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How Operation Fuel Keeps People Warm with Intuit QuickBase

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 06:00

Operation Fuel keeps people warm — literally. The organization partners with communities, businesses, government and people in the state of Connecticut to ensure that thousands of people in need have access to energy assistance – fuels, gas and electric utilities – year-round.

However, piles of paperwork kept Operation Fuel from growing and reaching more people. Fielding thousands of paper applications proved more than Operation Fuel’s processes could handle. Operation Fuel found a solution in an app built with Intuit QuickBase. Within two years, the organization was able to quadruple the assistance it provided to those in need.

“Our program would fail if it weren’t for the Fuel Bank Management System,” says Operation Fuel Executive Director Patricia Wrice. “The system enabled us to grow from a $1 million program to a $4.5 million program. It’s a tool we simply could not function without.”

The Need for a Better System

Prior to QuickBase, Operation Fuel’s systems were entirely paper based. The organization fields proposals from statewide social services agencies who act as fuel banks and apply on behalf of each person in need of assistance. Each fuel bank approves its own applications and disperses Operation Fuel funding as needed, but the system was fraught with problems, says Wrice.

“No one knew where they stood against their budget, and we often found the fuel banks were not following our guidelines for approving applications,” she says.

What’s more, Operation Fuel staff had to drive out to the fuel banks to perform audits, which would take months every year.

“The State of Connecticut was prepared to increase our funding, but we needed to show that we could provide a detailed accounting, in real time, of how the monies were being distributed and ensure that we weren’t overspending. More importantly, we needed a system that would provide an accurate picture of the need and how well we were meeting it. The pressure was on,” says Wrice.

From Paper to the Cloud in One Month

In 2007, Operation Fuel hired QuickBase Solution Provider Dovetail Associates to build a solution using Intuit QuickBase. In just one month, they were able to design and launch the system, which moved all key processes and data from paper forms to the cloud, giving Operation Fuel the ability to instantly view and track everything they needed to. It wasn’t long before Operation Fuel saw real results.

“Within six months the system was giving us all the data we needed,” says Wrice. “Now fuel banks could sign up a new client in just seven minutes and our staff could see all the activity in real time.”

The system also enables Operation Fuel staff to quickly review and approve all applications, ensuring clients meet application requirements. Fuel banks could also track how much of their budget was left to distribute and Operation Fuel staff no longer needed to conduct audits in the field. By the end of the year, Operation Fuel was able to increase the number of fuel banks it worked with to more than 100. The ability to customize their QuickBase solution remains critical to Operation Fuel, which has to stay on top of an ever-changing landscape.

“Because our eligibility and reporting requirements change from year to year, we needed a flexible solution. QuickBase is just what we were looking for,” says Wrice.

Operation Fuel has also found that training new users is a breeze. Because there is high turnover in the social services sector, every year there are new contacts at the fuel banks who need training. Dovetail Associates creates demonstration videos to describe any application changes from year to year, and Operation Fuel staff do trainings via web conferences when new people join the network. “If we still had a paper system in place, we’d need four to five staff members to manage the program, and even then it would be impossible to do the reporting that’s required,” says Wrice.

For a subscription that costs just $15,000 per year, Operation Fuel has nearly doubled the number of fuel banks it works with. And because the system has helped Operation Fuel disperse all of the fuel funding more accurately each year, the organization has been able to grow from $1M to $4.5M annually.

“If it weren’t for this system, I’m not sure how we could administer our program statewide. Data from QuickBase enabled Operation Fuel to demonstrate that the more resources we have, the more utility and heating assistance we can provide to people in need.”

Learn how Dovetail Associates can address your fundraising and data management needs.

Vinod Khosla on Operating and Scaling a Business

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 07:00

I spoke to Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, who has run his own venture capital firm, Khosla Ventures, since 2004, following nearly two decades at VC firm Kleiner Perkins. His highest-profile investments have lately been in clean tech: wood-based biofuel, new types of batteries and water purification. He studied engineering in India, then at age 20 tried and failed to start a soy-milk company. Khosla moved to the U.S., got a Stanford MBA, then co-founded Sun Microsystems in 1982. In September 2014 a judge ruled that Khosla must let the public access his private beach near Half Moon Bay in California. In the following brief interview, Khosla talks about what makes a startup successful, how employees can best collaborate, the scalability issues that occur, and what most companies get wrong when it comes to operating a business.

Dan Schawbel: Can you tell me what was different between those startups that worked and didn’t work out, and specifically what was different operationally?

Vinod Khosla: The biggest mistake I see entrepreneurs make is not knowing what they don’t know. That leads startups to focus on the wrong incentives, ask the wrong questions, and over the long run, they are unable to remove the key risks and build a large sustainable business.  That being said, I wouldn’t discount the impact of luck and timing for startups. They both play a large role, and assuming otherwise is folly. Often the single biggest differentiator of success is the founder and their entrepreneurial skills, their clarity of vision, their focus on only what is critical, on their leadership and their persistence and openness to learning.

Schawbel: Assuming you’ve hired the right people, how do you get them to collaborate efficiently, especially if distributed?

Khosla: That first assumption is the most important part though, so I would like to focus there. Hiring the right and the best people is incredibly difficult to do, and very few startups get this exactly right. I firmly believe a company becomes the people it hires, and a lot of the other pieces (including collaboration, distributed teams, etc.) will work themselves out with a great team. A great startup team is resourceful and willing to iterate and experiment on all things (not just their product / business model, but also their internal collaboration). Having said that, it is the CEO’s job to provide leadership and ensure that the team operates as a team and has shared and aligned goals.

At Khosla Ventures, we spend a lot of time focused on working with entrepreneurs to develop the right “gene pool” as we like to call it. In fact, we have a whole section on our website dedicated to team building for startups, or gene pool engineering.

Schawbel: What scalability issues occur after the first hundred employees are hired?

Khosla: As a company scales, by default, more structure will need to be added to keep a well functioning organization. This naturally could lead to increased collaboration problems, hierarchy issues, politics, etc. You need process but you cannot let process win over entrepreneurial culture. I would rather have too little management than too much.

To keep a company thinking like a startup, building out your gene pool with the same principles as before is important. For example, Scott Cook talked about a direction change at Intuit for middle managers as “guiding experimentation” rather than “managing projects.”

Schawbel: How do you know what types of functions to build out in an organization as it scales?

Khosla: ”You cannot. You have to assume plans will change, and build teams with that flexibility in mind. Planning is important to understand the quality of thinking of a team and to have them consider all the factors that affect a business. But as the thing to meet at all costs it is mythical targets. Sometimes I see companies meet plans at the expense of building real value on what will make them successful in the long run.”

Schawbel: What do most companies get wrong when it comes to business operations?

Khosla: Going back to the beginning – companies tend to have blind spots because they don’t’ know what they don’t know. It’s impossible to completely correct for, but missing those critical questions can lead to problems in recruiting, team building (which can manifest years later), sales strategy, product building, etc. There are many tactical and strategic issues that different companies can get wrong (e.g. scale before product-market fit, solve a problem no one will pay for, etc.) but those typically are manifestations of the original issue. I am always surprised how many organizations know what they are doing but have not formally and critically asked why they are doing it and is that the most efficient thing to do.

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15 Attitudes That Are Ruining Your Life and Work

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 06:30

For a happier work life, recognize these harmful thoughts and stop them in their tracks.

More than three decades ago, psychologist Aaron Beck and his student David Burns explored the idea of the cognitive distortion, or an assumption the mind makes that isn’t objectively true. Even though they are inaccurate, they sound rational, and so they trap us in a cycle of negative thinking and behavior. In alphabetical order, here are the most common cognitive distortions. Do you recognize any of them?

Black and White Thinking

We tend to place people and situations in either/or categories. Either something or someone is all good or all bad. Shades of gray don’t exist, leading us to view ourselves and others as failures if we aren’t 100 percent perfect in every way.


As victims of blaming, we either constantly chastise ourselves for things that are not our fault, or we transfer all responsibility to other people without objectively considering our own role in the situation.


No matter how many times life hands us lemonade, we expect lemons. Misfortune is likely in every situation and there’s little we can do about it. When we hear about something bad happening to another person, we feel certain that the same thing will happen to us.

Change Fallacy

We assume that, with enough effort, we have the power to transform others, and we believe that we can’t be happy unless other people change to suit our needs.

Control Fallacy

We may be either internally or externally controlled – and they’re both bad. Too much internal control means that we take responsibility for the pain and happiness of the people in our lives. Too much external control means that everything that happens is the result of fate and we bear no personal responsibility.

