Category Archives: Career

11 Tips on How to Drink from the Firehose and Not Drown!

Firehose-Spraying-Water
Firehose Spraying Water

Over the last few weeks, I have found myself drinking from the proverbial firehose in my new job. That is, meeting new people, navigating a new work environment, taking in new information, listening, learning the scope of my new responsibilities, and asking questions to better understand the operations of the organization. Prior to starting this new role, I had never heard of the metaphor of drinking from a firehose. However, as soon as I heard it used, I could not help but smile at how well it described what I had been experiencing as I settled into my new job. Afterall, the many meetings, the rapid flow of new information, new acronyms, names, faces and roles sometimes passed in a blur, as I attempted to take copious notes and prayed for good memory. Which I imagine is exactly what drinking from a firehose might feel like?

What Does Drinking from the Firehose Mean?

According to the Urban Dictionary, the metaphor “drinking from the firehose” is defined as “to be overwhelmed (with information, responsibility, work, etc.); to do something intensely; to be inundated.” This experience or feeling is typical for most new hires during the first few days and weeks settling into a new job. During the onboarding process, (See previous article), new employees spend the majority of their early days getting to know their team(s), learning about business operations, key stakeholders, listening to customer needs and expectations, while scanning for opportunities to apply their skills and knowledge. And if not careful, one can quickly feel like the gushing firehose is spilling more water over one’s face and clothes, rather than what ends up in one’s mouth.

So, what can you do? How can you learn how to drink safely from the firehose and avoid the drowning feeling of being overwhelmed by the rapid flow of information, scope of work and many expectations that comes with your new role or job?

When I started my new role, I really wanted to do my best. So, I decided to draw on the wisdom of the crowd by asking my professional network on LinkedIn to share tips and advice to help me to position myself for success in my new role and confidently apply my skills and knowledge. I received over 100 valuable responses offering wisdom, tried and tested advice and key reminders that can help anyone achieve success when starting a new role or new opportunity.

How to Drink Well from The Firehouse

Here are the top eleven tips that you should keep in mind as you put your best foot forward and drink well from the firehose:

  1. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Do not be consumed with trying to prove yourself- you are the person for the job
  2. Listen twice as long as you intend to speak. As you do so, pay attention to what is said and to what isn’t. Keep your eyes and ears on the ground.
  3. Be a learn it all, not a know it all. Rather than be an expert, be a sponge and ask questions to learn and understand. Be humble.
  4. Be social. Try to say hello to everyone and try to meet as many people as you can. Remember to smile and be respectful of everyone.
  5. Build relationships and connections. Surround yourself with the right people. The relationships you build will be the most valuable currency you have to spend.
  6. Remember that trust and vulnerability go hand in hand. Be willing to be vulnerable and to trust your team as you get to know each other and vice-versa.
  7.  Learn the organization structure and culture. Understanding this will help you to get a sense of how you fit in and can contribute, as well as how things get done.
  8. Maximize your first 90 days by setting realistic goals. Once you have gotten an understanding of your role and responsibilities, work with you manager to identify and agree key work priorities and goals to be achieved over the first 30-60-90 days.
  9. Be open and ready to learn, fail and make mistakes. Things will not always work as planned, nor will all your bright new ideas be accepted. Don’t take this personally. Continue to listen and pivot. Fail fast and early and recover well. And as you do so. extend yourself grace and remember progression is better than perfection.
  10. Ask your manager and team for feedback. Regular feedback will help you to gauge how you are doing, how you can add value and gain insights on your opportunities for growth. Allow yourself time to settle into your new space and work environment. And celebrate all your wins- no matter how big or small.
  11. Be your authentic self. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not to impress others or fit in. Own your unique talents, perspectives, abilities and recognize the value you bring to the organization. Also remember to be patient and present for each step of your new journey.

At the end of the day, failing to manage the firehose and to drink safely while settling into a new opportunity will lead to frustration, burnout, stress, fatigue and less than optimal results. As you adjust to your new role, remember to pace yourself, and ask for help when and where you need it. Also, be willing to set healthy boundaries to maintain work – life balance and to ensure positive overall well-being.

So, what additional tips would you add to help others drink from the firehose and not drown?  What has worked for you? What advice do you have for someone who is starting a new role or a new opportunity? Share and let me know.

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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How to Onboard Your People Right!

New Employee Onboarding-Image

Let’s face it – starting anything new can feel daunting, exciting, and challenging at the same time. Whether it’s a new job, new relationship/partnership or resettling to a new area, the process can be nerve-wracking. Because of this, it is not unusual for people to experience mixed emotions once the decision has been made. In fact, one of the most common emotions that many people experience is uncertainty -due to one or a combination of the following reasons:

  1. Change isn’t easy and moving out of your comfort zone can prove difficult and painful.
  2. People fear failure and want to do well and/or succeed in their varied endeavors. But the fear of failure, low risk tolerance and not wanting to make a mistake can be crippling.
  3. The desire to do well or make an impact can create undue pressure and drive feelings of anxiety and self-doubt.
  4. No one can predict the future; the future is unknown and even the best laid plans can go awry.

Last week, all these things became real to me as I started my new job. While I knew I was capable and competent to do the job and felt confident that I had made a great decision, when the first day came around, I couldn’t be sure of how things would unfold. How would my first day turn out? How would I feel at the end of the first week? Would the people be warm and welcoming? Would they like me?  Would the environment be open, positive, supportive – one where I could learn, apply my talents and grow?

It is safe to say that my musings and thoughts are not unique to me. Most new employees approach their first day on the job with excitement and hope for a great experience, but with lingering fears of the outcomes. Fortunately, by the end of my first week, I could happily report that all went well. The team was warm and welcoming, the scope of work was what I expected, and the work environment was one where I felt confident that I would make a positive impact and continue to develop.

