Monday, January 31, 2011

Position yourself for Promotion

It's not enough to be the best at what you do; you must be perceived as the only one who does what you do.        Jerry Garcia

I work quite often with clients of various outplacement agencies.  I also help coach people who are actively looking for work.  The one thing that I consistently hear is that the 'competition is fierce out there'.  This is a lesson they are experiencing now and learning how to combat, learning how to position themselves more favourably in this competitive environment.  However, what about those of you that aren't looking, that currently have a job?

In today's marketplace you can't afford to be complacent.  You need to be actively and consciously managing your career.  Your boss is far too busy to do it for you.  You want that next project to manage?  You want the 'big' promotion?  Take a lesson from big corporations and begin to think strategically about how you are positioning yourself relative to your competition.

You're likely not alone in your desire and bid for 'more'.  The person standing next to you in the coffee line wants that new project or role too.  How then are you going to ensure that you are seen clearly as a contendor?  One strategy of self-marketing is to learn to differentiate yourself from the competition, to ensure that you stand out from the crowd.  Follow the exercise below to determine how you might best serve yourself and your career by taking a closer look at those you are competing against.

The Work:

1.  Determine who your competition is.  Before you can build any strategies you need to be clear on exactly who you are likely to be competing against for the next big opportunity.  Then... create a list of everything you know about them.  Their background, experience, skills, strengths and weaknesses.  Really take the time to get to know your competition.  Start with what you know and then access other resources to find out more.  Don't forget to 'google' them, and don't overlook checking out the various social media sites.

2.  Compare and Contrast.  Compare your skills and strengths against theirs.  The easiest way is to create a chart.  This allows you to view a number of competitors simultaneously.  In conducting your comparison, pay close attention to three things..
  • What do they do well?
  • What do they 'have' that you do not?
  • Where do they fall short, relative to you? 
3.  Review.  Using your chart and your responses to the questions above as a guide.  Consider what your key differentiators are.  What do you bring to the table that they don't.  You now know enough about the competition to determine how you stand out - or could - in the perceptions of your market. 

4.  Take Action.  Develop actionable strategies for promoting and positioning yourself based on these differentiators.  How are you going to get this message across to others?  What behaviours do you need to engage in to highlight and demonstrate these differentiators?  What values support them? 

5.  Be Proactive.  Don't fail to overlook any distinctive gaps that may exist between you and the competition, what they have that you are missing.  The first step is certainly to focus on your differentiators, to ensure that you stand out from the crowd.  But... longer term...  work to fill in any gaps in your background and experience.  Doing so eliminates their potential differentiators, ensuring that you are the only person at the table representing 'more'.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Re-learning the value of Awesome!

Just a small little post today, in an effort for us to start off this year remembering to give thanks to many of the small, seemingly inconsequentially positive things that might happen to us over the course of our day.  It's all too easy to find the negative, or to have others point it out for you should you have missed it (god forbid!), but it's often difficult to recognise the small moments, those fleeting, tiny, positive moments that can make life so sweet and put us back in touch with ourselves and what really matters

This is the basis for Neil Pasricha's award-winning website and the associated bestseller - The Book of Awesome.  In an effort to refocus himself during some difficult times in his life, Neil began his Awesome blog... simply to remind himself to be more mindful of the good things he had in his life, rather than only focusing on the bad.  His posts resonated with readers and went viral!  Why do we celebrate only the big positive moments in our lives, rather than celebrating all of the small, feel-good moments we experience?  Failing to do so means that they often slip by us without an impact, not awakening us to the myriad number of moments in our day that we could be experiencing some joy.

Awaken your inner 3-year old, the part of you that felt joy and wonder in experiencing things for the first time.  Let your heart lead you.

The Work:

Create an ongoing Awesome List of your own.  At the end of each day add to it at least one new moment you experienced that day that brought you some joy.   Remember... they needn't be huge, but they do need to be heartfelt.  You may find it difficult to start but will likely get better at recognising these moments each day and may be hard pressed not to jot down a number of them each day.

Some of my recent moments?
  • the sigh of pleasure in taking my first sip of  Chai latte each morning.  Heaven!
  • the first night sleeping in clean, crisp new sheets
  • the purity of looking out at fresh, newly fallen snow - before anyone has walked on it - as it blankets the lawns and roads, coats the trees.  It makes even the drabbest of views look cleansed and magical
  • the smell of a freshly sharpened pencil (yep, likely this is just a 'me' thing, but I love the smell and prefer regular old pencils to mechanical ones just for this moment!)
  • the unmitigated pleasure of eating... Jello.  Sucking it off the spoon through your lips, squirting it through your teeth, rolling it on your tongue.  Instant childhood!
  • the moment when someone stops their car to create a break in traffic for me to cross the road to the park with my dog in the morning, rather than leaving me to stand there forever waiting to get across.  I love this person!
  • that very first moment when the seat warmer in my car kicks into gear, taking the chill out of my leather seats.  Blesses upon the person who first thought of installing this into cars.  Indebted forever to you!
What's your list?  Don't hesitate to put down anything that comes to mind, that makes you more appreciative of who you are, what you have, what you do... that makes your life special and... well... Awesome!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Women in Business: We're a 'Sorry' Lot!

John arrives 10 minutes late for a meeting. He enters the room, quietly finds a seat and sits down.

Carol arrives a minute later, entering the room saying..."I'm sorry that I'm late. We woke up this morning to find that a water pipe had burst during the night... It was a mad scramble to get things under control, arrange for a plumber, get the kids off to school... All without water. Plus, traffic was worse since I left later than usual."

Women have a strong tendency to over-apologize. Not only do they apologize more than men do, they are much more detailed and verbal in their apologies, drawing more attention to the apology and the moment. In doing so, it will appear that the woman has more to be sorry for and will therefore receive more blame than do their male counterparts.

A recent study, conducted in 2010 by the University of Waterloo, found that men are just as willing as women to apologize for something they have done wrong. However, they feel that they have done something wrong far less often than do women, therefore apologizing far less. Additionally, women tend to use 'I'm sorry' to convey multiple meanings. It could...

  • Be used to express sympathy... I'm sorry for your loss...
  • Show empathy... I'm so sorry to hear that...
  • Soften a direct order... I'm sorry, but you'll need to redo this...
  • Be used in place of excuse me... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bump into you...

Men tend to take apologies at face value, assuming that if someone is apologizing then they have done something wrong. Why is this important for the workplace? If men think that you apologize only when you have done something wrong, then every time they hear a woman say 'sorry' they will assign fault to her. Their assumption... If she's sorry she must have done something wrong.
This seemingly small ritualistic use of the word sorry can then significantly impact a woman's brand and others' perception of her.

The Work:

Pay attention to just how often you use the phrase 'I'm sorry'.  Consider if you were truly apologising for something and, if not, think of what you could have said instead.  There will always be an appropriate, alternative way of saying what you had intended, one that does not carry any unintended blame with it.  Try these different alternatives on for size, becoming more familiar and comfortable with them to ensure they come more readily to mind for the times and moments they are needed. 

In the meantime, should you find yourself being driven crazy by how often you say I'm sorry, well... for that... I'm sorry!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Success Strategy - Applying Pareto's Principle

You have likely heard of Pareto's Principle, also referred to as the 80/20 rule...  which states that roughly 80% of the effects are derived from 20% of the causes.  The principle is named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who, in 1906, determined that roughly 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the population, that 80% of the peas in his garden were produced by 20% of his plants.  In business, most widely accept that 80% of their sales come from 20% of their customers.  However, how does this relate to us and our potential success?

Consider the following... 

Many of us would love to be able to speak a second language, if not a third or fourth.  However, it may often seem like a huge challenge, requiring years of effort to achieve.  However, to be conversationally fluent in Spanish you would need to have a vocabulary of 2,500 of the high-frequency words.  With these 2,500 words you would be able to understand 95% of all conversations.  In order to get 98% comprehension, you would need roughly 5 years of study and tens of thousands of new words added to those core 2,500.    To obtain 95% comprehension though, you would only need approximately 5 months of study. 
  • 5 months of study for 95% comprehension
  • 5 years of study for 98% comprehension
If you want to pick up the basics of a foreign language, which method would you want to invest in?  2,500 words represents only 2.5% of all Spanish words.  Therefore knowing only 2.5% of the total subject matter produces 95% of your desired results.  This is the Pareto Principle.

Now consider this in light of the previous post in which we talked about the concept of  'good enough' as it relates to your potential success.  How much effort and input is truly required for me to reap the benefits and rewards that I want and need?  This is the key question we rarely take the time to ask ourselves and, as a result, end up either expending too much time and effort relative to the results achieved, or we fail to take action at all, believing ourselves unable (or unwilling) to invest the effort we believe is required.

Certainly there is a significant difference in the perceived effort required to learn Spanish between 5 months and 5 years.  One's interest and commitment level certainly would need to be high to invest 5 years of study.  The biggest barrier most clients erect to their taking action on a desired goal is the 'lack of time'.  We only have so much time available to us each day, week and month with multiple demands for its use.  All too often we look only toward increasing our time management skills through the use of more efficient 'systems' for organizing our activities.  Instead, I invite you to be more strategic in the application of your time in the first place. 

