Two Ways To Mine Your Email For Gold

Image Credit: stevepb (Pixabay.com)
Image Credit: stevepb (Pixabay.com)

Once upon a time, email was a fun treat. Does anyone remember the 1998 movie “You’ve Got Mail”? Each arrival was greeted with the phrase “you’ve got mail!” It was an event. That world is gone for most of us.

In most workplaces, email is a powerful tool for communication. Email is also a source of professional pain and overwhelm. It doesn’t have to be that way. Previously, I wrote 12 Ways To Use Email Better  to help readers build their baseline skills with email. Today, I want to go deeper to explore the gold mine in our email. Your email archive is a valuable resource in boosting your productivity, if you take the right perspective.

Mining your email for gold is easiest to use with Gmail which is well known for its vast archive and outstanding search capabilities. However, I have also used this approach with good results with Microsoft Outlook as well. Regularly using these practices will improve your productivity by combatting forgetfulness and reminding yourself of your achievements.

Mine Your Email For Follow-Up Activities

Most significant work takes tasks and multiple people to achieve success. Given that reality, follow up is absolutely vital. In formal meetings, follow up may be straight forward – simply review the action items noted in the meeting minutes. There are many circumstances not covered by such documentation: meetings between two people, short phone calls and brainstorming sessions to name just a few. In those cases, reviewing your email is helpful.

Use these methods to improve your follow up effectiveness:

1. Email Sent To Managers

Emails sent and received from managers at your organization are important. Success starts by determining whether or not you delivered against the request. Once you reach that level, you can follow up to determine client satisfaction and see if there are additional needs.

2. Emails Related To Meetings

Without follow through, meetings produce minimal value. Reviewing your email for messages related to meetings you attend makes a difference. Specifically, you may want to ask follow up questions to clarify an action item or check whether somebody else at the meeting needs help.

3. Emails To Suppliers

Remember that quote you requested last week? Maybe you have already forgotten it. Simply assuming you will receive timely responses is a mistake. Instead of hoping for a response, send a follow up message on supplier requests that have been outstanding for more than five business days.

4. Emails That Request Information

Requesting reports, data and other information from other departments is a regular activity for project managers. Yet, those requests are easy to neglect and lose in the shuffle. If you directed your request to someone you haven’t interacted with before, following up is even more important. They may not understand the reason for your request or how you will use the information.

Tip: A short phone call is an excellent way to build rapport. After your request is fulfilled, remember to thank the person who assisted you.

Mine Your Email For Accomplishments

With constant change at the office, it is difficult to keep track of everything we deliver. Hopefully, you have specific goals that you are working to deliver against as a starting point. Yet, goals are only part of the story for accomplishments. You need evidence and details to demonstrate your success. To obtain those details, mine your email archives for additional insights.

1. Email With Attachments

Attachments you send via email usually mean a report, an analysis file or some other tangible piece of work. On a monthly basis, review these items. You may be pleasantly surprised with how much you are delivering.

Tip: Look for patterns in the material you develop. If you are regularly delivering PowerPoint presentations, look for ways to reuse these files or build a template.

Gmail Tip: Use Advanced Search operators in Gmail such as “has:attachment” to find emails that have attachments.

2. Email Sent To Clients

Emails sent to clients are a rich resource filled with potential material for accomplishments. You may have delivered a risk analysis, provided minutes for a key meeting or provided an alternate plan to ensure the project was completed on time.

Tip: Search for replies from clients. These comments will provide ideas for improvement and material to include in your annual performance review.

3. Look For Relationship Patterns

Over time, our email habits provide clues regarding relationships. Specifically, the quantity and quality of communication has a major impact on relationships. Review your sent email for the past week to identify patterns. You may find that you have been neglecting key stakeholders. Or you may find that you have carried through your communication plan effectively. What’s the accomplishment here? For project managers, the accomplishment could include completing your communication plan and managing stakeholders successfully.

4. Take Notes On Your Accomplishments

Taking note of your accomplishments is the step that brings everything together. Here’s what I recommend: use a spreadsheet to take notes on your accomplishments each month. With a few simple categories (e.g. Date, Activity Description, Goal, People Impacted, and Benefits), it is easy to track accomplishments. With this process in place, preparing for your annual review becomes much easier.

Tip: Set a recurring reminder on your calendar to update your accomplishments spreadsheet on a monthly basis.

