Getting Your Head Around Supervising–Episode #6 | Misreading Employees

“How do good supervisors get a correct read on their employees?” That’s the questions I left you with at the end of Episode #5.

Supervisors tend to draw all kinds of conclusions about their employees based upon behaviors they see and words they hear from afar.

As a result, they run the risk of forming mistaken, often negative, perceptions that certain employees are:

  • A problem
  • Negative or difficult
  • Resistant or lazy
  • Weak links

In fact, those same employees may simply:

  • Misunderstand or misconstrue expectations
  • Lack self-confidence
  • Fear making mistakes, looking stupid, or having weak skills exposed
  • Feel unaccepted by or inferior to coworkers

Faulty perceptions, if allowed to continue, are a disservice to the employee, the team, and ultimately the supervisor.

Warning: Seeming is not reality.

The perceptions supervisors form about their employees are rarely a fully accurate picture.

Uncertainty about what affects employee attitudes and behaviors unnerves even the most experienced supervisor. Why? Because every employee is different.

The best way to get a correct first read on each of your employees is through face-to-face conversations on a whole range of subjects starting with whether or not he likes the job, how she thinks she’s performing, how accepted he feels by his peers, and what kind of support is needed from you.

Situational observations are a next approach. Now that you have a baseline read on your employees from those conversations, what you see in the course of work getting done will have a more accurate foundation.

When business direction, policy, or work group changes are announced or implemented, watch how your employees handle it. Do they act differently toward you or coworkers? Is their work output better or worse? Is their demeanor more positive, negative, or unchanged?

When you see unwanted changes in an employee, it’s time to follow up directly with him or her to understand the cause and redirect behavior.

By creating a comfort level for employees around sharing concerns and issues with you, you’ll get better information and make fewer perception mistakes.

Remain clear-eyed.

You don’t get a clear-eyed read on your employees by using yourself as the barometer. Everyone is not like you.

Just because you may not care that your manager rolls his eyes when he doesn’t like your new idea, don’t assume that’s how your employee, Glenda, will react when she sees your baby blues spin around in their sockets.

When your employees come to you with input, take them seriously and respond professionally. Avoid being glib, impatient, or dismissive at all costs.

Don’t misread busyness for productivity. Too many supervisors confuse employee activity as signs that the right work is getting done when it might not be.

No supervisor wants to get snowed by their employees. It’s a mistake to take what employees say about the status of their work or the intent of their behavior at face value.

When your employees are uncertain about performance expectations, boundaries, and professional conduct, they will fill in the blanks on their own.

Consequently, you need to have professional conversations with your employees about their productivity, work quality, and on-the-job behavior to form correct perceptions about them and to help them become successful.

Stay engaged.

Supervisors will avoid misreading employees by staying engaged through Skype video calls with employees in distant locations and through local in-person meetings. There’s no substitute for talking eyeball-to-eyeball.

This doesn’t mean you won’t fall into a misread or two, but that will be the exception and not the rule.

The impact and consequences of a misread can be significant. So every supervisor needs to be able to repair a wrong. Building a history of demonstrated respect can be essential to making things right.

So, how does a history of showing respect toward employees help a supervisor minimize the damage of employee perception mistakes? We’ll tackle that in Episode #7.

 

Looking for the Key to Success? Start with Appreciation. | Pharrell Knows.

Achieving success is a mystery.

When we don’t have it, we often want something or someone to blame:

  • Parents who weren’t supportive
  • Life in a bad neighborhood
  • Boring teachers who didn’t motivate us
  • A bad job market or a go-nowhere job
  • Schmoozer coworkers who get the promotions

If only…if only…so sad, right?

Your and my success aren’t about anyone else but you and me. It starts with us, no matter what the circumstances.

The key to success is putting yourself in its way

by taking action and showing appreciation for

everyone who takes an interest in you

no matter how large or small.

You just have to start with small steps and a willingness take a turn when the road splits.

 It’s the little things.

We’re not entitled to the kind of success we want. We may achieve all of it, some of it, or very little of it.

The problem is: We often don’t really know what we’re after. We may know we love sports or music or business and that we want to pursue it, but we usually have no idea how any of that interest will turn into success.

Most successful people stumble into it. Forget about those who get the family business handed over to them. This is about those of us who start at the bottom and try to work our way to that place of success where we want to be.

Your definition of success needs to be yours alone. It’s not about what your parents, your friends, or the media sell you about success.

