Professional Development

Guiding Principles

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If you are new to an organization and somebody shares with you their Guiding Principles, what immediately comes to mind? Typically, if you are honest, you might be inclined to think along the same vein as Mission Statements and Values, and cynically reflect on the old adage of “Do what I say, not what I do”.Success

Part of the reason for this is because Mission Statements and Values are often viewed as being somewhat aspirational. In other words they are not actually real in the present moment. However Guiding Principles form the link between where you are today and what needs to be done to achieve the Mission and Values. In addition, if scripted correctly, they are easy to understand and translate into every day actions.

Although most organizations have their own nuances, there are enough common characteristics when thinking about what might be appropriate. At a minimum, the following should be seriously considered.

  • Communicate: although it comes in many forms, the essence of communication is about inclusion. People by being appropriately informed will identify with the organization, be far more engaged and more likely to proactively contribute to its success.
  • Collaborate: Team work is essential in every organization and is how human systems operate most effectively. However, one needs to be cognizant of the many differences that exist because of culture, discipline, experience, knowledge, etc.
  • Plan: there is a saying that planning doesn’t guarantee success but, without it, you will most likely fail. The key to successful planning is effective execution.
  • Embrace Change: by seeing this as the opportunity to be better, it will allow your organization to remain energized, competitive and ultimately successful.
  • Perform: Every member of an organization needs to clearly understand performance expectations and that a process is in place where adherence to these standards is clearly communicated.

In conclusion, Guiding Principles are designed to provide direction and clarity within an organization as well as the behavioral expectations we have for each other. They actually go a long way in defining how things get done, aka the culture.

Why Mistakes are Good

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James Joyce once wrote, “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery”; he was speaking about William Shakespeare. Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. What does all this mean? Are mistakes simply an essential part of how we develop, both personally and professionally? In fact, one could argue that most mistakes are positive! Mistakes try again

As human beings, despite our best intentions, we make “mistakes” all the time. As Peter Buffet in his book “Life Is What You Make Of It”, he points that we makes mistakes when impatient and indecisive, with foolish acts and foolish failures to act, when overly ambitious and not ambitious enough. There is no prescription for this and each situation is unique to every individual. Yes, we can learn from others, but you will never know exactly what works for you unless you try it.

Obviously, a certain amount of caution can be exercised, but doing nothing can also be considered a mistake; a Catch 22 if you will! This applies to every single aspect of your life whether it has to do with family, career, health, business, money, relationships, etc. So what might be some options to better manage these potential “mistakes”?

1. Do some analysis – assess the “pros and cons” to gain a deeper insight of what might be involved.
2. Speak to others – identify those you know, like or trust who might have some experience and are prepared to offer their advice.
3. Hire a coach – seek out an objective, professional confidante who will challenge, but also support you along the way.
4. Be courageous and just do it – maybe walk before your run and you can always adjust your setting along the way.

All of this revolves around being an proactive player in your life and being less concerned about the judgments of others. Perhaps there are no mistakes!

Receiving Feedback

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Recieving FeedbackFor many the thoughts of receiving feedback can be daunting, yet for others it’s seen as a wonderful opportunity. Many perhaps reading this piece, would most likely put themselves in the former category because, after all, it is very judgmental and can point to shortcomings. In response to that, yes this is true but the key to feedback (and its effectiveness) is to have the receiver take control of the process and use the information to their benefit. After all, if you choose to feel judged or insecure about feedback, you are probably feeling the same way about other things in your life.

So how can we reframe this so that the recipients of feedback actually take charge. The key is to hone in on its potential benefits and Stone and Heen, in their HBS article “Thanks for the Feedback”, point to three key positives.

  • Take charge of your Life Long Learning – see this feedback as a blessing and a real opportunity for you to acquire new skills and information, that ultimately allow you to grow.
  • Improve Your relationships – if you can take feedback positively, people will see you as being open and what somebody says actually matters. This can only serve to improve how you interact with everybody.
  • Reduce Stress and Anxiety – sometimes feedback can be tough, but if you can build up the resilience to accept as just that, and not personal, it can make you feel a lot more composed and relaxed.

In general, getting feedback can be very helpful. What is important to optimizing this is to ensure that both the provider and receiver seize the opportunity for what it is truly intended. So notwithstanding what was presented above, there is also an obligation to the feedback provider to do so in an appropriate manner. Some of the keys to this are:

Honesty – be candid in your feedback
Timing – don’t wait for something to go wrong to speak up
Frequency – do it often and let it become normal
De-personalize – be strong on the issue and kind with the person

When all is said and done, “true feedback” is an opportunity for somebody to improve. If that can be instilled as the pure purpose both for the provider and receiver, and become a seamless process that just happens as a natural course of events. However, if you are one of those who struggles with being that recipient, remember this is very much about how you choose to view it, so take control and get the benefit!

Timing of Training

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Billions of dollars are spent annually on a variety of professional development and training initiatives. In an attempt to improve business performance, there is an understandable belief that if you want people to step up, one must provide the necessary skills and capabilities to do so. However, research by Beer, Finnstrom and Schrader provide caution as to the timing and context of the training. In essence what they are saying is, that unless the training fits into where the organization is at in its evolution, money spent on training could be money down the drain.

So in expanding this further, the consideration is to ensure there is a state of readiness for change as Edmondson and Wooley so eloquently put it that “organizations need “fertile soil” in place before the “seeds” of training interventions can grow”. 38617226 - watering can watering young plants in pile of soil A simple example of this would be where a group of people are sent on a training program and, though their manager might have authorized it, he or she pays little attention to it and has little concern about how they might integrate the learning upon their return. In fact, if anything, the pressure is piled on to make sure they catch up on the time they spent away from their daily responsibilities. Consequently, no changes, so why bother in the first place?

Beer, Finnstrom and Schrader have suggested that a context, or the right environment, needs to happen first through clarity around the values and strategic direction of the organization. This then feeds into defining roles and responsibilities which in turn helps to identify any barriers that might exist. Specific coaching is then suggested around finalizing the required context and then and only then, the training necessary to execute effectively. Consequently, everybody will fully appreciate the reason for the training and will be bought into the necessity of providing the space for the integration of the learning.

Therefore, don’t conduct training to keep people happy, because HR suggest it or, to stop some high potential from leaving. All of these reasons, and it does happen, are a waste of time and money. Instead, as a leader, ensure that the environment is created to receive the training and allow it to bloom. And if it’s not, put the training on hold and take a step back to evaluate the actual direction the business is taking first.

Why Making “Mistakes” is OK

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mistakes-2James Joyce once wrote, “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery”; he was speaking about William Shakespeare. Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. What does all this mean? Are mistakes simply an essential part of how we develop, both personally and professionally? If so, one could say that most mistakes are in fact positive!

As human beings, despite our best intentions, we make “mistakes” all the time. As Peter Buffet in his book “Life Is What You Make Of It”, he points that “we make mistakes when impatient and indecisive, with foolish acts and foolish failures to act, when overly ambitious and not ambitious enough”. There is no prescription for this and each situation is unique to every individual. Yes we can learn from others but you will never know exactly what works for you unless you try it.

Obviously, a certain amount of caution can be exercised but doing nothing can also be considered a mistake; a Catch 22 if you will! This applies to every single aspect of your life whether it has to do with family, career, health, money, relationships, etc. So what might be some options to mange these “essential mistakes”?

  • Do some analysis – assess the “pros and cons” to gain a deeper insight of what might be involved
  • Speak to others – identify those you know, like or trust who might have some experience and are prepared to offer their advice
  • Hire a coach – seek out an objective, professional confidante who will challenge but also support you along the way
  • Be courageous and just do it – maybe walk before your run and you can always adjust your setting along the way.

All of this revolves around being an proactive player in your life and being less concerned about the judgments of others. Perhaps there are no mistakes!

Category: Professional Development
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Translating Professional Development into Organizational Impact

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41402270 - businesswoman presenting to colleagues at a meetingWith billions of dollars spend every year on professional development and training, how much really sticks? We have all heard the comments “the training was awesome” and then very little changes. Or how many have attended programs where half the participants didn’t want to be there and the other half didn’t know why they were? Part of the challenge is with the way many training programs are delivered. And even if the content is rich, if nothing changes as a result, what’s the point?

Added to this is the fact that more and more training is being conducted online with cost and time being the major drivers behind this. This makes sense up to a point but cheap and quick are not necessarily the best ways to learn. In some respects many might think it’s almost the opposite of the college system; too expensive and too long. So where does the answer lie? Inevitably, as with most situations, the answer lies somewhere in between. Here are the 5 Key Tips for ensuring an optimum learning experience.

Varied Learning
Blended learning has become somewhat of a buzz word recently and is certainly a positive move in terms of utilizing traditional classroom with online / technology. But varied learning extends beyond this in terms of the importance of striking the balance with lecture, discussion, role play, activities, visuals, one on one coaching, all of which should be designed to ensure maximum engagement.

Competent Teaching
The teachers are the voice of the program and are still the anchors of any developmental experience. They must be knowledgeable, possess the effective communications skills and be able to flex to meet the needs of various learning styles. People are auditory, visual or kinesthetic and good trainers have the ability to mix up how they communicate to ensure all needs are met.

Practice
It is critically important that a new skill be followed by practice. This is as applicable with professional development as it is with sports. This could be some form of classroom activity, a peer work outside the class or a project. Make it something that ensures the applicability of what has been learned is being transferred back into their real world situation. Learning + Practice = Doing (and perfecting).

Accountability / Integration
Unless somebody holds us accountable to getting tasks completed, in most instances, it does not get done and the integration of the learning never happens. Having people submit logs of completion, doing exams or presenting projects are needed to ensure people realize the importance of what they are learning and that tasks get completed. Consequently the learning becomes imbedded and the ease of application becomes more doable. Then and only then does the impact become realized and the return on investment achieved.

Tips to Conquering the Fear of Public Speaking

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speakingWe have all heard the old adage that many would prefer death over speaking in public. Why is it that we naturally and instinctively can converse, yet when formalized, many of us freeze or cringe at the thought? Much has been written and businesses thrive to help address this long standing and restricting challenge. So what really works? The following generally accepted strategies are typically employed and perhaps one might be for you.