While I was deeply grateful for the positive experience, I am keenly aware that this is not always the case for many new employees on the first day, week or month on a new job. This is primarily due to the approaches that various managers and organizations use in onboarding new hires.

Importance of Effective Onboarding

Depending on the culture of the organization, the style of leadership and management and/or the quality of onboarding systems and policies, starting a new role can be equals parts chaotic, confusing and stressful.  According to the Society for Human Resource Professionals (SHRM), “Onboarding is a prime opportunity for employers to win the hearts and minds of new employees”.  Amy Hirsh Robinson also points out that “Onboarding is a magic moment when new employees decide to stay engaged or become disengaged”. And “it offers an imprinting window when organizations can make an impression that stays with new employees for the duration of their careers.”

Unfortunately, however, some organizations waste this opportunity by not creating the right conditions to set new employees up for success or the environment for them to feel safe and thrive. Robinson cautions that “new hires who experience such badly planned and executed initiations may conclude that the organization is poorly managed and decide that it was a mistake to take the job. And “rather than setting new employees up for success, organizations with poor onboarding processes are setting the stage for an early exit.”

How to Set New Employees Up for Success

Whether the role is in -person, remote or hybrid, new hires expect their managers and organizations to provide opportunities to help them learn and understand their roles, familiarize themselves with the organization and understand policies and procedures. Research suggests that “69 percent of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding. And “new employees who went through a structured onboarding program were 58 percent more likely to be with the organization after three years.”

So, what can employers do to ensure they are effectively onboarding new employees and get them started on the right footing.

According to Gallup, effective onboarding of new employees should focus on people, learning and processes.  On the people side, the focus should be helping new employees meet and connect with new team members, ask questions and foster positive relationships. The learning should focus on helping new hires understand the mission and vision of the organization and how they fit in and can contribute in their respective role(s). With the processes, managers should provide new hires with a clear structure and journey for learning the job, the tools, systems, and technology, so that they have what they need to do the work.

Six Tips for Effective Onboarding

So, here are six tips recommended by Gallup that managers should consider as they seek to set their new employees up for success with effective onboarding practices:

  1. Find creative ways to build connections:  Whether it is in person or online, managers need to create opportunities for people to connect and build relationships as they acclimatize to the organization and their roles. This could include but is not limited to virtual coffee chats and or in -person meet and greets.
  1. Encourage tenured employees to reach out: Ensuring that new hires feel supported is a crucial part of the onboarding process. As such, a word of encouragement or check in from senior staff can help to build confidence in new employees and provide reassurance that there is help should they need it.  
  1. Lean into Learning: Effective onboarding processes should help new employees understand the greater mission and purpose of the organization. Gallup emphasizes that “When employees understand why and how their job fits into the bigger picture, they can start delivering brand promises faster.”
  1. Add experiences that bring your culture to life: According to Gallup, new hires need to see and feel how the organizational culture plays out and how they fit into it. This requires both communication and firsthand experiences and accounts from existing employees at all levels of the organization and/or provide opportunities for new hires to observe the culture.
  1. Create a formal mentorship program: One of the main expectations that new employees have of their managers and their organizations is for them to provide opportunities for growth and development. Gallup suggests that “to meet this need and promote retention — leaders should pair new hires with a mentor or adviser who can answer their questions and help them learn and grow.” Mentors can also serve as a sounding board and a source of inside knowledge to help new hires navigate their roles successfully.
  1. Prepare managers for an active role: Gallup emphasizes that “managers must be present, involved, and available throughout new hires’ onboarding journey.” Managers should model the culture, demonstrate the values of the company, and provide learning experiences that bring the culture to life. For effective onboarding, managers need to become coaches and connect their new employees with the right people and provide the support and mentoring they need.

Finally, in today’s job market where most organizations are struggling to attract and retain top talent, the saying – “First impression counts”, does not just apply to the new employee who is trying to impress his/her boss. The research confirms that managers and organizations need to get their onboarding processes right and to create the right conditions for their new and existing employees to engage. For when all is said and done, the quality of the onboarding experience can make all the difference in whether new hires decide to stay or with the company or jump at the first opportunity they get.

So over to you- what has been your experience when starting a new job?

Did you feel supported? Did your onboarding process provide structure, clear information, specific job-related goals and the resources you needed to do the job? Did the onboarding process set you up for success?

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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How to Get Your Personal Board of Directors!

Chess Pieces- Image
Chess Pieces- Image

Do you have a personal board of directors?

Every successful company has a board of directors or governance structure that is responsible for providing the necessary oversight and direction for it to grow, perform and succeed. So, if you are the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the company called you, shouldn’t you also have a personal board of directors? I first came across the concept of a personal board of directors (PBOD), while participating in a leadership development program. The concept was introduced as a key tool or strategy for professionals to use to manage their professional development and career success. Not unlike a company’s board of directors, Forbes explain that “Your personal board of directors “exists to act as a sounding board, to advise you and to provide you with feedback on your life decisions, opportunities and challenges”. This article will explain why you need a personal board of directors and offer guidelines on how you can use this tool to advance your career goals.

Why a Personal Board of Directors?

Are you feeling stuck or wondering about your next career move? Do you need advice to deal with a difficult situation at work?  A personal board of directors can help you. Throughout my career, I have benefited from having trusted advisers who have provided input, guidance, and encouragement to help me navigate crucial career decisions and manage challenging work problems. Similarly, a personal board of directors exists to:

  • Provide advice and perspectives that will help you craft a vision and strategy for your career success.
  • Hold you accountable for your actions and behaviors, as you work towards executing key activities relating to your goals.
  • Help you identify new opportunities and provide feedback to help you to grow and improve.
  • Be an advocate for you in rooms where you don’t have an ear or a seat.

Who Should Be on Your Personal Board of Directors?

Who you select to be on your personal board of directors is critical for its success and yours. While your personal board of directors might include a friend or loved one, that should not be the main criteria for selecting the persons who will serve in these important roles. According to Harvard Business Review, “The people on your board of directors should know more than you about something, be better than you are at something, or offer different points of view. Choose people who can make different contributions to your thinking.”  Using these criteria, your board members could include a current or previous manager or a colleague you admire — or both. Regardless of your job, your PBOD should include people who are experts in your field or industry. Relying heavily friends or relatives for guidance on key career choices, will limit your ability to get the objective advice you need to pivot, grow, and take your professional development and career to the next level.  

Positions for Your Personal Board

While there is no fixed rule, your typical personal board of directors should have 3-4 members with the following roles or positions:

  • Coach:  By asking powerful questions, this is the person(s) who will engage you in deep and reflective conversations about your behaviors and actions. Your coach will provide feedback that might be uncomfortable to hear and help you to deepen your self-awareness by holding up a mirror to yourself.
  • Mentor: This is someone senior to you that you respect and trust. Your mentor(s) should have experience in navigating an area you are struggling with or have expertise on a subject that you aspire to grow or upskill.
  • Sponsor: This is a person of influence at your current organization. Your sponsor’s role is to look out for you, spot trends, and help you make connections to expand your professional network and boost your visibility and impact at work.
  • Peer Mentor: This is a trusted colleague that supports you and is always willing to lend a helping hand. Your peer mentor should be someone you often share, learn and collaborate with.

When it comes to putting your board together, bigger does not always mean better. The roles you choose might depend on your specific career goals. Ultimately, the size of your PBOD will depend on your needs and the availability of the people in your network to support you in this regard. It is also important to note that your PBOD does not need to meet at any one time. The key is to consult each member of your board when you have important career decisions to make, and when you need help with coming up with a plan of action.

Directional -Signs- Image
Directional -Signs- Image

Guidelines to Build Your Personal Board of Directors

I have utilized my personal board of directors at crucial stages of my career. I remember a few years ago when I was struggling to stay engaged at work due to a hurtful work situation. I shared my challenge with my coach, and our monthly conversations were instrumental in helping me move past the discouragement I was feeling and get back on track with my goals.  Similarly, my current mentor was the hiring manager for a job I interviewed for and failed to get. After the interview, I reached out to him for feedback to help me prepare for my next opportunity. That conversation led to me asking him if he would be my mentor and he agreed. Since then, he has helped me to come up with strategies to navigate challenges in my current role.

Over the last few years, I have had a few sponsors at different levels of my organization. My sponsors have provided leads and opportunities for me to make important connections to expand my network and increase visibility for the work I do. My peer mentors remain a source of ongoing learning, shared collaborations, and encouragement.

So, are you ready to set up your personal board of directors?

Forbes offers some guidelines that you can use to put your board of director in place:

  1. Choose people who you regularly keep in touch with, so when you ask for their help, it feels like a natural partnership to them. It is also important to build rapport and maintain positive relationships with them.
  2. Once they have agreed to serve on your board, let them know that you appreciate their guidance and will carefully consider it, whether you follow their advice or not. You should also let your PBOD members know how their assistance helped you with a decision or moved you closer to achieving your career goal.
  3. Since serving on your board is an unpaid role, think of ways that you can give back to your board. Think about what you can do for them or who you can introduce them to. You can also offer to help them out with a project that you are skilled in.
  4. Respect your PBOD’s time. Establish what their availability looks like from the start, the most convenient time to meet and the best channel to use to stay in touch. When you do meet, be prepared, and have clear objectives for the check in.

Finally, your career and professional development are serious matters and should be treated as such. Surround yourself with the right people who have the experience, expertise and connections to help you position yourself to level up!

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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Level UP!!

Balloons Up In the Sky-Photo
Balloons up in the Sky-Photo by Padli Pradana on Pexels.com

Catchy phrases and  cool slangs have always been attractive to people trying to ensure that they are “in the know” and/or keeping up the times. And so, in professional circles you might have heard your colleagues drop phrases such as “Lean In” (made popular by Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook titled book), “circle back”, “weigh in” and/or refer to “serial tasking” (Instead of multitasking) and so on and so forth.

“Level Up” or “levelling up” is the one of the newest and trendy phrases now being used in various circles across the globe to describe an attitude or mindset towards upgrading oneself or performance and/or the desire to go to another level in one’s personal or professional development or career journey. The Urban Dictionary describes level up as “To make a move in your life or career for the better”. Based on that definition,  who among us could not think of an area(s) in our lives that we want or need to level up or improve ?

Why Level Up?

According to Business Wire, there is a  $9.9 billion market for motivational self-improvement programs and products that seek to improve us physically, mentally, financially or spiritually. A quick at YouTube quick look at Amazon’s platform or YouTube respectively,  will reveal a  plethora of self-improvement books, podcasts on everything from how to improve finances, learn a new skill, motivational content on personal development and how to videos geared at people who want to try something new. So, regardless  of where you fall on Maslow’s  Hierachy of Needs , the concept of “levelling up” appeals to individuals who are  looking to  their improve skills or performance, advance in their career  or  wanting to step outside of  their comfort zone. It also provides motivation for those of us seeking to pursue bold new goals whether its buying a new home, starting that degree, taking a relationship to the next level or taking steps to improve nutrition and fitness for improved health and well-being. Additionally, the organizational environments in which we operate and the tools and technologies we use are always changing. Failure to adapt and our agility in responding to such change can affect our success and progress in the varied roles we perform.