For some it’s about money and material things. For others it’s peer recognition by an accomplished craftsman, artist, educator, or care-giver. It’s painfully easy to define your own success by the measures of others, something that can derail a career that will truly make you happy.

It’s the path to success that befuddles most of us. There is no achieving success alone. It takes connecting with good people, successful in their own fields, who have a genuine interest in lifting you up.

The key to your success is focusing on and developing your talents, finding those good people, and appreciating, every day, the significance of their part in the trajectory of your success.

Happy is…

Pharrell Williams, American singer-songwriter, record producer, and musician, has been successful behind the scenes for years until his song, “Happy,” hit the airways with him as the singer. It catapulted him into major celebrity.

Although Pharrell is a musical talent in his genre, his life and rise to fame are representative of how small steps, humility and appreciation matter.

Pharrell was interviewed on the CBS Sunday Morning program (April 13, 2014) where he explains how his success “story is the average story” of a kid whose mother was a teacher and his father a handyman. It included a few special people who took an interest in him, even though he was a C and D student in high school and deeply into music, especially rap.

He never forgets his appreciation for those who noticed him and wanted to give him an outlet:

Take all my band teachers out of [my life], where would I be?

About the reason for his current success, he adds:

For me…if the people don’t upload my music there is no success….I’ve been hoisted up by others….I just did the song and other people bought it.

And about what it all means, he adds: “What else do I have but to be appreciative.” The stars aligned for me. “A kite doesn’t fly without the air.”

Your story

You have your own career path before you, ready to be mapped.

Pharrell explains there are lots of great song writers, musicians, and producers around, just like him, who aren’t being heard. That doesn’t mean they aren’t successful.

Success is about the mark you make, big or small. The people you touch, the good you do, the difference you make, and the way you fill your own heart. Appreciation and humility underpin the kind of success that can deliver something worthwhile.

 

 

As a Product of Your Choices, How Are You Doing? |The Behavior Gap

Our lives and our careers are products of our choices, the ones we make from reason ExpectationsRealityand those made emotionally. Sometimes we even make choices unconsciously.

No matter our method, the results become our property.

We generally make better choices when we’re well informed and free of fear. Bridging those two helps us master our behavior gap.

Who’s in your ear?

There’s a lot of noise out there. Much of it raises expectations. We want a good job that pays well so we can buy stuff, grow wealth, advance, run with the “right” crowd, and feel successful.

That noise influences our wants and pushes us in the direction of the crowd. Sometimes it drowns out our vision of  the career and life style we want. It can negate our dreams, convince us to replace them, and send us someplace that promises more than it delivers.

So choosing isn’t always easy, especially when we’re tempted to link the reasons for our choices to what experts, social media, and talking heads say is the way to go.

beharior gap 41vTID0CztL__SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Carl Richards makes this point when he introduces the concept of the behavior gap in his book, The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money. Richards is a certified financial planner, but his book, although focused on issues around financial decision-making, is about how we make choices.

As I see it, for every gaff we make with our money, we fall into similar traps with career, relationship, and self-management decisions. So as you read his book, it’s no stretch to take the insights well beyond the financial.

Today every “expert”  has a viewpoint and an outlet to express it. Advice about the best career strategy, the best way to manage your money, or how to live your best life is given and shared– and shared again and again–until it sounds like an absolute.

Richards writes:

“…the sheer quantity of information makes it virtually impossible to sift through all the noise…and find the stuff that actually matters. Worse, we’re losing our ability to distinguish between the two. What matters? What’s just noise?

Take control.

The struggle is fighting the fear of missing out (FOMO) and of being wrong. Listening to the noise doesn’t remedy either.

We are products of our choices. We can listen to all those voices and become paralyzed or reckless. Or we can listen to ourselves.

Richards cuts through the clutter with concepts about financial choice-making that zeros in on what we need to do:

“…make decisions that are in tune with reality, with your goals, and with your values.

He reminds us that we can only control what we can control. That does not include what’s going on in China or on Wall  Street or in the government. He reminds us that we all control two fundamental things: working hard to earn a living, saving as much as we can, and making wise decision about how we invest our money.

Richards writes:

Our deepest instincts (if we listen to them) will tell us that money doesn’t mean anything: it’s simply a tool to reach our goals…By goals I mean stuff that matters to you.

From my perspective, achieving your goals means developing your skills, adding value to your job, building positive workplace relationships, and taking advantage of the right opportunities for growth when they present themselves.

