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You Know How To Communicate, Right? You’re Good At It, Right?

Most People Aren’t Great At Communication

My experience is that not very many people are genuinely good at communication–in all the ways that they need to be.  You may be good at it with your kids or with your employees or with your boss, but it is highly likely that you AREN’T good at it in all the times/ways/with ALL the people you need to be.  There are so many factors that create good communication:

  • Language
  • Listening
  • Talking
  • Presenting
  • Pictures
  • Videos
  • Reporting
  • Words
  • Feelings
  • Visual
  • Ideas
  • Timing
  • Messaging

When you think about your communication, do you think about all of these?  Let me give a few examples:

If I tell you I’m thinking about a star, which of these do you think about:

A star is a star is a star

Depends, doesn’t it?  If you are an editor for People Magazine, then you probably think about the star on the red carpet.  If you’re a quilter like me, you might think about the Ohio Star quilt pattern (2d from the right).  If you’re Jewish, maybe the Star of David.  If you’re an astronomer, then maybe the galaxy.  If however, you are in a synagog, that makes it more likely that you’d think of the Star of David.  If you’re in a quilt class–you get the point.  Mind set and context have a lot to do with your interpretation of what you hear.  Do you think about that when you talk about something or ask people for things?  I’ve been in situations where people clearly misunderstood each other using common words.  When Engineers and Marketers are talking to each other, then it is easy to misunderstand.  People who are talking about new processes v. old process, new systems v. old systems, higher levels in the organizations v. lower levels in the organization, younger people v. older people, experienced v. inexperienced.

Think about the ways in which people use the same words that you use.  Is it possible you’re not getting your point across?  Remember that what you think is fast may not be what others think of as fast.  Complete may not be the same complete.  Strategy.  Urgent.  Important.  Right.  So many ways to have different interpretations.  So many ways to fail to communicate.

It Doesn’t Matter If The Message Doesn’t Get Through

That’s why it’s important to use pictures, questions, videos.  Whatever it takes to draw out the different interpretations will help you get clear.  It doesn’t matter if you are being clear (as far as you’re concerned), if the receiver is getting the wrong message (and especially if it seems clear to the receiver).  That is a failed communication.

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New Manager? New Team? How To Find the Balance.

Congratulations, New Manager!

You just became a new manager.  You just got a new team.  You have lots of ideas of what needs to change.  You point out things that are wrong.  You tell them what needs to be different.  All is good.  Right?  What?  They resent you?  They are sulking?  They grumble?  They stop talking to each other when you walk up?  What’s wrong!?  Why isn’t this working the way you dreamed?

Well . . . put yourself in their shoes.  What makes you ‘righter’ than them?  They’re doing the job.  They’ve been doing the job. They are not deliberately doing a bad job.  Their perspective is their job.   Let me put that more clearly–each person is looking at his/her job.  The tasks.  The deadlines.  The barriers.  The annoyances.  They are not looking at the ‘whole.’  They are not thinking about how it all fits together and how to make it better.  They have a different perspective than you.  In fact, I’ll bet $$ that your perspective is recent.  Especially if you got promoted to manage them.  Now that you have a different job, you’re looking at it differently.

Why would they understand your perspective unless you explain it to them.  Provide them some context.  From what they can see, you’re being critical (if you were formerly their coworker, they may think you’ve lost your mind) without any basis.

What is happening to you is a little like how you walk into your house day after day and see nothing wrong with it, until you find out your mother-in-law is coming in 2 hours.  Suddenly you see everything that is wrong and freak out about how you can’t get it all done before she gets here.  Neither perspective is right.  The house has some things wrong, but not all that you see from your mother-in-law’s view.  The same is with the new job, the new team.  There are some things wrong.  You need to EXPLAIN how and why you see these things, though, to your new team.  You need to realize they are perceiving the criticism as being about them, which is not fun.

See it through their eyes and work hard to explain what you want to change in a way that provides context and an appreciation of how they can help fix it–not how they are the problem.

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Are You Stuck?

