ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Playing to your strengths & Knowing the Territory

Playing to your strengths & Knowing the Territory

I tried, I tried, I tried, but this woman didn’t listen to me.  Instead, she hired out of state consultants who didn’t know her, nor did they know the territory (the district in which she was running for office.)   She is bright with an extra-ordinarily winning personality – yet they kept her hidden. 

Her strength is how people who meet her respond to her.  They treated her as an object to be marketed, not understanding how powerful she would have been had they let her loose.  It reminds me of Sarah Palin’s story about how the “handlers” stifled her.

Furthermore, they didn’t understand who we are in Silicon Valley and they didn’t tailor her campaign to reflect our demographics or our values.  They made it generic. 

In all campaigns, whether they are political or business – you have to know your product or service and how to market it to your target potential customer (voter.)  Generic doesn’t work.

I had arranged for her to be on three radio stations, potentially on two local TV networks, and to speak to about a dozen local service organizations where she would have an audience of between 20 – 50 people at each event.  Her team chose not to allow her any of this exposure.  I strongly suggested she participate in a panel that would have been televised.  There were 300 people in the audience.  The newspaper reported on her absence – giving her bad marks.

She capitalized on her title – but here in Silicon Valley almost everyone has a title.  We are not impressed with them – we are impressed with what we perceive – which means she needed to let us – let her potential voters – see what an interesting, intelligent and personable woman she really is.  

Why did they keep her in hiding?  Because they made it generic.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Redefining Your Professional Brand

Redefining Your Professional Brand
As I mentioned previously, I have been doing a series of workshops for ProMatch – a wonderful organization that helps people out of work re-define themselves and find their next job.

In a few weeks I will be conducting another workshop for them, this one helping people define and refine their brand.  In my opinion, your brand is far more than your elevator pitch. 

It includes:
·       Knowing your strengths, skills, accomplishments, interests and where they meet with the current job market;
·       Understanding where you position yourself, horizontally and vertically;
·       How to articulate all of that in an interesting and cogent manner;
·       Your resume, cover letter, business cards, and other marketing materials, and
·       Most of all:  Your image – how you sound, look, dress and behave.

It’s hard when you are out of work to think about yourself positively.  I hope to re-energize and remind the participants in this workshop how fabulous they really are. 

I am so tired of hearing poorly trained career counselors dumb everyone down.

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Overlaps, gaps and Silos

Overlaps and Gaps

I’ve discovered that it isn’t unusual for organizations to have more than one department taking responsibility for the same activities as another department, with no one knowing that this redundancy exists.  At the same time, there are usually gaps where no one group is assuming responsibility for a set of activities, each assuming that it is being handled elsewhere.

Interestingly enough, these problems can be found in organizations of all sizes, both public and private.
Let me give you one example of how I discovered and solved these problems for one of my organizational clients.

While working in a division of a mid-sized organization (approximately 500 employees) I met with department heads and key staff of each of the dozen or so departments in this division.  I asked each group to share with me their key areas of responsibilities.  I jotted these on flip chart paper and then had them blown up into large poster size pages.

These enlarged posters were put up along the walls of a conference room in what appeared to be the most logical order.  

I invited the leadership of the division and the leaders and key people in each of the departments to a meeting and had them walk around the room, looking at what had been entered on the poster.

They discovered the overlap.  They discovered the gaps.  They were shocked to learn that none of this had been discovered before - and their VP was embarrassed.  There had been a lack of cooperation between members of the management team of this division.

Our next step was to have managers agree as to which group would assume responsibility for the areas of overlap – freeing the other group to stop handling these activities. 

It took longer to actually identify the gaps and make plans to have these tasks handled effectively.  It was strange to learn that nothing had been done about some of these things for months – and of course the question was, “Do we really need to pay attention or just leave it to die?”  That led to some interesting discussions.

Silos and Lack of Cooperation

In another case, we discovered that various design-engineering groups refused to cooperate with each other and each designed their own graphics, art work, shortcuts, etc., so that there was no consistency or continuity in the look they provided their customers.

This was because there was no cooperation at the management level of this engineering organization.
When asked to cooperate with other design groups, the response was “We did our job, let them do theirs.”  It took quite some time and persuading to come to an agreement to common looks, etc.

Unless there is open communication and cooperation at every level in an organization – especially the upper management team – problems like these will continue to exist.

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Neutral Investigations/Evaluations

Neutral Investigations/Evaluations

I’ve counseled and written about this issue numerous times.  So often well-intended people, thinking they are being neutral wind up only considering evidence that supports either the allegation, or their personal point of view.  This is human nature.

I’ve always believed that this was true in subjective areas, such as whether someone is telling the truth or lying, or if they sexually harassed someone, or inadvertently insulted them.  Eye witness identification is a classic example of how wrong people can be when they think they know the person who was responsible for the crime.  Research has shown, over and over again, that eye witness identification is extremely faulty and subject to all sorts of influences.

HR and legal evaluations often go about their investigation looking solely for evidence that supports allegations – and refuse to listen to those that would refute it.  I’ve read many reports which argue that the person trying to give evidence on the other side is either “denying” or “lying.”  

The other day I attended a lecture by a brilliant presenter, Dr. Itiel Dror who is a world renowned neuroscientist and a leading expert on cognitive bias in expert testimony in the criminal justice system. 
Among the many things he said:

·       There is lots of research that says your cognitive bias affects your conclusions.  If you change the scenario (for example give them two sets of the same person’s fingerprints to be compared to a third set – but in case A saying that the person was found guilty and in case B saying that they knew the person was not guilty) the fingerprint t experts (with many years of experience) will find differently.  In case A they will see a match, whereas in case B they will determine that the two prints are dissimilar 

·       Motivation influences visi9al perception – he showed us a few examples which I am unable to copy here – but looked at one way they mean one thing and another way a different object.  You’ve all see the vase and the people example – he showed two others.