What Does Levelling Up Look Like?

This truly will depend on your end game and what you are trying to achieve at this stage of your personal life or career. One of the things  that I learned very early in my leader development is that, development is dynamic. Our strengths can become weaknesses and gaps in skills that we have (that were not critical at one time) can suddenly become urgent. Simply put, the skills and talents that got us to one level, may not take you to your next or ‘What Got You Here Won’t Take You There’ . Plus, we all have blind spots, those things that people know about us that we don’t know about ourselves.  For example, the way we  make decisions, how we ‘show up” when working with others or perform everyday tasks,  that can potentially undermine or derail our very best efforts.

For me, I have identified a couple areas in my interpersonal and technical skills where I am seeking to grow and level up. For you, the area(s) for improvement will be different. What matters most is that you take the time to process feedback you might have received, and or spend some time reflecting on where you are vs. what you want to achieve. Once you’ve  identified  your  opportunities to growth, challenge yourself not to focus  on the barriers but instead, commit to  taking little steps as you work towards change.

So, ask yourself- what is one area (s) in my personal /professional life that I would like to or need to grow/improve? Whatever you answer might be- that is the place to start becoming the person you truly want to be.

Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!  

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Volunteering: A Great Option For You!

“You discover yourself in losing yourself in the service of others”.Ghandi

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All across the globe, people in every country, sector and of all ethnicities volunteer their time, and give their resources to help/support varied causes, events or efforts. But what exactly is volunteering? According to Wikipedia “Volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity and is intended to promote goodness or improve human quality of life”. Today, people volunteer in the communities where they live and work, schools they attend (or those their children do), at church, or in regions being affected by natural disasters, political conflicts or economic challenges. As such, there are many established organizations, clubs, and societies, and companies that mobilize people/staff to get involved and take part in said initiatives.

Last week, I spent three days volunteering at my professional association, the American Society for Training & Development’s (ASTD) pre- conference workshops, held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington DC. These workshops were precursors to the real big event, which is the ASTD 2014 International Conference & Exposition which “brings the training and development industry to life”. This international conference brings together thousands of learning/training and development professionals from across the world to Washington, D.C., to share best practices and insights. And sure enough, I met learning and development professionals from government ministries in Jamaica, who were participating in the workshops and attending the conference. You can just imagine how happy and excited I was to see learning and professional representing from home, benefitting from the leading trends in learning and development. I am also equally confident and optimistic that, they will take back the tools and new insights gained, and use them to improve their learning and development solutions, thereby improving human performance across the public sector.

Having said all that, I will go back to the focus of this post, which is highlight a few of the many reasons everyone should volunteer:

1. Great way to show your brand, build your network and meet new people: As a relative transplant to the Washington DC Metro Area, I left my comfort zone and home (Jamaica) for a totally new country, and, some would say to start another chapter of my life. You could only imagine how daunting it was to, try to find a place in a whole new world, where a friend or colleague isn’t just a call or short drive away. One of the first things I did was to find my professional association, and become a member. On becoming a member, I was truly amazed at how dynamic the Metro DC-ASTD Chapter was. The Chapter has a myriad of program and opportunities to network with brilliant and talented colleagues in the field. But, the most surprising part came when I realized that, volunteers are the lifeline of organizations such as these. The varied programs and events are staffed by members with full-time and demanding jobs which they have to balance with their different roles. Yet, these members diligently volunteer to contribute to the development of their field. Over the following months, I was able to do many informational interviews (each person referred me to another) with peers, who helped me get “a lay of the land”, better understand the learning and development industry here, and guide my job search. As such, I can tell you truly that these opportunities made my transition to the USA much less challenging.

2. Fun way to learn: Not only did I have the amazing experiencing of meeting new people, exploring the city, engaging with like-minded peers and other wonderful volunteers, but I learnt a lot and got a huge boost to my ongoing professional development efforts. Over those 3 days, I benefitted immensely from the discussions, and conversations with learning partners (from all across the states and other parts of the world), as they shared their experiences, ideas and how the learning and development function works in their organizations. Therefore, I say kudos to the Designing Learning certificate program participants, and our most engaging and fun knowledgeable facilitator who has an amazing grasp of the content.

3. Awesome way to lend support/contribute to a cause/effort/event: My volunteering experience dates back to my days as an undergraduate at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona. As a participant in the Leadership Development Program, we were encouraged to find projects in the surrounding communities to lend our efforts to. Many of these projects positively changed the lives of children, the elderly, or just members of the various communities. As students we contributed to schools (donated computers, organized book drives, tutoring), helped in children/old age homes/visited orphaned by HIV-AIDS, or simply painted a pedestrian crossing. And though I wasn’t a member of clubs such as Kiwanis, Lions or Rotary, I saw the huge impact that the work of volunteers in those organization made, and how they changed lives. I also got to see the gratefulness of the people whose life were touched by those efforts, and the sense of fulfillment it gave the volunteers.

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4. Effective way to practice and hone skills: “If you don’t use it, you lose it. I fancy myself a good writer with ways to go, and as such I am keen on improving my writing skills. When I declared my theme for this year -Increase 2014, I decided I would pursue opportunities to increase my skill in this area. So, as well as starting my Blog, I responded to a call for volunteers from the Metro DC-ASTD to join the Membership Outreach team. The team is responsible for recognizing noteworthy members of the chapter for feature in the chapter’s newsletter .In my role, I have the opportunity to interview selected members and write profiles which are published in the Beltway Bulletin. In doing this, I get to connect with and engage with talented new people, and practice my writing skills. And the best part of it is that, I don’t have to leave home (unless I want to), and it only takes a time commitment of about 6 hours a month (via phone or email).

5. Enhances your resume or prospects in your job search: I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you”. When you volunteer, you get a chance to meet and talk to people. People who you would probably never meet if you sat down at home doing nothing, or mindlessly submitting hundreds of resumes online. People know people, or may be able to give you the much-needed encouragement and leads , to help you in finding that “great opportunity”. And overtime, these people may become your friends or useful references that can attest to your work ethic and personality. I must also add that, volunteering is a great way to explain gaps in work history on your resume. So whether you’ve been unemployed voluntarily or involuntarily, being able to share with the interviewer(s), how you have used that time to continue your personal and professional development will be a huge plus.

6. Develops skills and builds experience: Recent college/university graduates often bemoan the absence of work experience, given the fact that, they have no work history. In addition to internships, volunteering presents a viable option for them to gain experience in their chosen field. By targeting companies and organizations, recent graduates can approach specific organizations/interest groups for opportunities to get hands on experience. However, it is important to note that, volunteering requires the same level of professionalism, dedication, positive attitude and work ethic that would attend a paid job. As such, the decision to volunteer should not be treated any less seriously. The soft skills gained from working in teams, communicating with internal and external customers/stakeholders, applying technical knowledge, can be used as excellent talking points in behavioral interviews, where you may be asked to share you STARs (Situation, Task, Action, Result) stories. And like I always say, there is no great difference between two good candidates with similar education and training. The main separator will be those attributes and experiences, which will enable you to show the interviewer(s) how you can add value to the organization.

So what are you are you waiting for? Go find your opportunity!

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To Be or Not To Be?

“To be, or not to be, that is the question”— William Shakespeare’s , Hamlet

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The answer lies with you. Yes, you- the  one making the decision. 7 days a week, 4 weeks a month, 12 months a year, or every minute of the day, we make decisions, big  and small about our relationships, families, careers, finances, health and even entertainment. The  approach used to make these decisions might be influenced by one’s personality, personal philosophy and/or  unique situation at a point in time. For some of us, the process is  quick, easy and decisive, while for others it might be slow, tough and painful. Regardless of who you are, making decisions can be a challenging and intimidating experience, for with every decision comes, responsibility, consequences, and sometimes risks. Alas, that’s the nature of decision-making and  decisions are a fact of life.

“History never reveals its alternatives.”

imagesWhen we make decisions, we make choices. Choices that we will have to live with, and sometimes can’t even change. And for every decision  we make, there is another we didn’t make. And, that same decision made  typically, sets off a course of events  that will change the trajectory of our lives in ways that we probably can’t fully see or understand at the time. As for that other decision left at the table, there will be other options unexplored, opportunities lost or a  range of possibilities we will perhaps never know. But, we take comfort in the fact  that, given all the variables, our decision was the best decision to make at that point, given our circumstances, priorities, emotions and the information we had  at the time. Then again, “hindsight is 20/20” and with the passage of time, we are often prone to reflect on our decisions, rethink them or regret them.

I fancy myself good at making decisions and I don’t have any regrets about anything in my life (personally or professionally). I reckon that, if I thought about something and made a decision to pursue a course of action/path, and was fully conscious and well when I did so, then I would accept the outcomes of same, however they manifested themselves-success, failure, happiness, joy, sadness, pain. But, this is not the case for a lot of people. I have often heard colleagues, friends and family bemoan and express regrets about decisions that, they have made in their personal and professional lives. Upon deeper probing, they would always reveal that their decisions were influenced by considerations about their current obligations, circumstances, fear of the unknown, uncertainty about future risks and/or the insecurities they had at the time.

imagesCAUFVU8HFor me, the decision that  has made me wonder – what if?, was a job I turned down just after completing graduate school. Having studied Government at university  with an emphasis on International Relations and Public Administration, a job in diplomacy would have been a dream come true or so I thought at the time. So of course, I submitted my job application to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Sometime after, a long time after, I was invited to come in for an exam. I did the exam and left it hoping I did well enough but  was not overly concerned about it. Some three months after, I got a follow-up call inviting me to attend a panel interview.

I thought about declining the interview because, by now, the process had stretched out for a nearly a year, and I was 3 months into a new job. A job that paid well, reflected another interest and passion of mine, and provided that I could secure the independence I needed at that point of my life. Nonetheless, not one to leave anything unexplored, I accepted the interview and participated. Not long after, I was made an offer to join the ranks of the Foreign Service. You can only imagine how elated I was. Think status, prestige, international exposure, ambassador for country at large. But, all of that was before I learnt more about the nuances of roles, understood how the service worked, the salary and the entire package. But, truthfully, the worse part of it was that my dream job offer would require that I uproot again, start all over with  a significantly less compensation package, than  the one  my current job afforded me.

imagesCACLG7IISo, now I was in a quandary. Here I had an offer for my “dream job” in the nation’s capital, but it “didn’t pay”. Accepting the offer would totally eliminate any possibility of me having any independence for the next couple of years, and would not allow me to meet my financial obligations. On the other hand, I had a great job with a good company doing something I liked, a new apartment, the means to take care of me and urgent obligations (student loan). I asked my friends, family and mentors to weigh in, and even had a heart to heart with the Director for HR at the organization.She was open, and ever so gracious and kind. In the end, the decision was mine to make and mine to live with.

I guess you can figure out what I decided. I declined the offer and was told that I could reach out again should I rethink my decision. Though I never regretted that decision, every so often, as I reflect on the successes I achieved in my career as I know it, I would wonder what could have been, and how my life might have been different. After all, our decisions usually result in opportunity costs that we can’t always calculate. Does any of this mean that I gave up on a goal? Or that my analysis of the all the variables involved at the time was flawed? Or that I neglected the big picture and choose short-term goals over long-term ones? No, not to my mind- it doesn’t.

imagesCAFUSECXNothing about our lives(personal and professional) are entirely linear. Things have a way of coming full circle. Our decisions and choices have a way of creating diversions, opening up new worlds or restricting us the familiar, the certain and  the safe. Some call it fate, others destiny…or even karma. But that’s the nature of decisions. You will never know  what could have, should have, would  have been- for history won’t ever tell us what would have happened, had we decided otherwise.

So in essence, some decisions are easier, more comfortable, less risker than others, and can even lead us towards good and satisfying lives. But they may not always be our best choices. Once in a while, the circumstances in our lives, the places where we find ourselves, might require us to take the plunge, launch out into the deep, and stretch ourselves in areas and ways we never thought we could and still don’t even know we can. This is by no means advocating that we break off unhappy relationships, leave frustrating/dead-end jobs, give up pension plans and start-up your own new business. But sometimes, we may just have to. And in so doing, we redefine ourselves, embrace new, exciting  and rewarding experiences and find/ rediscover happiness in our lives.

images6So while decision can be daunting, we should never shy away from making them. Instead, we should try as best as possible to make them for the right reason, with much care, weighing what your heart and mind inclines you to do. For though we might seek and receive good counsel from others, it’s our lives, our responsibility, our decisions and we will have to live with them- come what may.

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Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Navigating Relationships At Work

imagesCA2VOG8J“No man is an island, no man stands alone.”

By our very nature, we were created for relationships. Be they personal or professional, we develop and maintain relationships with the people who are a part of the circles or groups to which we belong. While some of these relationships might have emerged consciously/unconsciously over time, they result in meaningful friendships which help us in the best and worst of times. This is no less true of friendships in the workplace.

For this post, I want to look at friendships as a form of relationship in the workplace. Loosely defined, friendships are those close relationships we develop with people on the job, or the people we align ourselves with, due to similarities in personality, values, and interests. Friendships also develop as a result of the huge amount of time we spend at work, or at home doing work. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that, people develop lasting friendships with the members of their teams, people on other teams(internally and externally) and even with their supervisors. Is anything wrong with that? Well… you decide.

Are friendships in the work place bad?

Do friendships help or hinder effective working relationships?

Do they need boundaries?

Can they affect how you do your job?

The answers to any of the above questions are not written down in any employee handbook. Nor are they stated in the thick operational policies and procedures manuals, that each new employee is given to read during the orientation or onboarding process for a new job. Though you should note, that, some companies have explicitly stated policies about personal relationships (intimate) in the workplace. But, that is not my focus. If you were to stop and think about your experiences with friendships at the workplace, the things you have seen, heard or felt, you might just conclude that – friendships do have impact on the work and perhaps how we work.

“Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are”

Throughout the course of my career, I’ve witnessed and experienced first-hand, the impact of friendships at work from the perspective of  a member of a team to  manager/leader of teams. And, I can safely tell you that, this dynamic plays out quite differently from role to role. So let’s start with the question raised earlier:imagesCAFETENT

  1. Are friendships in the workplace bad? No, not necessarily. Friends are typically people we trust, and turn to whenever we need a sounding board, support, receive good and bad news. These friends are also the same persons who are likely to call us with a bit of company news (a promotion, new hire or dismissal) or relate over lunch, something they might have heard on the grapevine. Herein lies a problem, for this is how the grapevine thrives. Grapevine communication is a huge problem for many organizations. The grapevine is a medium through which rumors and gossip are transmitted, producing negative effects on company culture and creating tension in teams.                                                                                                                                                     Yet, what we often forget or overlook is that, the grapevine is not an abstract concept. It is not something running along the walls and corridors into meetings and offices, restrooms, car parks and cafeterias. One reason for the grapevine’s popularity in organizations, is that, sometimes, friends across and within teams, inappropriately discuss critical work related information and decisions, that they are privy to in their jobs with other friends ( both internally and externally). And though no harm might have been intended in sharing, the effects on the organization and on people’s lives might be detrimental.
  2. Do friendships they help or hinder effective working relationships? Yes. Friendships can both help and hinder effective working relationships. Whether it’s the case of a friend providing much needed help in completing a work assignment, supporting a proposal or point in a meeting or giving feedback, friendships can be beneficial. Friendships often help to “grease the wheels” for a more comfortable journey in the world of work. On the other hand, friendships might very well threaten effective working relationships. A friendship gone wrong can lead to grievance and discipline issues, produce negative work behaviors and attitudes such as “bad mouthing”  of and by managers and direct reports alike. Thereby resulting in, tense meetings,  decline  in performance and productivity and further  disruptions and uncomfortable situations on teams.
  3. Can they affect how you do your job? Yes, friendships can directly and indirectly affect and effect how you do your job. Favoritism in the workplace and its impact on low employee morale is nothing to scoff at. Additionally, the direct impact can be seen with the answers to questions 1-2 above. The indirect impact might be just as strong. After all, I’m sure you might have seen coworkers in a friendship relationship react negatively to another coworker on the basis of an incident/ or action taken against their friend(s) or involving them.
  4. Do they need boundaries? Yes. Establishing boundaries for what you will or can share with a friend will be critically important in avoiding any appearance of unprofessionalism, bias or breach of trust. This is especially important and true when a team member is promoted from amongst peers and becomes a supervisor. For both the new supervisor and the direct report(s) (which includes friends), the period of adjustment to this new relationship needs to be managed carefully. If you were to review any book on supervisory management, you would find that, great emphasis is placed on helping new supervisors understand their new roles and responsibilities vis-a-vis old relationships. These books provide guidance to the supervisor on the different expectations related to the new role(that of their direct reports and supervisor) and how to navigate these relationships.

