What If Your Boss Does Not Invest Time Mentoring You?

If your boss does not invest time in mentoring you, you must take charge of your own success and development. Begin by articulating a vision for your future. Be clear about your values, commitments, passions, goals and aspirations. Don’t merely think about these things. Write them down. The discipline of expressing these ideas in writing is challenging, and it can be frustrating, but it leads to clarity. That foundation then acts as your true north, providing you with a basis for making sound decisions and having high quality conversations with people who can contribute to your success.

Once you have this foundation, use it to seek input from others. If your boss is unavailable, identify other people whose advice might be helpful. Start by asking them for a brief meeting to get their input, perhaps at a nearby coffee shop. Give them your foundation document, and come prepared with a few questions. For instance, ask them what books they’d recommend. Take notes on what they say. Write a brief thank you note, mentioning at least one specific piece of advice.

Depending on your learning style, identify courses, seminars or books that can help you add to your professional knowledge. Join at least one professional association relevant to your career goals. Subscribe to a couple of publications relevant to your career.

Even if your boss is not going to be your mentor, you want to have a great relationship with him and you want his support. Make sure you know what your boss’s goals are, then make your boss’s priorities your own. Clarify his expectations of you and make sure you exceed those expectations.

Finally, I recognize that reporting to a boss who makes time to mentor you might be very important for you. If so, and if you’re not getting this from your boss, you should consider finding a new boss. This might involve seeking a transfer within your current organization, or it might require you to move to a new organization.

The proactive steps mentioned above will empower you to take charge of your own success and development.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

What Does It Mean To Be Successful?

Wow! This is a challenging and nuanced philosophical question. The answer will be profoundly personal and therefore different for each individual. Moreover, as we gain wisdom, as our perspective evolves, the answer might well change. So we’re all well advised periodically to reflect on this question. The struggle to find the answer will likely generate more value than the answer itself.

You might find it helpful to think about success in the context of the various roles you inhabit, for instance: leader, parent, friend, significant other, community member, etc. You don’t need to focus on all roles. Just pick the ones you wish to think about.

Here are some questions to stimulate your thinking.

  • What kind of person do I want to be?
  • What’s important to me?
  • In my heart-of-hearts what do I value most?
  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • What do I stand for?
  • What example do I want to set?
  • What values do I want to embody?
  • What positive difference do I want to make in the world?
  • What do I want people to say about me at my funeral?
  • In terms of the time I invest in various activities, what’s the ideal balance for me?
  • What do I want my legacy to be?

If you devote your life to a cause you deem worthy, but you don’t achieve your goals, are you a success? If you achieve your goals, but were dishonest in your approach, are you a success? If your art isn’t appreciated during your lifetime, are you a success? The answers are up to you and only you.

We’re always in the process of becoming. Are you doing what you wish to be doing? Are you becoming the person you wish to become? If so, I’d say you’re on the path that’s right for you. In my book, that’s success.

Thanks to my friend Cydney Koukol for suggesting this topic.

And thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Do You Individualize Your Coaching Practices?

Many leaders used to do the job of the people they’re coaching. And those leaders often were very successful in that job, and they’ve developed the belief that they know THE way to achieve success. Many sales training programs are based on this sort of belief. The limitation of this belief is that trainer or coach is unaware of her own talent. It doesn’t occur to her that others might not be capable of demonstrating the behaviors she’s recommending.

If you’re coaching someone, in any position, remember this: just because you were (or are) capable of doing something, that doesn’t mean that the person you’re coaching possesses those same capabilities. Of course there are some behaviors you can teach. But leaders routinely overestimate their ability to help others demonstrate behaviors that are not aligned with their aptitudes or character traits. Here are some examples. Maybe you’re comfortable with confrontation and he (the coachee) simply is not. Maybe you’re extroverted and he’s introverted. Maybe you have an eye for detail and he simply doesn’t. Or maybe you’re remarkably well organized and he’s not.

