27 Things I’d Like to Tell My Manager

You know those annual surveys consultants and HR folks send out every year or so? They’re designed to chart the state of morale, levels of engagement and satisfaction with leadership. After the surveys are completed, I’ve been asked to confidentially interview employees to get more specifics about their concerns. You won’t believe what they’ve said!

Employee feedback

(Image by my brother the artist and photographer: EricSchickler.com)

WHAT PEOPLE SAY

  1. We watch you when you arrive in the morning to see what kind of mood you’re in.
  2. A smile, a hello and a few minutes to see how I’m doing would mean a lot.
  3. I’d like regular feedback about my performance, delivered somewhere other than the parking lot, the hallway, the bathroom or on your way to a meeting.
  4. When you go out on leave (maternity, disability, etc.) check in with us once in a while so we know you haven’t forgotten us.
  5. We listen to the way you talk about your peers.
  6. Your meetings are too long and little gets done. Give us an agenda, stick to it, address people who monopolize the discussion and end with actionable items of who’s going to do what by when.
  7. Please deal with the person who is disruptive, disrespectful and a slacker. The longer it takes you to handle that situation, the less confidence we have in you.
  8. Ask for my opinion once in a while. You’d be surprised what I know.
  9. Flexibility with my schedule, especially for family activities, is one of the best things you can do for me.
  10. Training will make us better at our jobs. Please give us some.
  11. We love it when you stick up for us.
  12. We’d ask more of our friends to apply for work here if they were treated better during the application process.
  13. It would be nice if someone got to know me as a person.
  14. You make us crazy when you change the rules without telling us.
  15. Posting a policy on the bulletin board is not enough communication.
  16. Yes, you ARE asking too much when you hold meetings at 5pm on Friday.
  17. Since you now hold meetings at lunchtime, even the 15 minutes I used to have with a sandwich at my desk is gone. And you wonder why “engagement” is only at 30%.
  18. Internal transfer requests should count as turnover and retention bonuses should reflect it.
  19. Don’t ask me to come to you with solutions. I’m not a whiner. I should be able to tell you about something that’s going on without the pressure of having to solve every problem.
  20. It’s okay to say you don’t know. I’d rather you be straight with me.
  21. You don’t have to try and be our friend, but it would be great if you could be friendly.
  22. We watch how you treat our vendors. Aren’t they customers too?
  23. I’d like to tell you I’m too busy to take on one more thing, but I’m afraid how you’ll react.
  24. I’m tired of them telling me I have to be more “strategic” and never explaining exactly what that means and how to do it.
  25. Want to make our day a little better? Surprise us now and then with something small: a shorter meeting, a thank you, smoothies in the foyer, a clean refrigerator, etc.
  26. It’s time to tell the lady with the low cut blouse and the guy with the racy calendar to clean up their act.
  27. We could cut out 50% of our emails and get a lot more done. We don’t need a class to teach us how to manage the email volume we have. We need standards and practices to eliminate the unnecessary and CYA messaging.

HOW TO GET TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER

Nobody wants to burn a bridge when they leave an organization, so exit interviews don’t get to the heart of the matter. People who speak up are labeled “not a team player” so they learn it’s not worth it to voice their concerns. And leadership books that tout 7 Steps to XYZ ignore the granular issues people struggle with on a daily basis.

I’ve heard more supervisors say, “If I ask them to tell me what’s bugging them, I’ll get a laundry list of things I can’t change or they’ll ask for perks we don’t have money for.”

So our managers don’t ask or cut short the discussion when it starts to feel like a gripe session. They think it’ll open up Pandora’s Box. They think there will be a price they can’t afford to pay to even listen.

But those conversations will still take place – just out of earshot. The feelings and frustrations will still be there. And you’ll wonder why productivity is suffering.

It’s a heart problem, not a systems or process issue.

So if you really want to have an impact, make it a better place to work and get honest feedback, here are four steps you can take:

1. Hold a regular weekly meeting. Allow time (and permission) for people to speak up, ask questions and raise issues about things that are bugging them. If you can’t give them an answer right then, go find out and get it to them before or at the next gathering. Just the fact that you encourage open discussion will let a little steam out of the pressure cooker.  Listening is half the battle. If people won’t talk, don’t lose heart. Try it again the following week. Be sure to thank those who do speak up and for goodness sakes, don’t dismiss their concerns or laugh at them.

