Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Jan 30, 2010

1943 Tips for Hiring Women

You have probably encountered this list on the web, or through other blogs that you read.  This is a section of a 1943 pamphlet prepared by a mass transportation trade magazine that outlined "how to use [women] to the best hiring advantage.  The seminar question is... if you put aside the "little lady" tone and the sweeping generalizations you ought to expect from 1940s public discourse, how do you react to the tips themselves?  A "husky" girl might take it in her stride, but that's "feminine psychology" for you.

Eleven Tips on Getting More Efficiency Out of Women Employees: (1943)

There’s no longer any question whether transit companies should hire women for jobs formerly held by men. The draft and manpower shortage has settled that point. The important things now are to select the most efficient women available and how to use them to the best advantage. Here are eleven helpful tips on the subject from Western Properties:

1. Pick young married women. They usually have more of a sense of responsibility than their unmarried sisters, they’re less likely to be flirtatious, they need the work or they wouldn’t be doing it, they still have the pep and interest to work hard and to deal with the public efficiently.
2. When you have to use older women, try to get ones who have worked outside the home at some time in their lives. Older women who have never contacted the public have a hard time adapting themselves and are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy. It’s always well to impress upon older women the importance of friendliness and courtesy.

3. General experience indicates that “husky” girls – those who are just a little on the heavy side are more even tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.
4. Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination – one covering female conditions. This step not only protects the property against the possibilities of lawsuit, but reveals whether the employee-to-be has any female weaknesses which would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job.

5. Stress at the outset the importance of time; the fact that a minute or two lost here and there makes serious inroads on schedules. Until this point is recieved, service is likely to be slowed up.

6. Give the female employee a definite day-long schedule of duties so that they’ll keep busy without bothering the management for instructions every few minutes. Numerous properties say that women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them, but that they lack initiative in finding work themselves.

7. Whenever possible, let the inside employee change from one job to another at some time during the day. Women are inclined to be less nervous and happier with change.

8. Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. You have to make some allowances for feminine psychology. A girl has more confidence and is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day.

9. Be tactful when issuing instructions or in making criticisms. Women are often sensitive; they can’t shrug off harsh words the way men do. Never ridicule a woman – it breaks her spirit and cuts off her efficiency.

10. Be reasonably considerate about using strong language around women. Even though a girl’s husband or father may swear vociferously, she’ll grow to dislike a place of business where she hears too much of this.
11. Get enough size variety in operator’s uniforms so that each girl can have a proper fit. This point can’t be stressed too much in keeping women happy.

Jan 28, 2010

The Wicked Recruiter: Are they just not into you anymore?

Tina Duccini, The Wicked Recruiter

In a follow-up to last week's post, we asked the Wicked Recruiter to reveal more behind-the-scenes insight into Recruiter behavior.
Dear Wicked Recruiter, 
What does it mean if a recruiter has started talking about making an offer and seems enthusiastic, but then stops contacting you or returning your calls altogether? Are they "just not into you" anymore?

Answer: It means you have an underperforming recruiter. They likely ran into an awkward corporate situation and simply don't know how to talk about it.

The general awkward situations are:

1. req frozen due to public company quarterly shenanigans
2. req frozen due to department budget issues
3. req frozen due to company not doing so hot and not freezing reqs before candidates got to the offer process
4. Department/Hiring manager believing they had the right to hire but bypassed administrative steps and got stuck in the mud.
5. compensation inequity issues

A great recruiter knows how to talk about each of these types of issues. Companies with recruiters who can't address these issues have taken the first step in showing you how important hiring is to them. Companies may still get lucky and find some great people, even when they have an alarmingly bad hiring process; however, bad bait will only get you a good catch once in a while. Eventually, not taking your own hiring process seriously and failing to realize it is one of the 2 most important parts of your business will catch up to you.

You are only doing two things in business...

1. recruiting customers
2. recruiting employees to serve those customers

A business needs everyone in the company to know how the company makes money and use that knowledge to make good business decisions, the most important of those being hiring.

Hiring Human Resources/Recruitment staff who can't have hard, yet real, business conversations during the hiring process means a business is not taking #2 seriously. Which should make you ask how seriously they are taking #1.

However, there is still a chance they may turn out to be a good company to work for despite some awkward potholes in their hiring process. Take your experience seriously and look in to what happened. 

If you decide to take a job with a company that has an underwhelming or even downright insulting hiring process, then please do everyone a favor and insist on a better process and if necessary, a better HR/Staffing team.

Sometimes you have to play the game
Play to win
When you are in power
Change the rules!

Because putting people who don't get #1 and #2 in charge of hiring is costly and like arming your gates with your worst enemy. Bad HR and Recruitment staff is a Trojan Horse. Remember how that turned out for Troy?

Jan 27, 2010

Tips from the trenches: Make your coworkers look good

Miss Minchin, Dean of Students

In school, group projects were the worst. One person always did all the work, one person always dominated the planning, or everyone did their own thing and it never came together as a cohesive project. The same dynamics can come into play in the world of work whether you are working on a cross-functional team, or simply depending on other groups to help you meet your deliverables. It can be tempting to sit back and let the slackers in the group expose themselves as unprepared or non-collaborative, while you seemingly “shine” in comparison, but in reality this will have the opposite effect. Your manager wants to know that she can rely on you to produce results, and this applies to team projects as well as individual contributions.

Rather than silently seethe when you find yourself doing more than your fair share, or focus only on your own contribution to the effort (and be surprised when someone drops the ball at the 11th hour), work to bring out the best in your team. Take a few proactive steps to help your colleagues shine and the whole team will look good. Here are a few examples:

  • At least a day before a status meeting or presentation, check in with your team and make sure everyone is prepared.
    • Ask:”Do you have everything you need for tomorrow? I’m expecting you will present X and I’ll present Y, is this what you had in mind?”
    • Determine which updates/sections each person will present, and talk through how you think the meeting will be run.
    • If you are presenting to executives, it doesn't hurt to stage a dry run in advance. Everyone will benefit.
  •  Ensure any obstacles or negative reports your team has to make are presented with a plan to overcome them:
    • “We are still waiting for the reports, but we’ve escalated this and it’s been promised by no later than next Monday.”
  •  Help your colleagues present their results in the best light, you may have more experience in presenting than they do, or you can simply serve as a second pair of eyes.
    • Instead of “the marketing campaign was not very successful, but it was our first one”, encourage them to report “the marketing campaign had a respectable showing for a first run, and we are working on a plan to make the next one even better”\
    • Instead of letting your developer state that the code is only 30% done, encourage him to present it as “We prioritized the main workflows which are 90% complete and we are starting on the secondary workflows next week. “ (Of course – only if this is true)
  • Make sure you check in with your team members on a regular basis, and set up a status call if there isn’t one already. 
    • This is the place to check progress, ask if anyone needs help, and uncover obstacles before they lead to big problems. If your company culture doesn't support that, check in with each person one-on-one.
    • This is not a forum to publicly shame team members into taking action. Understand that they each have their own individual priorities, and are stretched just as thin as you are.
In the end, it’s the finished result that counts, and supporting your colleagues will make you all look better. Throwing your colleagues under the bus will reflect negatively on you as well. What goes around comes around, and it never hurts to generate good will among coworkers. You never know, someday you might end up reporting to them, but with these skills under your belt it’s more likely they’ll end up reporting to you. ;)

Jan 26, 2010

Setting up Your Home Office

Instructor, Betsy Boesel Sagges, Independent Public Relations and Communications Professional

Home offices have come a long way since Bill Gates tinkered with wires and metal boxes in his parents’ garage. “Working from home” used to be a description often accompanied by a wink, since it rarely meant actually WORKING, beyond making a couple calls then running off to do errands or catch the kids’ chorus performance without having to log a day-off.  But that was also when most people worked at some place, before email and cell phone technology advanced to enable us to stay tethered to our desks wherever our desks might be.

My entree to creating a home office, was in the mid-1990’s when I struck an arrangement with my fulltime employer to work from home one day a week. They were based in San Francisco and I in New York.  My primary client in New Jersey, and I argued that I was basically telecommuting with them anyway.

I agreed to secure a second phone line, and they provided me with a laptop and dial-up access. (Remember dial-up? That eternally long connection that would suddenly cut-off? My generation’s version of “walking 5 miles through the snow to get to school”—God bless broadband!)

There are certain specs for creating a home office.  To help streamline the process, I have created a list of items below. Bear in mind that my consulting business may have requirements that other types of business do not, but this will hopefully help get you started with the basics.

Space/location – if you have the luxury of a separate room, regardless of size, use it. There is a myriad of distractions in one’s home (children, laundry, doorbell, etc), and the easiest way to tune them out is shutting them out with a closed door. My home office is a nice-sized room off the master bedroom; however, the temperature is far less consistent than the rest of the house. So I added a space heater and window air conditioner to keep it comfortable.

Desk – Large enough for your computer and accessories, room for note-taking and keeping some files handy. My desk is actually a large antique dining table.  While the height might not be ideal, I was able to compensate with an adjustable chair. It’s great to have room to spread out, but not necessary.

Desk chair – It is critically important to spend money on something comfortable and ergonomically correct. My first chair was cheap, less flexible and far less comfortable. I found myself getting up more frequently and trying to adjust it regularly, which ultimately cut into my productivity. My current chair is fantastic (and only about $100 at Staples). I set the height to meet my desk/table just right, and now can work for hours.

Lighting—My office faces south so I have the luxury of afternoon sun. However, it also means my shades are drawn to avoid the blinding glare through the windows, creating an uneven shadow around my workspace. Spend money on good lighting throughout your office, not just on your desk. Nothing is more frustrating than looking through files you have to carry across the room to see clearly. A good desk light and bright room lighting with help avoid fatigue or a dip in your work when the sun starts to set. There’s a reason why fluorescents are so popular in office buildings and Las Vegas.

File cabinet—Despite the growing use of digital files, a filing cabinet is important for storing printed or published items such as business receipts and 1099/W-2 statements, especially when you have multiple clients to track (printed copies receipts). I have a large, 2 drawer horizontal cabinet that stores tax forms, spiral-bound plans and programs, printed news stories, clippings of topical interest, reference sources, computer and cell phone manuals and back-up software, and other items relevant to my home office such as ink cartridges or extra notepads. (Hanging folders and file folders needed as well.). The file cabinet can also be used as a tabletop to hold a printer and reference books.

Computer—I have a desktop system that is soon to be replaced by a laptop with a port station for more mobility. However, I will continue to use the flat-screen monitor (17”) and wireless mouse with the new laptop. I also have a wireless printer that also scans and copies. As far as computer support, there are great consultants around, but I would ask several sources before bringing someone into your home. I’ve had good luck with Best Buy and their Geek Squad (in person only, don’t use them over the phone for tune-ups or other diagnostics).

E-mail account—It is a good idea to have a separate e-mail account for work, and there are many free options out there such as Yahoo or Google mail. I am one of those people with several e-mail addresses, as I have clients with their own servers for me to use (e.g. betsy@pickaclientanyclientwebsite.com).

Off-site back-up—For small businesses, off-site storage is an important consideration. I use Norton’s 360 to back-up my files, along with client-specific flashdrives that I can take from one computer to a client’s office and back again as needed. One of my clients swears by Mozy as his back-up storage provider. Many of these off-site storage providers offer annual plans with monthly fees.

Telephone—Dedicated phone line for your office. Period. It is important to have an office number that is separate from your life phone (home or cell) along with a separate answering service stating that someone has reached your office. That way there’s no chance one of your kids will answer the phone for you. Clients don’t really go for that. I am in the process of “porting” my home office landline number to a cell phone. This is a relatively new option – so new that one of the Verizon reps I spoke didn’t even know it was possible – but one that makes sense for a more mobile workforce.

I’ve had my home office phone number for nearly 15 years, and was loath to change it. But my client work was taking me away from my office more and more and I wanted to stay connected without having to forward calls or check messages all the time. Turning my home office landline into a cell number was the best option – and can be less expensive depending on your cell plan. (*I’m currently mid-way through to “porting” process so check back for an update to see if it truly works. Cross your fingers for me.)

Office supplies—One of the hardest parts of working in a home office, is that you must provide your own supplies closet. Running down the hall for another legal pad or post-it note suddenly becomes a trip to Staples or Office Depot. And those little things can add up! Choose the items that you’re used to, and spend the money to stock up a bit. I have a shelf that holds plain white paper for the printer, file folders, envelopes, note pads, legal pads, and staples. On my desk, I have a pencil holder with pencils, pens, highlighters and scissors; a dish with paper clips; two paperweights and stapler. Other items you might need include a three-hole punch, scotch tape, packing tape, padded envelopes, and page protectors. I also hit the local post office for a stash of Priority Mail labels and envelopes so I can address everything before I go over to mail it. You can also order envelopes and labels from FedEx as well.

As a final note, I urge you to treat your home office space like one outside your home. Hang some nice posters or pictures, put a few framed photos of your friends and family on your desk, and provide an extra chair for a visitor (whether you have them or not).

Resist the temptation to fill the space.  I caution you not to put too much furniture or extras in the space. My office has a little seating area with two chairs and a table with a lamp, (and both chairs are currently piled high with past client work to be sorted and filed...)  There will be plenty of time to add; do so a little at a time. Less is more when it comes to home office d├ęcor, and best to stick with what you know works and keep you working.


BWFS&SC asks our readers for their additions to this list.  Any tips?  Product recommendations?
Send us pictures of your home office set-up and we will post them as design ideas.

Additional Reading
Official IRS forms and instructions for deducting home office expenses
IKEA Office Planner
IKEA Hacker

Jan 25, 2010

Ask A Manager: Asking for a raise

Dick Whitman, Manager in Residence

Dear Manager,
What was the most compelling request for a raise you have heard?

I think the most compelling request came from a guy who was brought into my company in an acquisition. His prior role in the smaller company was relatively contained and specific. Shortly after my company came onto the scene, a few key players from his very small group left abruptly and unexpectedly. We were left in a very bad spot in that we had so few people left who knew anything about this operation that was so new to us.

This guy – let’s call him “Bob” -- saw an opportunity to help the company while helping himself, and he volunteered to step up into a much bigger role that had been left without an owner. Bob told me where he saw the need for the business, and explained to me why he felt that he was the right guy to take on the role. In the process, he described some new ways that he would like to approach the job. Given the fact that I was in a bind and had very little to work with, it was an easy sell.

All of this was done before anyone mentioned money. Bob’s actions were far louder than any words he could have spoken. It was only after we had figured out the new structure that he said to me, with great candor and sincerity, “I want this business to succeed. I am happy to have this opportunity and I intend to make it work. I have seen the potential for years and I have wanted to play a bigger part in it. All I ask is that you look at my pay in relation to my job and consider whether it is appropriate.”

The combination of Bob’s words and actions made me fight as hard as I could to improve his compensation. I was able to give him a very healthy raise that put him more in line with his value to the organization, and to me.

The key here from a manager’s standpoint is that the increase in pay needs to be tied to the value of the work, and that this evaluation is most effective when it is done objectively. In other words, managers want to know that you have the business’ best interests in mind and that you are asking for a fair shake based on your contributions.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had employees ask for a raise because “they need one”. In my younger years I tried this once (and failed) myself, so you should know that I am not playing the holy card here. You just don’t want to be arguing for a raise because you want to start a family or because your kid needs braces, or because your in-laws are moving in and you need to buy a bigger house. These motivators might be the force that brings you to the table for the discussion, but they cannot enter into the justification for higher pay from the company, particularly when budgets are tight.

Remember, unless you work directly for the CEO, or maybe the Corporate Controller, your manager most likely will not be able to make an off-cycle raise happen for you without going up the chain and fighting for it in turn. Picture your manager telling the VP or Finance department that Nancy needs a raise because she has a wedding to pay for. Doesn’t work.

You also don’t want to be demanding anything. These are sensitive talks, and there is an inherent risk that your manager will be put on the defensive when asked. A manager can feel like he is faced with the problem of an important employee at risk of leaving -- or at least at risk of being unhappy, maybe spreading some bad cheer along the way -- and he is also being asked to do something that is not entirely under his control. As an employee, if you can help your manager understand the business rationale, you are then partnering with him to come to a solution together.

So my advice is to first show your value by going the extra mile, helping out, and working above the expectations of your job. After that, to do an honest assessment of where you stand in the market based upon the job that you do. If you feel like you have a clear case of undercompensation, then the tone of the discussion that works best, in my opinion, is something like this, “I like it here. I don’t want to think about leaving. Based on the information I have, and from my perspective, I believe that my compensation is out of line with the value that I bring. I am asking that you evaluate this and let me know if you agree. If you do, I am asking you to help correct this. If not, I’d like some help understanding why.”

What's your opinion? Any positive/negative experiences asking for a raise? Does gender make a difference here? If you think it does, is it because we make it an issue or does management make it an issue? Tell us in the comments!
-Miss Minchin, Dean of Students

Unpaid Furlough is Not a Good Management Tool

Guest Lecturer, Eloise, Fundraising Director

Nothing creates an us-versus-them dynamic and blows employee morale quite like implementing unpaid furlough, especially when it’s done twice in six months.  What begins in a meeting room as a compromise to save money and jobs can worsen your employees' situation if not planned with real-life outcomes in mind.  Read more in Eloise's story below.

For the past two years I have worked as a fundraising director for a nonprofit arts organization in fiscal crisis.  In mid-April of 2009, senior management announced that due to impending financial disaster, they were forced to cut 10% of the staff and were implementing mandatory unpaid furlough for the remaining staff. This was presented as a necessary last resort that would get the budget back into balance.

The number of unpaid days to be taken was on a sliding scale, based on each employee’s salary level that ranged from two to 10 unpaid days.  Unpaid time had to be taken between April 15 and the end of our fiscal year on June 30 -- in other words...now.  Human Resources presented it as "not a big deal" because everyone qualifies for unemployment for their furlough time.

That just sounded wrong to me in so many ways.  I did not ask the government to pay me because my organization could not control its finances, but the majority of my co-workers—including the senior management team who created the fiscal problem—filed for unemployment for their furlough.

Since the last quarter of the fiscal year is the busiest time in the fundraising world, taking time off was not an option for me.  I worked two weeks without pay because foundations and the federal government have specific deadlines, and the work had to get done before those deadlines, or we would have no possibility of incoming grant money.  My manager, however, not only took two weeks of unpaid furlough, he took an additional four weeks of vacation time throughout the summer months.  I was astounded when all of the senior staff followed suit, taking their two weeks of unpaid furlough as well as their full complement of vacation days last summer.

We were in worsening fiscal crisis, they had said.  The organization needed increased management attention, and most of the management team was absent for six weeks to start our new fiscal year. My experience in similar situations in the for-profit work world had been that senior management is more present, not less, in times of financial difficulty.  They had role modeled team work, worked longer hours, and rallied the troops with specific goals, communicating constantly to get the organization back on track. 

We heard nothing more about the fiscal situation until six months later in October 2009 when Human Resources sent an email at 4:55 pm on a Friday announcing a second mandatory furlough…only this time, everyone was taking the hit of 10 days without pay on mandated single days selected by senior management staff.  So, from April 2009 to April 2010, I will lose four weeks of pay—that’s one month without a paycheck or an 8.3% pay cut.  It is significant, it is painful, and it feels like punishment for all staff because of poor fiscal management by senior management and the Board.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “furlough” as a noun meaning “a leave of absence from duty granted especially to a soldier” and as a verb “to lay off from work.”  We have been treated like solders, handed orders from on high.  And we are expected to accept those without question or rational discussion.  My position generates about $2.5 million of revenue a year—one quarter of the organization’s total annual revenue.  Cutting my paid work time by 8.3% did not result in a similar reduction in my fundraising goal.  In this time of crisis, my goal was actually raised 10%.  How was that supposed to happen?