·       There is also confirmation bias – confirming a point of view – which is what I’ve mentioned above.  Disconfirming information is ignored.

·       He says seasoned experts minimize cognitive contamination – in the same way we protect against physical contamination.  In their desire to get to the pure information, they protect themselves against other information coming in.

In pure research we try to avoid contamination and reduce the experimental design to clean out as many variables as possible.   Dr. Dror suggests that when a case is given to a forensic expert, it should be given with as little additional information as possible.   

He drew a quadrant:
                                                  Relevant                           Not Relevant


And he suggested that experts be given only the information that is both relevant and non-biasing.  They must be blind to irrelevant information.  If necessary, there could be sequential unmasking of information.

Now, unfortunately, this is not entirely possible in our workplace evaluations of an allegation of misconduct – but we should strive to be as neutral and un-biasing as possible.  If the person interviewing the complainant doesn’t give other than the very basic information to an evaluator, without suggesting that the complainant was believable or not, or had other incidents, or that there were other complaints against the alleged perpetrator than at least we reduce some of the bias.

It is also critically important to know your own prejudices.  We all have them – the more aware and honest with yourself you are the less likely you are to pre-judge based on them.  It is so important to be as neutral as humanly possible when doing evaluations and investigations.

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Developing Your Own Talent Pool

Things to consider:

Ability to work with a minimum of instruction and intrusion from supervisors.

While there are those who require having you look over their shoulder at all times and tell them exactly how to do what you wish to have them do, those of your more talented personnel are usually self-sufficient once they know the task and have the basic instruction.  They feel insulted if you micro-manage them.  More often than not, they will find new and more effective ways to accomplish their task if you don’t force them into a particular mold.

Opportunities for creative problem solving in different areas/projects

Talented people can get bored easily.  They like diversity and variety and the ability to expand their own knowledge.  By allowing them to learn and stretch you are helping to satisfy their need to be intellectually stimulated. 

Recognition and appreciation for their accomplishments.

While one size might fit all for those wishing to stay in hiding, those exceptional people do not want to be lumped into the mold of others.  As members of a team, they typically talk more, offer more suggestions, and are seen by others as hogging the time. 

They know their worth and want to share it – but they also want it to be recognized and appreciated by those in authority – that’s you.  These are not the people who appreciate the notion that it’s good to take from those who are able and give to those more in need.  They want to work in a meritocracy.

Flexible hours which enable them to find time for their own pet projects.

Usually these talented people have interests outside of the workplace too.  They want time to pursue their own interests, whether it is art, music, or other business ideas.  If they are allowed flexible time they will no doubt give you many more hours of their time than if you forced them into a mold.

Permission to use a portion of company time to develop new ideas or projects.

In some companies there is the unwritten rule to pretend you don’t notice that your talented staff member is working on something other than what you’ve assigned.  Everyone pretends it isn’t happening and hopes the really good ideas being developed on company time will “bubble up” to the surface and be presented to upper management for future development.

Other companies are wise enough to allocate a specific percentage of time (10% - 15%) so that talented people can legally develop new ideas.  There are systems that actually encourage these ideas to move up the chain of command and if really valuable and within the company’s core competencies to get the funding and time they deserve.

A path to promotion that ties in their careers with your succession plans.

While there are always the few who want to stay in a safe comfort zone, many talented people are also ambitious and want clear opportunities for growth.  They will not settle for vague promises of promotion but would prefer a clear path with clear growth objectives.  It is usually the promise of promotion that seduces them away to other companies.

Respect – to be recognized as not one of the crowd but as someone who rises above the ordinary.

If this sounds like snobbery, so be it.  There are those who stand taller, who give more, who are more energetic, creative, ambitious and craving of recognition.  More importantly, these people wish the freedom that comes with being respected as extra-ordinary.  And, now you know why I picked “think different” as one of my favorite quotes.

Retaining Talent

Seven Ways to Retain Your Most Valuable Talent
In a competitive work environment the best of your talent can be seduced by recruiters and others to go where the promise of the grass being greener attracts them.  You are left with your more average talent because they are less desirable to the headhunters.

What motivates the brightest and the best?  Surely it’s not the promise of more money – because they were smart enough to negotiate a good compensation package when you hired them.  So, what does motivate them?  

Here are some general ideas of what motivates talented people to stay in your organization:

1.     Ability to work with a minimum of instruction and intrusion from supervisors.
2.     Opportunities for creative problem solving in different areas/projects.
3.     Recognition and appreciation for their accomplishments.
4.     Flexible hours which enable them to find time for their own pet projects.
5.     Permission to use a portion of company time to develop new ideas or projects.
6.     A path to promotion that ties in their careers with your succession plans.
7.     Respect – to be recognized as not one of the crowd but as someone who rises above the ordinary.

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Professional Branding

A few of us were discussing personal branding – particularly as it pertains to job seekers.  It occurred to me – after the conversation of course - that your personal brand is all you are – it is a combination of:
·       The way you feel about yourself
·       The image you project, posture, looks, the way you dress, voice, etc.
·       Your elevator speech
·       Your “sweet spot” skill set – what you love doing and what you do well
·       Your marketing materials – including business card, website, resume, etc.
·       It is the overall impression (perception) others have of you.

So – is yours as professional, positive and upscale as you’d like it to be?  If not, what are you planning to do to improve it?

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