The Office is Closed Today

The new year is almost here. Have you loaded your organization’s annual holidays into your calendar yet? Of course you have. This next question is a bit more challenging. How does your organization work with contingent staff when it comes to holidays where the office is closed?

office chair.jpg

At first glance, the answer may appear obvious; everybody knows what days organizations are typically closed, right?

Not so fast. Here are some additional tips to ensure your organization and your external staff are on the same page for the holidays:

  • Contingent staff do not typically get paid for holiday time. Does your project budget allow for contingent staff to work 40 hours during a holiday week if so desired, or do you estimate billable project hours based on the office being closed one day (or more) that week?
  • Do you need your contractor to put in 40 hours during the holiday week, due to project constraints? When do you set this expectation?
  • Does your project timeline factor in access to key employees during a holiday season? For example, will your contract staff be able to hold meetings or get information from people if half the office is gone the Friday before Memorial Day?
  • Do you know what your contractor’s holiday plans are, and how they may impact the project? What expectations do you set for getting this information in advance?
  • Who at your office is responsible for ensuring that contractors know which days your office is closed?
  • Does your company have additional days where the office is closed that may not be as common in other industries? For example, a consultant I know once showed up for work at a large global organization on Good Friday; she had no idea the organization was closed that day!

At the end of the day, it is important that the project owner and the contingent staff are clear about the expectations of availability before, during, and after the holiday(s).

Contractors do not typically get paid for holidays as they are not working, but may assume they can still work 40 hours that week. You may be assuming they will not bill 40 hours that week. To avoid disappointment in an otherwise fabulous organization-consultant relationship, have the conversation before the day the office is closed.

Not Your Grandmother’s Catalog

Do you have enough years on this planet to remember using card catalogs to find books at the local library? Not online card catalogs, but paper, roledex-like card catalogs?

When I was a kid, my grandma worked at the public library. I vividly recall visiting her there when I had research projects for school, or wanted to try out a new author. She would help me find books when I was unsure how to spell the author’s name or book title, and best of all, she would help me when I couldn’t find items such as “The Great Gatsby” under the letter “G”, because it was located under “T” for “The” instead.

card catalogueLearning the rules for how card catalogs worked helped me immeasurably with finding information I needed. Grandma showed me how to try other options to find what I was looking for, if I didn’t succeed on my first search. Little did I know, but Grandma was teaching me how to use metadata or “tags” to search under words related to my desired topic.

In a recent article by Elliott Masie in CLO Magazine, Elliott proposes that one of the “jobs of the future” for learning departments is that of librarian. With all of the content and formats that exist today, the challenge is “discoverability” through use of metadata, search readiness, and content taxonomies.

How will you set up learning opportunities so that employees can access them? What naming conventions will you use, and how will you cross reference “like” materials? How will you know when data is no longer valid and needs to be removed from the catalog? These are just a few of the many questions needed in the new librarian’s role.

One thing is certain; it’s not grandma’s card catalog, anymore.

Are You the Buyer or the Seller?

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You’re both at the table. The small talk has begun. One of you is hiring for an open position, the other is seeking to find a job. If we think in terms of consumerism, which one of you is the buyer in this situation? Which the seller?

Let’s examine this from both perspectives. In today’s economy, one might say that it’s a “buyer’s market.” We’ve heard stories about there being more homes for sale than people out looking to buy, and retailers slashing prices. And in the job market, there are fewer jobs than there are people seeking those jobs. But still, at the interview table, who is the buyer, and who is the seller?

The answer? Both of you.

What are You Buying and Selling?

The Hiring Organization:

  • You are buying talent. You’ve done your homework and have prepared your job description based on desired competencies. Now you’ve got to buy the skills and characteristics needed to fill the role. You are buying execution – a person who can get the job done and help your organization meet its bottom line.
  • You are selling your entire organization. You are selling that your organization is the place to work and will be inclusive of the applicant’s values. Your offer entails a compensation/benefit package and career growth opportunities built to recruit & retain new employees.

The Job Seeker:

  • You are buying a job. You are buying a role that challenges you and provides you a salary. You are buying a “home” that you may spend more time in than the home you rent or pay a mortgage on. You are buying a boss you can relate to, a team you can work with, and an organization whose mission and values you consent to.
  • You are selling your skills and your experiences. You are selling the knowledge you’ve gained from school, work, and life. You are selling a fresh perspective and your willingness to join or lead the team to get the job done.

It’s a Buyer’s Market
You’re still at the table. You’re having the conversation, a mutual exchange of questions and answers as you discover what you each have to offer. Just remember, it’s a buyer’s market. And you’re both buyers.

We Can Learn Much from Our Children about Interviewing

Recently, I had the enjoyable experience of baking holiday cookies with my 6 year old son. Logan announced happily that he was my “assistant chef at the cookie factory” and that he is “much better than last year, because now I can do everything but crack the eggs.” Logan described his ability to measure, double a recipe, and stir large amounts of ingredients.

Within the hour, Logan decided to promote himself to governor of Minnesota, where we live. He introduced himself to me, and announced that he was “inspecting all businesses in Minnesota, to see if they are doing ok,” and then proceeded to make sure that I had clean hands, a clean oven, and then went to check on his father who was working on a remodeling project in our home. He promptly announced that his father was building a larger cookie factory, and that he better clean up his tools so no one at the cookie factory gets hurt.

The interviewing part comes in next. Logan announced that it was time for elections. “Oh, are you running for governor again?”, I asked. “Nope. I already did that job. Now I am going to be president of the United States!” With a big smile, I asked, “Well, I am glad to see you’ve got ambition, Governor Logan. Tell me, why do you think people should vote for you?”

Logan’s immediate reply made my mouth fall open, as it’s smooth and authentic delivery was something many adults strive for in the interview process. Logan declared, “Well, I think people should vote for me because I am nice to everyone, and I know how to help them with their jobs and their houses. Also, I used to work in a cookie factory, so I can bake cookies for everyone and they will have something good to eat.” I laughed out loud, looked at my husband and said, “Well, that sounds better than a lot of reasons I’ve heard to vote for someone.”

The conversation ran through my head several times, and I reflected that what Logan had done was successfully navigate through an interview! Here are some lessons that resonated from Logan’s conversation with me:

1. Tell the Story:
Logan was able to tell a story about why he was visiting the “cookie factory”, and what his job was as governor, in addition to why he should be elected President. What is your story? Why do you want the job you are applying for right now? Recently I asked a friend why she was interviewing for a job with a healthcare company. She told me a story of how as a child, she was often ill, and remembered all of the paperwork and appointments her parents went to, and that they were often confused about payments and procedures. She determined that she wanted to work in healthcare “to help others feel more comfortable about their health situations.” What a great story to share on an interview!

2. Know What You Have to Offer:
Logan simply stated what he could offer: being nice to people, help with businesses, and cookies. When going on an interview, how prepared are you to discuss your strengths, what you are good at, and what you can offer the prospective employer? It is more than knowing you can make cookies; it is knowing that you can offer a tangible result, such as, “people will have something good to eat.”

3. Connect Your Experiences:
Logan was able to tie in a seemingly unrelated job of his work at the cookie factory with a way to use those skills in his new role as President. These days, the average person has 10 careers over a lifetime, and it is likely that they may be from different industries or using opposite skill sets. How can you tie the lessons learned in each of your work experiences, so they may add to your story? How do those experiences help you do a better job today?

4. Be Genuine:
The enthusiasm Logan shared for his ambition to be President, complete with his belief that he was right for the job could only bring a smile to an interviewer’s face. An interview is a conversation with another person about what you would like to do as an employee or consultant in the organization. Being able to answer the question, “Why should I hire you?” by using tips 1-3 above will go a long way in getting a potential employer to see how you are unique from other candidates.

While Logan has never really worked in a cookie factory, nor served as governor, I have faith that his ability to communicate his skills and ideas at age 6 will serve him well into adulthood.

Suddenly, I am hungry for a cookie.

You Must Be…

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is an adage many in the United States grew up hearing from parents, teachers, and other community members.

