How to deal with the Meghan Trainors in your Office

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Having a 13 year old daughter allows me to keep up with all the current music. After dealing with a particularly rough day last week, my daughter and I were jamming in the car when Meghan’s song “No” came on.  Although the song is referencing a woman fighting off advances of an unwanted guy, the chorus of the song summarized the people I had dealt with that day.

Every company or organization has them…you know who I’m talking about. It’s that individual or department you loathe dealing with because it seems like all they want to do is tell you what you can’t do or simply just find unique and creative ways to tell you “No”. I have a personal little reference for these types, kind of a profiling term if you will.  I have dubbed them the CantNos.

Sidenote: In my earlier, less mature days, I would actually have contacts’ first name followed by a last name CantNo to remind me who I was dealing with on the phone.  I’ve evolved since then though.

As a driver,  I think one of the hardest things I have to deal with are those in the workplace whose first answer is instinctively “No” or “We can’t”.  I guess I’m just too optimistic or “Polly Anna” when approaching problems or even trying to find alternative ways to further the brand, expand a message or take our game to the next level. Sometimes I think how miserable it must be to always find ways to kill someone’s idea or squash their passion.

Just as the CantNos have an instinctive response to most every situation, I have a guttural reaction in dealing with them.  I often find myself counting in my head to calm down, imagining a great post about them on social media or silently throat punching them in my happy place. (Figuratively of course, no violence in the workplace)  Unfortunately, what I don’t say usually can be seen all over my face. Disgust, anger, bewilderment in some cases. This is a group of people I just can’t understand.

If you’re in a position of leadership and can readily identify this group, here are some things to consider:

  1. Are their responses warranted?  I do know there are times when you have to deal with a department whose primary role is to protect the company or organization. Groups like legal, compliance, regulatory or finance have to keep the company in the right lane. I’m sure most of them do not relish in killing every major idea but it seems a number of these groups just accept that as part of their role. If you are a leader, challenge these departments to find a way to soften the blow. A simple, “Let me find a way to help you” would go a long way. As a driver, if I know you’re at least trying to explore an idea but find it is absolutely impossible or too risky, I can accept that.  It’s all in how you frame it.
  2. Do they just get satisfaction from being dream killers? This is a toxic group. You can hire the brightest talent in your industry but if you have a one, two or more of the CantNos in your organization, you may find yourself with a revolving door. If it’s more of an attitude issue, you need to confront it head on. This could include having a direct coaching session or even eliminating the CantNos from your company. You’d be amazed at the change in morale once you have the spine to pull the trigger.
  3. Be self-aware. I know I’m an intense guy, I’m a driver. I have learned to take a moment to identify if the issue is really a potential CantNo or if it’s me being unrealistic.  There’s nothing wrong with being outgoing or super creative but I have learned to be more self-aware to recognize the difference between people who are helping me be more realistic versus those who are CantNos. This has helped mitigate some of the internal frustration I once suffered from while furthering my own evolution toward a better team player.

Saint Augustine said “Anything in moderation is ok” (paraphrased). The same holds true for this topic. Identifying the root cause of CantNos can help you determine the wheat from the chaff in your organization. It can also help you better prepare yourself for interactions with them.

If you haven’t heard the song, it’s a great little tune so that’s my #MondayMotivation gift to you!  Enjoy!

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Why I’m Jealous of Magneto’s Helmet

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As a driver-minded guy, I’m always finding lessons in life, especially in movies and television series.  One of my favorite genres is Marvel…. anything Marvel.  The complexity of the characters and their development throughout the story-line always leave me wanting more.

One of my favorite characters in X-Men is Magneto. He’s quite the complex antagonist. Unlike traditional adversaries, Magneto does not have the a-typical plan to destroy the world to motivate his actions. His motives are to protect the race of mutants from the efforts of the human race to track and exterminate.

One thing I find myself jealous of is Magneto’s helmet which protects him from the telepathic attacks from other mutants.  Sure, in the real world we don’t have to worry about such attacks (or do we), but I’d like a little variation of his helmet to make my life a little easier.

I am one of those who struggles with being inside of my own head. For those who do not share this debilitation, it is best described as over-analysis paralysis on your own actions, thoughts, and words throughout the day. There are times I’ll find myself so wrapped up in mental if/then scenarios, I exhaust myself with little or no productive results to show for it.

Here are some examples:

What did person X mean when they said Y? Was it because they misinterpreted what I said? I hope they knew  I was joking. Man, I should work on that, not everyone has my sense of humor.  Could I have handled that better? Maybe they’re not responding because they’re upset? Or what if they’re just busy? Should I acknowledge that I may have made a mistake? No, that would seem like I lack self-confidence.