Emotional Reasoning

When we feel an emotion about something, we assume that something must be true. We believe our feelings are a completely accurate portrayal of reality, which is of course not the case.

Fairness Fallacy

We have an implicit belief that every situation must be fair and are constantly examining whether we are being dealt with in a just manner. Because other people won’t always agree with us about what is fair, and because sometimes the universe works in mysterious ways, we end up feeling cheated and resentful.


During the course of a single work day, we might experience 12 positive incidents and 1 negative incident, yet our mind will focus solely on the negative incident and blow it out of proportion until our perception of the whole day is soured.

Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

We go through life as martyrs, thinking that if we sacrifice for the greater good, we will be rewarded with good things. We incorrectly believe that some great force is up there keeping score.

Jumping to Conclusions

Although we aren’t mind readers, we think we know how other people feel without them telling us, and we anticipate what they’re going to do before they do it. We interact with them based on an assumption that’s likely inaccurate.


A single error or behavior may cause us to attach a negative label to a person or situation. For instance, if a fellow passenger cuts in line at airport security, we may say: “he’s so selfish.” We may also attach negative, overarching labels to ourselves based on failing at specific tasks. For example, we may say: “I’m a bad parent,” because we didn’t handle a simple conflict with a child as effectively as we could have.


When something bad happens once, we assume it will keep happening, and we’ll draw a general conclusion (typically a negative one) based on a single piece of evidence.


We often look for the insult or personal affront in others’ behavior toward us. We may also view ourselves as the reason behind an external event over which we had no control.

Right Fallacy

We’re convinced that our beliefs and opinions are correct and that other people are wrong. We will argue with others until the cows come home because we can’t imagine that we’re the ones who are mistaken.

The Shoulds

I’ve talked about this one before. We create mental scripts about how people are supposed to behave and how life is supposed to proceed. We get upset with ourselves when we don’t follow the rules, and upset with others when they don’t.

Banishing your distortions

So how do you get around these cognitive distortions before they ruin your life and work?

The first step is simply to identify when you’re engaging in negative thinking and try to refute the thought in your mind.

For instance, if you wake up in a bad mood, you might arrive at work feeling inadequate and incompetent. But once you recognize that feeling inadequate and incompetent doesn’t mean you are (emotional reasoning), you can coach yourself with positive thoughts like, “I was the only one in the group to get promoted last year,” and “my boss trusted me to draft his report for the general manager.” Your emotions might not change immediately, but you’ll be much better equipped to get on with your day.


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How to Convince Your Boss to Give You More Responsibility

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 07:00

If you’d like to take on more responsibility – a new project, more senior-level work, or perhaps a leadership role – how can you convince your boss to give you a shot?

Here are four key steps to persuading your boss to let you take on higher level work.

1. Be really great at what you’re already doing. This is easily the most important item on this list. Your manager is far, far more likely to give you more responsibility or more challenging work if you’re doing a great job with what you already have. Show that you can be counted on to stay on top of what comes your way and that you approach whatever you’re assigned with excellence, and you’ll have already done a lot of the groundwork in showing your boss that you’re a smart risk for bigger assignments.

2. Have a plan to keep your existing work covered. Your boss might be perfectly willing – in theory – to let you work on that new high-profile project or to let you take on a whole new area of responsibility, but her bigger priority is probably ensuring that none of your existing work slips. Give some thought to how you can take on the new stretch assignment without giving short shrift to the rest of your work, and be ready with a plan that will set your boss’s mind at ease. (Of course, in some cases, the new work might be important enough that the plan might include delegating some of your existing projects to others, but make sure you’ve thought through the options and have a realistic proposal ready to go.)

3. Suggest something low-stakes. If your boss isn’t as enthused as you are about you branching into a new area, suggest something low-stakes at first so that if it doesn’t work out, the impact will be contained. For instance, if you’d like to get more management experience, you might propose managing the department’s interns before you take on managing full-time staff. Or if your goal is to eventually run important client meetings, you might propose just filling in for your boss when she can’t attend.

4. If all else fails, ask what you’d need to do to get a “yes” in the future. If you try all the above and don’t get results, ask your manager what you should work on in order to get a different answer down the road. A good manager should be able to give you candid feedback about what skills you need to develop in order to take on more responsibility in the future.


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How Digital Transformation Can Drive Better Business Results

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 07:00

Social media, cloud computing, big data and analytics are changing the way companies function, and digital innovations are only expected to grow. Companies that ignore this reality will be left behind, while the “digital masters” will increase their potential, contends new research.

When hearing the term “digital masters,” many business people think of Silicon Valley and the whiz kids running dominant IT companies like Google.

But a new book contends that it’s time other companies woke up to the reality that if they want to excel in the future – with their employees, with their customers and in running their operations – then they need to also embrace the idea of using technology to transform their business. They, too, must become digital masters.

In a study of more than 400 large mainstream organizations in every industry around the world, authors of “Leading Digital,” found that digital masters are those companies that use digital technologies to drive greater profits, productivity and performance. Specifically, research shows that those who do digital transformation well are on average 26% more profitable than industry peers.

George Westerman, a research scientist in the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and one of the book’s authors, says the research also found that companies lagging behind in making a digital transformation were often worried about the cost, the lack of skills or regulatory concerns.

But the book debunks those worries, noting that making a digital transformation isn’t just about pouring money into IT and trying to woo talent away from Silicon Valley. Westerman explains, for example, that it’s also critical that a company have the leadership willing to drive that transformation throughout the culture. In addition, the employee talent for digital transformation doesn’t just come from tech backgrounds, he says.

“You don’t have to make yourself into Google,” he says. “Even if you’re making soap, there are things you can put into place that will give you an edge.”

If you don’t, Westerman warns, be prepared to be less productive, profitable and left behind as your competitors make the transformation.

Authors Westerman, Didier Bonnet and Andrew McAfee found that digital masters are those who use analytics, social media, mobile and embedded devices to understand customers better. These companies also implement technology to link customer-facing and operational processing in new ways. At the same time, they use analytics to make better operational decisions, as well as digital technology to increase the performance and value of existing products.

Just Do It

One of those companies profiled as a digital master is Nike.

The authors note that while Nike has traditionally built its business through innovative products, intensive brand building and efficient operations, Nike jumped on new digital technologies. Specifically, the company used technologies to improve customer experiences, develop new selling processes, connect athletes worldwide and implement new design and manufacturing methods in its operations.

They explain that Nike didn’t begin by strategizing its business model, but rather investigated ways it could provide more value to its connected customers. While it had a social media presence, it decided to weave its technology and information together in a new business model, which is how the Nike+ concept took off, the authors say.

Nike+ includes several connected elements such as a shoe, a sensor, an internet platform, and a device such as an iPhone or a FuelBand.

This allows Nike to gather valuable information about how customers use its products, which allows the company to improve the product and develop an engaged community of users.

“What Nike demonstrates is that you don’t have to rebuild the wheel every time,” Westerman says. “They are coordinating everything very nicely.”

Westerman explains that Nike lets its various operations do what they do best, whether it’s marketing or product design, while providing each one with more information to help them do their jobs better. For example, social media conversations from customers about how a new product is being used is conveyed to those building the products, while marketing is in the loop regarding a new product before it’s even built.

Nike CEO Mark Parker has made it clear he doesn’t want the company resting on its laurels.

“One of my fears is being this big, slow, constipated bureaucratic company that’s happy with its success,” he says. “Companies fall apart when their model is so successful that it stifles thinking that challenges it. It’s like the Joker said – ‘this town needs an enema.’”

The authors explain that there are a dozen steps to becoming a digital master, beginning with an awareness by top leaders that digital is critical and the opportunities it brings. But more than that, companies must be able to transform a digital transformation vision into action by setting strategic goals and designing a roadmap of digital activities. Funding the transformation, explaining the benefits to employees and aligning incentives and rewards are also keys to success, they say.

“There are a lot of smart people in a lot of industries,” Westerman says. “It’s time companies brought in those who are able to think digitally and put some of these things in place. Let IT be part of the conversation, because it will cost you more if you work around them. You need a tight link with IT.”


How to Overcome an Imperfect Boss

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 07:00

I spoke to Karin Hurt, the author of Overcoming An Imperfect Boss and the award-winning blog, Let’s Grow Leaders. Hurt has a diverse background of executive leadership experience in sales, customer service, call centers, human resources, merger integration, training and leadership development – the last 20 years of which have been with Verizon. Most recently, she served as Executive Director of the Strategic Partnership Channel at Verizon Wireless where she transformed customer service outsourcing, working with companies and call centers to build strong cultures that deliver positive customer experiences. Prior to that she led a Verizon Wireless sales team, leading the nation in store sales to the small and medium business space. In the following brief interview, Hurt talks about being successful at work despite a bad boss, how to build a stronger relationship with your boss, and more.