2. Instead of a Suggestion Box, create a Question Box. People can anonymously pose their questions and you can answer them at your meeting, in your newsletter, via email, or all of the above. Asking them to provide solutions can squelch feedback. It’s much easier for people to ask a question.

3. Use a Pain Scale to rate key aspects of your workplace. Take the pulse of your organization by asking, on a scale from 1-10, where they’d rank communication, trust, confidence in their supervisor, freedom to express themselves, time-wasting practices, how difficult or easy it is to get their work done, their stress level, etc. It’s often easier for people to put a number to something than explain themselves using words.

4. Have the Strengths Interview conversation as recommended in First, Break All the Rules by Curt Coffman and Marcus Buckingham. If you start the work relationship by showing your employee you take an interest in them, they will be more likely to trust you and give you honest feedback. You can also create an anonymous survey based on the 12 Critical Questions that define a good workplace.

I VALUE YOUR FEEDBACK TOO    

In the weeks ahead, I’ll write more articles about issues people struggle with, whether you’re a supervisor, manager, business owner or frontline employee. Don’t be shy. Anything you email me will be held in confidence. Is there something you’d like to get off your chest? I’ll compile and feature key concerns and comments, anonymously of course. Don’t rely on me to make this stuff up. Give me something to work with! 

Articles in the weeks ahead:

  • 27 Things I’d Like to Tell My Employees
  • 27 Things I’d Like to Tell My Customers
  • 27 Things I’d Like to Tell My Co-workers

Let’s see if we can’t shake things up a little and make the world a better place in the process!

P.S. Share this post, please.

WOC 002: Personal Courage with Sandra Ford Walston [Podcast]

Sandra Ford Walston from Denver, Colorado is the Courage Expert. In this episode, we hear how courage became a mighty force in her own personal life, how leaders can build courage and why fear is not the opposite of courage. Sandra leads the charge to help us take control of our lives and rise above adversity.

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO

Sandra Ford Walston is the author of three books on courage:

Courage Expert Sandra Ford Walston

The Courage Difference at Work: A Unique Success Guide for Women

Courage: The Heart and Spirit of Every Woman

Face It: 12 Courageous Actions That Bring Success at Work and Beyond

Read more about Sandra’s work at SandraWalston.com

Source Wheel Behaviors of Courage Diagram

 

SHOW NOTES: In this episode you will learn…

-What we mean by courage

-Why fear is not the opposite of courage

-Our ego loves to create suffering

-The 3 biggest fears we face

-Candor is a cousin to courage

-Saying “I don’t know” will set you free

-12 Behaviors of Courage:

  • Confess
  • Complacency
  • Contradictions
  • Conformity
  • Clarity
  • Consistency
  • Controversy
  • Concentration
  • Compassion
  • Contentment

Read Sandra’s articles here.

How to Save a Relationship and Get Engagement at Work or at Home

Got a person you’re struggling with? Want a simple method for better communication? Snickers, my cat, taught me the key to salvage a relationship, whether at work or at home. This one thing she does will help you build engagement with colleagues, co-workers, customers, constituents and loved ones.

Relationships tips and communication skills

Here’s what she does: As soon as she sees my son head for the stairs to our basement, Snickers runs over and sticks her paw through the railing. When her paw appears, Brett reaches through to scratch her head and pet her back. Then she flops on her side and rolls around to get her belly rubbed. (You may want to skip the belly-rubbing with some people.)

It’s now a game. She initiates it, Brett responds and she wiggles around in delight. The more they engage in this ritual, the more my son expects it and actually gets quite a kick out of it. She makes a “bid” for his attention and he falls for it every time. I don’t know how she’d cope if one day he didn’t respond.

THE KEY: RESPOND TO “BIDS”

“Bids” for attention can strengthen relationships when they result in a positive response. When we say something to another person, place a phone call, send a text, email or letter, we usually want a reply. It sets up a give-and-take exchange that meets our social needs for human connection and validation.

