Monday, July 31, 2006

Networking: Making a great impact every time

As I mentioned in a previous post, networking matters.

And of course anyone you meet for the first time may ask what you do for a living.

One of the keys to effective networking is to think about your initial response. 'I'm an accountant.' 'I run an HR consultancy.' 'I'm an IT systems manager.' Yes, it might be technically correct to use your job title. But is that how you want to be remembered? Does your job title sum up all the aspects of what you do and capture your experience and tell other people how they can help you?

Probably not.

A friend and contact of mine, Julian Goldsmith, is managing director of PR agency ARC Business. He sometimes describes his work by saying: 'I undertake the writing of press releases, articles, speeches, and reports. I arrange journalist interviews, organize events, and place people in conference speaking slots.' But sometimes he merely says: 'I make business people famous'.

Which do you find more memorable? Which would make you want to hear more?

So the next time someone asks you: 'What do you do?' be sure to think twice about your answer 'cause it's one of the rules of networking.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Anyone want a second opinion on a work problem?

My morning so far has been taken up with dealings with newspapers. I had to reply to an email enquiry from a columnist with the Toronto Metro and I just finished a telephone interview with a journalist from The Guardian. And only last month, I was asked by The Times newspaper to offer some advice to a reader with a bit of a job hunting quandary. The reader asked:

A friend told me about a great job she saw advertised. She was going to apply for it and joked that I should too. So I did. I got an interview but I don’t think that she did. Should I withdraw out of loyalty, since she saw the job first, or should I go for the job anyway?'

You can read my thoughts on the matter here.

Anyway, all of this got me thinking. So, does anyone have any career or management issues that they'd like some help with?

As a coach and consultant I work with a wide variety of people from individual job hunters, employees and managers to large organisations. Perhaps it's a case of office politics, a nightmare colleague or a bad boss. Maybe your career has hit a rut or you're on the hunt for a new job. Maybe you are thinking of embarking on a new venture or have already done so. Or you're a manager struggling with the team or how to grow the business.

Whatever your issue, leave me a comment and I'll give you my humble opinions.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it's Doctor Rob...

Given that YouTube is rapidly taking over the world, I thought I'd add my own small contribution to the gazillions of video clips out there. But I'm afraid you won't find any hot sex in my clip! Earlier this year I presented a TV show for the BBC called 'How To Get Your Dream Job' - basically a reality programme in which I tried to help losers candidates get, er, their dream jobs.

This little video clip shows me in action. If you can get past the first slightly dull minute of me commenting on some job applicants, then the rest of the clip shows me using some unorthodox techniques to coach them in the vital skills they need to get their... (yes, you guessed it) dream jobs!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Sales success: Advice from some Harvard professor types

This month's Harvard Business Review is a must-read for anyone who has to sell for a living. Whether you're Chief Sales Officer for a global business or an entrepreneur/small business owner, the July-August issue focuses on sales - ranging from how to develop better sales networks to techniques for understanding buyers better.

One of the articles, 'What Makes A Good Salesman' argues that empathy is an essential quality for sales people:

Having empathy does not necessarily mean being sympathetic. One can know what the other fellow feels without agreeing with that feeling. But a salesman simply cannot sell well without the invaluable and irreplaceable ability to get a powerful feedback from the client through empathy.

The article goes on to argue:

The salesman with good empathy... senses the reactions of the customer and is able to adjust to these reactions. He is not simply bound by a prepared sales track, but he functions in terms of the real interaction between himself and the customer. Sensing what the customer is feeling, he is able to change pace, double back on his track, and make whatever creative modifications might be necessary to home in on the target and close the sale.

Anyway, this special edition is packed with articles on selling. If you want to sell, buy this issue. And no, I don't get commission from the editors!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Trust your intuition

I was with a client, a major advertising agency, yesterday. They're preparing to pitch for the advertising account of a consumer goods company and they wanted some input on the topic of intuition and how people make decisions.

To sum up, I said that people are often scared of relying on their intuition. But we shouldn't be.

Here’s the science bit. Brain research shows that we may engage in something called traverse processing. These thought processes are subconscious, but not necessarily irrational. Sometimes we can’t access how or why we came to a conclusion, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t based on some kind of factual processing. At times our subconscious might be dealing with information that is more intricate and subtle than the conscious brain can interpret.

