On the Job provides helpful information and advice from America's favorite workplace columnist. Anita Bruzzese is a nationally syndicated columnist on the workplace and award-winning journalist. She has addressed audiences on topics ranging from taking control of your career, avoiding workplace blunders and responsible business blogging.
Perhaps you have highly sought after technical skills, or you're known for having such a creative mind that companies believe you can help propel their brands to new heights.
The world is yours, right? You have so many calls from recruiters that you've lost count.
Unfortunately, even though a company should reap the rewards of hiring people like you, some of them will find out that it was a bad idea.
A new study from VitalSmarts of 1,000 managers and employees finds that 88% of managers have at least one "high-potential" (HIPO) worker who doesn't live up to the moniker. Colleagues are even more fed up poor HIPOs, with 96% reporting they have at least one teammate who can't manage to regularly hit performance standards.
What gives? It seems that the sub-par HIPOs have certain traits in common: an inability to stay focused on the right priorities; failure to communicate or avoid surprises in their work day or responsibilities; and not meeting deadlines.
Those surveyed report they believe HIPOs get overwhelmed, trying to do so much that they soon fall behind. Or, they get mired in busywork instead of focusing on more meaningful tasks. In addition, they can be rich in technical skills but absolute crap at organizing their work and setting priority.
While HIPOs may believe that a company would never in a million years let them go (after all, they are high performers) that may be a fantasy. Specifically, 48% of manager report that such performance gaps cost organizations more than $25,000 per low-performing HIPO.
The bottom line is that no HIPO should believe he or she is invincible. More companies are getting adept at using data to track employee performance, and if you're an unorganized HIPO who can't seem to get key tasks done, then you could be vulnerable.
Here are some things to do if you believe you may be a HIPO in trouble:
1. Meet with your manager. Get clear on what goals he or she deems are the most important in the short term and the long term. These are critical. Also determine if you're communicating effectively, and what you can change or improve.
2. Set up a system. Just because you're an IT whiz doesn't mean that downloading the latest app will keep you organized and focused. I have known some truly brilliant people who still use a day planner. Figure out what works for you and don't worry what anyone else thinks. You want to spend more time focusing on critical tasks, not wasting time with six different organizational systems.
3. Set aside thinking time. You can do this while commuting every day or or taking your dog for a walk. Turn away from any kind of screen and simply let your mind be at rest and wander where it wants. I've come up with some of my best ideas while doing the dishes or drying my hair. HIPOs are expected to not only meet short-term goals, but to develop innovative ideas.
Finally, never get too comfortable in any job. Remember that you're always being assessed, no matter your skill set or how you performed in your last job. If you take the attitude of always seeking improvement, then that's good for your employer -- and your career.
I once had dinner with a friend who worked for a telecommunications company. In the middle of our conversation, she stopped talking and looked unhappily at her phone.
"I'm sorry," she said, looking at her vibrating phone on the table. "But I've got to deal with this if it's my boss."
She checked her phone.
"Give me a second," she said to me, frantically tapping at her phone.
When she replaced her phone on the table, I asked her if such messages on the weekend were common.
"Oh, you'd think we were curing cancer, the way he demands we answer his messages immediately," the women told me. "It's awful."
I asked her if she ever thought of ignoring the messages even for an hour, and she burst out laughing.
"I need this job too much," she replied.
I then asked her if she ever thought about talking to her boss about the issue.
"No. I can't. I wouldn't know what to say," she said.
For my friend, and all the other people out there who may be putting up with a boss that bugs them endlessly when they are away from work, I have a few suggestions:
1. Make sure you're right. Are you sure that your boss really wants an answer right away? Or, did you just reach this assumption based on information from others or because there was one or two instances that demanded such a reaction time?
2. Communicate clearly. I hear from bosses all the time that they get frustrated when employees believe they are mind readers. If you want to know the protocol for weekend emails, then you need to ask your boss directly. "I know that you send emails on the weekend, and I wanted to ask if I need to respond right away if it's a non-emergency issue. I like to take the time away to really recharge so that I'm energized on Monday. Sometimes that means that I don't have the ability to respond right away."
3. Monitor your own behavior. You may be part of the problem, and not even realize it. For example, do you send an email to a colleague on the weekend? Perhaps that colleague then feels obligated to send an email to another co-worker -- and cc's the boss. Bam! Now the boss has to send out an email, and that means you have now triggered receiving emails from the boss on the weekend. If you do feel like you've got to send the email before it slips your mind, use a tool like Boomerang to send it Monday morning.
Finally, if you boss does expect you to respond on weekends to non-emergency emails, then it's not likely you can ignore them. That's when you have to make the decision on whether the company's culture is a good fit -- or you need to find an employer that respects your time off.
"Success is a lousy teacher," Bill Gates says. "It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose."
The working world is littered with the careers of people who didn't listen to Gates (or probably their mothers who offered the same advice). Some of these include entrepreneurs who started their business and achieved immediate success -- only to be serving lattes a year later because they crashed and burned. Or, there is the rising young star at a company who seems to be on a path straight to the c-suite -- until he irks an important client.
There are lots of ways to ruin a career, but I'd like to talk about some of the dumbest ways smart people manage to screw up their path to success:
1. They think they're too good for friends. I'm not talking about the kind of friends who you hang around with after hours. I'm talking about friends in the office. People you are nice to, and they are nice in return. You buy them a cup of coffee for no reason. You offer to stay late to help a co-worker finish a report. You cover for an unprepared colleague in a meeting. Those are the kinds of friends you make at work who will have your back, warn you when you're not making good decisions and help you be successful because they want you to do well. You do not earn and sustain success in a vacuum.
2. They try to multitask. Whatever you may feel about the financial guru Suze Orman, no one can doubt her success. She's worth millions and has retired to a private island in the Bahamas. She once said that she does one thing at a time, and she does it very well. Multiple studies have shown that we don't do things very well when we're in a meeting, sending emails, checking Instagram and thinking about where to go for lunch. Stop multitasking. It doesn't work, and increases the chances you'll make a stupid mistake and feel more stressed.
3. They don't do their homework. Let's say you've had success in shooting out random ideas in a meeting. Everyone is impressed. So creative! So out of the box! So smart! That leads you to believe this can work in other situations. But sooner or later, it doesn't. You make dumb statements to an important client showing that you don't know much about the customer's overall strategy. You blunder is asking basic questions during a presentation by your boss, showing you didn't read earlier reports. Skimping on your homework may have worked in high school, but you're in the big leagues now. Do your homework or find yourself being kicked down the career ladder.
It's not unusual to hear people say that when they've been job searching for a while, they sort of lose their motivation. This loss of initiative can also be found when people are working on projects for work or trying to come up with an innovative idea.
I've been through this myself, many times. When I feel my motivation lag, the one thing I don't do is pay close attention to others who seem to be excelling. I don't want to read their tweets or Instagram posts about how much progress they're making with a career goal.
But a new study shows why my strategy may only make things worse when it comes to re-charging my initiative.
Szu-chi Huang, an associate profession of marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, finds in her research that when you (and I) avoid information about others striving to reach the same goal when you're in the middle of a process or effort, it's because you (and I) don't want to look bad by comparison.
So, instead of becoming re-invigorated by seeing others still striving, you sort of check out and your initial excitement begins to fade like a cheap dye job. Because you can't see the finish line yet because you're in the middle of your efforts, you may just abandon your efforts completely.
Why does this happen? Huang says it's because you need a motivating "anchor," and you don't have one when you cut yourself off from others who are in a similar position.
So, the next time you feel yourself start to fade in the middle of a project or process, try checking out social media and absorbing how others in a similar situation are still striving. That should be enough to get your motivation flowing when you need it most.
Years ago I was volunteering at a community fun fair, which is another way of saying that kids were running around juiced on too much soda and candy, and parents were paying $10 for a hot dog. All of it was in good fun since it was aimed to raise money for a local community project.
I worked alongside a 13-year-old boy, who never said "no" to anything I requested. He bused gross picnic tables. He took the trash to a giant dumpster. He fixed the soda dispenser when it got stuck. He served hot dogs when I started talking to a friend and fell behind.
In that hot dog line that day was the owner of a local restaurant. He watched this 13-year-old boy, and when the line moved forward and he was standing in front of the boy, he asked "How old are you?"
"13," the boy responded.
"When you are 16, you come and see me and I will give you a job," the man said.
Three years later, the boy -- now 16 -- showed up at the restaurant.
"Do you remember me? You said you'd give me a job when I turned 16?" the boy said to the restaurant owner.
"Yes, I remember you. I watched how hard you worked, and I knew that I wanted you to work for me. Too many people come in here and want a job but aren't willing to work," he said. "When can you start?"
Years later, that young boy is now an executive in sales. He said he built his career based on that first job. His resume showed that he took on some dirty jobs, but kept building his skills and responsibilities for various employers as he worked his way through school.
I use this as an example of how important it is to always be aware that someone is watching how you work. The office manager who one day builds a successful software company is going to remember that you were a hard worker and hire you away from your current job at three times your salary.
The boss who watches you at the office barbecue will notice that you didn't know the word "quit" when it came to a game of softball. Maybe you couldn't hit the broadside of a barn, but he took notice that you hung in there and didn't give up.
You may feel like you're on your best behavior when you're at your workplace, but don't think you're not being watched -- through your social media posts, at offsite events -- to see if you've got what it takes to make key people want to invest in you.
Sometimes you accept a job and are really excited about it. But as you spend more time in that job, you start to lose some of that enthusiasm. Before long, you feel stuck.
It can be difficult to finally admit to yourself that you're not happy with a job you thought was a good fit. You feel a bit guilty because you know about the time and effort the employer has put into hiring and training you. You are also a bit annoyed with yourself, because you feel you missed some of the signs that this job wasn't going to work.
First, realize that you're not the first person to go through this, and you won't be the last. Second, it isn't good for the employer or yourself to stay with a job that isn't a good fit. As your unhappiness increases, your productivity and creativity will drop. That's not fair to the employer, is it?
Once you've gotten past those emotional hurdles, it's time to figure out what you should be doing in your career.
Here are some steps to take:
1.List what you love and what you hate. Don't be wishy-washy here. Be honest with yourself. Maybe you took a certification class and spent thousands of dollars to become a project manager. But you hate it. Hate. It. Maybe you have discovered that what you really love to do is design the graphics for your reports. You look forward to the days when you get to design a dazzling pie chart.
2.Think about how you invest private time. You're in the doctor's office waiting for your flu shot, and you come across some really cool graphics in a magazine. You quickly snap a photo of it, and start envisioning how to use those graphics in your next report. This doesn't even feel like work, does it? When you're devoting off hours to thinking about it, trying to hone your skills or learn new ones to enhance it, then you know you're onto something that will excite you in your career.
3. Look for connections. Obviously, you're good at project management or you wouldn't be in that job. But your creative side longs to do more. Still, your ability to stay organized, handle a crisis and plan for the short-term and long-term can be an asset to any career, including one devoted to design. Can you find some connections to start building upon? Perhaps one of your project management networking connections is with a design firm? Or, your boss is willing to let you cross train in the marketing department? Don't feel like you have to throw everything away to create a job that is a better fit, even if the two seem miles apart.
Finally, I know there is always a lot of advice about "finding your dream job." But the reality is, we all have bills to pay and you may not be able to just quit the job you have and become a professional rodeo clown. Think of it as finding something that will make better use of your enthusiasm and help pay the bills. You don't have to throw away all your skills or training to find a new job that will make you happier. Start looking for ways to reshape your career so that it includes more of the things you like.
There's a big push these days for in-the-moment feedback. This means that instead of a boss offering a critique of a worker's performance once a year, he or she will offer an immediate assessment after a worker takes action or completes a task.
For example, the boss might commend a worker's report on projected sales revenues, but then advise the employee that he needs to work on not getting defensive when asked questions about those figures by other team members.
That seems simple enough, and the worker can then take immediate steps to offer better responses when questioned by the team.
But sometimes things can go really wrong with this immediate feedback, especially if the manager hasn't really thought about what he is saying to the worker. Without some thought about what to say and how to say it, these in-the-moment feedback talks can become demoralizing and hurt creativity and productivity -- just the opposite of what a manager needs to achieve.
Here are things that managers need to think about:
1. Avoid comparisons. Those of us with siblings will understand that it was no fun when mom or dad said something like, "Your brother Jimmy understands the importance of taking care of his things and never would have left his bike in the rain." The same is true in the workplace: Don't compare one team member with another, such as "Janet is highly organized. When she did the same report last year, she didn't miss one deadline -- and that really helped the whole team."
2. Don't be a broken record. It doesn't help the employee if a manager only offers negative comments -- or only positive ones. Workers don't need a "good job!" every time they complete a full sentence, and they also don't need sighs and eye rolls every time they stumble. Managers need to work on striking the right balance: Always try to be fair and give the worker credit for making progress but don't shy away from pointing out what needs to be improved so the worker can experience greater success in his or her career.
3. Let the employee speak. Feedback isn't just about the manager offering assessments and then walking away. It also needs to be about engaging the worker to critique his own performance and thinking about ways to do things differently or to improve. Tell the worker you're not there to punish or threaten -- you're there to help him or her improve: "How did you feel about your presentation? Did you feel like it went as you planned or was there something you would like to have done differently?"
Finally, always try approach the feedback talk with the goal of solving a problem and not as a way to assess the other person's character or jump to conclusions about why he or she took a specific action.
I spend a lot of time talking to business experts and leaders and the one thing I know for sure: No one knows for sure what the future will bring.
That’s not to say these very smart people don’t have a clue – but the marketplace is changing so fast sometimes that they’re not 100% confident that what worked in the past will continue to work – or if their company will even survive. (They don’t say that last bit, but enough big companies have died that you know they’re thinking about it.)
That’s why I thought some new researchwas so fascinating. In a nutshell, it says that companies that want to survive and thrive need to look for one key attribute in new hires: adaptability.
While companies like Zappos and Netflix have placed great emphasis on hiring workers who will be a cultural fit, they perhaps need to look deeper at how those job candidates will be able to adapt to a company.
Specifically, the authors of the study -- Sameer Srivastava of the University of California, Berkeley, and Govin Manian and Christopher Potts of Stanford University -- used linguistic analysis to look at more than 10 million internal emails sent from a technology company from 2009 to 2014. (This linguistic analysis is seen as a good indicator of cultural fit over time.)
The conclusion: The new hire that was able to recognize and internalize company standards was more successful over time. It’s not so much a new worker’s ability to initiallyadapt to a culture that matters – it’s how that worker absorbs the culture and adapts over time that matters the most, researchers say.
The key takeaway for employers may be that they need to stop screening out candidates who don’t seem to fit the company culture. If these candidates show adaptability – perhaps they’ve lived in another country or taken on diverse work roles – then that may be a better indicator that they’ll be able to adapt to a company culture and thrive over time.
Recently I was talking to a young job seeker who went completely slack-jawed when I mentioned she needs to promote her accomplishments to others.
I was not surprised by her reaction, because I'd gotten the same one from another job seeker -- this one a bit older.
I get it. I remember the first time someone told me that my hard work would never pay off if I didn't let other people know about it -- often. I immediately dismissed the notion that I would go around "bragging" about myself.
So, I totally ignored the advice. Then, I saw someone I trained be promoted to my position when I left -- and be given a hefty raise even though she didn't have as much experience as I brought to the position. Then I saw someone with a lot less knowledge -- and loads of bad advice -- become popular with career advice sites.
When I wrote my second book, that's when I finally got it. My agent wasn't about to take me on unless I proved to her that I was worth it. She made me jump through a lot of hoops: who could help me promote my book, what was my standing in my field, why would anyone listen to me, etc. It was tough at first, but then I switched my thinking to this: I am a product.
Yep, that's right. Think of your career like a product, and this is whole idea of promoting yourself to others is going to be much easier. For example, if you were selling toothpaste, how much would you sell if you never mentioned how the product could save you from getting cavities? Would anyone be interested in having the toothpaste if you never talked about it, never explained its wonderful qualities and what a difference it can make?
The same is true for your career. If you don't make the effort to tell others about your skill and your ability to make a difference, then they're going to skip over you and move onto the next toothpaste, er, person.
Now that you understand why it's so important, here are some ways to make yourself known to others without feeling like an idiot:
Remember that your boss doesn't know everything. You may assume that because she's your boss, she's aware of all your accomplishments. Wrong. Bosses are busy people. Find a way to periodically check in with your boss (in person is best), just to update her. "Wow, I had such a great meeting with Sharon the other day. I was able to help her solve some production line problems, and I think it really made a difference in our monthly goals," you might say.
Keep your network informed. LinkedIn is a great way to let your network know of promotions (they will automatically send "new job" alerts to others), but you also want to continue to show your increasing knowledge or expertise. Try blogging on Linked or some other professional site -- they often accept guest authors. Tackle a timely subject and provide some smart solutions or insight.
Always keep your elevator pitch fresh. When you hop on the elevator at work and run into a senior vice-president from another department, what is your reaction? A brief head nod? A smile? If so, you're wasting a golden opportunity. While you don't want to be obnoxious about it, you can always say something like, "Hey Jim! It's nice to see you! I was just thinking about your department the other day when I was working on my new app that will shorten delivery times. I'm hoping it will be something other departments can use, also." Maybe you don't always have something super-exciting to convey, but never waste the opportunity to show others you're on the ball. "Hi, Jim! That was a great article you wrote in the company newsletter. It really inspired me to think about ways to be more efficient this quarter -- I plan to submit some ideas to my department head by next week."
Remember, no one is going to care about your career like you. That means you've got to nurture it and help it grow -- or it will wither and die.
If you're one of those people who end up clocking in 65 hours or more or week -- hoping that it will help your career -- you can forget about it.
In a new book, "Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work better and Achieve More," author Morten T. Hansen finds in a study of 5,000 managers and employees that working a lot of hours can help your performance, but only to a certain point. Specifically, if you work between 30 to 50 hours a week, adding more hours can boost your performance. But after working 65 hours or more, it's time to go home because your performance will decline.
This result if part of Hansen's effort to more fully understand what makes some people top performers. Among his findings:
It's the boss's fault. Twenty-four percent of respondents say they can't focus because the boss lacks direction or there is a broader organizational complexity in their company. But Hansen says you can learn to "manage up" and just say "no" when you need to be great in certain areas. In other words, your path to greatness isn't just about always pleasing your boss all the time.
Purpose matters. It makes sense that about 40% of the respondents from the health care fields say they believe they are contributing to society. Still, there were those in the dataset who didn't work in those fields and still found meaning in their work. For example, 28% of people working in the construction industry completely agree with the statement "You can find meaning in your job no matter what sector it's in."
High achievers don't lose focus. While other people might be piling on tasks because they say "yes" to everything, high performers are more selective. They aren't afraid to say "no" to things that won't let them devote proper attention to their tasks and do excellent work.
Challenges are important. While many people just follow a job description, top performers challenge the job description. Instead of focusing on how to do the job description well, they think about how they can create the most value out of the role. This means they may change part of the work to add more value. For example, a factory worker in the study who was responsible for his machine output did that -- but he also went to other people and asked how his output could help them do better. They told him the one thing that he then implemented, taking him beyond his job description.
Don't let passion lead you down the wrong road. While you don't want to totally ignore your passion, you need to understand that top performers don't just chase a passion no matter where it leads. They learn to match their passion with a strong sense of purpose, doing work that contributes value. They focus on the benefits they bring others and doing it well, which makes people value their work. That's what leads to a good career.
Create a learning loop. Getting in a rut and working on autopilot can kill a career. Look at things you do automatically -- such as the way you lead meetings -- and find ways to improve. Then, get feedback on your changes. Make necessary modifications until you've made it better. If you take this one skill at a time, you will be able to focus until you improve.
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