The Work:

  1. If 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts - you had better be very clear about what that 20% represents and ensure that your better-than-average efforts go here.  For other areas apply the 'good-enough' principle!  Less effort in these areas will not diminish your net results, in which case extra effort is a useless expenditure.
  2. In any task consider which efforts contribute toward the final desired results.  These are your core energy expenditures.  Any other activities should be minimized, if not eliminated.
  3. Consider also what your true end-goal is.  We have the number 100% imprinted in our heads...  we feel that we must do everything to 100%.  However, it is not only not always a realistic goal, it is often not practical.  If our goal is to be functionally bi-lingual in Spanish, then it does not require 100% comprehension.  5 months of study, netting us 95% comprehension is enough to have us up and running.  Additional time and effort is required to take us to 100% but in no way is it needed for us to be successful.  This extra time up front can save you significant time in the long run and have you enjoying your successes much sooner.
  4. Adopt a selfish attitude when it comes to your time.  Your time is finite.  All too often we act and behave in ways that would indicate that our time is infinite and unimportant.  However, it is a central component to our own success and needs to be treated as such.  Therefore, ensure that you are not spending 80% of your time working to enhance someone else's success instead of your own.  You need a clear vision of what you want to achieve and what actions are necessary to get there.  80% of your time (minimum) needs to be spent fulfilling these objectives.
As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few.  The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Focus on Success, not Perfection

Let's start off the New Year with the intention to be more successful, NOT to be perfect.  Often it's the bid to be 'perfect' that creates the vision of the unachievable, an unobtainable goal that limits our success.  Focusing instead on being more successful allows for even small achievements to count, each of which, when combined with other small gains, may serve to move us forward exponentially.

Making a conscious effort to be 'perfect' in everything we do can serve to delay, if not deter, us from achieving.  The ideal of perfection is a near impossible standard to meet, considering we will almost always believe that we could have given or done more, if allotted more time, money, support, resources, education, etc.  Who wouldn't agree that they couldn't have done 1% more? 

That 1% is enough to keep you from earning the 'Perfect' title!  It's enough to label your accomplishments 'less than perfect', if only to yourself.  Many will find that they hesitate to take action, or even to try a new activity, when they know that their first efforts will likely fall short of that perfect mark. Thus, they have lost before they start.  Not trying prevents them from learning and developing new skills, from moving forward through achieving even small wins and successes.

Airplanes are constantly flying ín error, having to readjust their heading constantly, to enable them to get where they want to go.  In essence, they take action (set their direction), readjust their heading and take a new action (by setting a new heading), readjust.  These continuous course corrections are needed to keep the plane moving in its desired direction.  Effective and successful?  Yes.  Perfect?  Hardly.

How many times have you seen someone receive accolades for a project that you felt fell short of your mark, your standards?  Was it perfect?  No.  Was it 'good enough'?  Judging by the feedback of others, absolutely.  Take a moment to think about what 'good enough' bought them.
  • Likely the same recognition, rewards and reputation boost that you received from your last 'perfect' project
  • Less time spent on the completion of this current assignment that they were able to spend on completing other projects, or to focus on themselves, their family, their friends
  • Less stress,given they were not agonizing over the need to be perfect or to having to hand something over that they felt was less than perfect
  • They felt good about what they accomplished and were able to celebrate its 'successful' completion, rather than stressing over the elements they couldn't get to due to budget or time constraints.
In essence, letting go of the need for perfection frees you mentally, physically and emotionally... freeing you to accomplish more, to be and feel more successful.

The Work:

1.  At the beginning of a new project, take a look at the goals and milestones you have established and define 'levels' of performance.  If you have perfectionistic tendencies, you likely have already identified the 'ideal' for each milestone.  Add to it defined performance levels that aren't perfect but that are sufficient to meet the needs and expectations of others.  In essence, create a vision of the 'good enoughs'.

Establishing this 'good enough' level up front gives you a clear and okay fallback position for when time, money, people and life intervenes and makes the ideal a seemingly unobtainable goal.  Setting that fallback position upfront gives you the permission to use it when required.  Creating it later will always leave you feeling like you've failed.

2.  Some clients find it helpful to view performance standards through someone else's eyes, using someone else's yardstick instead of their own perfectionistic one.  You might use someone else's views to help you establish the 'good enough' mark, while your standards might establish the 'íf time permits' level of performance.  If you find that you are uncomfortable with a 'good enough' goal that someone else establishes, then use it as a minimum level of achievement and set levels of performance in staged levels of achievement beyond this point.  Good enough plus 10%, good enough plus 20%...  You might then discover that you can feel pretty good at letting go of a project at 'good enough plus 15%', giving you a lot more flexibility than always having to achieve 50% more than everyone else in your bid to be perfect.  What could you do with the gift of time that 35% represents? 

This isn't settling folks, it's called being strategic.  If putting an additional 35% of effort into something will not net you at least 35% more in gains, you are wasting your effort... which likely could net you additional gains by being applied elsewhere. Your time and effort are not limitless commodities.  Learning to assign your efforts and time appropriately is what effective time management and ultimately, your success, is dependent upon. Our mantra for the New Year then?  Success through Imperfection!