Posts with category - Performance

4 Tips For Improving Your Personal Brand at Work

Image courtesy of iStockphoto.com

Image courtesy of iStockphoto.com

Have you ever worked with people who just didn’t give a damn about their personal brand and how they’re perceived at work? I mean they really think it’s OK to do things like hangout on Facebook all day, surf the Internet, or work on their personal pet projects. I once worked with a guy who did things just like this.

He would show up late to work, take naps in conference rooms, surf the Internet all day, making a ton of Facebook posts during work hours, and even work on personal research projects, sometimes all day. He argued that he wasn’t given enough work or responsibility to keep him busy throughout he day. He refused to reflect a positive personal brand and just did his own thing. When he was eventually fired, he actually had the nerve to feel as though he’s been wronged. Do you hear that big CLANG sound? Yeah, that’s the sound of his brass cojones smashing together.

Branding isn’t just a term that applies to marketing, it applies to employees just as much as it applies to a company. In fact, one could argue that by maintaining high standards in our personal brand, we can help increase the overall brand reputation of the company. Just ask Jeff Bezos and Tony Hsieh, the CEOs of Amazon and Zappos respectively. Both of their brands were built on excellent customer service.

OK, so here are four things you can do to reflect a positive, personal brand at work:

  1. Take responsibility for your actions, and above all else hold yourself accountable for your day-to-day performance. You never know when someone is using you as the measuring stick for their behavior, work ethic, or performance.
  2. Be authentic. As workplaces evolve from communication silos into more transparent enterprises, it’s essential that you communicate the real you in a way that makes your brand shine. People will know when you’re being fake.
  3. Be careful who you associate yourself with. In many companies there are naysayers and “lifers” who’ve just given up and settled in their positions. They’re usually the pessimists who rarely have anything positive to say. Do you really want to be associated with that person? Or how about the people who constantly goof off and rush to complete tasks at the least minute? Associate yourself with positive influences and even become one yourself. As companies evolve from being silos, negative influencers will eventually be weeded out.
  4. Be in Intrapreneur, someone who constantly seeks new opportunities to help your team or the company as a whole. Write proposals for new processes, software that will help your job, or even new business. Just make sure that the things you propose will help the company save money or improve efficiency.

We reflect our personal brands from the moment we search for a job. Our resumes and LinkedIn profiles are visual representations of our personal brand, as are recommendations and personnel evaluations. Good or poor performance can not only affect our brand at the company we currently with, but when we apply for other jobs, or even freelance gigs. I mean who recommends a poor brand, especially if it’s something they’ve tried and it left a bad taste in their mouth? So, take the time to invest in your personal brand; be the example of what your fellow employees want to aspire to, and the type of employee companies want to have lead their brand.

No Comments

Procrastination – lack of knowledge or lack of interest?

As my list of to-do’s continue to get longer and longer, both in my professional, personal and student lives, I often wonder how much of my perceived procrastination is because I don’t know how to do something or if I just have my priorities wrong?

There are definitely responsibilities in my life that are not interesting to accomplish, and more of those seem to get added to that list than the fun energizing ones.   I definitely tend to manage my time by due dates, although at times, even those need to be de-prioritized for a something more pressing.

Recently I was discussing with my manager an issue of a peer team being non-responsive to deadlines.  He told me that people don’t get things done because they don’t know how to do it or they don’t feel it important (de-prioritize).   I have been thinking about this a lot with my own internal de-prioritization.

I am a mom, wife, daughter, graduate student, e-commerce merchandiser for a large company, entrepreneur of a seasonal brick and mortar retail store, a person that wants to get into better shape and, although sometimes I forget, a human that still needs occasional downtime (a.k.a. sleep).

When managing yourself, a team of either direct reports or peers, or even managing up to a supervisor, keep in mind the reason why things may not be getting done.

Is it because someone doesn’t know what to do, or it isn’t a priority?

In both a personal and work environment, tasks that are less desirable, will take longer, or are more challenging are often put to the bottom of the list.  Balancing that with tasks that you truly are not sure how to tackle is key.

I am the type of person that needs all of the information to best make decisions, and often to even get started on a project.   In the ever changing nature of my job, that often leaves me stressed that I am late getting projects accomplished.   However, I look at other people in my workplace who constantly provide an overload of information and the minute by minute changes, where I wait it out for the final direction and give one set of directives.   Which is better?  Of course, I’m still figuring that out.

