Work Survival Strategies

Getting Out of Our Own Way: Employing a Life Strategy

 

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At times, we’ve all lost our way  — and finding our way back to the right path is imperative. This process can prove both confusing and painful. Often, we believe that the root problem lies externally; the wrong boss, team or organization. But, are we overlooking the obvious? In fact, looking inward might just be the best place to begin. Truth be told, we put enough obstacles in our own career paths to last more than a lifetime. When it comes down to it — we are usually right there in the mix, adding to the fog.

What if you could find that vital guidance, that mantra of direction, to actually get out of your own way once and for all? Well, developing a life strategy may be the needed prescription. It’s not fluff — it’s just plain smart.

We assume we’ll traverse through our careers (and our lives for that matter) without taking a single moment of pause to formulate a plan. (An organization wouldn’t think of moving forward without first considering a clear-cut path.) Strategy, can allow us to focus on our goals. Because at the inflection points that challenge us, we often forget to stop, breathe and look in all directions.

A great read to find that needed path is Allison Rimm’s, The Joy Of Strategy. (Her concept of the “Joy Meter” is a stunner, and that alone is worth the read. Apply the meter to your work life — and you will never view work or career, in quite the same way.)

A few things The Joy of Strategy would also like us to consider:

  • Listening more. Not to everyone else — to yourself. Stop shopping for the advice that would allow you to support what you already know you need from your work life. Trust that inner voice. What have you left behind? As Rimm describes so aptly, “Don’t die with your song still inside of you.”
  • Taking another look at purpose. We can easily confuse being busy with purpose — and defining a “clear intention” can help to filter out the “noise” surrounding our most important career decisions. When I began blogging two years ago, a colleague was less than enthused with my career pivot. This caused me real stress. But, when all was said and done — the path fulfilled my purpose to help others gain fulfillment in the workplace.
  • Visualize, visualize, visualize. Where do you really want to be? What would you be doing? What do you really want to accomplish? One solid strategy for change, is to thoroughly consider the “future state”. Go there — dream a little — it will help you master your future.
  • Defining what you really need. Be brutally honest. If you could move forward to build your best career life, what materials would you collect to ensure your success? A trusted mentor? More opportunities to lead a team? Sharper communication skills? Take the time to define these.
  • Time and Emotion.  We spend our time — but what do those moments really offer us? As Rimm explains, “We should all derive some measure of joy from our work.” I couldn’t agree more. That indeed, is a winning strategy.

How have you built your own life strategy? Tell us a little about that here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes at LinkedIn.

15 Quotes to Get Your Head in the Right Place at Work

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Not every day at work can be met with unbridled enthusiasm. We all have days when our mental status is just not in the “right place” as we enter the office. Personally, I’m never sure about the root cause of my malaise. It could be anything — an annoying interaction that has lingered, a bad dream or the cheesecake I had last night for dessert. However, it spells serious trouble for my day.

Changing the dynamic, pronto, becomes the first order of business.

Sometimes, I opt to read New Yorker cartoons.  Sometimes I call a trusted colleague or friend. If all else fails, I re-read my all-time favorite quotes about work, career and inspiration.

Here are some of my favorite “mood changing” quotes. I hope they offer you what you might need to impact your day for the better.

  1. Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life. – Confucius
  2. It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it. – Lou Holtz
  3. Do your work with your whole heart and you will succeed – there is so little competition. – Elbert Hubbard
  4. All things are difficult before they are easy. – Thomas Fuller
  5. The harder I work, the luckier I get – Samuel Goldwyn
  6. Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don’t recognize them. – Ann Landers
  7. The secret of getting ahead, is getting started. – Mark Twain
  8. It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves. – William Shakespeare
  9. When we no longer can change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. – Viktor E. Frankl
  10. There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there. – Indira Gandhi
  11. Study the past, if you would divine the future. – Confucius
  12. A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night. – Marilyn Monroe
  13. Food, love, career and mothers, the four major guilt groups. – Cathy Guisewite
  14. Believe you can and you are halfway there. – Theodore Roosevelt
  15. Change your thoughts and you change your world. – Norman Vincent Peale

Share your favorites in the comments section. I am sure I have missed more than a few classics.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and coach.  Read more of her posts at LinkedIn.

A Little Laughter Doesn’t Hurt: The Most Read Posts of 2013

Happy New Year

The close of another year always brings a moment of reflection. So many things come to mind — the challenge of workplace engagement, the need for truly inspiring managers, how loving our work drives us forward. This year there was a good deal of attention focused upon accepting ourselves for who we really are, and learning to transact those strengths into fulfillment at work. I feel hopeful that we have reached an inflection point — where individual differences will be embraced and valued. When we have the opportunity to share the best of ourselves at work, great things can happen. Engagement can soar and we feel a much needed sense of connection.

Transparency continued to be a guiding theme. Whether we were considering how we manage our time or developing our own personal brand, honesty seems to be the policy of choice. As such, we should feel free to not only embrace who we really are —  but our mistakes, as well.  On a final note, humor is still, and should always remain a priority —  as #5  illustrates. It seems that the option for a good laugh, is still a very handy workplace tool.

Below are the 5 posts that received the most activity (views + shares) at The Office Blend during 2013.  I’ve also included a second “Top 5″ list — my favorite posts from around the web.

I’d like to thank all of you for supporting The Office Blend, with your time (and shares) in 2013. Happy New Year to you and yours!

Top 5 posts:

  1. How Not to Manage an Introvert
  2. Brand Yourself as a High Potential
  3. The Ugly Truth About Time Management
  4. Why We Should Still Practice the “70-20-10″ Rule
  5. 5 of the Funniest Workplace Commercials of All Time

Some remarkable posts from around the web:

  1. Three Tips for Overcoming Your Blind Spots, John Dame and Jeffrey Gedmin, HBR.
  2. What Losing My Job Taught Me About Leading, Douglas Conant, HBR
  3. Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss, Adam Bryant, The New York Times
  4. How to Sell Ideas Like Gladwell, Jonah Berger, LinkedIn.
  5. Always, Always, Always Show Up, Whitney Johnson, HBR.

What are you striving for at work in 2014? Share your hopes and goals.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and coach.  Read more of her posts at LinkedIn.

Considering a Change in Direction? How to Deal with Those “Haters”

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Career growth can be both an exhausting and exhilarating experience. Most likely, you are dealing with an internal struggle — ultimately realizing that a change was necessary. Then, there is the commitment (and sacrifice) to ensure that real change occurs. (You may be juggling coursework, seeking stretch assignments or blazing an entirely new trail.) We do expect that the process will be challenging. However, in many cases, the most surprising aspect of career evolution are those around us who just don’t seem to get on-board. In fact, they can be down right negative. Already outside of your comfort zone — it can be difficult to squelch all of the “nay-saying” from those around you.

How do you handle individuals who are — shall I say — less than supportive?

Whatever your goal; a promotion, a pivot, entering a new “side path” — there will be those who will not initially lend you support. There may be off-handed remarks, a jab at your dream and those who will only point to the many obstacles that might come your way. It is always shocking when this occurs. However, you can avoid some of the negative fallout.

You can’t change others. However, you can change how you view them. Consider these points:

  • Some people just don’t see your vision. Explaining a point in your life where you seem to be flinging yourself toward shaky ground, can seem frightening to some. Remember that you are living it. Only you truly understand why you need to do this.
  • Jealousy does exist. Career bravery on your part — can sometimes elicit a note of envy from others. Watching you make progress can be hard to digest for some.
  • Negativity is ubiquitous. There are many people who are unhappy with their own role,  but they may not be poised to make changes. (Just take a look at current engagement figures.) A lot of people might be feeling stuck, but don’t let their malaise rule your life.
  • Some people are just plain mean. Shocking, but true. There are individuals who just do not know how to play nice. Ignore them. It’s the only way.

What to do next:

  • Consider their feedback. Try to take the stance that all feedback is useful. Listen to all that is said and process the information carefully — there may be something to learn there.
  • Plan your re-brand “roll out” Any re-branding takes a fair bit of planning — and a career shift is certainly that. Others have to get used to the idea. Start small (join a new team, hold a lunch-time brown bag) before you make larger strides. Those around you will start to get the idea and associate you with the new direction.
  • Keep on explaining. Your career vision may require quite a bit of explanation. Many people won’t be prepared or  familiar with what you might be trying to accomplish. A little education will go a long way. So craft a conversation or “elevator pitch” that nicely explains where you are headed.
  • Tell them what you need. Just as Don Draper expresses in Mad Men — “Change the conversation” and their solicit support. If they seem to doubt you, let them know the journey is challenging and their help is integral. (Start by soliciting a couple of names for networking purposes.)
  • Give up. In some cases, you need to simply ignore the negativity and move on. Ultimately, this journey is yours.