If you’re an X-Men fan like me, this little dialogue is similar to when the audience gets to experience what telepathic hear when they use their powers. Magneto, however, simply puts on his helmet and is able to tune all of it out. #Jealous

Being self-aware is in no way a bad thing… in moderation of course. If it were as easy as placing something on my head to keep it in moderation, life would be golden. Unfortunately, Google hasn’t made anything like that yet so I have to resort to other measures.  Here are a couple of my tricks:

  1. Workout- I workout twice a day during the week. This routine is more about mental clarity than it is about physical health, although the physical benefits are great too. I have found true balance when I’m able to break away from the world, put on a good book or favorite playlist, and crank out a physically challenging workout.
  2. Honest Friends- An important lesson I’ve learned is to surround myself with people who will tell me when I need to get out of my own head and move on. These people are priceless and a must have in my life. They know when I’m truly struggling with something real versus something I’ve concocted in my head. More importantly, they are bold enough to tell me what I need to hear when I need to hear it.
  3. Journaling- I know it sounds cheesy but sometimes, it’s good to write things out and then reread your thoughts. I’ve found this is a good way for me to remain as objective as I can and force myself to view reality, not the augmented reality I sometimes create.

Everyone has their own way of “putting on the helmet”, these are just a couple of my tricks.  What works best for you?

When you bite off more than you can chew

kobayashi-hotdogs[1]Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest is an annual attraction on the 4th of July that attracts both competitors and audiences from around the world.  Mountains of hot dogs are stacked in front of the competitors as the anxious crowds wait to cheer their favorite competitor.

Takeru Kobayashi, a small framed native of Japan, holds six Guinness Records for eating hot dogs, meatballs and other junk food items. In 2001, he set his first record eating 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes at the Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest. The secret to Takeru’s success is his unique strategy to tackle monumental eating challenges by taking one bite at a time. Where many cringe and crack under the pressure, Takeru continues to set world records with ease.

Takeru realized early in his competitive eating career that the biggest challenge is not the number of hot dogs but the tendency for people to have mental barriers. He simply sets a goal and works toward it in a methodical manner.

When he was asked about his ability to think without limits, Takeru said, “I think the thing about human beings is that they make a limit in their mind of what their potential is”. Unlike Takeru, you may find that members of your team have preconceived limits that hold them back.

So as a manager, how do you help your team manage through times when they feel they have bitten off more than they can chew?

There’s an old saying that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Helping your team recognize that every project has bite-size pieces can be a good first step. Managing these smaller sized portions is an easy way to be able to avoid being overwhelmed.

As stress mounts, we tend to focus on the enormity of the problem rather than the more manageable solutions. Team members who appear to be overwhelmed need you to coach them on how to find the most practical strategy to complete their work. The real barrier may be all in their perception and an objective viewpoint could be the perfect diagnosis to this common problem.

Leaders should use Takeru as an inspiration for their teams and teach them that often the biggest barrier to success is a mental one that can be overcome with the right perspective. Helping your team learn how to accomplish their goals without cracking under pressure will not only enhance organizational productivity but also show your team that you committed to making them successful.

“To Do” or Not “To Do”- That is the Question

So, if you’re like any other regular, task-focused professional, you live and die by the great, all powerful “To Do” list.  Every morning or every night before you leave, you work feverishly to get your list going so that you can relax.  Unfortunately, it is also how you determine success on any given day.  How many did I mark off  today?  Eventually, you become so owned by the list, you forget what all of the tasks are there to accomplish.  Am I right?

Unfortunately, I suffered under the same curse.  I was forever making a to do list and then would make a to do item to add to the to do list.  Too bad few of the to do’s got moved to DONE.  Fortunately, I ran across a pretty interesting blog which opened my eyes to a new concept, but still let me keep my to do list.

Charlie Gilkey’s Blog, http://www.productiveflourishing.com, has been a great source of ideas for me.  One of the great “Ah Ha’s” I had while reading through his blog was the concept of managing your to do list according to the project they are associated with.  Simply put, lead with the project you will focus on each day and put your to do list in line with that project.  Although it is a fairly simple concept and makes common sense, I couldn’t think to let go of my precious to do list.

For one week, I decided to give it a whirl.  I began by using some of the templates Charlie provides on his website.  (check out http://www.productiveflourishing.com/free-planners/) It took some getting used to, but I found myself beginning to think first about the projects I wanted to accomplish and then the to do’s were secondary.  Could it be I was actually being rehabilitated?

On section in Charlie’s newsletter that always helps me stop to think during the month is his self-assessing questions:

While this list of questions is by no means exhaustive, it’s a good place to start. Give yourself 30 minutes to an hour to work through them – it may help to print out this message:

  • What have you accomplished?
  • What goals or projects need to be adjusted or dropped?
  • What are your priorities for the rest of the month?
  • What bills need to be paid, and do you have funds in place to cover them?
  • What projects/tasks have fallen off the radar?
  • When was the last time you rewarded yourself, and when will be the next?

Can you say that your to do lists are actually effective?  Wouldn’t you like to find yourself looking up rather than constantly looking down.  Isn’t it somewhat tempting to know there is a way to get your tasks accomplished without being slave to them?

So, to the original question: To Do or Not To Do…. what’s your answer?

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

Stop Fishing in the Wrong Lake- Creating a Recruiting Strategy

In the previous draft Top Talent Acquisition: Stop Fishing in the Wrong Lake, we spoke about the importance of broadening your recruiting strategy.  Today, we are going to talk about developing a recruiting strategy, or as I would prefer to title it, “How Not to Kill Your Recruiter and the Recruiting Strategy”.  (Decided that one wouldn’t be as marketable of a title.)  So, here are some basic steps:

1. Job Description:  There is nothing I detest more than having an ambiguous job I am expected to fill.  If you are looking for a java developer with a certain certification, have that in the job description, don’t add it later as a filter through which you will grade all candidates provided to you.  Job descriptions should have the following:

  • Something about the company.  So many times companies forget this portion.  Sell your company in a couple of lines.  Create an interest not only in the job itself, but the organization it supports.  Many people would look at an HR Generalist role and see something pretty bland, but what if it was for Google?  That would change things wouldn’t it?
  • Paint a picture of the job. Don’t only talk about what you are looking for in terms of qualifications, but talk about the scope of the position as well.  Help a candidate be able to see themselves in the position.  Remember, a job description is a form of marketing, use it to its max capacity.
  • Requirements.  This is the sticky portion.  According to several regulations, you will want to make sure this section is sealed tight but not too tight.  Have your requirements listed, but include a range.  For instance, if you are looking for someone who is bilingual, but it isn’t a deal killer, you can state something along the lines of: “Fluent in English, fluency in Chinese is highly favored.”  This allows the candidate (or at least the ones who read the job description) know that if they do not speak Chinese they can still apply and for those who do speak it, well, they just got a gold star!

2.  Follow UP!  One thing that can kill a recruiter’s drive is when they identify a candidate for you, after some painstaking conversations, and you go dark on them.  Understanding things happen and take priority over talking with your recruiter, however, if you start to show a lack of interest in the position, the recruiter will most likely do the same.  Most good recruiters are sales people at heart and aim to please the client, but also aim to “make a kill.”

On the flip side of that, be sure to honor appointments with candidates.  It amazes me how managers will blow off phone interviews or miss appointments with candidates who are interested in the position.  There are no words for what type of impression that leaves with a candidate.  And when you have met with them, provide feedback to both the candidate and the recruiter about next steps.

3. Pull the trigger. So, you’ve interviewed several candidates, narrowed it down to the one you want… so what are you waiting for?  Many times, I will have had to endure constant requests for updates and hounding about a particular position only to have the offer negotiation process drag out for weeks.  If you know what you want, then you should know what you want to pay for it, therefore, you should be able to pull the trigger.  This is the last place you want to appear indecisive.

With all of the turbulence in the market and in every industry, excellence in recruiting can sometimes take a back seat.  I would urge every leader to be wary of this common mistake.  Remember, once you get them on, sometimes, it’s hard to get them out.  Be sure you have a strategy so you don’t find yourself fishing for a trout, only to find you’ve hired a murderous shark!   Happy fishing!

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

Being a “Ghost Hunter” Leader

There are tons of shows out there around the whole idea of hunting for ghosts. Some are incredibly ridiculous and could be a better fit on the Comedy Channel rather than the channels they are on. My favorite is Ghost Adventures with the muscular frat guy and his two pals who like to make themselves sound smarter than they are, only to make me laugh at their stupidity. Anyway, there is a good lesson to be learned from one of these shows, Ghost Hunters. This show actually has a good lesson for leaders in how to approach an issue or a hunch in the workplace. Just stay with me on this one.

When something is going on in the office, most often, people go back to the prescientific era of logic. This time period had recipes for how to “create fruit flies” which entailed placing some fruit in a jar over night and then placing a lid over the jar the following morning with air holes to allow air to pass through. Now logically, looking back, we know the fruit flies that mysteriously grew out of the fruit over the period of observation was related more to the fact that the open container of fruit attracted flies overnight who laid eggs. Unfortunately, prior to the scientific era, most people saw a reaction and tried their best to justify or back into the creation process. Unfortunately, sometimes as leaders we do the same.