I should also mention that my organization gives its employees 22 paid vacation days, 21 paid sick days, and five paid days off between Christmas and New Year’s Day each year.  Add 20 days of unpaid furlough, and (if I actually took all that time off), I would be taking off 68 days or over 3 months of potential work time each year.

In the midst of this fiscal crisis, Board members do not seem to comprehend the impact to staff members of the financial hit of two to four weeks without pay.  Perhaps it’s because Board members are selected for their wealth and have never had to worry about paying the rent or buying groceries. When the second furlough was announced at the Board meeting, the Board president said “employees have to take a couple of unpaid days.”  Board members shook their heads and gave sympathetic looks to the staff members in the room, but they had no idea that staff had to go two to four weeks—not "a couple of days"—without pay. 

In that same Board meeting, the Managing Director reported that “employee morale is good given the circumstances.”   Senior management has become so out of touch with employees that they do not recognize that morale has been flushed down the toilet.  Yes, we enjoy our co-workers, but we do not enjoy continual denigration.  We have a lot of gallows humor because if we weren’t laughing we would cry every day that we have to slog to our dank basement workplace and pray for 5:00 pm to come more quickly.

Some advice to senior management considering implementing unpaid furloughs:
1.      For God’s sake, analyze your financial plans and create organizational budgets based on reality before you mandate unpaid furlough time for your staff.   

2.      Don’t downplay the severity of each employee’s economic hit in an unpaid furlough—it’s painful to go without a paycheck for a week or a month.

3.      Don’t tell employees that you are in such financial crisis that you are unable to budget for “extras” like training and professional development and then send six senior management staff to the same expensive conference on the other side of the country.

4.      Don’t ignore employee morale and pretend everything’s okay because it’s not.

5.     Understand that most of your staff are currently looking for employment elsewhere because they cannot take incessant abuse, inept management, and repeated pay cuts any more. 

Finishing School adds:  Know the law.  There are laws regarding furloughs in your state, additional guidelines for federally funded organizations.  Managers and Staff both are strongly encouraged to know responsibilities and rights before planning mandated furloughs.

related reading
Companies turn to furloughs
Employee Furloughs and Related Wage and Employment Laws
Avoiding Legal Pitfalls in RIFs and When Reducing Hours
MSNBC on "Furlough Frenzy"

Jan 23, 2010

Disappearing Acts (book review)

Resident MBA candidate Diane Chambers files a review of Disappearing Acts: Gender, Power, and Relational Practice at Work, by Joyce K. Fletcher, Co-director of Working Connections Project, Jean Baker Miller Training Institute, Stone Center, Wellesley College.  A suggestion for those of you who enjoy the academic read, the swift pace of 21st century business history, and bringing sociology to the workplace.  Regular readers may also notice a recent theme regarding confusion between collaboration and exploitation.

This book, published in early 2001, is based on a structured observation study of female engineers in a high tech firm in the eastern U.S.

The author uncovered four relational practices that the women in the study engaged in:
1. Preserving the Project, taking responsibility for the whole and putting the project's needs ahead of job description, project scope, and career.  Engineers were described as doing what they had to do to move the project forward, even if it involved perceived menial work like data entry or soldering.

2. Mutual Empowering, whose outcome includes task completion and benefitting others through help and knowledge-sharing.

3. Self-Achieving, that is, using emotion as data and making and preserving connections.

4. Creating Team, that is, facilitating connections by listening and responding.

The author then examines about how these relational practices get "disappeared" -- that is, devalued by the organization as non-crucial to work.

First, consider the context:
When success and effectiveness are defined as autonomy and independence, a cooperative attitude is a "deviant" attitude, often attributed to powerlessness and naivete, and can signal a willingness to be exploited. Doing was is perceived as low-status (non leadership) work for the sake of the project can signal career naivete.  Facilitating connection-making is often misattributed to a "need to be liked"  rather than to a desire for cooperative achievement or the effort to work more effectively.  Most tragically (in male-dominated fields especially), female-identified traits and behaviors can be undervalued simply because they are female identified.  They are the style of the Other and sometimes the Unwanted.

Even the author interpreted relational behavior exhibited by a female engineer as indicative of a character flaw, forgetting for a moment her own hypothesis.  During a shadowing session, an engineer was observed as taking "a back seat in a meeting and let[ting] her boss talk about her data."  Joyce Fletcher writes:
I first coded this as evidence of her fear of power and success. I wrote the word "meek" in the margins of my notes. I made sense of her behavior as a type of personal inadequacy and assumed that she was uncomfortable with self-promotion or with being seen as an expert. It was not until later, when she spoke of the incident with pride and explained it was an intentional strategy on her part to give the problem increased visibility and make sure it was taken seriously, did I realize her behavior at that meeting could be understood differently. Only then did I realize that I had "disappeared" her work by labeling the behavior as inappropriate to the workplace and as evidence of her personal inadequacy.
Consider the limits of our language:
It is difficult to articulate individual achievement through relational practice. The terms are usually dichotomous. Relational attributes associated with "femininity" are marked as non-work or inappropriate to the workplace. Further, organizationally strong words exclude relational terms. (visionary, decisive, entreprenurial, risk-taking, etc) Ever see "nice" "helpful" "polite" on leadership term lists distributed by business school career offices?

The study observed that the female engineers were expected to act relationally (as women) and were devalued for doing so. In other words "relational activity is not needed and women must provide it" (p. 112).

How to Use this book
Disappearing Acts was published just as the concept of "emotional intelligence" was coming to prominence, sparking desire to develop these skills (investing in developing others, succession planning, connecting cross-functionally. Organizations were flattening (think: those surviving dot-coms).

Though her observations suggest that relational practice will be challenged by a 20th century work-culture, she also stresses that it forms the framework for transforming organizations into 21st century workplaces.  A number of strategies were proposed by Fletcher, based on her research, to further the recognition of relational practices as valuable to the workplace.

Naming - simply, calling these practices what they are.
By using a language of competence, and naming the intended value-added outcomes of relational practice and noting the relational practices that others do, organizational attention is drawn to the shift in behavior.  Cause-and-effect are articulated.  A new language is developed.  ("Let's use this meeting time to discuss the risks of this approach.  I want to be sure all departments have had their say in identifying the impacts to their goals.")

Norming - using this new open language to set new norms
Relational practice questions established organizational concepts, like what marks "good" leadership or decision-making.
Negotiating - "say yes" - PLUS identify the conditions that need to be met
Organizations can assign monetary and/or career-building value to relational competence. "Yes! I'll coordinate that focus group because I care about building community - and I'd like for that task to be valued in terms of revenue/cost saving dollars in the service of my career advancement."

Networking - another way to normalize
Organizations can foster networks to encourage and reward relational practice (inside or outside the given work environment).  In male-dominated fields, this has tended to be in the form of Women's Caucuses; in majority-dominated fields, support and strategy groups for workers of color.  These organizations have value, to be sure, and can influence the organization as a whole more effectively by using their solidarity to network externally as well as internally.

Related Posts
What do women do to sabatoge their careers?
Salary Negotiations
What should we focus on for the new year?

Jan 20, 2010

The Wicked Recruiter: Waiting for the offer... and waiting, and waiting

Tina Duccini, the Wicked Recruiter

Dear Wicked Recruiter:
What does it mean when you have completed all interviews with a company, the recruiter has told you that an offer is in the works, but it's been three weeks and still no offer? Do you keep following up or just wait? Or do you just move on?

Generally, there is no good excuse for a recruiter not contacting you or letting you know what is going on with an offer if one is in the works.

Sometimes this is a difficult situation- such as:
a. the req just got frozen due to budget shenanigans, hiring freeze, impending termination/resignation of the hiring manager, or upcoming layoff that most people don't know about yet.

b. The hiring manager/team believes they can proceed with a hire and have interviewed candidates and selected one for offer and did not follow the company's required administrative steps in order to complete the hire or get a req approved.

c. Issues with compensation as in paying a market rate for a position when current team members may be underpaid and it gets held up with HR/Finance/Hiring Manager.

It is actually appalling how many hiring managers are unaware of what talent really costs, and sometimes when people have been in a company for quite some time their comp has not kept pace with the market and the first time they need to hire someone making more than themselves it takes them by surprise and they needlessly hold up offers lobbying their own bosses to raise their pay if they have to hire someone making more than themselves.

d. They have another candidate they are interested in and are waiting for them to complete the interview process.

No matter what the scenario- you have a recruiter who lacks competence. Basic competence for their job requires them to prepare you for all steps, timeframes, and set expectations in the hiring and offer process. The thing is... especially if you have a clusterph@%k of a process, a recruiter NEEDS to let a candidate know what it is like and WHY, because at the end of the day, a company needs their employees to understand what it will take to be successful working there.

Take this as a sign of what you can expect when working for this company. For some reason, the most important step for any company- recruiting talent - is something these guys think they can drop the ball on and no harm, no foul.  Do you really want to be on this team? If you choose to join them anyway, be aware that this is just an indication of their value for communication, and execution that is the "norm" in this company. Always look closely at the recruitment process and be aware that everything you see then, you will see in other ways elsewhere in the company. No company or recruitment process is perfect... but even in the clusterph@%s, it is worthwhile if you feel you are on the right team with partners that know a thing or two about how to navigate it succcessfully.

So do you follow up or move on? It depends. It really depends on your specific circumstances and reasons for considering the position. Regardless of the reasons for the delay, you have a bad recruiter, so don't expect that the recruiter will suddenly turn into a professional worthy of their title from any healthy way you might confront the situation.

However, even though none of us are perfect and I have underwhelmed myself more than a time or two..., the candidate is the most important person in the hiring process and it is perfectly acceptable for you to remind my kind of that fact, even if (and especially if) it is me underperforming.

Regardless of whether you want the job still or not, perhaps for the sake of being able to call a spade a spade when you are undoubtably being treated rudely, perhaps reach out to the recruiter something like:

Dear Recruiter,
Last time we spoke on xxxx date you indicated my interviews were complete and you were putting together a formal offer on behalf of xxxx company. It has been three weeks without contact and I am feeling confused as this rose by any other name smells like you hope I will go away. Am I reading this situation correctly, or is there another snag in the process you would like to share with me?
A disenchanted former candidate

It might not change the outcome of the situation, but it might make you feel better.

I think it is fair enough to send such a message whether you want the job or not. If you can be funny while delivering up a warm plate of shame that would be ideal. I have always appreciated it when a good natured candidate pointed out my lack of grace in a way that didn't leave me humming a duet with a dial tone when I called to beg forgiveness for my insufferable rudeness.

Granted, I never went three weeks after informing a candidate of an offer without contact.

After three weeks it is all about self respect, and even though sometimes even a great recruiter can drop the ball, this sort of thing deserves to be called out.

I would refrain from berating any recruiter in writing as the Internet never forgets and you don't want that sort of thing following you around. There is always a way to tell the truth without it making you look all afool. You don't want even a stupid company to congratulate themselves on NOT hiring you.

Jan 17, 2010

Finding the Cold Contact

Instructor, Caroline Bender

We have been learning these past few months about informational contacts -- call them interviews if you like. Call them mixers. Call them Blind Dates, as I do. They are similar to all of these. Their primary goal is to expand your library of contacts, and to get you some exposure.  In a 10% Unemployment market, you are not trawling for jobs; you are simply charming your way into rooms in order to be thought of when there are jobs.  If you are currently seeking informational contacts and your library has dried up, let us suggest a few new places for you to look without spending any cash and very little extra energy than you already are in the course of a normal day.

One of the sticky aspects of approaching contacts who are strangers to you is finding that opening: "So-and-So recommended that I contact you...." "I understand you have been working with Former Co-Worker..." "We exchanged cards in the airport bar..." So how does one make the long leap of a truly cold call?

"Found your name on Hoovers...nestled in my extended LinkedIn network...place card at cousin Sissy's wedding..."

Here is where Miss Bender refers to her preferred source for What to Do: The Movies.

In Working Girl, villain Katharine Parker  is exposed as an idea stealer when she is unable to explain how she came up with the idea in question. More to the point, heroine Tess McGill can.  It is revealed to be the natural form of network-thinking her hard-driving Boss wouldn't have come up with.

