2014 Relationship Building Challenge

December 18th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Relationship Challenge | No Comments »

coffeeoutsideWe’re coming in for the big finish! On January 3, I recommended making one small change per month this year (http://jenniferselbylong.com/?p=729) to dramatically improve your skill and confidence in building relationships.
The challenge for October was:

“Be there when it’s tough. Over the course of a career, everyone has ups and downs, and some of them are very dramatic. When one of your Treasured Ten suffers a big blow (professional or personal, or both), many, many people will scatter. Don’t be one of those people. In fact, come in a little closer. Do what you can to help, even if it’s as small as continuing to meet up for coffee. Granted, tough times can come any time, not just in the month of November, but I had to put this somewhere. In the season of Thanksgiving, be thankful you can be there to support them.”

How did you do?

Here’s your final challenge, if you are willing to accept it:

“Think of something you appreciate about this relationship, and share it with the other person. For example, whenever a client is the inspiration for a Traveling Light column, I let him or her know. They often have a great time reading the article and seeing how I’ve disguised their identity. I’ve placed this habit in December because it is when we are most likely to reflect back on the year and think of these moments, but you can also do it as the situation arises.”

Let me know how it’s going, share your thoughts, and ask your questions any time at http://jenniferselbylong.com/?p=729.

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Four Ways to Rule the Company Holiday Party

December 4th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Holiday | No Comments »

officeholidayMany corporate holiday parties are among the weirdest hybrids of work and play that I have ever experienced. Few companies are able to seamlessly blend the two, so the parties become a veritable minefield in which if you perform well, absolutely no one will remember you, and if you perform poorly, everyone will remember you for years to come – for all the wrong reasons.

In the spirit of ensuring the former and not the later, I offer this simple advice to avoid awkwardness and create a pleasant atmosphere, without excess effort.

Question: I don’t really like parties, and I have a lot of work to do before year-end. Do I really have to go?

As my fantastic former boss used to deadpan: “Folks, this event is optional-mandatory.”

Yes, you have to go and you have to stay for the whole thing, or at least until 60 minutes before the scheduled end time. No one may ever tell you that, but read between the lines and RSVP with enthusiasm, even if you hate parties.

Why am I so unyielding in this advice? When I interview employees about their work experiences, they tell my how let down they were when managers and executives skipped the holiday party and other optional team-building events, even though I don’t ever ask the question specifically. Employees do all of the work to make this party happen, in addition to their regular duties, and it’s more trouble than you think.

It’s also often the case that while this particular party may or may not be important to you, for some of your staff, it will be the nicest, kindest, and most festive thing they do through the whole holiday season, so step up with a smile and do your bit to make it a great experience for them.

Question: I’m no good at small talk. What should I say?

Here’s the good news: it’s not about what you say, it’s about what you ask.

Nobody really cares what you do for a living or what projects you’re working on. Yet, in American culture, like work-a-holic lemmings, we instinctively ask the spouses (or “plus one’s”), “What do you do?” and we ask co-workers, “What projects are you working on?”

Become the greatest conversationalist they’ve ever met in their entire lives by not asking about work at all. Try, “What interests you outside of work?”, “What are you doing these days for fun?”, “What are your kids up to?”, or anything else that invites conversation on a subject of interest other than work.

Follow-up questions help, too. (“You do scrapbooking with your friends. I didn’t realize that was a group hobby. How did you become interested in it?” “So your teenagers are budding Oaklandish t-shirt designers. I’ve never heard of that. Tell me more.”)

Don’t bolt from conversations with lower-ranking employees the minute you see a prospect, E-suite executive, or other prestigious individual. With few exceptions, you’ll not only be laughed at by the people you abandon, but you’ll be secretly laughed at by the VIP’s, too.

Speaking of VIP’s, the holiday party is not the place to corner VIP’s with your great idea for the business. Say hello, engage in brief conversation, offer to introduce them to others, and move on. It’s o.k. to follow up with your business ideas after the party, but during the party, leave it alone.

