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





What’ll It Be? Truth or Lies? | Feedback as Career Currency

Are you tough enough for American Idol style feedback? I wish I were, but know I’m not. Applause and praise are what we want. Booing and criticism are not.  Truth is, the route to success takes us down both paths.

Eat up all your feedback. It’ll make you strong.

Successful people gobble up all the feedback they can get. Sometimes it’ll be negative feedback—criticism directed at their faults and shortcomings. Other times, it’s positive—praise for accomplishments and talents. They’ll take it all.

Without feedback, we can’t get better. So why, do we: Avoid it? Resist it? Contest it?

Because it’s scary. It’s likely to expose truths that we may not want to face or unsettle our fragile self-confidence.

The good news about feedback 

It’s simply information. The more specific it is to us and the situations we’re in, the more useful it is.

It’s ours to accept or reject. We’re the ones who process it, assess its validity, and apply what makes sense.

It’s alive! Feedback is a function of how we interact with others and perform at our jobs. Negative feedback one day can become positive feedback the next.

It’s also ours to give. We can even provide feedback on the feedback we’re being given—the content, the style, and the relevance.

It’s evidence. Feedback reveals the realities of our work environment—standards of behavior and performance, attitudes of bosses and co-workers, and the culture of our companies.

The bad news: All feedback is not created equal! 

The only feedback worth taking is delivered by good people. I mean people that we respect, who hold themselves and us to high standards, who are fair, balanced, and knowledgeable. It’s their feedback that can help us become more successful.

Feedback given from people who wish to demean, insult, ridicule, weaken, or control us is to be rejected.

The power of feedback is granted by us. Although some feedback may be hard to swallow because it forces us to take an honest look at what we’re doing, it should not be hurtful.

The best feedback is constructive and empowering. It gives you specific things to do, change, watch, master, and practice and a way to measure how well you’re doing.

How it works—No lies, Pinocchio! 

1. Years ago when I was teaching English, I gave a student a “C” for one quarter. She started sobbing. Her parents came to complain, expecting me to raise her grade. I explained that it made more sense to give her honest feedback on her writing now rather than wait for her to flunk freshmen comp on their dime. After all, I let my students rewrite every paper after I’d graded it, recording only the better grade. Her parents backed off. She worked harder and improved.

2. There was man in my department who had been second in command before I came on as manager. For years he had been responsible for the preparation of IT proposals that were all but incomprehensible. I gave him feedback and collaborative assistance. He refused to accept it despite the objective data. He was both unwilling and unable to see beyond his own reality. His career stalled and he retired early.

3. I had to face the hard truth myself as a corporate manager responsible for an organization of nearly 500. The managers kept coming to me with their problems, expecting me to propose  solutions. I was overwhelmed to exhaustion. One of the VP’s gave me a tough “behind the woodshed” talk about holding people accountable and not owning their problems. I listened, chewing on my lip pretty hard to keep from crying, and got the message. It saved me.

Open up and let the feedback in 

Our careers thrive when we get the right feedback at the right time by the right people. Asking for feedback is the best way to build your business fitness. Be specific. Say, “I would like your feedback on my work? How can I do better?” Honest feedback is money. When you get it, invest it immediately in yourself, and watch your returns go wild!

What’s the best or worst feedback you’ve ever gotten? What happened in the end? I’ve bet you’ve got some good stories!

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.

Managers Who Don’t Manage | Taking Issue

Fear of employees. Way too many managers have a case of it. From what I can see, it’s highly contagious. That’s the issue. 

Businesses hire managers to make sure the right work gets done in the right way. Managers don’t actually do the work (usually), their employees do. So, the manager’s job is to set direction and clear the way. 

Problem: Too many managers don’t manage.  Guess they’re just too scared. 

It’s epidemic. The good managers need to do something about it. 

The good ones see it: Managers who won’t step up to the plate and fix things. They just sit back and expect their employees to figure out which fires to douse. When the business results don’t come, those managers look for someone to blame. It’s never them. 

From what I’ve seen, poor manager’s: 

  • Have weak management skills and work to cover them up (Fear of discovery)
  • Nurture an inflated view of their position (Bosses gotta keep their distance)
  • Won’t confront problems and make changes (Fear of failure or backlash)
  • Can’t deal with employee problems, feedback, or disagreement (Fear of confrontation) 

So what do they do? Nothing…or maybe something which actually turns out to be nothing. 

Most everyone knows the managers who are afraid to deal with their employees. 

Here are the signs: 

  • Employees who don’t pull their weight are tolerated.
  • Those who don’t want to make mandated changes to the way they do their work don’t have to.
  • Every employee gets at least a satisfactory performance rating, regardless
  • All communication is done by memo, especially the sticky stuff
  • Work processes and people problems are never resolved
  • Complainers routinely get their way 

I’ve seen way too much of this in businesses, large and small. To be honest it really irritates me. The unwillingness of those managers, who should be leaders, to stand for fairness, quality work, employee growth, and high standards shows a gross lack of personal courage. 

So why do so many managers stay at arms length from their employees?  

They can’t or won’t connect. They are averse to building a professional relationship with employees. They have no idea how to motivate, engage, and support the people who work for them, the very people who can make or break their own success.

 Instead, they isolate themselves by staying in their offices, issuing direction by writ, and using others to deliver uncomfortable messages. 

They miss the reward of seeing an individual or team develop, succeed, and grow. Their own misconceptions of what a manager should be stand in their way.

Sadly, many of these managers fear discovery of their own deficiencies. 

I once managed a great group of employees who functioned as internal training consultants in a Fortune 500. 

One afternoon, one of my employees asked to see me after an unsettling meeting she’d just had with a key manager, her fourth meeting without any progress. 

When she confronted the manager about his resistance to training, he told her, “If I offer management training to my group, they will all know what a bad manager I am.” 

My guess is they already knew. 

Here’s the sad truth for all managers. 

Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman from the The Gallup Organization wrote the bestseller, First, Break All the Rules, a study of over 80,000 managers in 400 companies. One of their findings was that “…people leave managers, not companies.” 

When you have turnover in your business, either by exodus or transfer, you need know why. There are plenty of reasons why employees move on and why you’d want them to. But, if you want a high performing business that delivers great results year after year, a cadre of courageous, employee-focused, business fit managers will get you there. It’s a big part of a winning strategy. 

What do you think contributes to managers “fearing” their employees? What makes the courageous ones stand out?    

Want an Enviable Personal Brand? | Do the Right Things

The paparazzi are following you. Well, not exactly. Truth is: We are always in someone’s line of sight. They see, they interpret, they judge. 

Our personal brand is always in the making.  

No matter who we are or what we’re doing, someone is drawing conclusions about us. That’s how our personal brands are formed. I learned this once the hard way. 

When I was a kid, I took a few horseback riding lessons and was hooked. I had to wait until I was 30 to take my next lessons. At 38, I bought my first horse. 

Danny was a retired race horse, decorated show horse, and seventeen. He knew a lot more about being ridden well than I did about riding. 

Two months after I’d gotten Danny, my instructor took us to our first show. It was a cold, damp February day. We were entered in classes where the jumps were no higher than 2 ½ feet. 

Here’s the chain of events:  

Danny and I come into the ring. We make a circle to build up a little speed and head for the first jump. As the rider, it’s my job to stay in the saddle until just before the horse lifts off. 

Well, my timing wasn’t the best, and I move off his back too early. Smart old, Danny thinks, “Hey, where is she?” 

Because he’s unsure, he stops short and sends me flying though the air, head first over the fence. Splat! 

I’m now lying in oily turf completely disoriented with Danny quietly watching me. My trainer rushes out, dusts me off, hoists me back into the saddle, and I try again. 

The arena is starting to fill up. Everyone loves a crash. 

I tap Danny with my crop to get his attention. Around we go again. First fence,good. Second fence, good. Third fence…I got excited. Lifted off early. Became a human canon ball again! Thud. Wow, that landing felt harder than the first. 

Out comes my trainer. In come more spectators. I’m spitting turf. It’s also in my boots. Back up into the saddle. Around again. Fence four…made it. Fence 5…yes! Fence 6…I’m again aero-rider. Whomp! 

By now I can barely get up. I’m so sore. (It’s been a five foot fall each time.) I no longer have my bearings but I had to get back on. The arena is jammed with people. I ride one more jump. And then I pull up. 

I smile and wave to the crowd. They applaud. Of course, I feel humiliated. 

Now, they’re ready to award the ribbons. Clearly, no ribbon for me. But I hear my number called over the loud speaker. 

So I limp back into the arena and see the ring steward approaching me carrying a cupcake. 

The announcer says, “We’re giving this rider a good sportsmanship award for her courage and for not taking it out on her horse when things went wrong.” 

I was stunned and overwhelmed. It was a powerful lesson about what others see in what we do. The announcer reinforced the standards of proper competitive behavior and made sure the spectators got the message. 

Just for the record, Danny and I returned the following month and won our classes. After one of them, a young rider came up to me and said, “Aren’t you the lady that kept falling off last month?” Everyone remembers! 

A good reputation is a brand calling card that opens many doors. 

It can get you a job interview, a new customer, a bank loan, a date with someone special, and life-changing opportunities. It’s a key to being business fit. 

Today, more than ever, we really don’t know when someone is watching. Cell phones and security cameras have increased the odds. But we know whether or not we’re doing the right thing. Like the old adage says, “If you wouldn’t do what you’re intending to do with someone watching, don’t do it.” 

Do you have an experience that has helped build or protect your personal brand? Got any advice to go with it?

Like Trump: We All Get To Hire and Fire | Your Life Is Your Business

(If you’d like a chance to win a copy of my book, Business Fitness: The Power to Succeed—Your Way, here’s how: 1.)  comment on this post and 2.) suggest a topic for a future post. Decision time: Feb. 5, 2010. The best submission gets a copy of the book. I’ll also do this with 4 future blogs to increase your odds! Good luck.) 

There’s a lot of grousing out there about hiring. So when it’s our turn to hire, you’d think we’d be really good at it. 

After all, we’re hiring people all the time. Yes, hiring people to work for us. Our life is our business, remember? 

From the time we start living on our own, we’re hiring. Mostly, we hire temps or independent contractors. 

So, who are we hiring?  

  • Personal service providers—hair stylists, manicurists, fitness trainers
  • Home maintenance folks—grass mowers, plumbers, electricians,
  • Finance and legal eagles—CPAs, insurance agents, attorneys
  • Health and wellness pros—physicians, dentists, message therapists

When it’s your time to hire, what’s your process?  

If you’re like most people, you don’t have much process at all. Your steps probably include: 

  • Asking a friend or family member for a referral
  • Going on line or looking in the yellow pages
  • Posting what you need to your social network  

Usually, we end up with the names of one or two people. We contact them and the first available person gets our business. 

When we hire services for ourselves, we generally don’t use a systematic process like businesses do. That can be a problem. 

When we’re clear about what we want, we’ll make a good hire. 

I once hired a man to save my old barn from falling off its foundation. He was referred to me by my friends at the feed mill who had used him often.

My hiring process for this construction work was very clear. I asked him about: 

  • his prior experience and his plan for this job
  • the size and skills of his crew
  • the estimated time-to-complete and cost   

The result was a work-for-hire that met everyone’s expectations. 

When that job was done, I asked if he would take down a couple old pine trees. He said, “Sure,” and I left it at that. 

I came home from work one afternoon to find him trying to cut those trees down by hand. Why? Because his chainsaw broke. The job had taken him all day. His bill was an outrageous surprise! I never used him again. So, he was fired! 

Lesson learned: I hired smartly the first time and like a dope the second. 

Too often, we don’t take our personal hires very seriously. 

Why? Because we think we’ll just get someone else if they don’t work out. The reality is that we tend not to “fire” them. 

I once had an ophthalmologist who was extremely well-trained and competent but dismissive when I asked questions. I stayed with her for 8 years because it was too much trouble to switch. 

Then her staff made two disturbing gaffs that she “blew off” when I questioned them. It was time: “Fired.”. 

When we live with our bad hires, it costs us frustration, stress, and money. Since our life is our business, we need to avoid those costs to be successful. 

Here are some tried-and-true steps for your personal hiring process:

  • Prepare a list of skills and traits, like trustworthiness, quality, reliability, and availability, that are your “must-haves”
  • Ask for and check references from people who had a job done like yours
  • Have a direct conversation beforehand about how the work, billing, and communication will be done  
  • If you have any reservations, walk away—and find someone else    

The hiring you do in your personal life is not easy. But when you do it right, your business fitness quotient goes way up. Good luck! 

By now you’ve figured out that “Your Life Is Your Business” is a series of posts  to help you manage your own life successfully. Do you have a topic to suggest for a future post? Also add a comment to win a copy of my book.