Please Stop “Improving” Things

WhyindexI hate it when people “improve” things for no apparent reason.

Especially, things that really do not need improving.

It’s much like looking forward to that perfect blend of coffee at your local shop and it’s been discontinued for something new and “exotic”.

I hate that — don’t you? (WordPress, LinkedIn  you are right up there on my list of offenders.)

Change for the sake of change — really isn’t justified. Sometimes elements truly work well. (Maybe you aren’t aware of that, but they do.) So, take a moment to reflect upon that.

Rest a bit and enjoy your success.

It is really alright to be still for just a moment.

Disruption has its costs.

If you find you don’t have time for that process (because you are so busy changing things), at least be responsible. Ask customers what works for them. You may be completely surprised at what you might hear.

I know, I’m usually surprised. It’s rarely what you expect.

So — stop showing off.

I already think you are great.

You can stop proving it.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She id the Director of Organizational Development at Allied Talent, bringing the principles of The Alliance to organizations worldwide.

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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.

Kick-Start Your Work Day

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I start most days with YouTube.

That may seem odd to you — but it works for me. Today, Gregg Allman, George Harrison, Green Day, and The Verve are my colleagues. My partners in crime. My morning coffee mates.

Yesterday, it was Aretha. Tomorrow it might be Chopin. I’m not sure. I’m completely open.

We often forget that we must leave ourselves the room to be our best. (Certainly our brains require this.) When pushed to the limit and working on only fumes, we’re likely to fail.

I’m not sure what works for you, as the seeds of creativity are quite different for each and every one of us. That’s the beauty of the workplace. We are individuals. So are the required roots of creativity.

So start your day with what works for you. Take the time to identify this. Then become brutal in its application. Take that morning walk — or listen to that audio book — or queue up Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga.

Start your day with the proper foundation.

Then push “start”.

What powers you though your day? Share your 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 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.

Losing Talent: Go Ahead, Tell Yourself It’s Mutual

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I’ve recently published a post at Linkedin entitled, How Not to Manage a High Performer. (The comments are worth a look.) In the article, I discuss all of the ways we, as managers and organizations as a whole, shoot ourselves in the foot where top talent is concerned. We rely too heavily on their collected experience when things become hectic, and essentially drain them dry. We fail to offer them real challenge. Then we somehow forget to say thanks — for a job truly well done.

The employee-employer relationship may have started out on the right foot — and good intentions were plentiful. However, as time marches on another troubling story emerges. We drop the proverbial “ball”, so to speak and the tenor of the relationship devolves. Then — without fail, the inevitable moment finally arrives when your high performer makes the decision to move on. We’ve forced their hand in many cases, and in truth we’ve actually limited (not energized) their careers.

We’d like to tell ourselves that the feeling is “mutual” — that as an organization we’ve done all that we could. They’ve “outgrown us” or were somewhat “hard to please”. However, that’s likely a little whit lie, we tell ourselves. Organizations can find themselves on the wrong side of that argument each and every day.

The decision to leave is often not mutual or well-timed (we’ve forced their hand), and organizations lose for a numbers of identifiable reasons — most of which are well-known and preventable. (Take a look at the concepts of the Psychological Contract and “Tours of Duty” in The Alliance).

So, I say hooray for talent. Move on. Jump off. Find an organization that is willing to take a moment to learn who you are and what you need to excel. I’ve seen talented, good-hearted, motivated employees suffer at the hand of a completely clueless organization, yet thrive at another. That difference is the responsibility of organizations to affect.

So tell yourself it’s mutual — and that the next employee is simply one click (through ATS) away. Go right ahead.

But, it’s not.

You lose.

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.

I’m Glad I Took That Vacation. Take Yours.

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I’ve always been a “staycation” advocate. Alright — I’ll be entirely honest, I really love to hang out in my home office and work. Personally, I have found that vacations away from home, can actually become stressful. There are routes to to decipher, planes to catch, maps to re-fold, thunderstorms (and hail) to contend with and new routines to master. (Might I add, leaving my trusted coffee maker behind).

However, these are not satisfactory excuses. We all need a break. We likely feel this deep in our bones.

Whether you can devote an entire month, a couple of weeks or just a couple of days, a break should become a priority. (Preparation is important.) Even if you qualify as a die hard “staycation” addict — there are advantages to planning a vacation away from your usual milieu.

Here are just a few:

  • You’ll catch a glimpse of you. Somehow when your surroundings shift, you become “louder”. (What is that inner voice muttering?) With the ambient noise of your work life absent, you’ll hear yourself much more clearly. Trust me, your work will benefit from this kind of clarity. Knowing yourself is step one toward a healthy, and productive work life.
  • Nature can take over. I am officially obsessed with changes in scenery. A new scene through my viewfinder, provided by the power of mother nature — recharges my mind (and soul) in a manner that I cannot even begin to describe. This time around I requested “a room with a view” (and got one) — Grand Traverse Bay was a breathtaking part of my morning routine. Work rarely entered my mind.
  • Your metrics shift. It may take a couple of days to get into the groove — but, once over the hump — your days will be measured in a very different manner. The places you’d like to visit and the people you haven’t had the time to really connect with in ages, become your focus. Other priorities do begin to fade.
  • Time slows. For the first time in quite a long while, the passage of time wasn’t quite as fast. Time away from work allows you the luxury of savoring the moment. My only regret? I wish the break lasted just a tad longer. Next year I’ll be sure to make the effort to extend the time frame.

I would love to hear your vacation experiences. Share them in comments.

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

Photo Credit: M. Gottschalk – Chateau Chantal Winery & Inn, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Want to Launch Your Career? Try These Strategies

 

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With all that is written about how organizations are evolving to engage today’s employees, I can’t help but think about the opportunities that we have as contributors to transform those very same organizations. Our own actions shape our careers, and the fact remains that workplaces are built upon a two-way partnership — where both employers and employees contribute to eventual success.

I would venture to say, that the dynamic between the two becomes more vital with each passing day. Yes, the door swings both ways.

To consider this, we should examine the unspoken “organizational contract” that we make with our employers. What should we (as employees) do to maximize our contribution? I’ve talked to supervising managers (from sales to consulting) to get a handle on the attributes they often see in their high potential contributors.

Here’s a list based upon that feedback:

  • Strive to be industry savvy. If your are not keeping up with the current  “hot buttons” in your industry, you are probably letting yourself and your employer down. The internet offers endless possibilities to tackle industry specific topics. (You can have a brief chat with an in-house expert as well.) Get up to speed as quickly as you can.
  • Bolster your level of business acumen. Not sure how your role affects the bottom line? What your boss really does? Do you understand exactly how your organization makes and loses money? Devote an hour a week to develop this business “muscle”.
  • Take a broader view of your work. When completing an assigned project, try not to simply just check off tasks on your “to do” list.  Always focus on the end-user — whether it is an outside client or someone within the organization. How can you craft your work so it becomes more valuable to them?
  • Work with a sense of urgency. High potential employees see the necessity to build a clear road map and stay on task. As one Senior Vice President described, “They get up in the morning, have a plan, and want to accomplish their goals”.
  • Ask about company initiatives. Be as concerned about your organization as you would like them to be about you. Inquire about current challenges and initiatives. Offer help where appropriate — you’ll be the better for it.
  • Know your fellow team members. Are you assigned to a team? Being a team member is an art form — and an important part of work life today. So, do your research. You’ll be more invested in your team if you know the backgrounds of your fellow team members. If you have a tendency to “turn off” opposing opinions, you may look at things quite differently, when you know a little more about the source.
  • Don’t play the career comparison game. Career progress is an individual process. It may be frustrating when a fellow employee climbs the career ladder more quickly than you — but there may be a perfectly good reason. Don’t “abandon ship”. Trust in your value, and have confidence that you will also excel.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist, speaker and coach You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Why K.I.S.S Doesn’t Always Work

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There is an iconic urban myth about interviewing for a role at IBM. The story goes something like this: You are taken to lunch. Present at this lunch are you — and of course a couple of powerful hiring managers. You all chat, you order lunch, it arrives. What are the managers attending to during this interview? Your skill set? Your previous experience? No. They are observing whether or not you salt your food before you take the first bite. What might this tell them about you and your future at their venerable organization? That you are open to experience? That you possess an “open-mind”? That you are a perfect fit for their team? Uh — not so fast.

I’m all in for an easily grasped explanation, but sometimes we go a bit too far. As a psychologist, my work focuses upon understanding workplace experiences — and I’m certain that the K.I.S.S. was originally coined to describe systems, not human behavior. However, there has always been a powerful “push-pull” operating. Human behavior is stubbornly complicated — but, we would like to make it appear simple. (As the legendary job interview illustrates.) Instead we might consider erring on the side of complexity, but concentrate on communicating the expanded theory effectively. We shouldn’t fear complexity. It doesn’t have to be viewed as the threshold of our “undoing”.

It is, in fact, the “secret sauce”.

There is no single behavior or question to accurately predict future workplace performance during an employment interview. (An “elevator pitch”, is a fantastic staple — yet it’s brevity does not always suffice.) As such, a reasonable balance of structured exploration is likely more preferable. Ultimately, we have to be willing to take that “deeper dive” into certain challenges — and look beyond the hype and “buzz words”.

Where human behavior is concerned — oversimplification can be dangerous. If you are solving a challenge (for example, high turnover in one job category, difficulty recruiting), be sure to embrace a broad perspective of the issue. Take the extra time to look beyond the obvious. Include those nuances, even if they slow you down temporarily.

However, here is the start of a brief guide. (Please share your thoughts, as well.):

  • Capture the relevant variables. When all is said and done, be sure that all of the important elements are at least considered. Workplace issues are often multifaceted. That’s OK. Treat them as such.
  • Consider what (and when) to share. Communicating a concept is critical step — and what you share can make or break its power to change opinion. Take note of what an audience is likely to absorb at one sitting, but push the envelope and keep the essence of the concept intact. Focus on inspiring both thought and action.
  • Indulge your curiosity. Taking a deeper look at an issue, is often worth the investment. If you have an indication that something is “off” or appears unexplained, take that side path to fully explore it. There is likely more under the surface.
  • Limit assumptions. We often view workplace behaviors with previous biases intact. I’ve made the mistake of jumping to a conclusion much too quickly. Try to avoid that scenario. Biases can mask complexity.