Email Resources and Tools

There are many tools and techniques to become better with email. In this section, I cover a few key tools and methods to make your email more productive.

Gmail App For The iPhone. From time to time, Apple’s Mail app doesn’t work for me. In those cases, I like to have this app available as a backup.

Boomerang for Gmail. This tool makes Gmail more powerful. With this tool, you can schedule emails (e.g. write an email at 9pm and schedule it to send at 8am the next day!) and track emails for followup.

How To Write A Damn Good Email Signature. Published by Yesware, a technology company that serves sales professionals, this article provides some interesting approaches to crafting an email signature. I’m not sure I agree with the image based email signature approach.

My 10 Essential Email Habits. Leo B, author of Zen Habits, shares his approach to email. A key point from this article is to write short emails (“I usually reply with 1-3 sentences”).

Unroll.me. Over time, you may have subscribed to a number of email lists. This tool is a great resource to unsubscribe from email lists quickly. I eliminated over 100 subscriptions the first time I used it.

 

All You Need to Know About High Level Networking: An Interview With Geoff Woods

Would you like to achieve your goals faster?

The right mentors and counsel have the potential to move you closer to success. In the span of less than two years, Geoff Woods has transformed his career through high level networking. I first discovered Geoff through his excellent podcast, The Mentee Podcast.

Who Is Geoff Woods?

Mentee Picture whiteGeoff Woods is the host of The Mentee podcast. After hearing the Jim Rohn quote that “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” Geoff set out on a mission to surround himself with high level CEOs and successful entrepreneurs. Fast forward just 10 months, Geoff went from sales rep to CEO, partnering up with the co-authors of the best selling book The ONE Thing, to launch a new media company that hopes to disrupt the education system.   Geoff has been featured in Entrepreneur.com and is an expert in creating quality content and turning it into massive income streams.

1. Why is networking important to reaching our goals?

In many areas of life, there is a hard path and an easy path. The hard path requires a lot of effort, random experiments and hoping for the best. In contrast, the easy path I suggest is based on the premise: find someone else who has accomplished your goal and then learn from them.

There is an additional benefit to drawing lessons from successful people: reduced fear and uncertainty. That means more motivation to make progress towards your goals.

2. What Are Some Key Lessons You Learned From Your Mentors?

The fact that we are all accountable for our lives was a key insight for me. For example, I had a situation where my commission income was reduced when a previous employer changed the compensation structure. I choose to take control of my income rather than simply getting upset. That has led me down the path to learn more about real estate, investing and entrepreneurship.

I have also learned the importance of having an unstoppable mindset. The truth of the matter is that everybody hits problems. Successful people do not lack problems, they simply look at them differently. Some people hit problems and they stop. Successful people focus on asking “How” questions such as “How do I learn the skills to overcome this problem?” or “How do I connect with people who can provide counsel on this problem?” Then they keep going.

3. What Is Your Recommended Approach For Internal Networking?

When I joined a new organization recently, I asked the people I worked with for a list of people I should get to know. That’s a great starting point to build an internal network. You could ask your manager or people you work with for ideas.

4. How do you recommend adding value to VIPs?

The starting point is to be curious and ask good questions. Few people have every area of life fully handled. In business, an entrepreneur may be moving into Internet marketing for the first time and they could use insight on how to be successful. Or someone highly successful in business may be struggling with a health issue and you may know a great person who can help them. Once you start to learn what they want, there are a few possible next steps. You may be able to assist them directly. Or, you can arrange an introduction to another person in your network. Finally, you may take note of their needs in case you find a way to help them in the future.

Staying curious about other people and asking “What are you working on?” are excellent ways to get started.

5. What is your approach to connecting with high profile people who are difficult to access?

Many highly accomplished people, including authors and business leaders, are difficult to contact. They have heavy schedules, assistants and it is difficult to connect with them. There are two ways to approach this challenge.

Introducing yourself to the person in person is an excellent way to start the relationship.  Case in point – I met Brendon Burchard, a New York Times best selling author, entrepreneur and consultant, by approaching him in person one of his events. Several months later, he was an interview guest on the Mentee Podcast: Brendon Burchard Demystifies Your Road To Greatness.

The other insight is think more broadly. Let’s see that your goal is to write a book or become an executive at a large company. It’s natural to focus on a single person, perhaps a personal hero, and seek to connect with them for advice and guidance. Unfortunately, there are two challenges with that. First, high profile people are simply difficult to reach. Second, if you are motivated by ego, you are less likely to succeed. Instead of focusing on one person, think of a category (e.g. successful authors) of people and start to approach them.