Often, I do notice that tasks or projects that I find myself skipping on my list are those that I am missing some point of knowledge that prevents me from either starting or completing.    When managing a team of people and you find that tasks are not getting accomplished, dig deeper, find out why.

Keep in mind that often, if you are the team leader, that others will not want to admit that they don’t know what to do.   Fostering an atmosphere of openness to ask the proverbial ‘stupid question’ and ability to admit when you also don’t know something, can work wonders in helping get to the underlying issue of why things aren’t getting done.

Another issue is that of prioritization or de-prioritization.  Does your team know what needs to be done first?  What tasks are most critical to the business?  What are the clear deadlines?   What are the one, two, three things that have to be accomplished today?   I know I need to start there and I’m sure my stress level regarding the rest of that long list will ease up.

If you’re feeling like me, ask yourself,

“What’s holding you back from that To-Do list?  Information or something more important?”

 I’d love to hear ideas you have for managing your responsibilities!

 

No Comments

My Life in an Electronic Vacuum: Seeking Balance

The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.

Have you heard anyone say this?  Finding a work/life balance is getting harder and harder, and the paradox for me is that the tools which are intended to convenience me, are the reason why I am losing my ability to carve out personal time for myself and my family.

Outside my back door is the raised vegetable garden I built by hand.  It is beautifully constructed, if I do say so myself, and this summer it has produced a dizzying array of produce. In these waning post-season days I can look out my second floor office window and see that there are cucumbers still on the vine, eggplant galore, and lettuce that is overgrown, and if I had the time I would go there to pick them, clean up the garden, ready it for winter.  Did I say that the garden is only steps from my back door?  Are you asking yourself why I haven’t tended the garden lately, or have you figured it out already?  Stuck in my office, I have many reasons why I do not visit my garden and enjoy its abundance, and all of them are electronic.

Are you tethered to your gadgets?

My day begins with several activities, in this order:  Turn on the computer, pour a cup of coffee, return to the computer and read my email – from all five email addresses.  I have two email addresses for the online school I attend, and from which I will soon have earned my M.B.A. in Internet Marketing; I have two personal email addresses, one that I have owned for 20 years and a newer one to which I am beginning to direct traffic – if for no reason other than every spam artist in the world has found the first; and finally, I have an email address for work.  Sometimes, between the time I go to bed and the time I begin reading the emails, 100 or more communiques have landed in their respective boxes. Once I am finished reading, deleting, or responding, I move on to the cell phone to check for text messages, and from there I check my two calendars, one for work and one for school, so I can begin to map out the day. At this point I am into the second or third cup of coffee.  I take a short break, maybe play a field or two on Angry Birds, and I begin the next phase of the morning. The rest of the day is spent at the computer, moving from program to program, to fulfill work and school commitments.

Online education is not easy, mostly because of the heavy reading and writing loads.  It is not unusual to be assigned a couple of hundred textbook pages to read each week plus case study research, and a heavy writing schedule to boot.  Then there is the blog project, for which this post is designed; it also takes time and thought. Research on the computer to verify the accuracy of information we share on the blog is necessary to maintain the integrity of the project.

My job carries its own burden of responsibility and thankfully I have a very understanding boss, who happens to teach online classes and therefore understands how tough it can be to manage one’s time effectively while maintaining good grades.  My job is with an online marketing firm which provides pro-bono services to non-profit groups in need of sustainable, capacity-building systems to manage their organizations.  I work in a virtual environment, with internet-connected teams of people, and often have direct contact with clients, too.  This means that we meet frequently online, in a virtual office environment, we share documents, and apart from these activities we are each responsible for blogging about social change initiatives, and we monitor and generate social media campaigns through the use of online digital dashboards.

Throughout the day I continue to monitor and respond to emails, intra-office messages, contribute to discussions on client projects, and answer telephone calls.

My day typically ends when my husband arrives from work around 9PM, and for the hour or so we spend catching up or watching a TV program, I am returning text messages and monitoring emails from my cell phone.  The last thing I do before turning in for the night, is check the computer one last time.

I joke about the day when I am finally free of school and working at a full time marketing job; I say it will feel like I am on vacation.  Secretly though, I fear that the time vacuum created by graduation will be filled with some other online, smartphone, blog, or tablet-based activity, and the cycle will continue, the electronic noose will grow tighter, and the concept I currently hold about what personal time is will no longer be a reality,  only a fond memory.

