Transitioning from Summer to Fall

Transitioning from Summer to Fall

Every worker knows that things change during the Summer when kids are out of school. The roads are less busy during commute, the heat keeps people indoors in their cubicles, and at any given time someone is on vacation. Once August hits, and the children start back for the new school year things start to speed up again. Budgeting season hits, planning begins for next year’s projects, and there is the final push to finish up this year’s projects. Do not get left behind in the excitement of the Fall season!

The first thing to do is take a deep breath; recognize that this is happening and just give yourself a moment to shift your mindset. Also, be aware that many of your employees and customers who have children may be overloaded for a few weeks until they settle into a routine. The best way to help your employees get back on track with the business pace is to set a few goals and deadlines to create clear objectives that they can meet and readjust to timewise. Create these goals as a way to prepare your employees to dive into the third quarter and finish out the fiscal year strong. This is especially important because as customers work on their own budgets and plans for next year, you may see in influx in requests for your information and proposals. These are going to set up next year’s work and many businesses have a cycle of what is planned in the Fall is done in the New Year. Do not lose out on these opportunities because your company is stuck in the Summer slump.

            Another great way to kick off the new season is to host a back-to-school team building event to get everyone excited for finishing their current projects and starting new ones. Note, this is not the time to have a go away retreat; try bringing in bagels or donuts one morning and have everyone gather for a stand-up meeting. These “coffee and catch-up” sessions go a long way in building internal relationships and increasing employee motivation.

            Do not get caught up in the slow Summer pace and give your company a boost by using a few simple tricks to get your employees ready to transition into Fall.


Are you being too smart for your own good?

are you being too smart for your own good

Gaming the system has always been a temptation for businesses, but customers have learned to adapt to whatever you are doing far more quickly than you would think. Here is a classic example: the infamous sale. A sale has become so ubiquitous that people will not buy a product until it is on sale. In a sense, businesses have taught customers to distrust pricing. Is that a good thing?

No! This is not a good thing! There are many other situations where the fine print is used to disappoint people. This may save the numbers for your company for the current reporting period, but once again you have taught someone to distrust you and have lost their future business. There is a similar idea of accounting games to make a month or even a quarter look good, but almost all of the tricks will be caught quickly and then the real problems begin. Now you are under increased scrutiny, which even if there is nothing to hide, takes extra time and effort.

A good way to think about all of your future moves is the almost cliché “win-win situation”. Are you creating a scenario that is good for your bottom line but does not mislead your customer base? If you do not play smart and anyone loses, the business will eventually be the one to lose in the long-run. Do not allow cleverness or the allure of short cuts to lead you to break the trust created in a buyer-seller relationship because the buyer will hold on to that grudge longer than the business has to fix it.

The Science of Negotiation

The Science of Negotitaion

Do you remember learning the “Scientific Method” back in High School? The process is easy: make an observation, take a guess, test that guess, analyze what happened, and then repeat until the analysis shows the guess was correct. The more background data you have, the better the guesses, but you can learn this as you repeat. The process of negotiation is very similar; you start with the knowledge of what you want but can only guess at exactly what the other party(s) in the deal may want. Therefore, there is a, potentially long, series of probes and questions to determine the background data and come to an agreement on the things you will get and what they will get.

A negotiation is testing and reevaluating the value of a relationship. As an example, let’s look at negotiating a salary for a job. First, is the knowledge that you need a job and have done the investigation to determine that the position is one that would benefit you. On the other side of the negotiation table is a person who knows they need someone to do the job and they have done the investigation to determine that you could fill that need. Now comes the part where the two of you have to agree on the value of the relationship: you want the job to pay as much as you can possibly get, and they want to fill the job at the lowest cost. There may be background of the bare minimum you can survive with, the market for similar jobs, and the estimated value you can bring to the position. You may have other reasons to bargain into the value as well: title, office arrangements, vacation, benefits, etc. These may be items which both sides can use to change the perceived value of the position. These are all background data which enables a better guess as to the terms of the relationship, and will aid you in any negotiation.