Dan Schawbel: Is it possible to be success at work if you have a bad boss? Why or why not?

Karin Hurt: Absolutely. You just have to work a bit harder. In fact, having a “bad” boss can actually be a catalyst to success because you have to work harder to fine-tune your persuasion and other skills, and it forces you to create a more robust network of support.

Schawbel: What are some ways to build a deeper connection with your boss?

First, recognize that she’s just a messy human being doing the best she can just like you. Letting your boss off the hook from being “perfect” or fitting into your ideal standards will be very liberating for both of you. Next, communicate: Arrange some time to talk about how you can best support him or her. Also do what you can to make her life easier:  (1) Sweat the small stuff and do what you say you will do without reminding (2) proactively communicate, make emails easy to read and forward in bulleted summaries (3) uncover issues and address them (4) thank her for her help – everyone likes a bit of genuine appreciation, and (5) document your accomplishments.

Schawbel: Why are people so quick to leave their company because of their manager and what should they do instead?

Research has shown that the most significant indicator of job satisfaction is the relationship with the boss. That frustration often leads to quitting a job prematurely. If you’re considering leaving your job because of a boss, think well. Bosses come and go. Don’t waste all you’ve invested because of one jerky guy. On the other hand if your jerky boss is only one part of the problem, look deeper. Your boss may be reacting to your behavior or your impact on the team. Before you quit, invest in having a deeper conversation with your boss. Get to know him or her on a more personal level and find out what more you can be doing to enhance the relationship. Also work to broaden your network of support. Seek out mentors and sponsors. Invite others to share their feedback with you on how they perceive you. Volunteer for special projects that will give you broadened exposure and new challenges. Work to build strong and deep relationships with your peers.

Schawbel: Can you explain one exercise that leaders can do to improve their relationship with their boss?

I include an exercise in my book where both the employee and the manager complete a simple assessment of the relationship, based on 4 components (R.E.A.L.) Results, Energy, Authenticity and Learning. Then you sit down together and discuss the strengths of your relationship and areas you would like to improve. Then you identify a few specific actions to which you will each commit. This exercise reinforces that the relationship is two-way.  You each are answering the same questions.

Sample questions include:

Results:  Our work together leads to breakthrough results.
Energy:  I’m energized by our interactions
Authenticity: I trust you to tell me the truth
Learning: You challenge me to improve

Schawbel: What impact can a bad or good boss have on your career and how can you maximize the relationship?

Some bosses are better than others, but it’s tough to categorize any human being as either “good” or “bad.”  You can learn a great deal from the strengths and weaknesses of any boss you have. Pay attention to how your boss’s behaviors impact you and others. Don’t let a jerky boss turn you into a jerk, but letting stress roll down hill or picking up bad habits. Ideally you’ll have some great bosses in your career who will help to develop you had help you to grow, but never forget that you are in charge of your career. You have more power than you think.

You can download a free chapter of the book here:


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Negotiation Tips from the Female Jerry McGuire

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 06:30

“Show me the money!” is the popular refrain from the movie “Jerry McGuire,” but how would your boss react if you said such a thing? The woman who is known as the “female Jerry McGuire” says she has the negotiation tips you need to get what you want on the job – and a special message for women. 

Molly Fletcher spent nearly 20 years as a female sports agent, handling famous professionals like baseball’s John Smoltz and football’s Joe Theismann. She has overcome stereotyping and criticism as she fought for and achieved deals for more than 300 clients. She’s learned the art of negotiation in the rough-and-tumble world of professional players and coaches and recently talked with Anita Bruzzese about lessons learned and why the secret is treating the deal like “a conversation, a relationship, a rhythm built over time.”

Anita Bruzzese: You’ve negotiated contracts for people like Joe Theismann, Bobby Cox and Doc Rivers. What are some lessons you learned from negotiating in such male-dominated sports?

Molly Fletcher: To be authentic. You develop a reputation based on the way you negotiate and how you approach the conversation. Negotiating in that type of high-pressure environment certainly taught me a lot and shaped my 5-step approach which I share in my book, “A Winner’s Guide to Negotiating.”

AB: Which is what?

MF: You have to be prepared, find a way to connect, know your stuff and remember it’s a long-term relationship. It’s also important that you be able to embrace the pause, not take anything personally and learn from your mistakes.

AB: What part did being a woman play in your negotiating tactics?

MF: It wasn’t something I consciously thought about entering a negotiation. There were certainly a few occasions where I was reminded of my gender, but I never tried to be someone or something that I wasn’t. In my experience, I maybe had less room for error, especially early on in a relationship because I was the only female in the room.  I learned to always have something up my sleeve and I was very observant.  You don’t always have to hit someone over the head to show them that you belong. Sometimes it’s just a subtle comment or piece of information you weave into the conversation that commands respect.

AB: It’s been said that men are better negotiators than women. Do you find this to be true?

MF: One of the things I emphasize in the book is that negotiation isn’t a trait that you are born with. Anyone can learn to be an effective negotiator with practice. That is where you see the gender difference. It’s not that men are born with a negotiation “gene.” Men, for a variety of social and institutional reasons, feel more welcomed at the negotiating table. They initiate negotiations about four times as often as women do. They do it more often, and as a result, get better at the skill. It’s my goal to make women a much greater part of that conversation. I want women to feel comfortable negotiating and to be able to ask with confidence for what they want.

AB: What are some common mistakes you believe women make when negotiating?

MF: The biggest one is not even making “the ask.” About 20% of women, according to a recent survey, say they don’t negotiate at all. To generalize, women are often afraid of making the ask, especially when there is ambiguity or gray area. They worry about damaging the relationship, being perceived negatively by their peers or hearing no. Women also sometimes feel pressured to adopt a negotiation style that’s not them. I’ve never seen that be successful.

AB: What are some common mistakes that everyone makes, whether male or female?

MF: Lack of preparation seems basic, but many people don’t do a good enough job of combining the hard data with 360-degree awareness. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, and it’s especially true in negotiation. Also know what’s not on the table. We might recognize monetary value, but what else matters and what else is potentially available?

And finally, most people don’t take the time to build a relationship with the other side. They approach negotiation as an adversarial battle where the winner takes all, instead of as a productive conversation.

AB: What was one of the toughest negotiations you’ve ever been involved in, and how did you react?

MF: The toughest negotiations are when there isn’t a “better option” or choice was incredibly limited and the other party potentially knows it. Not having leverage is a tough position to be in during a negotiation. You have to be able to use every possible resource you can to create leverage for yourself. That’s when you have to be really creative but also realistic.

AB: How do you know it’s time to be satisfied with what you’ve achieved in negotiations and not press it too far?

MF: You have to get as clear as you can before the process even gets started. Negotiations can be emotional, they can be draining and they can take on a life of their own if you let them. You have to really prepare and be clear on what you want before you even start the conversation. Ask yourself: At what point am I comfortable walking away? What does success look like?

Keep yourself in check and know what’s fair. Recognize that this is hopefully a relationship and a conversation that will continue. It’s important to not put yourself in a position where you can’t go back to the relationship because you’ve overleveraged a situation at the expense of the relationships. Anticipate what might happen if you do over-negotiate.

I would see this a lot in sports, where an athlete would command the highest salary possible, but then seemingly be blindsided by the pressure and expectations that came with it.

AB: Is there anything that isn’t negotiable?

MF: Of course there are boundaries, but it’s an important question to ask. If we start to think that way, we see more opportunities. The reality is, we negotiate every day in our lives, whether we realize it or not. When we fail to recognize that an opportunity to negotiate even exists – that’s when sometimes we really miss out.


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Stop Making These 4 Mistakes in 1-On-1s With Your Team

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 07:00

We recently talked about mistakes to avoid in your one-on-one’s with your manager. This week, let’s look at mistakes you might be making – and should avoid – in one-on-one’s if you’re the boss.

We’ve talked about some of the basics in the past: Ask your staff member to prepare an agenda; spend most of your time on items that truly require conversation, not just on general updates; ask probing questions to figure out how work is really playing out; and give feedback as a regular part of these meetings. If you’re doing all that, you’re already ahead of the game! But now, let’s refine your check-ins further, by ensuring that you’re not making these four common mistakes.