Image converted using ifftoany

Have you noticed that you’re not moving up in your organization any more?  Have your last couple of job changes been laterals?  Have your last couple of reviews been ho-hum? Are you starting to get the message that you’re stuck in your career trajectory?  There are some common causes and, believe it or not, some things that YOU can do about it.

Are You Bored?

Do you find yourself finding other things to do (other than your job) at work?  Are you consistently late for work and early to leave? Do you think you can do your job in your sleep? Have you done it and done it and done it and don’t want to do it anymore? Do you remember when you were challenged by the tasks of your job, but that was a long time ago?  Boredom is a common cause of burnout and demotivation in a job.  And it shows.  You may be the most experienced, the one with the longest tenure, but if you aren’t engaged with your job, it shows.  People who aren’t engaged don’t get promoted.  People who are bored are obvious about being bored.  People who are bored don’t get promoted.

Are You Under-Performing?

Have you noticed that people are passing you up?  Are they getting promoted (or appreciated and recognized) when you sit there like chopped liver?  This is the time to be really honest with yourself.  Are you really performing as well as them?  I know you’ve been telling yourself that you are, but are you really?  Are you making deadlines?  Are you over-delivering?  Are you looking for ways to improve what you do?  Are you looking at what you boss (and her boss) needs and trying to figure out how to get that done in addition to what you’re supposed to work on?  If your peers are over-performing, then you aren’t making the cut if you are merely performing.

Do You Have an “Attitude”?  That Shows?

Are you pissed?  Are you aware that you’ve been treated unfairly, badly, been ‘wronged’?  If so it shows.  No matter how much you try to keep it under wraps, it shows.  If it shows, people back off from you.  They can ‘feel’ your anger.  They certainly don’t promote angry people-even people who are out-performing others.

Are You Falling Behind?

We are constantly barraged by new systems, new tools, new processes at work.  Are you up-to-date on all of them?  Even the ones that you don’t need to use very often?  These tools, systems and processes change the way our minds work.  If you’re not keeping up, then you mind is not in sync with your co-workers’ minds.  Or your bosses.  People who can’t do the latest systems and tools rationalize it–I can do the same thing–the old way.  That may be true.  For a while.  Then others can take it to the next level and then the level beyond that.  And you can’t go there with the old way.  You may not even know what you can’t do if you don’t understand the new way.  Think about the things that you don’t do.  Texting?  Excel Pivot tables? Macs? Photoshop? Prezi? Dropbox?  Get with it. Do it.  Keep up.

Are You Being Rigid?

This is somewhat related to the item above, but that is more about tools and systems.  This is more about the way you think.  Are you open to new ideas?  I do organizational change management for major organizational changes.  I do a lot of ‘readiness’ workshops.  I see the rigid ones.  They are hard to get to the sessions.  They sit in the back and glare.  They bring up all the ways/reasons/causes that this won’t work.  My personal favorite, “We tried this before.”  Everyone resists some changes–that is completely normal.  If you resist all changes, if you are the one who knows all the ways and reasons this won’t work, then you aren’t fun to have around.  You certainly aren’t likely to be promoted.

Are You Not A Good Fit For Your Organization Anymore?

Organizations change.  People change.  Just like with marriages, sometimes you’ve grown apart.  Sometimes it’s time to move on.  The hard part is knowing when.  I used to work for an organization that was fairly small when I started and very large when I left.  It was a midwestern company when I started and an European conglomerate when I left.  It had one kind of product when I started and lots of kinds of products when I left.  Over the course of time from when I started and when I left there was an ebb and flow to the ‘fit’ for me.  Some management changes made it worse and some made it better.  Some positions were good fits for me and some were lousy.  In the end, it was me who had changed the most.  It was me who figured out what I liked about the work I had done for this company and figured out that I could find more of that kind of work as a consultant than as an employee at that company. It was a gradual evolutionary change in the relationship.  It happens.  It takes considerable thought and analysis to figure out whether it is a normal ebb and flow in the relationship or time to move on.  When it is time, either for you or the organization, then it isn’t likely that you will keep moving up.

What Do You Do?

Even if you decide that the fit isn’t right, there are things you can do in the mean time.  You have to really be honest with yourself.

