Posted by & filed under Career Development.

At times, staff development efforts can get stalled out. Reframe the way you think about this important catalyst for retaining staff, conflict resolution,  and improving productivity.

  • Utilize self-appraisal. Start your process by asking the employee to appraise him or herself.  An online personality test might be the best place to start. Development proceeds best when it is based on self-appraisal. Self-criticism is a great motivator! Provide feedback on performance. Adults want to know how they are doing.
  • We grow as long as we are green. Translation? Keep people stretching and striving by introducing new ways they can do their jobs and giving them goals that teeter on the edge of their ability and skill set all the while, increasing personal effectiveness.
  • Don’t spoon-feed employee development. Individuals are responsible for themselves, so provide the:  stimulation, encouragement, interest, support, and organizational resources and other employee engagement ideas.
  • People are individuals.  Treat them that way!  Create individualized development plans that take into account strengths and challenges of each person.  Afterall, one size does not fit all!

How do you promote staff development?  Consider Increasing Personal Effectiveness as a foundational course for your talent development curriculum.

Posted by & filed under Career Development.

Finding great talent to hire for your organization is an ongoing challenge, and one that you should pursue actively, even if you aren’t ready to add to your full-time staff at the moment. It is important to be continuously on the lookout for people who would be an asset to your team and cultivating these relationships over time.

One of the smartest ways a company can find new talent is by establishing a high-quality internship program. Not only are internships appealing to college students who are interested in gaining knowledge, work experience and mentorship opportunities, they also give your organization the chance to test out potential hires before they enter the full-time work force.

Why Offer an Internship Program?

1. It is a mutually beneficial situation.

Young people are eager to learn and acquire the valuable experience that comes with an internship. By working for your company for a summer or another limited period of time, they are able to get their feet wet in an industry that interests them, while expanding their skills and building professional references. In return, you are able to strengthen your team without taking on the expense and risk of hiring a full-time employee. A well-developed internship program can provide important learning opportunities for the intern and much-needed help for your organization.

2. It is a good long-term investment.

Your star summer intern may turn out to be just the person you need on your staff in a year or two. If you take the time now to mentor college students and take an interest in their education and career goals, you can start to develop genuine relationships that will be beneficial in the future. Find an exceptional intern and you could save yourself a lot of recruitment time and money by hiring him when he graduates.

3. It increases productivity.

Treat your interns with respect and find challenging tasks for them, and they will repay you tenfold by working with enthusiasm and diligence. Don’t make the mistake of giving interns only busywork or the tasks no one else wants to do. If you do, they will most likely become bored or resentful and you will be wasting an opportunity to engage them in meaningful work. Find a balance to the assignments you give them, and be sure to include real responsibilities within the organizationn.

4. It brings fresh ideas and energy to the organization.

While your interns can increase their knowledge by working with experienced professionals, you can also learn from them. Younger employees can often bring a fresh perspective that is helpful in the workplace. Treat interns as part of the team, ask for their opinions and suggestions and demonstrate that you value their contributions. Set specific goals, track their progress and give them regular feedback to make the most of their time in your company.

Do you have an internship program in your organization? What is the most significant benefit you have noticed?

Learn more about EDSI’s coaching resources.

Posted by & filed under Career Development.

The good news is: if you have a job, you are far less likely to be laid off than any time in recent history. In fact, companies plan to cut 46 percent fewer jobs than a year earlier, the lowest rate in at least 14 years, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The bad news is: if you are looking for a job, the market is still sparse and highly competitive. 13.9 million Americans were unemployed last month, and a government survey showed a net gain of 36,000 jobs in January, 25 percent of what is needed to keep up with population growth.

Layoffs are on the decline, but unemployment is still a problem now that the recession is officially over. Organizations are not yet ready to hire enough people to accommodate those who are out of work, so if you are employed, you will want to reflect carefully on any plans to switch jobs in the near future. If you are dissatisfied with your current job and have been thinking of leaving, consider what you would like to change and explore any employee development opportunities that could improve your situation.

Problem: You are bored.

Solution: If you are not challenged by the work you are doing, look for chances to push yourself and grow within your job. Ask to lead an upcoming project, take the initiative to suggest (and implement) improvements to the company website, start a team-building initiative volunteering at a local charity. No one else is responsible for you being engaged in your work; you have to make a conscious effort to find new challenges ask for more responsibility.

Problem: You don’t feel that you are learning anymore.