Great coaches begin by understanding the individual strengths of each person, and they implement the following principle, which is attributed to Peter Drucker: Build the strengths and make the weaknesses irrelevant.

Don’t worry so much about how you did it. Each person creates success by using his or her unique configuration of strengths. As a coach, you must understand that there are many paths to success. If you want to be a great coach, you must grow beyond helping others understand how you achieved success. You must help them figure out how they are going to achieve success.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Will talent management practices create morale issues for employees who are not identified as talented?

This very intriguing question was posted by ANOOPA NARAYANAN, PhD scholar at Cochin University of Science and Technology. I think the answer is, “Yes.” Some talent management practices will create morale issues for some employees. My question is: What should we do about it? As usual, I don’t believe I have THE answer, but here are my thoughts.

I’m going to assume that Ms. Narayanan is referring to a situation in which a select group of employees has been identified as “high potential”, and are enrolled in a program designed to develop future leaders for the organization. Undoubtedly, there is a group of employees who wanted to be selected for that program but were not. In the moment, they’re going to be disappointed, and their morale will suffer.

First, I encourage us all to avoid the thinking (and the statements) that these employees are not talented. I use the word “talent” as a synonym for “aptitude” or “giftedness”. To have a talent for something is to have the potential for excellence in that thing. Often, we label someone as “not talented” because they are in the wrong fit for the gifts they’ve been given. Different careers require different aptitudes. So someone might be enrolled in a culinary arts program, but he or she lacks the aptitude to become a chef. Teachers in the program might say that person is not talented, but really they should say that person is not a talented culinarian. Maybe he has plenty of gifts, but they align with a different career.

I know an individual whose father insisted that he become an executive in the family business. But unfortunately leadership was not his talent. This person was a very talented photographer who was not allowed to pursue that as a career. I assure you, his morale was not good. That’s what happens when you put someone in a job that’s not a good fit.

Earlier in my career I had a top sales rep who wanted to become a sales manager. Upon considering him for that role, we concluded that his talent was selling, not managing people. So we declined the promotion.

Let’s assume we were correct about his lack of potential to be a good manager. What would be the consequences of putting him in that role? First, if he’s not a good manager, the morale of his direct reports will suffer. The performance of his team will suffer. He’ll be under constant stress trying to perform with excellence in a role for which he is not a good fit. That kind of stress contributes to serious health problems and burn out.

His morale did suffer, by the way, when he didn’t get the sales manager job. I tried to retain him, but he found a sales manager job with another organization. I still sleep well about that because giving him the job would have had worse consequences for our organization and for him.

We can mitigate some morale issues if we understand each employee’s talent and ask, “What’s the best fit for someone with those gifts?” Once we understand someone’s talent we have a better chance of putting her in a role where she spends the majority of her time doing things she’s good at and enjoys. When we can put someone in a job that’s the right fit, we’ve created a platform where she can add the most value to the organization, and where she can thrive and grow.

We must provide growth opportunities that go beyond traditional hierarchical promotions. In academia, for instance, individuals can continue to earn degrees that bring them increased status and respect, even though they don’t supervise anyone. Many trades and professions provide similar possibilities for people. We’d all be well served to create additional growth possibilities for our employees so that hierarchical promotions are not their only option.
If we’ve properly identified high potential employees, it makes sense to invest in their growth and development. We have to accept that this will cause some morale problems for those who were not selected. Some might leave. That’s a cost of the program.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Great Take Aways From GPTW 2014

I had the good fortune to attend the Great Place To Work (GPTW) Small and Medium Business Conference in Washington, D.C.. To see this year’s top fifty companies to work for, go to the Fortune Website by clicking here. The purpose of this post is to share some valuable takeaways. I could not attend every breakout session, but I can share lessons learned from the sessions I did attend.