If the event involves sitting down to eat, introduce yourself to every person at your table, and talk with each of them at some point during dinner, including the spouses and guests, who will speak highly of you forever simply because you steered the conversation away from endless droning on about the office.

Question: These events are embarrassing because I can’t remember names. Can I get better at this?

You get major bonus points if you remember names and introduce people to each other. It’s worth putting in the extra effort to learn how.

Here’s a great trick for remembering names. Kirk and I swear by it. As soon as you’re introduced, say the individual’s name, as in, “Pleased to meet you, Kate.” Then use it two more times early in the conversation. The repetition makes it stick in your head like glue.

Another trick that works well for me is to immediately associate the name with a character in a movie, a famous person, or someone else with a similar name — and the more absurd the connection, the better. If a woman introduces herself as Dorothy, for example, think to yourself, “Wizard of Oz! Wizard of Oz!” Every time you see her, the wacky connection will bring her name right to the front of your brain.

And Now, my Favorite Tip for a Sit-Down Meal….

When you sit down next to the CEO, avoid eating his or her food by remembering that your bread plate is to the left and your drink is to the right. Cue yourself by forming an “o” with your index finger and thumb. On the left hand, this forms the letter “b” for bread, and on the right hand, the letter “d” for drink.

Try it now. See? Nifty, huh?

Don’t worry about getting caught doing this. It’s a sure-fire conversation starter. For example, the person next you just might say, “Ah, I see you read Traveling Light…”

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In the News

November 26th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in News | No Comments »

fastcompanyIf you missed it last month, it’s not too late to read my advice to Fast Company readers Fast Company Micro-Management Advice from Jennifer Selby Long.

You can also check out my tips for readers of Dice.com’s management blog. The article is about managing older tech workers, at JSL Tips for Managing Older Tech Workers.

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2014 Relationship Building Challenge

November 24th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Relationship Challenge | No Comments »

coffeeoutsideFor those who are new to the 2014 Relationship Building Challenge, here’s the backstory: on January 3, I recommended making one small change per month this year (http://jenniferselbylong.com/?p=729) to dramatically improve your skill and confidence in building relationships. It’s not too late catch up. Just jump in and join us!
The challenge for October was:

“Write a recommendation on each person’s LinkedIn profile. Granted, you can’t do this if you haven’t worked together, but perhaps there’s something else you can do in fifteen minutes or less that’s a good deed for their business or career. Write a Yelp review for their local business. Buy their product and if you like it, share your enthusiasm on the appropriate social media. You get the idea.”

How did you do?

Here’s your challenge for November, if you are willing to accept it:

“Be there when it’s tough. Over the course of a career, everyone has ups and downs, and some of them are very dramatic. When one of your Treasured Ten suffers a big blow (professional or personal, or both), many, many people will scatter. Don’t be one of those people. In fact, come in a little closer. Do what you can to help, even if it’s as small as continuing to meet up for coffee. Granted, tough times can come any time, not just in the month of November, but I had to put this somewhere. In the season of Thanksgiving, be thankful you can be there to support them.”

Let me know how it’s going, share your thoughts, and ask your questions any time at http://jenniferselbylong.com/?p=729.

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Jennifer Recommends

November 24th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Jennifer Recommends | No Comments »

AirBnB

Say hello to Selby Group’s newest client, Airbnb’s ITX team! This picture was taken at their first global strategic off-site held at a super-hip gallery in San Francisco’s Jackson Square.

If you are an amazing IT professional or know one, check out their job openings at https://www.airbnb.com/jobs/departments/information-technology.

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Five Keys to Managing Hyper-growth

November 13th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Hyper Growth, Management | No Comments »

chartI am immersed in a world of hyper-growth. All hyper-growth companies struggle with the unrelenting demands of rapid scale. There is no smooth sailing when your company is doubling, tripling, or quadrupling in size each year.

However, some companies make it through hyper-growth and come out stronger, while others fall apart, unable to cross the chasm of such a massive and rapid change. While each company does have its own unique magic, there are at least five keys to success during the hyper-growth stage.

Stop holding back and start investing.