Tess: Look? [showing newspaper]
Katherine: The People Page? Now this is ridiculous....[reading]"Former Miss America Dawn Bixby has been house-hunting here. Seems Dawn and hot, hot, hot D.J. hubby Slim Slicker are getting ready to take a bite out of the Big Apple." ...So?
Jack: Slim Slicker's one of Metro's major assets. Syndicated to all their stations. Number one in his slot. The cornerstone of their programming.
Tess: You lose him, and Metro's just some okay real estate with falling ratings. And you're not exactly buying it for a write-off.... [shows another magazine to Trask] Okay. See, this is Forbes. It's just your basic article about how you were looking to expand into broadcasting, right? Okay now, the same day, I'll never forget this. I'm reading page six of the Post, and there's this item on Bobby Stein, the radio talk show guy who does all those gross jokes about Ethiopia and the Betty Ford Center. Well, anyway, he's hosting this charity auction that night...real blue bloods, and won't that be funny? Now turn the page to Suzy, who does the society stuff, and there's this picture of your daughter.,,,See, nice picture. And she's helping to organize the charity ball. So I started to think, "Trask, radio...Trask, radio." And then I hooked up with Jack, and he came on board with Metro, and...and so now here we are.
What did Tess do that was so clever?
1) She read between the lines
2) She made a personal appeal

The newspaper (online or in print), trade journals, mass market magazines are full of sources. Journalists work hard to get them, and the average reader skims over them with little retention. Get your pencil out and start circling, Tess McGill style.  The tools you need are the tools you already have: up-to-date news sources, social networking, and the Internet.

Step One: Find the story
Instead of reading for where the jobs are, read for where the jobs will be.  Watch for mergers, real estate transfers, grants and bequests, promotions, even a new ad campaign can signal that something is afoot and funds are moving.  Your local business journal is a good source for this.  Local coverage tends to be more in-depth, believe it or not, and company press releases will include a lot of names.

Step two: Find the name(s)
Read with a highlighter in hand if you need to.  You need named and quoted sources you can track back to you, even if they are staff members, board members, or customers.  Take a look at a story's author as well.  Email addresses are often listed at the bottom of the column.

Step three: Find the connection
How do you know this contact?  You probably don't.  But you may know someone who does.  This is why there is so much talk about social networking these days.

LinkedIn users sometimes say that they aren't sure how to take advantage of the tool.  Here is an opportunity.  Searching for this contact by name (People) or by Companies, you will discover your connections, even if they are some distance from you.  Use LinkedIn Introductions to reach them, or simply contact the people you do know personally, until you get to the direct contact.  As much as possible, try to have your mutual contact introduce you.  This is not at all old-fashioned.

Step four: Make the connection
The choice of email over phone is a personal one.  Email gives your contact time to review your information and respond at their convenience; it can also be sent to spam, or buried under business mail.  By phone, it may be difficult for you to get past the Gatekeeper, and if you are not prepared to leave a compelling voicemail, a hesitant phone connect could undo your effort.

In either case, what you want to achieve is an immediate connection, a personal interest, and a statement of need.
"Hello, my name is XXXXX.  [refer to the connection] I have been reading about...thanks for your recent column on.... I have been speaking with (mutual contact) about....].  [brief information about you and what you are looking for]

Step five: Ask for help
Do not ask about employment.  Everyone knows you are looking for work; everyone knows there isn't any.  What you are looking for is an opportunity to talk with this contact about the things that are important to them, and to make enough of an impression that they want to help you.

Using your common ground, appeal to something that is important to them.  This might be the article they wrote, or in which they were mentioned: "I read about your fund-raising efforts in Mary Morgan's Sun article.  I am a grantwriter myself, and know these are difficult times for finding support.  I wonder if you know Richard Perry who is a fellow Tufts alum...."

Try posing a question, looking for their expertise. "I would like to hear more of your ideas about mixed-media installations in small museum settings.  As a contract designer, I am often faced with this challenge."

People do like to help others, even those they don't know.  When you get the cold shoulder, it is likely because you have posed a problem they can not fix, like providing a job.  Appeal closer to their center and you will have better success.

Jan 15, 2010

What Color is Your Bucket?

Guest Blogger, Jay Hargis, Career Doctor and Blogger (HR Cleanup)

I do a lot of work with people who are out of work -- most of them involuntarily. I am always fascinated by the different ways people handle unemployment and I find that often, it has to do with severance. But sometimes, it has to do with attitude. Let me explain.

I think that job seekers fall into three different buckets. For the sake of this post, we'll call the three buckets Red, Yellow, and Green.

Red Bucket job seekers are panicked. They are convinced that they won't be able to find a job as good as their old job. They lament "the old days and the old gang." They have lots of Facebook friends and they update them regularly on each and every job possibility that comes along. They take their friends up...and then down...up and then down....up...well, you get it. Red Buckets also do a lousy job of informational interviewing. They expect other people to find jobs for them. They throw their resume at anyone who will look at it...and they say yes to everything.
"Have you ever designed a nuclear submarine?"
"Oh, yes, in college we built one as a project. I was the group leader."
They will eventually land. And, as they predicted, it won't be as good as their old job.

Yellow Bucket job seekers are caught in the middle and have a hard time understanding that they are unemployed and they need to get moving if they are going to find a new job. They fill their day by organizing closets, going to lunch with other unemployed friends, catching up on Target and Wal-Mart sales, and spending an hour a week on a Job Board so they can say that they are "looking but there is nothing out there."
"Informational Interviewing? Why would I do that? HR said they are not hiring."
Yellow Bucket job seekers are usually married to someone who is bringing in plenty of money or they got an amazing severance package because they were at their last employer for 20+ years. They will luck into something. But it won't be by design.

Green Bucket job seekers are the really fun ones. They see the experience as Opportunity. Green Bucket job seekers are the ones who are not quite sure what is coming next....they know that they are good at lots of different things and are excited to see where the trail leads them. When they have Informational Interviews, they are just that -- an exchange of information. They will meet with lots of interesting people who have interesting work at interesting companies. They won't appear panicked; they will appear confident. Sure they are nervous (as they should be) but deep down, they know that they will land a great job doing something that they find interesting and perhaps even compelling. It will come right when it is supposed to.

I like working with all three--they all need different kinds of service. However, I have to admit, that the Green Bucket folks always land the best jobs.

Jan 12, 2010

Ask a Manager: What should we focus on for the new year?

Guest Lecturer, Dick Whitman, Manager in Residence 

What goals would you recommend our readers focus on at work for the new year? (e.g.what general skills should most people take more time to develop? What could women in particular do better at?)

You might have noticed that a lot of my answers to these questions have taken on a theme of “it’s not about you / it’s about the business.” Perhaps this is because a lot of the questions I’ve been getting have been about some sort of negotiation that is taking place in the workplace, where I maintain that you can be so much more effective in sticking to the facts.

I saw one of your (wise, charming) readers post a reply to the post about how women can hurt their own careers with some insight into the way women answer unreasonable requests with “it can’t be done” while men tend to turn the situation on it’s ear and lay out the scenario in which “it” could be done. I think this analysis is dead on.

While I referred to this just now as negotiation, I think the overall category is bigger than that. At the core of it all is interpersonal communication. It’s pretty big if you think about it. Ultimately we want to be successful in getting what we want. In the professional world, we use our communication skills to achieve this, just as a welder uses a blowtorch and a tailor uses a needle and thread.