1 Comment

Performance Evaluation Feedback: A 360-Degree Approach

One of the things that really get’s under my skin is not getting good feedback. Whether it’s a project, a presentation, or a performance evaluation. Which is why I’m adamant about providing good feedback to anyone I manage. If fact, informative and positive feedback is key to ensuring a highly effective performance evaluation. One of the most interesting feedback approaches I’ve seen is multisource feedback through the 360-Degree Approach

The 360-Degree Approach

In a 360-Degree feedback program, anyone in an employee’s circle, their 360 degree range, can be a performance evaluator. This includes peers and other team members, subordinates, managers, and even the employee being evaluated. The idea is that this 360-degree group can provide a better overall picture of an employees performance than just one person. OK, so here are some best practices for the 360-degree approach:
  • The 360-degree approach should be used for individual employee development. By focusing the attention on the individual performer, you are more likely to get that person to open up to the program and the feedback itself
  • It should be integrated with other types of activities. Make sure to follow up the performance evaluation with coaching or additional training, and even setting clear goals. The intent is to improve performance and help your employees continue to develop.
  • Make sure the feedback is in line with the overall direction and strategy of the organization. For example, if you are a service oriented company, make sure the employee development plan includes improving and building upon service-related tasks.
  • In a 360-degree feedback program it’s important that the manager (evaluator) is in complete control of the process. This includes training everyone involved in the process, planning out the improvement activities, etc.
  • It’s imperative that senior management behave as role models. If employees see you taking this process seriously and taking the appropriate actions regarding the 360-degree plan, then it stands to reason they will take the program more seriously as a result. This is an important note for those learning to lead as new managers.
  • If you plan to use coaches to help employees improve their performance, make sure those coaches are well trained themselves. It will go a long way to making sure those coaches can help create action plans and help employees understand the results so their performance evaluations.
  • It’s important to measure the overall effectiveness of the evaluation process and make the necessary modifications where they are needed.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Ok, as with any approach to performance evaluations, there are advantages and disadvantages. So let’s lay them out.
Aside form what is listed above, the key argument for a 360-degree approach is that since the evaluation doesn’t hinge on only one point of view, the impression is that the evaluation is not only fair, but more credible. Also, this approach could be a good way to improve performance evaluations overall. With that said, there are some valid arguments against this approach.
Peers may not want to hurt their fellow team member’s careers, and therefore might not provide an evaluation that accurately reflects the employee’s performance. For example, they might give higher marks than were deserved. Another disadvantage is that everyone involved in the process has to be in a position to frequently observe the employee’s performance. Differences in observation frequency can result in different opinions and therefore major differences in the results.
Informative and positive feedback is one of the keys to ensuring a highly effective performance evaluation. The 360-Degree approach allows peers and other team members, subordinates, managers to get in on the evaluation process and help each other grow as one cohesive team rather than just a group of individuals. Even if you don’t choose to use the 360-degree approach, you should definitely provide accurate and effective feedback in your performance evaluations and make sure you set a plan and goals for your employees to improve their performance.

No Comments

Online Education: Older Students Learn to Fit In – Virtually

In my college career I have spent equal amounts of time in brick-and-mortar universities and online universities. Today I am nearing completion of an M.B.A., with a concentration in Internet Marketing, the wave of the future, and a world wherein virtual offices are common.  I mention this because it is important to understand the benefits of online education, beyond the obvious convenience factors.

If you are over 50 and still in school, this story might resonate with you.

Make the right decision the first time:  Getting into law school is no easy feat; students with degrees from lofty universities are turned away each year, unable to score high enough on the LSAT or to pass the scrutiny of admissions boards.  I was one of few lucky applicants who made it through the vetting and gained a seat.      Like any other prospective student I was anxious to see and feel the schools I applied to, and in the year leading up to my admission I toured campuses and spoke with law school admissions representatives.  You are probably saying, “So?  What is so unusual about this?” The answer is that in every face-to-face encounter I had with admissions folk and other prospective students, it was assumed that I was a parent, not an applicant.  Despite my carefully colored hair, and my hip-for-campus-yet-still-appropriate clothing, there was no hiding the fact that I was decades past the typical age of someone seeking new, relevant credentials with which to gain employment, which was my aim, indeed my need, as I passed through mid-life into my golden years.  If I did not already suspect I would not fit in, it was made very clear when, speaking with an Assistant Dean of Admissions from a prominent Texas law school I was told, “You can get through law school, but you won’t be able to practice in the area you are attracted to – because of your age you will not only be denied the job, but you probably won’t even get the interview.”  I was floored.  Did he really say that to me?  Is it legal to say that?  Needless to say, I did not get into that law school, despite having a GPA of 3.98 and excellent references.