So don't ignore your instincts and intuition entirely. They can often be surprisingly accurate.

Copying isn't good for you - it's GREAT

If a school kid copies another student's work, it's called cheating. But copying in the world of work is not only tolerated but actively encouraged. Businesses copy from each other all the time - they just call it 'benchmarking' or 'identifying best practices'.

Anyone who wants to succeed should copy more too. 'Cause all around you, there are successful people, achieving great things. As a business psychologist I coach managers and entrepreneurs on how to achieve more. So I always say: Why reinvent the wheel?

If you're an entrepreneur and you meet someone who has a winning manner when charming investors, why not try to adopt some of their techniques? If you're trying to climb an organisational career ladder, look for the people who seem to be shooting up the hierarchy - what is it they say or do that has them on the fast track? Perhaps they have a certain way of handling conflict that accords them respect. Or maybe it's their ability to schmooze and get noticed by the right people.

A warning though. This isn't about wholesale copying. It's about being selective - about spotting the particular phrases or behaviours you might want to add to your repertoire. The CEO may appear committed and passionate when he bangs his fist on the table. You'll seem like a petulant child.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Top ten secrets to getting a free airline upgrade

I've not posted for a few days because I've spent most of the last week on a short business trip. I just got back yesterday from a long haul flight and was lucky enough to get a free upgrade (seat 1A if you must know - and yes the lobster dinner and vintage champagne, plus flat bed and fluffy duvet do make a flight seem more comfortable).

But I was watching people at both the check-in desk and the boarding gate trying to talk their way into free upgrades. Some succeeded; others, well, they crashed and burned. So here's a countdown of my top ten tips for getting a free upgrade:

10. Be a member of the airline's frequent flyer programme. And present your frequent flyer card to everyone (check-in staff, gate staff, cabin crew) you meet on your journey.

9. Be 'SFU' (suitable for upgrade) by dressing smartly. Many airlines want to retain the prestige of their upper classes. Dress for leisure and be prepared to stay in economy. Dress for business (down to your shoes and your carry-on luggage) and you'll maximise your chances.

8. Be unfailingly polite. Upgrades are totally discretionary so if you are at all rude or irritable, they will undoubtedly decide to leave you in cattle class.

7. Leave the kids behind. Airlines are loath to disturb the peace and quiet of their business travellers. If you've got screaming kids, you won't get upgraded.

6. Try to book a flight when the economy cabin is likely to be full. If economy's full and they need to bump people up, you'll have a better chance than if there are plenty of seats down the back.

5. Have a tiny amount of hand luggage. The airline staff won't want you disturbing the other premium passengers with a piece of hand baggage the size of a truck.

4. Try asking indirectly for an upgrade. For example, if you and your partner are sat separately, ask whether there might be room for you to sit together elsewhere - as spare seats together are often in a better class.

3. Try asking at the gate as opposed to the check-in desk. The ground staff at the boarding gate will have a better sense of how many free seats they have than the check-in staff.

2.Try asking a senior member of cabin crew once you are on board the aircraft - look for the different coloured tie or jacket they may be wearing to the other, more junior members of crew. This is the time you present your frequent flyer card if you have one.

1. Linger at the boarding gate until as late as humanly possible before getting on the plane. Staff are more likely to upgrade you if there aren't other passengers around who might overhear you getting a free upgrade and wanting one too.

And here's an extra tip:

0. Sleep with a member of cabin crew. Well, this is probably not something you can do as you step onto the plane and present your boarding card. But spouses, long-term partners, or even 'designated friends' of cabin crew always get treated better than mere mortals. And this isn't as hard as it sounds - British Airways alone has several thousand check-in staff and dispatchers plus over 30,000 cabin crew!

Good luck and let me know how you get on!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Push that button baby

As a business psychologist, I get to observe a lot of managers in action. In one organisation I've come across, the Chairman is a self-made man who has grown his business over two decades of hard work and determination. But ideas from his team often fail to impress him – even when they clearly have merit for the business. The canny employees who succeed in driving projects through and reaping the career rewards realise that business benefit is only secondary; in order to succeed, proposals have to fan the flames of the Chairman’s ego. Business benefit without much fan waving is always doomed to failure.

