Browsing the archives for the career advice tag.

Career Bounce Back

Career Challenges, Geek 5, Org savvy

Sometimes work just sucks! Pardon my language, but you know it’s true. You try to do all of the right things, but a situation still gets out of control. Or you make an error and suffer the consequences. Or the political winds shift and you end up on the losing team. Or the company hit’s a rough spot and everyone feels it. You get the idea – sometimes work just sucks.

So what do you do when you hit a career setback?

We all hit career setbacks. The difference between success and failure after the setback is how you deal with it. To survive and thrive, you must be resilient. You need Career Bounce Back.  Career Bounce Back is related to the Geek 5 risk of Organizational Savvy.

Career Bounce Back involves finding and executing a strategy to fix a career setback. To develop a Career Bounce Back strategy, consider whether you a dealing with a passive issue or an active issue.

An active career issue is one that is caused by a specific, negative incident. Maybe you made a serious performance mistake or you made an influence or relationship mistake. In any case, you are dealing with a hot issue and need to do damage control.

A passive career issue is not necessarily related to a specific trigger event. Passive issues are likely to be related to under-political organizational savvy behavior. Being under political often leads to being underestimated, losing credit for work and having limited visibility. A passive career issue might develop over time, but eventually gets recognized as a career setback.

In the next few posts, we’ll cover how to orchestrate a Career Bounce Back from active and passive career issues.

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Geek Power!

Org savvy

Last fall when I started this blog, there was a lot of press about the rise of geeks.  I linked to stories about geeks on TV and science geeks and more.  Since then, I have not seen as much until I came across a great article by Steve Tobak from the Corner Office at BNET.

It’s called Want to Get Ahead? Better Get your Geek On!  This article does a nice job of spelling out specific advantages to being a geek.  It covers 10 things you should know about geeks in the workplace – a perfect connection for this blog!

Like my definition of geek, he also says that not all geeks are techies.  He also discusses the ability of geeks to be very focused and opinionated.  That all ties into our discussions of organizational savvy.  Check out the Lego organizational savvy story – as Savvy Geek battles evil, sabotaging co-worker!

Tobak also says geeks are prone to believing conspiracy theories.  On that topic, I have no data or opinion.   No opinion at all…in case they are watching and listening, remember, I have no opinion at all…

Check out the article for a positive boost for the geek image!

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Calling all R&D geeks!

Broader role, Geek 5

Over at BNET Nancy Smith wrote an interesting article called R&D: Skilled, Well-educated Workers Wanted (and not just the science geeks)!   Research and development is one of the fields that will continue to grow over the next decade.   Companies need innovation in order to expand their revenue and to compete with up-and-coming businesses around the world.

The government is contributing to the increase in R&D as well.  The stimulus contributed $19B to R&D – and more is proposed for future budgets.

R&D applies to most technical areas – from engineering to medicine to technology to environmental sciences and more.  Making research happen requires a well-educated workforce with a focus on science, math and technology.

Check out the article.  It should make you feel confident that your geek skills will be even more strongly valued in the future.  Add some soft skills to the mix and overcome the Geek 5 risks (organizational savvy, leadership, management skills, business acumen and resistance to a broader role), and you’re on your way to having an unstoppable career.

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Do you have the cringe factor?

Broader role, Geek 5, Leadership, Org savvy, Uncategorized

I’ve been learning all sorts of new terms lately.  Okay, they aren’t exactly intellectual, academic definitions, but they come from real people with real concerns.  As mentioned in an earlier post, the term “slime factor” was used in a succession meeting to describe someone who was borderline creepy.

This week, I heard another new talent management term – the cringe factor.  I was teaching Situational Leadership to a group of mid-level managers.  Sit Lead teaches that leaders must evaluate how competent an employee is at a task and then adapt their leadership style to match that level of competence.   It is a good training program for newer managers.  We’ll discuss it at some point in this blog.