Understanding how we communicate is just as important as the mastery of any tool by the person using it. Unfortunately, looking at how you communicate through your own lens is only part of the solution. It is more important to understand how you are perceived by others. You might be throwing off signals that are unknown to you but which can cause others to perceive you negatively without your knowledge.

It is hard to generalize and suggest a course of treatment that works for everyone, so I will recommend a more personal approach for you to meet your goals. I’m a big fan of gathering feedback from others. It can be something formal like a 360 review, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Try having some one-on-one conversations with people that you interact with and whom you respect. See if you can get them to give you some input on how you are perceived.

Of course, it is very hard to get someone to open up with constructive criticism, but if you make it clear that you are trying to grow, you just might be surprised at the help you get. The key is to set up a non-threatening environment for the person you are talking to: nods and clarifying questions are much better than disgusted looks and folded arms. One trick about gathering constructive feedback from someone who is otherwise a fan is to ask the question this way: “what is one thing that you think I can do to improve at [insert lofty goal here].” The person you are talking to is more likely to understand that no one is perfect and it’s ok to call out just one. From there, you can ask for examples around where and how this issue has come up.

If you can stay mindful of the perceptions that others have of you, you will be on your way to changing the ones you don’t like so much. In the process, you will probably find that your openness to feedback will strengthen the relationships that you have with the people who have helped you to gather it.

Jan 10, 2010

Female Power - Highlights from The Economist

Last week's Economist cover story, "Female Power," contained some statistics we thought you might find interesting.  We encouarge you to review the complete article in its online version, or in the North America print version, Jan 2-8, 2010.

49.9% of American workers are female
In 2009, the US workforce included 80% of college educated women; 46% of women with a high school diploma.
In 1963, 62% of college educated women were counted in the US workforce, and 47% of female high school graduates.

11% of senior management positions are held by women
>13% of corporate board seats are held by women
2% of Fortune 500 companies are headed by women

93% of women say they want to return to work after having children, but only 74% do.  40% of those return part-time.

Current Unemployment has hit men harder: 11.2% for men; 8.6% for women
The number of privately-held companies headed by women has increased twice as quickly as those headed by men.
Women-owned companies employ more people than the 500 largest companies.

Our student body and faculty represent several generations of working women, and includes those who fought to get in, fought to move up, fought to have it all, achieve balance, follow their bliss.  How do these stats represent you and your experience? 

Jan 9, 2010

45 Things You do That Drive Your Boss Crazy (book review)

Recently, we referenced columnist Anita Bruzzese and her book 45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy (and How to Avoid Them).  As you consider the change(s) you are prepared to embrace in 2010, you may be ready to take a look within.  This is a practical place to start.

Bruzzese lists the most glaring employee errors, categorizing them according to 4 simple statements:
1) Bosses don't promote employees who make them feel uncomfortable
2) Bosses get rid of employees with too many bad habits
3) Bosses don't give great projects to those who can't play nice and get along with others
4) Bosses don't give leadership roles to those who lack maturity and common sense

The language is pretty blunt, the stories jarring, but as Bruzzese writes,
"[employers] do not want to spend more dollars and time educating you about issues that they believe you should already know...They don't have time to write a book of rules..because they think you should already know that stuff.... But I do have time to write down the rules.  At the same time, I want you to know why the rules are important and why they matter to the boss."

We talk a lot in this space about toxic workplaces that are out to get you, that are trying to crush the beautiful independent soul you knew yourself to be.  But sometimes... it is you.

This is real Finishing School stuff -- the finer points of professionalism (or unprofessionalism, as the case may be) that will separate you from the others, that will get you noticed, for good or for bad.  It has value for all types of readers: new professionals, returning Moms, new Bosses, middle managers, and new hires. 

How to use this book
First, read it.  Go ahead and read it all the way through.  Each behavior is covered in 5 or 6 pages with a simple "might be obvious to you, but not to the guilty employee" explanation of how this behavior works against you (and it isn't just because it is annoying).  For example, "If you're not getting enough sleep, you will be cranky, forgetful, less productive, more likely to call in sick and can run the risk of having a wreck on the way to or from work."  I'll add, and likely to produce poor quality incomplete work with long lasting (even potentially dangerous) repercussions.

Second, quiz yourself, highlighter in hand.  How many of these do you do?  Don't make a lot of excuses, just make a mark if you have ever been guilty of the behavior described.  We are all guilty of some, some time or another.

Now, using Bruzzese's 4 postulates, identify where most of your behaviors lie.  Use this discovery to drive your priorities. This can be as simple as counting your behaviors in each section and writing the number at the top of the section introduction.   Are you most concerned with being promoted, retained, given an opportunity, or given leadership?  Start there.

Ask your confidantes for their input.  This takes some guts, so choose wisely.  Asking former co-workers may be less risky than asking within your current team.  Their examples will be less fresh, but you may feel less defensive about them.  Discuss which behaviors you should start with -- which are the most damaging, which can be changed most quickly?  Be prepared to listen (this is Thing #16, by the way.  Fighting Change is #45)

Take an action.  Bruzzese offers steps for each behavior that are practical, measurable goals.  For the Sleepy Employee, she recommends simple behavior changes that can help.  Don't feel pressured to try them all at once.  As with any life-changing goal, a small simple start is more likely to succeed and encourage you to continue.  I had a co-worker who literally took a nap on his lunch hour.  He knew he needed it every day, and his performance never showed that he did.

As a management tool
Managers, it is likely you know exactly what it is about Pouty McDrama that drives you bats (#4).  On the other hand, if you are unable to connect with some of your team, the list might help you articulate what is bothering you.  Bruzzese's bullet points can become talking points in your next 1:1.

As a performance review component
Whether you are writing your employee's goals, or your own, look for performance goals that can get you to the "Be a Better Employee" end you are both looking for without setting it as a vague goal itself.

Example:  Barbara has developed a reputation as an "undesirable."  Cross functional teams groan when she is chosen to represent her group, co-workers trade tips on how to work with her, upper managers wonder aloud whether she should be higher on the potential layoff list.  Asking Barbara to change her personality is not a fair performance goal.  Instead, identify what drives this ostracism and work to correct those specific behaviors.  Remember to choose those with the greatest/most frequent impact on business success and include Barbara in seeing the connection between what she does and the impact it has.

Best of luck, and Happy New Year!

45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy (and How to Avoid Them)
(c) 2007 Anita Bruzzese
Also available in Kindle version

Read Anita Bruzzese's  On the Job, in our blogroll at right.