Just like Snickers, we all want our bellies rubbed (figuratively speaking of course). It fires up those endorphins, builds trust and leads to relationship retention. Some people want more of it than others. Some are downright needy and tire people out. But most of us have a set point based on reasonable expectations.

interpersonal communication

Basically, people want recognition. That doesn’t mean they are fishing for compliments or a plaque on the wall. They want to know that somebody “sees” them – that they matter. And the more we respond to those bids, the better results we get in terms of acceptance, cooperation and engagement. Socially astute people learn how to fulfill this human need and as a result, win friends and become a welcome addition to the neighborhood BBQ.

Those who ignore someone’s “bid” may discourage the other person from making an effort in the future. They could interpret the lack of response as apathy or flat out rejection. The more often this occurs, the less likely the relationship will survive.

RESEARCH AND BENEFITS

People are people and human behavior is pretty predictable, whether you’re dealing with someone at work or at home. Studies of successful marriages have found that couples who divorced six years later had responded to bids only 33% of the time, while those who stayed married had positively responded to bids 86% of the time.

The more often we engage, the stronger our relationships. And the stronger those social connections become, the longer we live, as described in The Longevity Project by Howard S. Friedman, Ph.D and Leslie R. Martin, Ph.D. This eight-decade study tracked the loves and lives of 1500 Americans from childhood to death.

The way in which we respond is also important. Delivering lukewarm, unenthusiastic comments can kill a relationship about as quickly as no response at all. Read about the four styles of responding to others in this article.

Reciprocity rules! Positive responses build good feelings and encourage people to open up and offer more of themselves. And reciprocity is one of the seven laws Dr. Robert Cialdini explores in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Positive responses show you are enthusiastic, interested, supportive and encouraging. It sets up a chain reaction that moves us to higher ground together.

HOW TO AVOID MORALE PROBLEMS

So often I hear people say they have communication problems within their organization, which usually leads to morale problems. Chances are, it’s because some folks don’t realize how important it is to let others in on the backstory. Maybe they don’t believe there’s a strong enough “need to know.” But as Simon Sinek explains in his TED talk on the Golden Circle, understanding the “why” is crucial to better leadership and also better branding.

To improve your organizational or personal brand in the eyes of others, explain yourself now and then. Don’t let people guess. Don’t force them to make up their own story about your motivations, otherwise you may not come out on the better side of that story. Once people understand the “why” behind your motivation, they tend to be more tolerant and cooperative. But keeping it to yourself can be perceived as arrogant and unfeeling. No wonder morale problems occur!

4 WAYS TO AVOID TROUBLE

Relationship Cure by Dr. John Gottman

Dr. John Gottman, author of The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family and Friendships, is an expert in predicting which couples are prone to divorce. After studying thousands of couples, he identified four things that doom relationships. I’m willing to bet these four behaviors may also have a bearing on how successful we are with people at work as well as those we live with. They are:

Criticism: when someone says their partner’s personality or character as the problem. (Based on Gottman’s research, this is something women tend to do more than men.) Before we open our mouth, consider whether the thing we’re about to say is based on a minor irritation or is it something more serious. Is it worth the cost of damaging the relationship to voice this concern? Will the world stop or somebody die if the behavior continues? I’ve written about a way to raise an issue using a non-critical approach here.

Defensiveness: counterattacking, whining or responding like a victim. When we’re attacked or criticized, instincts kick in and we try to protect and defend ourselves. But the more we protest, the more likely we are to: 1. not hear what the other person is saying, 2. not learn how to do things better in the future and 3. reject the other person’s opinion which can undermine the relationship. It’s hard to stay objective under these circumstances and it takes practice. Sometimes a simple, “Thank you for the information. Can I get back to you on this?” is all that’s needed.

Contempt: acting like you’re a better person than they are. (This is the #1 predictor of breakups.) This can also occur as we talk about the other person to a third party. Acting morally superior is usually a telltale sign.

