I Didn’t Take That Vacation: Here’s What Happened

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I didn’t have the opportunity to take a vacation this year. For some reason, the stars never aligned to make it happen. A few things contributed to the situation. I have a new role (along with my other commitments), and we are also renovating an older home. As you might expect, our resources have been diverted to goals such as staircases and a functional HVAC system. Then we just couldn’t agree on when and where to go. “Re-charging” just was not in the cards.

The outcome of my neglect feels very real. A little like pulling an all-nighter — with no desire to sit for the exam.

This is not a “good thing” — as Martha would say.

The research has shown that many of us fail to take time off, even when we have earned vacation days to do so. For some odd reason, we don’t like to admit that time off is necessary — or we fear we’ll look weak — or uncommitted to our work. This lack of attention to rest is costly in so many ways. I can only say, that if I’m representative of what it is like to not have a break, no one should skimp.

Sustaining “us” — is in part our own responsibility. We shouldn’t need to be reminded that we are important.

Here’s what has happened:

  • I’m observing signs of burn-out. Yes, I lack my usual level of enthusiasm for the tasks I normally love. I’ve coached myself to care, as the “Joy Factor” has taken a dip. That’s a sad commentary.
  • I’m losing my sense of humor, especially where work is concerned. I don’t laugh nearly enough — and laughing is vastly under-rated. We need these moments to off-set stress.
  • I’m a bit of a pain in the a##. I’m sure it has to do with the above. No further explanation needed. Sorry for the language.
  • Inspiration is waning. I require new sources of stimulation to stay at the top of my game. A change of scenery always does great things for me. We really shouldn’t expect to be at our best, after completing a year-long mental marathon.
  • I’m starting to fantasize about a new line of work. Now, this is simply ridiculous. However, I can easily see why many of us take these feelings as a sign that our roles are the problem. It’s not.

Here is what I’m doing:

  • I’m exploring my local environment. I’m unchaining myself from my desk and getting out there (cell phone muted). I’m stopping by the Farmer’s Market, and checking out the museums and gardens. Inspiration is really all around us.
  • I’m aiming to meet more people face-to-face.  I’m completely inspired by the career journeys of others. I’m making a point to visit college campuses this fall, to talk to students about their future work lives. (let me know if you’d like me to visit yours.)
  • I’m taking a series of shorter weekend trips. Nothing works like the real deal. Michigan is beautiful in the fall and I’m determined to see it.
  • I’m telling founders, managers and leaders to take their vacations (and to let everyone know). Nothing cements a needed change more completely, than a strong message that time off is a respected practice.

What are your strategies to take a break when vacations are impossible to schedule? Share your thoughts.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent, bringing the principles of The Alliance to organizations worldwide.

What Happens When Leaders Don’t Care

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I’ve just spent the last week with my family at an extended-stay establishment. We are in the midst of repairing our home as a result of water damage. This kind of thing happens all of the time, but it’s not a fun process. We’ve hobbled along with a microwave and a bathroom sink for about 5 weeks. (I can only compare it to camping in your own home without of the advantage of somores.)

Finally, we came to a point where had to clear out, board the dog and stay somewhere else. We were more than ready for a reprieve from the construction.

For obvious reasons I won’t mention the chain’s name. However, its parent company is one that has been an iconic brand for as long as I can remember. We were glad to be there — and likely should have taken advantage of our opportunity to relocate sooner. The staff was extremely accommodating, there were hot meals and it was oh, so quiet. No banging hammers or sanding going on.

Perfect.

Until we ventured out one afternoon and noticed a note on our vehicle, along with a sizable dent. Unfortunately — one of the hotel employees had mistakenly backed up into our vehicle. When the employee (who was very upset about what happened) later called to ask to settle without insurance being involved, I felt I should share what happened with the hotel’s General Manager. That was a monumental mistake.

I expected some sign of life — but instead “Crickets”.

As it turned out, she could not have given a damn. She had been alerted to the problem — and performed her corporate duty — informing us that she (and her brand) had no control over what happens in their parking lot.

She was professionally cold. She was dismissive. She was unmoved by the situation. She was quick to usher me out of her office.

Surprising, considering that her attitude was the polar opposite of the customer service creed the rest of the staff seemed to follow.

She was the anomaly. I get it. You don’t (or won’t or can’t) care. That was very clear.

The sad thing is she did have control over quite a lot — even if not over her parking lot. Yet she failed to make the most of it.
A few come to mind:

  1. She could have built upon the goodwill already initiated by her staff.
  2. She could have shown empathy and forged a long-term relationship.
  3. She could have explored why we were staying at her property and learned the story of her customers.
  4. She could have been a leader, ensuring that her customers were the priority — not corporate legalese.

After all was said and done, we stayed 3 more days at this establishment and didn’t hear a peep from her. Nary a note, or a kind word was extended.

So, all of the hard work of her staff (and they were wonderful), really won’t matter in the long run. Because we will never stay at one of their properties again. I did let corporate know — and she wrote a disingenuous note about how sorry she was for what had occurred and if there was anything she might do to call her. (Number given. Although she never even offered her card previously.)

Unfortunately, when leaders don’t care, customers don’t care either.

They walk away and never return.

That is a shame.

AlliedTalentindexDr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent.

It’s the End of American Idol: I Won’t Downplay Its Impact

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They’ve recently marked the end of the long-running show American Idol.

It was time.

However, it was more than the run-of-the-mill reality show. Its format augmented talent discovery by engaging us in the discovery process. A modern version of an old story we love to enjoy — the show allowed us to play a role in offering contestants the chance to change their lives and the face of music.

Some did.

How remarkable.

Whether you are still watching Idol today really isn’t important. (To be honest, I’ve opted to watch The Voice the last couple of years). It is the mechanism of talent identification that American Idol employed that mattered.

We have been exposed to artists (and genres of music) that we would have likely never experienced. At certain points during the show’s run,  I even became emotionally engaged with the process. (I stopped watching Season 3 after Jennifer Hudson was eliminated. Glad to see that she went on to meet her destiny.)

Yes, the process was far from perfect. However, we can learn from it. Moreover, I can’t help but think of how many talented contributors that function just under our radar, within our own organizations. How do we find them? How do we nurture their talent and align their gifts with organizational goals? How do we play an active role in that process?

The onus is upon us to do so.

I fear that much of what our contributors can bring, remains undiscovered. This because we haven’t developed the proper mechanisms to unlock their potential. That must change.

They deserve their moment.

How many moments are we missing?

Here is exactly to what I am referring. We might have missed this. Enough said.

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What are you doing within your organization to identify and nurture talent? Share your strategies here.

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Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent and also serves as the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors.

The Vital Importance of Being Honest in the Workplace

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We’ve all suffered momentary lapses of memory at work. Fuzzy recollections of what occurred on a specific project or initiative — time has a funny way of chipping away at facts and figures. We might lose ourselves in conversation and misspeak or dance around the truth to put another person at ease. However, knowingly misrepresenting who we are or what we have accomplished during our work lives, usually proves detrimental to both work and career. Ultimately, misrepresenting our own history has the potential to derail both promising careers and healthy organizations, alike.

As a role increases in both scope and exposure — being mindful of how we present ourselves and remaining true to our word — becomes an even greater responsibility.

Honesty about credentials and work experiences can affect nearly every aspect of our work lives going forward — and has proven to do so in many realms including government, sports and news/entertainment. Moreover, this dynamic can impact how we fill our most vital roles in organizations today — limiting our ability to match skills with organizational needs.

Of late, this issue has very publicly affected those that we most need to trust. (Network anchor Brian Williams has been suspended for an inaccuracy describing his work experiences. This week it was revealed that VA Secretary Robert McDonald miscommunicated that he served in Special Forces, when he served in the 82nd Airborne Division. He has issued a formal apology. Personally, I thank him for his service to our country. )

From inaccurate resumes to name dropping, the selection process is wrought with misrepresentations and dishonesty. During our actual tenure within an organization, other looming issues with transparency can develop. These situations can lead to problems — both undetected and catastrophic.

For organizations to remain effective, it is imperative that we not only identify needed competencies and utilize state of the art selection strategies. We must also attempt to remain transparent as contributors — so that roles are matched effectively with the appropriate candidate. This includes respecting the exchange agreement that exists between employers and employees. However, whether workplace cultures encourage honesty during selection and tenure, is another topic to carefully consider.

Breaches during these processes can create a myriad of cascading problems, for all of us.

What are your thoughts? Have you been tempted to stretch the truth, where your work history is concerned? Have you hired an employee and their resume was later deemed inaccurate? Is lying a necessary evil to move forward today?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto/NewYork. Her blog The Office Blend, has been recognized by Forbes as a “Top 100 Website for Your Career” in both 2012 and 2013.

Lower Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images
This post previously appeared at LinkedIn.