Jan 6, 2010

How To: Improve your performance review experience

Miss Minchin, Dean of Students

Here at the Finishing School, we hold a few truths to be self-evident:
1. Your performance review will be largely based on events from the 2 weeks preceding the review (rather than the prior year)
2. Your manager will rely very heavily on the self review you provide to complete her assessment of you
3. Performance reviews are often treated as a necessary evil, and few managers can deliver them well

Track your achievements:
Given these facts, it behooves you to keep solid records of your achievements throughout the year. Set a resolution this year to keep a log of all your accomplishments (large and small) so that when you need to write your self-review, you won't struggle to fill it with successes from 9 months earlier.

Set achievable goals:
Nothing is worse than having to acknowledge on your review that you failed to meet your objectives. Even worse is when these are personal goals you set for yourself. Don't shoot for the moon when you set your personal goals. If you think you can take 3 courses in advanced programming by the end of the year, set your goal to complete one.  You never know what emergencies will come up that can quickly sidetrack your plans.

Be prepared to work for quality feedback:
Most managers are not very good at delivering performance reviews, and let's be fair it's not an easy thing to do. Unless you have a great manager like I do, you're lucky if you get any constructive feedback at all. If you find yourself enduring a critique of your personality, or getting feedback that would have made a big difference 6 months ago (when it happened), you have some work to do. It will help to be prepared to ask some specific questions about how you can achieve more success in your role. One good exercise is the Stop, Start and Keep Doing question - Ask your manager "What would you like me to Stop doing, to Start doing and to Keep doing?" Keep the conversation focused on behaviors that are objective and measurable. And make a point going forward to check in with your manager or request mid-year reviews to ensure she does not hold onto feedback until it's too late to be helpful.

What are your top tips for surviving performance reviews? Have any horror stories? Share your stories in the comments.

Jan 5, 2010

A Turning Point in a Working Mom's Career

We asked Joyce Maroney from Workforce Institute, to tell us about time when she realized she needed to make a change in how she saw or defined herself or her way of life. How did she prepare herself mentally/emotionally to make such a change, and how does she see that change now as she reflects on it?

Between 1983 and 2006, I worked for five different companies. Each time I left an organization, I did so because I had been recruited by a former manager. The upside of “managing” my career this way was the familiarity of working for people I knew, as well as the flattery inherent in being pursued by people I admired. I never left a job without knowing exactly where I was going next, and my responsibilities and title escalated steadily.

During this same period, I married and had two children. I worked full time, including extensive traveling for many years, throughout my childrens’ childhoods. Having entered the workforce in the late 70s, I didn’t take my status as a working mother for granted, and worked very hard to prevent my motherhood from being perceived as an impediment to my career progress. My children remember that I missed school plays and award ceremonies for work commitments that at the time I thought were critical, although I certainly no longer remember why.

In 2005, when my older child entered her senior year of high school, I realized that I had never been fully present and available to her due to my attitude toward work. As I looked ahead, I realized she’d be off to college in a year, and I’d likely never have that opportunity to demonstrate how important she was to me again. I decided to quit my job, and for the first time in my career, I left my job without having another job to go to. During the next eight months, I was available to participate in school events, go on college visits, and just hang out with my kids without feeling guilty that work would suffer as a consequence.

As far as mental/emotional preparation goes, I felt like I was stepping off a cliff, but I was willing to take the risk in order to be available without restrictions to my daughter.

I also realized that although I enjoyed many aspects of my position as an executive at a mid-sized tech company, I didn’t enjoy much of the content of my job. Throughout eight months of unemployment, I networked with lots of people and explored job options that were very different than what I had been doing. When I did start a new job - two weeks after my daughter started college - it was in a completely different functional area than my prior role. More than three years later, I am happy with my job, but more importantly have managed to maintain a healthier attitude toward work. I work just as hard when I’m on the job, but I don’t treat my family, volunteer and personal time commitments as less important than those required by my work.

In hindsight, it’s possible that I could have achieved better balance in 2006 without quitting my job, but I doubt it. I needed that period of no job to teach me that my worth as a person wasn’t inextricably bound to who I worked for or what my title was, and that the successes I’d achieved on the home front – happy kids, happy husband, good friends – were significant personal achievements. These may seem like obvious lessons, but I needed that respite from full time employment to have that epiphany.

Workforce Institute is a think tank that helps organizations drive performance by addressing human capital management issues that affect both hourly and salaried employees.

Jan 4, 2010

Ask a Manager: Are we at a disadvantage if we never played a team sport?

Guest Lecturer, Dick Whitman, Manager in Residence

Dear Manager,

Do team sports make good workers? If you never played a team sport are you at a disadvantage in the workplace?

I love this question because it really made me think. The theory here is that playing on a team teaches a person to perform well on a team at work. I used to work with a manager who firmly believed this notion to be true. I never felt as strongly about this, so we tended to disagree. My contention at the time was that it was more valuable to have people who had held a job in some form growing up, so that they would have learned responsibility and hard work from an early age.

I am realizing now that my default view was based on the fact that I had spent most of my free time working when I was a teenager. It is not surprising that the above manager had spent most of his time playing sports. Funny how that works.

So it probably stands to reason that a Jesus Freak manager would say that the quality of an employee is directly related to the amount of time he has spent on the altar, while a manager who spent his high school years as a 5th level Dungeonmaster would tie it to the number of hitpoints the employee had racked up fighting giants in the land of Zog.

There is no one formula for the perfect employee, because there is no such thing as a perfect employee. (Although I have unfortunately run across several employees who think they are perfect, but that is a topic for a different post.)

As managers, we have a tendency to look for qualities in employees that are closest to our own, but it is important that we challenge ourselves to look for diversity for the sake of a strong team. Diversity in style comes in many forms and can be influenced by a number of things, ranging from innate talents to work experience to the way a person was raised.

So do team sports make good employees? Why, sure they can….yes they can! But not necessarily in all cases. Sports can help to develop teamwork, a focus on goals, a winning attitude, and whatnot. But then, I’ve known a lot of athletes that I wouldn’t want on one of my teams. I suppose it depends a lot on how you played your sport. Believe me, I’ve managed plenty of ball hogs and prima donnas and klutzes (some of whom never stepped onto a ball field) in my career.

For me, it really comes down to character, as in: it is important that every employee has some. Generally I think it is safe to say that character is best developed early in life for the purpose of future growth. So with regard to character…the question is: how do I get me some of that?

Again, there is no one specific way. Young people can build character by participating in sports, or theater, or Boy Scouts, or by helping to raise younger siblings, or by taking a long walk along the train tracks with three friends in search of a dead body and having to stand up to a dangerous bully at the end of the journey. There are lots of ways. But I digress.

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