Stonewalling: shutting down or tuning out. It implies “I don’t care.” (85% of the time it’s the men who do this.) There’s very little belly-rubbing going on here. Closing the door to interaction can make things worse. While sometimes tuning out is a way to avoid saying or doing something you’ll regret, neglect is a dangerous place to go. Stonewalling can also be a passive-aggressive way to get back at the other person.

IN SUMMARY

Respond in positive ways to the bids for attention you get from colleagues, co-workers, customers, spouse or family members to strengthen relationships. Research studies also prove that if you avoid the four deadly behaviors of contempt, defensiveness, criticism and stonewalling, your marriage (and likely other connections) will last longer. Don’t default to a position of neglect or apathy. Put in a little consistent effort if you want the people in your life to stick around. Err on the side of communicating too much.

Next Steps: Know of someone who’s at risk of ruining a relationship at home or at work? Help them out and forward this article.

How to Handle Obnoxious People in Power

A reader recently asked if I would write an article about how to handle obnoxious people in power. So, to start, I wanted to find out what we mean when we call someone obnoxious. Is it a person who throws their weight around? Do they try to “one up” others? Are they arrogant or inconsiderate? (All the way from Colorado Springs, I can see your heads nodding now – yes, yes and yes.)

How to Deal with Obnoxious People in Power by Laura Benjamin

(Photo credit: Eric Schickler Photography)

Webster’s definition is this: behavior that is annoying or objectionable due to being a showoff or attracting undue attention to oneself.

I figured there may be more to it than that, so I asked the stylists in my hairdresser’s shop today. They see tons of people and have a common sense perspective on human behavior. (Of course, I’m a little ray of sunshine and a breath of fresh air when I walk in there, but others, maybe not so much.)

They said, “People who talk too loud. It seems like they want everyone to hear what they’re saying and it makes it hard for us to have conversations with our clients.”

That got me started. So I came up with my own list of obnoxious behaviors, but it’s not exhaustive, so feel free to add your “favorites” in the comments at the bottom of this page.

19 OF MY “FAVORITE” OBNOXIOUS BEHAVIORS

People who…

    1. engage in the “cell yell” where they talk so loud on their phone that everyone around them gets to hear all the gory details of their conversation
    2. tell you they’re open for a meeting anytime in the coming week and then every date/time you offer won’t work for them
    3. don’t say thank you when you hold a door open for them
    4. take forever to order at a fast food place because they’re calculating how many pennies they’ll save from ordering a la carte versus getting the meal deal
    5. consistently say “maybe” when you ask if they’d like to do something or go somewhere and don’t offer any alternative to your suggestion
    6. squeeze into the revolving door space you’re in with their luggage rather than wait for the next opening
    7. splash water all over the restroom counter and don’t wipe it up so your shirt gets wet when you stand at the sink and have no place to put your purse down
    8. won’t move forward in line (either standing or in their car) and let a large gap exist when there are many people standing behind them – there’s something about seeing forward momentum that makes people happy
    9. throw trash out their car window
    10. pull out a million coupons at the grocery store (It’s always when you have ice cream in your cart)
    11. blast the bass through their car speakers so you can feel your heart vibrate
    12. wander onto the shoulder of the road and spit gravel into your windshield so it cracks
    13. drive slower than traffic in the passing lane when they should (and could) move over
    14. ignore the sign to merge two lanes into one, pass everyone who did merge and then expect someone to let them in at the last minute
    15. pull into the campground at 1am and make tons of noise setting up
    16. wait to complain about a meal until the last bite, then expect their dinner to be free
    17. ride bicycles side by side on a two lane road with no shoulder and heavy traffic
    18. consistently keep people waiting because their time is much more important than yours
    19. take your parking spot when you have your blinker on – here’s a classic scene of revenge in a video clip from the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes

Bet you’re wondering how I could come up with so many reasons to get bent out of shape. Okay, I’ll simmer down, but I think we should call ‘em as we see ‘em and get clear on what disrespectful behaviors cause us the most frustration. We should also try to understand the reasons why obnoxious people do the things they do.

Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside ourselves will affect us. ~Stephen Covey

6 REASONS WHY SOME PEOPLE ARE OBNOXIOUS

People who are obnoxious often want to have power or influence over others. It can come from a deep-seated sense of insecurity. Maybe they grew up with few choices, were bullied or abused. So these behaviors are their way to get control over their life. They could also be people who…

  1. never learned how to show confidence and mistakenly feel that over-the-top assertiveness illustrates competence and self-worth
  2. are impulsive about most things and don’t realize their impulsivity may be interpreted as selfishness
  3. have been rejected, disappointed, overlooked or underestimated in the past and vow not to let it happen again
  4. find that bravado, a big show, flash, glitz and aggressiveness are often admired by others. They’ve seen people get rewarded for it and use that approach as their default.
  5. may have a physiological issue that impacts social skills. While most of us are not qualified to diagnose anyone’s medial condition, we should be aware that some behaviors are a result of genes or trauma. Through no fault of their own, they wage a daily battle to regain control over themselves. You may happen to be collateral damage.
  6. want to cause you harm – no bones about it, they ARE out to get you. You could have done or said something to provoke them or you look like a coach or teacher who wasn’t kind.

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”  ~Mahatma Gandhi

3 WAYS TO DEAL WITH OBNOXIOUS PEOPLE IN POWER

It’s hard enough to deal with these behaviors, but when the person has power over us, it makes it doubly difficult to cope. They may control your paycheck or the quality of a product or project where your reputation is on the line. They may be a relative. No matter who they are, you need survival skills before you do or say something destructive. So take one or more of these action steps to cope and hopefully turn things around:

1. Ask for their advice. It can take them by surprise because most people will push them away, ignore them or retaliate. This approach may require all the self-control you can muster, but it can pay off big time when they realize you’re not a threat and they’ve not gotten under your skin. Instead of an adversary, they may start to see you as an ally. Here’s a great book by Bob Burg on how to turn adversaries into allies. 

2. Say, “I’m sure you didn’t mean to be X (hurtful, disrespectful, dismissive, etc.) when you said/did X.” Danger: don’t follow up that phrase with the word “but” because it’ll put them on the defensive. Your goal is to let them know the impact of what they’ve said or done while giving them the benefit of the doubt regarding their intent. By saying you understand they couldn’t have possibly meant their words or actions to have that affect, you’re letting them save face.

3. Say, “It would help me out a lot if you’d do/say X next time. That way I’ll be able to do Y.” By stating the preferable actions, words and behaviors you’d like to see and saying why it’s important, you give them a constructive approach to get better outcomes. Too often we know we don’t like what someone is saying or doing, but we we fail to be specific about better behaviors. And that leaves people knowing they did something wrong but without an example of what to do differently.

IN SUMMARY

We’ve looked at examples of obnoxious behavior, reasons why people may do the things they do, and respectful strategies you can use with anyone, especially people in power. You can be assertive in a non-threatening way. And more importantly, you don’t have to ignore something that’s keeping you up at night. When we feel some control over circumstances, it can reduce our stress levels and improve our personal performance.

ADDITIONAL READING:

Stop Saying That’s Just the Way I Am

How to Recover When You Say Something Stupid

Does Your Difficult Boss Need a Jerk-o-Meter?

WOC 001: Author Mark Adams on Conflict [Podcast]

Mark Adams of Achievement Edge, LLC. is an expert in conflict management. He is the Colorado author of two books on conflict: Responsible Conflict and Courageous Conflict. In this episode, he tells us why most people hate conflict, how to engage in a constructive way with conflict resolution skills that apply at home or at work.

LISTEN TO AUDIO

Mark Adams Author on Conflict

IN THIS EPISODE YOU WILL LEARN:

  • How we all contribute to conflict situations
  • What confirmation bias means
  • Why a personal conflict style may be situational
  • How avoidance can erode trust
  • The story of The Two Monks
  • What surprises him most about how people cope with conflict
  • How to create responsible conflict
  • Socrates’ Three Tests to deal with gossip
  • That moral outrage is a result of low self-esteem
  • The importance of slowing down and listening

10 Things Top Communicators Do Differently – and you can too

Great communicators aren’t defined by whether they’re extroverts. They don’t have to have the gift of gab and be able to keep a non-stop patter going. But they do have one thing in common – they put effort into improving their interpersonal skills. It is important to them to build and maintain positive, constructive relationships and they do that through a focus on communication.

top 10 things good communicators do differently

The top 10 skills good communicators develop also include:

1. They are aspirational. They understand that what people need most is to be heard, appreciated and encouraged. Everything that comes out of their mouth or shows up in print is designed to make things better rather than tear events or people down. Since readers and listeners respond well to upbeat, optimistic news, they strive to focus on the good things as much as possible.

