Don’t let resolutions slip away

January 4, 2015

Visualize and plan ahead to make your New Year’s commitments stick

Q: Every year I set new professional goals as my New Year’s resolutions. However, within weeks I lose traction as other priorities take over. How can I create sticky resolutions?

A: There is a lot riding on New Year’s resolutions when viewed as wiping the slate clean, the salvo to breaking a haunting bad habit, or making a dramatic impact. Big goals that require a change in belief or behaviour need more than a public declaration.

Try these four easy steps to improve your resolution retention:

  • Limit resolutions to three stretch goals which can realistically be accomplished within a year.  The more meaningful and relevant they are to you, the easier it will be to stay on track.
  • Envision their successful completion. After creating your resolutions, invest time imagining the opportunities that would be possible for you and others once you achieve your goal. Like an athlete repeatedly visualizing crossing the finish line, revisiting your vision throughout the year will keep you focused and tethered to your resolutions.
  • Create manageable action plans with clear and specific measures so you will be buoyed by hitting ongoing targets. Share your plan with others to demonstrate your commitment to your resolutions. Ask allies to encourage and hold you accountable to your milestones. Celebrate each deadline you reach.
  • Finally, identify three qualities and characteristics you need to personify to be successful. For example, if you resolve to speak up at every meeting you might commit to being bold, outspoken and well prepared.

You, like many, may lose momentum or fall off course. You can recover any time by acknowledging your success to date and revisiting the four easy steps above.  Readjusting your action steps and timelines as needed can eventually lead you to year-end congratulations.

Originally published in The Province, January 4, 2015

Expert status now a barrier

February 29, 2012

Q: I have pride in being an expert people seek out in my organization, only to discover that it is now the barrier to moving into the executive suite. What can I do to change this?

A: Years of acquiring technical expertise or knowledge makes you so reliable in your current role that there may be a reluctance to promote you. Who else could possibly replace you?

Up to this point you’ve received your satisfaction from accomplishing things, feeling productive. Now, delegation is a high priority. Make yourself obsolete rather than indispensable. Transfer your knowledge to your staff. Give them opportunities to learn and grow so they can take over your job.

Relinquishing control of the daily tactical issues will also showcase your ability to manage a team to successfully meet outcomes. Have them replace you at meetings you cannot attend so others can see how capable they are. It will also give you time out from doing so you can begin thinking strategically at a level above the tactical.

While you progress from being task to strategic focus, you will also need to shift other leaders’ perception of you as a big-picture thinker. Find every opportunity to get visibility at your manager’s level and above. Take on a high-visibility project which would require you to consult with them. Meet with them informally for coffee.

In presentations to leaders, demonstrate your ability to transfer tactical information to the audience at the appropriate level of strategy for their needs. Be clear and succinct when outlining the key critical priorities for success and how they tie back to the strategic objectives and corporate vision.

Make it easy for others to view you as a visionary leader.

Originally published in The Province, February 26, 2012.

Make change easier on staff

April 6, 2011

Q: My executive team spent six months working on some key changes for our business. The staff agrees it makes complete economic sense for our company and their jobs. But when we rolled it out they balked. How can I gain their support?

A: Humans are creatures of habit. Even when change is for the better, people often cling to the familiar because it’s safer than the uncertainty of the unknown. People typically move through stages of shock, denial, anger, bargaining then depression before reaching acceptance.

After planning for months, you will be at a different stage of the change process than staff hearing about it for the first time. Don’t expect them to jump on the bandwagon right away. They need time to absorb the impact.

Communicate your vision and its benefits so everyone has a clear understanding of where they are heading. Give them a forum to air their thoughts and feelings openly and honestly.

Staff need knowledge. How is this going to shake out? How will it impact me and my role? Address their concerns and expect resistance from about 30 per cent of your people. Recognize their counterproductive, negative or sabotaging behaviours. Minimize its influence on the 50 per cent undecided.

Approximately 20 per cent of your employees will be excited to embrace the change. Reward these supporters for their contributions towards the initiative. They have the ability to sway those who are taking a “wait and see” attitude. Encourage employees to get involved in the implementation. This creates ownership and increases commitment.

No matter how well you manage the process, some individuals will opt out. Let them go. Stay focused on your change leaders who will create the critical mass for organizational success.

Originally published in The Province, April 3, 2011.

