Monday, March 30, 2009

Takin' Care of Business: Strike Out at Stress

This is the third in a ten part series called, Takin’ Care of Business – Making Work Work for You.

With major lay-offs being announced almost daily, those among us lucky enough to have jobs, and especially those who have survived a lay-off, are often stuck in stressful situation. Taking on extra work due to lay-offs or hiring freezes inevitably leads to more demanding schedules and increased stress levels. Because jobs appear to be scarce and employees often have a difficult time finding other work, management, unfortunately takes advantage of employees that feel they have nowhere else to go.

As workloads increase and morale takes a nosedive dealing with workplace stress is no longer an optional task, it’s a critical requirement.Successfully managing your stress on the job involves tackling the issue on a number of fronts. Unfortunately, I’ve had some experience with this topic. So here are some suggestions that I used to make life a little easier, when the job becomes increasingly more difficult.

  1. Make a List and Check It Twice (a day): Think of the things you honestly like or enjoy about your job. When I made my list it included my co-workers (well most of them), sandwiches at the café near the job, the fact that I had my own office, and my favorite topics to train on. While there were a number of things that stressed me out, focusing on the people and things that I did enjoyed helped a bit.
  2. Walk It Out: Using my break times to take short walks helped immensely. The act of walking as well as getting outside and out of the office helped to immediately alleviate some stress.
  3. Talk About It: Find a sympathetic ear … who will let you vent. It could be a friend or a spouse but it helps if it is not a co-worker. When you confine in a co-worker, you run the risks of your venting becoming office gossip which could quickly make a bad situation worse.
  4. Drive Your Troubles Away: When leaving work, I made sure that I did not pull out of the parking lot until I had put on one of my favorite CDs. As I sang along (and okay, yes, did a little dancing), it helped me put work in perspective and keep it where it belonged … in my rearview mirror.
  5. Be a Lady (or Lad) Who Lunches: Like with the walks, having a lunch I enjoyed eating gave me a nice break. It’s even better if it can be enjoyed with friendly co-workers or at a place or in an environment you like. It is a great way to break up the day.
  6. Look Elsewhere: Yes, the economy is bad. Yes, jobs are hard to find … but that doesn’t mean they are impossible to find. Update your resume and start looking. Looking for other work helped me to feel that I had some control of my circumstances.

Not only did I look for other employment, I found it - leaving a very toxic situation for one that is much healthier. So while good jobs are hard to find right now, it's still possible to find one.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Show It, Don't Say It

If you polled a group of people and asked them what they value most, at the top of many list would be family, or health. If they focused on values, they’d say things like honesty and trust. We all know what we are supposed to say, but it’s what we do that matters.

If you truly value your health but routinely inhale Big Macs and Snickers bars, can you really say that health is an important value? If you cheat on your taxes and your spouse, is honesty really of paramount importance. Integrity is about living your values and being honest to yourself. The opposite of integrity is hypocrisy.

So I ask you, not just what do you value or what do you deem most important? I ask, how do your actions illustrate your values? How do you put your values into practice?

Integrity is putting your values in action. Without action, you don’t have values, you have pretty ideas. They might look good on paper and sound even better when they flow effortlessly out of your mouth but unless you are living them, nothing else really matters.

Integrity is about being honest with yourself about your reality – who you really are. Who are you and how do your actions and behaviors reflect that?

“Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.” Spencer Johnson

Monday, March 23, 2009

Takin' Care of Business: Meetings 101

This is the second in a ten part series called, Takin’ Care of Business – Making Work Work for You.

Let me share with you a few statistics. If you have ever worked in corporate America, none of these stats will cause you to raise as much as an eyebrow.
  • On an average day, there are 17 million meetings in America.
  • Studies say that managers spend up to 10 hours a week in meetings, and 90% say more than half that time is wasted.
  • A meeting between several managers or executives may cost upwards of $1000 per hour in salary costs alone.
  • A Fortune 50 company estimates losses in excess of $75 million per year due to poor meetings.
Last month, I sat through a four-day meeting. I saw my entire life pass before me in excruciating detail several times. At one point, I could have sworn that Jack in the Box, The Burger King King and Ronald McDonald were leading one of the seemingly endless PowerPoint presentations.

When Sartre said, “Hell is other people,” he must have just come out of a marathon meeting.
But there is another way! Most people have never been instructed in how to plan and conduct a meeting. So here are a few tips to make the most of meetings.

  1. Set the Agenda: What is the meeting about? What is the goal? What will the meeting accomplish? Scrawling the name of the project on a piece of paper is not an agenda. The agenda doesn’t need to be overly detailed but it does need to cover the basic topics of the meeting.

  2. Be Selective: Who needs to be at the meeting and who can be briefed afterwards? Does the entire department really need to attend? This goes both ways, when you see yourself on the receiving end of another meeting invite, ask if your presence is necessary or if you can get the notes after the meeting.

  3. Stay the Course: The good thing about having an agenda is that you can use it to stay on task. When someone goes off on a tangent, you can bring it back to the agenda. Offer to include their tangents as agenda items in the next meeting.

  4. Take Action: The problem with a lot of meetings is that they end without any resolutions. So participants walk out wondering “What was that about?” It’s a good idea to end the meeting by assigning tasks that can be completed by the next meeting. Task = progress. Progress is good.

  5. Time is of the Essence: Timely means starting on time but it also means ending on time. Every meeting should have a start and an end time and the end time should be honored. This doesn’t mean that you should block 2-3 hours for a meeting, ‘just in case.’ Shorter is usually more effective. If you have an agenda and a clear purpose, you should be able to conduct your business in an hour. If you are good, 45-minutes. If you are really good, a half hour.

  6. Leave Lunch Alone: Some people think scheduling meetings right before lunch or at 4:30 p.m. is a good idea. It can be, if you respect the time. However, if there is a tendency towards running over, avoid setting meetings at these times. As a trainer, I know first hand how ‘feisty’ people can get when you run 5 – 10 minutes over into lunch time. You don’t want to confront a rabid dog and you definitely don’t want to cross hungry people at lunch or tired people at quittin’ time.

  7. Follow-Up: Keep notes and send a recap of the meeting to all the relevant people (including those who didn’t really need to be there). Send the notes either that same day or the next day, not the next week, not the next month, not never.

Your want your time at work to be productive and effective. Spending an inordinate of time in mindless, meandering meetings might make you look busy few things zap your productivity as quickly or completely.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

AIG and the Big Bailout Bonus Boondoggle are all over the news. The failed insurance giant used part of their $180 billion in government money to pay out $165 million in performance bonuses. Money they claim they were contractually obligated to pay in part to retain the best and the brightest. All this despite the fact that the best and the brightest obviously failed to perform.

Now the readers of my blog know that I do not get political and I don’t intend to start today. However, I think there are several very important ‘life coachy’ lessons somewhere in all this and that is what I want to explore.

Here’s the moral of the story … from a coaching perspective. Simply put, reward behaviors and habits that you want to encourage. However, it isn’t always simple to put. Before you can reward the positive, you have to define it. What makes this difficult is that it is usually a collection of factors that determine the positive.

In dating, a man with money could be a positive. Promoting a manager who consistently hits her numbers sounds like a great idea. But if Mr. Money Bags was physically abusive or a chronic cheater, would he still be a keeper? Would you still offer that promotion if you discovered that your model manager played favorites and was overheard on several occasions making racist and ageist comments?

It isn’t so easy when you have to weigh a lot of pros and cons, but ultimately, when it comes to major decisions about love, career, finances and your future, you need to ask those hard questions. What are the positive traits I’m looking for in this situation? What are the negatives? Which are the deal breakers and which can I accept or get used to?

Another lesson we can learn from AIG is to watch the deals we make. You don’t pay for potential; you pay for performance and only then when that performance is worth it. Would you agree to buy a brand new car for your teen even if he got straight F’s instead of straight A’s? No parent in their right mind would sign that kind of contract. Would you pay top dollar for a house you have never seen or toured because the real estate agent looked professional and sounded honest?

Looking good on paper … going to the right school, drawing the right salary, living in the right neighborhood … doesn’t mean that it will be good in practice. Paying on potential and what looks good is a huge gamble. My mother told me long ago, to listen to what people say but pay attention to what they do … that’s where the truth is.

AIG rolled the dice and lost. Unfortunately, when we gamble with potential there is no bailout or any big bonuses waiting in the wings.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Takin’ Care of Business: Everyone’s an Entrepreneur

This is the first in the ten part series called, Takin’ Care of Business – Making Work Work for You.

You could be a teacher, a customer service representative, a waitress, a chef, a truck driver, a manager or a dog trainer. It doesn’t matter. You are a CEO. You are the Chief Executive Officer of a little company called You.

As the CEO, you are responsible for maintaining the vision and direction for the company. You are the one who decides what investments to make and what losses to cut. You make the decisions that decide whether you make a profit or suffer a loss … and unfortunately, there is no big bailout money for your business.

When you realize that you are the CEO of your career, you will make the right investments: getting that degree or that certification, upgrading your wardrobe, or joining that professional organization. You will plot the course and maintain the vision. Where do you want to be in two years or five? What is your plan for getting that promotion?

A CEO’s first priority is the survival and success of his or her company and your goal is the same. The Era of the Gold Watch is over. My grandfather spent over 40 years at the steel mill. When he retired, he got a nice pension and a gold watch. In Corporate America, the average worker stays on the job for 3-4 years. You don’t even qualify for a Swatch watch after that.

You are responsible for making yourself marketable. You are responsible for investing in yourself. Keeping your nose clean and being good at your job is no longer enough. I had several co-workers who were ‘good at their jobs’, but it didn’t stop corporate from flying in, calling them into Human Resources, throwing a small severance at them and escorting out of the building — so much for seven or eight years of work and loyalty.

In today’s economic climate, you have to always be thinking of the next step. You can’t expect your boss or your company to do it for you. A CEO is concerned about the health of its company. Likewise, you need to be concerned about the health of your career and your bank account.
So start acting like you are the one with the big corner office. Start making some executive decisions regarding your career, your benefits and your bottom line:

  • Do you need additional training?

  • Are you in a position with upward mobility?

  • Are you making the most of your 401K?

  • Should you go back to school?

  • Are you up-to-date on the software applications you need to learn?

  • If you were offered a promotion right now, would you have the skills and the knowledge to jump into that position and hit the ground running?

  • If the answer to that question is no, then what can you do to prepare yourself to go to the next level?

Sure, there is a recession going on. I know things are extremely difficult for job seekers and people stuck in jobs they don’t like. All this means is that it even more critical to take control of your career now. Don’t wait until you are downsized to start making change. Don’t wait until things get go from bad to worse. Even if you are happy where you are and doing what you are doing, now is the time to take the reins.

As CEO of You, what will be the first executive decision you make?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Reason We Do What We Do

If you: procrastinate, are chronically late, overeat, overspend, engage in road rage or do any other ‘negative’ behavior, realize that you do it because on some level, it’s working for you.

Overeating can be a great stress reliever. Procrastination can give you that big adrenaline boost that helps you finish your projects on time. You have so much fun when you shop. And, that slow driver, well, he shouldn’t have been in your way. The point is that you are getting something ‘good’ out of your ‘bad’ behavior.

But, on balance, you are probably getting more bad than you’d like. Procrastination is causing you to stress and worry and could be causing problems at work or at home. Eating too much is wrecking havoc on your waistline and affecting your self-esteem.

So the trick is to find behaviors that give you the same or similar benefits without all that other stuff. It’s funny but I realized that when I stopped overspending, I started overeating! So while my bank account got bigger, so did my pants size. Clearly, I needed to find another habit!

I had to find something that I enjoyed that didn’t pack on the pounds or burn holes in my wallet. For me, one thing wasn’t the answer but several things did the trick. When I am tempted to overeat, I take a bath or go for a walk or play with the dog or call a friend or write. Having enjoyable options makes all the difference.

The key is it has to be enjoyable or easy for you. Life is too short to be miserable and you have got enough going on to add any more complication. For me, playing with the dog is fun; taking a nice warm bath is enjoyable. Getting to the gym everyday, for me, is very hard. Popping in a DVD or walking on my treadmill – easy.

What are you getting out of your bad habits? What can you do instead that would be equally enjoyable or easy?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Take the Challenge!

I love Daylight Savings Time! It’s time for lots of fun in the sun days. So my question to you is what do you plan on doing with all the daylight that we are saving?

Will you:

  • Take the dog out for longer walks
  • Play outside more with the kids
  • Take up swimming, golf or tennis lessons
  • Spend more time at the beach
  • Go on a great vacation
  • Indulge in a few weekend getaways
  • Start hiking
  • Date more
  • Visit friends more often
  • Dust off the grill and barbecue
  • Ride a bike
  • Pull out the camera
Participate in my Daylight Savings Challenge with me and pledge to do something fun with all this extra Daylight. You can hibernate next winter!

Keys to Success: Get Over the Overs

This is the final entry in the 10-part Keys of Success series. Look for another series to start next Monday!

You are no good to anyone when you are overworked, overtired and overextended. It is not a badge of honor to work yourself to the edge of exhaustion. No one is impressed by your selflessness, especially when it is results in you being more abrupt, annoying and, and aggravating.

A key component to success is knowing when to say when — when it’s time to relax, when it’s time to take a break, when it’s time to take care of you. It’s not selfish. It’s not lazy. It’s a vital part of staying on top of your game.

Still holding on to your Type-A tendencies? Let me put it another way. You make more mistakes when you are tired. It takes longer to accomplish even simple task when you are overworked. The first impression isn’t that impressive when you have bags under your eyes and the enthusiasm of a slug.

How much fun would it be to enjoy your success alone because you’ve alienated your loved ones or pushed them away? Could you enjoy your success from a hospital bed when you have worked yourself sick? Self care isn’t silly. Taking care of yourself is strategic. It’s smart.

We all know the basics of physical health: eating right and exercising. Instead of restating the obvious, I want to challenge you to find ways to make it easy. Walk on your breaks. Take the stairs. Engage in fun active activities on the weekend. Find an exercise that you want to do and not that you have to do.

Locate a couple places close to work that serve health, delicious foods. Keep some dried fruit and nuts close by. Experiment with different recipes and foods until you find some yummy good for you foods that you enjoy eating.

But physical health is just one part. Emotional and mental health are equally important. Make time for friends. Have at least one person you can really talk to. Laugh! Spend time connecting with your kids and your significant other.

Once a week, engage in a hobby or something you love to do. Snuggle on the sofa with a good book. See a movie. Take a hike. Garden. Cook.

Make time to rest, relax and rejuvenate. When you return to work, you’ll be that much more refreshed, refueled, revved up and ready to go!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Dirty Truth

There is a saying I’ve heard very often over the years, “If people knew better, they would do better.” The logic being when people do things that are selfish or vindictive or harmful, it’s because they really don’t know any better. Something about that didn’t work for me – then I made one small change – “If people wanted better, they would do better.”
You have to want better and the dirty truth is that some people don’t. They are satisfied where they are. It might not seem like a place where you want to be but it’s where they want to be. Even if they don’t seem happy, they don’t have any desire to put in the work to better. In other words, they don’t want it.
After I got out of college, I had a friend, who was dating a guy who I thought was all wrong for her. They had vicious and sometimes violent arguments. On more than a couple occasions, I received the late night crying call or had to go pick her up after he’d put her out. I pleaded with her to leave. It was toxic.
Then one day we went out to dinner and she said something that changed everything for me. I had started dating someone and I mentioned how nice it was to date someone and be on the same page without a lot of drama or arguing or suspicion. It was nice. She told me that what I had sounded boring to her.
I realized then that what I wanted for her was not what she wanted for herself. No amount of pleading or prayer was going to get her to change. She ended up having a child with this man and I think they are still together to this day.
We all have friends and family in desperate situations. They are hooked on drugs or alcohol, they linger in toxic relationships, or engage in chronic and detrimental spending, or it could be a host of other dramatic circumstances. We have to take an honest assessment and ask the hard question, “Do they want something better?”
The hard answer might be “No.”
If the answer is no, then we have to stop fighting their battles and allow them to live their lives in the way that they see fit – even if we know they are capable of better, even if we can see another way for them, even if we want it for them more than we want it for ourselves.
You can’t throw a life preserver to someone intent on drowning.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Keys to Success: Expect It

This is the ninth in the ten part Keys of Success series. A new key is posted every Monday.

A few weeks ago, we had the Super Bowl. At the beginning of the game, every man on that field and all their teammates on the sidelines had one thought in mind: winning. Every Cardinal, every Steeler went out there expecting to win. Last year, John McCain and Barack Obama faced off in the race for the presidency. Both men expected to win.

Granted, there can only be one winner. The Steelers won the Super Bowl and Obama won the election. But the Cardinals and McCain didn’t go down without a fight.

Winning isn’t everything but the expectation is. No one enters a race or steps on a field without expecting success. A successful mindset assumes success. Successful people expect success.
Mistakes happen. There are setbacks. There are defeats; but, the successful person considers the bumps and the bruises part of the process. They know that the success will come. They can deal with losing a battle because they know ultimately, they will win the war.

If you are prepared, if you are ready to put in the work, if you have the vision; then there is no reason why you shouldn’t expect success. Go into every interview expecting to get the job. Make the presentation with the intent of wow-ing your audience. Expect your business to succeed. Expect to get the good grades. Expect it … and then follow-though.

The expectation alone creates the mindset but the follow-through is critical. Prepare for the interview. Work on that presentation. Study.

Expectation + Follow-Through = Success

McCain and the Cardinals didn’t win, but they got a heck of a lot further than any other candidate or any other team. They might not have reached the pinnacle of success but they still managed to climb pretty high. Expect success and you will still end up a lot further than settling for failure.

In fact, if you expect failure, don’t even waste your time with a feeble, half-hearted attempt.