Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What's Your Motivational Focus?

Everyone has motivators and understands, in a leadership context, that motivating others is critical to individual and team success. According to Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson and Dr. E. Tory Higgins, there are two primary ways in which we work to fulfill personal and professional goals:  (1) through a focus on promotion, or the opportunity to advance, grow, and avoid missing opportunities; or (2) through a focus on prevention, or a concentration on staying safe, not losing anything or incurring detrimental effects.  Promotion- and prevention-focused people can be recognized this way:

Promotion-focused people:
  • Work quickly
  • Consider lots of alternatives and are great brainstormers
  • Are open to new opportunities
  • Are optimists
  • Plan only for best-case scenarios
  • Seek positive feedback and lose steam without it
  • Feel dejected or depressed when things go wrong

Prevention-focused people
  • Work slowly and deliberately
  • Tend to be accurate
  • Are prepared for the worst
  • Are stressed by short deadlines
  • Stick to tried-and-true ways of doing things
  • Are uncomfortable with praise or optimism
  • Feel worried or anxious when things go wrong”

Each type has its own strengths and weaknesses and most teams, regardless of industry, thrive when both types are involved.  Knowing your focus can help you choose a field in which your motivational focus strengths are utilized and understanding the focus of your supervisor and your team is critical to effectively persuading and motivating them.  For example, promotion-focused people can be best motivated through praise, inspirational stories, and understanding what they gain when they achieve something.  Prevention-focused individuals are motivated by understanding what they did wrong (criticism), cautionary tales, and understanding what they will lose if they don’t achieve something. 

I’d also like to point you to an hour-long webinar presented by Dr. Halvorson in which she delves deeper into this interesting topic, including describing how your focus can be changed by circumstances and by different domains, such as work and parenthood.  She also gives specific advice about working with people of both types of motivational focus.  I highly recommend it.

Dr. Halvorsen says you can figure out your motivational focus by reading the descriptions.  I’m pretty sure I’m a promotion-focused person.  What’s your focus?  Does reading the description immediately make you think of people you know who fit into them?

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Almighty Cover Letter

I rarely use this space for personal reflections but this week is an exception.  After 15 years of being involved in hiring, I have seen more applicant packages than I can count.  One of the most common places I see applicants go wrong (and right) is the cover letter.  Given that spring graduation is fast approaching and it’s the time of year that many people begin a job search process, I want to provide a list of dos and don’ts to help you make your cover letter or email as strong as it can be.  If you’d like to read more from the experts, go here, and here, and here

First the dos:

  1. Do your research.  One of the quickest ways to get into the “take a second look” pile of resumes is to show that you have taken the time to do research on the position and organization to which you are applying.  It shows respect for the hiring authorities and that you are a knowledgeable professional.
  2. Do have other people look over your cover letter and resume.  Faulkner and Hemmingway had editors, and you need one, too.  It’s important to have at least one other person look at your cover letter and resume before you submit it to look for typos and mistakes.  It’s important to choose reviewers who are good communicators and who will give you honest, constructive feedback.  If you are a student at a university, you have a built-in option – career services – that will help. These services are also often available to alumni as well. 
  3. Do show definite interest in the position and organization.  Any reader of your cover letter should be able, after reading it, to state back why you are interested in that specific position at that specific organization.
  4. Be honest and authentic.  Don’t over- or under-sell your experiences and accomplishments, and don’t gush when expressing interest.
  5. Do state why you believe you are right for the job and frame it as how you can help the organization solve a problem or address a need. Most cover letters are all about the applicant.  That’s natural on some level, but you need to connect the dots for the hiring manager about how you can help the organization address a need. This is also one reason why #1 above is so important.
  6. Do talk about your values and how they match the organizational mission and/or culture.  Don’t just highlight your experiences.   Also spend a sentence or two outlining your values and how those match the organization’s.  (Again, research!)
  7. Do explain gaps in the resume.  A hiring authority has never met you.  If there are gaps in your resume when you weren’t employed – say a two-year timeframe where you returned to school full-time to get a master’s or started your own business – it’s important that you explain this.  Most applicant packages have literally seconds to make an impression so hiring authorities won’t take the time to piece together where you were for those two years. At worst, they may think you are trying to hide something, so it’s important to address the gaps concisely.

And now the don’ts:

  1. Don’t ever send a generic cover letter. Ever.  “To whom it may concern, I am interested in a position at your company…” The message this type of letter sends is that you don’t care enough to even insert the organization’s name in the letter.  It’s the equivalent of never learning anyone’s name and just calling everyone “hey you.” In an age of social media and ubiquitous Google, you can find a name to whom to address your letter or email.  Of course, you should also double-check that you have the right organization listed as it is equally bad to send a cover letter that is specifically addressed…but sent to the wrong organization.
  2. Don’t use humor.  Everyone loves a fun person to work with but humor is extremely difficult to convey in writing to people who’ve never met you, so it almost always falls flat.  Just don’t use it. 
  3. Don’t try to be cute or clever.  You can write a letter that demonstrates your “voice” and point of view, but, along the same lines as #2 above, let your accomplishments and research set you apart.  Cuteness will make you look immature and unprofessional.   If you work in a creative field where creativity is a major differentiator, by all means ignore the second part of this advice and do something like this. But for everyone else, spend your energy on making your cover letter as correct and clear as it can be.

What other tips can you offer your fellow job seekers?  Want more?  How about some social media tips for job seekers?  Done.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Rewiring Your Brain for Better Leadership?

What if you discovered that there were very simple things you could do to increase your concentration, increase your thinking clarity, and make you feel calmer and more even-tempered?  Maria Gonzalez describes a few simple practices in “Mindfulness for People Who Are Too Busy to Meditate” that can do just that.  As the title indicates, these are things you can literally do in one minute or while you’re doing something else like sitting in a meeting. 

But what if the idea of mediating just feels too “soft” or isn’t for you?  If so, it’s important for you to know that repeating mindfulness practices -- which are different than traditional seated meditation -- has a cumulative effect on your brain that has been documented in neuroscience research, rewiring it for resilience and calm. Mindfulness practices change physical structures in your brain like the hippocampus and the amygdala in much the same way as working out changes your muscles and pulmonary system, and you don’t need to buy a gym membership or even appropriate clothing.  So set your calendar to remind you to do these two or three times a day and begin the rewiring process today.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Twitter Tips

Twitter.  You may love it, or hate it, or just be indifferent to it, but one thing is for sure:  It’s here to stay.  Many businesses and non-profits use Twitter, but a great many use it badly.   That occurs for many reasons, but one of them may be a misunderstanding what Twitter is and what the culture of Twitter entails.  This brief piece provides some simple Twitter tips (Twips?) to help you understand how to use it more effectively.  It is written for the non-profit world but almost all of the suggestions apply everywhere.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

Creating Gender-Inclusive Environments

Recent research indicates that both women and men are twice as likely to hire a man than a woman, even if the woman is more qualified.   This study pertains to business hiring, but research also exists demonstrating a similar hiring and pay bias for academic jobs in the STEM fields and the stories of women in those fields provide support for those conclusions. 

Both studies indicate that the biases exist in both men and women hiring authorities.  So how does a fair-minded leader remedy this?  Will Yakowicz offers three great suggestions:
  1. Make gender bias a business issue, not a women’s issue:  An organization that is choosing less qualified men over more able women is going to lose in the long run, because their talent will go elsewhere or otherwise not be fully engaged. 
  2. Educate yourself (regardless of your gender) instead of asking women to change:  Women tend to under-sell their abilities, while men tend to over-sell theirs.  When women are assertive about their abilities, they are perceived negatively and penalized.  So the burden is on the leader to understand this no-win dynamic for women and compensate for it rather than asking women to brag more about themselves.
  3. Look for bias in hiring policies and systems:  Many hiring authorities believe that candidates who self-promote are the best, despite what’s noted above.  It’s important that they become aware of this erroneous bias and look for other ways to identify competence and ambition.

Samuel Bacharach offers some additional tips for leading in a way that includes everyone.

Do the stories of this kind of bias match with your experiences or observations?  If you work in a female-dominated field, do you see this playing out?  

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Greatest Barrier to Success is…Success?

Most of us think that there is a direct, linear relationship between effort and success.  The more time we spend working on something, the better results we see, right?  (The term education researchers use for this is “time on task.”) Greg McKeown is a leadership researcher and teacher, and his findings call that notion into question.  In a blog post called “The Unimportance of Practically Everything” and a 5-minute video he describes the principal he’s discovered by studying some of the most successful leaders and some who are talented and hardworking but never “break through” as they should.  That concept is essentialism, or as he calls it, “the disciplined pursuit of less.”  McKeown’s findings indicate that, as he says, “the biggest barrier to success is success” because it means an increasing number of opportunities and options, which overwhelm us and take away the mental space we need to separate the essential from the inessential in our lives.  He posits that you will never accomplish what you want at home or at work unless you actively eliminate these distractions. Effort, in other words, does not equal success unless it’s spent in the most important areas.  This is not a new idea – Covey fans will think back to the “first things first” habit – but it’s an important message nonetheless.  He gives you a tip that you can get started with today and provides real-life examples of how others, like Warren Buffett, have put this idea into action.  I hope you’ll take a look.

How do you eliminate the inessential in your own life?  Have you learned to say no effectively? What stops you from paring down the list of things you spend time on?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Culture Trumps Strategy

It's often said that culture trumps strategy.  Strategist Nilofer Merchant says, "After working on strategy for 20 years, I can say this: culture will trump strategy, every time.  The best strategic idea means nothing in isolation.  If the strategy conflicts with how a group of people already believe, behave or make decisions, it will fail." This short (two minute) video explores this a bit more. 

What makes a great organizational culture?  According to the John Coleman with the Harvard Business Review, there are six things to consider:

  • Vision:  A strong, clear sense of what kind of impact the organization wants to create orients all stakeholders about what’s really important.  Coleman cites examples like Oxfam’s “a just world without poverty” and The Alzheimer’s Association’s “a world without Alzheimer’s.”
  • Values:  If the vision is the “what,” values are the “how.”  Values are the standards for behavior that guide the organization as it works toward its vision and purpose.
  • Practices:  What good are values without the actual practices to enact them?  If my office says we value student input, but then never ask your opinion on anything, we would be failing our values.  Practices that match organization values are “walking the walk” and making the values real.
  • People: Organizations with strong positive cultures are extremely selective in who they hire in order to find those candidates who are excited about enacting the values and vision of the organization.
  • Narrative:  Every organization has a story and the skill and frequency with which it shares that story, both internally and externally, are important to creating culture.  An example of telling the organization’s story that Coleman cites is Coca-Cola’s World of Coke museum in Atlanta.
  • Place:  The physical environment influences human behavior.  Many companies where collaboration is key situate their staff in open environments where they see each other a lot.  What does your work space say to others?

What’s the culture of your workplace?  If you are in a management position, how do you create a culture that is supportive of great work?  As a team member, how do you contribute to such a culture?