  • The Silver Medalist Strategy: If your goal is to learn from somebody more successful than you, there’s no need to go for the gold winner. To learn new skills, author Tim Ferriss approached Olympic silver medal winners from a few years ago: “Typically, they’re technically very often just as good as the gold medalist, they just had a bad day, and they’re easier to get a hold of,” he says. “It’s far easier to back a few Olympics to find someone who perhaps is actually closer to you genetically and get spectacular advice, ” he says. “It might cost you 50 bucks for an hour-long Skype session or in person training session.”

6. How do you determine which events are worth attending to grow your network? 

In the early days, I had a broad approach and attended many different events to understand what was available. I eventually learned two ways to find valuable events:

  • Price of admission is a key factor I use to evaluate events. Once event ticket prices reach $500, $1000 or more, the quality of people attending tends to increase
  • Ask for referrals. Once I started to meet a few high level people at events, I would ask them what other conferences, seminars and events they considered valuable.

7. What are some books that have valuable to you in growing your career?

There are quite a few books that have been valuable. Here are a few that stand out:

8. Who do you admire in business and why?

There are many people I admire in the business world for different reasons.

  • Tony Robbins. His ability to communicate effectively with groups and 1-on-1 is impressive.
  • Brendon Burchard. His systematic approach to building multiple seven figure companies.
  • Gary Keller. His long term success in the real estate industry: Keller is Chairman of the Board for Keller Williams, one of the largest real estate companies in the world.
  • Jay Papasan. For lessons in the art of publishing and media. Jay Papasan is a bestselling author that serves as vice president and executive editor at Keller Williams Realty International.

9. Where can readers learn more about your work?

Readers are welcome to visit my website The Mentee Podcast. I also offer a free resource – 7 Easy Steps to Meet the Top 7 Influencers in Your Industry – to help people in building powerful networks.

 

Smarter Faster Better Book Review: 3 Lessons Learned

In March, I met Charles Duhigg at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto when he spoke about his new book, “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business.” In this article, you will learn a few insights from the book. The book covers eight areas where we can increase performance (e.g. motivation, goals, team performance and others). In this review, I will highlight four areas. If you want to go deeper, read the book.

charlesduhigg-smarterfasterbetter

Overall, I found the book to be an insightful discussion of new insights and methods to boost productivity, innovation and achievement. Duhigg brings several gifts to bear on the project including the ability to select great examples, interview a variety of subjects, and summarize research papers. In some respects, this book reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s work (“Outliers” is my favorite Gladwell book). Duhigg does well to include “A Reader’s Guide to Using These Ideas” at the end of the book to help readers with next steps.

Duhigg’s approach to the book weaves together first hand interviews, academic research and other sources. I’m impressed by the sheer variety of interviews that Duhigg completed including Google’s People Analytics group, Israeli generals and airline pilots. Duhigg also does excellent work in summarizing academic research articles from various fields and pulling out the relevant insights.

Lesson 1: Improve Goal Achievement

Setting and achieving goals is an important skill and practice for everyone to develop. Previously, I wrote about two types of goals: How To Develop Goals: Habits vs Outcomes. Duhigg’s contribution to goal setting is combine the vision of stretch goals with the practical focus of SMART goals. Why is this approach important? Duhigg shares the example of General Electric where staff often set SMART goals and routinely achieved them. There was just one problem – the goals pursued did not have much impact. This is a way to ensure that your goal setting energy are focused on achieving true value.

Quote:

There is an important caveat to the power of stretch goals, however. Studies show that if a stretch goal is audacious, it can spark innovation. It can also cause panic and convince people that success is impossible because the goal is too big. There is a fine line between an ambition that helps people achieve something amazing and one that crashes morale… Stretch goals, paired with SMART thinking, can help put the impossible within reach.

Application: To create BIG goals, start with Michael Hyatt’s goal setting suggestion (“What I like to do is set a goal that’s delusional and then dial it back a few clicks” ). Next, use a focused tool like the Freedom Journal. Project managers can also apply their skills of building work breakdown structures to create the details.