1. Not taking a few minutes to reflect and prepare before the meeting. Hopefully you’ve asked your staff member to create an agenda for the meeting, but be sure that you’re also setting aside time to review it before you meet. If you’re walking into the meeting cold, you won’t have had the time to really think about the items your staff member has indicated she’d like to discuss, and you probably won’t have had time to think about items of your own that you want to allot time for.

2. Not letting your staff member run the meeting. If you want to help your team members take more ownership over their work, having them run your one-on-one’s is a great way to reinforce that. By putting them in charge of thinking through the agenda and how to make the best use of your time together, and by letting them set the pace of the meeting, you’re giving them responsibility for being thoughtful and strategic about what they need from you in order to keep their realms running as effectively as possible. Coach people to do this, and you’ll reap the benefits through a more engaged team.

3. Only talking about ongoing work or projects that are coming up, and neglecting to debrief work that recently finished. It’s easy to fall into this habit – after all, work that’s still in process or coming up quickly on the horizon is the most urgent and pressing. But if you don’t set aside time to talk over how recently completed work went, you’re losing out on one of the most valuable opportunities you have to develop your staff members’ skills and set them up to get better and better at what they do (or to talk about ways someone might be falling short, if that’s the case).

4. Not prioritizing them. If you cancel check-ins, regularly reschedule, or don’t hold them at all, you’re shortchanging yourself and your team. Sometimes managers feel that they talk so often with staff members throughout the week that there’s no need for a separate check-in, but even in that context there are real benefits to check-ins: They provide structured time to reflect on progress, give feedback, and talk about bigger picture issues that often won’t otherwise come up in the course of day to day work.


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How to Measure the Success of Your Project

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 06:30

How do you effectively measure the success of a project and then how do you communicate that success to stakeholders? In this interview with program manager Adam Kowal, from Intuit QuickBase, we asked him about ways to help you make sure you’re using and reporting on the “right” metrics.

Alexandra Levit:  Adam, what should you do at the planning stages of a project to ensure that you are able to effectively measure success later?

Adam Kowal:  Ensure the team and leaders are aligned on what you are trying to achieve with the project. Think about why you are trying to affect change. If you don’t have alignment here, all is lost. Then, facilitate a session to brainstorm the quantitative or qualitative metrics that will be good leading indicators of success and final indicators of success.  Understand what your dials are and how you are going to turn them – so you can watch if turning the dial makes any difference.

Limit the important success metrics to no more than three. If you have too many, you probably don’t really know how to measure success. Also, watch out for people trying to solve for the “number,” which could result in bad business decisions made to ensure hitting metrics.

Alex: Do you have an example of this?

Adam: Sure, how about measuring call centers on “time on phone” without realizing that reps are creating terrible customer experiences and not up-selling/cross-selling in an effort to get the customer off the phone faster.

Alex:What metrics are most eye-catching to senior leaders and why?

Adam: This is a three-part answer.  1) The most eye-catching metrics to senior leaders are ones that don’t add up! You must ensure you have good data and have tested your instrumentation process. 2) In my experience, a good PM will align with senior leaders on what metrics are most important to their group and the business as a whole. Make sure you’re not wasting time crunching numbers no one cares about. 3) Information that means something is eye-catching. Don’t put the onus on senior leaders to distill all your data into action. Do it for them and talk through your logic.

Alex:  What mistakes do you see PMs making most often with respect to measurement?

Adam: Changing the goal posts willy-nilly.  If you determine over time that some of your metrics aren’t right, don’t change them in a vacuum. Think end-to-end about the impact of the change and discuss the issue with your stakeholders. Don’t spin on it for weeks – push for a decision ASAP.

Alex: Once you have initial results, how can you keep measurement momentum going so that you are able to report on long-term success?

Adam:  It’s the PM’s responsibility to champion ongoing attention to this. Metrics are highly sought after in the first few months of a program, but then people tend to get metric-itis. But the one time you don’t check the metrics, something important will pop up that you’ll miss. One helpful tool is a web-based dashboard report that provides a consistent look at your metrics and gets stakeholders into the habit of doing regular quick checks.

Alex: Any final recommendations?

Adam:  Yes, one more thing. Partner early with whoever owns system reporting or needs to build instrumentation. Often reporting and instrumentation are an afterthought, and it’s too late to do them right – or do them at all. Be planful when it comes to these, and make them part of the project requirements at step one.

In our previous interview with Adam, we asked,”Are you collecting customer feedback the right way?”


How Salespeople and BizDev Can Get the Most Out of LinkedIn

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 07:00

Over 300 million members in 200 countries use LinkedIn as a favorite professional social network, a way to connect with both friends and potential employers. But if you consider it merely a job search and recruiting tool, you’re missing out. LinkedIn is the single most powerful tool for business development and sales leads—if you know how to use it. Lucky for you, we do. Let’s get LinkedIn to work for you.

Before we can start, there are three preliminary steps you must take:

Create your profile with your audience in mind.

Under your profile summary and the description under your current job, write a small “pitch” on behalf of your company…while still conveying who you are as a person.

For instance, you might say, “I have been a sales and business development professional for the last ten years, and it is my personal mission to ensure customers have the best possible experience when they work with my company. If your company needs to convey its strategic value to its target clients, call me. My company can help yours shine.”

Make it easy to contact you: Add your email, Twitter, and even phone number to your profile.

Connect to your existing contacts.

Ideally, you should be linked to more than 500 connections. Your colleagues, former and present, should be the first people you contact. Quality counts as much as quantity. Make sure you are linked to a few leaders of your industry…even if you don’t know them personally.

It may take time for some people to accept your invitations. Be patient.

Join relevant Groups.

Join up to 50 professional associations, industry groups, alumni groups, or geographically specific groups. Remember to focus on the most popular ones in your field.

LinkedIn’s search algorithm gives you results that are displayed in order of keyword relevance, as well as your degree of connection. Those who are first-degree connections come first, followed by second-degree connections (you know at least one person in common), followed by people with whom you share a group, followed by 3rd degree connections and those you have no connection with. Therefore, joining all the right groups is crucial to adding connections.

Once you have set your account up for success, you can leverage the Advanced search of LinkedIn, a powerful tool for reaching the right decision-makers.

To do this, click on the word “Advanced” next to the small magnifying glass icon on the top of the screen.

On the next page, you’ll see the “Relationship” section in the middle. It will default to only selecting 1st/2nd/Group-level connections. Be sure to select 3rd degree connections to get all results.

Here’s where the fun happens:

Search for your future client by job title and company name. If you want to find all the chief technology officers at Aetna, you can complete that exact search. (To make sure you are getting search results of only people currently at Aetna, select “Current” under “Company.”)

Search by a specific phrase, using quotation marks. For instance, if you are searching for alumni of Columbia University, you can do an Advanced Search and enter list “Columbia University” (in quotes) to get alumni of Columbia University. If you search just for Columbia University (no quotes), you will find alumni of the University of British Columbia and several other unrelated schools.

You can use Boolean search terms as well— “OR” “AND,” or “NOT” (in all capital letters). For example, perhaps you want to search for CTOs and CIOs at Aetna. You can enter, under “Job Title,” the following search string: “Chief Technology Officer” OR “Chief Information Officer” OR “CIO” OR “CTO.” To generate a list of CIOs in the oil and energy industry within 50 miles of Houston, you can search by job title and delimit by industry and zip code.

Note: If a contact is a 3rd degree connection, you can either upgrade and send InMail, or copy and paste the person’s “headline” and first name into Google, which usually reveals their full profile and a “Connect” button.

Within your search results, look at the left-hand side of the page. You can also find the top five current companies of people with certain job titles, which can help you expand your search:

You can also look under company pages to find other companies that “people also viewed” to find similar companies and key groups:

And for many individual people in your search results, you can find “people similar to” and “people also viewed” for that contact person—all great sources for additional leads.

Here is an example of “people similar to”:

And “people also viewed”:

Once you find your ideal target, you have to connect with them. To connect, be sure to click to view the person’s full profile (clicking the “Connect” button from the search results page—or from the mobile app—will not allow you to customize your invite message).

Finally, write your crucial introduction message, something like, “Does your company need a secure, cloud-based platform for sales management, which allows for your sales team to connect from their mobile devices? I’d love to tell you more about our new software that is perfect for mid-sized companies like yours.” If the invite is accepted, you can follow up with a longer message and a request to chat.

The rest is business history.

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How Social Media Management Starts with Company Alignment

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 06:30

I spoke with Jason Falls, who is the SVP of Digital Strategy at Elasticity. Falls is the co-author of two books: No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing (Que 2011), co-authored with Erik Deckers; and The Rebel’s Guide To Email Marketing (Que 2012), co-authored with DJ Waldow. Falls is also noted for founding, one of the industry’s most widely read blogs. In the following brief interview, he talks about how to get your employees to understand their role with social media, the type of content they should publish, the mistakes employees make, and more.