Lori Perlstadt, U.S Managing Director, GPTW
Ms. Perlstadt helped us know that GPTW’s research shows that creating a great place to work is all about relationships, and she identified five key cultural elements:

  • Trust
  • Pride in one’s work and the organization’s work
  • Employees enjoy the people they work with
  • Great communication
  • Transparency

Organizations that continuously improve in these five elements will become better places to work.

Maria Proestou, President & CEO, DELTA Resources, Inc.
Ms. Proestou focused on workplace flexibility — enabling employees to work flexible schedules. In her organization a strong results orientation provides the foundation for flexible schedules. If an employee delivers the results for which he or she is accountable, then that employee is given a great deal of latitude about where and when he or she works. DELTA establishes detailed metrics to measure every important aspect of the deliverables so there is transparency about the employee’s success in fulfilling his or her responsibilities. Each employee is considered a special case, and the company goes to great lengths to create a flexible work plan that suites that employee’s unique situation.

This strategy increases customer satisfaction, increases employee satisfaction and loyalty, and reduces costs.

Marisa Stoltzfus, Senior Consultant at GPTW
Ms. Stoltzfus began her presentation by identifying some cultural commonalities among the top fifty companies:

  • Building a trusting work environment
  • Inclusiveness
  • Accessible leaders
  • Exemplary hiring practices
  • Fostering a fun work environment
  • Frequent celebrations of successes
  • Transparency
  • Fairness
  • Sincerely caring about employees as people

Any company that achieves excellence in these areas will be a great place to work. If you create intentional strategies to improve in even one or two of these areas, you’ll be a better organization.

Joe Chinn, Assistant City Manager, City of Rancho Cordova
Stacey Peterson, Chief People Officer, City of Rancho Cordova

The City of Rancho Cordova was the only government organization included in the top fifty best places to work. Mr. Chinn, and Ms. Peterson live the following principle: purpose moves people. They organize their employees and their work efforts around their mission. In addition, they emphasize empowerment. City employees are (astonishingly!) empowered to solve problems and respond to citizen needs immediately, which often eliminates red tape and significantly improves customer satisfaction. Their culture encourages creativity and innovation, and leaders make it safe for employees to try new approaches, understanding that not all of them will work. Furthermore, they encourage fun in the workplace through a variety of tactics.

Organizing around mission, empowering employees, making it safe to try creative, new approaches, and fostering fun will make any organization a better place to work.

Carrie Dieterle — Chief People Officer, Insomniac Games
Ms. Dieterle shared many great ideas about thriving in an environment of constant change. Here are just a few that resonated with me. She emphasized trust and transparency, two recurring themes in this conference. To improve in both areas, the CEO asks each employee about their ideas to improve the company. And he issues a communication called, “Daily Decisions” (Carrie, please forgive me if I didn’t get the name precisely right) to create a high level of transparency. Just one more idea I find powerful. Insomniac Games is very intentional about understanding each person’s passions and giving assignments and responsibilities that allow each person to tap into their passions.

Improving our efforts to solicit ideas from employees, to be more transparent about decisions, and getting better at enabling each employee to express his or her passions through their work will make any organization a better place to work.

Eric Mosely, CEO, Globoforce
Mr. Mosely emphasized the power of innovation, recognition, culture, relationships and trust. Again, we can see some recurring themes here. To foster innovation, his company conducts innovation days, which include a wonderful aspect of transparency. At one point in their process, certain employee ideas become finalists and senior leadership debates the merits of these ideas, with an open phone line so that all employees can listen to these conversations. That, ladies and gentlemen, is transparency. Globoforce is also world class at crowdsourcing recognition in their world-wide organization (that’s what they do for a living). Recognition awards account for a full five percent of their annual payroll.

Are we giving enough recognition? Is it the right kind of recognition? Is it timely? Improving recognition programs increases both performance and engagement. What not to like?

The ideas highlighted in the post represent only a fraction of the great ideas presented at the conference. You can find even more by clicking on the Fortune Website.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear what you do to make your organization a great place to work.

Larry Sternberg

How Can The Eisenhower Decision Matrix Help You Reduce Time Stress?