Most people have a secret hot button of some sort. For the Chairman it is flattery. Even though many business people appear to be motivated by money, the truth is they often chase money as a proxy for something else - recognition, security, fear of failure, or a need for control over their lives.

People rarely talk about their darkest, innermost needs. Many people aren't even aware of them. But if you can figure out what it is that people secretly desire, then learning to influence and persuade them will be as easy as pushing a button on a remote control.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Bosses: The devil can wear cheap shoes too

Satirical movie The Devil Wears Prada (starring the fabulous Meryl Streep) is getting a lot of column inches for exemplifying a nightmarish boss. But most bosses don't set out to be nightmarish - they're just plain incompetent or oblivious!

With three simple questions though, you can make your working life a whole lot easier by managing the upward relationship with your boss:

1. How does your boss like to receive and process information? Written report or face-to-face meeting? Most people tend to favour one mode over another. And don’t forget to think about how frequently your boss needs to hear from you. For some, once a week may be plenty while others may feel by contact once a day. When we get busy, our natural human tendency is to fall back on ways of communicating that suit us. But in managing your boss effectively, the key is to communicate in ways that suit them.

2. What is their decision-making style? Some bosses assign responsibility but need to feel heavily involved and consulted when it comes to actual decisions. Other bosses delegate to such an extent that they hate to be bothered by what they see as the detail, effectively dumping work.

3. What is your boss’s openness to feedback? Certain older-school bosses tend not to take kindly to questioning or criticism. However, younger managers may expect you to question their assumptions, quiz them over data, and explore alternatives with them as part and parcel of your membership of their team.

Of course, you could hide your head in the sand and hope your boss goes away. But that ain't going to work. It's a fact that politically savyy people agree on.

Written down, these questions could seem simplistic. But they are only simplistic if you have already discovered your boss’s preferences in these areas. Anyway, if you want to read more about it, I wrote an article on the topic for business magazine Accountancy.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Sorry: Office politics and the power of apology

Despite the possibility that Zinedine Zidane's head butt may have lost France the World Cup, it seems that his country is ready to forgive him. And all because he said sorry.

For me, too few people back down. Of course for important decisions, you need to stand your ground and argue for your rights. But for other, less important decisions, learn to back down. Even if you are clearly in the right and the other person is in the wrong. Even if you have written confirmation, sworn witnesses and signed affidavits. Because while it may be satisfying to be proved right, consider which is more important to you - proving a point and creating an enemy or backing down and retaining a relationship?

We all hate to back down or lose face. But be prepared to do it. Because success in business depends more on relationships rather than righteousness. Be ready to concede. And do it graciously and wholeheartedly, not grudgingly between gritted teeth.

Swallow your pride because politically savvy people realise it's more important to retain long-term relationships than to be proved right. After all, have you ever heard anyone comment: 'He's unsuccessful but, hey, at least he's still got his pride?'

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Rules of Entrepreneurship: Want to get quoted in a book?

Well I'm very excited today because this morning I just signed a new book deal with publisher Cyan/Marshall Cavendish.

They have asked me to write The Rules of Entrepreneurship and it'll be my fifth book with them (and my 14th book in total). My other books with Cyan/Marshall Cavendish include The Rules of EQ and The Rules of Networking.

They asked me to write the book because I do a lot of coaching with entrepreneurs on setting up and running their own businesses.

Anyway, I'll be working on the book between now and the end of the year. And I'll be looking for hints and tips, learnings and lessons to include in the book too. So if you are an entrepreneur, a freelance worker or an independent consultant and want to be quoted in a book (or know one and think they might want to get some free publicity), then please leave a comment with your details!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Life coaching: Throwing money (plus your life and career) down the toilet

I caught a couple of minutes of some reality show the other night - the presenters were asking the supposedly 'expert' opinions of someone calling themselves a life coach.

HA! I thought. Because anyone can call themselves a life coach.

Too many alleged life coaches are quacks. Life coaching is an unregulated field, which means that anyone can set up in business as one. Anyone can advertise in the classifieds of a magazine or set up a glossy website and offer their services - even a college dropout or a convicted criminal.

There are some talented and credible life coaches. But make sure you check their qualifications. A psychologist should be a member of the British Psychological Society (BPS) or the American Psychological Association (APA). Another mark of quality is registration with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

So don't be afraid to ask about a life coach's qualifications. And then don't take them at their word. Look their professional body up on the internet and check that they really are a member.

Either that or risk being coached by a fraud. Simple as that.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

CVs and resumes: Tailoring for your job hunt

Last week I was coaching a job hunter who was failing to get interviews. The first thing I asked him was: 'Do you tailor your CV to every job you apply for?'

He said no, he only had time to tailor his covering letter.

But I'm afraid it's not good enough. Because the CV you send to one organisation should have little in common with the one you send to the next.

Because the key, key rule of writing a good CV is to ensure that it tells the reader exactly what they want to hear. Recruiters and headhunters may spend as little as a minute glancing at each CV. So your CV must mention all of the key phrases they use in their job advert.

If they ask for 'change leadership skills', then damn well use that precise phrase twice in the top half of the first page of your CV. Don’t think that it is implicit that you have change leadership skills simply because you say that you have 'ten years of management experience'. If another job talks about 'communicating complex information', then use that exact phrase rather than 'good communication skills'.

You might think a recruiter would be able to read between the lines. But CVs are often sifted by inexperienced recruitment minions who can't judge the difference between a good or bad candidate. So they may have been specifically instructed to look for certain key words and phrases – and to bin CVs that do not contain them.

So tailor each and every CV or resume. Your life may not depend on it - but your career does.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Networking: THE essential skill for employees, entrepreneurs, and job hunters

Now, more than ever, success depends not so much on what you know, but who you know. It's all about networking - probably the most important skill that no one ever teaches you.

If you're an entrepreneur, the best idea in the world means nothing unless you come across someone who's willing to invest in it. If you're a job hunter, having a great CV means little if no one is reading it. If you work for yourself or a consultant, how do you think you're going to find your way to new customers or clients?

But networking isn't merely a gift that some people have and others don't. It's a skill that can be learned. True, some people are better at it than others. But the truly successful networkers turn networking into a process.

So here are the five top behaviours of successful networkers:

  1. They prepare and practise answers to common questions that others might ask about them.
  2. They research both the event and likely attendees for every conference, seminar, or dinner they attend.
  3. They spend over two-thirds of conversations listening rather than talking.
  4. They demonstrate high levels of positive non-verbal communication such as smiling and nodding.
  5. They record notes on new people they've met.

How do you rate yourself?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Achieving your goals: Scoring and the power of the pen

As France and Italy prepare to square off in the final of the 2006 FIFA World Cup this weekend, I thought I'd write about achieving goals.

You're a bright, determined person. So you've got goals in life, right?

Want to learn a secret about turning your goals into a reality?

It's very simple. But to explain, let's go back in time to the 1950s, when researchers asked a bunch of Harvard University graduates about their goals. As you might expect, almost all of them had goals. But only 3 percent of them actually wrote them down. Fast-forward 30 years to a follow-up survey. And guess what? The researchers found that those 3 percent had amassed as much wealth as the other 97 percent put together.

Have I got your attention yet? Tempted to write any goals down?

Because most people don't have real goals - they only have dreams or hopes that they wish might come true. Truly driven individuals have goals that they write down, talk about, and make solid plans about. Because the act of writing goals down helps people to think them through, helps them to analyse and plan the steps it would take to turn them into a reality.

Keep that wealthy 3 percent of the Harvard boys and girls in mind. And get writing.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Selection interviews: How to pick the right candidate

In a previous post, I offered up a snippet of advice on preparing for an interview if you're a candidate. This time I thought I'd offer some advice to managers and recruiters who are preparing to grill the candidates.

One of the keys to successful selection interviewing is to ask candidates questions that focus on how they had demonstrated skills in the past rather than how they would demonstrate them in the future.

If you're interviewing for a bodyguard, surely you want to hire someone who can talk about how they had saved the lives of their clients in the past. You wouldn't want to recruit some geek who could only talk about how they would do it 'cause they'd read stacks of books on the topic.

Sounds obvious enough when applied to hiring a bodyguard. But why recruit someone who can only talk hypothetically about how they would plan a project or convince a colleague about an idea? Why not recruit someone who has concrete examples of how they have demonstrated those skills in the past.

So. Questions about past experience = good. Hypothetical questions = bad.

And it's not just my opinion either. Bucket loads of research shows that the technique known as competency-based interviewing (sometimes called behavioural interviewing) is the most successful way to select strong candidates.

Anyway. If you'd like some in-depth reading on selection techniques, click the Talentspace logo below to download a pdf of an article on effective recruitment:

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Meetings, problem solving, and the power of three

Meetings, meetings, meetings. Don't you just love meetings?

But new research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that having more people in a meeting may actually reduce its effectiveness.

Here comes the science bit.

Researchers looked at whether groups of 2, 3, 4 or 5 people were the most effective at solving problems. They also asked individuals to work on their own to see if groups outperform individuals.

Surprisingly, what they found was that two heads were not better than one. 2-person teams were no faster at solving problems than combining the outputs of two individuals working separately.

The larger teams consisting of 3, 4, or 5 people were all faster than either individuals working separately or 2-person teams. But 4-person and 5-person teams weren't faster than 3-person teams - suggesting that the extra bodies in the teams aren't able to contribute effectively.

So. The implications are clear. When you're faced with complex problems to solve at work, two heads aren't enough. You need three members in your team to speed problem-solving. On the other hand, having more than three people won't make the team any more effective.

This has implications for large team meetings or even workshops too. If you have a big group of people, they won't be able to solve problems effectively - so it's worth splitting them into a small number of (ideally 3-person) syndicates for as much of the time as possible.

Oh, and for all of the in-depth analysis, click here to read the full article.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Prioritising your time: How much is your time worth?

Ever feel snowed under? So busy you want to scream - that there aren’t enough hours to the day or even days to the week?

Unfortunately, you can’t conjure up more hours to your day. Once you’ve wasted time doing something, it’s lost forever. But how much is your time worth exactly?

Here's a quick 'n' dirty calculation for you. If you take your salary and take off the last three digits, you’ll be left with a two- or three- digit figure. Then divide that figure by two to give you your approximate hourly rate of pay.

For example, David receives an annual salary of £56,350 a year. So, we drop the last three digits, leaving us with the figure '56'. And dividing that by two gives us an approximate hourly rate of £28 per hour for David.

So, now that you’ve figured out your hourly rate of pay, you should be asking yourself: 'Am I too expensive a resource to be doing some of the things – both in and out of work – that I spend time on?' If, for instance, our hypothetical friend David spends 2 hours a week doing his own filing, is this a good use of his time given that he costs his company £28 an hour? Perhaps he’d be better off leaving the task to his secretary.

You can apply the formula to value your leisure time too. If David spends three hours a week washing and ironing his work shirts, his three hours is actually worth £84 a week. So perhaps it wouldn’t be too indulgent to spend just £12 a week to send them to the dry cleaners to get them laundered and pressed?

As they say in the L'Oreal commercials, 'you're worth it'. But how much are you worth exactly?

Monday, July 03, 2006

Job interviews: 'What are your weaknesses?'

Interviews - love 'em or hate 'em, you can't get away from them. Of course you're ready to tell the interviewers about your strengths. But are you sure you're prepared for questions about your weaknesses?

In my experience as an interviewer, too many candidates bungle this question!

Being unable to describe any weaknesses suggests to the interviewers that you lack self-awareness or are a bit egotistical - are you really saying that you are completely perfect at everything that you do?

Whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of vomiting forth one of the tired old cliches about your weaknesses such as 'I'm a bit of a perfectionist' or 'I don't tolerate fools gladly'. It sounds rehearsed and could be interpreted as a failure to want to be critical about yourself.

Make sure you prepare an answer to this terribly common question. Pick a couple of minor weaknesses that are of little relevance to the job. For example, if a job involves a lot of contact with customers and colleagues, you could say that you get bored when you have to spend a lot of time working on your own. If you manage a team, you could explain how you ensure that at least one member of your team is strong where you are weak.

Oh, and be ready for the common follow-up question: 'What have you done to address your weaknesses?' Be ready to describe the actions or steps you take to ensure that your weaknesses don't affect your performance at work.