This is the time to buy or lease systems that do more than you need them to do, because they’ve been designed for the size you’ll be in two or more years. It’s time to take all of that grey-market equipment to the e-cycling bin and replace it with supportable, high quality products. It may seem like over-engineering, but you have to put in place today what you’ll need in the future, not just scramble to keep up with current demands.

And, no surprise coming from me, it’s time to stop throwing people into leadership roles hoping that they’ll just catch on, and instead, start investing in conscious, strategic development of leaders at all levels. Then expect these leaders to focus on developing their teams and supporting the career development of individuals.

All of the hacking, the improvising, the “just figure it out” approach to development, and extreme resourcefulness that made you successful so far will kill you if you try to keep it up as you rapidly scale. You have to make a shift in what you value and reward in order help your hardworking employees ride the tidal wave of hyper-growth.

Hire for the future.

Just building the leaders you already have isn’t enough, though. Successful hyper-growing companies also hire leaders at all levels who’ve already been very successful doing what they do at the scale you expect to reach in the coming years.

Hyper-growth is its own animal. Leaders who have never done it bring a lot of risk to your company. That risk is fine in the founders and employees who’ve brought you this far, and who will continue to add enormous value, but you need to add the experience of people who have led a much bigger team through the unrelenting challenges of hyper-growth.

Headcount is one way to look at it. If your engineering headcount is at 400, for example, look for leaders who’ve successfully grown their collective functions to 1200 or more.

You may be accustomed to valuing people who fit the classic entrepreneurial profile, but once you head toward and beyond four figures in headcount (regardless of valuation), you will need a more diverse and seasoned workforce and leadership.

Be very clear on your values, and task everyone with living the values day-to-day.

Your values drive your culture. Much of your culture can be retained despite the massive level of change you’re going through. Day-to-day processes will change, access to founders and popular leaders will change, level of individual involvement in decisions will change. A whole lot will be different.

However, despite all of this change, if you reward people for living and breathing the values, and hold yourself strictly accountable for doing the same, you will maintain a great deal of the cultural magic unique to your company. Values drive behavior and behavior drives culture. Don’t focus on your culture. Focus on the behaviors that embody your values, and the culture will be maintained without additional special programs or initiatives.

Ultimately, the senior leaders of the company are the only people who can own full responsibility for maintaining the culture. Consultants can all provide guidance on how to maintain it, but the ownership rests with the senior leaders. This includes the founders, but is not limited to them.

Massively ramp up the effort you put into strategic alignment.

It takes exponentially more effort to keep exponentially more people rowing in the same direction. Now is the time to begin a regular discipline of management off-sites to step back and ensure you’re making the same assumptions, planning for the future, working through your conflicts, and going back out to the organization with a shared message.

This is also a perfect time to consider alternate means of establishing multi-directional communication about strategy. For example, should you be crowdsourcing input on the strategy? How will you ensure robust participation from offices around the globe, if you’ve been accustomed to having nearly everyone in one city? I rarely see hyper-growth without simultaneous globalization, and it is too often treated as an afterthought in the strategic alignment process, to the great detriment of the company.

The need for organizational discipline in strategic alignment applies to all levels of management, not just the E-staff. Every team should be examining how closely their mission and strategy align with the vision, mission, and strategy of the company.

Intentionally have fun.

Many leaders find it fun to work, and work, and work. They really, truly do enjoy it. Is this you? If so, you’ll need to make an intentional and regular habit of encouraging fun, which may not feel very natural. Believe it or not, many people would find your unabashed love of work to be a little strange!

People work incredibly hard during hyper-growth, and often sacrifice time with loved ones to build the company that they believe in. Encouraging them to have fun, and being willing to have a little fun yourself, goes a long way toward avoiding the dreaded employee fear that “we’ll go totally corporate.”

Your people understand that without implementing better systems, tools, and processes, they will have chaos. They know that more structure is necessary. However, the implementation of discipline and repeatable processes does not require the implementation of a 24/7 serious face. Show them your humanity by joining them in having a little fun.

So, what constitutes fun? This varies considerably in different industries, countries, age groups, and even between companies that otherwise appear similar. My guidance is to start by asking your best HR business partner (or generalist, if you don’t have HRBP’s) for input and feedback. Contrary to the common stereotype, your best HR people are not trying to squelch all fun and self-expression. That’s what mediocre HR people do. The best HR pros nurture the fun that everyone enjoys, not just a select few, and have an excellent sense of what will work for your organization.

What have you done to manage hyper-growth? Please share your tips with others in the comments below.

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In the News

October 26th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in News | No Comments »

fastcompanyIs it ever appropriate to micro-manage employees? Fast Company asked me this question and I surprised everyone by saying, “Yes.”

See my recommendations in Stephanie Vozza’s article at Fast Company Micro-Management Advice from Jennifer Selby Long.

While you’re there, I encourage you to check out her other articles. She writes about interesting people and topics.

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Jennifer Recommends

October 25th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Jennifer Recommends | No Comments »

This month, when I wasn’t talking with reporters, I was traveling. A high point was speaking at the Advertising Specialty Institute’s annual Power Summit for CEO’s and executives in the advertising specialty industry. Executive sales recruiter Kelly O. Kay and I joined ASI’s Rob Watson to share insights into how to hire smarter for sales and if there’s really such a thing as the right personality for sales.

The conference was private and the videotape is not available for viewing, but my whitepaper Hire Smarter for Sales is yours just for the asking. Email Janet Smith at janet.smith@selbygroup.com to receive your copy. If you hire sales people or sales leaders, this paper is a must-read, covering not only what to do, but what to stop doing to get better hiring results.

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2014 Relationship Building Challenge

October 22nd, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Relationship Challenge | No Comments »

coffeeoutsideFor those who are new to the 2014 Relationship Building Challenge, here’s the backstory: on January 3, I recommended making one small change per month this year to dramatically improve your skill and confidence in building relationships. It’s not too late catch up. Just jump in and join us!

The challenge for September was:

“Repeat the month of March. Call each person or arrange to see him or her in person, preferably over coffee or a meal, or via Skype if you live far apart. While it may not be feasible to see every person you’d like to see twice a year, it’s certainly worth the investment to make sure you see your Treasured Ten this often. If you’ve seen all of them recently, congratulations! You can kick back this month and just continue your habits from the other previous months.”

How did you do?

Here’s your challenge for October, if you are willing to accept it:

“Write a recommendation on each person’s LinkedIn profile. Granted, you can’t do this if you haven’t worked together, but perhaps there’s something else you can do in fifteen minutes or less that’s a good deed for their business or career. Write a Yelp review for their local business. Buy their product and if you like it, share your enthusiasm on the appropriate social media. You get the idea.”

Let me know how it’s going, share your thoughts, and ask your questions any time at http://jenniferselbylong.com/?p=729.

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Are you frustrated with your peers?

October 9th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Change Leadership, Communication | No Comments »

whiteboard_meeting“How do I get my peers to speed up decision-making?”

“How can I get the rest of the C-suite to agree to my recommendations for strategic investment? What worked at my old company isn’t working here. No one will commit.”

“How can I get these people on board? Even though I don’t report to them, I need to have their buy-in to move forward. They don’t have the authority to say yes to the budget, but they all have the influence to block it.”

What do these three questions have in common? In each case, the leader wants his or her peers to change, or more accurately, to change their behaviors. Peer-level influence is often the most frustrating persuasion challenge, since you have no hierarchical authority to fall back on if data and logic don’t convince them.

Let’s look at several techniques you can use to become less frustrated and more effective at influencing your peers.

First, make it real for them (and yourself) with action verbs.

Before influencing your peers, be sure to get behavioral and specific in your assessment of the challenge or problem as well as what would happen if the challenge or problem were successfully addressed.

In business, we often talk about the need for specific outcomes, but a specific noun or number isn’t enough. It turns out those boring English grammar classes back in your school days taught you something useful after all: an action verb is an action another person can see taking place. If you use action verbs to communicate with your peers, you will eliminate 80%+ of misinterpretation.