I have often had that gut feeling that something was going on in my office, a ghost if you will. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but mysterious things were happening. I would hear voices or conversations only to turn around and no one own up to them. I have seen productivity mysteriously disappear over the course of the month. One time, I even saw one of my team members become possessed by a demon whose most powerful strength was laziness, malcontent, and malicious gossip. I never thought that my office would end up on one of the most haunted offices tours, but there I found myself, trying to make sense of it all.

Although this seems pretty far out there, this is not too far off base from what often happens in offices. Leaders/Managers seem to be “caught off guard” by sudden changes and attribute them to some mysterious “force” within the office. The fact is, most of the time, a lack of production, or a change in someone’s attitude can be easily explained using some basic logic. Granted, there are times where “things just happen” but those are not the norm. So let’s put on the Ghost Hunter Hat. Here are some behaviors or techniques they use to determine the validity of a ghost claim, perhaps we could use some of the same approaches:

  1. Don’t Freak Out– Freaking out throws logic to the wind. These guys might be spooked at times, but often, they gain their composure and immediately try to understand what they just heard or saw by ruling out what it could be. In our teams, we need to keep our cool and work to understand what is really going on in our office by ruling out what is not going on. If you notice production seems to falter, don’t immediately blame it on the Ghost of the Economy Present, rather you should look to the mood of your team, the focus of the goal, or the communication of the strategy. Rule those out first before immediately believing you’ve been cursed by a demon in your office.
  2. Catch and Address the Proof- When seeking out the ghosts, the guys will often use a variety of tools including heat sensing cameras, recordings, and all sorts of other gadgets to catch and analyze their proof. As a leader, we have numerous tools at our disposal to evaluate and analyze various trends and even evaluate and understand our employees. Seek out these tools and be consistent in using them. They’ll become a good beacon of reason for you when you hear that “thump in the office” that you can’t quite explain.
  3. Make a call, Present the Results- At the end of the show, the guys will sit down with their client and present their findings. They are somewhat systematic in their approach in explaining the reasoning behind the haunting and/or helping the client to understand the history around the occurrence. One of the greatest pitfalls leaders have today is their lack of attention to constant feedback. Make the time to meet with your team to discuss your “findings”. Be direct, be emphatic, be empathetic, and be consistent.

Take some time to think of the ghosts plaguing your office and determine what your approach will be. You might find the ghost really isn’t anything more than a miscommunication, misguidance, or a….. fill in the blank. Happy ghost hunting!

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

$28,000 Worth of Education only Taught Me the P-Factor

A couple of weeks ago we moved and as always with the process, I found items I had forgotten about. One of these was a stack of notebooks from some of my college courses. Of course, this began a trip down memory lane of my college years. I had a number of extraordinary professors throughout my college career, however, I had one who taught me a lesson not in the text books that I have lived by since he shared it with me.

Dr. Davis was the dean of the marketing department and served as my advisor the last two years of college. He was an older gentleman with a pretty rough front but once you got to know him, he was a great guy to shoot the breeze with. He taught the more complicated marketing classes and was one always willing to challenge you if you decided to answer one of his questions. Another important fact, he loved precision; this is where the lesson came in.

Throughout college, I worked full time and went to school full time as well as serving in a couple of volunteer positions in my “free time”. So needless to say, I remained running from one place to the next, but I usually managed to get my assignments done on time and usually made A’s or high B’s.

There was one particular week when it seemed like the perfect storm had occurred. I had an audit at work which caught me off guard, two exams on the same day, as well as a paper due to Dr. Davis. At first, I thought I had it all together and would be able to remember that week as one of my triumphs. High on the endorphin known as adrenaline, I raced from task to task and ultimately found myself in Dr. Davis’s class on the day the paper was due with one major problem. I had forgotten my paper at my office. After explaining my week, Dr. Davis said I could get my paper to him the next day, no worries.

The following week, I was excited to get my paper back to see how well I had done. My best grades were always on papers and I seemed to retain more from those types of exercises than studying for tests. When I received my paper, I was devastated to see I had gotten a 68% on it. I flipped through the pages and only found one red mark where I failed to notate something. Next to the red circle was a -2 points. Other than that, I did not see anything else indicating where the 30% deficit originated. After class, Dr. Davis introduced me to the P-Factor and explained the paper was still late so it was at best going to be a 70%. I explained my reasons and his words still stick with me, “Son, in the real world, there’s the p-factor, and this time, it screwed you.”

P-Factor:

Proper planning prevents potential and preventable problems!

This phrase has stuck with me since that day; so much so, one team I managed got it engraved on a plaque for my birthday because I always quoted it to them when they brought me one of those “stop drop and roll” requests.

Think about the last crisis you had. How much of it could have been avoided by some diligent planning? In the next post, we will pick this apart a bit more. Between now and then, be thinking of some of your more recent crises and how some good planning could have helped mitigate the magnitude.

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

For my professional resume, click here.