A good start is to get in touch with what you value as part of a good life and assess every career choice against it. Listen to your inner voice when faced with a choice and don’t ignore what you hear. Every time I did, I ended up burning myself with a wrong-footed choice.

The behavior gap

Your behavior is within your control, so you need to own it throughout your life and particularly as you steer your career. Reason and emotion are often at odds with each other, challenging your choice-making.

Whether the choices you face are about finances or career options, there is awareness, relief, and even comfort to be found in Richards’ book.

 

 

The Gift of Encouragement—How Generous Are You?

One day you’re setting the world on fire and the next you feel like a complete loser. It seems to happen so fast.   

  • Your old boss loved your work; the new one not so much.
  • You used to navigate software effortlessly; now the new system has scuttled your productivity.
  • The work team once looked to you for leadership, now there’s a new member they’re following. 

You’re not alone. It happens to all of us. 

Perspective matters. 

We’re often our own worst critic, setting expectations for ourselves that are, perhaps, higher than is reasonable. Why? Because we want to: 

  • Excel over others or test our limits
  • Chase rewards like performance ratings, raises, or promotions
  • Measure up to what we’re told is our potential
  • Exceed our prior levels of performance 

These are pressures we create and/or accept for ourselves. This pressure leads to stress that can affect our performance, taking our self-confidence with it. 

The key to a successful career is to avoid the downward spiral of eroding self-confidence. The sorry truth is that you can kill your own self-confidence through negative self-talk, but it’s highly unlikely that you can restore it by giving yourself a pep talk. 

Encouragement as gift 

The beauty of encouragement is that you can re-gift it openly and should. You don’t need to give it back to the person who gave it to you, but you do need to be ready to give it when someone else needs it. 

Lest you think that encouragement really isn’t that important, consider what these two highly successful people have to say. 

Jim Furyk, professional golfer and 2010 PGA Tour Player of the Year, recently played in the 2011 President’s Cup, a tournament that pits a select team of U.S. golfers against an international team. Furyk won all five of his matches, a rare and totally unexpected feat. You see Furyk had just come off, quite possibly, his worst year on the tour. 

Here’s how he summed up his surprising success:

I enjoy the team atmosphere, and knowing Phil [Mickelson] for as many years as I have … I’m guessing he asked to play with me, because …I struggled so much this year and played poorly, probably the worst of anybody that’s sitting up here right now.

So knowing him for as long as I have, being good friends, I assume that he asked to play with me because he felt like he could get a lot out of me this week; that maybe he could help me and pump some confidence into me and get me playing well, and he did that.

You see, we give the gift of encouragement by what we do, not just by what we say, although they can go hand in hand.

Michelle Williams, the actress who plays Marilyn Monroe in the new film, “My Week with Marilyn,” was asked by the Today Show’s, Ann Curry where she got the courage to take on such a daunting role.

…in the beginning I just tried to ignore the risk because I thought if I really contemplated it, it would only stand in my way. 

You could say she wagered her self-confidence on her ability to succeed in that role. But Michelle revealed something else in an earlier interview with Mo Rocca on CBS’s Sunday Morning:

A lot of the time I feel like– I feel like I’m living hand to mouth on people’s compliments. I don’t ask anybody, like, ‘What did you think of that scene?’ or, ‘How did it go?’ or blah, blah, blah, because I get addicted to positive affirmation… There’s just so much uncertainty when you’re making your work, doing your job….

In all, we need credible compliments that encourage us, people to stand by us when we struggle, and the insights of others to help erase our doubt and replace it with optimism.

Give generously 

Encouragement builds on itself. The more we give, the more we attract. We need to make giving it a habit, our way to lift others up. In the process we’ll see our own situations in a brighter light. Please encourage generously.

Photo from lie_inourgraves via Flickr

First Impressions—What’s Behind Them? | The Making of Brand Identity

We all know the adage: “You only have one chance to make a first impression.”

The first things we say or do in the company of a recruiter, hiring manager, new boss, coworkers, and customers trigger what they initially think about us. And it sticks.

First impressions are about expectations.

The problem with first impressions is that we don’t always know what’s expected at first meeting. Consequently, what we give off is likely a reflection of what we’re really about.

People reveal a great deal about themselves without even knowing it.

A first impression shows us either an authentic or an artificial self. Our challenge is to figure out what we’re actually seeing.