The audience was managers from across the business – IT, Finance, HR, etc.  There were also some project managers who handle the big IT projects.  They asked a lot of questions about how to manage technical people (ie geeks) who were assigned to their projects, but were not formally direct reports.  They sometimes struggled to get the geeks to meet deadlines and do quality work, but they did not have direct authority over them.

One manager piped up and described the “cringe factor”.  The cringe factor is the unpleasant reaction that non-geeks can have when forced to talk with an uncooperative geek.  The non-geek knows he needs to go talk to the geek, but cringes at the thought.  He knows that the geek is a pain to work with and often hides behind technical jargon to make excuses.  The cringe factor often leads to excuses to avoid the problem and discussion until the problem escalates.

Does someone on your team cause the cringe factor in you or others?

If you are a manager, you need to address it.  Technical skills aren’t enough.  To be successful at work, your team also needs soft skills.  Part of avoiding the cringe factor is having good collaboration skills and being open to questions and concerns.

Keep an eye open for the cringe factor!

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Advice from the Top: Be the Rudder

Advice from the Top, Broader role, Geek 5, Leadership, Uncategorized

Today’s Advice from the Top post comes from a senior leader in my current company. It relates to the Geek 5 risks of leadership skills and resistance to a broader role.

 The last Advice from the Top post was about treating your office like a prison and escaping it as often as you can.  That is a leadership technique for building relationships and connecting to your team.   

Be the Rudder is also a leadership technique.  It is based on an analogy to a boat.  Picture a large boat (like a Viking Boat) staffed with a dozen men with oars. 

Boat with rudder

Boat with rudder

Q:  How does the boat move? 

A: The men use the oars to row the boat.

Q:  How does the boat steer?

A: The boat is steered by the captain from the back of the boat using the rudder.

As the captain leader of your boat team are you steering from the rear as the rudder? 

As Geeks make the transition from an individual contributor role focused on their expertise to a broader leadership role, many struggle with this issue.  They try to move the boat by doing all of the rowing from the front of the boat and pulling the team along with them. 

Geek managers can often do the work faster and better than less experienced direct reports.  Plus the technical work is in their comfort zone.  So they try to do the work instead of guiding the team.

To be a rudder, the leader should:

  • Delegate tasks
  • Coach and mentor
  • Provide strategy and direction
  • Motivate the team
  • Allow others to carry their own load
  • Keep the team aligned and all rowing together

Are you the rudder for your team or are you hauling them along through the strength of your expertise?

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Rating the Slime Factor

Favorite posts, Geek 5, Leadership, Org savvy, Uncategorized

Part of leadership (Geek 5 risk) is developing talent in future leaders.  One key part of this process is succession planning.  I sat in a succession planning meeting the other day that introduced a whole new element of talent management – the slime factor. I’ve facilitated a lot of succession planning meetings. Generally we discuss the behaviors of the employee – with a focus on current performance and future potential. If performance is good and potential is strong, that employee is rated a being “high-potential”. That label can lead to special development opportunities and assignments and usually leads to a promotion.

Our conversation was moving along well. The group I was working with is composed of seasoned executives. We’ve been doing succession planning meetings for a few years and have got the rhythm down. Then we got stuck. We were discussing an employee who was a very strong performer – let’s call him Ted. Ted works out in the field – in an operational, metric-driven role. Operationally and metrically, he was strong. Even so, when his name was brought up, there was silence around the table.

Hmmmm…. As a facilitator, this is when the warning flag is raised. I asked the group to describe Ted’s working style. Was he using the right behaviors to get his strong results? It is a common scenario that some employees get strong results by destroying everyone and everything around them. In our company that behavior is not tolerated. We have a leadership competency model that requires employees to get results through collaboration and critical thinking and good judgment.  Everyone in the room shook their heads – Ted wasn’t mean or difficult or cutting corners or sabotaging others. The group just couldn’t explain it.

Finally one of the few female leaders in the room blurted out – “He’s just slimy!” That broke the spell – everyone started talking and laughing – and agreeing. He is slimy. Slimy is hard to quantify, but there was strong agreement in the room about it.

Here is what slimy meant:

  • Ted made people feel uncomfortable – even if they could not explain why.
  • One leader described Ted as someone who would “check out all the women in the room”, but he never crossed the line into sexual harassment.
  • Ted always seemed close to crossing a line – in his jokes or attitude or touching.
  • In social situations he often seemed awkward and not part of the group.

Most of these descriptions are intangible.  I always try to push groups to focus on specific behaviors.  However, in this case, slimy seemed to fit. It was enough reason for the group to label him as “Correctly Placed” and plan to keep an eye on is behavior.

Slimy trumps strong performance.  Do you have Slimy Ted’s in your company?

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Business Acumen: Become a Financial Whiz!

Business Acumen, Geek 5

One of the Geek 5 risks is about lacking business acumen.   By definition, geeks have deep expertise in their fields.  Learning and developing deep expertise usually requires laser-like focus.   Engineers focus on math, science and technology; doctors focus on medicine; computer programmers focus on coding and systems, etc. 

As recent research has shown, it is believed to take approximately 10000 hours of practice to get good at something.  Geeks focus their 10000 hours (give or take) on their specialty.   As a result, most geeks don’t learn general business and financial skills.   

There are a lot of available resources to help geeks learn general business skills.  We’ll explore some of them in this blog.  Some of the resources are free and some cost to use.  The one common theme will be that you can learn from them on your own while you are working.  You don’t need to quit work and get an MBA to find success in your career. 

You already have a technical expertise that sets you apart.  What you need is to have enough business and financial acumen to understand the broader picture at your company.  You also need to understand the business issues facing your senior leaders and be able to discuss the issues.  To be a leader, even in your specialty area, you need to take a broader view of the business and financials of your company.

One resource to explore is Harvard Business Review (HBR).  HBR has many terrific resources – including articles, books, blogs and more.  I use HBR resources in many leadership programs and in executive coaching.  Recently I received an email about some new e-learning offerings from HBR.  I have not taken these course, but I trust content from HBR.  Sometimes HBRs web-based materials are not slick and flashy, but the content is always superior.

These e-learning courses cost $70-$130 for an individual license.  The topics include:

So if you are looking for some good business or financial course, check these out!

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Advice from the Top: Escape your Office?

Advice from the Top, Leadership

You’ll start seeing a new topic here at Geeks Gone Pro called “Advice from the Top”.  This will be advice and thoughts from leaders who have already achieved success and moved to the top of their organizations.  Some of these leaders are ones I know personally, and others will be well-known business folks.  Their advice ties to the Geek 5 as related to leadership.

Today’s “Advice from the Top” comes from a senior leader at my current company.  He is a dynamic leader who tells stories to teach leadership.  Gracious with his time, he often speaks during our leadership training sessions. 

One phrase he uses is “Treat your office like a prison and escape it as often as you can!”

By this, he means that you cannot lead people from behind a desk.  You do tasks behind a desk, you practice leadership with other people.  The work you do in an office on a computer is not as important as the work you do when you are out interacting with direct reports, peers, bosses, customers, etc.  Here are some takeaways from this idea:

1.  Stay connected to your team – There used to be a popular management technique called “Management by Walking Around”.  This is the same concept.  Try to take a daily stroll around your workplace.  Check in with your direct reports.  It might be as simple as saying hello and briefly chatting – this builds ongoing rapport and trust.  Or you might ask about the status of projects or meetings.  If you are present and available, you’re more likely to hear of troubles before they escalate.  Be present as a leader. 

2.  Find out what is happening in the company – Visiting other groups and areas can keep you connected into the organization.  You will have casual opportunities to discuss the work you are doing, and you can hear what others are doing.  People love to talk about themselves.  If you drop in and ask a few questions, it is a great way to start a conversation.  A good listener is always appreciated – and you might pick up interesting infrormation.   If nothing else, you are building relationships and your network.

3.  Be visible – You are more likely to get noticed out of your office than sitting at your desk.  Visibility is critical to building your credibility and to make you seem like a broader leader.  You have to be visible to be considered for bigger opportunities.  Remember the posts about organizational savvy?

Getting out of your office can mean walking around to talk to folks, having lunch in the company cafeteria, seeking others out to congratulate them on successes, visiting branch offices or stores or other outlets, etc.  The point is that you learn more by getting out, asking questions and listening than you do by reading and writing reports. 

Remember, you always need to get your work done – and that usually involves sitting in your office.  If you don’t perform well, your leadership skills won’t matter.  Just make sure that you build in time to practice your leadership skills by getting out of your office when you can.  Good leaders lead in person, not through email.

How can you escape your office?

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Should geeks turn down promotions?

Broader role, Geek 5

One of the Geek 5 risks is about resistance to taking on a role beyond a geek’s technical specialty.  It often moves a geek out of the comfort zone and demands new skills such as those around managing people.

Over at Businessweek.com, John Baldoni wrote an article called “Sure you want to move up the ladder?”  He covers the same topic and poses some interesting questions that you should ask yourself.

He encourages you to think about what type of leader you would be and what new skills you might need to be successful.  He also mentions the sacrifices that often come along with the perks of a promotion.

Check out his article for more details.

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5 Tips for Effective Performance Reviews

Geek 5, Managing people, Uncategorized

In previous posts, we discussed some of the ins and outs of delivering effective performance reviews as a manager.  One of the Geek 5 risks is around managing people – and managers often fail at doing effective reviews.  Here are five tips that can help you be successful:

1.  Prepare – If done well, reviews can be very impactful.  They wrap up the previous year and set expectations for the future year.  To have an impact, you as the manager need to prepare – and that means doing more than filling out the forms.  You should: 

  • look back over the whole year for successes and opportunities
  • seek feedback from co-workers who interact with your direct report
  • consider “what” got done but also “how” the work got done
  • compare your direct report to expectations for his or her level and job description
  • think about the value or pain that the person brings to the team dynamics
  • come up with concrete examples of good and bad behavior
  • fill out the paperwork so it reflects the message you want to send

2.  Build off coaching in the moment – Remember, if you are coaching in the moment all year long, you should be continuing those conversations.  That means that there should not be any surprises in the final review.  If you haven’t been coaching all year, then this is the place to start.  Set firm expectations for the year and continue the conversation all year long.

3.  Have the difficult conversation – Remember, having the honesty to help someone improve areas of opportunity is kinder in the long-run than pretending everything is okay.  Have mercy by being tough but honest.  To prepare for a tough conversation: 

  • have concrete examples of behavior (instead of saying “you are not a team player” you can say “you were asked to assist Sally with a critical deadline last month, but you refused to help because it was not a normal part of your job”)
  • think about how you will phrase the feedback – having a script makes it easier if you are nervous
  • anticipate emotion – your direct report might get angry or cry – you should give them time to calm down and then continue
  • work with your HR Manager if you need some coaching on how to give tough feedback

4.  Remember the positive – These posts have focused a lot on having difficult conversations.  Many geek managers struggle with giving direct, negative feedback.  With that said, don’t forget the positive.  Reinforce the behaviors he or she does well.  Re-state your confidence that he/she will continue to improve and be a valuable member of the team.   Unless someone is in serious trouble, try to leave all reviews on a positive, future-focused note.

5. Follow-up – Remember to extend your conversations throughout the year.  This is especially important if someone is on an improvement plan.  One common mistake is that managers put a direct report on a plan and then never follow-up.  The performance does not improve or is not sustained, but the manager is not paying attention anymore.  Put a note on your calendar for check-in points.  If you don’t hold your direct reports accountable, you lose credibility as a leader.

Managing people is not always fun, but it can be rewarding as you help your direct reports develop and improve.  In any case, performance reviews and giving feedback are key parts of your role as a manager.  Do it well!

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