Archive for the ‘professional development’ Category

summertime is great for reflection

Friday, June 13th, 2014

50 waysI found this great tool online around where you are in your job search. The title is a bit misleading, since I think the exercise of thinking about some of these questions isn’t just for people on the market, but for anyone wanting to take a moment to reflect upon where you are and where you’re going. That’s not an easy place for me to go. I’m constantly into self-improvement and thinking about what I want to grow, but not always about fixating on a goal ahead – my tendency is to stay in the day-to-day.

I suggest you explore the site, 50 Ways to Get a Job That Makes Good. It reads like there is a path from starting to happy (who wouldn’t want to get there?)…yet, it’s easy to pick a square and see where it leads you.

I haven’t gone through them all, but some of my favorite rectangles include:

I think Friday’s a good day for you to start playing around with it, so get going!

focus, focus, focus

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Stanford has a BeWell program here that tries to build healthy physical and emotional behaviors among staff. A huge focus for their efforts is around mindfulness to reduce stress and increase clarity. In fact, I just attended a stress workshop this week around being more present. The facilitator defined stress whenever our minds are out of our body – when we’re doing one thing and thinking about the next task at hand.

The Chronicle of Higher Education had an excellent long article today called, You’re Distracted. This Professor Can Help. I was pretty blown away in the first place by his approach. Many instructors have banned laptops in the classroom as a way to combat the distracted nature students bring into the lecture hall. Instead of removing the temptation, Professor David Levy actually teaches students how to build focus through meditation at the beginning of each class.

I’m not a meditator myself (but I’d like to be). This goes beyond the actual practice of meditation and brings up the idea of a ritual to get yourself focused on the work ahead of you. How to you start your morning? If you are good and don’t let e-mail run your day from the get go, what is that gets you “in the mood” for big thinking around work projects?

I schedule out time for projects, which maybe works for me about half the time (I work in a place with many interruptions). Others might put on headphones to block out the world. I know some colleagues that remove themselves from their cube and work in a conference room to plow through work that needs to be interrupted. If you don’t have a work ritual for big work, it’s probably worth thinking of good strategies that might work for you.

Are you a really amazing employee?

Friday, March 8th, 2013

I don’t think everyone should be amazing, since we all come to work each day with different perspectives about what that 40 or more hours means to each of us. That said, a recent post in Inc. on the 10 Things Really Amazing Employees Do got me thinking about the subject.  I like their list and there are 4 standouts for me that I try to exhibit:

  • Enthusiastically Learn All Aspects of Business
  • Demonstrate High Standards, With Low Maintenance
  • Grow Themselves, and Others
  • Stimulate Happiness

Learn it All. When you show up to work, putting in the time is a given, and striving to learn more about the current context and future direction of your industry is very important. For my job in particular, this means staying attuned to what’s happening at Stanford across the board from the student experience, major sports, university priorities and understanding my primary audience, faculty and their world. I regularly read university publications, look for Stanford in the news beyond, pore through every set of Faculty Senate notes and stay current with the makeup of the student and faculty bodies. Beyond Stanford, checking in with colleagues at other Ivy Plus institutions and keeping tabs on the latest in content and online learning is incredibly important. Knowing this background helps inform my work and honestly, it keeps me energized and full of purpose.

High Standards, Low Maintenance. I have incredibly high standards and find myself having to dial it back and pick and choose my battles. In managing staff, it’s very important to hope for the best and motivate others to maintain a similarly high level of excellence so you don’t have to micromanage their efforts. Despite the high standards, the low maintenance part is key. How many times have you been a part of a project where you aren’t the most senior person related to the decision – you do a huge amount of work and it can be derailed when it’s brought to decision makers? For those with certain expectations, especially leaders and decision makers, it’s paramount to articulate must haves from the get go so that others can be on the same page, or build in check-ins before others have gone down the wrong path.

Grow! It’s an expectation in management-level positions to grow others around you, but I’ve found it’s one of my favorite things about work. This doesn’t even have to be a formal mentor relationship, but taking the time to get advice from senior-level staff or peers can be invaluable. Asking for feedback in tough situations can only help your job to better, and let’s face it, people love to be asked for these kinds of things. Don’t devalue the impact of little things, like providing feedback to peers, or just being a listening ear when a colleague needs to vent or work through a difficult situation. Regular readers know from my blog that I am a voracious consumer of all things learning. The more professional and personal development you can do from productivity to technical skills to exercise/nutrition will all make you a better and happier person.

Exude Happiness. We work more than we sleep, more than we spend time with our loved ones…more than anything. In some ways, that means that work is life. I don’t say this in a negative way at all, but when you do the math around your day and factor in your commute, it’s a lot of time. You are valuable and you should enjoy what you do and why you’re doing it. If not, find something else. We all have some level of agency in choosing our careers, so find something you love and show up with a smile and ready to connect with colleagues and tackle projects. This isn’t only important for really amazing employees, but for everyone.

The Six People You Need in Your Life

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

This blog is a long time coming, as I’ve been in the weeds at work. If you find yourself visiting this page to see if I’ve written something new, did you know you can subscribe to e-mail updates when there’s a new post? Just enter your e-mail address on the right hand side.

Last month, I saw this great piece in Forbes, reminding me that you can’t get anything done alone in the workplace. It’s all about finding the right people to help you stay motivated, happy and successful in your job.

This photo represents the instigator. That’s the person I strive to be, as it’s more aspirational and forward-thinking. For most people, I probably fall into the category as the taskmaster, since I manage so many projects around the Alumni Association.

I think it’s an interesting exercise to go through the list and  first consider how your co-workers might see you, especially looking at how that relates to who you think you represent in the office. Beyond that, go through the list and see if you have your bases covered for these office advocates.

  • Instigator
  • Cheerleader
  • Doubter
  • Taskmaster
  • Connector
  • Example

For myself, I think I’m missing a good connector in my work life. Anyone want to volunteer to help me out? Otherwise, I feel like I have a strong base of people that keep me energized and focused around here.

A Lesson from Improv: Accept All Offers

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

I haven’t been taking my own advice of breaking seemingly big things into smaller pieces. In the last month, I’ve gone to several influential trainings and talks ready to be blogged about. I had this lofty idea to combine them into one post, but I think that feat seemed so big I’ve never gotten around to it, so today I’ll just review one of the them.

In May, I went to a workshop by Dan Klein at Stanford entitled, Improvisation: Collaborative Creativity and the Art of Making Stuff Up. The experience was a bit of a game changer for me in that it’s shifted the ways I’m approaching my every day life. He reviewed some basic improv principles.

Our first exercises caused us to think about how often we say “no” or “yes, but,” which turns out to be a no in reality. This thinking made me reflect upon how many times I’ve heard “yes, but” in the workplace, especially right after someone brings up an issue or idea. We practiced some exercises where our job was not to be inspired, but to inspire our partner through building sentences. The message really resonated with me on being an active follower.

Around coming up with ideas and tackling problems, Dan had many catch phrases and words of wisdom including:

  • imagination is as easy as perception
  • raise the stakes. allow it to be important
  • don’t fight against the cat (when you’re trying not to think about something in particular and it’s all you can think about)
  • every exercise is a good excuse for a debrief
  • be average, be obvious
  • how do you signal status in your interactions

When he noted that this is where you end up:

Yes = adventure

No = safety

It makes the choice pretty clear that Yes is the way to go. It doesn’t mean you are always committing to the idea, but that you’re open to dialogue and newness. One of my favorite exercises we did was one designed for a group to constantly make mistakes when you’re ‘on stage.’ The idea was for us to go through messing up over and over again, failing cheerfully, and taking a bow. It was pretty fun to go through the motions and actually raise your voice with a “ta da!” for my actions. Improvisers love mistakes and think about how they can use them to their advantage. Of course, this also has implications for our daily work life.

Most impactful for me about the workshop was saying yes more often and accepting all offers from the world. When something falls into your lap personally or professionally, why not give it a chance and see what happens? Opening doors can only show you the possibilities life has to offer you. I challenge you all to think about accepting offers that come your way.

If you prefer a video recap of improv, watch Jane Lynch’s commencement address to Smith College.

30 days

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

In 2007, my partner and I did this 30 days experiment, which yielded great results. While everyone else was watching fireworks and having parties, we sat down and considered 30 day long trials, striving towards behaviors we wanted to develop in line with our values.

Each month was a new adventure and planning for the year meant we could do some smart scheduling. For example, March was “try new things” month, which meant everything from not ordering the same thing on the menu at a restaurant to parasailing (which coincided with our Hawaii vacation). For both of us, one of the challenges resonated strongly, with Leith becoming a full-time vegetarian the following year and me becoming an avid reader again (the challenge was 30 minutes of book time a day).

Five years has past and we’re doing it again, with some repeats from the last time – the most difficult challenge being no driving for a month. Happily, I’m coinciding this with May for Bike to Work month.

One new change is that I’m reinforcing the months with using Chrome Sticky Notes. I’m permanently pinning the tab to my browser with four permanent notes:

  • Get it done (short term projects)
  • Projects (takes at least half a day)
  • Learning (webinars and other resources to review – outside of books, which I track on GoodReads)
  • 2012 Goals (monthly list of 30 days challenges)

I’m only using these for personal tasks, as I manage my work projects and milestones with Basecamp successfully. My hope is that seeing these personal goals of mine throughout the year will give me perspective and provide something to look forward to. Also, focusing my project management on my personal life is much needed, since tasks constantly take a backseat to work.

In reviewing the whole list, I notice there’s an overall focus on learning. This first month we’re doing some role reversal at home to gain some perspective (he’s cooking, I’m washing dishes). In later months, we’re turning attention to things like learning a new skill and creating something from that knowledge and concentrating on a foreign language.

I’m really looking forward to the whole year and the wealth of experiences and challenges it will bring. I’d encourage everyone to at least do one 30 days goal for yourself in 2012. It’s not as hard as it seems and it’s only a month. Surprise yourself with what you can accomplish!

working smart is also working healthy

Friday, July 8th, 2011

it’s summer time! this used to be my down time at work (3 years ago maybe?), but for some reason, the work has piled up. that aside, right after commencement ends, i take some time to seek out potential professional development opportunities and sign up for classes. as soon as that’s out of the way, i look at the personal development side.

starting last year, i started taking a different approach to thinking about training. it’s not just about skill development, but it’s also about making yourself a better worker, co-worker and leader – we can only do that if we’re operating like well-functioning, healthy human beings. i take a deep breath, think about my stress level and my health.

stay healthy!

according to consumerist, they agree that yes, your job is making you fat. so exercise is definitely a part of the equation. i’m pretty good about attending a weekly yoga class, and i just added zumba to my weekly routine to keep my spirits high. are you keeping your blood pressure down with some regular cardio?

it’s also no joke that in an office we are constantly sitting. it’s not great for our bodies. although i’m in so many meetings that i don’t sit for hours at a time, i still think about how to incorporate movement into my routine.

  • i ride my bike to work.
  • i recently purchased a stability ball to interchange with my desk chair obsessionally – why not get some core work in?
  • instead of sending an e-mail, why not throw in a face-to-face meeting and walk over to chat with a co-worker? if dropping by is not so kosher, just schedule a 15 minute meeting? this still gets you out of your seat
  • check out this health@google talk by kelly starrett entitled, deskbound: a love letter to your body. it’s an hour, but is chock full of good tips to think about all the sitting we do. i know i have my 20% engaged!
  • protect your time. i constantly get scheduled into lunch meetings and i’m met with the excuse that it’s the only available time for the group to meet. stand up for that personal time and don’t skip exercise classes that keep you sane.
  • don’t allow eating at your desk to be a regular practice. lunching with a friend or getting out to read in the sun for some time mid-day cannot be underestimated in vastly improving your day.

there’s some other things that i don’t regularly do, but i think they are excellent ideas:

  • schedule a walking meeting. why not? lunch meetings can also be productive.
  • take a couple moments out each day to do some deep breathing for 5 minutes – it works!
  • wisebread has a great post on finding your best work hours. we all know there are times when we feel incredibly productive – why not plan our days around them?
  • skip out on office snacks that give you a sugar high and leave you feeling the blahs
  • stop complaining and/or focusing on what’s wrong and instead appreciate what you have in your life – this is straight from fred luskin‘s talk on stress today that i took. we spent a couple minutes visualizing someone we appreciate. a bit like how my friend kristine tom always has us dedicate our yoga practice that day to someone we feel gratitude towards, it’s an immensely positive idea.
  • sign up for some health classes in the community, or if you’re at stanford, take advantage of the MANY healthy living classes available. even if the class isn’t amazing, it forces you to focus on yourself, which can only be good practice.

why are we so stressed at work?