2. They ask questions. Too often, we believe people are stronger and more competent when they are directive, assertive and commanding in tone. But that can get old. The best communicators know how to strike a balance and ask more than they tell. Questions draw people out. They generate more and better information. And some studies show that leaders only get a small fraction of the information they need to effectively do their jobs.

3. They are sincerely interested in others. How do you take a sincere interest in others? (For some people this does not come naturally.) Back to #2 – you ask questions. You also make a point to remember key components of the person’s life, like what they do for a living, how many kids they have, whether they found a new place to live, etc. And you take the time to have a personal conversation with them now and then. We are usually “oh-so-busy” worrying about getting our own needs met that we often overlook the fact that we’re dealing with another human being. They deserve our attention too.

4. They avoid million dollar words. Nobody likes to feel dumb. So when we say “utilize” versus “use” or “compensate” versus “pay” we may think we’re flexing our language muscle. But we can come across like we’re putting on a show: Pretentious Language-itis. Let’s make communication easier for others. The fewer barriers we build, the smoother the process will go for everyone. 

5. They have a purpose. Good communicators have a goal for each interaction. It may be subtle, but it’s still there. The goal could be to make the other person feel more comfortable, understood or supported. The purpose might be to reach an agreement, make a decision, apologize. The more challenging the interaction, the more important it is to have that objective clearly defined, even if it’s just in your own mind. It’ll keep you on track and help you feel more confident.

6. They are consistent. People never have to wonder about who they are, what they stand for and how they’re going to behave. They don’t flip-flop. Change is not something they are afraid of, but they also realize that people like to know what they can count on. It’s important to them to give others a sense of security, knowing that uncertainty makes it hard to trust and can make communication difficult.

7. They are credible. They do what they say they’re going to do. They don’t lie through omission. People see them as an authority or resource. Credible communicators don’t inflate or overstate. If anything, they will under-promise and then over-deliver.

8. They see the big picture. They try to keep things in perspective. Good communicators don’t get wrapped around the axle over experiences that aren’t relevant to the bigger goal. They ask themselves, “What’s at risk?” and keep their eye on the ball. Roadblocks or speed bumps in life don’t slow them down from achieving what’s most important. 

9. They have a positive attitude. They are the epitome of Dr. Seligman’s learned optimism. They see bad things as temporary. They don’t apply negative events or experiences that impact one segment of their life to every segment. And they work to avoid taking things too personally by letting criticism roll off their back.

10. They listen with an appropriate style. Listening is the most important communication component. Good listeners are aware of the right style or approach that’s called for depending on the situation. The five listening styles are:

  • Appreciative: when someone is telling you a joke or a story.
  • Empathic: when people need understanding as they discuss a problem or concern.
  • Discerning: to gather complete information, like when you return from vacation and are debriefed on events that occurred in your absence.
  • Comprehensive: a big-picture approach where you’re trying to spot a trend or pattern, understand meaning or organize information.
  • Evaluative: to critique information, make a decision, decide if someone is right or wrong. (Source: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Personal Listening Assessment)

These are learned skills. Many of us must work on one or more of the above to improve our interpersonal communication. Don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you if they all don’t come naturally. It comes down to what you decide is most important at home, at work and in our community. Since organizations find that good communication skills lead to better relationships with customers, co-workers and constituents, isn’t it worth putting some effort into developing one or more of these traits? A little bit of focus is all it takes to move the needle and get noticeable results!

Read more about communication at:

How to Tell the Boss You Are Overwhelmed

How to Stop Them from Saying That’s Just the Way I Am

Non-verbal Communication and How Our Truck Almost Fell in the River

20 Things Everyone Should Know for a Happier Career, Business and Life

You will sleep better, live happier, get more dates and become more good-looking if you follow these 20 tips for career, business and life!

20 tips for happier career, business, life

1. Purchase your name as a domain name via Godaddy.com or BlueHost.com so no one else can take it. You don’t have to publish a blog or website when you purchase a domain name. It will cost you less than $15.00 a year and you never know when you will become famous, decide to write a book, or run for public office. You’ll be glad you secured your name in advance, especially if it’s a popular or common name.

2. Create a Master List of Accomplishments. This is a growing list where you record all the great things you’ve achieved in all the jobs you’ve ever held. Try to quantify your accomplishments if possible. You will find this list very handy when you need a psychological lift, when you are updating your resume or if your manager needs to be reminded of what you did all year long before they write your performance review. Segment the accomplishments into functional categories, like: communication, leadership, operations, crisis management, project management, budgeting, etc.

3. Write Thank You notes. Keep a variety of blank Thank You notes handy at home and at work and use them often. Handwritten notes are rare and people are always impressed when someone takes the time to send one. If you give them to employees, volunteers, donors or co-workers, you may find them posted in their office for all to see. It’s a tangible reminder they have been recognized for doing something worthwhile.

4. Read one book a month. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, reading will improve your knowledge base, your writing and your conversational skills. If your time is limited, as it is for most people, carve out just 15 minutes a day (perhaps before bed or at lunch) to work your way through it. Not sure what to read? Ask friends, co-workers or a manager for recommendations.

5. Make promises you intend to keep. Many of us try to be the good guy and promise to do much more than we are realistically able to deliver. You will raise your credibility in the eyes of others if you are discriminating in the things you agree to do. Delivering on your promises, especially if it’s earlier than expected, will enhance your reputation.

6. Make recommendations without being asked. Obviously, make sure you only do this for those you can endorse without hesitation. If your company doesn’t have a policy against it, post positive comments on LinkedIn under the Recommendations Section. Be specific. You will make someone’s day a whole lot brighter and you could help boost their career.

7. Put as much as possible in your retirement account. If your employer will match your contribution or put X amount into your account as long as you contribute X, take advantage of it! In most cases, these are pre-tax dollars you are investing, which makes them more valuable. The younger you start, the more your investment will grow so you don’t have to play catch-up when you get older. And just because you don’t plan to stay with one employer for a long time is no reason not to take advantage of this benefit while you work there.

8. Form professional relationships with all age groups. Everyone has something to offer and age is not a predictor of someone’s value. We can all learn something new from those who are younger or older than ourselves. Mix it up!

9. Floss your teeth. Experts say it’s one of the best ways to keep from losing teeth and to protect your heart. Establish a time when you can get this done. Can you do it while watching TV?    

10. Wear sunscreen. If you want to look years younger as you age, wear it every day regardless of whether it’s sunny outside or not. This is one of the best things I learned from a former supervisor. (She wondered if this was the only thing I learned from her!)

11. Give yourself credit. You may have a talent or possess knowledge you are keeping to yourself. You might be thinking, “There are so many others who know far more than I or seem to be more accomplished. How can I ever compete?” Right? This way of thinking is a trap. It’ll keep you from giving the gift that only you can offer. You know enough to be able to help others. You can provide some level of service or support. There are always people who will value your level of expertise. Don’t lock it away simply because you have competition. Dare to do it anyway!

12. Clear the debris. When our house burned down in a wildfire, I learned (through no choice of my own) the value of starting fresh. Sometimes too much clutter – on our desks, in our offices, on our schedules – can keep us from thinking clearly and being creative. It’s sometimes easier to start from scratch rather than work around something (or someone) we’re reluctant to part with.

13. Start a “Breadcrumbs Book”. This is different than a journal. It is a chronological list of events and significant changes that happen in your life. It’s meant to just capture the highlights. You will find it helpful when you want an “at a glance” look back at what’s happened to you and what you’ve accomplished.

14. Leave a job only after you’ve found a new one. You are perceived as more valuable and marketable if you are employed – at something. It may be tempting to walk away when things get rough, especially if you have a hefty savings account. But if you don’t have a choice, set up a consulting practice or small business to do in the interim. It shows continuous employment.

