Monday, April 30, 2007

Busy, busy, busy

I haven't blogged in a while as I'm simply being crushed by weight of work recently. It's 12.40am on a Sunday night and I've spent most of the weekend working - coaching on Saturday morning and writing various books yesterday and all day and evening today.

Not that I'm complaining - I'm just explaining why I haven't blogged in a while. I like being busy - and by the end of May I'll have finished two more books so my workload will become a bit lighter. On the other hand, I'm in the final stages of negotiation with a different publisher, Kogan Page, to write a book for them over the summer. I am a bit of a glutton for punishment at times!

And I had a second meeting with a TV production company to get involved in a new cable television project over the summer - more details to follow...!

Deciphering officespeak

I was flicking through a magazine the other day and came across an amusing piece on what bosses say and what they really mean. For example:

  • 'With all due respect' translated into plain English becomes 'With no respect at all.'
  • 'It's a chance to gain greater depth of experience' means 'It's not a promotion.'
  • 'Jeremy here is the office comedian' translated into plain English means 'Jeremy here is the office joke.'
  • 'I'd like you to take ownership of this project' generally means 'My problem is now your problem.'
Does your boss speak in officespeak or in plain English? Hopefully the former - but I'll bet probably the latter...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Office politics: The argument for getting political

Office politics has a bad reputation.

But here's the reality: politicking happens whether you like it or not. Yes, some people try to be noble and refuse to play the political game; they focus on their jobs and work hard in the hopes of being noticed and rewarded for their efforts. But sadly there are limited opportunities in the world of work and, more often than not, these sorts of people end up being overlooked or ignored – either by colleagues or important customers or both. Do you want to be overlooked or ignored?

Of course not.

Many purists refuse to play the political game, believing it to require underhand tactics and a malicious intent. But politics are not automatically bad. Politicking merely describes the act of scrutinising business relationships and learning how to influence others more effectively.

It usually involves going through informal channels rather than officially sanctioned ones, but that doesn't make it bad in and of itself.

Nor does politicking have to be selfish. You can use your understanding of politics to influence people and achieve goals that are good for the organisation as well as yourself. Even in the most friendly and supportive of organisations, people don't always agree – so having an understanding of politics and how to exert influence can help you to pull people together and achieve outcomes that are in the organisation's best interests too.

Anyway, if you want to read more on the topic, bits of this article are taken from a lengthier one that I wrote a few months ago for - happy reading!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Take control: A tale of two presidents

One of the central themes in one of my next books, Should I Sleep with the Boss? is around the idea of taking control. That you can't necessarily control what happens to you, but you can of course control how you respond to it in shaping your career and life.

So even if you are made redundant or don't get given a promotion or suffer some more truly terrible life event, you can choose whether to let it get you down or whether to pick yourself up and get on with finding a better job or developing your skills or whatever you need to do to get on and succeed.

In my research, I came across the tale of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Of course, many Americans will already know of their childhoods, but as a Brit, I have to admit that I was somewhat under-informed about them.

So we all know that George W. Bush grew up in a wealthy family in Texas as the son of a former president. So he had all of the right education and background to enable him to succeed.

Bill Clinton's childhood was a rather different story. His father died when his mother was still pregnant with him. And he grew up in poverty with an alcoholic and abusive step-father. So fate had stacked the deck against him. Yet Bill still managed to claw his way out of poverty and to become a president of the most powerful country in the world.

I'm not trying to make a political point. What I do think this shows is the power of self-determination. That people who experience bad stuff in life don't have to let themselves be knocked down by it.

Psychologists have a fancy name for it. People who feel in control have an internal locus of control (i.e. they feel that the power to respond to their circumstances lies within them, inside of them). People who give up and feel helpless have an external locus of control. And there is plenty of research to support that people who have an internal locus of control are happier and more successful.

So whether you are trying to set up your own business, striving for a promotion, trying to reduce the number of hours you work - or whatever else your career goals may be - I would urge you to take control. While you may not be able to control what happens to you, you can decide how you respond.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Amazing what a lick of paint can do...

I was reading in a magazine the other day about the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which has been trying for years to improve the quality of its bus service. As you can imagine, people in California love their cars and dislike riding on buses unless they absolutely can't avoid it.

But the MTA decided to start with a rebranding campaign. They painted the buses new colours (with names such as 'California Poppy' and 'Rapid Red') and slapped some new decals on them. Immediately, 83% of people the MTA surveyed thought that the service had improved - even though they were exactly the same buses on exactly the same routes and the same old timetables! The only thing that had changed was how the buses looked.

Kind of makes you wonder what might happen if you were to refresh your personal brand by investing in your wardrobe, buying a smarter laptop bag, or getting a new haircut for the office, doesn't it?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Gravitas redux

I only wrote yesterday about gravitas. But here's a simple exercise you can try in your own workplace.

Ask a colleague to monitor your speech during a meeting together. Get him or her to listen out for any annoying habits such as 'ums' or 'ers' and to write down how many times you use them. I remember years ago one colleague pointing out that I used the phrase 'you know' about a dozen times in a one-hour meeting. I was mortified! But I was also glad that she told me so I could clean my act up.

Look out also for using words such as 'probably', 'hopefully', and maybe' - as these words make you seem like you lack conviction.

Another technique for stamping out irritating phrases or other bad speech habits is to get a colleague to make some subtle signal every time you use one - such as tapping their pencil on the table or touching a finger to the side of their face. It can be quite vicious, but it works! So ask a colleague tomorrow to monitor you to identify what your speech bad habit is - and get them to point it out until you have eliminated it.

Projecting gravitas

I just received the page proofs back from the publisher for the next book of mine - The Rules of Entrepreneurship. The book is coming out over the summer, so that's only a few months away.

Anyway, I was editing the editors' suggested changes and I was reading the section on how to persuade investors to give you their money. I'm making the argument that it's not just what you put into your business plan but whether people trust you to deliver on it. So I'm talking about stuff like presence and gravitas. Which I think applies to everyone - whether you are looking to get funding from an investor, a job from an interviewer, or a promotion from your boss. And I came across an interesting quote that I thought made a point quite nicely.

British actor and Hollywood star Sir Michael Caine once observed rather brilliantly in an interview:

The basic rule of human nature is that powerful people speak slowly and subservient people quickly – because if they don’t speak fast nobody will listen to them.

Might be interesting for you the next time you're in a meeting to spot who speaks quickly and who speaks slowly.

More importantly, are you a fast speaker or a slow speaker? And which do you think you should be?