Simply put, it means that one should not assume to know something about a person, place, or thing just by appearances. As business professionals, as parents, as community members, how would you give feedback to the person making assumptions in each of the stories below?

Consider a situation involving a car accident. A young college student and her boyfriend were driving home from the beach when they were struck from behind by another vehicle while waiting at a red light. According to state law, both vehicles pulled into a nearby parking lot and waited for law enforcement to arrive.

The officer on the scene approached the young couple and the older woman. Turning to the young couple, the officer asked, “How fast were you going when you hit this lady?” The couple was forced to explain twice that they had NOT been drinking, and were, in fact, struck from behind by the other woman. The woman drove a high priced car and was dressed to attend a wedding, and the young couple were wearing bathing suits.

Assumption: Because the couple is young, drive an older car, and are in bathing suits, they must be the cause of the accident, not the well-dressed older woman in the Cadillac?

Another situation involves the real estate industry. A couple had purchased a new home, but had to wait to move in until the Parade of Homes (a home tour show that lets prospective buyers preview houses built by a variety of builders) was over, and people were done viewing their new home. Two weeks prior to moving into the home, as the couple was packing, and suddenly realized that they had no idea what window treatments in their new home would be like. They drove to their soon-to-be new home without bothering to change clothes. (They were wearing their old jeans and T-shirts.)

Upon entry to their new home, the couple greeted the realtor who was showing the home to prospective buyers. When the realtor finished speaking with another couple, she turned to the soon-to-be owners and said, “Hi there. We have great floor plans here, and we can definitely show you smaller, more affordable options to better suit your budget!” The couple took delight in letting the realtor know that indeed, they were not interested in smaller houses as they were the new owners of this particular house.

Assumption: Because of the clothes the couple was wearing, they must not be able to afford such a house?

Let’s bring assumptions to the job search. What do you say to the recruiter who, upon hearing you speak, asks, “Where are you from?” You may say, “Oh, I live in Minnesota, but I am originally from Wisconsin.” The recruiter says, “No, really? With a name like yours and a voice that sounds like yours, I figured…you must be from somewhere else.” Does the person tell the recruiter that he/she was named after a parent’s dear friend, and that the voice sounds that way due to a hearing loss, which often affects the voice?

Assumption: A person with a name that is most commonly associated with Spanish or French speaking cultures and also has a voice that doesn’t sound “midwestern”, must be “from somewhere else”?

Please send your comments and feedback regarding each of the above scenarios. What are your thoughts about how we can solicit professionals to practice the art of inquiry before assumption? How do we monitor ourselves? What do you do when you hear yourself or another thinking or saying, “You must be…” about someone else?

Leadership and Social Media

Recently I heard from a friend who was reprimanded at work for being active on LinkedIn. His boss asked him directly if he were looking for a new job. He said, “No. I am not. I have been asked to provide recommendations for some colleagues who have recently lost jobs.”

A couple of things come to mind when an employee is put in this situation:

1.) How did the boss know the employee was on LinkedIn, if he/she is not on it as well?

2.) What is the effect on the working relationship between an employee and his/her organization when these questions are asked?

  • The employee is now afraid to write recommendations for business partners, and is averse to using LinkedIn as a networking and learning tool for his work.
  • The boss, the leader in this organization, is not providing trust. How then, will employees be able to give trust in return?

3.) There is a lack of understanding about what the capabilities are of LinkedIn. It is not just for job seekers; it can lead to new clients, it can be a way to keep up with business relationships, and a way to learn using social media, to name a few applications. And yes, it can also be used for job searching.

What thoughts do you have on this situation, and how would you handle it?

Onboarding Consultant Staff: Tips to Minimize “Ramp Up” Time

Your department has a project that needs to be done, and you don’t have the resources. You’ve been given a budget to hire a consultant to come in and work with your team to meet the project deadlines. What can you do to make sure that he/she can help drive your project forward to completion? What communication is needed so that your current team is also “on board” with the addition to the project team?

Here are some simple tips to minimizing “ramp up” time for new consultants.

Prior to Start Date:

1.) Request access to all computer systems, laptop/desktop equipment, ID badge, and other supplies needed so that the consultant can become operable shortly after joining your project team.

2.) Preparing the internal team for the arrival of a consultant is also crucial to the success of the project. Share information with your existing team about who is coming, why the person is coming, and expectations of what the consultant will be doing, and impacts to the project and current team members. Team members who are unsure of the consultant’s role may feel they need to compete with the consultant, may worry that their own jobs are in jeopardy, or may not understand how to best utilize the consultant’s time and skills.

3.) Compile a list of internal websites, SharePoint sites, and other applicable internal information centers, and provide access to the consultant.

4.) Put together an “onboarding” checklist for the consultant, and ensure that key people are available to spend some time with the consultant. For example, many times the hiring organization begins by giving a consultant access to a list of SharePoint sites to “check out”, and then leaves the consultant to his/her own devices to look for pertinent information.

There have been times when a consultant may waste more than an hour trying to figure out where project documents are stored – especially when there are many projects, and many sites to examine. Does your organization really want to pay for someone to spend time searching for things that could be pointed out in a matter of minutes?

Potential Onboarding Checklist

There are many details that consultants will need to know when they begin a project with you and your team. Having information prepared ahead of time will minimize the hours that the consultant spends searching company websites to find answers, or wandering hallways to find meeting rooms – hours for which your organization is paying!

Following is a list of potential items to have ready to share with the consultant within the first few days of beginning the project.

Who

  • Who needs to meet with your consultant to facilitate execution on this project?
  • Who are team members, and how do they fit into the organization/team/business unit (org chart)?
  • Who can help show the consultant how to navigate company websites, SharePoint sites, and other internal information? (It is not recommended to simply email a list of website links without providing context)
  • Who is accountable for providing information, and to whom is the consultant providing information?
  • Who are the contacts for key areas such as administrative support, IT support, invoicing issues and other items that support the consultant’s ability to get work done?

What

  • What are the deliverables of the project?
  • What is in scope, and what is out of scope for the project?
  • What expectations are there regarding turnaround time (responding to emails, voice mails, project draft documents, etc)?
  • What is the consultant’s role in relation to others on the team?
  • What concepts should the consultant be aware of that promote understanding of corporate culture? Are there “mottos”, leadership models, acronym glossaries, standards for quality, for example?
  • What processes are in place around this project? (For example: are there SharePoints for sharing documents, are there project hours that must be posted to a PM plan, etc)?

Where/When

  • Where are project documents stored?
  • Where are conference rooms?
  • Where/when does the consultant submit invoices?
  • When are deliverables due?
  • When will feedback be provided?

How

  • How do project team members communicate? (Virtual, In Person, Email)? How will the project team resolve conflicts?
  • How often and for how long does the project team meet?
  • How does the feedback loop work on this team?
  • How will we know if the project is successful?

Providing clear and consistent communication to consultants and internal project team members and stakeholders is critical to achieving project success. Clarity and preparedness in the onboarding process reduces the time and dollars spent on consultants and allows the organization to gain the consultant’s “value add” on the project team in the shortest time possible.

Spending the time to onboard at the beginning reduces the time spent later in correcting assumptions about the project – not to mention having a consultant wandering the hallways looking for that conference room.

The Early Bird Gets the…Job?

Creating a well-written resume and cover letter are not the only tools needed to get noticed by recruiters today. These days, there may be hundreds of applications for a single opening. Recruiters and hiring managers often cannot review each application that comes through the door. Job search sites such as Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Careerbuilder.com are displaying a new trend.

You may be surprised to find out that some jobs are posted to a job search site for mere hours before expiring. Employers set a limit at gathering the first X amount of resumes that meet basic qualification criteria, and once they do, the job requisition is closed down to further applicants. On a recent interview, I was told that there had been 155 applicants to the job in the first three days, and only EIGHT people were selected to interview. How can job applicants beat this cutoff for applications?

1.) Apply right away to jobs that pique your interest and match your skills. This may seem like common sense, but I know several colleagues who have waited three, four, even seven days to post for a job while they “think about how to best approach the position.” By this time, the job may be removed from postings.

2.) Set up email alerts that send an email to your inbox each time there are jobs matching your profile. This way, you will get the information quickly, and can respond promptly.

3.) Not all job postings go to the big job search engines. If there are specific companies that you are targeting, make it a practice to check those websites two or three times a week to see if new listings are posted. Some company websites also have email alert capabilities.

4.) Get your internal referrals lined up ahead of time. For example, if you have a friend who will be an employee referral for you at ABC Corporation, get his/her information ahead of time, so that when a job opens up in your area, you can apply right away and use the employee referral. Many times, colleagues reach out to their internal contacts when they see a job posting, asking that person if they can use him/her as a referral; this may cause a 24-48 hour delay if the person is not able to respond right away.

There is no substitute for a well-written resume and cover letter. The same rules still apply there; grammar, spelling, and a clear picture of the person’s qualifications are necessary. However, today’s job market proves the old adage correct: the early bird gets the worm, or in this case, the interview that could lead to a job.

To Say or Not to Say: Corporate Refugee

A new term has hit my radar this week: corporate refugee. At several local meetings, people have introduced themselves by indicating that they are “corporate refugees”. I had not heard this term before, but a few connotations sprang to mind: a) this person was persecuted or had horrible situations occur at his/her last job, and b) this person has escaped from the corporate sector.

After reflecting upon this term, and hearing from the people that used it that they are either looking for a new job or have started their own consulting business, I began to wonder if this is a term that makes sense for people to be using?

Googling the term “corporate refugee” brings up many hits, including links to groups that have formed for people to meet up and network for their next job. One website reference describes the term as “much like refugees from war-torn countries, corporate refugees find the situation in their place of work has become so awful, so inhuman and so intolerable that they would rather risk everything and get out to start afresh.”

As an interviewing coach, I wonder how that next corporation would feel about an interviewee who describes him- or herself as a “corporate refugee”? Is this a way of saying negative things about one’s last employer, which is frowned upon by interviewing experts? Or is the term simply a way of describing a group of people who have been displaced from their former employer?

What do you think? Corporate Refugee: to say or not to say?

What Do They Have in Common?

What do the topics of “followership, teambuilding, and content review” have in common? Keep reading for my suggested answer.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend and volunteer at the American Society of Training & Development’s fourth Regional conference. During this time, I attended three breakout sessions on different learning topics; followership, teambuilding, and content review.

The Followership session was a discourse on a proposed model of four types of employees who follow a leader in an organization. The idea was that employees are either a) yes people, b) slackers, c) criticizers, or d) self-starters.

The Teambuilding session discussed the idea of the parts of a team that can make or break the team. For example, mission/goals, roles, work processes, and relationships are components of a team, and according to the presenters, are also possible areas where teams can break down.

Last but not least, I attended a session on Managing the Content Review Process. We looked at ensuring that our projects have a proper review cycle so that clients/learners are satisfied with the end result.

What common thread weaves through all of these sessions?

Answer: Setting expectations.

Session 1: Followership
How do managers develop their employees, manage expectations, and encourage employees to bring their strengths to the table? As an employee, how are you clarifying your expectations within your workgroups? Do you expect your boss to give you answers or solve difficult situations, or do you handle it to the best of your ability and let the boss know the result? If you have a critique of a situation, do you simply point out the flaw, or do you also propose a solution?

Session 2: Teambuilding
How are teams set up, and how are roles defined so there is minimal confusion as the project evolves? What happens if something goes well? What happens if something does not go well?

Session 3: Managing Content Reviews
How do we prepare project reviewers to give much needed feedback that is specific and timely? Are roles clearly defined so people know where they can benefit the project most? Do people understand the consequences of not providing reviews on a project? Are the right people reviewing the project?

Setting expectations with people we work with, whether we are the lead or the one being led, is crucial to success. Understanding the purpose of our role and the work to be done means that we are free to execute on our responsibilities. Creating a secure environment in which people can discuss both successes AND failures without fail creates a sense of “where do I fit and why do I matter” for all players on the job, on the team, and on the review process.

So, how are we going to work together? Let’s start there!