Do we over-simplify the workplace challenges we face? How does that affect our proposed solutions?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and speaker.

Blamestorming & Other Telling Signs Your Organization is “Siloed”

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I interface with organizations who have every intention of being collaborative. However, their collective actions tell a very different story. They envision functioning as a seamless, multi-functional operation — working in concert to satisfy clients, and organizational goals. But in reality, this is quite difficult to accomplish.

Unfortunately there are obvious, telling signs that they have missed the mark.

By and large, silos develop within organizations to protect valued resources. This is often fear-based — and building these proverbial “walls” can become the kiss of death for any organization that expects to remain agile. We’d all like to think of our organizations as impervious to this condition. However, it is easy to slip into “protective mode”.  In some cases, we’ve acquiesced into a “silo-ed” state without recognizing the malaise.

Here are a few signs:

  • Lack of a constructive cross-functional conversation. Let’s be honest — there really isn’t a lot of communication going on cross-functionally. Your customer/client process doesn’t really dovetail with other functional groups. Sadly, no one seems to be alarmed that this integral step is absent.
  • Customers are no longer central to the conversation. Your teams are so busy putting out fires and keeping up with the demands, that your clients are no longer central. When the “tail” (the acute issues) starts wagging the dog (being long-term smart), it’s time to slow down and take another look.
  • You are unsure what other functions are really doing. Processes and procedures can evolve quickly. You can lose site of the roles that others play in the larger scheme. As result, your team really doesn’t have a grasp on how to effectively interface with other parts of the business.
  • Rampant “blame-storming”. Joint ownership of processes and procedures is non-existent. If issues seem to be more like “hot potatoes of blame” than a “call to arms” to improve — take this an ominous warning. If everyone seems to point a finger, yet no one is venturing to say “we take responsibility”, you may have a real problem.
  • Separate cultural identities. If each functional group is more akin to an independent “pop up” shop, take note. You might blame each other for the current problems or snafus but it’s really the lack of shared vision that’s the offender. Time to re-group and get on the same page.
  • Things are portrayed as a “zero sum” game. If your group seems to feel that if they “give up” responsibility of tasks (even if tasks are best moved to another team), your organizational presence would be minimized. Scope of work should be assigned to the group best able to deliver the end-product of the highest quality.
  • You’ve given up trying to become a better organization. Many siloed organizations aren’t happy with the status quo — yet their employees feel efforts to change the dynamic would be fruitless. If you are so frustrated that you feel things cannot be improved, this is a telling sign that your group needs help.

Have you seen this operating in your organization? What did you do?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who starts conversations about work and organizations. She also writes at LinkedIn.

Let’s Banish Bad Bosses

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I’d like to pose a challenge. Let’s reconsider promoting an individual to the position of managing others, if we even remotely suspect that they are not up to the task. On another level — please think twice about accepting the responsibility of becoming a manager if you feel at all unprepared. Unfortunately, there seems to be an ancient and unwritten workplace law operating — telling us that when we reach a certain level of tenure or performance, we are automatically bestowed the responsibility of managing others. This may be exactly where the original problem lies; a complete lack of awareness concerning what is involved to manage others effectively. We need to consider these junctures more carefully, as we have more than our share of problems with managers already.

Let me talk you out of your decision, delay it, at least until you or the employee are adequately prepared for the challenge. A solid technical expert does not “a manager make” — and truthfully, there are only a handful of people who should be given the privilege of becoming a “boss”. Most of us require appropriate training or the benefit of a mentor to build this skill set.

It’s difficult to move forward without addressing this critical issue. Providing great bosses for our employees, is a formative step in building healthier, happier organizations. It is likely the single most important factor impacting employee engagement. However, its impact upon organizational performance may not be universally recognized. The true power of “excellence in managing others” is not be fully embraced. There are certainly great bosses in the workplace and we need to collectively learn more from them. Who are they? What are they doing?

There is no time like the present to attack this problem. Developing better managers may actually be less complicated than we might expect — but we have to make that all important commitment to explore this fully. We should consider addressing the managerial basics first: Showing concern for employees, building resiliency, serving as a “motivator” (money only takes us so far), providing direction and developing others.

But, above all, do no harm.

I am alarmed to learn what employees are facing with their own managers. The collected expressions of frustration and bewilderment, cause me to pause and consider a number of the raised questions concerning managers:

  • What are best practices for recognizing, developing and encouraging effective managers? (I propose a Department of Managerial Excellence.)
  • Who is ultimately responsible for a poor manager?
  • What recourse do employees have if their manager is ineffective?
  • What is the organization’s role to monitor and intervene, in response to poor management?
  • Are poor managers offered feedback concerning their lack of skills, as managers, so they might improve?

Have we been missing the boat, in terms of weaving the shared value of “management excellence” into the workplace? Have the economic times caused us to become forgetful of its importance? If so, what can we do to reverse the trend?

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