15. Maximize LinkedIn. This social media tool is one of the best career development resources and an efficient way to stay connected with others. Update your profile and reach out to those from your past. You don’t have to be in management or a professional position to gain from it. Friends, colleagues and acquaintances will be able to learn more about your background and experience, which may make it easier for them to refer you for opportunities of many types.

16. Create a Contact Card. This is a personal card with all your contact information. People transition from one job to another, so business cards may quickly become outdated. It would be a shame for people to lose track of you, so give the right people something with your personal email, cell phone number, LinkedIn profile address, Twitter handle, etc. on it.

17. Build in “buffer”. Based on the book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson, add some “wiggle room” into your daily schedule, financial plans and emotional commitments. Avoid living on the edge. Build in an extra 10 minutes between appointments, keep a reserve in your checking account, reduce the time spent with people who drain you. Adding “margin” to your life will reduce stress and improve your quality of life.

18. Create a household inventory. You never know when there might be an emergency or disaster where you will have to document everything you owned to get reimbursement from your insurance company. Don’t try to do this all in one day. Focus on one room at a time. Note brand names, quantity and dates you acquired each item. Take pictures of antiques and get them appraised. Make sure you have a rider on your policy for jewelry or other expensive items. Keep this inventory with your “to go” box or “bug out” bag along with a copy of your insurance policy. Take it from me, it is no fun to have to create an inventory from memory. 

19. Make an emergency contact list. Post the names and contact info of people to call should there be an emergency. The top of the list should be 911. Add an ICE (in case of emergency) contact into your cell phone.

20. When you hear an alarm – get out! It’s amazing how many people will stand around and wait for someone to give them permission to leave. More lives are lost when people don’t take emergency sirens seriously.

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Additional Reading:

3 Ways to Change to a Positive Attitude

3 Steps to Find Purpose in Work and Life

How to be a Change Agent

Shreddies Story – How Funny Marketing Surprised and Engaged Customers

Think it’s tough to turn your reputation around or create new positioning? It’s never too late. Consider what Post Cereals’ ad agency did to breathe new life into a 60 year old product and the customer experience.

Shreddies was a breakfast cereal made of wheat squares and sold in Great Britain, Canada and New Zealand. Lagging sales and customers who didn’t want the cereal changed inspired the company to put their creative team to work.

The solution? They turned the cereal 45 degrees and introduced new and improved Diamond Shreddies! Customers would now have a “choice”.

Shreddies Funny Marketing Campaign

The company held hidden camera taste tests where customers said the Diamond Shreddies have more flavor!

They even created a Combo Pack for those who couldn’t make up their mind…

creative marketing

…and invited customers to vote at diamondshreddies.ca for the shape they preferred. Fans created 55 Facebook Groups, videos (see below) went viral and sales shot up 18 points in the first month of the campaign.

All because somebody risked being whacky and let customers in on the joke.

Yet decision-makers could easily have argued, “Harrumph! Shreddies is an established cereal with dignity. Why, it’s a tradition in generations of households. Making fun of our product is just NOT done! Customers wouldn’t take us seriously.”

And that’s just the point. We can’t always take ourselves so seriously. We should be able to:

1. Poke fun at ourselves once in a while. (Read a story where I did that) 

2. Use humor to combat unwarranted, bad reviews. While we don’t want to be disrespectful, there are times when customer requests are so bizarre, they just beg for a humorous response.

3. Overcome a reputation problem or disarm criticism. There are politicians who are very good at this.

4. Strengthen your brand (personal or professional). People with a good sense of humor tend to sleep better, get more promotions, the last piece of dessert and more dates.

5. Humanize a product, program or leadership team. Think of the company picnic dunk tank, employee baby picture contest, “Get Lucky” Trivago commercial or Geico gecko. (Did you know he’s written a book titled, You’re Only Human?)

People want a little levity in their lives, especially during these troubled times. We love humor! It surprises us, lightens our mood and helps us think more creatively. It can make us feel like we’re all in it together.

Read more about the Shreddies story.