Information and insight about your career and the workplace at large

Friday, November 30, 2007

Happy Mentoring to All

It's the holiday season, and I'm trying to practice a little personal sustainability (yet again). So I'm letting Watercooler, my Mentor Me eletter, serve as my blog post this month.

As Suzanne Lieurance, who mentors writers, says, "Try it!"

And while you're there, visit my website and sign up for your free subscription (there's a sign-up box on the right, just below my photo).

If you sign up this month, I'll send you a complimentary copy of "20 Things to Do Before, During, and After Your Performance Review." Just email me and put "20 Things" in the header.

Happy holidays, happy mentoring!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

True or False: Reward Systems Motivate People to Perform

Do performance assessment tools boost your motivation? Say, as much as money or other incentives such as promotions?

Or are you a self-starter who shuns external motivators in favor of the zest you get simply from doing a job you care about?

A recent article in a workforce e-zine raised this question in response to an HR director’s inquiry about “manipulation for a good cause.” The HR director wrote, “We aren’t trying to frighten people but we are interested in enhancing overall performance by giving people non-monetary incentives to go the extra mile.”

The author of the response, David Peck, said that while performance assessment system profiles could be used to help select and develop employees, they’re not ideal tools for boosting motivation. In fact, forget about these tools entirely for motivational purposes, and instead hold up a mirror to your firm’s leadership and its hiring and retention practices.

Peck suggested asking the following questions when motivation is low:
  1. Are leaders inadvertently doing things that hinder motivation?

  2. What are your firm’s standards for hiring and performance when it comes to self-motivation? Are you hiring or hanging on to slackers?
Peck notes an interesting, perhaps counter-intuitive, finding about the connection between rewards and high-performing companies. This finding surfaced as a result of a study by Jim Collins, the author of From Good to Great. Collins found that companies that do consistently well over time give no thought to how to motivate their people—because they only hire and retain people who are self-motivated in the first place.

What do you think? Is using external motivation systems a good thing, or is it simply treating people like rats in a maze?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Shape of Mentoring Is Changing

Mentoring used to be a long-term, one-way, and usually top-down relationship. Typically an older, more experienced professional mentored a younger "protege," in a formal or informal mentoring relationship.

Today, mentoring happens in a variety of configurations: in formal mentoring programs (inside or outside the workplace), and in formal or informal arrangements such as peer mentoring, reverse mentoring, flash mentoring, and "mentors of the moment."

Mentoring is an especially important career advancement tool for women, who are typically left out of "old boys' networks" or who have lost traction in their careers because they may have stepped out to bear and raise children.

The Greater Washington Network (of ASAE and the Center for Association Leadership) is devoting an afternoon of its program "In Honor of Women & the Women Who Advance Excellence in Associations" to exploring the variety of mentoring options now available.

Kathleen Matthews, Executive Vice President, Global Communications and Public Affairs for Marriott International, will keynote the November 7th event. Sessions will cover everything from the evolution of the woman leader, to using conflict and negotiation for mutual advantage, and making yourself heard.

As noted above, the day includes a mentoring workshop in the afternoon. To date, scheduled speakers for the mentoring session include Anitha Raj (on tips for mentors and proteges), Scott Derrick (on Flash Mentoring), and yours truly (on mentoring from the inside out, including finding "mentors of the moment").

Online registration is available. See you there?

Friday, August 31, 2007

Women's Leadership A Hot Topic

In June I was privileged to attend and to speak at the Third Rolls-Royce Women's Leadership Conference in Montreal. A global conference for women role models, the event was an incredible experience, and one of the most creative conferences I've ever attended. Business and leadership topics and speakers, yes, but also performance poetry, drumming, and art rounded out the two-day program.

Rolls-Royce is one of a number of forward-thinking companies that have decided not to short-circuit their leadership pools by grooming only people with Y chromosomes. The company has launched a leadership network for female employees in the UK and plans to support similar networks in other countries as part of its diversity policy.

The conference got started more straightforwardly than you can imagine. Here's what I heard—two years ago, a group of women at the corporate offices in Chantilly, Virginia, suggested the program and were given free rein. As attendees tell it, each successive conference has gotten not only bigger but better.

It's inspiring to see established companies change their culture (contrary to what you may think, RR is not in the luxury automobile business—that part of the business was sold in the 1970s—but in the civil aerospace, defense aerospace, marine, and energy industries, and therefore heavily staffed by engineers with Y chromosomes). I know it hasn't been an easy transition; the women's stories at the conference attest to that.

But change is happening, and from what I heard, it's being genuinely supported by top management. That's good news, especially in view of a new report from Catalyst that cited double-bind dilemmas for women leaders in corporate America.

Despite the "damned or doomed" tenor of the information presented in the Catalyst report, it seems that leadership in all its guises, including mentoring, is enjoying a new groundswell of support. Maybe we're waking up again, maybe we're just seeing things with fresh eyes.

But I'll write more on that, as it pertains to mentoring, next month.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Book review: Coaching Soup for the Cartoon Soul

I think the next best thing to solving a problem is finding some humor in it.
—Frank A. Clark

And that is what Jed Niederer, coauthor with Germaine Porché of Coaching Soup for the Cartoon Soul, did—looked at "problems" coaches help solve, found the humor, and created this easy and entertaining read.

You don't have to be a coach to appreciate the cartoons. "Opportunities for coaching are all around us—spouses, children, friends, relatives, and co-workers," Niederer says. "And the benefits from humor are pretty surprising."

For one, laughter releases endorphins, a chemical 10 times more powerful than the pain-relieving drug morphine, into the body with the same exhilarating effect as doing strenuous exercise. These endorphins can lead to a sense of well-being and optimism. And a good hearty laugh burns 3.5 calories!

Laughing and having fun on the job also make a positive difference. For instance:
  • Dr. David Abramis at Cal State Long Beach discovered that people who have fun on the job are more creative, more productive, better decision-makers, and get along better with co-workers. They also have fewer absentee, late, and sick days than people who aren't having fun.
  • A survey by Hodge-Cronin & Associates found that of 737 CEOs surveyed, 98 percent preferred job candidates with a sense of humor to those without.
  • Another survey indicated that 84 percent of the executives thought that employees with a sense of humor do a better job than people with little or no sense of humor.
  • Fun breaks up boredom and reduces fatigue.
So go out and have some fun, and consider checking out Coaching Soup, which will be released on August 14. Caveat: Don't be put off, as I was at first, by the "bathroom humor" on the front cover. What's inside more than makes up for it.

And if you're into the serious side of coaching, note that many of the cartoons reference coaching wisdom explored at more depth in Niederer's previous book, Coach Anyone about Anything. So you may just want to do a two-for-one.

P.S. On August 14th Niederer and Porché will be offering a special three book package— buy the set and get free downloadable gifts (even complete eBooks of new releases). If you can wait, however, you can go directly to Amazon now.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Keeping A Happiness Journal

You've probably noticed: interest in living a happier life—at home and at work—is on the rise.

In 1999, the Dalai Lama published the best-selling The Art of Happiness. In 2004, Greg Hicks and Rick Foster published How We Choose to Be Happy , and Dan Baker and Cameron Stauth wrote about how the "new science of happiness" could change lives for the better.

Then this year, emotional intelligence expert Dan Goleman co-authored Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill, and Daniel Gilbert weighed in on the human condition by writing a Stumbling on Happiness, which says that though we may think we know what makes us happy, we are often flat-out wrong.

So if it's a happy life you're after, how do you know what to pursue? Or is it true that happiness is the journey, not the destination?

As the oldest child in a family of five, with a heavy emphasis on responsibility -- you know, paying attention to "shoulds" and "oughts" instead of to the little voice that said "I want to" or "I don't want to"— I find that question intriguing.

Imagine: "being happy" (instead of "making a difference" or "being responsible" or "living up to your potential") can be enough reason for living. The question has even more weight, now that I have just returned from my mother's funeral.

Last summer and fall, I started keeping a "happiness journal" (true to form, this is in the back of the spiral notebook that lists ideas for an upcoming writing project!). I decided to simply observe when I was feeling happy, and to record the circumstances. I guess I'm collecting data—seeing in black and white what makes me happy, so that I can build more of it into my life.

On my list:
  • attending theater (I loved Nine Parts of Desire at DC's Arena Stage)
  • watching my nieces and nephews play Marco Polo in the swimming pool
  • keeping Sunday morning "quiet"—reading the paper and eating a bagel
  • pink
  • creating a writing retreat, knowing what a gift it is to have time to get away and write
  • being silly, like wearing my earrings backwards, that is to say, putting my CZ studs in the bottom hole and my hoops in the top
  • creating a blog entry or fixing a broken blind
  • knowing when I've worked long/hard enough on a project, and doing something fun without guilt
What's on your list? And how do you weigh in on the "happiness as journey vs. happiness as destination" question?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

EAPs and Your Privacy

If you needed help—if you had problems with your home or work life—would you, could you, get the help you needed from an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?

The facts: as many as one in five employers in the UK now offers an EAP,
defined as a confidential, free-to-use service that allows all employees (and sometimes their immediate families) to talk about problems with their work and home lives. EAP counselors typically help employees resolve issues by providing comprehensive assessments and short-term counseling. (In the U.S., about half of all full-time workers have access to EAPs.)

Employees and their on-site counselors have the same privacy privilege as psychotherapists and their patients. Yet at least in the UK, only one in 10 employees takes advantage of EA programs. Maybe because of concerns about confidentiality.

How far can EAPs go to help employees and at the same time protect their privacy? It's an interesting question. I'm curious to know what your experience is, either personal or hearsay. I think there's some connection (that I haven't yet precisely defined) between this issue and one I've been watching for awhile as part of my health education research— that of mental health parity.

Post a comment if you like. Meanwhile, here's some information on options offered by EAPs "across the pond."