the wall street journal calls the reason stretch jobs, and had a great article on ‘superjobs’: why you work more, enjoy it less. it’s a reality that with cutbacks, people at work are doing more for eliminated jobs. let’s face it that management might say the work gets reduced, but it’s not always the reality. they offer some great tips that i agree with:

  • cap your hours when you can. i used to bring quite a bit home on the weekends and decided that’s really my time. i’d rather stay late a couple nights during the week than give up my 2 days.
  • manage up. i’ve gradually taken some of this advice, as my cup runneth over. part of it has included me looking at my job and thinking of projects that i can cross-train another person on or get off of my plate. your manager only knows you’re overwhelmed if you share
  • utilize student workers/interns whenever you can. they are smart and can get a lot done.

the takeaway

don’t take it so seriously. continuous 50-60 (or more!) hour weeks will only lead others around you to expect the same continuous output. it’s most important you take care of yourself. why spent the majority of our lives in an office if you don’t enjoy it?

get your work environment under control and your state of mind/body in a good place so that when you’re in the office, you can be energized, productive, focused, challenged and most of all – happy!

here we go a-conferencing!

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Next week is our industry’s primary annual conference – the Ivy Plus Alumni Relations Conference. Cornell is hosting, and since I was snowed in last year while visiting, I’m looking forward to lovely weather and having more than two sets of clothes while there. In light of this upcoming visit, I wanted to post some suggestions about attending a conference – of course, some of these unique to being in a less-competitive industry like higher education.

99%, the think tank for Behance posted their 5 conference tips recently:

  • Separate the wisdom from the action.
  • Distill every talk down to one key takeaway.
  • Defy structure to mine the circumstantial.
  • Plan private gatherings with like-minded folks.
  • Process business cards for follow-up in real-time.

I think these are pretty good tips. Here’s a few best practices I like to follow, especially when there’s a group from your office all attending the same conference:

Prepare. Bring business cards, brush up on your numbers (for me, that means reminding myself about general statistics on our alumni population), and bring printed materials to share with others. If you have a successful program and you know others will be interested in learning more, bring some background material to have at your disposal.

Don’t skip out on any sessions. Work pays for conferences and it’s not a joyride. That sounds tough, but it’s true. You might have e-mails piling up or other work, but you need to put it aside and take advantage of all of the benefits of a good conference – great content, mingling with co-workers and networking with peers. Trying to squeeze in other work doesn’t allow you to get the most out of a conference.

Keep a running idea list for your organization. Conferences always give you some kind of notebook. I take notes during sessions, but I also keep a list on the back page of specific ideas I should consider for my own projects when I return. This puts all the ideas in one place and creates a set of action items or possibilities to think about relevant to your own work. If you have some involvement in organizing the conference in the future, it’s also a great place to list potential changes or additions to future meetings (maybe unique to my position, being in an events department).

Mingle with other people and spark up conversations. Professional conferences end up being a unique chance to bond with fellow co-workers. The challenge is in finding the right balance between sticking with your group and making sure to connect with others during your time there. I tend to gather with the Stanford folks at meal times (unless they are round tables around my professional area) and then sessions, sit next to people from other schools. If your organization has planned attendance thoughtfully, your organization should be spread out with not everyone attending the same session. Sometimes my best conference takeaways have been from lingering conversations after sessions or in the optional conference activities.

Write down all the conference followup with peers. How many times at a meeting have you said, “I’ll get back to you on that?” and how many times have you actually followed through? This happens a lot at conferences, so I keep a list of names and what I’m following up on a separate page of my notebook. Upon returning back to the Bay Area, I try to get to all of these follow-ups within a week. Your peers will appreciate it and you’ll be doing your best to keep the connection alive.

Speak up and share information. I’ve noticed co-workers in sessions sometimes withholding information and I don’t always understand that. Share and share alike is true, and the more knowledge you’re offering up, the more you’re likely to receive. In particular, if your industries are not competing, there’s nothing to lose.

Bring back wisdom to the office. The thing about conferences is that not everyone can attend. Usually 10-15% of our organization attend this Ivy Plus Alumni Relations Conference, and about half of these folks are regulars. Here’s a few things you can do to share:

  • Take time out of a staff meeting after you return to share some of your learnings, especially those relevant to your organization.
  • Connect your staff with other staff from institutions in similar roles
  • If there are LinkedIn groups, Facebook pages, listserves, etc – let your co-workers know so they can stay current as well.
  • Pass along readings, resources or other conference materials co-workers might find helpful.

