The Secret to Amping Up Your Productivity

A few years ago, when I was working in an office setting, I wrote a blog post about amping up productivity.  In hindsight, it’s not bad. But, having grown a little and experienced several different types of work environments since then, I’d tweak my suggestions a bit.  Back then, in the corporate workplace, I was noticing that every person I talked with said they were busy.  People were busy on projects, busy on phone calls, busy answering email and busy in meetings.  I gave this advice:

  • Successful leaders delegate.  Early in my career, a boss told me that in order to be promoted AND be successful I would need to delegate to my team.  Delegation is not just a way to pass along those work tasks we do not want to do.  Delegation is a way to  give tasks to the employee most adept at doing them and to whom it makes sense in the grand scheme of their work.  Delegation can be a way to teach staff who are developing their skills.
  • Focus on a message.  I once heard a speaker tell an audience to write the most important, immediate goal on a Post It note and display it on your computer monitor, or somewhere visible on your desk.  I’ve tried this and it really works.  Any time I got sidetracked in “busy work”, I would see that small reminder and it focused my attention.
  • Push back on false deadlines.  Numerous times a day people come at you with requests to do something.  Everyone has a deadline.  Most people say “yes”, then complain to colleagues that they are too buried to do the task.  When someone asks you to do something for them, negotiate your own deadline.  Speak up if you need to tell them how you prioritize the task compared to other things you have on your plate.  You’ll be surprised how many people build in cushion when they ask someone to help them.
  • Know that not all valuable work happens in front of your computer. This sounds crazy in today’s world, but it’s critical in order to have blocks of time where you can focus on a project.  If you are in front of the screen, you are tempted to answer email.  Find a conference room, chair on another floor, or space outside to get away for 30 minutes or an hour each day to focus .  Another option is to turn off the computer and hit “send calls” and remain in your office.

Now, for many people, these four tips are still valid.  Working smarter, and being productive, doesn’t happen by drinking a special potion.  I wish it was that easy!  What I missed in my earlier post is that we CHOOSE to be busy.  We choose to overload on tasks and to accept work that is not value added to the organization.  Today, in 2017, I would change the focus of how to actually be more productive at work.  It’s by actually choosing to do less work, thinking more, and finding creative ways to do it. 

The real action is not in the small tasks that we take to be more productive.  In fact, it’s really a question of whether each of us WANTS to be more productive.  Maybe we don’t.  The action is in the decision of whether we believe in our company enough to want to be engaged in the successful outcomes.  If we do, then taking steps to higher productivity become second nature.  If we don’t, then we’re making that choice of disengagement.

What do you choose?

 

Independence, Dependence and the Future of Work

Steve Boese and I recorded a new episode of HR Happy Hour that focused on a hot topic in the HR world- the difference between Independent Contractors and employees.  It then evolved into a full discussion on how the future mix of contractors will impact not only HR, but Talent Acquisition and the organization in general.  Be sure to check out episode #218 HERE, or using the widget player below:

Check Out Business Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Steve Boese Trish McFarlane on BlogTalkRadio

 

This was a really fun and lively conversation and we hope you enjoy the show!  Many thanks to our friends at Equifax Workforce Solutions for sponsoring us.  If you haven’t checked out what they are up to, please be sure to click through.

The discussion  Steve and I had reminded me of a post I wrote several years ago about the difference of being independent and dependent in general.  I think it still applies today, and maybe even to a greater degree than it did then.
 
“Independence means rebellion, risk, tenacity, innovation, and resistance to convention.”

revolution-global-voicesI first heard this quote during a conversation with Steve Boese.  He was reading the book ‘Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture‘ and it struck him as a meaningful quote.  Since then, he has written about it on his blog and even had the author, Kaya Oakes, on the HR Happy Hour show to talk more about independent thinking and indie culture.  What’s interesting is that the quote keeps rolling around in my head and coming back to me.

Why?  Because as much as I like to think I’m independent, I believe that as humans, we gravitate to being dependent.  It’s our natural state of being.  Although, it seems as if admitting that you are dependent is equivalent to career suicide.  However, as long as I can be influential in a positive way while still feeling support, I’m content depending on other people.  If I can be persuasive and respected while collaborating and my voice is still heard, I’m ok with dependence.

Dependence CAN be a positive experience.

It’s that feeling of being cared for or knowing that someone has your back.  The best teams are built off this interdependence as a core value.  It’s the way I feel when you read this blog.  Regardless if you agree or disagree with something I write, I still feel your support and I am in a dependent relationship with you.

Dependence is ultimately what drives business.  It’s being able to work together to meet someone else’s needs.  It’s the backbone of the economy.  So, why is it so attractive to tell someone that you are independent? Here are a couple reasons:

  • It’s the “cool” thing to do- Who doesn’t want to claim that they are part of the indie culture in their industry.  There are times when we feel like breaking out on our own is the ultimate way to be cool.  We can do our own thing, make all our own decisions, take greater risks, and ultimately, not have to rely on anyone else to make things happen.
  • It feels fluid– Being able to be agile and go with the flow more quickly is an appealing model for many of us.  However, with that also comes great risk that a majority of businesses that we deal with have bureaucracy that prevents or hinders their agility, thus affecting ours to some degree if we are their vendor.
  • Entrepreneurial spirit– Like many of the founding forefathers in US history, being able to have the ability to be independent and start out on a new course, over uncharted ground, is exciting.  That spirit is appealing.

I argue that at the end of the day, even the most independent person is still predominantly reliant on others whether that be as customers, as those that provide financial funding, or those people in your circle that act as your advisory board.

What do you think?  Is it ever really possible to be independent?  Or, it is the spirit that initially drives certain people who then ultimately become dependent like the rest of us?  Weigh in over in the comments section.

Do Features Trump Attitudes in Workplace Mobility?

chairMy son is winding down his baseball season.  Baseball at the 11U level can be energizing, invigorating, heart-breaking and flat out tiring.  As a parent, you trek far and wide with a car load of 11 year old boys all talking a mile a minute.  They talk about the team they are about to face, the latest Pokemon cards traded or the most recent conquest in Call of Duty.  It’s a dusty, dirty, sweaty mess of boys and I love every second of it.

One of the reasons I enjoy it is that I have the perfect folding chair.  Now stay with me for a moment…I know that little league baseball, folding chairs and business may not seem to have a direct link, but I believe they do.  You see, I spend a lot of time watching games and sitting, so the chair is important.  Not only is it a place to put my body, it’s turned into a whole functional experience that is fully accessorized for each occasion.

The chair I have is from Gander Mountain and it is more than a chair and the traditional cup holder.  In fact, it has a full cooler that drops down and loads of pockets so that I can stock it with drinks, snacks and all my electronic gadgets.  It’s also mobile so that I don’t have to be relegated to the bleachers at the game, I can take my light-weight chair and move it based on the environmental conditions.  I can get the best view, avoid or seek sun and most importantly, choose who to sit near.  The truth is that I usually sit somewhere near home base and often, by the same people.

Imagine if we had that flexibility at work with our work environment.  It’s not a novel concept.  In fact, organizations have been trying to find the best way to offer mobile furniture options and configurations for over 15 years.  While some are successful, many are not.  It’s not because the furniture doesn’t have the right features or ease of movement, it’s because even though employees ask for mobility, once they settle in, they really don’t want to move.  We become tied to the people and location where we perform the act of work, whatever that is.  We tend to rely on the people around us to say hello every morning, to discuss the same tired stories, and to eat our lunch or take our breaks at the same time too.

So is the issue lack of organizations offering flexibility and mobility or is it the fear of the people?  What if we assume it’s the latter?  How does that change your approach when you think of the workplace in the future?  What changes would you put in place to truly encourage greater partnership, collaboration and movement within your organization?  How would you move the people with the “right” skills around the organization most effectively?

It turns out that all the features, options and mobile workspaces won’t change the attitudes of your workforce.  You have to start at the core….when you hire.  You have to bring people into the organization who embrace a spirit of work flowing through the organization rather than being “owned” by specific departments or divisions.

How does this look in your workplace?  Do you have a truly collaborative and innovative workplace?  If so, share it in the comments.  If not, why do you think it’s not that way and can it adapt to the changes in work styles that are coming in the next 5 years?  If change can’t happen, will you just wind up with fancy folding chairs that don’t help the overall future of work?

Get Over Yourself: Stop Focusing On Generational Differences

generationNewsflash:  There are generational differences in the workplace.  Have you heard about it? (I’m dripping with sarcasm here people)

There are articles, presentations, videos, reports, posts, podcasts, and more.  You name it and it has been talked about, ad nauseam. Like many issues that come up in the HR world, we spend time talking endlessly about the problem but not enough time on the solution.  Generational differences in the workplace are no different.

There are labels and definitions for each generation.  Are you a Boomer?  Gen X?  Gen Y? We’re told how each generation feels and thinks and why they can’t relate to all the other generations.  But you know what?  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.

IT DOES NOT MATTER

There have always been differences from generation to generation.  If we could spend as much time perfecting how individuals can work effectively together as we do on talking about how generations don’t, we’d have the most productive workforce ever.

So, how do we do that?  One thing that occurred to me recently was that when I meet people via social media outlets, I never even think about their age.  I have older friends, younger friends, and age is not an issue.  They are mostly HR professionals and I have had some great collaborating experiences with them and age has never come up.  If anything, any differences in our ages made our output better because we were incorporating many different viewpoints.

This social attitude needs to be brought into the forefront at the workplace. We should be designing work experiences and rewards for behaviors such as:

  • Focusing on the quality of the work, not the age of the employee.
  • Staying relevant no matter what your age. Reading, networking, sharing ideas.
  • Getting to know what works best for individuals, not their generation.
  • Refusing to categorize employees based on age or generation when building a team.

We will never be able to fully understand the events that shape behaviors of people born in a different generation because we did not live through those events.  Why not agree that although differences exist, we must not focus on them.  Instead, focus on similarities in the values and behaviors that we share. That is what will bind strong teams and build more productive workplaces.

Big Data Isn’t Necessarily “Good” Data: What You Can Do

big-dataLast week during my time at the Equifax Form 2013, I attended as many sessions as I could around data, analytics, technology, onboarding and turnover.  As I was listening to the general session on Labor Market Dynamics and the way that impacts your bottom line, I was impressed with the amount of data Equifax already has regarding competitive labor markets, voluntary and involuntary turnover by geography, benchmarking, and speed of turnover.

This made me wonder what HR leaders can do to increase the quality of data collected. Take reasons employees leave their employer, for example.  Here were a few that were shared:

  • Other opportunities
  • Personal reasons
  • Quitting without notice
  • Dissatisfied

As a HR leader, I know that if I can provide more specific reasons for employees to choose, I will have a more realistic picture of why they are not staying with the company long-term.  If you were a leader and looked at the list above, would you be able to decipher any real meaning from those reasons?

I think not.

To me, when someone leaves your company, they are firing you.  If an employee is leaving, they must be dissatisfied with some aspect(s) of your company offerings.  It could be dissatisfaction with:

  • Advancement and promotion opportunities
  • Compensation
  • Percent of increases
  • Flexibility in the work environment or schedule
  • Education and training provided
  • Healthcare benefits

If you were creating the perfect survey to measure this, you’d want to dive further into specifics on many of these items, as well as others.

Keep in mind, the more data you give yourself and your fellow leaders, the better you are equipped to make strong business decisions.  Be sure to check out Equifax for solutions to help you look at comparative benchmarks and your own data.

4 Keys to Transitioning Through Resignation or Promotion

We’ve all left a job.

Whether voluntarily or involuntarily, leaving your organization or position is a commonality we all share at some point.  The difference is how each person handles that transition. For many employees, especially those who voluntarily resign, leaving is a process they go through.  It could involve months of thinking about it and planning out each detail. For those employees who are terminated though, they may or may not have much warning.  Either way, it’s important to realize the impact of behavior during the transition time.  After all, it’s part of the legacy you leave and what you were known for at work.

In a recent column in Harvard Business Review, On Stepping Down Gracefully, Robert Sutton describes the importance of this transition time for CEOs who step down or who take on roles with different responsibility. Like us, a CEO has to think about the message they send when they are asked to resign or if they are choosing to retire to a chairmanship.  The impact of behavior during those “peak” moments in a career are critical to how colleagues and even the successor remember the person who is leaving.  There are no real benefits to let hurt feelings taint the departure.  All that does is create enemies and burn bridges that may be needed in the future.

The same holds true for promotions.  Whether you’re leaving your current role for a promotion in your current department, leaving your department for another in the organization, or leaving your organization for an opportunity for a larger role at a different company, do so with grace.  The way you treat colleagues will have a great influence on how you are perceived in the future.

  • Tie up loose ends on issues–  Make it easy for your successor to step in.
  • Transition projects to capable leaders– By giving that leader all the information he or she will need to take over the project you will help ensure that the project will not be derailed as a result of your resignation or promotion.
  • Show respect–  The way you treat your colleagues, boss, clients and anyone else in the organization you come into contact with will be the last memory they have of you.  Make it a good one.
  • Give performance feedback to members of your team–  This is a critical action yet one that most people miss as they leave.  Without your input as a leader, often the incumbent will not have enough knowledge to complete the annual appraisal for that year and your staff will be the ones to pay the price.

What are other key things you have done as you’ve transitioned out of roles?  Be sure to share those in the comments.