Using the first example, above, the leader would ask questions like this to get to action verbs and specifics:

  • What is the team doing or saying (or not doing or not saying) that leaves me with the opinion that decision-making is too slow?
  • Which specific behaviors do I think are causing decision-making to be slow, and what consequences are there to the business? (Don’t worry about the causes at this point, because the question is strictly about what you see happening.)
  • If I had a camera and I were recording everything that happens, what would I see people doing, saying, not doing, and not saying if the problem or challenge were successfully addressed?

Abstract observations are fine as a starting point for your thinking, but you have to get down to the level of the action verb to be convincing to others.

Next, consider the possible cause or causes of the current situation.

Everything in a business is the way it is because it made sense to somebody at the time, given the information and resources available to him or her.

Start with an environmental scan. Is this behavior or approach more or less the norm in this industry? If you’ve moved from a different industry, you need to get a handle on this before determining how you will influence peers. If this behavior or approach is the norm for the industry, you could be fighting a losing battle if you frame up your suggestion as an idea that’s important because you see it as important.

To be more influential, either determine how this change would support something your peers already see as very important (such as empowering their entire workforce, or providing the highest level of customer service) or begin seeding the idea that your company’s best chance at breaking away from the competition may be to pursue your recommended course of action.

If your peer group doesn’t want to break away from the pack or feels secure in their current market position, you’re going to have to be patient because this is going to take a while. In most organizations, it’s more difficult to get big changes off the ground when there is no immediate threat. You’ll have to work to get the momentum going.

Your peers may understandably be concerned about breaking something that isn’t broken by introducing the significant change you have in mind. One of the simplest and most often overlooked tools is putting yourself in their shoes and truly seeking to understand their perspectives, even allowing their perspectives to influence yours and further shape your thinking.

Take an honest look at potential trust issues in your peer relationships.

After conducting an environmental scan, it’s time to consider other factors, such as trust:

  • Are they experiencing low professional trust with you? Professional trust involves worries about your competence in the job, such as worries that you don’t know what you’re doing at this scale and that your decisions will sink the business.
  • Are your peers experiencing low personal trust with you? Personal trust involves concerns about your personal ethics, such as concerns that you will stab them in the back.

Do you see signs of trust issues? It can be very, very hard on the ego to really see these issues. Still, seeing a trust issue and acknowledging it are clearly prerequisite to working on the relationship and modifying your own behaviors in ways that will deepen trust and make you more influential.

Consider the possibility that you may need to adapt to extreme style differences.

Are you experiencing extreme style differences on the team, far more than you’ve experienced on other teams? It happens often on cross-functional leadership teams, because the leaders come from different professional backgrounds. This is considerably less common with teams of individual contributors, who often have more similar styles because they have been shaped by the same profession or business function.

If you’re new to being on a cross-functional leadership team, it can be quite a shock to find yourself attempting to influence people who seem to approach every challenge differently from you and differently from each other. Likewise, if you’ve always been able to bridge style differences on previous leadership teams but find yourself on a team with style differences more extreme than you’ve experienced, it can become discouraging.

The great new here is that style differences can be addressed more easily than the other issues, above, through the consistent, pragmatic, and ethical use of a style inventory and debrief.

The biggest challenge in the C-suite is rarely in the execution of this approach – it’s in getting everyone in agreement to do an inventory in the first place.

This is where your outside advisor can play a valuable role. I’ve found that style inventories are often more effective when integrated into a more business-focused meeting or off-site so that leadership team members can practice style adaptations real-time, working together on real business challenges, with their coach nearby to provide feedback.

Of course, none of these techniques are a substitute for your analytical chops. These techniques won’t help you if your fundamental assessment of the business problem or challenge is weak or your idea just isn’t a very good one. Hey, we’ve all had ideas that weren’t very good. There’s no shame in it and sometimes you just have to accept that your idea was a dog, after all. It’s o.k.

However, when your analysis is excellent but your peers just don’t seem to “get it,” try these techniques and then adapt your approach based on what you learn from exploring each of these three factors. Soon, you will be a much more influential peer.

What have you done to improve your influence with your peers? Let me know in the comments below.

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