Practice
There are numerous public speaking schools which along with the likes of Toastmasters advocate readiness in terms on Preparation, Practice and Repetition. With these you build a level of confidence that minimizes the fear.

Coping
Another approach is associated with what you do immediately prior to the event. There are numerous breathing exercises or you can bounce on a yoga ball to help to relax and get you grounded. For more information visit Cheryl Dolan and check out her “Top 5 tools for Platinum Presence”.

Medication
You can also get prescribed anxiety medications that slow down the heart rate and allow you breathe in a more relaxed manner. Be sure to consult with your doctor about the appropriateness of this for you.

Rewiring
Finally, there are also approaches that focus on understanding the beliefs that are creating the fears in the first place. This can often relate to a previous experience; it happened before and therefore our wiring to the brain suggests that it will happen again. Check out the Lefkoe Institute who offers a unique coaching experience in their attempt to remedy this challenge.

For so many, life would be so much more pleasant if this could be conquered. Their voice would be heard and they would have the opportunity to make more valuable contributions. So rather than simply accept and continue to feel this huge discomfort, do something about it. Now is as good a time to start!!

Training Needs – Hard Skills v Soft Skills

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What skills would most benefit an organization? Based on research coming from Stanford University, most people view the answer to this question quite differently when considering their own needs versus the needs of say their peers. More specifically, when asked what they would benefit most from themselves, it tends to be things like time management, finance, strategy, computer skills, etc. These are normally characterized as left brain or technical skills. Interestingly when it comes to identifying what others need, the tendency is to advise more towards communication, interpersonal, conflict resolution, negotiation skills, etc all of which typically fall under right brain or “soft” skills categorization.

So why is there such an anomaly? The answer to this lies in the fact that technical skills are generally perceived as developmental, something that will make you better. On the other hand soft skills are often seen as remedial; fixing something that is wrong. This in turn creates a psychological barrier which forces people to avoid anything that might be perceived as wrong and therefore a weakness.

The reality is that most of the deficiencies that exist in organizations are soft skills related. This starts when people are hired during which the focus is typically on technical abilities. The people doing the hiring are often not equipped to have the “soft” skills types of discussions and therefore avoid it. This in turn creates a situation where the wrong person is hired and the problem just continues to perpetuate itself.

One solution to this lies in facing head on that most organizations have a greater need for “soft” skills development than they think. It should form the part of every employee’s professional development. Needs analysis should focus on what the organization needs rather than what you think for yourself. Otherwise you may end up spending a lot of money fulfilling the perceived needs of the individual but with little value to the organization.

What has happened to Civility?

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When you look at the current political rhetoric, it can be quite difficult to listen to. Quite apart from the element of fear that politicians are attempting to induce, there is also something painfully lacking that could be characterized as common decency. Rather than positively promote what you can do, the tendency is to discredit your opponent by whatever means, which to many boils down to a sheer lack of civility.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, authors Porath and Pearson suggested that the price of incivility (rudeness or lack of respect) is hurting morale and ultimately the bottom line (and indeed our country’s reputation). They go as far as to suggest that “leaders at work (and in politics) can counter rudeness by monitoring their own action and fostering civility in others.” Common sense and life experiences would suggest a general nodding agreement with this sentiment.

There are a variety of strategies that can be employed consciously to ensure civility.

1. Respect – everybody deserve this no matter who the other person is and irrespective of where they fall in the diversity spectrum.

2. Self Awareness – watch yourself and solicit feedback to make sure that how you show up is consistent with your intentions.

3. Vulnerability – put yourself out there and do not fear moving outside your comfort zone or making mistakes.

4. Optimism – see the good first, seek the opportunities and make choices accordingly. Where you focus (optimism) is where you typically tend to go.

5. Compromise – make agreement the main focus; by understanding differing points of view it will help move towards a decision that is for the larger good.

All of these behaviors also lead to reciprocity. In politics, though current experiences would tend you to think differently, that might be a decision to vote for you. You will find the more civil you are, the more civil others will be with you.

Take Control of Work Life Balance

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Jack Welch, former CEO of GE once remarked “There’s no such thing as work / life balance. There are work / life choices; you make them and they have consequences”

Whatever the theory and whether you are running your own business or working for somebody else, all too often it does feel overwhelming and consuming. The push for financial success and personal sacrifice has become standard. If you are burning the candle at both ends and unhappy, what can be done?

Step 1 – Awareness
The first place to start is to recognize that you have a challenge and wish to do something about it. Awareness precedes change and is truly half the battle. Once you begin to embrace the idea that there is a better way, your mind becomes open to the possibility and opportunities will present themselves.

Step 2 – Choice
When you recognize that something needs to change you must accept that priorities need to be established, decisions need to be made and the implications of your actions understood. With each action comes a reaction and therefore establishing some boundaries to the choices you will make are important.

Step 3 – Action
It is now time to step up to the plate and do something. Action speaks louder than words and these challenges can only be met head on with taking control and committing to doing something about it.

Do any of these resonate with you? The only one that is stopping you achieving balance is you; make a choice and take control!