Have you ever met resistance when you were venturing onto a new career path.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. Read more of her posts at LinkedIn.

Is It Time to Go? A Look at the Psychological Contract

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We’ve all grappled with the decision to leave an organization. By any measure, this is a difficult impasse to consider — often involving an agonizing “push” and “pull” of emotions. One day we might feel momentarily energized to “stick with it” for the long haul, only to have core issues re-surface in an amplified form. Should we continue to hope for things to improve or cut our losses and begin the process of moving on? Previously we’ve discussed avoiding career regret and why we shouldn’t give up too quickly. However, there are some situations where we need to realize that enough — is well — enough.

One factor which is often a silent contributor to this decision, is the status of the psychological contract that exists between ourselves and our employer. Often, the inevitability of leaving, may have actually been cast long before the final decision to pull up roots has been made, as the very core of the employer-employee relationship has already been significantly damaged. The damage occurs when we have been let down in some way, or perceive that a promise has not been fulfilled. As such, it becomes increasingly difficult to remain committed, and we begin to lose focus and quietly disengage. In this regard, our physical departure only represents a ceremonial farewell. Truth be told, any further investment in the employment relationship has already been halted.

The psychological contract that exists between employer and employee, plays a vital role throughout our work lives. Described in this research, this contract is “an individual’s belief regarding the terms and conditions of a reciprocal exchange agreement between that focal person and another party”. The health of this contract can affect the development of key workplace attitudes and behaviors (job satisfaction, trust, intention to turnover, etc.) While both parties contribute to the”give” and “take” of the dynamic — the contract is re-calibrated over the course of an employee’s tenure. Ultimately, when either party perceives a problem with balance, a breakdown can occur.

Let me offer an illustration. Recently I had a conversation with a highly competent marketing executive. Unfortunately, many obstacles had emerged in his current role, among these, the lack of a well-suited path for career growth and development. Over a period of time, he began to experience doubt that his employer had his best interests at heart. On the face of things he professed that he would remain committed — rock steady that he would continue to do his best to fulfill his role and make things work. But, in reality I observed that his psychological resources were waning as he was subtly disengaging. On a basic level, I believe he perceived that the psychological contract with his employer had been breached. (He did depart a short time later.)

Overall, the on-going viability of this contract is critical to our work lives. When problems arise, the strength and tenor of contract can become stressed. Ultimately, it is often difficult to acknowledge that the contract has been irreparably broken and admit that it may be time to explore new horizons.

What might be holding us back:

  • Attribution of failure. We may delay a departure because on some level we feel personally responsible for the current state. In our minds, the failure of the relationship equals a personal failure — which is often not the case. So, we remain to seek resolution.
  • Others seem happy. In some situations, the organization is just not the right environment for the specific employee, with a specific career need. Keep in mind that although opportunities might exist within your current organization, these opportunities may not be right for you.
  • Separation anxiety. Often we develop strong bonds with our colleagues, making a departure even that much more traumatic. We stay for them — when we should really be leaving for ourselves.
  • The “one more try” vice. If you have already done your best to bring core issues to the forefront without satisfactory resolution, it is difficult to find the energy to continue. You’ve likely done your part. Offer yourself permission to move on.

Often we have disengaged long before our physical departure from an organization or role. Have you ever experienced this? Tell us your story.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist.  Read more of her posts at LinkedIn.

The Gift of Focus

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I’ve been stuck on the word “focus” for the past couple of weeks. Focus — or rather the lack of it — appears to be a growing problem in our work lives. At work, our attention has become infinitely divided; calls, e-mails, meetings, devices. We all need become acutely aware of the need for focus or I fear the quality of our work will slowly diminish.

The reasons to allow time for focus are many. However the core justification really rests deep within our brains.

While we possess the ability to switch between tasks — but we simply do not have the ability to attend to all of them effectively. (Research at Stanford has shown that heavy multitaskers have trouble mastering even the simplest of tasks.) So, I’d like to pose the question: How are you doing focus-wise? Are you taking control of the issue?

Here are a few practical suggestions to help you bring more focus into your work life. It all starts with one small step.

Strategies to consider:

  • Tame those e-mails. Seriously, e-mails are going to be the death of us — as they insidiously  rob us of focus each and every day. (Do you feel like you are falling down the rabbit hole?) Forward thinking organizations are beginning to ban e-mails during designated time periods or specific days, to allow employees the opportunity to focus on their work. First rule to tame this problem (courtesy of LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Wiener) — if you want fewer e-mails, send less of them!
  • Segment meetings. Many meetings lack direction and become the antithesis of focus. One method to solve this, is to use a targeted agenda to thoughtfully segment the time spent in the meeting. For example, if you plan to meet for 60 minutes, segment time to allow for no more than 2-3 topics. Devote 20 minutes to each — enough time to review information, discuss and gain some closure. Identify a “time-keeper” to keep things on track and record topics to be addressed later.
  • Control your calendar. Only you can take the steps to make your spent time count. Review your schedule for the past week and ask yourself the following question: What you can eliminate to make room to focus on the tasks that matter? Then offer that gift to yourself.
  • Look around you. If your work environment doesn’t allow time (or a bona fide quiet space), to really focus — start making waves, While offices are designed for efficiency, open floor plans can become an enemy of focus (How about a few well placed walls?) Discuss options with your manager to provide an appropriate space to collect your thoughts.
  • Set a routine that works for you. Be sure set the right scenario to allow for focus. Consider elements such as the time of day that you seem sharpest, and the physical elements most conducive for you to think deeply (Personally, I require music). Aim for a 30-minutes of focus each day, to start. Of course, remember to build in breaks — as this allows your thoughts to coalesce.

How do you build focus into your day? Share your strategies here.

Additional reading:

Tame the E-mail Beast, Entrepreneur.com
Make Time for the Work That Matters, Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen, Harvard Business Review
Control Your Workday, Gina Trapani, Geek to Live

How Not to Manage an Introvert

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Do you supervise individuals who would describe themselves as an introvert? If the answer is yes — you may want to take a moment to examine how you manage them. In many cases, we hold misconceptions about introversion which can lead to ill-fated supervisory decisions. I’d like to help.

While many people confuse being introverted with shyness, introversion is in fact, about how an individual handles stimulation and processes information. Those on the introverted end of the introversion/extroversion continuum, require a different set of workplace conditions to excel — and we need to become sensitive to their needs. Small changes in management and workplace elements, can transact into a more comfortable environment, which is conducive to success.

A few things to re-think:

  • Putting them on the spot. It would be misguided to expect an opinion from an introvert at the “drop of the hat”. One hallmark of introversion is the need to sit with one’s thoughts and process information  — often away from the “madding crowd”. If  you offer an introvert a period of time to process, you’ll likely take full advantage of their skills and talent.
  • Publicly recognizing them. Stop yourself. Really. Many introverts would rather jump off a cliff than have attention shifted in their direction without notice. If they are about to to receive an award or accolade, let them know what you are planning ahead of time. They’ll appreciate the gesture and have time to prepare.
  • Teaming. It’s not that introverts are against teaming —  they would just rather contribute on their own terms. This means time to ruminate over issues on the table and providing bit of a lull before they will jump into the conversation. To an introvert, teaming can become a bit of a workplace nightmare – in direct opposition to how they would normally approach their work.  So, be sure to offer opportunities for introverts to start the idea generation process before team meetings are held and allow points in the conversation where they can jump in. (Try pausing 8-second before jumping to the next topic.)
  • The power of a quiet space. You don’t have to necessarily be an introvert to appreciate a calm environment in which to process information. Incorporating spaces within your office design that allow for quiet and privacy, is always wise. (Read more about that here.) But, someone leaning toward the introverted side of the continuum, will be forever grateful.
  • They have nothing to communicate. By nature introverts can be less likely to share their thoughts — which makes it even more important that you check in with them regularly. Send them an e-mail, asking how their projects are progressing. They can reflect and respond on their own terms.
  • Introverts cannot lead. Truth be told, you are dead wrong here. Recent research has shown that those on the introverted side of the continuum are more open to a differences in opinion than their extroverted colleagues. As a result, they are more likely to make more informed decisions. In fact, it has been shown their hesitancy to monopolize the conversation, can actually make them powerful team members. Sounds like leadership material to me.

Are you an introvert? What workplace conditions help you excel?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and formerly at US News & World Report.