I will therefore conclude that, friendships  at the workplace are important  and may even be desired. However, friendships need to be carefully managed to prevent them from  undermining effective working relationship. For  whether we admit it or not, they can and do. Hence, a lot will be left to the maturity, integrity and ethics of the individual and that of his/her friend(s). In the end, responsible and mature people with healthy friendships would never allow each other to jeopardize  their job position(s) or compromise their professional ethics.

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Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Are You Engaged?

engagement3I am pretty sure that when you think or hear of the term engagement – the first thing that comes to mind is a proposal for marriage. Yes, the moment the man or woman (not so uncommon these days) pops the question and ask his/her beloved for their hand in marriage. If you thought so, you would be quite right but that’s not what I am thinking, nor is it the focus of this post.

In today’s  workplace, the term engagement  is a relatively new  buzz word used to describe the degree to which employees are motivated, happy, satisfied with the work they do, interested  in their organizations, and  display support  for  the company’s mission or their team. On the other hand, disengagement speaks a situation where employee’s behaviors and attitudes are negative, morale is low and they do the bare minimum to get by. Studies suggest that between 20-30% of employees within organizations are disengaged.  As such, one would reasonably conclude that each organization is comprised of two categories of employees – the engaged and the disengaged.

engagement2In any organization and for any manager or leader, the engaged employee is a dream. Not unlike a newly engaged person, this individual is happy, finds meaning in their work, supports the fellow members of the team and are highly productive. They are driven and they get the job done. On the flip side, are the disengaged employees. These are the unhappy ones, less motivated by the work they are doing and even less satisfied with their jobs. Usually, the disengaged employee operate at two extremes. That is, from the heavy silence and passive participation in meetings/ teams to the vocal opposition, negative attitudes/opinions they express when anything is to be done or any change is proposed. Working with them, is akin to pulling teeth and saps your energy. Because for them, it is  never just about the matter at hand, but everything else (past and present) as they are shackled by the history of their experiences. Does any of  this sound familiar or does anyone come to mind?

imagesCAMEZKVII’m sure by now you are probably making a mental note the people in your organization to whom these categories applies. But better yet, do you know where you fall? Are you engaged or not? Regardless of what your answer is, there is no need to judge or condemn these persons. The issues they struggle with are real. And however this is manifested, they need help and support from their supervisors and coworkers. I’ve not always thought so. But, I have come to learn that at some point of our work lives, we ourselves are not immune. We too risk becoming disengaged, or can slide along the continuum (engagement or disengagement) as a result of a problem with a supervisor, a small win, a big failure or just the general work environment/culture of the organization.

Which brings me to the point? What really causes an individual to become disengaged? A quick review of the literature will tell you that disengagement might be caused by one or all of the following:

  • Lack of respect from management.
  • Employee feeling that his/her  contribution or work is not valued.
  • Inadequate knowledge/understanding of company’s mission or even how they fit in.
  • Inequity and unfairness in how employees are treated(managers have favorites).
  • Poor working relationships with supervisor and managers.

imagesCAH1MI1BA case in point was my first experience with a disengaged coworker. She was a very mature, knowledgeable and competent individual who had spent over 15 years working with the company, prior to the 8+ years we worked together. After a couple of interactions, watching her body language in meetings, observing her level of responsiveness and just the negative attitude and tone with which she operated, I was pretty annoyed. She was never rude, but I wondered how someone with such a wealth of experience and maturity could be like that. And better yet, if she was so obviously unhappy with the company and the work, why didn’t she just leave? Why torture herself? Why make life and work more difficult for  the other people with whom she worked, due to the sheer amount of effort and energy, they would have to expend to work effectively with her.

imagesCA23Z6XAThough I struggled to understand why she was just like that, I came to accept that there were many others like her as well. While she was expressive,  the others were silent and passive. I  figured that, at the very least, we all had a job to do and that job paid our bills. And as long as that was true, then each of us had an obligation to give of our best efforts. That for me was simply a matter of personal integrity. I would later learn my annoyance was misplaced, for she like others who were , were not always like that. Once upon a time, she too had been engaged and she did in fact, love what she did. Unfortunately, she had, had, one too many bad experiences in the workplace –with leaders, supervisors and even customers. As a result, she no longer trusted the organization. And since everyone had a right to work, she responded as best she could to survive.

Therefore, it important that both organizations and individuals remember:

  1. imagesCAHR4550Organizations through their management teams and climate they create or foster, have an obligation to provide a “safe and enabling environment” for their employees to thrive and grow.
  2. Issues left ignored or swept under the rug- do not disappear. The buildup and may later threaten to derail even the very  best employees and the most engaged.
  3. Disengaged employees hurt organizations as much as they hurt themselves. They are likely to hurt an organizations performance and bottom line due to their levels of service and productivity.
  4. Disengaged employees can negatively affect an organization’s culture or may even negatively influence new recruits.
  5. Both organizations and individuals have to make a conscious effort to recognize and assess the levels of engagement amongst employees in their organization and in themselves.

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Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Why Does It Hurt So Bad? Feedback is a Gift!

images-sadWhy does it hurt so bad? Why do I feel so sad?  Thought I was … No, this not a love song. Nor is it  about  my love life,  or  the death or loss of a loved one.  I am talking about FEEDBACK.

At some time or another, you and I have had to give feedback to someone, or might have been on the receiving end. And for the most of us, the experience hasn’t always been pleasant. In fact, on the work scene, it is not unlikely for  both employees and supervisors to dread, that time of year when performance appraisals are to be conducted. And even in our personal lives, feedback – the nature and content of it, has led to, or contributed to, many a  broken or damaged relationships, shattered trust and sent many to seek the counsel of elders, family, pastors and friends. Still, I contend, no matter how you look at it, feedback is a GIFT.

