Ahead of the Curve or Behind the Eight Ball? | Averting Criticism

8-ball 3779658241_bc1e517a8c_mCriticism lies in wait for us at work. Sometimes we can anticipate it and sometimes not.

Most of us learn to live with a few doses of negative feedback, especially when we have the opportunity to rebound.

Averting criticism that has the potential to be truly damaging, though, takes savvy.

 Protect what matters.

We each have a personal, career brand to protect so we can keep moving forward. Our bosses have one too plus the reputation of their work groups. Leaders need to protect the brand integrity of their organizations to remain competitive and viable.

Unfair, relentless, and ruthless criticism can turn your good efforts into ashes.

Consider the potential criticism leveled at a supervisor who:

  • hires or promotes an employee who steals, bullies, or lies
  • decides to absorb another work group and then releases excess employees
  • makes downsizing decisions that  cause employees to lose their jobs
  • replace fully functional equipment or technology with new ones

Everyone affected by those changes, whether directly or indirectly, is a critic in waiting. If the move is successful, they will likely be quiet. If not, watch for incoming!

There’s no reason to be a sitting duck when the potential for criticism is in your path. Going on the offensive, most often, is your best strategy.

You don’t make decisions in a vacuum. There are good reasons to act and risks too. You are ahead of the curve when you anticipate criticism and behind the eight ball if you don’t.

Keep your head out of the sand.

I recently facilitated the annual board retreat of a small non-profit facing the stepping down of four board members, including the president and vice president, both of whom were founders.

These officers were beloved, dedicated, and capable, having led the organization with warmth and strength for eight years. They were to remain as committee volunteers but it was time for new leadership.

The original board of ten would now be down to six, with two becoming new leaders. This was an unsettling time, focused mostly on internal matters. But what about the critics.

The board needed to consider what their constituencies would think and say about this major shift. How would it impact membership, sponsors, donors, partnerships with other organizations, and confidence in their sustainability? These are the questions that once answered and acted on would avert, though not eliminate, significant criticism.

The board decided on some key actions:

  • put together the messaging around these changes
  • prepare the slate of nominees for election at the upcoming annual meeting; arrange for mentoring by the exiting officers
  • develop a Power Point presentation for the annual meeting outlining past achievements, ongoing and new projects
  • write a press release for the announcements
  • arrange to meet with key allies to answer questions and strengthen relationships

Not only will this work strengthen their brand in the marketplace, it will raise the confidence of the board members and provide the messaging needed to expand its membership.

 Averting criticism

You avert criticism by defusing the arguments of your critics:

  • Provide the details of your story (transparency) before misconceptions are devised
  • Talk about your good work and successes as a foundation for your decisions
  • Anticipate and address potentially damaging issues when you see them
  • Address legitimate concerns; reinforce your intentions, purpose, mission, objectives, and positive actions
  • Be upfront and out-front, affirming the standards and values that support your position
  • Build a coalition of supporters who have your back and are willing to say so

By getting ahead of an issue, you empower yourself.

These steps also help if you’ve:

  • experienced a decline in your performance
  • violated a company rule or policy
  • mishandled a customer or vendor problem
  • damaged company equipment or software

Whether you’re an employee, supervisor, manager, or executive, managing your career progress means anticipating criticism, whether deserved or not, and then averting it.

So do you best to get ahead of the curve and watch your value rise.

Photo by lel4nd via Photoree





8 Ways to Boost Likeability at Work. Who’s Clicking on Your Button?

Like it or not, we’re living in a world of “like, ” or sometimes the dreaded “unlike.”like 4301042126_5c1c4ac6c4_m

“Liking” on social media, company websites, and blogs has become an obsession by many to:

  • Feel affirmed by people known or unknown
  • Become part of a community of other “likers”
  • Support “like” requestors, whether we really do or not

Most people want to be liked. I know I do. The reality, though, is that not all the people like us all the time, particularly at work. There’s no “like” button to click there, only our behavior, to create and sustain our likeability.

Likeability counts.

It’s a behavior that affects your ability to do your job well. When coworkers like you, they want to:

  • Serve on a team with you
  • Help you out on an assignment
  • Tip you off when there’s trouble ahead
  • Cover your workload when you’re out

When your boss likes you, s/he may:

  • Communicate with you easily (and there are a host of benefits in that)
  • Cut you slack when you’re struggling
  • See your work through a positive lens
  • Consider you for advancement or plum assignments

The challenge is to earn our likeability stripes in the right way. It’s a big mistake to confuse likeability with popularity.

So avoid:

  • Trying to be the office fashion plate or iron man
  • Spreading gossip or engaging in too much social conversation
  • Being the office comedian, socialite, or center of attention
  • Schmoozing the boss with your cleverness and charm

To be likeable at work means bringing a positive spirit to the job you and your coworkers are doing together.

What it takes

We aren’t all liked for the same attributes. Just look around and you’ll see coworkers with very different approaches and personalities,most of whom you like in varying degrees. I suspect they look at you in the same way.

Our likeability is not about cloning; it’s about connecting.  Our careers are built and grown through behaviors that attract a following of colleagues at every level. That’s one of the smart moves of business fitness.

These eight likeability behavior groups matter at work. They become part of your brand. Start by assessing how many you already demonstrate daily. Then consider embracing them all:

  1. A positive, optimistic, upside-seeing attitude every day, especially during tough times
  2. Emotional balance and steadiness; a total avoidance of drama
  3. Courtesy, respectfulness, and kindness, even when you’re angry or upset
  4. Trustworthiness, honesty, and accountability, particularly when you’ve erred
  5. A communicative, pleasant tone of voice and body language during disagreements, explanations, and feedback
  6. Expressed gratitude for support , recognition, and kindness
  7. Good humor, acknowledgement of others, and appreciation
  8. Value-added contributions that help coworkers and the team perform effectively

Not everyone at work will like you, but you can make it difficult for them to dislike you if you demonstrate these eight behaviors.

It’s important for you to see yourself in the grand scheme of things. You have multiple audiences who are watching you:

  • Your boss and his/her bosses
  • Your cube mates, crew members, or shift team
  • The support staff
  • Contacts in other departments
  • Customers and suppliers

These audiences have different backgrounds and expectations. Trying to fit in is often untenable and/or exhausting. Spare yourself the agony.

Be the likeable you.

It’s important to bring your best self to work every day, consistently and predictably. Being liked is about how you connect with others around you. There’s no reason to make it complicated. Instead zero in on the eight behavior groups and nurture the most likeable you.

Photo by Babbletrish via Photoree




The Ever-Ready Exit Strategy—Your Career’s Best Friend

Jobs aren’t forever anymore. That’s a reality we often try to forget when we (finally) get hired.   

No matter how great our careers are going, things will eventually change and us too. The shine will come off our jobs, the company, our boss, and/or our coworkers. 

When our careers are moving along well, we’re energized. When they’re not, we start looking behind us. 

Time’s up. 

Getting a job is one thing and keeping it another. We tend to invest significant thought and energy in both. 

Like it or not, the time will come when the party’s over and very few have a strategy to deal with that. 

We tend to think of exit strategies as actions a company or entrepreneur takes “to transition one’s ownership of a company…[or] devise ways of recouping the capital they have invested….”  

Well, that’s you: Your life is your business and you’re the sole proprietor. That means your job is your source of capital, something that you need to protect and build. No time like the present, then, to develop an exit strategy to implement when you need it. 

When it’s time to walk… 

Change is both predictable and unpredictable, so we need to be ready to act prudently and strategically when conditions present themselves, like when: 

A line has been crossed—You’ve reached your limit of unfair treatment, broken promises, excessive workload, or disrespect

You’re motivationally bankrupt—Disappointment, negative or no feedback, ever-shifting direction, and disengagement have sapped your energy.

You’ve drawn the short straw—The last-in and first-out formula puts you out the door, or a work assignment that’s detestable is forced on you.

You wake up—The moment of discovery that you’re in the wrong career hits you like a surprise party when it isn’t your birthday.

The perfect job comes along—An opportunity lands in your lap that you never expected, perhaps in another line of work or industry, but it’s tailor made for you. 

I’m sure you can think of other situations that are calls for “exit action.” Often there’s not much time to make decisions or act, so prior preparation is all. 

Be ready…. 

Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to get prepared. Consider these seven steps: 

  1. Stay solvent—Be smart about your money by living within your means, knowing what you can live without, and keeping some liquid asset near at hand.
  2. Create fall back positions—Set up some realistic, money-producing options just in case, like some freelance work, part-time work outlets, or a hobby business.
  3. Don’t burn bridges—Keep your emotions under control and face situations like a grown up, recognizing that we don’t always get what we want and understanding that word about you will travel fast.
  4. Keep tabs—Your records are important assets, so keep them up to date, including contact info for people in your network, the results you achieved in your jobs, and organizational resources you can tap.
  5. Be respectful—When it’s time to go, let your decision be known through the chain of command, avoiding drama. Remember you don’t want to be famous for leaving, but respected and respectful.
  6. Send the right message—Express your reasons in a big picture context, recognizing the positives from your job and acknowledging the factors that didn’t match your expectations. Use clear and calm language.
  7. Protect your brand—Your reputation and image follow you everywhere, both as you enter and as you leave a company. Take a marketer’s approach to your leaving by rising above negative issues and by showing gratitude for the positives.

Keeping it together 

A workable exit strategy is about mindset and practical positioning. The more you can accept the likelihood that you will eventually make a career change, the more you will look at your work as a gateway to another career phase. 

Change is a good thing. It keeps us moving when we may be getting too comfortable. We just need to be ready to make a gracious exit that will neatly open the next door. 

Photo from jm3 via Flickr


The Curse of Unshakable Labels—Overcoming Career Blots

“If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t doing anything” is a leadership tenet that promotes innovation, risk-taking, continuous improvement, and decision-making. 

It’s a way to motivate employees, overcome fear of failure, and promote creativity. 

However, there’s an unstated caveat even in the most enlightened companies: “Some mistakes are unacceptable, even intolerable.” 

There’s a line we can’t cross and if we do, the mark on us is indelible. 

The dreaded line 

We make mistakes for lots of reasons: 

  • Lack of knowledge (Inputting the wrong code)
  • Inattentiveness or carelessness (Forgetting to notify the board)
  • Misdirected loyalties and confidence (Revealing confidential information)
  • Confusion and chance (Misspeaking to the media) 

Saying or doing the wrong thing has its consequences. Some are insignificant, some problematic, and some unshakable. 

It’s only after our gaff that we know its effect on our career brand.  The way we find out is often by how people refer to us as a matter of description or introduction: 

“You know who ____ is. S/he’s the one who: 

  • Lied about….
  • Couldn’t do the job
  • Went ballistic/threw a punch
  • Dressed like a bum/floozy
  • Lost that big account
  • Couldn’t handle the pressure” 

Once our mistakes become legend, they are hard to bury.

The case of Amanda Knox 

The impact of negative branding will be the forever challenge for Amanda Knox, first charged, sentenced, and then exonerated for the horrific murder of her roommate in Perugia, Italy. 

Amanda spent four years in an Italian prison for a crime, it was ultimately proven, she and her boyfriend did not commit. Her saga is a frightful one and some will never believe she didn’t commit this awful crime. (A third party has been convicted in the killing and is in jail.) 

From the outset, Amanda was the target of negative labels, particularly in the Italian press. She was called: 

  • “the monster of Perugia”
  • “foxy knoxy” (a former childhood nickname that resurfaced in the press)
  • “she-devil” 

Henry Chu, from the Tribune Newspapers, wrote: 

“For the past four years, Amanda Knox…has been the focus of breathless debate of whether she was a calculating, remorseless vixen…or the helpless victim of a character assassination and a botched police investigation in a foreign land.” 

This dichotomy of perception will likely follow Amanda for her lifetime. She’ll give her name and people will ask, “Are you that Amanda Knox?” And she will need to reply. 

Overcoming “those” labels 

Sometimes we deserve the negative labels we get and sometimes we don’t. They become part of our brand either way. 

You can point to lots of prominent people who have had career blots to overcome like former President Bill Clinton for his dalliances; Elton John for his drug and alcohol excesses, and Martha Stewart for insider trading. 

Our individual brands have their own unique reach. For some it’s global or national. For others it’s state or local. For us it may be within our company or circle.

Counteracting those labels isn’t easy but doable with effort. We fix negatives with positives, Big Positives. 

The good things we do need to overshadow the mistake(s) we’ve made. They need to be bigger and more memorable. They need to take the place of the negative story. 

Bill Clinton heads his global initiative, doing high impact work worldwide. Elton John raises boatloads of money to combat AIDS. Martha Stewart drives her business straight through those old negatives. 

Amanda Knox will have to do something too, something more than a book or a movie. She’s only 24 years old and faced with global notoriety she surely isn’t ready for. What she does next to overcome the blot on her reputation will be a challenging case in brand management. 

Guard your brand 

Your brand is your reputation and you’re its keeper. It’s tempting to think it takes care of itself, but that would be reckless. 

Our brands can be negatively affected without our knowing it, particularly through social media. So now’s the time to take special care of something that will take care of you and your career for a long time. 

Photo by deeleea via Flickr

Career Alert: “Your Employer Brands You. Take It or Leave It.”

Companies are credentials. Who we work for says a lot about us. Just ask any resume screener or hiring manager. 

This reality adds to the job search and career building pressures that are already intense enough. No one ever said this career success thing was going to be easy. 

What’s in a name? 

Here’s how it happens: Organizations have their own identities. They are defined by the mission, decisions, and performance of the leadership. 

The marketplace sees organizations as though they are people, judging them based on their conduct. 

When an insurance company is notoriously slow paying its claims, they may be branded as insensitive, unreliable, or ineffective. That can stick to us. 

When a manufacturing company is known to donate money and free up employees to volunteer for community service, we’re part of that brand whether we volunteer or not. 

The old adage even applies when it comes to your employer: “You’re judged by the company you keep.” 

The choice is yours. 

We can choose to work for well-regarded companies or questionable ones. I know these are desperate times and finding a job is difficult. 

But, each time we say, “yes” to an employer, we’re entering into a unique relationship. We agree to perform the work they want in exchange for the salary and benefits they pay. 

Every company operates based on its values. That’s what drives its decision-making. Values attract certain kinds of customers and investors, suppliers and employees. 

Values are words like: quality, reliability, accountability, cooperation, integrity, service, innovation, and safety. 

When organizations deliver on their values, they are held in high regard. (It doesn’t matter how large or small they are.) When they don’t, they get a black eye and share it with you, their employee. 

It’s easy to tell ourselves that we’ll just keep our heads down, do our work, and go home, so we don’t get tangled up in all this. But at some point, we know whether or not what’s going on around us is compatible with the person we are. Protecting our personal/professional brand is essential to our successful career. 

Sit on the right shoulders

There is enormous benefit to your brand when you work for a well-respected organization, large or small. Here are a few: 

No apologies required: When asked where you work, your answer is met with positive reactions to what the organization does and your part in its success.

Requests for information: People consider you a credible voice who can help them connect with the right resources and/or put their concerns or questions in perspective.

Access to influencers: Simply being employed by well-respected companies makes it easier to be heard at community meetings, gain access to politicians, and  meet with other business leaders.

Invitations to represent: Good companies are sought after and need employee representatives, like you, to serve on non-profit boards, to attend local fund-raisers, and to speak to community groups.

Opportunities to grow: Everyone loves a winner. When you work for a successful company, their success rubs off on you, expanding your credentials by proximity. As more doors open to you, your brand expands. So you may find yourself asked to attend a special meeting for an executive, participate on an industry research project, or write and publish a paper. 

When I asked Nichola D. Gutgold, PhD, associate professor of communications arts and sciences atPenn State University, about how she was able to gain access to so many powerful women in government, media, and the Supreme Court for her books, she told me: 

“To have Penn State Universityas my employer is a huge asset. In many ways, I stand on PSU’s shoulders and that opens doors. My academic credentials also have weight.” 

Give credit 

The resources and the reach of our companies propel their brands. We draw on both to expand our own brands. 

Our organizations aren’t perfect and neither are we, but together we can help each other to be better. 

You know when you’re working for the right organization. Its shoulders give you the lift you need to reach great heights. Steady now! 

Phote from nedrichards via Flickr

What’s the Word on You? | Reputation as Career Stalker

We’ve all heard lead off questions like these, “Did you know that: 

  • The candidate you’re interviewing is a big partier? Just look at his Facebook page.
  • The customer service supervisor stood up for her employees being criticized by the marketing department?
  • No one working at SAS ever wants to leave? The working conditions there are fabulous.
  • You can always count on Alicia and Mark to help you, even when they’re swamped?” 

What’s being said about you? 

We’ve been building our reputations for years. We’re all legendary for something that we’ve done or failed to do. 

In business parlance, it’s about personal brand-building. People describe us, label us, and categorize us so they know what to do about us when we cross their paths. 

We’re all positioned to take charge of our reputations and manage them.

 If we don’t know what’s being said about us, we don’t know what to enhance and what to fix. When it comes to our careers, there are plenty of signs when our reputations aren’t the best: 

  • Reference letters we request are weak or not provided
  • Our performance reviews are lackluster, especially on the behavioral side
  • No one asks us for input or seeks our association
  • Opportunity is slow in coming or ends in disappointment 

Everyone weighs-in all the time about what they believe we stand for—our peers, supervisors, customers, and even suppliers. We’re all someone’s paparazzo and they ours. Their truth is often just what they see. 

Own it! 

Building a reputation to be proud of requires our attention, commitment, and discipline. It’s a reflection of things we value most and live by: 

  • Our principles—like not looking the other way in the face of wrong
  • Code of conduct—like not being rude or abusive when we’re poked
  • Integrity—like not cheating, lying, or ignoring the rules
  • Productivity—always giving your best effort and then some
  • Appearance—presenting yourself as a professional, no matter what your job 

Like it or not, each of these leaves impressions that stick and accumulate. 

I’m sure you remember kids from high school whom you thought were untrustworthy, bullying, caring, high achieving, or enthusiastic. 

When you go back to a reunion, don’t those memories come back before you replace them? 

Sometimes it’s not a reunion but a business encounter that resurfaces our earlier reputations. 

I’d been a high school teacher for 10 years before switching to a business career. I was amazed when these events happened: 

  • I discovered that a supervisor in a call center I was managing had been a former student.
  • As a consultant, I was proposing services to a non-profit leadership staff when one of the managers gasped. She suddenly realized I’d been her teacher.
  • I got an e-mail from a woman who figured out after several “close encounters” and conversations about me with others that she was a student of mine while in another state. 

We were people who reconnected after more than 20 years. Because our shared reputations had been positive, we easily became champions for each other in our careers. 

Imagine how this might have turned out had we carried negative reputations. 

Protect your “self”! 

Who we are matters to others, so our reputations should matter to us.  If you don’t know how you’re regarded, ask people whose opinions you trust, not just people who’ll tell you what you want to hear. Talk to friends, coworkers, your boss, family members, and neighbors. 

When we know how what our reputations are, we can make the right changes and build on our strengths. 

That might mean reconsidering whom you affiliate with at work, how you act, what you say, the way you treat people, and how you respond to change. 

Please take time routinely for introspection. Decide how you want to be thought of. Make self-discovery a high priority. It’s the best gift you’ll ever give yourself. A great reputation has long-lasting, asset value, exactly what your career needs to grow.

Sizing You Up | Dependability Ratings Matter

Being there when expected. Stepping up when needed. Always delivering the goods. Dependability counts big time for getting a  job, a good performance appraisal, and a promotion.  So, are you? 

The way we perform is a measure of the standards we bring. 

Dependability showcases commitment. Are we as good as our word? When we agree to do job, will we give it our best no matter what the circumstances? This can be a big test. It sure was for me. 

A farmer friend of mine was in a pinch. He had about ten acres of alfalfa hay that needed to be baled one Saturday afternoon but had no help available. So I agreed to fill in even though I was no farm hand. 

At that time, I co-owned a three-year-old thoroughbred gelding that was being trained as a show horse. My partner, who trained him, came over that same morning to give him a light ride.

 It was a muggy, buggy, 90-degree day. The horse performed so nicely that the trainer suggested I hop on to get a feel for his easy gait. 

He was a big horse so I needed a leg up to mount. When I was in air, he shifted suddenly because the bugs were annoying him. Instead of landing in the saddle, I came down his rump. He bucked, flipped me in the air, and I landed face first on the ground. 

Although I was wearing a helmet, that didn’t cover my jaw or the rest of me. I heard my neck and back crunch at landing and knew I’d loosened some teeth. I lay there for about 15 long minutes before I could get up. 

My trainer friend was relieved when I was upright. So was I. But all I could think of was that hay laying.

After resting a bit, although I was unbelievably sore, off to the fields I went.

The farmer couldn’t understand at first why I was limping toward the tractor and baler. When I told him, I don’t think it registered. Ten acres of alfalfa that, if not baled at exactly the right time, are worthless. That was his priority.

 His job was to drive the machinery (there’s an art to that) and mine was to hook each bale off the chute and stack it five rows high on the wagon. It was a terribly hard and hot job for me, especially under the circumstances! But we got that crop baled at its peak, ensuring its market value. 

Dependability builds our brand and makes our value visible. 

Lots of people heard that story. It validated me among the hard working, career farmers whose world I was coming to know. It also taught me a lot about how important my “word” was to me. 

Everyone sees or hears about what we do, especially against difficult odds. It can become lore, dubbing some people heroic, angelic, or mythic.   

Think of the people you’ve heard of who: 

  • Never miss a day of work
  • Take assignments that are difficult or high risk
  • Speak up when there’s an injustice
  • Lend a hand to a colleague or customer who is struggling
  • Give up free time to cover a shift
  • Set personal challenges aside to get the job done   

If we can’t be counted on, we’ll soon be counted out. 

The backbone of any career strategy is to build a reputation of dependability. It can come with positive brand labels like selfless, dedicated, and team player. 

Being indispensable is a by-product of dependability, especially when you step forward to solve problems, create remedies, and anticipate issues before they become nightmares. 

When our resumes looks like we’re running from the law, our time off records like we’re a magnet for germs, or our performance appraisals like we’re asleep at our desks, it’s time to reexamine what we’re really committed to.

Business fitness is about being prepared and ready to move forward. Being ready is about being committed—dependable, reliable, trustworthy, and responsible. High standards are good reasons for you to feel proud. 

Have you ever had your dependability tested? How did it go? What did you learn? These moments can be eye-opening.