  • If you’re bored, figure out how you can start to out-perform your peers.
  • Figure out how you can over-deliver.  Figure out how, in addition to your normal responsibilities, how to deliver something that your boss really needs.
  • If you’re angry, get some professional help to understand where it is coming from and to decide what to do about it.
  • If you are behind on the technology or systems or processes in your organization, then dedicate yourself to catching up and becoming an expert.
  • If you’re rigid, start to experiment with loosening up.  If you find yourself having a negative reaction to an idea, explore–privately at first–what would actually be the worst thing that could happen if the event took place.  Little steps can take you a long way to letting go of your rigidity.  Once you’re comfortable with letting go a little, then start to be more vocal about that openness.
  • If you are not a good fit for your organization, figure out why not, what you need in an organization and then GO FIND IT.
  • Any and all of these will relieve your boredom.  When you are experimenting with new behavior and thinking, it is really hard to be bored.

When your boss and peers see changes in you, it is highly likely that your upward trajectory will restart.

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Derailment, Personal Change, Success, Uncategorized

Lessons from Business For Life

Time To Learn

There are a lot of things that businesses do as a matter of course that if we did them in our personal lives, things might run more smoothly:

Have a Mission

  • What is the purpose of your life?  A business probably couldn’t get a way with having a “just go with the flow” approach to mission.
  • Why do you exist?  Check out mission statements from Fortune 500 companies.  Some are better than others, but they all are a statement of why that organization exists.
  • Do you have a mission statement? Is your purpose in life to make the world better?  To impact your family?  Your community? To grow yourself in some way?  If you think it through and write it down, then it is more likely to happen.

Have a Strategy

  • How are you going to accomplish your mission?
  • What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT).
  • What is your timeline.
  • Who are your competitors?
  • Challenges?
  • What actions will you take.
  • What help do you need?
  • Where will you find it?

Set Quarterly Goals

I think corporations take this focus on quarterly goals too far, but I do think that having an annually goal and quarterly milestones do help keep things focused and on track.

  • Do you even have annual goals?
  • Do you break down the milestones necessary to meet these goals?  It will help you get there.

Remove ‘C’ Players

Ok, Ok, maybe some of those ‘C’ players are family.  I’m not advocating getting rid of family.  If, however, you have people in your life who are naysayers, bullies, constantly critical or who sabotage you, then it’s time to think about ‘firing’ them.  They aren’t supporting your goals or mission, and they are dead weight that you’re carrying.  Get them out.  (And if they’re family, maybe figure out how to get them into therapy or at least spend less time with them!)

Manage the Money

  • Have revenue goals.
  • Have spending constraints.
  • Manage cash flow.
  • Establish and keep good credit.
  • Use the tools–budget, review, track, adjust–that businesses use.

Have a Recognizable Brand

  • Who are you?
  • What do you stand for?
  • What value do you add?
  • When people think of you, what do they think of?  (Aunt Alice is always late . . . Dad is always grumpy . . .Brother always resists . . .Sally is always knowledgeable and cheerful).
  • Figure out what you want to be known for.  Figure out how to establish a brand that does that.


  • Market yourself.
  • Market the things that you believe in.
  • People don’t know things about you unless you tell them.

Communicate Effectively

  • Focus on being clear about your message–so many problems in family and friend relationships are the result o communication problems. If you were having the same kinds of issues with your boss or your subordinates, chances are you would seek help or spend a lot of energy trying to find a solution.
  • LISTEN.  Most failures of communication are actually failures of listening.  Let the person you are communicating with KNOW that you hear what they are saying (even if you don’t agree) BEFORE you respond.
  • Choose the right media for communicating–be careful what you put into text or email.  Try to be face to face or at least voice to voice during important communications.

Be a Leader . . . and a Manager

  • Set the vision
  • Inspire
  • Don’t give up
  • Focus on the systems and structures of your life.  Set up systems that run themselves and are supported by your life’s structure.
  • Balance long-term and short-term views.

What Lessons From Business Would You Add To Your Life?

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The Art of Networking

Network Now, Before You Need To

LinkedIn sent out a lot of emails this week, notifying people that they were in the top 10%, 5%, 1% most viewed profiles.  LinkedIn probably did that to pump up their own volume, but you should take it as an inspiration to pump up the volume of your networking.  Networking is a lot like weight loss (although not as hard).  It is best done slowly, over a long time, with an eye toward your career goal.  Networking doesn’t work well when you need to have a full-blown network in the next week (like getting into that dress your really want to wear to this weekend’s wedding–that is 2 sizes too small).  I work with people who find themselves out of a job, or reorganized to a boss they can’t stand and they suddenly realize that their network is old and cold.  Whereas people who find themselves in the same situation with a robust, active and varied network find jobs and opportunities MUCH faster.

Just for fun, look at your network on LinkedIn.  Go to and create a map of your network.  LinkedIn lets you label the parts of your network according to professional groups–former job #1, professional group #1, school, etc.   Look at your network map.  If you needed a new job in the next six months, do you have contacts in the kinds of areas that would help?  Here’s mine:

linkedin map 2.12.13

If you want to develop new skills or get a mentor–can you use your network to do it?  When was the last time that you talked to most of the people in your network?  This year?  In the last five years?  LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ provide you with easy and helpful tools to connect to people without much heavy lifting. 

In LinkedIn, comment on posts in your groups (and get some groups if you don’t have any).  Send a congratulatory message to people who get promotions.  Respond to people’s blogs.  Reach out with an offer to make connections for people when you notice that they start following a company where you know someone. Endorse people.  Recommend people.

In Facebook, keep up with birthdays and let people know when you enjoy their posts.  Like your friends’ business pages.

In Google+, comment on people’s posts, create circles, join, join, join.

Join Professional Groups.  Think about where the next career opportunities are for you.  Are you a project manager?  Who knows of the project management positions as they open up?  People who belong to PMI.  Join and participate. Do you want to start a business?  Where do the entrepreneurs go to get together?  Find the groups who can open doors for you.

Volunteer.  One of the best ways to get known and to get to know others is to volunteer.  Most nonprofits have significant players in your community on their boards.  Organizations who need your skills usually have people in them who can help you.

Be seen as an expert.  We are lucky to live in a time when we can be seen as an expert through participation in virtual activities.  You can write, join, comment, help and over time be seen as an expert.  When you think of who you admire and who you think of as an expert and thought leader in your field, chances are you don’t ‘know’ that person from an in-person relationship.  You know that person through his/her writing, speaking, participation in activities that you are also a participant.

Excuses.  Whatever excuse you’re giving me as you read this, it doesn’t stack up at all to not having a good network when you need one.  Do JUST ONE THING a week to improve your network.  At the end of a year you will have a network you can use to improve your career–without having to work very hard.  The last thing you want to do when you need your network is to start from (almost) scratch.

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Will Your Style Get You To The Next Level?

You have gotten to where you are based on a lot of things, but a key element of your success is your style.  Are you the “expert/straight-forward/opinionated” person?  Are you the “social/make everyone comfortable/cheerful” person?  Or are you the “large/take charge/tell ’em the way it is” person?  Which ever style you have, it has worked for you so far.  What ever success you’ve had, you style has contributed to it.  As you move up organizations, though, your style isn’t necessarily going to be as  helpful at the next level.

Think About It

When you look up the organization chart, do the people have a style like yous?  Or do they have a different style?  What styles do you see?  Are there a range of styles?  Or does it seem that everyone above you has one style. Look closer.  There are two possibilities.

The Top Has The Same Style As You

It is possible that you were hired in the ‘style’ of the organization.  If so, then you need to check out the nuances of the styles of others above you.  It may actually be harder to discern the ways in which you need to work on your style if the top of the organization has the same style as you.  You have to look harder at what is different.  Do they vary their style when they are talking to different people–customers or superiors or subordinates?  Does that work well?  Do they connect with you well?  Are there people in the organization that they don’t connect with?  Can you tell why?

The Top Has A Different Style Than You

This is actually more common, especially in bigger organizations.  There are two aspects to this.  The first is whether or not a different style is actually going to be more effective at a higher level in the organization.  The second (and more important) is whether people making decisions about promoting you perceive that it takes a different style to be successful at the next level.  Either way, you need to figure out whether you can/should adjust your style.