Here is the dilemma- feedback comes from everywhere and everyone, and it can be both  good and bad. Clearly, positive feedback, the type  usually regarded as good, doesn’t make us feel mad, bad or sad. It pleases us, makes us glow and run around “boasting” of our finer attributes to anyone who will listen. Usually, it is the negative variety a.ka. bad feedback, that causes us the  tears, pain, anger, sends us ranting, catches us reacting defensively, or signals us to turn on our Silence buttons. When this happens, whether the  feedback is given by loved one, friend(s), supervisor(s) or, co-worker(s), customer(s)  or all of the above- doesn’t make it any easier accept.

imagesWC1QS3C2

Fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve experienced all the emotions I just described, and the  kinds of feedback I mentioned. One my earliest experiences with negative feedback,  came from my  supervisor in my very first job. In my then role, I was responsible for coordinating over 20 training courses offered by the agency. The position I  assumed, had been vacant for a whole year, and there was a “back-log” with issues deemed  both  urgent and important  at the same time. As you could imagine, I worked hard to resolve these issues, while focusing on my key deliverables, learning the organization and my job. But, none of this bothered me, for I love a challenge, and tend to be very committed to whatever I do. Needless to say, by the time my probationary period ended, I was confident, settled and happy with my progress and performance.  And with this positive energy and attitude, I sat down with my supervisor for my performance appraisal.

untitledfeedback 2Our discussions about my performance and impact went very well. There were no surprises. That is, until she mentioned that, some of the participants for a course I coordinated, were dissatisfied with me. The issue they raised was related to my attitude, and their perception that,  I did not seem particularly “friendly” to  them. Truth be told, they were my least favorite group and they had the biggest issues on my “backlog” list. Speaking to them, and interacting with them, always  required extra preparation-mental and otherwise. But I consider myself professional, and they were our/my customers, so truly I did my best. As my supervisor shared, I remember feeling hurt and angry, as I fought the tears welling up in my eyes . Suddenly, it was as if, nothing else had been said in the discussion, none of the kudos I had earlier heard/received mattered. And the kinder she was, the worst I felt.

Sometime after  my tears subsided, and my thoughts of their ungratefulness faded, I resolved that I had to change my approach. After all, don’t we all want to be seen favorably, to the people who matter? So,I made a deliberate effort to “warm up” to the group, smile, say  hi to them in the corridors, and be more patient in our interactions. It wasn’t before long  that they too responded in kind, and I made friends with the group, as we continued to grapple with challenging issues. The way I figure it now is that, I was much younger then and less wiser I suspect.

Since then, I’ve had many roles and numerous opportunities to give and receive feedback.

feedback

Yet to date, the most enduring lessons have been:

  • Feedback isn’t always positive or negative but it should always be honest.
  • It is equally important to listen to what is said as well as what is not said.
  • LISTEN and SILENT has the same letters- so listen carefully and ask questions to help you better understand the issue not argue.
  • Instead of dismissing the feedback you don’t like, ask yourself- is any of it true?
  • Be kind and gentle in sharing feedback-regardless of appearances, people are people first with emotions, insecurities and fears.
  • Avoid making generalizations about people. Base your feedback on the specific situation you observed, the behavior and the impact it had on you, the job or others.
  • Examine your motives in giving feedback – is it meant to develop or “tear down”?
  • Say thank you- you don’t have to agree with what you’ve  heard (but it is better to know how others feel about you and it gives you an opportunity to fix it).

In the end, I have learnt to value feedback. Feedback should make us glow and grow. Feedback is a Gift!

What has your experience been in giving or receiving feedback? Practice on me !

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Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Just Do It……..Do It Now!

imagesX97HBCNRThe new year is here and January is running fast. You’ve made some New Year resolutions  which are either fading into the deeper recesses of your mind or are in full gear. Whichever the case, I’m with you for I have been there  and done that.

Writing a blog has been on my  ” To  Do List ”  since 2011 when I first came across the concept, along with developing an online portfolio, shedding 10 pounds and the list goes on.But for whatever reason, life happens, I’ve never started and none of my friends have kept me accountable though I’ve said  I would. To be fair though, they have repeatedly told me  that they are patiently waiting for my memoirs/autobiography for believe me , I like you and so many others have  STORIES  to tell.

Anyways, back to the point, I’ve finally published my blog- It’s A Learning Life -Lessons in the Journey Towards Personal & Professional Development http://itsalearninglife.wordpress.com.  And trust me, you’d never believe the amount of time and effort it took  to get started . Hats off to the  established Bloggers out there, I  now have a greater appreciation for what you do and the courage it takes to just put yourself out there.

But I’ve resolved, my blog’s debut isn’t perfect, it doesn’t have to be . In fact, the content, style and format of my blog may change and evolve as I do- and I’m ok with that. It simply reflects my first step, my best effort at this time, and my commitment to meet one of my personal and professional goals for 2014. So  if you like me  have  been putting off a goal or project for some area(s) of your life – personal, career, education, financial, health , spiritual etc., my advice to you  would be to – just  do it. Start, neither  you   nor your efforts  have to be perfect,  your focus may shift a bit, you may slip up but stay the course and do it.

collagenew yer

Wherever you are in your  journey, whatever the situation, the  level you’re at, go ahead  and find your list of “things to do for 2014” and start. If you don’t have one, it’s not too late  to go make one,  you’re even entitled to dream, but right after you read, comment, like and share.

What are your goals for 2014? Please share, I’d like to hear from you.

TNB

Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved