5 Ways to Improve Your Productivity

Do you ever leave work wondering what the hell you just accomplished in the last 8 hours? Between non-stop emails, phone calls, drive-by interruptions and meetings, our days feel wasted. And that’s a problem, since most of us want to walk away from work with the feeling we have actually completed something or at least made some mere progress from the day before.

Here are some things that I have found that improve my productivity and ultimately reduce my stress level at work. The trick for me, though, is that I have to mindfully and consistently practice them.

  1. At the beginning of each workday, I print my day’s calendar from Outlook. Most of my day is paperless, but printing this and keeping it within eyesight all day keeps me on track. As things are completed, I highlight them or put a checkmark next to them. At the end of the day, this becomes my visual reminder that I have accomplished something(s).
  2. As voicemails come in, or small requests are made from my customers, I jot these down on my printed day calendar so that I don’t forget about them. Periodically, i review these items for priority and time-commitment and ultimately decide if I can squeeze them into my day or if they have to move to another day’s schedule or task list. A lot of my stress comes from the fear of forgetting something, so having one place and one place only that my “reminders” are written reduces both the chance that I will forget something and eases the mental effort of constantly trying to remember all of the little things.
  3. I actually schedule email review and projects on my Outlook calendar. For example, from 9-10am and 3-4pm daily I open Outlook, review email, prioritize it, get the easy ones out of the way and figure out what to do with the big ones. By carving out time to review email, I’m setting a limit to how much time I dedicate to it and am giving myself permission to shut it down so that I can begin work on something more meaningful to my job. By scheduling time to work on projects, I’m also giving myself permission to tell others that I can’t meet or do not have time for their impromptu sit-down sessions.
  4. Setting boundaries and expectations for my time and efforts- this may be the hardest to do but pays off in dividends. When I receive a meeting request, before I accept, I require an agenda or a reason why the meeting is necessary from the meeting organizer. If the agenda is something that seems like it can be accomplished in a phone call or email, I decline the meeting with a reason why. I decline meetings that conflict with my task or project schedule or do not require my attendance. Since HR should be accessible, I do not like shutting my door. If an employee has a important matter to talk about, I will, of course, invite them in to talk. However, sometimes an open door policy works against you. In those moments, set boundaries with those people by asking if their question, or visit, requires an immediate response and if not, ask if you can schedule 10-15 minutes another time that is mutually convenient.
  5. Get up and walk around. This accomplishes a couple of things. One, it gets you away from your computer, gets you up and walking, gets the blood flowing, the brain can take a break and you can reset your eyes. Two,  if your peers see you up around the office, they can take these moments to ask you the little questions that they would have otherwise clogged up your email with yet another message.

How To Ask For More Money. Part II.

In a previous post, I laid out initial steps you should take to ask for a raise in How To Ask For More Money, Part I.

Without further ado, here are the final steps to being flush with cash.

How About Your Performance? 

Third, you need to do some self-reflection and be really honest with yourself. This can be the most difficult step. If you are going to ask your manager for a salary review with the end goal to increase your salary, you had better know for certain if you are a valued employee doing valuable work. You had better be able to answer the question that a manager won’t ask but will be thinking, “what have you done for me lately?” if you want your company to show you the money. If you don’t already have copies, ask your manager or HR for your performance reviews. Look over them, have you progressively improved year over year? Have you met your goals? Have you earned additional designations? Have you increased your skill set? Put yourself in your manager’s shoes, if you had several grand each year to award to an employee at your discretion, who gets it? The employee who meets expectations year-over-year but never challenges themselves and loves the comfort zone or the employee who exceeds expectations by sticking their neck out to lead a highly visible project and eagerly pursues developmental opportunities? Then the hard part, you have to consider the value of your position to the organization. If you work for the R&D department in a tech firm, your position is likely highly valued. If you are the clerical assistant in an engineering firm, your position is not that highly valued. If any one can replace you in your position with minimal training and the same work gets done and at the same level, you do not hold a valuable position. All jobs are not created equal.

Sizing Up Your Manager

After reconnaissance and self-reflection, now it’s time to size up your manager and your relationship with him or her. Is your relationship more formal or informal? How long have you been working for him or her? Is your manager a front-line supervisor or senior manager? Is your manager hands-on in his or her employee’s professional development? Does he or she freely give recognition? Does your manager really understand what you are doing? Not just your job description but what you are doing. The answers to all of these questions are going to guide how you approach your manager, how you request a salary review and increase and how much and what type of ammunition you need to build your case. Use your emotional intelligence to get into your manager’s shoes.

The Salary Discussion

Now that you have properly done your research and are ready to ask for a raise, schedule time with your manager and let them know ahead of time that you want to discuss your compensation. Be prepared for the meeting, bring your talking points and all of the data you have gathered. Once you have presented your request and argument, your manager may straight up say no or tell you they need to get back to you. You need to be prepared for either of those answers and anything in between. Whatever the outcome, let your manager know you appreciate their time in listening to you and considering your request. If you do not get a raise, leave the door open to have further discussion with your manager by asking what you can do to be considered for one in the future. If you do receive an increase, be thankful for what you get and continue to work your ass off.

Good luck to you and may the odds be ever in your favor. 

How To Ask For More Money. Part I.

Feeling overworked and underpaid? Join the crowd. In a March 2016 article from Fortune, only a little more than 1/3rd of Americans feel they are paid fairly. As an HR Representative counseling employees, I often hear a multitude of reasons why people are unhappy to some degree with their salary. From the perception to being “on-call” all of the time, to doing more than what their manager realizes to just plain feeling undervalued, employees are starting to wonder how to take steps to ask for more money.

Before you barge into your manager’s office demanding more money with little to know argument to back up your request, which never works out well for anyone, I strongly urge you to do the following.

Do your recon.

First, you need to do a little reconnaissance. Schedule a meeting with your Human Resources department and tell them you want to discuss your compensation. You need to find out if the company has a compensation philosophy,  does the organization tend to pay above market, do they pay to meet market averages or do they lag the market? A lot of companies right now are opting to pay median salaries, giving raises each year that just beat cost-of-living inflation, while awarding performance with discretionary bonuses. This is a less riskier option for companies than awarding high salaries in a ever-changing economy that can render a business obsolete in 6 months. Ask HR how the company recognizes performance. You also have to consider how your company is doing overall and where your company is in its life-cycle. If your company is in start-up or decline mode, they likely do not have the capital to be throwing around on employee raises. As the old saying goes, you can’t get blood out of a turnip. Other questions that are helpful to ask are if your company assigns salary ranges to each position and where your position lies on a career track (junior, mid-level, senior-level). Also ask your friendly HR professional for his or her recommendation on how to approach a salary review or request inside of your organization. Any HR practitioner worth their salt, will be able to give you an honest response. If your HR rep is squeamish about your questions, that may be a red flag that your company has an old-school mentality around compensation transparency which still isn’t all that unusual to encounter these days. Yet, it’s good to know this about your company.

External Research.

Next, you also need to do some external market research. You need to hit the internet and find out what data is available on salary ranges for your position, think payscale.com, glassdoor.com and onetonline.org. But heed caution here and build in a margin of error. These websites usually cite self-reported data and individuals usually inflate their salaries when asked. Additionally, these sites do not take into account certain nuances that make an apples-t0-apples comparison very difficult- different geographical regions, international versus regional organizations, successful versus declining companies, and booming industries versus dying industries. You may also want to reach out to recruiters in your area or network and ask them what they see is the going rate for your position. But, proceed with caution for the same reasons stated above. Also, don’t forget the monetary value of your benefits. The company probably pays for a portion of your health insurance and matches your 401(k), even though this isn’t money deposited in the bank every 2 weeks, doesn’t mean it isn’t compensation. You need to figure out the value of your benefits as part of your total compensation to understand what you are truly being paid to do your job. Now, with this information, you can create an acceptable range of what you think your position is worth.

 

 

Once you have done all of this stuff, you are ready to put your plan into play. Tune in on Thursday for How To Ask For More Money, Part II.

 

Kill The Resume

Why do we even use resumes? Are they meant to signal the candidate’s interest in a particular position with a company? We know that past behavior is not an accurate predictor of current or future behavior, so no matter how the resume is formatted or what information is on it, why do companies require this as the entry point to employment with the organization?

Has HR or any organization ever challenged the reason why the resume is the thing that a candidate has to send in? It seems to me that this is just assumed. All people have resumes and all companies request them. But the majority of resumes suck, they do not provide valuable information, they most certainly do not provide valid and reliable data.

I say kill the resume. Let’s take a hard look at what we as an organization require from a candidate and hack a better way.

What about a video profile? Job incumbents can easily use their computer or mobile device to make a short elevator pitch describing what they can offer to the company and why he or she deserves to be considered further. Through video, recruiters and hiring managers get a better idea of how well the candidate prepared for his or her video submission and how effectively the individual advocates for himself or herself to advance for further consideration of employment.

How about using a test or an essay submission that is specifically designed to draw out required competencies of the position? Humans are used to writing essays or taking a test to be considered for things like college, a grant, a scholarship etc… why not use these tools in lieu of a resume? Individuals that truly want to work for your organization and have a vested interest in earning consideration for a particular role in your company, will have no problem accepting the challenge of an essay or test.

Why waste our time on resumes when we can cut right to the chase of assessing one’s skills and competencies from his or her very first interaction with the company? It’s time to get innovative with the application process.

2017 HR Trends

‘Tis the time of year when you read all of the lists, the Top 10 of this, the Worst of that, the Best of whatever. You have probably also seen more than your fair share of trends for 2017; tech trends, political trends, etc… Following suit, here are my thoughts on the 2017 trends for the HR profession.

  1. HR Practitioners particularly of the Business Partner or Generalist variety must strive to demonstrate both their business acumen and also their HR and employment law knowledge. In 2017, HR Practitioners should stop asking whether certification is required to practice HR (it is not, but) and start getting certified. The profession as a whole needs to own our sphere of knowledge. If any professional thinks they also can be HR-savvy and we in no way differentiate ourselves, the farther our occupation fall towards obsolescence. Further, certified HR practitioners needs to broaden their business acumen by pursuing an MBA or pursuing industry-designations.
  2. HR Professionals should begin to learn the basics of programming, data analytics and become social media experts. These skills are no longer the future of the job, they are are the present and current needs of HR practitioners. As more and more of our profession can be automated combined with the rise of artificial intelligence and augmented reality, bots will be able to do  the tactical stuff we do now as well as interface with employees directly. Additionally, HR should stay abreast of all technology trends and how they may apply to disrupt the HR profession.
  3. Heightened emphasis on the Employee Experience. For several year now, we have been in an employee-driven marketplace. As I do not see this changing in 2017, companies will be challenged to compete for talent based on the employee experience and HR has to take the lead on this. From the time a candidate enters our company vortex to the time they terminate and even beyond, HR needs to review all of its processes, policies, physical space and operations and ask themselves how it positively contributes to the employee experience at their company.
  4. HR will have to take the lead or involve themselves closely as we continue to see the rise of and evolution of the Digital Workplace. HR has to step up and consider how the Digital Workplace challenges traditional notions of management, organizational structure, communication and how we understand the basic concept of work. These ideas should be generating out of HR, we have to become the innovators of the workplace.
  5. Federal deregulation is likely under the Trump Administration so HR will see a lot of change (as usual), and will have to respond accordingly to the repeal and possible replacement of the ACA and how that impacts benefits offerings and health insurance plans. While the Federal government is deregulating business, be prepared to see a lot of activity impacting the business world and workplace at the State-level particularly with respect to the minimum wage, requirements around eligibility for overtime, parental leave laws, deregulation and/or legalization of recreational marijuana, sick leave laws, and more activity around protected classes specifically sexual identity, national original, criminal history and compensation history.
  6. Strategic talent acquisition. Each new role within a company deserves a very specific and strategic recruiting plan, not a one-size-fits-all post and wait for them to come strategy. Employee referral programs and social media recruiting should be maximized to find the right candidates.
  7. Personal Time as a right and not a privilege. The right of the employee to disconnect without adverse employment actions. Recently France passed a Right to Disconnect law, giving employees the legal right to ignore work email when they are off the clock. As wellbeing research shifts to understanding the negative impact to employees of being “on” all of the time, there will be more and more social pressure on companies to enact policies setting boundaries around work time and non-work time.

 

5 Ways to Improve Your Quality of Hire

Experiencing some buyer’s remorse with your latest hire? It’s probably your recruiting and selection process. Like most employers you have sourced candidates using various resources & methods, reviewed dozens of resumes for required and preferred competencies, experience, and skills, then phone screened, then interviewed (using behaviorally-oriented questions, of course), then maybe final interviewed and then made a decision. You set your expectations high because the candidate nailed the interview and you are confident in the criteria with which you made your selection decision. Within 60 days, the general consensus is your new hire sucks. Is this result really any wonder? The current recruiting and selection process outlined above has no proven correlation to the quality of your hire. It never has and it never will. Your good hires were based on sheer luck of the draw.

Think about it. Everyone can be a super-genius, rocket scientist with an MBA, a PhD and an MD on paper, right? Since all recruiters and hiring managers ask the same routine questions over and over in interviews, candidates have had practice crafting really good answers. And almost everyone in the world knows you bring your A-game to the interview. Combine several hours of a polished, charismatic and well-rehearsed candidate with all of the interviewer biases known to man and subjective, gut-level decision-making based on interview answers about PAST behaviors and successes, and you have a situation ripe for bad decision-making.

If you and your company are serious about spending your efforts, energy and money to hire the best and brightest, banish your antiquated recruiting and selection process today and replace it with a process that actually provides you real information and data to base your most important decisions upon.

  1. Beef up your referral sourcing methods, not only with your current employees but specifically your high-potential employees and your successful business partners and vendors. Referrals are built-in references. Not to mention no good employee wants to tarnish the reputation of the one who referred them, so you have a built-in back stop against crappy performance and behavior. Tap your high-potentials, as I suspect they run in circles with people similar to them. Don’t forget to ask your company vendors and other business partners for their referrals. Make the referral bonus meaningful determining its value position-by-position and by the level of difficulty of finding qualified candidates for that position.
  2. We live in a knowledge economy and we need knowledge workers. How do we test knowledge? Cognitive tests of course. We can train skills but we can’t increase intelligence. Also, require transcripts from your candidates transcripts will show you what classes the candidate took and their individual grades in each class. Does the candidate’s education show a history of taking challenging courses or 101 courses. Decide if you like to see candidates who have taken really hard courses and earned B’s and C’s or candidates who have taken “Rocks for Jocks” and bowling classes and earned A’s.
  3. Incorporate aptitude screening. Require work samples from your candidates. Or, for the final round of interviews, define a fictional business problem or challenge and ask the candidate to write a white paper or develop a short presentation. The interview becomes the presentation or delivery of the white paper. Interviewers base their evaluation on how well the candidate presented his of her ideas, the ideas or solutions themselves and an in-depth review of how the candidate went about preparing for the exercise.
  4. References. In my opinion, we do not give references the attention they should receive. Candidates should bring several references- character, educational and professional. HR should have a robust process around gathering reference information, crafting really good questions for references by determining what information you are looking for or is important for the job and documenting the answers.
  5. Build in a character test. I’ve read about companies that involve everyone from the driver, hotel concierge and receptionist into the interview process by creating scenarios that the candidate responds to and the interview team is provided feedback from these participants. Was the candidate courteous, respectful, professional and polished in their interactions with everyone? Or were they rude, arrogant, or discourteous when they thought no one was looking?

The current recruiting and selection methods have not proven valid. Dump them and get creative with your organization’s steps for finding quality hires.

Three Steps to Earning A Promotion

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Wondering how you get promoted? Tired of being looked over for advancement opportunities? Restless and bored in your current job? Want to earn more money?

Here’s 3 Steps to Earning a Promotion:

  1. Take stock of your individual performance- not against your own expectations, but the expectations of your manager, the expectations of leadership and against the company’s mission, vision and values. Self-awareness is the name of this game. Outside of the annual performance review, I doubt most of you work for an organization where your manager is engaged in active performance management. If this is the case for you, make sure you are asking your manager for performance feedback often. The next time you see him or her, ask for 10 minutes of their time to review your current job performance, areas that you are exceeding his or her expectations and areas you should be working on. Ask your manager straight up what they think you need to work on to improve your performance. This is your career, your life, stop waiting passively for someone to share what they think about your performance, go out and get the information. Ask your peers,  team members and other colleagues to give you real and honest feedback on your performance. Listen to what they have to say and take some action steps. Becoming self-aware to our own strengths and weaknesses is a difficult experience but also elevates us to a better more genuine place.
  2. Get outside of your comfort zone. Employees who stay in their safe zone and never stick their neck out to take on a challenge, even if they nail their current job to a “T”, do not get promoted. Individuals that lean into the discomfort and fear of the unknown, who take the bet with uncertainty of the outcome, get recognized as having unique qualities worthy of promotion and advancement within the organization. These folks are generally the ones chosen for individual development plans, leadership programs and succession plans- they are given first crack at new training and development opportunities. Not sure where to start? Again, sit down with your manager and ask if you can co-lead or partner up on a challenging new project. Or, identify an area of the business that is ripe for process efficiency, cost reduction or innovation. Write up a business case and present it to your manager. As an employee on the front lines you are best equipped to identify these opportunities. Any manager worth a damn will be pleased as punch to hear your idea that solves a bonafide business problem and will have no problem advocating for your cause with leadership.
  3. Finally, ask for the promotion. I’m a firm believer that an employee is ready for a promotion when they have mastered the role they are in and beginning to show aptitude and prowess for the next level up. Managers with a solid grip on his or her employees should be able to put their finger on just the right time; however, you, the employee, as your own best advocate, need to find your adult voice and ask your manager for the promotion. Be prepared to outline your position- what you have accomplished thus far, what you are ready to take on and the value that your promotion will bring to the business. If your manager is unable or unwilling to consider your promotion at that time, do not give up, ask for a training and development plan to get you to the next level. Remember, your manager owes you two things- to remove obstacles that get in the way of you being able to effectively perform your job and to provide the opportunities and resources to help you prove your worth. But YOU and you alone are responsible for earning that promotion.