Time management is getting more and more difficult, because attention management is getting more  difficult, because more things  demand our attention, which eats up our time. The principles and practices of effective time management are well known, but people still seem to suffer from stress related to not having enough time. The purpose of this post is to serve as a reminder.

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower  classified tasks into four categories, which are often represented by a four box matrix:

1. Urgent and important                                                                    2. Not urgent, but important

3. Urgent, but not important                                                             4. Not urgent or important

I’m terrible with formatting, so please forgive the poor visual above. I couldn’t figure out how to do boxes. Imagine each numbered item is in a box and we can proceed.

Many readers will have seen this before. It’s easy to get stuck in quadrants 1 & 3. How often to you find yourself in these quadrants? They can suck up almost all your attention and time, leaving precious little time for items in quadrant 2. Quadrant 2 is the tough one. The well known solution is to proactively schedule time for items in quadrant two. Don’t just have a generalized intention to devote time to these things. Put them on your calendar. Do it every week.

Effective use of this matrix requires you to clearly articulate your values. Otherwise, how can you decide what’s important? Notice that the act of articulating your values is a quadrant 2 item 🙂 Ideally, you should set goals only after you’ve articulate your values.

In setting goals, your time horizon plays a major role in determining what quadrant a particular activity falls into. If you only set goals for this quarter, you’ll make certain decisions about what to work on this week. If you set goals for 10 years from now you’ll probably make different decisions about what to work on this week.

The effective use of the Eisenhower matrix requires that you articulate your values, set goals based on those values, and schedule time for quadrant 2 activities. The more distant your time horizon, the better decisions you’ll make.

You must accept the fact that in these times you cannot get everything done. You just can’t. But you can reduce the time stress by knowing that the things you spent time on were more important than the other things vying for your attention. I think that’s the best any of us can do.

Thanks for reading. As always, I appreciate your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg


How Do You Find A Mentor?

Oh my goodness. This is a really tough question. It’s a question about relationships. How do you find a best friend? How do you find a life partner? How do you find a mentor? I wish I had an easy answer, or frankly any answer that would work consistently. A mentor is someone for whom you’re significant, who believes in you, who likes you as a person, who enjoys spending time with you, who enjoys helping you grow, both personally and professionally, who is loyal, and who will extend herself to help you succeed. Many more descriptors can be added to that list. But the topic of this post is not, “What is a mentor?” The topic is, “How the heck do you find one?”

Even though we’re not going to find the answer, it’s important to struggle with the question. So here are my thoughts. First, it’s important to know who you are, what kind of person you think your ideal mentor would be, and what you want to get out of a mentoring relationship. You can readily see that the answers to these questions will be different for every person, and therefore the descriptors of your ideal mentor are unique to you. It’s much easier to find something if you know what you’re looking for. Answering those questions will give you a start.

Next, I encourage you to think about how you formed relationships with other important people in your life. How did you meet your best friends? Your significant other? What were you doing at the time? What were your initial attractions? Why did you both decide you wanted to spend more time with each other?  Answering those questions might well provide some valuable insight.

Next, I encourage you to participate in professional associations where you increase the odds of meeting people who share your professional interests and who might also be willing to share their knowledge, experience and wisdom. Community service groups also provide worthwhile opportunities.

Next, understand that your mentor might not initiate. You might have to ask the person on a first date. If you have (or have had) a significant other, think about how you started the relationship. Whether you hooked up or just had a beer, you probably didn’t jump into a discussion about a long-term relationship. You probably just decided whether you wanted to see each other again.

If you meet someone you think might be mentor material, don’t immediately discuss a mentoring relationship. Just ask them out. Have a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a corn dog. Get to know each other. See where it goes. Maybe a mentoring relationship will develop over time. But remember, this really is very much like dating. If you don’t ask, you’re done. The possibility will pass you by.

Thanks to Matt Ream for suggesting this topic.

And thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg