Adaptability for Career and Business Success

DARWIN’S WORDS, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change,” are highly relevant for today’s business climate. Thriving in today’s complex, dynamic and turbulent marketplace will require new adaptive approaches.

Ever wondered why some organizations embrace change, making it through tough times, while others fail? The answer lies in their resiliency.

A resilient organization is one that can effectively innovate, adapt and perform in the face of adversity (not just in good times). Resilient organizations often bounce back even stronger when stressed versus being flattened by their own inability to change.

Adaptive and resilient organizations have several characteristics in common:

  • Clear, unrelenting focus around purpose and goals.
  • Flexibility and openness to new approaches, roles and ways of getting work done.
  • A climate of learning, creativity and a proactive approach to finding opportunities to improve (even when stressed).
  • Trust, cooperation and open communication.
  • Senior leaders open to employees’ input and influence.

In contrast, rigid, bureaucratic organizations with choking politics, “red tape” and a control-oriented leadership mentality will often fail to adapt effectively when faced with hardships. In general, the greater the bureaucracy, the greater the difficulty responding to challenges, like trying to turn the Titanic around to miss the iceberg. Rigid bureaucracy is frequently the biggest impediment to agility. Words like, “It’s always been done this way,” or, “not in my job description” can stop needed responsiveness and innovation in its tracks.

Leadership is key to improving any organization’s resiliency. Though creating a resilient organization won’t happen overnight, here are some guidelines:

  • Don’t lose sight of core competencies. Address these questions: What are the business/team “strengths” and strategic advantages? What is working in your favor that you can build on? How can the team leverage the fundamentals that make your team and business strong?
  • Examine work processes and the “big picture” to encourage responsiveness in the face of changing conditions. How and where does communication flow (or not)? Are there bottlenecks? What does it take to get a decision? Is there duplication? Are we burdening people with too much information or checkoffs? Focus on simplifying and “clearing the path.”
  • Empower those on the “front line” to do the right thing for customers (they are a valuable asset in these troubled times) and the business. Experienced, motivated employees can make it happen as long as the business hasn’t burdened them with onerous approval processes or red tape that gets in their way. A responsibility of management is to make sure employees have the information and materials they need (in a timely manner) to do their jobs.
  • Nurture and sustain a workplace culture that supports agility. Being able to seize opportunities and adapt quickly in this uncertain economy may mean the difference between success or failure. Not being able to change course quickly was the end of the Titanic. Reward risk takers, out-of-the-box thinkers and those who “get it done.” Be on the lookout for analysis paralysis.
  • Hire for adaptability so you can redirect roles if necessary. Re-examine work that employees are doing while identifying their strengths and skills. Is it work that still makes sense? This may require employees to cross train, share resources or assume other duties as required.
  • Foster organizational learning. Treat errors as learning opportunities. It’s OK to be wrong and change course as long as we learn from the past to create a preferred future. Don’t expect things to work perfectly when innovating (studies show it often takes a second or third try for the best solution).
  • Nurture and sustain creativity. Poorly managed brainstorming stifles creativity. Leaders often blow it by tainting the well, offering their own ideas first. Make it safe for people to offer ideas in an open, nonjudgmental atmosphere. Encourage wild ideas. Don’t allow the naysayers to stymie or silence those with ideas.
  • Establish outlets for people to process the stress of change. Wise leaders will respond with empathy and listening to understand the challenges and concerns of their people.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your career coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach professionals all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email:

Technology and Communication Challenges

In today’s workplace, we face a dizzying array of options to communicate. Which do you choose: e-mail, phone, voice mail tag, text messaging, instant messaging (“IMing”), paper notes, blogs, face to face, conference calls, Skype, Facetime or yelling over the cubicle wall?

There are many things to consider before deciding.

  • Is what I need to communicate critical, requiring immediate attention or an FYI?
  • Who is my audience and who else might potentially hear/read it?
  • Does this need to be documented or tracked?
  • How can I relay the message to lessen the odds of it being misunderstood?

There are also generational preferences to consider. In general, boomers (1946-64) still prefer the phones they grew up with, Gen X (1965-82) is big into e-mail, while the youngest members of today’s work force, the “net generation” or the Millennials (1982-now), strongly prefer real-time communication technologies such as IMing and texting.

Adding to the complexity are project managers preferring to use the latest software tracking devices and internal “techno jargon,” which may be Latin to the rest of us.

My favorite: “Joe — pls frwd kernal with IPSec immediately — system compromise imminent!” which left me wondering if something in the produce department needed a prescription. And we thought the “women are from Venus and men are from Mars” challenge was complex!

Breakdowns are inevitable — boomers leaving endless voice mails to Millennials, who respond by text (to some who still haven’t figured out how to read them), then wonder why they get no response.

The loops seem endless. E-mails, voice mails, texts — what do you respond with this time, and did I or didn’t I already?

Messages get lost, follow-up doesn’t happen and the communication gap widens, leading to missed expectations, confusion and frustration.

Granted, new technologies offer advantages. IMing and text offer immediacy and convenience, making them very popular with the on-the-go, ready, fire, aim (and get it done) worker.

On the con side, deciphering “tone” with an IM is almost impossible (no voice or nonverbal cues), there’s no paper trail or documentation (think follow-up) and the messages often interrupt co-workers trying to get work done.

Boomers complain that IMs interrupt their focus, yet for the youngest members of the work force, this poses no problem. According to the Pew Research Center, 75 percent of recent college grads did homework while instant messaging (while their incredulous boomer parents wondered how they could focus).

E-mail has its pros and cons. On the pro side, it allows for documentation and a way to look back and check what was communicated (or agreed to).

On the con side, those long strings are irritating and time-consuming to decipher what action is required, and e-mails get lost in the hundreds that pile into people’s inboxes each day.

One of my pet peeves about e-mail is professionals who hide behind it, using it to avoid having an uncomfortable face-to-face conversation while claiming they are “communicating.”

What you can do:

  • Find out what medium your co-workers (and boss!) prefer. Let them know preferences (tell them if you typically turn off your instant messaging option so you can work in the morning or if you don’t check e-mail at night).
  • If the message is critical, relay it by several means. For example, start with a phone call (and/or text), back up critical points in an e-mail and follow it up with a face-to-face visit. If you find yourself in voice mail tag jail, suggest a best time to reach you or moving the communication over to e-mail.
  • Find out if your company has any user policies and/or guidelines.
  • What you say can be used against you. IMs can be copied and saved. Don’t say anything in any form that you wouldn’t say in front of your boss or that can damage your reputation, credibility or that of your company.
  • Learn how to use current technologies and the shortcut language (ask for help from your Millennial co-worker).
  • Avoid using text, IM or e-mail for sensitive or difficult conversations. With no nonverbal cues to help us decipher intent and meaning, there is simply too much left to interpretation.

Maybe I’m old school (I will out myself as a boomer), but I firmly believe that the best way to improve working relationships with co-workers is via human connection.

In my book, face to face is still the preferred method to communicate anything sensitive, of importance or that might be potentially misunderstood.  I like to hear the person’s tone of voice to decipher urgency and importance and look into their eyes to see how they are reacting to my request or challenge.  Most of today’s technology leaves out body language and tone clues.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your career coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach professionals all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email:

Retention Challenges

HALF OR MORE of new employees quit a new position within the first seven months. While there can be many reasons people quit, one reason often given is, “The job wasn’t what I expected.” Anyone who has experienced the time and expense required to hire someone, only to have them quit a short time later, knows the frustration and costs involved. If this is a recurring theme, it may be time to re-examine your hiring process.

Unnecessary turnover can be avoided by setting realistic expectations — think full disclosure — from the beginning to the end of the hiring process. Establishing clear, realistic expectations is critical to a successful boss-employee relationship — and retaining talent. In contrast, disgruntled employees and turnover are highly disruptive to workplace performance.

Research shows many applicants know little about the jobs they are applying for or have inaccurate perceptions of the job. In an effort to reduce turnover, some companies are developing “Realistic Job Previews,” or RJPs, in the form of videos such as, “A day in the life of a … caseworker.” Home Depot, for example, has made it easy for potential applicants to preview the realities of sales associate positions via an online video on its Web site. The video features sales associates describing their jobs, including pluses such as career advancement and in-depth knowledge of products to challenges such as heavy lifting and working in a hectic, fast-paced environment on your feet all day. Likewise, PetSmart shows potential job applicants a 10-minute video that it believes screens out about 15 percent of applicants.

Frankly, examples like these are rare. Most managers simply do not invest enough time clarifying expectations upfront.

Here are a few things those hiring can do:

  • Most employees dislike job surprises. During the hiring process, paint a realistic picture of what the person’s average workday would entail. This includes attention to details, including where the workspace is located (having a window or office versus a cubicle can matter a great deal to some), physical demands such as heavy lifting, required travel time and schedule flexibility. It’s also a good idea to discuss weekend/holiday requirements and the amount of autonomy and responsibility people will be given. Identify any pending changes, such as work space or office relocations. Your objective in hiring should be more about finding the right fit for the open position versus trying to sell the job.
  • Address and describe your company culture in the interview process. Cover areas including expected hours of work (including crunch times), policies regarding Internet computer use, expected attendance at after-hour events, schedule flexibility and whether the culture is conservative, laid back or high pressure.
  • Write accurate and complete job descriptions and update them regularly. Ask the person leaving what they would add or delete given their experience in the position.
  • During the interview process specifically explore with the candidate why and how he or she sees the position as a fit. Explore any areas of concern. As the hiring manager, it’s your responsibility to assess if this is the right person for the job.
  • Cover the pros and cons of the job. All jobs have challenges. You won’t be doing the candidate, yourself or your team any favors by sugarcoating reality, particularly around known challenges and unaddressed issues for the person who last held the position. If long hours, tedious, mundane computer work or limited supervision/support is a job reality, inform the candidate upfront (including how he or she will be rewarded). In the end, you want to weed out those who won’t last vs. those who will flourish.
  • Lastly, consider this happiness equation: Happiness = Expectations — Delivery, and yes in the employer/employee relationship this applies both ways! Employees are more likely to respect, trust and be loyal to those bosses who were upfront with them from the get-go.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your career coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach professionals all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email:

8 Ways to Build Trust and Your Career

Developing and maintaining trust is critical to success in your career, workplace teams, leadership and business. It is the foundation for individual and team performance. But trust can be difficult to earn and far too easy to lose.

Think of having a personal trust account much like your bank account. Every action you take with your customers, team, boss and direct reports is either a deposit into the trust account — or a withdrawal.

If you overdraw, you risk bankruptcy. Careers and businesses can be derailed because of a single incident and overdraft on the trust account.

How do you gain and keep trust? This isn’t rocket science — more like everything you learned in kindergarten. Here are a few guidelines:

  1. Do what you say you will do. If you commit to something, take responsibility and deliver. Better yet (to build overdraft protection), exceed their expectations. One of the surest ways to destroy workplace or client/customer trust is to overpromise and underdeliver. Avoid automatically saying yes to all requests. Know your limitations and resources. Commit to only those requests you know you can deliver on.
  2. Be genuine and congruent. Most of us can spot a faker, pretender or workplace politician. Sometimes you can’t put your finger on it — you just know something about this person isn’t trustworthy. A caution flag goes up in our hearts or gut that says, “Something is wrong with this picture.” When the words the person is speaking don’t match up with their non-verbal cues (the video we see doesn’t match the audio we hear), we lose trust. Be mindful of the messages you are sending — your tone of voice, eye contact and other non-verbal signs. Trying to fake or hide how you feel and what you think and want can increase the likelihood of others mistrusting you.
  3. Be clear and concise in your communications (including e-mail!). Communicate to be understood. Ask others to repeat multifaceted instructions or complex ideas for clarity. If you are one of those people who use too many words or don’t know when to stop talking, people may avoid you. Pause and let someone else in the conversation versus rambling or overexplaining yourself.
  4. Listen well. Be careful about spending too much of your communication time in tell or lecture mode. Spend an equal or greater amount of your time listening to understand the other. By the way, if you are crafting your reply or rebuttal in your head while the other is talking — you aren’t listening. Many leaders spend too much time telling and not enough time listening. I’ve never heard a leader criticized for listening too much. To listen better, be curious, paraphrase (you’ll pay closer attention if you know you have to summarize their words) and ask clarifying questions.
  5. Avoid gossiping. What happens when you hear a co-worker back-stabbing another co-worker? Likely you make a note to self not to trust him or her because it’s logical to assume one day you may be the target. If you have an issue with someone, have the courage and integrity to take it up with him or her directly. Back-stabbing is often a career derailer.
  6. Generously give credit to others. Self-promoters are typically not trusted. Spend less time promoting yourself and more time giving credit to your team or direct reports.
  7. Don’t hide the truth. Be transparent with co-workers, bosses and clients/customers. Most of us don’t like surprises and have no tolerance for being lied to or misled. It is often an “unrecoverable” in the trust account — ask anyone hurt by Enron or Wall street bad apples.
  8. Be flawless with your word. Honesty and integrity will get you everywhere. There is no better mantra for success and building trust in the workplace — period.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your career coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach professionals all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email:

6 Tips for Work Seeking Boomers

The average age of retirement is extending rapidly because of increased life expectancy (and health — the good news) along with rapidly shrinking nest-egg reserves and an increased cost of living. As a result, many older “boomers” are re-entering the work force.

This week’s focus: how older workers can better prepare for job interviews.

Job seekers with decades of experience face noteworthy hurdles directly attributable to their age. Despite federal laws barring age discrimination, reality means there are “tapes” and questions that tend to run through a hiring manager’s mind.

Does this person have the energy to do this job? Is this person looking for a job to coast until retirement? Why is this person applying for a job he or she is obviously overqualified for? Will this person fit with younger team members? Is this person rigid or set in his ways? Is this person technologically savvy and current with industry trends? Won’t there be issues for this person reporting to someone younger?

Older job seekers will need to prepare to overcome these hurdles in interviews.

As a professional career coach, here are some tips I offer to my clients:

  1. You get one chance to make a first impression. Look professional and stylish. Men: minimal or no facial hair (beards tend to make you look older), and avoid outdated clothing (that tie you bought a few decades ago!) Women: no clunky jewelry (it’s distracting), strong perfumes or clothing that screams frumpy. If in doubt, get an opinion from a young professional.
  2. Be prepared with recent examples demonstrating your willingness to learn new skills. Note specifics that establish you as being current with your industry. Identify yourself as a “lifetime learner.” Relay your continual interest in learning new technologies and ways to work smarter.
  3. Prove you are technically savvy. If you can’t submit an online resume through a company’s Web site, find someone to help you learn. Likewise, don’t say, “I don’t have a cell phone or e-mail address,” because this will signal you are way behind the technology curve. Consider bringing in a USB stick of some of your best work portfolio examples to leave behind. Find a way to convey your comfort level using the latest communication tools and/or software common in today’s workplaces.
  4. Demonstrate passion. Hiring managers I coach often relay a common apprehension they have about older workers — that they don’t have the necessary energy or commitment. Prove them wrong. Show up energetically and positive. Don’t give off body language that you are tired or depressed. When asked, “Tell me about yourself” skip the fact that you have grandkids and let them know (if it’s true) that you climbed Mount Rainier last weekend or play tennis regularly. Give examples of how you handle stress, deadlines and your track record of going the extra mile when required.
  5. Provide evidence that you are flexible and adaptable. If you come off as rigid, condescending or like a stern schoolmarm, odds are you won’t be hired. Don’t give off any cues that you are put out being interviewed by someone much younger. Keep good eye contact, smile and use a confident handshake.
  6. Don’t give away age clues (grandkid photos or the date you graduated from college). It’s illegal for them to ask your age, but reality is, interviewers will often try to find out in other ways. Reciting your experience engineering the Space Needle (for the ’62 World’s Fair) would be a serious tip-off. Avoid the temptation to list every single job you’ve ever held on your resume. Stick to the last several decades. Keep focused on relevant professional accomplishments/skills that apply to the open position.

Also, prepare for these common interview questions:

  • What are your career goals? What they really want to know is, “How soon will you retire?” Reassure them that you plan to keep working because you love what you do. Use this question as an opportunity to relay your passion for work you enjoy.
  • What are your salary requirements? Don’t scare them off using your top previous salary. Be prepared to accept less than your highest earning. Do your homework. Determine the going appropriate range for the position, ask if it’s within the range, then let them know you expect a competitive salary for what you will contribute.
  • Aren’t you overqualified for this position? Tricky question. Assure them that your top priorities aren’t salary and titles. Convey your sincere interest in the new position and challenge. Emphasize your strengths (and how they are a fit for the position), your interests that led you to apply, that you’ll hit the ground running and that you can be trusted to get the work done.

Lastly, if you are dusting off the resume, consider hiring professional support for re-entry and/or reinventing yourself.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your career coach! I can help you land the right job.  I coach professionals all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: