Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Your Brand: A Guide to Finding Your True North

Personal Branding

If I stopped and asked your co-workers to define who you are in the workplace, would I get the same answer from all of them? Would I receive a well-defined answer, or would they describe you as "detail-oriented...a team player...helpful"? These terms, although certainly positive, are too vague. There are hundreds of "detailed-oriented, helpful team players" in the world, but there is only one YOU.

So how do you stand out against the crowd?

Let's think of an example together: if I say the words Coca-Cola, what comes to mind? If I mention Dolce & Gabbana, what do you think of first? These two organizations have something in common: a brand.

A brand defines who you are in the workplace and how you contribute to your organization. Knowing who you are as a person (*cough cough*) can help you define who you are in the workplace and what you can offer. Once you know your brand, you can use it and a True North Statement to help you make the right decisions that will be beneficial to you and your future goals.

Your True North Statement

A Short Lesson in Lean Six Sigma

When you are working in an organization, you should always know what it is that you are trying to achieve, and this is known as a True North Statement. It helps organizations to drive in one direction to achieve goals, versus trying to do everything all at once.

For example, a hospital may have a True North statement that includes the following phrase: "to assist our families so that they receive high quality health care in a respectful and timely manner." If the hospital were to consider making a change, they would want to ensure that it positively reflects their True North statement. Would a laboratory update assist with giving high quality healthcare? Yes. Would a pinball machine in the lobby do the same? Probably not.

True North and the Workplace

Once your brand is developed, you can then apply it as a True North statement to ensure that you are on the right track. Speaking from my own experience, I am much more knowledgeable about facilitating events than I am about SQL queries. So if I were to apply for a job that listed SQL queries as a background, I would need to remember what my True North statement said about me. Am I going to succeed in this position if it requires me to do SQL queries? No. If a position were to become available regarding training and development, would I be able to successfully lead a class? Most likely, yes.

Your True North statement helps you find the positions, special projects, and volunteer efforts that will reflect well upon you. Doing this will help to clarify exactly what your co-workers will say about you when asked. Want your boss to know that you are a charitable person? Volunteer to assist with your organization's next Charity 5K Run. 

Your Mission (Should You Choose to Accept It)

Grab a piece of paper, and write down the phrases that you think best describe you. Write down anything that comes to mind. Then, after you have exhausted all of your efforts, sit back and see if you see any familiar themes. These themes will begin to represent your brand. Write down a brand statement using these themes at the top of your paper.

Once you have these themes, think about your future goals and what steps you would need to take, knowing your brand, to achieve them. Write down anything that comes to mind. This is a great tool to help develop an idea of what potential future careers you may want. Keep a lot of space in between your goals.

Now that your goals are separated, go back to your brand themes. You will see that some of them relate back to your goals, and some may relate to other brand themes. The more connections you have, the better of an alignment you have between your brand and your goals. Connect your brand themes to your goals (or other themes). Use the example below as a guide. Next, think of a sentence or phrase that will represent what you need to do to accomplish them. This will be your True North Statement.

This should help you to visualize who you are, what you want, and how your brand will help you succeed in making your goals!

Your Brand and True North Statement: An Exercise by Wesley

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

You vs. The Other’s You

As we reach End of the Year Review time, it is important to reflect back on the previous year, not only in terms of performance, but also behavior. The metrics will fall as they do, and there are certain actions that can be taken to improve them, but what about your behavior? Is it possible to change how you act or who you are at the core? Changing how you act is possible (see my second post The Power of Saying Hello In The Workplace), but is it possible to change who you are? Some studies state that who you are as a person is settled before you reach your teenage years, much like one’s height. But I disagree with this point. I believe that we have the ability to change who we are, and it is through a series of self-reflection that we can do so. So how do you go about this? There are many tools/techniques that you can use, and I will touch on a few of them: 

Johari Window

This tool was created in 1955 to help bridge the gap between how you view yourself and how others view you. By choosing 5-6 characteristics about yourself, you begin to piece together the side of yourself that you acknowledge; this step is then completed by others to build together what they know. The results are categorized into four quadrants (see picture below).

Johari Window Quadrants
Are you the same person in front of people as you are behind closed doors? Should you be?

Ideally, in a self-realized world, most of the categories would be in the Known Self area, with very little in the Hidden Self and Blind Self category. Some traits could fall into the Unknown Self area, simply because they do not apply, or also because they are traits that you do not yet possess. The Unknown Self is an area for potential. However, in most cases, there are traits that fall into the Hidden and Blind Self area that should be examined. There may be some traits that you possess that do not need to be shared publicly (Hidden Self), but there should be very few things that others would know about you that you do not know yourself (Blind Self). This can lead to being viewed as having a facade, which is typically considered a negative characteristic to have.

Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)

Another great tool to use is a conflict assessment tool, like the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI). These can typically be purchased individually, or you will find that many organizations purchase them as well for all team mates to take.

TKI Graphic
After completing a survey, the TKI will give you a report out of your go-to approach to conflict (see the chart below). The tool asks some of the same questions over and over again, just phrased differently, so it doesn’t allow you to choose the “right” answers. Although many would argue that being collaborative is the best approach, this may not be appropriate in every situation. But knowing how you react during moments of conflict will allow you to recognize how you would normally act and then assess whether this is the correct approach to take. Feel like you are always accommodating everyone else? This tool not only provides you insight into how you deal with conflict, it also gives you tips on how to improve or switch tactics.

There are no “right” answers

I took it myself a few years back and highly recommend it. The organization CPP has developed many tools similar to this one, so check out their website to see if others may assist as well.

360-degree Review

I mentioned this in another post, but this is another way to gather feedback about your performance at multiple levels.

Want to open the door to your boss’s office for feedback? Want to know what your co-workers really think?

The takeaway from this, as a pitfall to avoid, is that this review should be for gaining feedback only, not as a way to grade someone’s performance for merit increases or promotion. It should involve not only taking the assessment, but also a follow-up meeting, or a series of meetings, to discuss what was learned and next steps. 

Deep Thoughts Before Your Review

Review time can be a very difficult time of year. Hopefully your manager/supervisor has been providing timely feedback, positive or negative, throughout the year, resulting in very few surprises; however, this is not always the case. 

Listen to the feedback and see what you can do to improve. Don't agree with your manager? Then set about to prove them wrong. Upset about what you heard? Listen to the feedback, internalize it, and then forget about it. Don't allow it to overwhelm you, but instead use it to grow. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

To Be or Not To Be: How to Emulate Famous Literary Characters to Succeed


Many of us were forced to read classic literature while in high school, and even I can admit that it was rather slow and boring at times. However, now as I think back to those books, I realize that there are many tips that we can learn from our notorious literary friends, mainly through emulating (or not emulating) their main traits. So stay tuned for a travel through literary fiction to our modern day work place:
Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett - Pride and Prejudice 
Oh, Jane Austin, you clever girl. Most people find P&P to be too romantic, but Miss Austin was able to write a story that would enchant her audience, while also including important social commentary. THIS is what makes her characters so unique: they have flaws that translate across social strata and time periods, making her story applicable to everyone and timeless. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett represent two people that develop opinions of one another that cause them to make poor choices. This is a frequent occurrence in the workplace, unfortunately: you hear that Tim in Marketing is a difficult person, and suddenly when you meet him, you feel on edge and do not speak your mind. Or worse, like Elizabeth, you accuse him of things that may or may not be factual in an effort to preempt his actions. You are now in conflict, and poor Tim may be left in the dark as to your feelings. Or worse, he feels defensive and attacked. Much like our Mr. Darcy, you are now left to prove yourself to Tim and make amends. By doing this, Mr. Darcy is able to show Elizabeth that he is better than she thinks.

Lessons Learned: First impressions or opinions from others can sometimes lead you astray. If this happens to you, work to make amends with your team mates. 

Jane Eyre - Jane Eyre
Another one of my favorites, this time from Charlotte Bronte. The character of Jane is sent to an orphanage and treated poorly, which causes her to question her lot in life. She is able to gain a governess position, but she still yearns for something more. Many of us can relate to this. We go to school, we find a job, and suddenly we begin to want more. This could be more money, more free time, more of a work-life balance. Jane was able to focus this feeling and create a tight relationship with Mr. Rochester. I'm not advocating that everyone form an intimate relationship with their employer. Not a good idea. Never a good idea. But instead, focus on gaining a mentor and working with them to advance your career or life goals. Doing so will give you the tools you need to succeed.

Lessons Learned: Decide what you want from life and go get it. Find a friend to help guide you, and you will be able to achieve your goals. 

Sydney Carton - A Tale of Two Cities
In this story by Charles Dickens, Sydney represents a very lecherous lifestyle: he drinks, he is generally out for his own good, and he is viewed as someone to look down upon. However, despite this, he too yearns for something more like our friend Jane. He helps his friend Darnay escape possible execution by tricking him, and Sydney is in turn executed. It's a beautiful redemption story, showing the arc that a character can take over time. And all of us have the opportunity to do this everyday. Obviously, I'm not suggesting that you die for someone else; however, sometimes it is best to make sacrifices for another person's benefit. As a manager, you will have an associate who will make a big mistake--this will happen to everyone--and when it does, you have a decision to make: do you allow the associate to come forward and receive full responsibility, or do you take the blow for them? If the associate does not often make mistakes and had good intentions, I will often take the blow for them. This allows me to protect the associate, while also giving them an important life lesson about how to deal with mistakes. Trust me: I allow them to feel the weight of their mistake (if a large one), but I do it between the associate and I privately, where they can learn their lesson in a safe environment.

Lessons Learned: Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the betterment of your team. Do so professionally, but provide open and honest feedback. 

There are many more characters that could be referenced, so if I receive positive feedback, I will definitely make another post. Or maybe a post about how to handle tough co-workers, while using literary/movie characters as examples. That sounds like fun!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Making Your Resume POP

For those of you who do not know me, I love reading, writing, and editing. Big time. To the point where I offer a free service to friends and family to read papers and edit them. One thing I started to do in the workplace, to further enhance the nerdiness factor, was to offer co-workers or my associates the chance to have me edit their resume. At the time I was a hiring manager, and I was shocked to see very poorly written resumes being submitted. The people were typically well-spoken with the right amount of experience, but on paper they did not appear qualified and often seemed lacking in the writing department. After speaking with a few internal candidates, I offered to assist those applying internally. I only had a few people take me up on the offer, but I truly believe that there are certain things your resume should have, whether a format style or content, that will really catch the eye of perspective employers. Here are my tips:

Make sure that your NAME stands out
Your name should be at the top of your resume in a font larger than the rest of your resume. Before they see anything else, they should see your name. If your entire resume is in font 12, then your name begins to blend in and will be overlooked by a potential employer. I suggest using font 20 since it is larger without being insanely so. 

Lose the "Objective" and use a "Profile" instead
"Objectives" refer to a goal that you may have, while a "Profile" gives a brief summary of who you are. Objectives are supposed to start with a "To" phrase, but more often than not, this can be summed up in all resumes as "To get a job I enjoy. Please hire me!" Instead use a Profile, which you can use to highlight the major points of your experience, skills, etc. This can be especially useful for IT folks because you can list your major system knowledge here before the employer scrolls down. If you can describe in the first section what you can do, then your work experience only enhances what you know. 

Experience Highlights
Some may disagree with me, but I believe in using experience highlights versus your entire work history if you have worked many jobs. If someone is applying for a management position, I won't care if they worked as a dishwasher when they were 16. I will be more curious about their previous supervisory positions or how they have managed projects/budgets in the past. In many cases I have seen candidates that have moved up within an organization and worked 3-7 jobs for the same company; in this case, list out the major accomplishments that are the most meaningful to what you are applying for. You still want to account for the dates that you worked for a company, but you do not want a 3 page resume (or longer)!

Evolving Resume
This may be the most controversial tip I have, but your resume should be updated in favor of the position that you are applying for. Note: THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU SHOULD LIE! This simply means that you should focus upon the aspects of past positions that would be applicable or similar to what you are applying for. As an example from my own experience, I held a position that involved managing associates while also completing in-depth supply/demand analysis. Many jobs have multiple functions like this. So if I were applying to be a manager, I would focus more upon the management functions while touching briefly on the analytical side; on the flip side, if I was applying for an analytical job, I would go more into detail with the supply/demand forecasting that I did. In person I would touch on both sides in depth to show how I could juggle both, but on paper I could confuse my audience by detailing both sides. So choose one that best reflects your interested position and edit accordingly. Again, don't lie. This never goes well and it will catch up with you, either when they call your references, or when you suddenly show incompetence in a job that you should be qualified for. But update your experience to best show that you are qualified for the job. 

Use 5 Bullets or Less
First, always use bullet points when describing your experience. And you really should describe each position, since titles can be deceiving or vague. Paragraphs can appear too long and can show a lack of big-picture view if you are not able to give details in bullets. Also, many managers will not take the time to read a resume that looks like a novel, but a well-bulleted resume will get preference. That being said, when using bullets, stick to 5 max. When one job reference lists more than 5 bullets, you risk the chance that your experience may seem disjointed (way too many thoughts) or repetitive (same points just said differently). This will also save you from going over 2 pages. 

Keep your Skills & Awards Current
As much as a manager may love to read about an award from 1999, it just isn't current anymore. To me, if I saw an award with that date, I would wonder why a candidate has not been recognized since then, which could lead down a path you don't want. So if it isn't current, take it out. Leave it as a verbal discussion during the interview if you feel strongly enough about it. 

POP of Color or Style
Luckily, there are many example or template resumes out on the internet (Don't plagiarize!), which can be helpful to give a visually pleasing resume. Consider adding a professional picture of yourself in the corner (keep it small, no more than 3") or add a pop of color. In the past there was mention of using nice card stock for your resume, and this is still good advice. But I would be more impressed by a beautiful layout versus beautiful paper with boring content. You could add color to the paper via borders or watermarks, but be gentle. Use faded colors versus bright ones, and limit yourself to one or two colors that blend well. If your resume is too colorful, it will distract the reader from actually reading your beautifully crafted resume. 

Include your Achievements
For many positions that include financial impacts, it is important to be able to provide details to give support to what you say. A candidate may say that they saved the company $1 million last month, but unless I see proof, I will doubt it. Note: Check your organization's Intellectual Property policy before using items publically. If a candidate would be able to show me an executive summary (Google for examples) of a project without sharing the name or insider information of the company, I would be able to not only see the proof, but also see how they explain it. If I am shown an executive summary and the person is descriptive and passionate, I have learned many things: 1) This candidate knows the material and actually has experience, 2) This candidate is passionate and can work well with executives or managers, and 3) This candidate gets results. 

These are a few tips to get started. Your resume is the paper version of you, so make sure that your paper speaks well of you. You want your resume to intrigue the reader into believing you are a good candidate and also to seek more information from you in the form of a personal interview. 

Again, thanks for taking the time to read! Constructive criticism welcome!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How Video Games Can Improve Your Work Ethic

Many of us enjoy playing Super Mario, Mortal Kombat, and World of Warcraft, but there were always comments about how you should join the “real world,” and how video games are just for fun and not for learning. They entertain us, for sure, but is there something else to be gleaned from these games? Are there life lessons that we can apply in our everyday lives?

[I hope so. Because if not, this article just became very short!]

Below is a list of ways that Video Games can improve your personal or work ethic to make you a stronger contender in the game of Life:

Every player starts as a “Noob”
Sometimes when you are sitting in your corporate office, surrounded by VPs and Directors who drive Porsches, it is hard to believe that everyone started just like you. But it is true! Very few people start at the top of their organization, and those that do have still have to pass through some beginner stages. As a result, it is understood that a new associate will make mistakes, because everyone does! The important things is that, much like in gaming, you need to ask for advice or help from more experienced team members, and you have to do your research. Are you continuously being killed by the first boss in a raid? Are you making mistakes in your first meeting? Turn to your party members or co-workers and ask for help. It will not only help you refrain from making noob-mistakes, but it will also instill team work and camaraderie with your peers. 

“Camping” your boss can be a good thing
In gaming it is considered camping if you sneak up upon a player, attack and kill them, and then wait for them to return so that you can kill them again. This is not a good idea in the work environment. Not ever. However, if you were to metaphorically “camp” your boss, as in being an on-hand asset all the time, that is a great thing. This is what will help you to subconsciously inform your boss that you are excited to work and ready for the next level. If your boss needs help with a project, volunteer. If your co-worker needs a hand with setting up a room for a presentation, make sure that you are the first one there. This will help you to stand out amongst your peers and will establish you as a great asset in your office. 

If you make a mistake, you can always “Re-Spawn” or “Reset”
Since every player in life makes mistakes, just remember that you do have the ability to reset or learn from your errors. Too many times I have seen team members who are dragged down from an error, and I myself have experienced this before, but just remember that mistakes are just as important as lessons. One phrase I have found valuable in my career has been to advise my boss of the following: “I will make mistakes. It is going to happen. But I won’t make the same mistake again.” In video gaming, you can quickly discover that heading down a left path will drop you down a pit to die, so you know the next time to take the right path; the same theory applies to real life. If you forgot to tag a team mate on an e-mail, leading to a miscommunication, ensure that you do not forget the co-worker again. If you are forgetting something too often, set yourself a daily reminder or write a note down on a Post-It and attach it to your desk at eye level. At first the reminder will be helpful, but overtime you will overlook it, and that is good: it means that the behavior will become ingrained. Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed by mistakes. You can always try again. 

Achievement Unlocked: Brag about it
Often times we are able to accomplish great things, but a moment’s glory can be forgotten by others due to busy schedules and daily tasks. If you are able to achieve a goal, make sure that you share it with others, and celebrate the achievements of your peers! If you close a great deal, make sure to peek into your boss’s office for a moment to let him or her know. Many people send e-mails, but this can be lost in the grand scheme of e-mails, or can seem too pretentious. But mentioning the achievement briefly allows the person to acknowledge you immediately and doesn’t leave an annoying train of replies and forwards (among the other hundreds your boss may have to go through). It’s also valuable because it is a good way to let your boss know that you are adding value. If your co-worker completes something, take a moment to congratulate them. It can really go a long way to cheer up a person’s day, and they will eventually return the favor. Also make sure to post any certificates or awards at your desk. It will help to decorate (especially if you have a Spartan-decoration style like myself) and it will cheer you up when you see them. 

Make sure you dedicate time to Leveling Up
Nothing was better than jumping on the flag pole in Super Mario to show that you had completed the level and were ready to “level up,” and the same sense of effort should be made in your work life as well. Make sure that you take the time to increase your abilities, whether in the personal or work-related realm. This could include things like taking special classes, reading books related to your passions or work, or volunteering in your community. So many times we allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by the little details in life, and we do not allow ourselves to move forward. Taking these extra steps will not only distinguish your resume among others, but it will also make you feel accomplished and will introduce you to more people. The investments that you make toward your passions, like gaming, writing, or painting (for example) will show through in the quality of your work and will show your boss or co-workers that you are willing to work to get to the next level. It is enjoyable and it is a great investment.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article! Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

<form style="border:1px solid #ccc;padding:3px;text-align:center;" action="http://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mailverify" method="post" target="popupwindow" onsubmit="window.open('http://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mailverify?uri=WorkingNerdTipsAndToolsForSucceedingInTheWorkPlace', 'popupwindow', 'scrollbars=yes,width=550,height=520');return true"><p>Enter your email address:</p><p><input type="text" style="width:140px" name="email"/></p><input type="hidden" value="WorkingNerdTipsAndToolsForSucceedingInTheWorkPlace" name="uri"/><input type="hidden" name="loc" value="en_US"/><input type="submit" value="Subscribe" /><p>Delivered by <a href="http://feedburner.google.com" target="_blank">FeedBurner</a></p></form>