Category Archives: career tips

12 Questions to Inspire your Business

Think of the best place you’ve ever worked in your career, or the most highly reputable business with whom you have been involved — what was the magic formula that made the workplace so special?

One of my favorite business books,  First Break All the Rules, offers the closest formula of 12 business attributes that have been distilled from thousands of interviews with the world’s most successful managers and organizations.  The book frames business wisdom in the form of 12 questions that are easily asked by any manager in any organization.  If your business answers these 12 questions with a strong positive correlation, you likely run a top notch group or organization that is inspired, motivated and achieving consistent business results.

Without giving away all of the secrets of this book, the 12 questions provide common sense clues to building an inspired team or organization.

For example, rank your department between 1 and 5 (1=never, 5=always):

“I have clear expectations of my job”

“I have all the resources I need to do my job”

“I have been given feedback (positive or constructive) within the last 7 days by my supervisor”  …..and so on

Those questions where your team answers in the lower quartile?   you probably need some work in that area.  I have used this 12 question template several times to create a baseline of morale and capability when joining a new department.  It’s a great tool to define opportunities for business change, inspire new business capability and build improved results within a team.

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3 Reasons Why You Need a “Black Cloud” in Your Business

My unofficial middle name is “The Black Cloud”.  There’s a funny story behind how I got this name…

Several years ago, my husband was golfing in a charity tournament with 3 new acquaintances.  As is customary in golf, the foursome members shook hands, introduced themselves and shared where they worked.  One of the gentlemen was a Vice President at the company where I was employed.  Over the course of the next few holes, the golfers exchanged pleasantries, and chatted about those people they might know in common.

My husband said, “Do you know Meryle Corbett?”  The vice president replied, “Yeah – we call her The Black Cloud!  You should see how she comes around to our department trying to clamp down on our spending.  If there’s a new rule out there to batten down and take control, she’ll find it and enforce it.”

A few holes later, the vice president finally asked, “How do you know Meryle, anyway?”  My husband replied, “I sleep with her!”     The vice president’s jaw dropped, he turned beet red and back-pedalled big time.  My husband, a prankster, enjoyed the awkward moment and then smoothed over the incident.  I do remain pretty good friends with that vice president to this day, even though I now work elsewhere.

So… Why do you need a Black Cloud in your business?

1)  Black Clouds will identify business risks that you may never think of.  There is a natural tension between the accounting, risk, legal departments versus sales, marketing, customer service departments.  Black clouds will flag the risky possibilities in a business, so your management team can plan to mitigate the worst case scenarios.  Walking into a new opportunity with only half the picture can be fatal.  Black clouds will protect you.

2)  Black Clouds will introduce and maintain discipline and best practices in your business.  Marching down to ask a senior manager not to charge hotel porn movies on his travel expense account may not be my favorite job, but someone’s gotta keep the top of the spenders’ bell curve in line.    Black clouds will help keep all employees disciplined with the right procedures and practices to support the business and protect it from out-of-control costs or problem audit findings.

3)  Black Clouds will always tell you the truth.  When you are a senior manager, some employees suck up and tell you only the good news.  Others will try to snow you with gobbledygook information, or will hide the bad news from you.  CEOs and senior managers need the brutal truth in business if they are going to find the issues, manage them and fix them.  Your Black Cloud is usually the kind of person that will not lie, and who likely won’t sleep very well at night if they think you need to know certain information.  Black Clouds can be depended on to provide an honest viewpoint –  their job depends on the truth.

Still not convinced?  My friends joke about the Black Cloud story, and I often tell new groups how I got my middle name. There is a fun laugh behind this article, but I hope you seriously consider that the CFO or controller or accounting manager in your life, while appearing negative sometimes, is actually your best friend — we are here to help you, protect you and work with you to solve your business problems.   Make sure you have a little bit of Black Cloud in your own business!

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3 Signals Your Boss Might View You as “High Maintenance”

In the past two weeks, I have run into numerous conversations with bosses and subordinates dealing with emotional issues.    The common theme:  supervisor feels he/she deserves a promotion/sabbatical/special recognition and boss doesn’t believe the supervisor has earned it.   In all of those cases, the supervisor was significantly annoying the boss and didn’t even realize it.

Signal #1  –  I have approached my boss twice in the past year to discuss promotion / recognition and what I deserve

   –  I have approached other senior managers to state my case in the past year

–  I approached my boss first

–  I have interrupted my boss more than once for these discussions

Signal #2  –  I spent at least 3 hours this week, and more than one meeting,  arguing my case with the boss.

–  We talked about my career and I presented my arguments for why I deserve a promotion/ sabbatical/ special recognition.

–  I stated the same reasons more than once, in more than one meeting

–  I spent way more time talking about my career/ issue than I usually spend with my boss

Signal #3 – My boss repeated the same message to me in each meeting (the message didn’t change)

– My boss told me I wasn’t ready for what I requested, and gave me examples

– Other managers answered me in the same theme, similar message as my boss did.

–  Others have stopped approaching me about my concerns;  I always approach them.

If more than half of these signals could apply to you, then your boss possibly views you as a “high maintenance” employee who needs calming down or recognition periodically in order to keep you motivated.  Repeated conversations with senior managers on the same theme will not convince your bosses that you are more capable or more deserving.

Remember that bosses look at RESULTS.

– What have you delivered in your role?

– What new skills and deliverables have you provided in the past 2 years?

– Compared to others in the roles / situations that you aspire to, do you have the same years of experience?

– Do you have the same track record of delivery (volume/size, dollar value, project or technical complexity, political,team-building experience, people-handling)?

– Try to be honest with yourself.

– If you do have a solid history of delivering results at the same level of complexity, size, risk and strategic level as your benchmark competitors, you may have to leave your current company to be recognized.   If so, good luck!

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7 signs you might be laid off – and 7 ways to protect yourself

A friend of mine was recently laid off, which came as a huge relief after months of toxic interaction at his company.  We had chatted a few weeks earlier about his suspicions that “something was up in the office”.  No surprise, then, when a termination letter and severance package were handed to him one Monday morning.  The signals?

1)  Budget cuts – Management formally decreased their budgets, and increased the frequency of “we need cost cutting” and “we’re losing money” conversations

2) New, impossible-to-achieve performance targets – the boss required a doubling of sales targets (higher than ever before) with less resources

3) Management insisted that employees formally sign-off on impossible performance targets

4) Computer security changes –  an unusual amount of time was spent by IT technicians updating certain PCs and changing passwords

5) rewrite of the current job position – management removed 30% of the existing job and transferred those responsibilities to another position.  The decreased role also took a corresponding pay cut.

6) Other employees were asked to train and learn existing positions for future “backup”

7) Frequent closed door meetings –  By themselves, a series of closed door meetings may be unrelated to layoffs (an acquisition, someone’s medical issues, a new strategy).  But coupled with the above signs, the odds of a staff reduction in the office may increase.

What can you do about the situation?

1) Stick to factors within your control.  Outside circumstances such as the recession or economy may be driving factors of your company’s business problems; a layoff is not necessarily “personally” directed against you.  Don’t mistake hard-edged but difficult business choices as personal vendettas.  There is no point worrying about what is outside your control.

2) Consider what you can do to help the situation as an employee:  suggest areas for cost reductions, business efficiencies and improvements, etc.   Stay calm, courteous and professional even if the office politics become heated.  Overreacting at any level will put your behavior in the limelight and could contribute to management’s choices on the layoff list.

3) Continue to seek clarity of expectations in your job.  Ask for clarification if you are not sure what is expected of you during changing budgets, job descriptions and work situations.  Always be respectful in your communications to upper management.

4) Keep your health maintenance up to date, in case a layoff is imminent.  Get dental work done, renew the eyeglass prescription.  Keep up a healthy lifestyle (exercise, eat properly) to reduce your stress level.

5) Cut back on personal financial spending where you can.  Stick to “needs” and ignore the “wants” to keep debt levels down.

6) Develop a vision of the better job that you can move to.  A wise mentor once told me, “Don’t run FROM a lousy job, run TO a perfect job!”  Refocus your mind on positive career opportunities.

7) Start taking small steps toward the better job (i.e. take a night course, develop contacts, join a networking group, etc).  Whether you remain in your current position or move elsewhere, shifting your mind onto positive forward thinking options will dilute the toxic emotions that may be swirling around you in your work environment.  Remember:

Luck is opportunity meeting preparedness.  

Good Luck!

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My Best Career Advancement Advice

The above sign hangs above my office doorway as a daily reminder.  It is a gift from one of my favorite base managers, who is also one of our organization’s most highly regarded leaders.

The sign, “No Excuses”, is a theme we have often discussed — when things go wrong in our business, it’s always easy to blame another employee (“he did it”), another department (“they did it”), another manager (“he told me to do it”) or even a customer (“they insisted”).   It’s human nature to rationalize our actions or find reasons to shift blame.

What does a CEO think of these kind of excuses?  Not much!  Most CEOs I talk to consider making excuses a career limiting move.  As one CEO says: “Bring me an employee who will identify the problem, admit the mistake and find a solution to fix the situation next time.  I’m sick and tired of hearing ‘Somebody, Nobody or Anybody did it!’ ”   

Customers, too, want to have upfront and honest treatment.  Next time a problem occurs with a customer, consider this response:  “We are terribly sorry and can offer no excuses – we have made a mistake and we will fix it immediately.  What else can we do to make this right with you, because you are a valued Customer!”

You will likely be perceived as honest, forthright, accountable and responsible – not whining, evasive, negative or blaming.

Remember: “No Excuses”  — step up and be accountable  to your peers, bosses and customers. 

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