In Work Life — Kindness Matters

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Kindness applies so clearly to our work lives. However, we rarely exercise the option to use it. We’ve all suffered workplace disappointments and detours. However, many of these low points could have been tempered with a small dose of kindness. The opportunities for kindness are really endless. We just have to be mindful that they exist.

Here are just a couple of examples from my own career, where kindness might have changed the eventual outcome.

  • Applying for a job. Most of us have been either ignored, put off or minimized during the hiring process. So, do not post a role that has really already filled — or if a decision will not be made for months, don’t promise an update within a week. (Someone might turn down an opportunity with you in mind.)
  • A sharp change in direction. I was to gather data for my dissertation at a large auto company. One week before the process was to begin, a newly hired VP of HR stated: “We have ivy-league schools clambering to study us, why would I allow you to do so?”. (BTW, I attended Wayne State University, located in the heart of Detroit. It took 6 months to re-group with another sample). Explaining why they couldn’t comply without insult, would have been a better route.
  • Organizational downsizing. I was caught in one of these early in my career. After offering my heart and soul to the organization for nearly 2 years, they offered me a cardboard box (and out placement, if I signed a document to not sue) at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. If I had known my role was in danger, I could have looked for another role. Instead they chose to be cold and perfunctory, to avoid a real conversation and potential legal issues. Real leaders know better.

I’m sure you have your own work life stories to reflect upon. How would an act of kindness have changed the situation?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

Is 2015 a Career Transition Year for You?

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People change — that’s a given. Organizations change. That is also a given. What we desire (or require) from our work lives, evolves right alongside these elements. Although pay and benefits certainly play a role — remaining in our current role has much to do with the enjoyment derived from the work we complete. So why is it that so many of us hesitate to make a change, when the fit just isn’t there?

I often enter people’s lives when they are moving from one career chapter to another. In many cases, this transition can become quite a stressful experience. (But, not for the reasons that you might initially think of.) I’ve found that the “nuts and bolts” of this transition, are often not as challenging as the emotional struggle that occurs beforehand. We clearly fight change, for a multitude of reasons.

Transitions are not easy, but we can tackle a change. When you are at the fringe of a new beginning — things can appear very, very fuzzy. This creates much trepidation and worry, so a strategy will help.

Here is my best advice to help you move through this:

  • Accept the need to move on. We spend a lot of time forcing situations to work, that are ultimately doomed to fail long-term. This will not stop the inevitable. Change is difficult — but often worth the trouble. Entertain the notion that you can discover a better option.
  • Set your vision. Determine exactly what you are striving for — and offer that vision the respect it deserves, by defining the “edges”. (“I’m unhappy” is not a call to action.) Do the required research that will offer direction. What is working? What is missing from your work life? What role are you aiming for? What must you do, to move in the right direction?
  • Do something — anything. We often dismiss change, because change looks insurmountable. Tackle the process in much smaller steps — but start somewhere. For example, begin by completing one action a day to drive you forward. (One call, one conversation, one e-mail, one new network connection.) Not unlike earned interest, your actions will compound daily.
  • Give things time. It is often a shock to realize that your current work life, will become a part of your past. You must offer yourself time to grieve for what has transpired, and develop a positive outlook for the future. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’ll tackle the individual elements (where, when, how) as they come. Have hope that the right solution will emerge.

Have you successfully changed your career for the better? Share your story (and strategies) here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

The Art of Being Mindful at Work

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A wonderful friend of mine is a very successful real estate agent. She spends most of her days, evenings and weekends helping others to hopefully find, or sell a home. Of course, she meets clients at an emotionally charged impasse in their lives — contemplating a change in residence. This can often be a stressful experience.

There are so many elements that enter the conversation; jobs, money, family, security, space, hopes and dreams. (We buy or sell a home, for more reasons than I could count.)

Any of these elements can become a huge challenge during the process.

Having observed my friend over the years, I’ve noticed one critical strategy that she employs: patience. She allows her clients the emotional space to be the human beings that they are. They are allowed to express emotion, to vent, to change direction — and their own minds.

She doesn’t judge or react in the moment. She doesn’t shame them for being upset or frustrated. She lets the whole process unfold in a way that allows the safety to find what they need, at that very moment in their lives.

I respect that. I like to call it “Mindful Real Estate”.

I believe the reason she has experienced such great success, is not that she has an impressive resume — or has deep connections. It is because she respects her clients and the daunting process in which they find themselves. She allows the process to unfold organically.

There can be bumps in that road, and that is entirely OK.

Whether we are at work, home or play, we can all learn from her strategy. Don’t fight the condition of being human — and offer patience whenever you can muster the fortitude to do so.

I’m making it my business to remember that lesson going forward.

Maybe this can help you in some small way, as well.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

Reflections on Honesty, Success and Ebay

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Our family is getting set to move from our home of 14 years. To be quite honest, I briefly tear up just thinking about the amount of packing ahead of me — and the work needed in our new home (built in 1948). I’ve become brutal about throwing things out, or finding items a worthy new home. I’ve hauled various things around (the paper surveys from my dissertation, for example) from house to house. No more. Time to let go.

With that in mind, I’ve been listing extra pieces of furniture and treasures found in the dark recesses of cabinets, on Ebay and Craig’s List. One such find, was a set of 10 colorful Pez dispensers. I hastily threw together an Ebay listing, which included a great Miss Piggy and a jolly looking Santa.

As it turned out, I really didn’t know what I had. Miss Piggy wasn’t the star of the show after all — and what unfolded was far more notable.

My first clue should have been the 3 “watchers” in the first 30 seconds after publishing the listing. What I finally learned, was that one of the Pez Dispensers was of quite a rare variety — and I hadn’t even bothered to call it out separately. Named “No Feet Indian Maiden” (so sorry, not my choice), it was manufactured in Austria back in the 50’s.

I had no idea. I can’t even recall how it landed in my possession. To a collector, this was a rare opportunity to enhance a collection.

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Within 10 minutes a very kind woman wrote to inquire about a “buy it now” price. She also quickly let me know what “No Feet Indian Maiden” was worth, on its own and suggested I pull down the listing and reconsider. (Its value is around $100.00, not a huge amount, but much more than I imagined. My opening price: $5.95)

I’ll have to say, I did learn that a real collector is a different type of person. (I’ve never stayed focused long enough to become one.) They respect their chosen genre, and the others who collect alongside of them.  She would have loved to own my “Maiden” — but not enough to cheat me out of a fair price in the process. I’ll venture to say that would have lessened her experience nearly as much as mine, if I had eventually discovered my error.

I believe this same principle of honesty applies to the workplace. We all have those moments when we struggle to be completely open and honest for various reasons. However, success just isn’t the same, if you don’t treat others honestly — in the manner you would like to be treated. A level playing field offers a feeling of confidence, that you have “made it” on your own merit. Holding back is just plain wrong. Period.

Here are a couple of examples, of what I’m getting at:

  • Be honest about what you really want. Be forthcoming about what you need from another individual. Don’t act as if you are offering something of value to them — if it is really only about benefiting you. People will see through the thin veil — and they will likely think poorly of you. Remember, it’s alright to call a favor, a favor.
  • Be honest even if you might lose something in the process. If possible, offer the honest feedback that can help another individual succeed. Don’t hold back simply because you may temporarily weaken your own position in the equation. Life and work  is not a “zero sum” game. Play the “long game” and lend that helping hand.
  • Be honest even when it creates a bit of stress. If you are asked an opinion concerning the quality of someone’s work, don’t completely sugar coat your feedback. If there are weaknesses that can be improved, be forthcoming. If things go wrong later on, they’ll wonder why you didn’t raise the red flag. That could be viewed as a betrayal.

So, thank you Maggie from Idaho — I appreciate your honesty. It is the small gestures like this that make the holidays rock for me.

In terms of work life success, just keep in mind that catching that prize, the big promotion or that raise — just isn’t the same if you sacrifice even just a bit of your integrity.

Somehow that kind of success, just isn’t as sweet.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

You’re Wrong if You Think Your Career Won’t Change

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We underestimate our own potential to evolve.

I know that I’ve made that mistake.

As a graduate student in psychology, I was certain I knew my path. At that early juncture, my interests centered solely on the development of selection tests. (Focusing on topics such as motivation or aligning work with strengths, never occurred to me.) As most of us do, I surmised that with the passage of time, I would remain relatively constant as an individual — and that satisfaction with that career direction would remain.

However, time has a way of changing us.

In fact, that original career trajectory, is far from how I would define myself today. Truth be told — we all evolve — and in many cases, it is difficult to detect the changes as they are occurring. They overtake us somehow.

Does this impact work and career? Of course.

A series of studies conducted by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert (See the TED Talk below), have explored the process of how we view personal change over time and its impact upon our lives. Their research revealed that we tend to underestimate changes in both our core personality traits (represented by the “Big 5”: conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability, openness to experience and extroversion) and our core values (measured by the Schwartz Value Inventory) over the decades of our lives. The magnitude of the illusion seems to decrease as we age, but it remains present.

We make decisions concerning what will bring us fulfillment in the future, based upon our current state. However, we underestimate how we might change over time. Essentially, we are forced to draw inferences from the past — something Gilbert aptly names, “The End of History Illusion”. We make decisions in life, as if that history has ended. So, as that carefully designed future takes shape — there is a real possibility that it may no longer align with who we have actually become.

We imagine that our history ends today. When, ultimately, our own “history” continues to evolve and shift.

The challenge to apply this dynamic work and career are clear. If we don’t consider or anticipate change — even expect it — we may not be prepared deal with what comes next.

Can we predict exactly how we will change with the twists and turns of life? No, that’s not likely.

However, we can look for the subtle changes that might affect us:

  • Listen intently. Not to others around you — to your inner voice. If you have the distinct feeling that your work is not bringing the fulfillment it once did, pause and reflect on that realization. Explore how you arrived at this impasse.
  • Embrace it. People change — it is a fact of life. You are allowed to evolve, as well. A role that brought you happiness at 25, may not suit you at 35. One that was perfectly aligned with your goals before having a child, may no longer suffice. Life and experiences will change the essence of how we might derive energy from our work. This is completely normal.
  • Respond. Ignoring a seismic shift in career aspirations, will not stop the dynamic from progressing. You do possess free will. Take a moment to determine what may need to change to accommodate your evolution. Start with a list of work life elements that currently bring you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction — then compare with what you would have chosen 5 or 10 years ago. What changes do you see?

As the researchers observed: “History, it seems is always ending today”.

So instead, strive to embrace your ever-changing work life. A long and healthy career may center on our respect for how we might change over time.

How has your history evolved? How did you respond?

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Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

When Settling Cross-Functional Concerns — Lay the Cards on the Table

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When different functions within our own organizations aren’t seeing “eye to eye”, we tend to shy away from bringing them together. We don’t intend to prolong the conflict — but, in reality, that is what occurs. Our instincts are often to act as an intermediary and settle the issue calmly and quickly. But, that is likely not in the best interest of the organization.

Digging into the concerns is often the best route, especially if the conflict directly affects your clients or customers. Often it’s time for things to change — yet we’ve ignored the signs or haven’t had the opportunity to address the issues.

It’s best to lay the cards on the table and expose the root of the problems, even when this is an extreme challenge, as quickly as possible. Hopefully, exploring the developing issues wards off delivery problems related to products and services.

When I’m called in to sort out these types of situations (often at an off-site), my first instinct is to get everyone in the same room and lay the cards on the table. I often couple this with a process exercise that models work flow, that illustrates how their work crosses paths with other functions to deliver great products and services. Of course, I have the benefit of a lowered emotional investment. That’s often what is needed the vet the issues and move forward.

Here is an exercise to try on your own. (I suppose it is a modified “War Game” exercise.)

  • Start with your functional groups intact. Initially, place contributors in groups sorted by their source function (No more than 6-8 per group. Utilize round tables). Place index cards on the table. Each group will identify key cross-functional issues that are obstacles to delivering the best products or services to customers. (Include two colors of index cards, one for urgent and non-urgent issues. Have each team record 5 issues. One index card for each. Teams can identify 2 issues as urgent.)
  • Record the issues. Instruct the functional teams to discuss and record the toughest issues they face in relation to interfacing or coordinating, with the other functions. Instruct them to keep customer or product and service delivery in mind. Keep the description as brief as possible and include one example that occurs in practice.
  • Collect the recorded issues. After issue identification, offer a coffee break. Have leadership sort the issues by content area for distribution. Select a set of cards, with key topic areas represented, for consideration by the re-convened teams.
  • Mix-up the teams by functional area. Re-convene teams as multi-functional groups for the solution phase. Allow the “solution” teams to choose, then attack 2-3 of the problems, time allowing. They should develop solutions for each that will be presented to the larger group. Each team will work on the issues selected. (30-45 minutes or so.) Then break once again, there will be serendipitous conversation.
  • Present proposed solutions.  Re-convene. The teams should select two presenters. One presenter should be a member of a functional team that hasn’t sourced the issue being addressed.

I’ve never seen a group that didn’t learn something critical from the challenge. There will be more than a couple of heated exchanges, but it is all in the name of progress. Data can be added to the equation after issues are identified. If there is time, the group can identify metrics that can track progress, as time goes on.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.