Solution: If you can do your job with your eyes closed and can’t remember the last time you learned a new skill, it is time to expand your educational horizons. Employee development is a continuous process; much like exercising, you need to keep your (mental) muscles in shape by using them regularly. Ask your employer to pay for you to join a professional association or sign up for professional development classes that will strengthen your skills and your organization.

Problem: You don’t feel your skills are being utilized.

Solution: If you have a natural gift for sales but you spend most of your time doing accounting work, speak up. Look for ways that you can take on more tasks related to your strengths and interests, and speak to your manager about the skills you would like to use more often. Demonstrate how you can be even more of an asset to the organization by doing the work that interests you.

The job market is challenging at the moment, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer silently in a job that isn’t an ideal fit. Seek out employee development opportunities that will transform a stable job into a job you are passionate about.

What ways have you found to grow within your current job? Share your experiences in the comments!

Learn more about the EDSI Taking the Initiative course.

Posted by & filed under Personal Effectiveness.

Are you a self-proclaimed multitasker, jumping from one project to the next or juggling several different assignments simultaneously? You may feel as if you are getting more done in a shorter period of time, but if you often find yourself switching from task to task without seeing anything through to completion, you may actually be hindering and not helping your personal effectiveness.

The productivity blog The 99 Percent polled its Twitter followers about how they would like to improve their work habits, and eliminating multitasking was an almost universal sentiment.

It can be a fine line between multitasking and distraction (or just plain procrastination). To make the most of your time, cut back on trying to do everything at once and focus all of your attention on a single task at a time.

1. Put yourself on the clock.

Work within self-imposed time limits so you are aware of how long each project is taking you. Resist the temptation to do five minutes of Project A, five minutes of Project B and so on. Select one task to focus on and give yourself a set amount of time to devote to it before moving on to the next one. If you need more structure to this system, try the Pomodoro Technique, recommended by The 99 Percent:

The Pomodoro Technique is like interval training for your attention span. Using the technique, you focus on One Single Task for 25 minutes. Then, you get a 5-minute break to stretch, indulge in Twitter, check your email, or whatever else.

This approach keeps you focused without getting too restless so you can maximize your personal effectiveness.

2. Start with your most important priority.

Instead of beginning your day with the easy jobs, such as checking and responding to emails, returning phone calls, making social media updates and filing papers, prioritize your schedule in order of most important to least important. Start by working on and completing the most pressing item on your to-do list, without getting distracted by other tasks, and you will set the tone for the rest of the day. Plus, you can breathe a sigh of relief that you have already accomplished the most important part of your day.

3. Minimize your multitasking temptations.

Think about what usually distracts you from a task you are working on. Is it an Internet browser full of different tabs you feel compelled to click through? Is it a social networking site that you refresh every few minutes? Is it a colleague at the desk next to yours who calls impromptu brainstorming sessions? Zero in on the factors that can derail your productivity throughout the day and find ways to minimize them. Explore ways to make time and space for solo, uninterrupted work.

4. Get back on track.

No one is perfect, so if you do catch yourself juggling too many tasks at a time, take a short break and reevaluate your work. Ask yourself: what is the most important project that I should be focusing on first? Work on that assignment, and put the other tasks aside until later. If your thoughts wander and you start giving into distractions, gently remind yourself what your priority is and get back on track.

Are you a multitasker? How do you think it has an impact on your productivity?

Learn how the Increasing Personal Effectiveness course can help you achieve your goals.

Posted by & filed under Corporate Culture.

Diversity in the Workplace Leads to SuccessAs our society continues to grow and change, the workplace also evolves to be representative of a diverse population. Successful, forward-thinking leaders understand that it is essential to be able to work with people who have different backgrounds, beliefs, attitudes or traditions than themselves.

Diversity in the workplace has the potential to create a strong team with a wide range of experiences and skills. It can also broaden the worldview of an organization, which is appealing to clients and customers.

A 2009 study published in the American Sociological Review also found that companies employing a staff of both genders and diverse racial backgrounds experience more positive business outcomes, including increased revenue, customer numbers and profitability.

The study, conducted by sociologist Cedric Herring, interim head of the sociology department at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a professor of sociology and public policy at the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs, found:

  • Companies reporting the highest levels of racial diversity took in an average of almost 15 times more sales revenue than companies with the lowest levels.
  • Businesses with the highest rates of employing both genders had an average of $644.3 million in sales revenue, compared with $45.2 million from businesses with the lowest rates.
  • Companies with the highest rates of racial diversity reported an average of 35,000 customers compared to 22,700 average customers in companies with the lowest rates.
  • Businesses with larger rates of employing both genders reported an average of 15,000 more customers than those with the lowest rates.
  • Racial heterogeneity was a better way to determine sales revenue and customer numbers than the company’s age, size or number of employees at a given work location.

A diverse team of employees brings many benefits to an organization, but stereotypes or misconceptions can stand in the way of effective teamwork and communication. It is important to examine our own attitudes honestly and work toward empathy, understanding and cooperation.

The EDSI Discovering Diversity Profile is a confidential and powerful tool that employees can use to explore their own attitudes through the following areas: knowledge, understanding, acceptance and behavior. The behavioral style assessment helps employees determine their own comfort level with others from different backgrounds and guides them to treat colleagues with respect, empathy and awareness.

How do you encourage diversity awareness in your organization?

Learn more about the Discovering Diversity Profile.

Posted by & filed under Work Life Balance.

If you are like many working people, it can seem like a constant juggling act to balance the demands of your work life and your home life. Your career is important to you, and you want to give your job 100 percent every day, but your personal life — family, friends, free time — is also a significant priority that you don’t want to neglect.

So how do you have it all without getting burnt out in the process? Focus your time and energy by making small, conscious decisions to improve your work-life balance.

1. Set hours (and try to stick to them).

Hardworking people in all different fields — from CEOs to self-employed entrepreneurs — can get caught in the trap of working too much and leaving little time for anything else. Do you find yourself checking your BlackBerry during dinner with friends or staying up late to work on reports after your kids go to bed? The hard truth is that there is almost always more work to be done, but you aren’t going to finish it all by slaving around the clock. Set reasonable hours and limits for yourself, and try to hold yourself accountable for them . For example, set a goal that you will leave the office in time for dinner with your family every night, and only allow yourself 45 minutes of “homework.”

2. Make time for activities that bring you happiness.

How many times have you heard a friend or colleague say, “I used to love hiking (or playing golf, knitting, traveling, etc.), but I just don’t have time anymore”? Don’t wait until you retire to do the leisure activities that make you happy. Even if you have an extremely hectic schedule, set aside small blocks of time for relaxation and rejuvenation. Get up early so you have time to go jogging before work; leave the office early once a week so you can make it to your daughter’s soccer game; plan a Saturday trip to go fishing with friends. Recognize that finding a better work-life balance will make you more productive and energized when you are at work.

3. Cut the fat.

Take a hard look at how you spend your time. What activities don’t contribute much to your work or personal life? For example, do you procrastinate at work by spending too much time on social networking sites or online shopping? At home, do you watch hours of television you’re not that interested in? If you find yourself wasting too much time on activities that don’t enrich your life, gradually begin to cut back on them and using that time for more worthwhile pursuits. If you limit your social networking time to 15 minutes a day at work, you can focus on the project you need to finish and get out of the office on time. If you watch just one TV show a night, you can have more time to read and spend time with friends or family.

4. Sleep more.

This is a simple one that far too many people neglect. Get a full night’s rest, and remember that sleep will improve your overall health and personal effectiveness.

5. Lead by example.  

Show your colleagues and employees that having a better work-life balance is a priority for you. Take a lunch break away from your desk, leave the office at a reasonable hour, talk about what you like to do in your free time (emphasizing that you actually have some free time!). Lead by your own positive example, and create a culture that values a balanced lifestyle.

For more tips on improving your professional and personal life for an optimum work-life balance, subscribe to the EDSI monthly newsletter.

Posted by & filed under Corporate Culture.

Traditionally, hiring a new employee was a thorough but straightforward process of screening applicants through their resumes, cover letters, interviews and references. Hiring managers placed a strong emphasis on relevant education, job experience, skills and aptitude, and the most qualified candidate received the job offer.

Today, however, the hiring process has become more complex for many organizations. Employers are on the lookout for a candidate who not only has the necessary skills to be successful in the job but someone who will also fit seamlessly into the company culture.

The latter quality can be much more difficult to identify, but it is critical for employee engagement and retention. Most employers have gone through the trying experience of hiring the “perfect,” highly skilled candidate, only to find out later that he didn’t share the same core values or have a complementary personality for the workplace. It is time-consuming and expensive to hire and rehire new employees, so it is worthwhile to screen prospective employees for both their qualifications on paper and how they will “fit” within the organization. Remember: you can always teach new skills, but it is much more challenging to change a person’s values or personality.