Marketing Yourself

Marketing Yourself


The time when both employee and employer looked at their relationship as being a long-term commitment is past. Employers are constantly looking for new employees, new ideas, and new ways to make money. They carefully market themselves to potential talent to draw the interest of those who may be of value to the company. Branding, selective advertising, and careful management of social media messages are all part of corporate marketing. So as a potential employee, you need to be doing the same. Even if you already have a job, especially is you already have a job, you need to be preparing for your future opportunities. Here are some tips:

1. Use social media to create your brand. LinkedIn especially seems to be a place to carefully describe what makes you of value to an employer. Link to coworkers and interest groups of career-related topics. Do not use this for cat videos, political rants, or inspirational posts. In fact, do not use ANY social media for cat videos, political rants, or inspiration posts. Potential employers can and will find them. Cleanse your Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat/Tumblr/Etc. postings of pictures from the pub crawl and delete the argument you had on Twitter about whatever was in the news. Unfriend those who blanket your feed with garbage; you need to be professional everywhere!

2. Join and attend some professional groups near you. is one place to find them. Establish relationships, do some educational work (give or take), take on a leadership position if you want. What counts is that others see you as a great worker with a passion for whatever field you are in.

3. A personal/blog is another way to establish yourself as a passionate participant in your field. A word of warning, you have to keep it updated because nothing is more irritating than a stale message of your supposed competence.

4. Carry a business card with you at all times. The card can be simple: name, phone number, email, your title, and any necessary degrees or certifications you may have. Any time you leave your house, you have a chance of making a connection and you do not want to be empty-handed.

Do not wait until you need a new job to prepare for the new job. It may not even require you to change employers, but you always need to be up to date and ready to market yourself to anyone you may meet.

Happy to be at Work

Happy to be at Work

We all want to be happy at work, but what does this really mean? The official definition of happiness is the quality or state of being delighted, pleased, or glad as over a particular thing. According to many researchers, happiness is a synonym for contentment. At work, to be content sometimes means your career is not moving forward at all. Still, many people get to a place in life where that is okay; they will get their self-worth from some other avenue.

Savvy management can encourage some of those other avenues to keep employees’ content in an otherwise boring, mind-numbing role with little advancement opportunity. For other people, the opportunity to grow, to gain influence and respect are needed to allow them at least the perception of being significant. Humans want to be significant; we want to have a reason for our existence. It has been said that a person with a ‘why’ to live, can put up with almost any ‘how’ they live, and this seems to bear out. Humans will subject themselves to extreme discomfort to the point of death if they have a cause to die for, yet they will whine about the trivial things in a life of luxury if being comfortable is all they have as a goal in life.

Knowing of both these two paths to happiness: contentment and significance, allows management to structure the workplace culture based on the requirements of the role. If a routine job is important, develop those alternative mechanisms for personal value to be obtained by the workers. If the job demands innovation and drive, sharing the visions and glory of the goal will be needed to inspire the team to their maximum effectiveness. Do not confuse or mix the two paths as worker confusion and even bitterness may result.

Are You Ambitious Enough?

Are You Ambitious Enough?

In the second century, the philosopher and Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, engaged in a discourse with the future tyrant, Commodus, as to what constituted virtues and vices for a ruler. The one topic they could not agree in which category fell ‘ambition’. It seems to be both. A great ruler needed to have the drive to achieve his vision in order to overcome the inevitable setbacks and challenges of any great goal. On the other side, a drive to try too much leads to frustration and often collapse of the empire in the process.

While our own career challenges are not quite to the extreme of leading an actual empire, the question of how much ambition is appropriate is the same. If we do not have the internal drive, then our dreams remain exactly that, dreams. If we push beyond our actual talents and skills, we will frustrate ourselves. Therefore, many people stop short of being all they can be, settling for something they can do well. The potential for personal significance is usually stopped by contentment. Entrepreneurs know well that failure is just an opportunity to try something different, but did you notice that they have failed? We all hate failure; it is embarrassing, and sometimes involves hardship for yourself and your family/employees. Not fun at all.

If we are not bumping into a failure periodically, we are obviously not trying. That may be the secret answer to the question of “are you ambitious enough”. Have you failed recently? If not, you need to try something. Are you frustrated with multiple failures? Then maybe you need to just try something different!

When Inspiration Strikes: The Benefits of Corporate Culture

When Inspiration Strikes: The Benefits of Corporate Culture

We spend a lot of time at work. For a typical 9 to 5 worker, over the 45 years from college graduation to retirement, with a little held back for vacation, illness, and holidays, the total time spent working is around 90,000 hours. Add in a few thousand hours of commuting, a few late-night crises, and a weekend email check or two, and it becomes clear that we spend a significant part of our life in the work environment. It sure better be pleasant!

What makes a job pleasant? It could be affected by many things: interesting tasks, challenging problems to solve, hope for advancement (or at least stability), cordial coworker and client relationships, comfortable physical environment, available refreshments, and lunch options are all aspects which affect the culture of a company. However, the actual culture is a matter of work pace and attitude set of characteristics. As these listed items are all variables in the real business world, so a large corporation may have multiple cultures. Think of the difference in the work culture of a manufacturing plant vs. a corporate headquarters accounting group.

Each employee will view the culture slightly differently as each has their personal priorities and characteristics. It is well known and well researched that happy employees tend to be much more productive and loyal than dissatisfied ones. In a culture mismatch between the company and the employees, expect high turnover unless some outside influence (i.e. depression level job market) forces temporary stability on the workforce.

Some levers of the employee perception of the culture are beyond the ability of the executive team to directly influence. Line management must be the ones trained to recognize and guide the task assignments and team relationships so that employees are neither bored nor overwhelmed. However, policies and behavioral guidelines can be established so that employees at all levels can understand the basic tenets of the culture, and executives need to be honest with themselves about the company’s business. Saying that work-life balance is important and then scheduling night and weekend work activities means the culture is one of workaholism. Not an incorrect culture, but not one of work-life balance. Employees see actions a lot clearer than printed policy. Establishing a Google-ish culture in a buggy whip business is a recipe for disaster, but if innovation and ambition drive the business plan then do not set up a regimented process culture or a different mess will occur.

Being clear about the culture wanted for the business and then putting it into practice will enable the company to have high productivity with low turnover even in the most unexciting business.

How to Stay Motivated Even in Redundancy

How to Stay Motivated Even in Redundancy

Redundancy is a bad word; in the work world it means your job is ending, and even worse it means your job is truly disappearing. This is not because you are doing a bad job and being fired for something you could correct. Unfortunately, this happens to a lot more often than people think. Automation, mark evolutions, competitive substitutions, or even poor business strategies are some of the reasons, but when it happens to you, it all seems personal. People even go through a classic Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. That is the key thing to focus on because this is a grief event and you need to treat it as such, so you can move through it as quickly as possible.

Initially, upon hearing the news of the redundancy event, the typical response is one of compassion for your fellow coworkers who are losing their jobs because surely this event will not affect you. I hate to be the bearer of bad news: yes, it will! You are just in denial. So get started on your search for a new job or see the retirement planner immediately, you really do not have much time. Do not allow yourself to feel shame for being in this situation, it was not your fault. Talk to your coworkers, trade referrals, and get recommendations.

Next, you will feel anger at the company for allowing this to happen. After all, you did a good job, were a team player, supported the boss, and went the extra mile. Use your anger to motivate yourself to network and take training to make yourself a better candidate for the next position; whether you want to or not, a change is coming. During this time, be sure and continue doing your job as well as possible because that recommendation from your boss for helping right up to the end is going to be one of your trump cards when the time for change truly hits.

Bargaining occurs when you start thinking of what you could do to make the current job last longer. Everyone tries this, but do not deceive yourself. This was never personal anyway. Keep your focus on the change that is in progress; use any additional energy you have to go towards that goal. And energy is going to be limited because. . .

The last step before mentally and emotionally moving on to the new world is depression. Classic symptoms being exhaustion, short temper, and dullness. This is our body’s response in a sort of long term “fight or flight” stress response syndrome, and use of mechanisms to overcome that: exercise, meditation, distraction will work. Use them!

Facing a redundancy event is not pleasant, but you can move on and thrive in spite of the situation. Just be honest with yourself and go through the grief; there is a light at the end of this tunnel.


How the Time of Day Can Impact Your Work

How the Time of Day Can Impact Your Work

Mark Twain famously said to eat a live frog first thing in the morning and then be assured nothing worse would happen to you that day. While this is not exactly the most appetizing image, the concept of getting your most difficult task done early is based on basic physiological principals. We each have biorhythms which ebb and flow in 3 to 4 hour cycles as our waking day progresses. Although we may be groggy when we first tumble out of bed, by the time we are dressed and headed out our brain chemicals will be flowing at their peak rate. This is the time to tackle the most challenging tasks you have on the list (i.e. eat the frog).

            As the day progresses these brain chemicals slowly get used up, and by about mid-morning we are in need of a little energy. This is the origin of the concept of a coffee break. Once refueled with some energy, the ability to concentrate returns and we can again be quite productive through lunchtime. Then the typical biorhythm causes a drop in the chemical level, and even with a nice pile of calories to fuel the body, a slump will occur. There is a reason we tend to nod off in those after lunch meetings, and it’s not just because of how boring the topic or speaker may be.

            About mid-afternoon another peak of brain chemicals occurs and the pace of work can be high for a few hours. In most people, they will experience the same slump around dinner and peak an hour or two later making early evening a very productive time personal and social tasks. As we approach bedtime, those brain chemicals drop off once again to enable sleep. Another peak even occurs while we are asleep, and those who can push themselves past the bedtime slump may experience another high productivity time about 1 to 2 hours after normal bedtime as this peak is not dependent on being asleep or awake. Another down cycle will occur before the up-and-at-em morning peak; this down cycle corresponds to the deep sleep period of our nightly cycle and is when most of the body’s resting occurs. If you try to push to stay awake through it, there can be negative effects on your bio-cycles for the next few days.

            By using this knowledge of the body’s biorhythms, you can plan the best times to complete different tasks. This will increase your productivity and make the work day more bearable.

Best Office Gift Ideas

Best Office Gift Ideas

The questions of what gifts to give can be quite perplexing. Giving the boss a gift can be seen as brown nosing, but not giving the boss a gift can be seen as an insult to them. Oh, what to do in this world of hypersensitive office environments? Well, here is a list of things to give that will not have you as the subjects of the twittersphere while still wishing your coworkers a token of appreciation. Here is a list of gift choices that are appropriate for your fellow employees:

  1. Food is good, but some people only eat bird seed and leaves, so a box of donuts is not appreciated. Plus, some people are trying to watch what they eat during the holidays and are insulted when the food is not part of their diet or because it is part of their diet. On second thought, food is not good! However, food gift cards, like a Honey Baked ham or Starbucks, lets them do the choosing. A much better idea.
  2. Sports team memorabilia- this can be a nice choice as long as you are sure what team they support, and they have not recently lost a major game causing all true fans to be depressed.
  3. Toyish trinkets- Think spinners or Rubik’s cubes; items like this are seldom inappropriate and can be fun knick knacks.
  4. Office safe potted plants- It is important to choose ones that can sit on the desk and are able to live in the dark with no water for weeks. If the office environment has the option of keeping a plant at the desk, these work well. Plus, there are plants that live basically in the dark with water every few months, and plants tend to cheer people up for a long time.
  5. Coffee cups, water bottles, etc.- These actually work well, especially if a nice, politically correct, logo or saying is on them. Avoid using company logo —giving those just says you care enough to raid the conference room closet.

Whatever you do, keep it inexpensive. Government employees cannot accept anything with a value over $25 and that is a good rule of thumb. If there is someone very special, then do not use their holiday office gift as their gift. Make it a personal gift and give it outside the office environment.