Spreading the information will only make your organization as a whole better and stronger.

owning your career and your right to competent management

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Career ownership is something no one ever tells you about on the job. Especially when you start out somewhere new or you’re just starting in the world of work, everything is tentative. You’re learning the ropes, you expect responsibilities to come from top down and you wait for people around you to tell you what to do next and how to move forward. The problem with that mentality is that it doesn’t get you anywhere, and if you are a part of a weak organization or you have a poor manager, it’s pretty detrimental to your future career. Always advocate for yourself and your own progress, as no one else is doing this for you.

You own your own career. Did you know that? HR does, and at Stanford they offer this class called Owning Your Career @ Stanford: A Roadmap to Your Success! I haven’t taken it myself, but I’ve heard great things about it and plan to this summer. The existence of the course proves that your manager is more concerned about you in your current job, and not necessarily your career. That’s not always the case and I’ve had 2 excellent managers in my past more concerned with my own path than the actual job, but I think it’s true most of the time, which means that you need to take up your own cause.

What does it mean to own your career?

It certainly doesn’t mean demanding raises and promotions, especially since who knows if it isn’t deserving. What it does mean is knowing that you also have a role in your job and you should step up to the plate.

Communicating with your boss

Does your manager lead your 1-on-1 meetings and feed everything down, or are you contributing just as much? If you go into the conversation expecting to cover certain issues, do you carve out time to actually communicate these to your boss?

There’s nothing more important than communicating often and clearly. If you aren’t feeling challenged in the job, you’re overwhelmed with work or desire more responsibility or a promotion, you need to initiate these conversations with your supervisor. How else is she or he supposed to know? In all relationships, no one is a mind reader, and it’s important for you to step up and communicate issues important to you worth addressing. If you can’t get your perspective into meetings because of time, try and schedule time outside of your regular meetings to get to things that matter to you.

Professional development and goals

It’s imperative to constantly revisit your on the job skills and goals looking ahead in your job. I’m not always the best at doing the “worst first” in terms of my daily tasks, which is always the best approach. I am pretty consistent and trying to do the worst first for professional development. For example, public speaking has always been a large hurdle for me, so I go out of my way to step up to speaking opportunities to force myself to get better. It’s a good idea to evaluate yourself and work on the skills you need to develop for your career. Aside from training classes, which can be a great way to develop yourself, think about professional development as much more than that. Here are some possibilities to consider:

  • read books that apply to your field
  • reach out to colleagues within your organization and outside of it for advice, lunch, mentorship or companionship
  • be on the lookout for conferences you could attend
  • subscribe to industry websites or periodicals through e-mail or an RSS reader
  • watch webinars from related and closely related topics
  • reach out to partners/competitors for a shadowing opportunity. depending on your industry, this might not be an option, but an exchange is a great concept!

Also, within the programs you run at work, set aside time every so often to think about your progress, both qualitatively and quantitatively, and also to brainstorm possibilities to improve. We all so easily get caught up in the day-to-day that we forget about why we do the work we do and how important it is to step back and look at strategy.

Your right to management

On the flip side of owning your own career is the fact that we do all deserve good management, and unfortunately, we don’t always get it. I enjoyed this Harvard Business Review blog post on The Right to Management Competence this past week. It’s what got me thinking about our own expectations about our work. Linda Hill and Kent Lineback suggest that direct reports should expect the following from managers:

  • be trustworthy
  • exercise influence beyond his or her group
  • create a team of his or her group
  • recognize individuals and support their development

I totally agree with these expectations, and I would add a couple of more to the mix:

  1. continue to develop and practice management skills
  2. lead by example

No matter how many years of management you have, it’s important to continuously develop your skills and stay on top of your game. Even if all a manager does is read about how to develop employees and themselves, the act of considering leadership is very important. Managing people is not just about meeting organizational targets, but so much of it is about motiving employees, keeping the team engaged and focused and coaching employees to help them succeed. On top of that, respect is earned when managers practice what they preach. As a manager, if you expect your team to meet strict deadlines, you have to follow through and so on. Leading by example truly goes a long way in earning respect from your employees and shows you expect what you yourself are willing to put out.

I could go on and on about taking control of your own career path, but I think this leaves enough food for thought for this week.