 Has anyone ever tried to hold you back from your dreams?

Ironically, after fighting so hard to gain admittance to law school, once there I hated the curriculum and eventually withdrew. I was not a good fit, for all kinds of reasons, but chiefly because I could see my future in the legal environment through the course studies, and I dreaded the idea that I would be stuck there forever; I loved law, but I didn’t want to become a lawyer.

Seek Progress, not Perfection: I am going to digress here and go back to the time I attended brick-and-mortar, over age 40, and anxious to complete my education.  For 3 ½ years I commuted the 5 hour round trip drive to earn the degree I finally was awarded – again with honors – and the experience was a nightmare.  Older than all of my colleagues and many of my professors, I was shown again and again, how I didn’t fit with the college norm.  One professor suggested I think about whether I wanted to endure the rigor of starting a new career at my age, and the students simply shut me out – I was not someone they could relate to, and because my age near their parents’ age, they didn’t want to try.  It was a lonely time, and a younger student confronted with these non-too-subtle roadblocks might have quit; I did not, I had the same goal then that I have today, and I am hell bent to reach it.  In that regard my age probably works for me, because peer pressure becomes less of an issue when we age.

I successfully completed the undergraduate program I described above, and I don’t count the left turn I made into law school because I recognize that my ego was more in play than I was willing to admit at the time.  Still, I wasn’t finished gaining the education I need to compete in today’s high pace, technology-driven world.  When I examined my options after leaving law school, it was obvious to me that I should pursue a field I have experience with – I have a background in advertising – and I should do so through a college or university that would provide me with the best educational options, and the fewest social hurdles.  I chose another online program, this time offered by a tier-one university, known for its superior research training, and where all of the professors hold doctorate degrees or a PhD.

Keep an eye on the future: Online education is, in my opinion, far more demanding than brick-and-mortar. A side benefit is that everyone is on a level playing field – age is a non-issue.  The self-discipline and time management you must employ to succeed, indeed to meet deadlines each week, are more exacting than any you have encountered in traditional universities.  In my program the reading can exceed two hundred pages every week, and the writing is detailed, formal and scholarly, requiring a fine-tuned, efficient, and organized approach to synthesizing data.  The graduating M.B.A. today has learned about the new office culture: the adoption of virtual office environments and the corporate norm of virtual team project management. Both of these disciplines are employed in the online education environment.  As such, it is my belief that a student graduating from a respected university’s online program will be better prepared for the corporate culture of tomorrow, than will their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

Please join the conversation:  Do you have an opinion about how online education prepares you for the office of today and tomorrow?  

No Comments

How to Improve Your Performance Evaluations

The performance evaluation is one of the toughest challenges most managers and leaders have to face, not to mention the fact that developing an effective performance evaluation system isn’t an easy task. However, the following suggestions will not only help you develop a more effective system for evaluating your team members, but they will provide you with a way to positively impact behavior and possibly cultural change within the entire company.

  • Get your team members involved in the evaluation process. If they are a part of the process, it will go a long way to ensuring they are satisfied with the overall evaluation system.
  • Set specific performance goals that you want your employees to achieve rather than general ones. Avoid being vague about your expectations. It’s crucial for your team members to have a clear vision of what they need to do to succeed.
  • Clearly communicate the results of the evaluation with your team members, and discuss how you came to your conclusions. It’s important that your evaluation provides room for discussion or a question and answer session that leaves your team members feeling satisfied that they have all they need to move forward.
  • Make sure to focus on the positive aspects of your team member’s performance, not just the areas that need improvement. It’s essential that you actively recognize and reinforce the good points in an employee’s performance
  • Performance evaluation is an ongoing process. In order for annual evaluations to be effective, it’s important to implement smaller evaluations during the year in order to reinforce positive behavior, and provide your team members with ways to improve.
  • Train lower-level managers and team leads on the performance evaluation process, and make sure they are measured on how effectively they handle this task in your evaluations of them.
Effective performance evaluations are not only good for team members, but they can be a great way to positively influence the behavior and cultural change within a company. They help to reinforce good behavior, while attempting to eliminate negative behavior that can be harmful to the company as a whole.

1 Comment

%d bloggers like this: