Strengths vs Weaknesses -Where Should You Concentrate Your Efforts

rope pull

Forbes says forget the weaknesses, go full tilt and maximizing your strengths: (https://www.forbes.com/sites/actiontrumpseverything/2013/07/10/forget-about-working-on-your-weakness-play-to-your-strengths-your-overwhelming-reaction/#13da9c1d7765)

Harvard Business Review says just the opposite, that coaching has taken the “strengths” thing too far, that there is no scientific data to back this up, and that weaknesses must be attended to: (https://hbr.org/ideacast/2016/01/stop-focusing-on-your-strengths.html).

As the HBR article points out – toxic office behaviors are at the root of much of corporate dysfunction.  Bright people are often the biggest perpetrators.  So, what to do?  From the research, it looks like making a conscientious effort to work on weaknesses truly can help a person function better at work to the tune of 30-40% more effectiveness at their jobs.  The major reason this approach has fallen out of favor among coaches and self-help guides is that, “let me help you fix your faults” is not the sexy message that sells coaching and books.  However, it is what keeps workers employed, and ultimately it is the work that will remove the road blocks that keep an employee from promotions and raises. Bosses are loathe to comment on weaknesses.  Gone are the days of a manager who just manages others. They are busy with their own deliverables and unpleasant conversations derail their flow.  Often they ignore the telltale signs and only address problems after the issues have built up for a while.  You know what also builds up? Impatience and anger at the employee, such that many times by the time feedback on negative behaviors is shared, the manager has already demoted the employee in their mind. This makes it much harder for the employee to have a positive impact when they do address problems and change. Like a halo effect, the manager is carrying around the baggage from the pileup of infractions which comes with emotions that are fraught.

What’s the quick way to rectify this? An honest positive relationship with a manager.  Your willingness to start your first few weeks at a job encouraging the manager to give all kinds of feedback – positive and negative – will put him/her at ease.  You can even go into your weekly meetings (hopefully you are having those) with your own self-aware critiques to share.

You don’t want to over do the negative – start with items from your list of weekly accomplishments, intermittently bringing up difficulties and challenges – maybe 25% of the discussion can be about challenges?  The conversation will feel a lot like the point in an interview when they ask, “What are your weaknesses?” As I’m sure you know, the formula for the weakness answer is, “here is something I find challenging,” (give a real example). Follow up with, “here is how I am attempting to work on it (give examples).”  Unlike in an interview, you will take this one step further.  Add, “do you have any ideas how I could get better faster on this issue?”  This kind of dialogue, said in a positive and collaborative way, will get you far better input than just focusing on accomplishments.  And if your manager is not receptive, try it with a colleague with a communications style you really appreciate.  A, “really level with me” conversation with a trusted colleague or boss can make the world of difference, particularly if it is interwoven into a broader conversation that brings up your strengths.

 

Managing Your Networking Contacts

post its

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

 

A system – a spread sheet, post it notes, note cards, a note book…systems only work if they appeal to you.  Some people are techie and like everything on the computer or smart phone. Others need visual appeal and like hand written lists in colored pens, or even post it notes. My favorite way of working is on my phone – I type letters, documents, emails, notes to myself using my phone. That said, spreadsheets end up so tiny that I find them hard to use on the phone screen. I prefer an agenda style calendar and note cards that I can take with me since I spend a big chunk of my day in the car. A bulky laptop doesn’t work well when I am pulled over on the side of the road.

Knowing yourself and your style is the first step–use what you really enjoy. Then, capturing data that will help with follow through is the next most important step. If you make a contact, call them or email them to follow up and say you are glad to have met -do this immediately.  Follow through by email, but commit to trying to connect by phone. If you reach voice mail, many sales systems recommend a weekly call thereafter for a few weeks, with the hope of reaching the person live.  If messages and calls yield nothing then go to once a month, finally warehousing the contact after 6 months and trying back again on the anniversary of meeting them.

