the company is willing to put forth in order to get you on board.   If a signing bonus isn’t an option, consider negotiating for a 6 month review with opportunity for a pay increase at that time.

Image source: www.social-hire.com