So How Do You Do That?

The first thing you need to do is overcome your reluctance to change your style.  You style is not you.  Think about the way you were in junior high school v. the way you were in high school v. the way you were in college.  You had different styles, right?  Those changes weren’t necessarily voluntary, but over time you learned to present yourself differently to fit in, to be comfortable in the situation, and to get what you wanted.  You are different at work, at church and at home.  A lot of this difference is external, a lot of it is style.  The real you is more like the way you are at home, but you manage to (easily) be different at work.

What we’re talking about here is simply being deliberate about changing your “outside” style to be more effective.  If you’re introverted and you’re a sales person, you figure out how to be more extroverted to be a good sales person.  This is the same.  What do you need to be ‘more’ of or ‘less’ of to be successful at the next level of the organization?

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The Water You Swim In

Culture is Like Water to a FishUnderstanding Your Organization’s Culture

Organization culture for people is like water is for fish.  It is there.  It is critical to how the organization works.  It shapes people’s interactions.  It guides how work gets done, what is considered success, who is powerful and who is not.  It is also invisible.  People are not consciously aware of it.  It is probably the single most important thing in the organization, and most people know nothing about it.

If you want to be successful in an organization, one of the first things you should do is work on understanding the culture.   You will be able to use the culture to help you be effective.  You will be able to avoid getting into trouble by understanding the rules of engagement, power and territory.  You will be able to use the informal networks to grease your requests and deliverables.

What is Organizational Culture?

The culture is the set of assumptions, beliefs, customs, behaviors, rites, rituals, behaviors and values that exist within an organization.  These sometimes come directly from the founder (think Steve Jobs), then get influenced by subsequent leaders (think John Scully, then Steve Jobs).  The culture is sometimes a creation of combined organization cultures, or an organization culture that has been transplanted into another geographic region—Apple in China, Honda in the US.  The culture is never JUST what the company says it is.  In 2000, Enron’s stated values were:

  • Respect We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don’t belong here.
  •  Integrity We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, then we won’t do it.
  •  Communication We have an obligation to communicate. Here, we take the time to talk with one another and to listen. We believe that information is meant to move and that information moves people.
  • Excellence We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do. We will continue to raise the bar for everyone. The great fun here will be for all of us to discover just how good we can really be.

Obviously, there was more at work in the culture than what they said.  There were other things driving behavior.  The culture rewarded conformity and punished dissent.  Individualism was valued over other behaviors (Jeff Skilling’s favorite book was Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene.)  There was a belief that the people who worked at Enron were the “best and the brightest.”  Eighty hour work weeks were the norm.  There was a “rank and yank” performance system.  Cumulatively, these things and lots of others, describe the Enron culture.

Disney has a very different culture.  Google has a differently culture.  Organization cultures are the (organizational) DNA combination of all of kinds of inputs.

How Can You Figure Out Your Organization’s Culture?

 Answers to the following questions can help you begin to understand the culture:

  • Who founded the company and what were his/her beliefs?  About   the organization?  About the way things should be?
  • Is the founder viewed as a hero?  A villain?
  • Is the founder still with the company?
  • If not, what impact have subsequent leaders had?
  • Are any of them considered saviors?  Heros?  Villians?
  • What are the stories that are told about the company?
  • What kind of person(s) seem(s) to be favored?
  • What behaviors are accepted?  Regulated? Discouraged?
  • How does communication flow?
  • What parts of the organization’s history are important?
  • What traumas have happened to the company?  Are there psychic scars from those traumas?  Do people still talk about them years later?  Have behavioral norms been put in place to avoid the same trauma in the future?
  • What is the dress code?  How rigidly is it enforced?
  • What are the social norms?  Do peoples socialize together?  Have  lunch?  Spend time outside of work? Are there cliques?  Does inclusion/exclusion impact your career?
  • Who speaks in meetings?
  • What is the power structure? How do people break into the power structure? What kind of people are in the power structure?
  • What are the performance evaluation norms?
  • How is information shared/not shared?  Who controls it?

Once you’ve thought about these, identify the ways in which you can use/benefit from how the culture works.  Focus specifically on:

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