When we do that effectively, we’re more likely to enter into business relationships that will turn out well. When we don’t, we may get burned along the way.

What do you see? 

I’ve had some memorable first impression moments that were particularly revealing. I’ve categorize each by the personal brand label that I attached at the time. I never had reason to change any of them. What do you see? (I’ve changed the names.)

Ego-centered bully—I met Charlie, the guidance counselor, after I backed into his motorcycle. I’d just finished my job interview at a local high school where I was parked, with two other cars, in a small front lot. It was August.

After the interview I was preoccupied with my thoughts while walking to my car. When I started to back out of the space, I felt something against my rear bumper. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw handle bars falling to the side.

It turns out that I had unknowingly parked in Charlie’s space. To “show me,” he parked his bike with its front tire against my bumper. When I reported the incident to the principal who interviewed me, I was introduced to Charlie, who proceeded to, now verbally, “make his point,” as absurd as it was to me under the circumstances. Right then, I had his brand identity pegged. That was important since I got the job.

Caring professional—Carla wanted to grow her professional practice and  hired me to help her develop a marketing strategy and also focus her employees around her values.

We met at her kitchen table and talked about possible approaches like presentations to professional groups, advertising, public events, networking, and activities for existing clients. We also covered incentives for employees, roundtable discussions, and training.

Everything Carla accepted or rejected was about her clients first. Would the initiative make them feel more or less a part of her practice’s community? Would it make Carla more or less available to serve them? Would it mean the staff would be more connected with clients or not? Carla has never wavered from her values, truly her brand identity. 

Phony manipulator—Brent was a manager in charge of the customer service department’s interface with the IT department. His role was to define system needs and project-manage implementation. I was his new manager. He’d been passed over for the job.

Our first meeting was an opportunity for him to provide an overview of existing and pending projects and for me to “get educated” about his function. He spoke to me in acronyms, vagaries, and system jargon. When I asked about the status of deliverables, priorities, and resources in business terms, Brent’s answers were evasive.

It was clear to me from the get-go that Brent had no handle on the work but knew how to cover that up. His intention was to keep me befuddled, avoid accountability, and manipulate all the players. His first impression with me was consistent with what others told me later. Others had his brand number too.

What’s your experience?

What do you think your first impression is? Is it or isn’t it working for you?

Who has made a lasting first impression on you? What was behind it?

First impressions aren’t trivial things. They are a window into our natures. We can improve them or ignore them. That’s an important choice and our long-term brand identity is built on it.

Photo from Stephan Modry via Flickr

Disappointment Got You Down? Dig In. Bounce Back.

Things don’t always go our way at work. Sometimes it’s because we haven’t: 

  • Mastered all the skills we need
  • Performed well at the right time
  • Solidified our support system
  • Been realistic about our readiness

That leaves us open to disappointment when we don’t:

  • Get hired for a job we really want
  • Promoted to a position when we believe we’re the best candidate
  • Hear our name mentioned as a key project contributor
  • Get included in issues discussions around our areas of expertise

These letdowns make us feel like we’ve fallen short.  So we:

  • Berate ourselves with a pile of negatives that make us feel worse
  • Let our performance decline by slowing our pace, losing our creative energy, and allowing our drive to wane
  • Give up putting ourselves “out there” for future opportunities
  • Ignore the lessons about what we can do better and how we can bounce back

Everyone gets discouraged. 

We often forget that everyone gets smacked with disappointment. Some hide it well and others make a drama out of it.

The big lesson is that disappointment is the cause of performance decline. Successful people don’t let that decline hang around very long.

Professional sports let you see, literally, how disappointment hurts performance:

I’ve heard Patrick McEnroe, ESPN commentator and former U.S. Davis Cup Team captain, report that losing the first set in tennis often causes a temporary lowering of player performance.

Some professional golfers who have blown leads in major championships fail to make the cut at their next tournament.

Basketball players who miss key shots at the end of tight games will often pass the ball rather than shoot in subsequent games.

It’s about attitude and confidence.

Winners know how to manage disappointment and preserve their confidence. They quickly come to terms with disappointing situations by putting them in perspective. They:

  • Analyze the contributing factors—their knowledge, skill, experience, the environment, situational politics, and/or relationships
  • Examine their choices—what they did and said, their timing, strategy, and plan
  • Consider their expectations—how realistic were they, how appropriate,  how egoistic, and how balanced
  • Weigh the results—how important are they in the short and long-term, what are the implications on their careers, what will it take to get another opportunity

We tend to give our disappointments bigger significance than they deserve. We feed ourselves negative lines like:

  • I’ll never get another shot at that job.
  • I blew that promotion interview, so that hiring manager will never consider me again.
  • I must not have what it takes to succeed in this company.