Networking requires diligence and organization. Follow through is key. Noting these contacts in a calendar or on a daily list of to dos will mean you actually work your contact list effectively. The likelihood of having the contact yield a new introduction or best case a lead to an actual job will go up significantly.  Job networking is a numbers game. It’s worth it. Over 70% of jobs are the result of networking. Don’t stop applying online too – 30% of jobs come in that way. But, reach out to as many people as you can and have a system to touch base regularly. Many of us just do not or can not follow these systems and fall behind, leaving valuable contacts hanging.  Make good on your list. Organize actions and follow up and really do what you say you will do. The results will amaze you.

 

Will Online Courses Create Employer Support for a Certification Culture that Disintermediates Higher Ed?

Photo by Avi Richards
Photo by Avi Richards

Ryan Craig, education venture capitalist and author of the 2015 book, College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education, walks us through the Utopian scenario of a whole new class of teaching institutions that will unbundle education. These new organizations will provide another more cost effective option for a large number of students, sparing them from the expense of the classic ivy covered wall setting of the higher education. They may give up the typical bells and whistles of the undergraduate experience, but instead they will gain concrete measurable skills in demand from employers. THe learning opportunities will be delivered inexpensively online or to large groups and may happen in a more institutional setting like a classroom in an office park.

Sajith Pai, an employee of The Times of India (India’s largest media group) and well-known blogger who specializes in learning on his blog,  reviewed Craig’s main chapters and calls out three key developments that may prove a boon to future generations of learners (and may mean extraordinary success to the company that can also deliver these services to larger economies like China or India):

“Competency-based learning or education (CBE): This starts with capabilities required by employers and works backward to build assessments to judge / measure capabilities, and then determines the required curricula. Done well, CBE reduces the cost of delivery of online education by half. It is also higher on efficacy as it replaces the credit-hour model where you have to demonstrate mastery in an arbitrary period of time.”

Companies  like Coursera, Udemy, EdX, Kahn Academy and hundreds of other smaller players have already flooded YouTube, Facebook, and Google with their training modules. Married together with an assessment revolution among American employers, where they truly review candidates based on certified skills, these sites could be the key to a true upheaval in the intersection between higher education and employment, with significant consequences for old-line colleges. For now, these courses are wonderful add-ons to a job seeker’s resume, showing engagement and skills, but they are certainly not going to substitute for a degree program in bricks and mortar institutions…for now.

Add to this interactivity in the learning environment. Right now we already have algorithm-driven “smart” testing platforms such as Testive where questions grow ever harder as the learner becomes more competent in answering. Also called “Adaptive Learning,” Sajith Pai has this to say about a platform that sharpens the curve as the learner improves:

“Adaptive learning: Combining adaptive learning with CBE is the killer app of online education. While adaptive learning is distinct from CBE, it usually accompanies it. Adaptive learning allows students to learn at their own pace by varying each future lesson in accordance with their performance or progress thus far. Adaptive learning is seeing a surge thanks to the availability of telemetry data due to tablet / phone usage. Telemetry data includes stuff such as movement in tablet, is student switching in and out of the program, ambient noise etc. Factoring in this data enables better program and delivery design.”

We can imagine that if testing can be leveled, automatically, then human resources departments may begin to take these online certifications more seriously because the system can then deliver a consistent level of  significant rigor in the learning process.

Lastly,  Ryan taps into the preferred environment of his audience: gaming and media.  21st Century learners have grown up with attention spans that respond directly to how engaged they are with imagery and movement of text and pictures in any given app or site or program.  So, he feels that along with interactivity, “gamification” will also drive the future of learning online. As Sajith Pai summarizes:

“Gamification: In video games, players are able to focus energies due to interactivity and competition. Thus integrating rewards and recognition such as badges, leaderboards, challenges into curricula can help enhance student engagement and improve outcomes.”

Lastly, Craig insists that models that allow learning to happen in chunks of intense focus are more appealing than the typical short “credit-hour” model.  When a student is engaged, an arbitrary stopping point based on a bell ringing and class “letting out” can be replaced with an online system that can enable a learner to choose duration of study, by what Pai calls a state of, “flow, or a zone of intense focus on learning. This can be done by enabling an environment of challenging work that stretches the individual, with clear goals and consistent feedback.”

In upcoming blog posts, I will review online certification programs such as those that Microsoft and Google currently offer.  These are certainly worthwhile endeavors that while they do not currently substitute for a degree, certainly can support your candidacy in a number of entry and mid-level jobs.  Already, these certification programs are coming into their own.

To read Pai’s full summary, visit here: http://sajithpai.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/College-Disrupted-a-summary.pdf

 

Meeting Etiquette in the Online Era: A Program Manager’s Plea!

board room
Photo by Benjamin Child.

I caught up recently with a tech industry Program Manager, Jennifer Westberg, who spends an awful lot of her time setting up and facilitating meetings at her company in suburban Boston.  I was hoping to get a handle on meeting etiquette, particularly for people using Outlook or other online group calendaring solutions, and she walked me through the basics. So, listen up because as she said,

“Here are the basic rules of being a meeting invitee, people:
1. You have just a few options when a meeting request comes in electronically: accept, accept tentatively, or decline. Don’t have your calendar set up so that it just appears and you are not making a decision at all: it’s a) lazy and b) inconsiderate of the meeting organizer. I will add in the “why” behind this:  The organizer can’t set an agenda if they have no idea who’s attending. That means they also can’t get a room booked – they don’t know what size; they can’t order the right number of snacks, drinks or a meal – and we all love meetings with snacks/a meal; they can’t properly invite others-and when we say others, remember these others might be people who can fast-track your project or take work off your hands – the guest list can be very important to your success.  Help your meeting organizer maximize efficiency and effectiveness, it will help you in your job.

2. Send your acceptance / declination within a reasonable period of receiving the invitation (say, a day or so). Don’t wait until just before the meeting. If you do, the implication is that you’re waiting to see if something better comes along.  Or I as a head hunter will add that you just appear sloppy – and no one likes a sloppy co-worker. Trust me on this one.  “Sloppy” is never an adjective I wanted to hear in a reference check!

3. If you would like a meeting to be rescheduled – maybe because you’ll be busy for the next week or so – don’t wait until *the morning of* the meeting to request it. Request the change as soon as you know you’ll be busy. Your schedule is not the only one affected and it’s a major hassle for the organizer. Note:  also check your personal calendar.  I just did this very thing and missed a meeting because I forgot that it would be school vacation week when I booked the appointment:  My bad!  and many mea culpas and a hassle for my colleague.  So, we all do it, but try not to inconvenience others.

4. If you *do* request a change, don’t complain when the meeting is rescheduled to lunch (or early in the morning or late in the day); it’s often the only time left.

5. If you’re going out on vacation a) block off your calendar (if you don’t know how to do this, get someone to show you) and b) decline any meetings to which you’ve been invited. Again, it’s a courtesy. Jennifer says she can’t tell you how many meetings she has organized where a person key to the agenda didn’t decline the meeting but was out on vacation – Again, as a headhunter, I have been there and it is a waste…of…time… very frustrating for those in the room when the news comes in that the knowledge-holder won’t be in attendance.

6. Be on time. Being late sends the message that you think your time is more valuable than everyone else’s in the meeting. There are valid reasons to be late but ‘I’m just always late’ isn’t one of them. And, with 20-years as a consultant working regularly offsite in conference rooms and corporate lobbies, I’ll piggy back on this to say that with tablets, laptops, cell phones etc. getting to a meeting early isn’t a waste of your time anymore as you can be working up until the moment that meeting commences.  Or, even better you can be chatting with the other attendees and forming personal connections – something that is sorely lacking in many offices these days.

 

Thanks again to Jennifer for sharing her thoughts on Meeting Etiquette.