Dan Schawbel: How do you get your employees to understand what they can and can’t post on social media? What is the best way to align their postings with the company they work for?

Jason Falls: That’s a great question because I can count on one hand how many people actually read the policy manual. The key to ensuring any policy you have is enforced is to continually discuss it and reinforce the good (not just the bad) in the office. Make it a point to find the employees that are really doing a good job of sharing content, aligning with the company and being useful in that realm and showing the rest of your employees what good is. The reason many feel as if they don’t want to be a part of any company effort is they don’t know what good looks like. That, and they think the company is going to try and force them to post. Illustrate what the appropriate use for them is personally and for the company as a whole and they’ll be more apt to want to help.

Schawbel: What types of content can employees share on social media that will make a big impact on the company from both a revenue and thought leadership perspective?

Falls: Any content that makes them (the employee) look smart in the eyes of the ultimate consumer of the company. If you’re in the financial services industry, your social posts that will be most beneficial to your company are those that share good information about investing, saving money, managing money and the like. These can simply be links you share from media sites like the Wall Street Journal, or they can be the company’s posts. The important thing for the employee is to carve out their own reputation as someone who is a resource of good content in that given area. The fact they work for the institution at hand is the residual benefit for the company.

Schawbel: What mistakes do you see employees make on social media? How should a company respond to an employee who is “off-brand”?

Falls: Assuming the employee identifies themselves clearly as an employee of the company (because without this, the company is less affected by their social posts, positively or negatively), the biggest mistake I see is the employee who mixes far too much personal that might be distasteful to some with the posts that support the company’s mission. I think this is why most people defer to the personal account only approach. Twitter and Facebook are more suited for personal connections, so talking about going out for cocktails on the weekend is more natural content there. But when that bio says “Company XYZ” and that drinking Tweet is there, well, that’s not going to be kosher with most employers.

A company should simply reach out to the employee and remind them of the policy. Certainly they can implement some 1st, 2nd and 3rd offense repercussions. But, depending on the nature of the company policy, at the end of the day, the employee either identifies themselves publicly and openly as an employee of the company and follows the rules. Or they remove the company exposure as much as they can and treat it as a personal account. I’m sure there will be litigation and the like to come in the next 5-10 years that will better define this legally, but if I were a company, I would err on the side of assuming you have no right to an individual’s social media accounts unless they are those created for the employee by the company and for company use.

Schawbel: Do you recommend that a company develops social media guidelines or some kind of doctrine to get employees on the same page? Why or why not?

Falls: Certainly. We live in a search engine and social network world. This is where people are spending time, searching for and finding information, sharing conversations and information with their friends and family — and sometimes about companies and products. Consumers are there, so companies need to be. Consumers are employees, too, so their employer needs to ensure they are not detracting from the company in their social postings. While there are lots of various approaches, both liberal and conservative and that benefit the company more or the employee more, each company should have a policy, even if that policy is simply: Don’t do anything foolish.

Schawbel: Based on all of your corporate experience, can you give examples of companies that have been able to successfully align themselves around social media and what they did right?

Falls: The easy answer is Zappos. They empower their employees to represent the company right along with their own personal content, recognizing that people are people and glorious in all their differences, strengths, weaknesses, etc. But these people also work at Zappos and can help you if you need something here. At Cafepress, our policy was that your social networks are yours but behavior there that is detrimental to the company is like behavior at a bar or anywhere else that is detrimental to the company. We certainly encouraged employees to share company content and help remind folks that’s the best place to get custom or personalized products, but it was never a requirement, even for the marketing team. For those that chose to share, they were always positive and aligned with the messaging the company pushed around our content.

5 Things Likely to Disrupt Your Project Plan

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 07:00

So you’re ready to launch a carefully scheduled project plan. You’ve planned backwards and mapped out each stage of the work and who will be responsible for what, and your project plan is a thing of beauty. What could go wrong?

Plenty, it turns out. Here are five of the things most likely to disrupt your project plan if you don’t factor them in from the beginning.

1. Not finding out from the start who needs to be consulted or bought in. While you’re the one who’s overseeing and perhaps doing the work, there may be others in your organization (or even outside of it) who need to be consulted along the way. Don’t assume that you’ll be told this information proactively, either. It’s often the kind of thing that comes up when a project is halfway through or (worse) near the end. So make a point of explicitly inquiring at the start of the project whether there are specific people who need to have input or be on board with how you plan to proceed.

2. Not confirming each part of the schedule with others who are involved. If you’re relying on others to play a role in the work – whether it’s actually doing pieces of it or simply signing off on work – make sure that you’ve confirmed with them that your schedule works on their side. Otherwise, you risk finding out at a crucial point in the project that the person you were counting on to sign off by the end of the week is out of the country on vacation and unreachable.

3. Not getting buy-in from leadership above you to prioritize the work. The important thing to note here isn’t just that your leadership needs to think the work is a good idea and worth doing; it’s that they need to be willing to prioritize it over other uses of time and resources. “Sounds like a good idea – see if you can make it happen” is a different thing than “let’s commit to getting it done by January and here’s a budget to use.” If you’re planning to allocate significant amounts of energy to a project, make sure that the management above you is aligned with you about when it should happen and what that will mean for other demands on your time that might arise.

4. Not being clear with others about the roles you need them to play. Especially when you’re relying on a peer to complete a piece of a project, it’s easy to inadvertently miscommunicate what you’d like that person’s role to be. For example, your coworker might assume that you’re only seeking ideas from her, or that her participation is optional, when in fact you need her to actually complete a piece of work by a specific deadline. Be sure to clarify exactly what roles you’ll need people to play from the start – and don’t hide the message. Saying “It would be great if you were able to put something together by the end of the month” conveys a different message than “I will need final copy from you by October 29 in order to make our printer deadline.”

5. Not checking in with others as the work progresses. Don’t assume that work is progressing as you’d planned simply because you’ve given assignments to others. Instead, make a point of engaging regularly, so that you’ll know if the work is moving forward on schedule or whether course corrections are needed. Otherwise, you risk having a nasty surprise when work isn’t completed on schedule or looks significantly different from what you were envisioning.


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Improving Your Business’s Operations and Project Success – Webinar Q&A

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 06:30

Thank you again for joining us on October 8 for our special Expert Webinar Series on Improving Your Business’s Operations and Project Success – with Gordon Tredgold, Founder of Leadership Principles. Gordon shared with you the FAST method for improving business operations and project delivery. This educational event was recorded and may now be watched onDemand.

As promised, below are the questions asked that we were unable to get to during the live event. If you have further questions, please leave them in the comments.

Q: Should one always broadcast who is accountable for certain outcomes? (Some people are tempted to misuse or misinterpret that information as “blame target”.

Gordon Tredgold: It depends on what you mean, “broadcast?”

Accountability is a 2-way street. We need to be clear about what out expectations are, and we need to be sure that we have ensured that they have the right skills, tools and authority levels to do the job. Then the person accountable can accept their accountability. It’s the acceptance of accountability that drives performance not the broadcasting of it. That does have more of a blame target feel to it. I would also advise asking people if there is any reason why they cannot accept accountability, because if there is, then we need to address this. So it’s more of a conversation than a broadcast!

Q: Is/Should accountability always be accompanied by metrics?

GT: There needs to be some transparency into the performance so that we can see whether they are performing well or not, and if not then provide support and assistance.

So where possible I would always like to get metrics. In SMART goals the M is for measurable and we should look to make all our goals measurable. We need to know what success looks like, so that we know when we have achieved it. I can’t just say I am going to go on a diet to become thinner, it’s hard to know whether or not I achieved, it. I would say, I want to drop a dress size, or I want to lose x lbs. Remember the saying, “what we measure we improve.” I am a very strong believer in that.

Q: Is there a difference (in your definition) between “simple” and “elegant?”

GT: Yes, I think that elegant solutions are generally simple, but I wouldn’t necessarily say all simple solutions are elegant. For example, in the NASA and the pen story during the webinar, would you call the pencil an elegant solution?

Q: What are the specific tools that you were talking about for holding one accountable?

GT: We need to have visibility into performance, and in my experience real live data from systems like Intuit QuickBase can be very helpful for achieving that. I am not a big fan of people giving Powerpoint presentations to show progress, I like to see data extracted from systems. Because then we are discussing performance rather than whether the data presented is correct or not. This data could be sales data from Sales systems, or cost centre data coming out of our Accounting systems. In IT operations, I like to get the data directly out of the trouble ticketing systems such as Remedy. We need to have systems of record, and use those. You can use tools like QuickBase to extract and consolidate the information from source systems, and I have also used Excel to achieve the same although that’s a bit old school now.

Q: I may have missed if Gordon recommended a Project Management software?

GT: I think QuickBase is an excellent tool, and can be used to store estimates, plans and be used to provide dashboards which show our actual performance compared to our planned performance. As I mentioned we need to try and create a GPS for our business or operations, so that we can react in a timely manner to achieve our goals, rather than getting into a situation where we are relying on hope and luck, because hope is not a strategy.

Q: What are challenges, if we hold people accountable for execution of process? Could you expand on that?

GT: OK – where I live in Germany there is a rule and a process that states plants need to be watered if the temperature is above 32C/90F.

So people are judged on whether they watered them when the temp is above 90F. Last summer we had 5 days of torrential rain, we had flood, then the 6th day the temp was 92F.

We had people watering plants standing in 6 inches of water. It was madness. If we held people accountable for the plants being healthy and watered, on this day they would have simply said, OK, it doesn’t make sense to water them. Also what happens when it’s 88F for 20 days in a row, surely the temp is not above 90F, but those plants still need watering. If all the plants die, the gardener can always say, but I followed the process? We need to hold people accountable to results rather than process, because it’s difficult to come up with processes which account for every single situation.

I know this is a simple example, but it’s true and I wanted to show what can happen in such situations.


“Big Bang Theory’s” Biggest Lesson – Let Nerds Be Nerds

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 07:00

Sometimes we can learn great lessons from fictional characters. What Sheldon, Leonard, Howard and Raj from the “Big Bang Theory” can teach managers about tapping into nerd talent. 

“I am not crazy. My mother had me tested.”—Sheldon Cooper 

Devoted fans of the television show, “The Big Bang Theory,” rejoiced when the sitcom about a bunch of nerdy guys entered its eighth season this year, with some 18 million people tuning in for the season’s opener.

But even though it’s America’s most watched show, critics have not been as enthusiastic. One reviewer recently commented that he not only doesn’t watch the show, but he doesn’t know anyone who does.  The show consistently loses out on an Emmy, even though Jim Parsons has won four Emmy awards for playing Sheldon Cooper.

So what is it about this show that grabs the attention of so many people despite its lack of critical acclaim? Could it be that we love the fact that the nerd culture has gone mainstream? That for once instead of being stuffed inside a locker by a high school bully, the nerd is successful, has friends and is fun to be around?

One thing that cannot be denied by the constant presence of “Big Bang” (it runs in syndication all hours of the day and night), is that is has exposed many people to the true gifts of the geeks and nerds in this world. The show has made it clear that nerds are capable of more than just writing code or solving a complicated math problem – they are also creative, innovative and collaborative.

If managers are smart, they’ll take the show’s message to heart: It’s time to let nerds be nerds.

In other words, stop trying to make them fit in. They’ll never be like other employees – and that’s a good thing. If managers learn to embrace a geek’s geekiness, organizations can become more competitive, and learn to work smarter and more efficiently.

By giving nerds the freedom to be themselves, we all may learn valuable lessons and benefit from these brilliant minds. Here’s how:

Innovation never stops. While some workers may check work emails after hours, nerds are going to do much more than that. They’re going to think about what they’re working on even during their off hours, because they’re happiest when their brains are challenged. Managers shouldn’t watch the clock when they’ve got nerds on their team – these employees are always going to be seeking challenges and striving for solutions. Consider this clip of Howard working on his robot arm even when hanging out with friends:

They’re always engaged.  Nerds don’t turn their brains off. They can’t. They’re always looking for problems, solutions, new ideas, etc. Get a group of them together, and they’ll be even more valuable as they challenge one another. Managers don’t have to worry about coming up with goofy contests or passing out bonuses to get these workers motivated. Nerds are enthusiastic about learning and challenging assumptions – even if it involves how Superman gets his suit cleaned:

Improvement is a way of life.  It’s often difficult for managers to ensure the quality of work remains high for every member of a team, but they never have to worry where nerds are concerned. The brains of geeks are wired to solve problems. They can spot inefficiencies that others miss and come up with solutions. That’s why managers shouldn’t confine nerds only to tech problems – these workers should be allowed to unleash their brain power on different issues whether it’s customer service, sales goals or strategic initiatives. Check out how the “Big Bang” nerds quickly strategize on how to turn Penny’s simple idea into a successful business:

They’re more tolerant. Nerds are used to not fitting into conventional settings. Whether it’s Howard living with his mother well into his 30s, Sheldon’s need to wear superhero t-shirts or Leonard’s lactose intolerance, nerds aren’t going to be judgmental of anyone who doesn’t fit a cookie-cutter mold. As diversity becomes more common with international workforces, nerds can help show others how to be more accepting. Consider how helpful and patient Amy is with Sheldon:

Of course, “Big Bang” isn’t real life, but it does highlight that behind those brilliant, nerdy minds in your workplace are real people who have a lot to contribute. Are you missing the boat with your own Sheldon, Leonard, Howard or Raj?

You May Also Like:
3 Management Lessons from HBO’s Silicon Valley


Photo Credit ©

Onboarding – Making New Employees More Effective Faster

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 07:00

If you want new hires to be brought up to speed sooner, then your organization needs to make an investment in better onboarding or risk having ineffective new employees that become disengaged over time.

It’s often been said that it can take a new employee from six months to a year to really become effective in an organization, but in today’s fast-paced environment that’s like saying it’s OK to still use dial-up.

Organizations that hope to remain competitive must ensure that they’re not only hiring qualified workers, but that these new employees will be able to trim their learning curve so their input will be felt as soon as possible.

But onboarding new workers can often be a difficult task, and many organizations fail. For example, half of all hourly workers leave new jobs within the first 120 days, while half of all senior outside hires fail within 18 months in a new position, research shows.

In a report for the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation on effective onboarding, Dr. Talya N. Bauer of Portland State University in Oregon notes that “the faster new hires feel welcome and prepared to do their jobs, the faster they will be able to successfully contribute to the firm’s mission.”

One of the companies cited in Bauer’s report and is often included in “best practices” for onboarding is L’Oreal USA. The company doesn’t end onboarding after a few weeks or months, as do many employers.

Instead, it starts with a welcome of new workers on their first day and then supports each hire with a two-year, six-part integration program. Called“L’Oreal Fit,” the program includes training and roundtable discussions; meetings with key insiders; on-the-job learning supported by line management; and individual mentoring. In addition, new hires at L’Oreal get field and product experiences by being allowed to visit different sites or shadow programs.

“Research shows that organizations that engage in formal onboarding by implementing step-by-step programs for new employees to teach them what their roles are, what the norms of the company are and how they are to behave are more effective than those that do not,” Bauer says.

In other words, employers that use a “sink or swim” approach for new employees may not only delay the effectiveness of their new workers, but drive them out the door.

Mary Ann Masarech, lead consultant of the employee engagement practice at BlessingWhite, says that many development efforts by employers fall short because employers don’t provide “business context” and only focus on training new workers to do certain tasks or processes.

“Without proper business context, manager support, and individual accountability, training can’t deliver the sustainable workforce performance that organizations need,” Masarech says.

She also suggests that employees need to understand how their job fits in with the bigger organizational picture, what skills are most critical to success and receive continual coaching so they can make “course corrections” as soon as possible.

Modern Survey, which offers software to help employers more effectively onboard new workers, writes in a new white paper that Lara Blackert, HR business partner at Compass Minerals, will “often approach new hires by saying, ‘Not only what can you do for us, but what can we, as an organization, do for you?’”

That kind of relationship, experts say, often begins before the new employee steps through the organization’s front door on the first day. For example, those in the “best practices” category send new hires their paperwork and employee benefits information early, allowing them to spend more time on their first day asking questions of HR. Also, getting these tasks out of the way early also gives an employer more time to emphasize the company’s culture on Day 1, they say.

One note of warning: Don’t totally automate the onboarding process. Research finds that those using only computer-based orientation had less understanding of the job than those who received face-to-face orientation.

Experts suggest other ways to make a new hire more effective, such as:

  • Making it personal. Ensure the new hire has a dedicated work space waiting, with a handwritten welcome note from the organization. Send an email to current workers to ensure they know the new hire’s name and when he or she is starting, and plan a lunch out with the team for the first day.
  • Keeping the new hire visible. New hires may be shy or reserved, but it’s important to introduce the person to other departments as soon as possible. Dedicate a mentor to take the new employee around to other departments to learn their functions and to answer any questions.
  •  Remembering to touch base. Perhaps a new employee is doing so well that he or she is soon left alone, and the organization believes all is well. But all new hires – no matter how capable or talented – should have periodic check-ins with various team members or managers to ensure they’re on the right track and don’t feel abandoned.  “With regular ‘touching base’ meetings, potential problems can be solved before they expand into large problems,” Masarech says. At Microsoft, there are peer mentors who serve as “safe havens” for new employees to ask questions and learn about the culture.
  • Giving feedback – often. Making new workers more effective faster means helping them understand not only how they are viewed by the manager, but also by those who interact with them. Using 360-degree feedback, Masarech says, can help “resolve any disagreements early on.” At Capital One, an internal coach interviews direct reports, peers and customers to determine the key challenges a new hire will face in the job. This “Customized New Leader Transition Guide” helps the new hire become familiar faster with performance expectations, goals and even office politics.

It’s estimated that hiring a new white collar worker can cost about $7,000 or even rise to twice or three times that amount for a management  position. With that kind of investment, it may be worth revamping your onboarding to make sure your new employee pays off as soon as possible.

What onboarding practices do you find the most effective?


The Secret Sauce for Getting Repeat Business

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 07:00

In this interview with career authors Christine Hassler and Lindsey Pollak, we discuss how to take a few one-off clients and turn those relationships into engagements that repeat all year long. 

It takes far less effort, time, and money to keep an existing client than secure a new one. Yet getting customers to buy over and over again still presents a challenge for many professionals. To address this, I spoke with two colleagues who have excellent track records when it comes to growing their businesses through existing customers.

Christine Hassler (Left) and Lindsey Pollak (Right)

Alex: You both have built an impressive following of loyal customers over the last several years. What’s your secret?

Christine:  I’ve made providing quality content and inspiring information my priority rather than making money or building a platform. Being relatable to and vulnerable with my audience has created deeper connections to my customers. They feel like they know me, so they want to be loyal. Also, by starting with a specific niche I was able to establish a solid base of customers on whom I could depend once I decided to expand.

Alex:  Talking B2B, once you’ve gotten a customer to buy a product or service, how do you get them to buy from you again?

Lindsey:  First and most important is letting clients know I appreciate their business. I like to send thank you notes and (appropriate) gifts. I make phone calls the day after an event or project has ended to show my gratitude. I invite clients to any live or virtual events I can, including webinars, events, or seminars that I think they might find valuable.

I also communicate regularly with existing clients through a monthly e-newsletter and interaction on LinkedIn and Twitter. When it comes to social media, I find that engaging with the content my clients are posting is more important than posting my own content.

Finally, I’m always happy to chat with a client about a problem their organization is having or recommend another consultant if they have an issue unrelated to my work. It’s about being of service and genuinely helping them as much as possible.

Alex:  What is a mistake you’ve seen others make when trying to build repeat business?

Christine:  The biggest mistake is not asking customer for feedback.  You have to engage with them while they are using your product or service and find out what they’re thinking. Another mistake is a failure to up level products and services. In order to generate repeat business, the next offer or product needs to be in place.

Lindsey:  In my opinion, the biggest mistake is pitching a client strongly before asking what the need is. For example, for a keynote client it would be a mistake to start selling them on another keynote when what they really want next is consulting.  Listen, listen, listen.

Alex: What’s a good way to operationalize customer relations so you don’t have to always be remembering to follow up, etc.?

Christine:  Auto-responders that come from my personal email work very well for me. A client gets “tagged” when buying a product or service. Then, a feedback email goes out and takes them to a quick survey. Since the message is from my personal email, customers often send direct responses and comments to me. With higher purchase services, I either set auto reminders on my calendar to call the client personally or have a member of my team call and follow up.

Speaking of repeat business, both Christine and Lindsey have new books this month.  For guidance on how to cope with disappointment, check out Christine’s Expectation Hangover, and for advice for millennials moving into their first leadership roles, have a look at Lindsey’s Becoming the Boss.


7 Ways You’re Annoying Your Manager Without Realizing It

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 06:30

Everyone gets annoyed by coworkers at times, whether it’s rolling your eyes at the guy who chronically monopolizes meetings or being driven to distraction by your cubicle mate’s loud chewing. To some extent, that’s just the reality of working with other people.

But when it’s your boss that you’re annoying, it’s worth paying attention. If you have any of the following seven work habits, you’re almost certainly annoying your manager – and could benefit from a different approach.

1. Presenting guesses as certainties. It’s fine to not always have the answer; a reasonable boss won’t expect you to. But you need to be up-front about it when that’s the case. If you take a guess but frame it as a certainty, there’s a risk that you’re giving your manager wrong information. That means that she’ll be making decisions or taking actions based on bad information – which is a really big deal. So if you’re not sure about something, just say so – and then say you’ll find out.

2. Responding defensively to feedback. If you get upset, hurt, or angry when your manager gives you feedback on your work, you’re making it hard for your boss to do her job. Worse yet, she might start avoiding giving you important feedback that you need to hear. You need to know what you could be doing better, and you’re more likely to hear it if you don’t make it hard for your boss to tell you.

3. Taking forever to get to the point. Your boss is probably busy. When you bring her information, or a problem, or a question, get to the upshot quickly. If you’re giving 10 minutes of background before you ever get to the point, you’re almost certainly frustrating her.

4. Missing deadlines without clearing it in advance. It might be perfectly okay for you to miss a particular deadline – but if you don’t clear that with your manager ahead of time, you’re likely to look really bad: unreliable, disorganized, and flaky. And that’s a recipe for your manager not trusting you in the future, which in turn is a recipe for your manager checking up on you more, which neither of you will like.

5. Neglecting to think about the big picture. Managers have to think about the big picture all the time – how something will affect the team and the organization as a whole. For instance, approving your request for new software might mean that she has to cut her budget somewhere else, plus explain to a different employee why he can’t attend the training course he requested. If you only think about how things will affect you, you’re showing your manager that you don’t have a broad perspective and that you don’t understand the things she cares most about. That will harm you in everything from project assignments to promotion potential to the quality of the relationship overall.

6. Getting stuck in a negativity loop. Everyone has occasional frustrations at work. But if you get caught in them to the point that you’re becoming a toxic presence in the office or the constant naysayer, it’s time to make a fundamental decision: Can you find a way to be reasonably happy at work or is it time to do something else? No good manager will put up with a team member poisoning the atmosphere in the long run (nor will it do your reputation any favors).

7. Hiding behind email. Yes, it can sometimes feel easier to stay behind your computer to hash out difficult subjects. But sometimes you need to pick up the phone or talk to people face-to-face, and your boss will rightly get frustrated if you insist on sticking to email for complicated or sensitive conversations.


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The Key to Business Success – Rookies? – With Liz Wiseman

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 07:00

The rapidly changing workplace means that we can’t rely on yesterday’s knowledge to keep organizations competitive, argues a new book. Why it may be time to stop relying on experience and turn to another source.

If you could be a rookie at work again, would you?

You might immediately think, “heck, no” considering all the mistakes you made when you were new to the job.

But if you think harder, you might begin to realize that even though you stumbled sometimes, you were a rookie with passion, with drive and with an innovative mindset.

What happened to that person?

That’s what Liz Wiseman believes a lot of people wonder. As author of a new book, “Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work,” Wiseman argues that in our rapidly changing workplace, experience can be a curse while inexperience can be a blessing.

She says that through her research, she finds rookies often have a different mindset at work that makes them operate with higher levels of self-awareness and move faster than their experienced peers. Because of their inexperience, rookies are driven to ask questions of those with greater expertise. As a result, they often walk away with better solutions. A more experienced worker, she finds, is more likely to solve an issue on his own without seeking outside expertise or simply follow standard practices.

Wiseman says that while some may consider rookies to be bumbling clods, the reality is that many rookies have nothing to lose so they are often open to new possibilities. They don’t get bogged down in old practices. They are optimistic as they explore new territories, focus on doing things differently and don’t worry about why they can’t do something.

Wiseman and her research team looked at nearly 400 workplace scenarios, noting how rookies took on work assignments compared to veteran workers. That enabled them to identify traits of successful and unsuccessful rookies and veterans.

They found the distinct rookie smarts mindset included:

  • The “backpacker” rookies who had a mindset unencumbered by past practices or experience. They were open to new possibilities, explored new territory and didn’t get mired in stale best practices.
  • The “hunter-gatherer” rookies looked for experts to help them. They then brought those ideas back to the team, along with the resources necessary to meet challenges.
  • The “firewalker” rookies may have lacked confidence in certain situations, but took small, calculated steps. These rookies moved fast and sought feedback to stay on track.
  • The “pioneer” rookies kept things simple and looked to meet core needs. These rookies improvised, pushed boundaries and were tireless.

To foster the rookie mindset, even in more experienced employees, Wiseman suggests that managers should “just push people out of their comfort zones,” she says. “I think you can ask people to sort of pivot away from what they normally do.”

For example, you wouldn’t ask a sales professional to suddenly design a new IT process, but that sales professional could be asked to use his skills in interpersonal communications skills in other areas.

“Managers need to look deeply at the fundamental strengths of an employee and think, ‘Is there something there that I can draw on?’” Wiseman says.

Wiseman says that organizations will see a payoff in fostering the rookie mindset because employees are less likely to become bored and disengaged when they’re issued new challenges several times a year. In addition, since many companies don’t always have bonuses or promotions to hand out on a regular basis, keeping employees challenged will help them feel their careers are being developed and boost morale.

In addition, she says that many managers could see their own workloads eased if more employees are challenged regularly. “Let them start doing other things and you will see your load is considerably lighter. It’s a lazy man’s way to employee satisfaction,” she says, laughing.

At the same time, Wiseman says that if employees don’t feel like their managers are embracing the idea of a rookie mindset, they can do it themselves.

“Be quick on the ‘yes,’” she advises. “Say ‘yes’ to things and then you can figure out how to do them. Continually sign up to do hard things.”

Among her suggestions to move into a rookie mindset:

  • Ask naïve questions. Ask the questions a newcomer would ask. Or, ask a novice to define the questions for you.
  • Seek expert advice. The next time you are faced with a challenge that falls within your area of expertise, avoid the temptation to jump in. Instead, reach out to at least five other experts with your questions.
  • Get your hands dirty. Getting closer to the action can help you stay connected with the needs of your customers, stakeholders or employees.
  • Attach yourself to a problem.  Commit to a challenge and then let it drag you into unknown territory. Unfamiliar places help you to think, rethink and co-create.
  • Spend time with amateurs. Move away from your peer group sometimes to get to know newcomers. Watch how they work and play, and learn from them.

What do you think of fostering a rookie mindset in your career or organization?


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Why Some Companies Make It And Others Don’t

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 06:30

I spoke to David Hornik, who has worked with technology startups throughout the software sector.  In 2000, David joined August Capital to invest broadly in information technology companies, with a focus on enterprise application and infrastructure software, as well as consumer facing software and services. Prior to joining August Capital, David was an intellectual property and corporate attorney at Venture Law Group and Perkins Coie. In his legal practice, David represented high tech startups in all aspects of their formation, financing, and operations.  In the following brief interview, Hornik talks about why some companies are more successful than others, how to scale a company, build a culture, vetting employees and more.

Dan Schawbel: Why are some companies more successful than others? What does the DNA of a successful company look like?

David Hornik: If you look at the DNA of any great company, you will see an amazing team at the core. While a great team alone is not sufficient to build a successful business, it is 90% of the battle. Great teams can attract other great people. Great teams can build great products. Great teams can raise money from great investors. The last 10% of the equation is a great market. A great team pursuing a mediocre market may be able to build an OK business. But a great team pursuing a great market will be able to build something special.

Schawbel: What should startup founders be mindful of as they create and scale their companies?

Hornik: Company building is hard. And it is a team sport. Find great people and trust them to make good choices. Find great advisors and trust them to give good counsel. Find great investors and trust them to be your partners. Going it alone is a long and lonely path.

Schawbel: How do you go about scaling a company, while maintaining a strong corporate culture?

Hornik: Every company has standard-bearers for the culture. Those folks are the ones who brim with enthusiasm for the company, spread company lore, only wear company apparel, call out behavior that is inconsistent with the mores of the company, etc. So long as the keepers of the culture are treated well and encouraged to spread the corporate gospel, the company values will stay strong no matter how quickly the business grows.

Schawbel: What is your process of vetting advisors, employees and CEOs?

Hornik: There is no substitute for speaking with those who know them best. Talk with people for whom they have worked. Talk with people with whom they’ve worked. Talk with people who have worked for them. You will quickly get a consistent picture.

Schawbel: How do you get every employee aligned with the company vision, especially as the company matures?

Hornik: Great leaders inspire teams to follow. I have seen some amazing entrepreneurs over time and they have no problem engaging the entire company around a shared vision. But great leaders also inspire teams to think independently and to innovate. Company vision can never be static. The best leaders listen to those around them and adapt.

Schawbel: Can you give examples of great leaders you’ve worked with and explain why people follow them?

Hornik: One of the great things about Venture Capital is that you get to work with amazing people. I have worked with stunning domain experts who garner the respect of their employees because of their incredible knowledge, like Kevin Johnson from Ebates or Rene Lacerte from PayCycle and I have worked with incredible managers who are masters of team building and leadership, like Godfrey Sullivan from Splunk or Danny Shader from PayNearMe. I have worked with incredible product visionaries, who invent the future, like Selina Tobaccowala and Al Lieb from Evite. I have worked with charismatic young leaders who are wise beyond their years, like Ashvin Kumar from TopHatter and Bill Clerico from WePay. I’ve worked with brilliant technologists who lead by example, like Artur Bergman from Fastly. I am honored to have the great fortune to work with these amazing entrepreneurs, as well as the many other spectacular leaders I didn’t have room to list.

Schawbel: How do you balance out a team’s strengths and weaknesses? Is it smart to find people who are specialists or generalists to fill gaps in a team?

Hornik: There is clearly value in diversity. But there is no single way to build a great company. Some companies thrive when made up entirely of technical talent. Other companies thrive when founded by business thinkers and product visionaries. Over time, companies can only scale when made up of experts across a range of disciplines (technology, sales, finance, legal, product, etc.). But focus and specialization can prove powerful at the earliest stages of company building.

Schawbel: How do you know if the company is pursuing the right market?

Hornik: Markets are tricky. The biggest and best markets don’t exist when you start out. Great companies create markets. Sometimes a great company creates a market out of whole cloth. My firm funded Atheros Communications when there was no such thing as Wifi, yet Atheros went on to be the leading chip provider for all things Wifi. My firm funded Splunk before there was any discussion of Big Data, yet Splunk went on to become the poster child for Big Data. Sometimes a great company reinvents an old market. My partner Howard was the earliest investor in Skype, which went on to reinvent telecommunications. My firm recently invested in Fastly, which is reinventing the Content Distribution Network, and AvantCredit, which is reinventing online lending. In each instance, there was a massive unmet need and billions of dollars of commerce attached to solving the problem.

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Workplace Success – What You Need to Know this Week

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 07:00

Here are three stories people are talking about this week.

1. How about a pre-cation before you start a new job?

Ever wished you could have some serious time off between jobs but felt like you couldn’t take it because the new company wanted you to start quickly? Then you’ll love “pre-cations,” a new perk from Silicon Valley, where start-ups are increasingly pushing new hires to take time off – on the company’s dime – before starting work. Some go so far as to give new hires not just paid time off before their first day, but travel vouchers too. “We want people to bring their best every day, and we want them here for the long haul,” Jeff Diana, Atlassian’s chief people officer told Slate. “Changing jobs is an important shift, and we want to give people time to recharge, spend some time with family. Because once you start a new job, you kind of jump all in.”

2. Could your choice of mate make or break your career?

The most successful people have particularly conscientious mates, finds new research that will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science. Researchers found that people who scored highest on three measures of career success –salary increases, promotions, and job satisfaction – all have mates with a personality type known as “conscientious,” meaning that they’re especially reliable, detail-oriented, and organized. After all, “it’s a lot easier to concentrate on your next brilliant idea at work if someone else can be counted on to make sure the dog has all his shots, the car gets inspected on time, and the kids are fed,” notes Fortune. Moreover, suggests the researcher, personality traits can rub off; over time, people may emulate the behaviors of their conscientious partners.

3. When a manager is a jerk, does intent matter?

When a manager is a jerk to staff members, does intent matter? A researcher at San Francisco State University set out to learn whether workers felt differently about abusive behavior from a boss when they believed it was intended to motivate them – to light a fire under them, for instance, or to get a team to up its game. Psychologist Kevin Eschleman found that this type of “motivational abuse” is just as counterproductive as abuse that’s meant solely to humiliate or demean. His study concluded that employees who are verbally abused – regardless of motivation – are more likely to slack off or act out at work. That’s one more reason that companies should care about how their managers are treating employees.


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