For some reason, we think we have the inside track on why things aren’t going our way. If that’s you, then here’s your next step:

Ask your boss or HR or your mentor or a trusted coworker what the real issue is. 

Believe it or not, sometimes our expectations aren’t met because of business situations that we simply don’t know about. Things don’t always have to do with us.

In our careers, we can only control what we can control, and that’s our performance. 

You can’t allow your disappointment to cause your productivity to decline, your creativity to slump, or your attitude to darken.

The people in your organization who disappoint you know it. They don’t like it any better than you do. That’s just how things happen in business and in life.

But they do watch how you bounce back from it. Showcasing your can-do, will-do, want-to-do attitude in the face of disappointment is a sign of what you’re made of.

Athletes complete the game no matter how far behind they are. That’s what the crowd pays to see—not quitters who walk off the field of play.

Our employers hire us to work in good times and bad. They expect us to stay in the game with them.

There’s no pride in giving up or beating yourself up when things aren’t working out your way. Instead, show your bounce.

Photo from CJ Isherwood via Flickr

When You’re Guessing, Say So! | Leadership Honesty

Finally! It’s your break-through assignment—the chance to lead a project that breaks new ground.

Leadership alert!  Find out whether that ground is hard or soft, rocky or sandy, dangerous or solid before you go too far. Figuratively speaking, you’re now the company’s excavator. Time to get fitted for your hard hat!

Everyone’s counting on you! 

New initiatives come with high expectations. There’s often a lot of hype and eagerness around a new effort but shaky consensus about:

  • Scope—how big or small it will be
  • Resources—the money, personnel, and time to be invested
  • Impacts—the effects it will have, both positive and negative, over time
  • Deliverables—the reports, analyses, communication, and products
  • Roll out—when the effort will be completed and implemented 

Once you’re designated project leader, all eyes are on you. You will likely start out assembling an in-house team. You may get to hire independent contractors or collaborate with experts within your industry or in higher ed. Every one you assemble is counting on you to lead the way.

The hard realities 

Getting selected to lead a new project team is a major opportunity to demonstrate your capabilities. It broadens your visibility and expands your brand. So you don’t want to blow this!

There’s pressure because it’s a “new” initiative. No one has led a project like this before. There have been other new projects, but not with the parameters you’re expected to meet.

That means you’re on foreign ground. No one knows exactly how this project needs to be done. You can ask advice from others, but ultimately you have to figure out what to do.

This can be a lonely and unnerving spot to be in. 

What’s a Project Leader to do? 

Provide structure, first. Then provide process. That’s the surest way to keep your team going in the right direction and your eye on what is and isn’t getting done.

This is what you need:

  • A “charter” for the project that is approved by whomever is senior to you, stating the scope, owner (you’re the leader), expected outcomes, your decision-making authority, budget, and deadlines
  • A detailed action plan with specific accountabilities for each team member and deadlines
  • A budget and system for tracking expenditures
  • A reporting mechanism for the team and you to use that keeps the project owner and/or company at large informed 

Everything on a project, however, won’t go according to plan. Things get messy and uncertain.

Draw on your team and your honesty

If you pretend you know what to do (when you don’t), then give a directive and are wrong, you will lose the confidence of your team and boss.

This is what has worked for me at a crossroads:

  • Meet with your team and/or the owner of the project.
  • Summarize the options/choices on the table.
  • Describe the “what if” scenarios you’ve considered
  • Ask for their input
  • State the course of action that you have decided is best.
  • Ask once more for input and then act. 

I have always told both my teams and my boss, when it comes to complex new initiatives, that ”I’m making this up as I go along.” I say this because it’s honest, helps manage the expectations of the team, and motivates everyone to do their best to make things work.

Embrace calculated risk-taking

Breaking new ground means developing something that never existed before. No one knows how it will turn out. It’s the tried and true business best practices that help us find our way.

That’s why our business fitness is so important. The seven smart moves give us the insights and the relationships we need face uncertainties and keep moving ahead with confidence, even when we’re unsure! Now fire up that backhoe!

What missteps have you seen that have affected a new project/program? What should have been done? I always love your comments!