In a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, Alan Lewis, owner of Grand Circle Corporation (an international tour operator), advocated using a values-based hiring model similar to the one his own company uses. Grand Circle uses creative, unorthodox interviews and challenges to screen candidates for both skills and values, including role-playing scenarios that require them to interact with others and make difficult decisions, and team projects where they must design a vessel for a “trip,” using only straws and tape, for a raw egg that they then drop from 10 feet.

Lewis noted that these methods give insight into how a candidate will work within the company culture and perform on the job:

Be crystal clear about your culture and values. You don’t want to hire someone destined to fail, wasting their time and energy (and yours). Being open is the best way to avoid that. Prospective associates will walk away on their own if they don’t believe they can fit in with your culture. We’ve seen it many times — as in the man who called our raw-egg exercise “really weird” and the woman who announced she didn’t want to be part of our “kumbaya culture.” It was far better to screen out these people in the initial interview than learn of their discomfort with our values during their first months on the job.

How can you incorporate this philosophy into your own hiring practices?

1. Advertise the company culture along with the job qualifications.

When you start promoting a job opening at your organization, make sure to emphasize the mission, personality, beliefs and values that make you who you are. Be open and honest to try to find the right fit for the job and the company.

2. Watch the candidates in action.

Use hypothetical situations, problem-solving puzzles or even elaborate hands-on projects (such as the Grand Circle Corporation egg drop) to observe how job candidates react when faced with a challenge. Incorporate a job shadowing or apprenticeship portion of the interview process, where an applicant would spend time learning the ropes on an average day at work.

3. Learn what makes them tick.

If you are seriously thinking about hiring a candidate, consider giving her a quick, thorough online personality test to get an idea for how she communicates and interacts with others and how you can help her better integrate into the organization.

How do you structure the hiring process in your organization? Do you pay more attention to qualifications or how a person will mesh with your company culture?

Learn more about the DISCself online personality test.

Posted by & filed under Behavioral Assessment, Leadership.

If employees in your organization are invested in the work they do and personally satisfied with their performance, they are more likely to be engaged in their jobs and therefore more apt to stay instead of looking for other career opportunities.

Though engagement levels stayed relatively constant between 2008 and 2010, the percentage of employees who had a high “intent to stay” fell from 27 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 to 22 percent in the third quarter of 2010, according to a report from consulting firm BlessingWhite, Inc.

The latest issue of Workforce Management Online published the following research from BlessingWhite on employee engagement, based on interviews with 11,000 employees, line managers and human resources executives in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Engagement is measured using employees’ contribution to their organization’s success and their own personal satisfaction in their work.

  • 31 percent of workers are fully engaged (fewer than 1 in 3)
  • 17 percent of workers are “completely disengaged”
  • About 22 percent of employees are “highly disengaged”
  • Satisfaction is influenced by how much employees trust their leaders: in North America, 50 percent of highly engaged employees trust executives in their organization
  • Workers are more likely to trust their direct supervisors than senior executives: in North America, 72 percent of employees trust their managers (behind India, at 82 percent, and China, at 78 percent)

The study also found that high employee engagement correlated to seven different actions taken by managers: feedback, involvement, delegation, recognition, coaching, talent utilization and community building.

Keeping good talent within your organization is an ongoing and active process, and though it can be challenging at times, you have the power to make decisions to create positive change. Ask yourself the following questions about how you manage your team:

1. How do you communicate feedback and recognition? Do you check in with your employees regularly to give them encouragement, training and constructive criticism about their work? How can you improve this process to foster employee engagement?

2. How actively involved are your employees in the decision-making process of the organization? Do they feel invested in changes that are made? Is their feedback heard and taken into account?

3. Do you trust your employees to work independently on projects? Do you have a tendency to micromanage instead of delegating? How can you empower your team to have ownership of their work?

4. Are your employees given adequate coaching and mentorship opportunities? How is knowledge shared and cultivated within the organization?

5. Do your employees have room to grow within the organization? How do you identify and cultivate leaders?

6. How would you define the culture of your organization? In what ways do you try to strengthen your team?

Feel free to share some of your responses in the comments below!

Learn more ways to increase employee engagement through EDSI’s leadership courses.

Posted by & filed under Conflict Resolution.

There are some people who genuinely enjoy a spirited debate or a dash of controversy, but there are many others who dislike conflict and try to avoid confrontation at all costs. Unfortunately, disagreements occur in even the most peaceful workplace, and it is an essential leadership skill to be able to address and resolve them before they spin out of control. Unresolved conflicts can lead to frustration, stress and, often, an eventual blow-up that is much worse than if you confront the problems early on.

If you are a non-confrontational person, you may feel uncomfortable at first expressing what you think or how you feel in an argument, for fear of causing anger, disapproval or hurt feelings in the other person. Instead of concentrating on the negative aspects of a disagreement, focus instead on the positive results you hope to achieve through conflict resolution.

1. Keep your objective in mind.

When you decide to talk to someone about a problem, write out the main points you want to make beforehand. This shouldn’t be a list of grievances or complaints but an outline of why you are concerned about the situation and what you propose as solutions. Putting your thoughts onto paper helps you organize what you want to say and reinforces your reasons for wanting to start the conversation. Think of the main outcome you would like to achieve as a result of this discussion, and edit it down to a single sentence. Keep this “cheat sheet” on hand in case you get flustered or need to jog your memory.

2. Be assertive but cooperative.

Start by reading these simple assertive communication tips and reflecting on how they can be helpful in your current situation. Recognize that your concerns are valid, and resist the temptation to take the easy way out by avoiding the tough issues or being overly accommodating. Be direct, yet tactful, honest, yet respectful. Listen to the other person’s perspective without interrupting and expect the same courtesy in return.

3. Strive for a win-win outcome.

Approach the conflict resolution process as if you are trying to solve a puzzle, rather than trying to start a fight. If you dislike confrontation, this method may be more in tune with your personality style, and it is much more cooperative and productive than simply arguing. Focus the conversation around what goals you hope to achieve and what different solutions are possible to reach these results. Even if you already have one particular idea in mind, be open to alternatives and various forms of compromise.

Are you a non-confrontational person? How do you approach disagreements at work?

Learn more about EDSI’s conflict resolution resources.

Posted by & filed under Personal Effectiveness.

How do you start your work day? If you are like many people, you probably ease your way into your daily tasks by first checking your email, sending responses to messages, listening to your voicemails, returning phone calls and maybe taking a quick coffee break.

It’s a pleasant enough way to begin a day, but what time is it by the time you get to the actual important tasks on your to-do list? Sometimes it is mid-morning or even afternoon by the time you finally focus on the big presentation you need to prepare or the research project you need to start. Your truly productive hours may not begin until close to the end of the work day.

To increase your personal effectiveness every single day, it’s important to jump right into the important work at hand instead of procrastinating or becoming distracted with smaller, less pressing activities.

Sid Savara wrote a post called “7 Reasons You Should Never Check Email First Thing in the Morning” for his personal development blog and included this advice:

Do you know what is most important for you to work on?  Do you know the first thing you want to do this morning? Then go ahead and do it!

On the other hand by checking email, you risk doing what someone else wants you to do.  Every time you open an email, you should consider whether it’s more important than everything else on your task list – but realistically, how many of us actually do that?

If you don’t, then the items you end up working on (even if it’s just replying and giving information) end up being tasks for other people rather than yourself.

Email, though a very useful work communication tool, can be responsible for hours of distraction and lost personal effectiveness in any given day. If you must check your email first thing in the morning, try to scan your inbox for urgent messages needing immediate attention. Respond to anything that truly must be taken care of right away, take care of any emergencies, then close your email. Turn your attention to your top priorities for the day– the tasks that have the most pressing deadlines or the projects that you absolutely need to tackle.

Leo Babauta, author of the Zen Habits blog, prioritizes his “Most Important Tasks” (MITs) each day to stay focused on his goals:

It’s very simple: your MIT is the task you most want or need to get done today. In my case, I’ve tweaked it a bit so that I have three MITs — the three things I must accomplish today… do your MITs first thing in the morning, either at home or when you first get to work. If you put them off to later, you will get busy and run out of time to do them.

This method of setting “Most Important Tasks” is one that can be easily incorporated into your daily schedule. Write them down, enter them into your calendar or your project management software and keep yourself accountable for accomplishing them. Try using Post-Its or index cards as a simple organization tool of you struggle to prioritize.

How do you begin your work day? Do you write down your top priorities for the day or use other strategies to stay on track?

Learn more about EDSI’s Increasing Personal Effectiveness course.