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Harness Employee Strengths Through Reverse Mentoring

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 08:00

Mentoring is often seen as a way for a young IT employee to gain knowledge from an older worker, but more companies find that setting up reverse mentoring programs can provide payoffs for every employee, no matter their age or rank. The key is making sure the program is structured so that the parameters and expectations are clear for everyone.

When older workers witness young IT employees making workplace gaffes like referring to the CEO as “dude,” they may shake their heads and sigh, knowing that the young employees have a lot to learn.

But when young IT employees watch older workers struggling to understand new technology, well, dude, they may shake their heads and think the same thing.

That’s why more employers are starting to explore reverse mentoring. At Mastercard, for example,  Chief Human Resource Officer Ron Garrow admits that while he’s not a technophobe, “I recognized that I had a lot to learn about operating in this new world.”

So Garrow, 51, began participating in the employer’s reciprocal mentoring program. He was partnered with 24-year-old Rebecca Kaufman who taught him how to use Twitter and get more out of professional networking sites. He says that Kaufman not only taught him how to better navigate online connections, but also gave him greater insight into younger consumers and how they are changing the industry.

Lois J. Zachary, director of the Center for Mentoring Excellence, says reverse mentoring allows a young IT person to gain exposure to a senior-level person, “and the senior-level person gets to learn something” from the young employee.

“Senior people benefit from learning what younger people are thinking about. This can help, for example, if they’re developing a new product. A senior-level person needs that input,” she says.

The young employee benefits from the “face time” with a senior employee, also allowing them to learn something such as better communication or organizational skills, she says.

Research shows that employees often learn more from one another than they do from formal training, but successful reverse mentoring programs should be structured and overseen by a human resources department, Zachary says.

She also encourages such programs to set expectations so everyone involved knows what will happen, in addition to providing a reminder that everyone should “be real.”

“Sometimes young employees will start doing a lot of posturing in these situations, starting to say what they believe senior people want to hear,” she says. “Older employees need to encourage them to be genuine.”

She adds that these groups may be brought together only for a specific purpose – such as evaluating a new product – but should not be looked upon as another focus group. “This is really more about give and get,” she says. “”The purpose of it is learning for both parties.”

Reverse mentoring became popular when Jack Welch, former General Electric chairman, ordered 500 top-level executives to connect with those below them to learn how to use the Internet. Even Welch was partnered with an employee in her 20s.

If you’re considering a reverse mentoring program for your IT people, here are some things to consider:

  • Acknowledge there will be bumps. If you decide to match Millennials with baby boomers, for example, there may be some preconceived notions. Baby boomers may believe that young workers are an “entitled generation” who aren’t willing to work hard and constantly want to be given a trophy. On the other hand, Millennials may believe that baby boomers are technologically inept and stuck in their old-fashioned ways. You’re going to need to address these issues and get all those involved to enter the arrangement with an open mind.
  • Be sure to stress the positives. One way to get participants to be more open to the idea is by outlining the benefits they will receive in their careers. All workers, no matter their age, want to feel valued. By improving their skills in various areas, this can assure them they will be even more valued by what they’ll bring to the table.
  • Choose participants carefully. It makes no sense to pair up people who are inflexible and aren’t open to learning something new, no matter their age. You want employees who have demonstrated a desire to learn, want to help their team and are interested in career development. At the same time, try to pair up those who have something to really offer the other person. If a senior person already seems to have mastered social media, for example, then maybe it’s best to pair him or her with a younger IT employee who can pass on more specific technology knowledge, such as working in the cloud.
  • Provide training.  To ensure an open and honest relationship, provide some training about how participants can best communicate their ideas or thoughts to their partner. Knowing what to expect will help alleviate any doubts or anxieties the participants may privately harbor.
  • Measure it. For a reverse mentoring program to thrive, it should be documented so that the benefits are clear, and any adjustments are made to the appropriate areas. It’s also important to set parameters such as how often – and where – partners will meet, and the desired outcomes.


The State of Project Management in 2014

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 07:30

The Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession is a global research study that examines the impact of the implementation of project, program and portfolio management. The “hot off the press” 2014 results show that in order to remain competitive, organizations must tie projects to strategy and place a primary focus on people, processes and outcomes.

Why are 44 percent of strategic initiatives unsuccessful? PMI’s Pulse research reveals the reason: just 42 percent of organizations report having high alignment of projects to organizational strategy. Furthermore, only 32 percent of organizations report that their projects are better aligned compared with those of a year ago.

Are you one of the agile few?

Organizations with high alignment of projects to strategy are significantly more likely to be highly agile (23 percent versus 5 percent), and agility is critical. Organizations with high organizational agility report not only more successful projects, but also more successful strategic initiatives (69 percent compared with 45 percent among organizations with low organizational agility).

Unfortunately, only 15 percent report high levels of organizational agility, suggesting that organizations are not prepared to adapt to shifts in today’s complex market environment and shifts in consumer demands and expectations.

[Are you Competing at Cloud Speed?]

An organization’s focus on agility and strategic alignment not only impacts the success of its highest priority initiatives, it also leads to better project performance overall. Eighty-nine percent of projects at high-performing organizations meet original goals and business intent, compared with just 36 percent at low-performing organizations.

Does your people mix drive high performance?

Organizations need to focus on the development and training of their talent in order to achieve superior project performance, successful strategic initiatives and become high performers. But talent management is a challenge, with two-thirds of organizations using outsourced or contract project managers and 26 percent of organizations planning to increase the percentage of project managers who are contracted or outsourced in 2014.

Effective integration of internal and external workforces is essential. According go the research, high-performing organizations are more than twice as likely as their low-performing counterparts to align talent management to organization strategy.

Do you leverage optimized PM processes to effectively manage change?

Two out of five organizations (40 percent) report that their effectiveness at organizational change management is higher compared to a year ago. Despite this, only one in five organizations reports highly effective change management.

The research reveals that organizations that are highly effective at change management are four times more likely to frequently use change management practices (94 percent compared with only 24 percent among organizations minimally effective).

Nearly one half (46 percent) of organizations don’t fully understand the value of project management. These organizations face a real risk to their success as significantly more strategic initiatives are successful when organizations “get” PM (63 percent versus 47 percent).

The percentage of organizations that report having a PMO remains flat at 69 percent. The use of standardized project management practices throughout the organization is also flat; today, only one-fourth of organizations report using these throughout the organization.

Do you understand how your projects positively impact the big picture?

Benefits realization is the practice of ensuring that the outcome of a project produces the projected benefits claimed in the business case. This is achieved through the establishment, measurement and communication of the expected benefits of an organization’s initiatives.

The Pulse research reveals that fewer than one in five (17 percent) organizations report high benefits realization maturity. High performers are nearly eight times more likely to be mature in their benefits realization processes. Organizations with benefits realization maturity see 73 percent of their strategic initiatives meeting original goals and business intent.


Get Over It – 10 Hard Truths We Still Can’t Accept

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 08:00

Many tough life lessons are first explained to us in childhood but seem to go in one ear and out the other. Our failure to master these often results in professional agida. 

As human beings, we tend to hold on to irrational ideas and fight against the inevitable.  Based on Eran Dror’s new book, here are 10 difficult truths we all must recognize and then take steps to get over. Warning: some of this might be hard to hear and even harder to digest.

You are going to die

Acknowledging life’s limited duration is good for us. It helps us focus on what matters and forget petty things. It can motivate us to make decisions and take calculated risks. It can make us better people: more self-aware and less self-involved. Cope better by asking yourself: what would I do differently if I only had a year to live? A month? A day?

Nothing is permanent

We are constantly looking for “happily ever after,” a contentment so stable that nothing could ever shake it. And then a friend moves away or our company closes its gates. What if we could accept that everything is subject to change and that both pleasant and unpleasant experiences will pass in time. Ask: do I tend to suffer in moments of great change? How can I find peace instead of desperation?

The future is uncertain

We agonize over a hoped-for promotion or the success of a business venture. But the future cannot be directly observed and is therefore impossible to predict.  Focus on what you do know and what you can do, and leave yourself open to adventure and discovery. Ask: have I ever experienced uncertainty as exciting or even beautiful?

The present is all you have

We obsess about the past and worry about the future and often forget to appreciate what’s right in front of us. But our whole lives are nothing but a string of present moments, so you must stop and pay attention. Ask: do I miss out on wonderful experiences in my life because I am too preoccupied with what’s already happened or what hasn’t yet happened?

You can’t do it all

We are beings of finite time, limited attention, and constrained resources. Accepting that you must be highly selective will teach you a lot about yourself and liberate you to focus on what you care about most. You simply can’t sample everything in the buffet of life, so take pride in saying no. Ask: do I feel overwhelmed by all of the commitments in my life?

There’s lots you don’t know

We cling to our ideas about the world, feeling insecure without them. We pretend we’re certain when we’re not, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Our society is enormously complex and offers limited information, and when we accept our present ignorance, we become more curious, creative, and rational. Ask: is there anything I wish I knew much more about?

You’ll never find yourself

We tend to think of ourselves as having fixed qualities and mistake those traits for who we are. But you are not an object, you’re a process. Negative traits can disappear and positive ones can unfold. Habits can be re-written, beliefs can be re-examined, and emotions can mature. Ask: am I always trying to become something other than what I am?

You’re not the best

We were trained to base our self-worth on comparisons with others. Life is not a competition and all that matters is your experience. Learn to evaluate yourself by a personally relevant standard: you should want to get better rather than get better THAN. Ask: do I feel badly when I don’t measure up to or surpass others?

You’re not special

It can be hard to accept that others don’t see or care about us with the same urgency as we do. They have their own priorities that must be taken into account in any negotiation. Understanding this will help you establish more meaningful connections with others instead of trying to manipulate them. Ask: do I find myself longing for more satisfying relationships?

Failure is an option

We lay down plans and come to depend on their successful execution. But when our neat plans clash with messy, complicated reality, guess what wins? People who achieve great things know that failure is the only way to learn many skills and solve most problems. You can’t make your life failure-proof, but you can learn from it and keep going. Ask: am I ever paralyzed by a fear of failure?

Which of these have you had the most trouble with? What have you done to overcome it?


3 Ways to Build Accountability On Your Team

Thu, 10/02/2014 - 08:00

If your staff is missing deadlines, not following through on work, not taking responsibility for mistakes, or simply not producing high-quality work, you’ve probably got an accountability problem. Here’s how to fix it.

1. Talk explicitly about your expectations – not just about what people do but also how they do it. Managers often make the mistake of having a whole set of expectations for how employees will behave but keeping that information to themselves – and then being frustrated or surprised when employees don’t act in accordance with those expectations, even though they never shared them. But unless you manage a team of mind readers, part of your job as a manager is to do the work of getting your team aligned with what you expect from them.

Some of this happens in the hiring process, of course – you screen for people who have a strong work ethic, take initiative, exercise ownership, and so forth. But a large amount of expectation-setting also needs to happen afterwards, as well. For instance, if you’ll get antsy if people aren’t responding to emails within a business day, tell them that. If your deadlines of “by the end of the day” really mean “by 5 p.m.,” be explicit about that. Whatever your expectations, get them out of your head and articulate them for your team. Otherwise, you’ll end up frustrated that people aren’t performing in the way that you want, and your team will end up frustrated that they’ll be held to standards they were never told about.

2. Give feedback when you see things you like and things you don’t like. Too often, managers keep their thoughts about employees to themselves. They’ll be impressed and delighted at how a staff member handles tricky clients – and might even praise her to others – but neglect to tell the staff member directly how great her approach is (or even better, specifics of what makes it so great). Or they’ll be annoyed that a staff member always turns in unpolished work, but never actually tell the employee, “When drafts come to me, they should be fully polished and ready for publication, which means no proofing errors and no fact-checking still left to be done.” That can lead to employees not feeling accountable for the types of things the manager would like them accountable for. Which leads us to…

3. Ensure that actions have consequences – both good and bad. If people feel like great work goes unrecognized, over time they’re less likely to continue going out of their way to do truly exceptional work. And if people feel like great work isn’t recognized but problems are always called out, people will wonder how it is that you always notice the bad without seeming to observe the good, and then you’ve got a recipe for plummeting morale on your hands. It’s important to ensure that you’re providing recognition and rewards when things go well, as well as consequences when they don’t.

And keep in mind that “consequences” for problematic performance doesn’t have to mean something formal, like a write-up or disciplinary action (and those things can often be overkill). Rather, a consequence can simply be a conversation with you, asking about what happened and what the plan is for avoiding it in the future. On a healthy staff, that should often be all the consequence you need to reinforce accountability and get things back on track. (Of course, there will be times when that doesn’t solve the problem, and then you’d escalate in seriousness from there – but that’s usually the right place to start.)

You may also like:
What to Do When Your Team is Missing Deadlines
Taking Responsibility for Mistakes at Work
Learn how to build accountability (as well as Focus, Simplicity and Transparency) on your teams to improve your business operations and project success, with Gordon Tredgold, October 8.


Patra Corp Moves Outsourcing to the Cloud

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 13:35

Fast and Agile – Competing at Cloud Speed

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 07:30

How to Team-Build – Without Trust Falls or Lengthy Off-Sites

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 08:00

When we hear about team-building, it’s often in the form of cringe-inducing exercises like trust falls, athletic events like rope-climbing that many people dread, or other practices that can easily cross over into violating people’s comfort and even dignity. (Read about 10 of the worst team-building exercises we’ve heard of here.) So what are you to do if you’re a manager looking for a way to build a sense of team on your staff?

First, ask yourself whether team-building is really what’s necessary. Managers sometimes turn to team-building to fix communication, cooperation, or morale problems, but it’s rarely the right solution for those kinds of challenges. Those types of problems usually require a solution at the management and systemic level; an afternoon playing paintball or doing ice-breakers isn’t going to mend management challenges. And in fact, introducing team-building in those contexts can actually make the problems worse, because employees will be frustrated that they’re being asked to spend their time on activities that read as frivolous while the real issue goes unaddressed.

But if you’re sure that cultivating more of a sense of team and unity is truly what your staff needs, then think about team-building through measures like the following:

  • Creating ways for your team members to get to know each other better, without violating anyone’s privacy or dignity. This means remembering that what’s fun for some people (like public performances or athletic competitions) is misery for others. Look for things that are voluntary and low-key.
  • Creating opportunities for team members to get a deeper understanding of each other’s work. People don’t always have a good sense of what their colleagues are working on or what value they’re bringing to the organization, and increasing that understanding can make people appreciate their team members in new ways. But be careful – the solution to this isn’t to institute lengthy staff meetings where everyone recites a list of what they’re working on (which tends to just put people to sleep or make them antsy to get back to work). Instead, try using your role at the hub to spot opportunities to share information or connect people.
  • Creating ways for team members to have meaningful input into the direction of the team. This doesn’t mean that you should open up every decision to a vote, but rather you should seek out and truly welcome people’s feedback into strategy and process, as well as whatever problems you’re grappling with at any given time. In fact, many artificial team-building exercises are built around group problem-solving, like having to solve a maze or build a balloon castle; skip the artificial activities and delve as a group in real-world problems your team is facing.
  • Establishing rituals. Any positive, shared experience can become a ritual. For instance, you might start holding optional monthly brown-bags about interesting developments in your field or start doing champagne toasts after major projects finish (with non-alcoholic alternatives available for those who prefer them).

And for anything you’re doing with the intention of team-building, ask yourself: Specifically how is this going to help our team get better results? If you can’t answer that, that’s a flag to rethink the plan.


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Make a Team More Productive and Motivated in 5 Minutes

Mon, 09/22/2014 - 08:00
Managers often have the best of intentions when it comes to motivating their teams or revamping unproductive processes, but then run out of time and energy. But what if those changes could be done...

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6 Ways to Give Your Flagging Product a Boost

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 08:00
We can’t all be market leaders, but there’s nothing stopping us from employing certain smart techniques to bring us closer. My six-year-old son said to me the other day: “Mommy, I want to be the...

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4 Keys to Building A Team That Delivers Results

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 08:00
You’ve heard it plenty of times – as a manager, you’re only as successful as your people. But when your success relies on other people, how do you put together a dream team that will get you great...

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The Top Project Managers – The Skills PM’s Need to Succeed

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 08:00
For the fifth post in this series where I talk to the “Top Project Managers to Follow on Twitter“, I asked each of them about the skills that all project managers need in order to be...

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Spreadsheet Horror Stories

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 07:30
Can a single spreadsheet mistake in one cell add up to millions of dollars, a fired CEO, and other calamities? Sadly, yes. These and other tales of woe come from several sources that have a bit of...

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Workplace Success – What You Need to Know this Week

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 08:00
Here are three stories people are talking about this week. 1. Is the 40-hour work week dead? Technology was supposed to make our work lives run more efficiently, but as anyone who’s ever been...

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