Plan project in four steps

February 28, 2011

Q: I tried to empower my director with an important project. Each time I checked in with him he said he was on track and didn’t need any support. But when he presented to the client, it wasn’t at all what I envisioned. When I told him how disappointed I was, he said that he felt set up because I didn’t tell him my expectations ahead of time. What should I do in the future?

A: It can be tricky anticipating how much support and clarity a seasoned leader needs. To spare future headaches, follow these four simple steps for every initiative.

1) Create a united vision. Begin by sharing both of your visions for the project. Have your direct report go first. Discuss best possible outcomes and what they would actually look like in reality. This minimizes the expectation gap.

2) Plan and strategize. Once you’ve reached mutual agreement, forecast potential obstacles and an plan to resolve them should they occur. Put three to four key expectations on the table so your director knows exactly where the goalposts are. Be specific and measurable. Share any wisdom, insight or mentoring you would appreciate receiving if you were in his shoes.

3) Empower him to take action. Set up realistic targets and timelines for progress reports. Then turn him loose to meet the expectations and desired outcomes in his own way. Schedule regular meetings to ensure the project stays on track or to allow for course correct if the project requirements change

4) Debrief each project for the key learning. Grow your director by hearing what he thought was successful and why. Then share what you found successful and what you want next time.

Empowering your employees does not mean abdicating your responsibility as their leader.

Originally published in The Province, February 27, 2011.

Time to air your strong points

June 7, 2009

Q: In a job interview, how do I respond to the question: “What are your weaknesses?” without jeopardizing my chances? I’ve heard the best way is to turn a negative into a positive such as, “I’ve been told that I am a perfectionist.”

A: Many organizations scout candidates with key strengths they can leverage instead of well-rounded generalists. Areas that require development come with the territory.

Your best defence is a good offence. Go into an interview knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Show you’re handling your shortcomings by identifying circumstances where they appear and how you manage them. Make a strong case for how effective your strengths are.

For example, you can reframe your perfectionism as a positive — a keen attention to detail. Combined with one of your key strengths — efficiency, perhaps — may mean you can be counted on to produce superior results, and in much less time than others.

If your perfectionism surfaces when you are unsure of what’s expected, explain how you ask enough questions to get the clarity and context you need to successfully tackle the job.

Finally, you might show you’re striving to improve by completing lower-priority tasks at the 90-per-cent mark, rather than driving for 150 per cent on everything. Describe how you draw on your thoroughness for projects that demand high accuracy and precision.

Sometimes interviewers are less interested in the weakness than in what your response reveals about your character and attitude. Being truthful will demonstrate your integrity and ability to accurately assess yourself.

The employer may be willing to buy your strengths to round out a team. Your weaknesses may be another member’s strong point, making you a perfect fit to fill the gap.

Originally printed in The Province on June 7, 2009.

Stay in touch with your boss

November 16, 2008

Q: With the dramatic economic downturn, I am noticing my colleagues are increasingly territorial and protective of their jobs. They are even claiming my results as their own. In spite of my best efforts to resist, I am being drawn into the fray. How do I insulate myself?

A: Understand that the threat on their job security is likely motivating their actions. Fear and stress reveal a person’s true character. While such tactics may be designed to protect their turf, they can actually cause their demise.

So why not play a different game with considerably better odds? Differentiate yourself by taking a completely different tack — the best defence is a good offence.

First, be crystal clear about how success is being measured in this new economic reality. Clarify with your supervisor what outcomes you are expected to achieve, their deadlines and what specific criteria you’re being measured against.

Don’t stop there. Stay in regular communication with the key leaders in your company. In a fluctuating economy, strategies and measures can shift quickly. Understanding where the brass is heading enables you to correct your course at a moment’s notice.

Focus on doing the best you can in your role by being productive and generating positive results.

Your boss will have firsthand knowledge of your efforts — and no rumour mill can snatch that away from you. By making it your mission to meet the organization’s goals, you’ll be demonstrating beyond words that you are a proactive, dedicated and dependable leader — a valuable asset who’s worth hanging on to! 

Distance yourself from the unhealthy head games. The economic climate won’t last forever. Find unmet needs or gaps in your organization that you can easily fill. While others worry about hanging on to their jobs, you could find yourself up for promotion.

Originally printed in The Province on November 16, 2008.

Outlining expectations will save headaches later

June 1, 2008

Q: I’m an independent contractor and my largest client continually squeezes me for more services for the same fee. How do I stop the bleeding without jeopardizing the deals or the client altogether? 

A: First, don’t compete on price. Promote the value you are providing for the fee charged. Managing client expectations may be even more imperative than delivery of the service itself. 

As an existing service provider, you have the competitive advantage of meeting the client’s evolving needs — even shaping them. Track this vital information by summarizing your progress, reporting results and highlighting achieved outcomes to the client after key milestones.

Here’s your opportunity to elicit feedback from the client. What are they satisfied with? Where are you exceeding expectations? When the client articulates this, it reinforces the return on their investment. The most challenging yet noteworthy question to ask is, “What would you want different next time?” Their responses enable you to refine your service to more closely meet their needs.

When pressed to include additional services, refer the client back to their stated satisfaction levels.

If they insist on bundling more services for the same price, hold firm. Fees that appear negotiable run the risk of being ground down by the client.

Instead, explore what’s motivating their need to discount. Determine what services they are willing to take off the table in order to reduce the price. Alternatively, offer to exchange, reduce or remove other components to maintain your fee.

Originally printed in The Province on June 1, 2008.

BC Business: 10 power moves

May 1, 2008

How many times have you inwardly seethed while a colleague glibly speaks up at a meeting, passing off your brilliant idea as her own? Or felt that inner alarm bell jangle when your boss spells out a plan that you know is doomed to failure?

They don’t teach you how to handle these everyday dilemmas in business school, but knowing how to field them smoothly might just save your bacon if the going gets rough. With the help of some advice from the experts, here are 10 tips that will help you finesse the challenges that might otherwise derail your progress from the bullpen to the corner office.

[read full article]

Be calm when short-listed

March 2, 2008

Q: I have been short-listed for my dream job. They said they’d let me know within days, and it’s now been three weeks. I’ve sent a thank-you and called three times, but they keep saying it’ll just be a bit longer. How much do I pester and how long do I wait?

A: It’s a delicate balance between being a stellar standout and a nagging nuisance. Treat it as an extended job interview with the opportunity to set yourself apart.

Stay on their radar screen. Engage them in ongoing dialogues so you are top of mind when they review the applications. Keep your tone inquisitive and interested rather than insistent or challenging. Cultivate a personal connection so they can put a face to a resumé.

Pay close attention to the cues. Don’t assume you are out of the running. When the selection process is slow going, listen for an underlying cause such as overwhelming response, reduced urgency or competing business pressures. Notice how they are responding to you: Positive interest or cool indifference?

Demonstrate your unique qualities. Employers’ criteria may not be visible on a resumé. Attitude and character are valued attributes. Make a lasting impression by being consistently professional, positive, enthusiastic, confident and calm in your interactions. Proactively staying in touch shows initiative, determination and perseverance. What firm wouldn’t want that?

Don’t pin all your hopes on this one role. Court other job opportunities so you don’t come across desperate or demanding. A highly sought-after candidate can be more appealing to a prospective employer. Who knows, in the meantime you may discover another dream job.

Originally printed in The Province, March 2, 2008.

Preparing to cast off the safety net

October 28, 2007

Q:  I want to leave my job to start my own consulting business, but I’m nervous about paying my monthly bills until I am up and running. What tips do you have for making a smooth transition?

A:  Doing market research, setting up business systems, even creating a financial nest egg can provide you with a solid foundation that will save you migraines later.

Actively test-market your service immediately. You’ll quickly learn what the demand is for your services, how much people will pay and which marketing approach results in a sale.

Gage people’s reaction to your message and fine-tune it until you can say it with confidence — and people are saying, “Sure, I’ll buy from you.”

New entrepreneurs tend to grossly underestimate the time and effort it takes to secure a new client, complete the work satisfactorily and get paid.

By taking on manageable contracts now, you will have realistic expectations based on experience.

Experiment with what to charge to cover your time, meet the client’s expectations and net a profit after expenses.

Aim to accurately forecast your marketing and sales cycle so you are not caught off-guard later.

This is a perfect time to create business systems. Standardizing will keep you from being overwhelmed when customers are knocking down your door.

Beta-test your business with a low-risk trial run. You’ll recognize when you have worked out enough of the wrinkles to smoothly step into self-employment without a safety net.

Originally printed in The Province, October 28, 2007.

Next Page »