Lesson 2: Become An Innovation Broker – The Import-Export Creativity Solution

“This is not creativity born of genius. It is creativity as an import-export business. ” sociologist Ronald Burt

Innovation remains a mysterious and powerful process in many organizations.  Yet Duhigg shows that certain practices that tend to increase innovation. Becoming an innovation broker, a phrase coined by Ronald Burt, is a great method to use. Rather than seeking to create brand new products from scratch, innovation brokers transfer ideas between sectors and industries. As an example, Duhigg presents the creation of highly successful musical “West Side Story” which found success by combining concepts areas from several areas (e.g. 1950s gang novels, classical dance and other sources). Reading broadly across several areas and observing different areas is one way to apply this insight. This approach has also been applied in the industrial setting.

Quote:

“Fostering creativity by juxtaposing old ideas in original ways isn’t new. Historians have noted that most of Thomas Edison’s inventions were the result of important ideas from one area of science into another…. A 1997 study of consumer product design firm IDEO found that most of the company’s biggest successes originated as ‘combinations of existing knowledge from disparate industries.’ IDEO’s designers created a top-selling water bottle, for example, by mixing a standard water carafe with the leak proof nozzle of a shampoo container.”

Application: If you are in a software development company, what are ideas that you could borrow from fashion, hotels or other industries? Looking for a tactical way to get started? I recall a great suggestion from one of Daniel Pink‘s books. Pick up a magazine for an industry or topic that you know nothing about and start reading it. An artist might pick up Popular Science, a non-profit leader might read FORTUNE and a project manager might find Success magazine helpful.

Lesson 3: Learn How To Overcome “Information Blindness” – How People Can Extract Insights From Overwhelming Information

Using data to make better decisions is a growing trend. Medical researchers emphasize the value of evidence based medicine. The Lean Startup concept of actionable metrics described by Eric Ries also makes the case for data that can be used. The demand to obtain data and use it has led to the rise of data science. Overall, this is an exciting trend!

Unfortunately, successful implementation is a major challenge. Duhigg reports a detailed case studies of teachers and staff in Cincinnati where they were equipped with detailed statistics and online dashboards. Despite the wealth of data and efforts to use it, little improvement occurred. Fortunately, Cincinnati turned the situation around. Learn how they changed their approach to derive greater value from data. Every organization that produces reports and databases can find inspiration in this example.

Quote:

“In 2008, the Elementary Initiative was launched. As part of that reform, Johnson’s principal mandated that all teachers had to spend at least two afternoons per month in the school’s new data room. Around a conference table, teachers were forced to participate in exercises that made data collection and statistical tabulation even more time consuming. [Each teacher made an index card with handwritten data on each student]…. “It was intensely boring. And frankly, it seemed redundant because all this information was already available on the students’ online dashboards… ‘The rule was that everyone had to actually handle the cards, physically move them around.’… “Handling the cards, she found, gave her a more granular sense of each student’s strengths and weaknesses..”

The key insight is to break down the information in small and tangible components. In the above case, data about a whole class of students did not provide much insight for teachers. In contrast, going a level deeper into insight about individuals proved more helpful.

Above and beyond the specific insight, there is a more general process at play. The teachers began to experiment with the data and play with different ways to organize the data. A willingness to experiment with data produces insights in a way that highly polished dashboards cannot.

Application: Instead of accepting management reports as produced, start by asking different questions. For example, use different units of measure. If you typically receive sales volume reports at a monthly level, consider looking at a weekly or hourly level to see if there are other interesting patterns.

Resource: Want to become a data science? Read my article on InfoWorld for additional insights: “Career boost: Break into data science” on InfoWorld

 

Becoming An Effective Leader In Government & Beyond: An Interview With Steve Ressler, Founder of GovLoop

Have you ever considered the public sector and government for your next career move? Governments face interesting problems and that means there are opportunities to deliver new projects. In today’s article, you will learn about Steve Ressler’s career journey which has spanned from various roles in the U.S. government to launching his own venture, GovLoop. I had the opportunity to meet Steve when he recently visited Toronto. My thanks to Winnie Liem and the PMI-SOC Government Community for introducing me to Steve.

Who Is Steve Ressler?

Steve Ressler is the Founder and President of GovLoop.com,

Steve Ressler is the Founder and President of GovLoop.com, the “Knowledge Network for Government” which connects and fosters collaboration among over 200,000+ members of the government community. On GovLoop, members learn and discuss best practices on key topics in governments through blogs, forums, free online trainings, and research guides.

Mr. Ressler is a 3rd generation public sector leader and spent 6 years in roles at Social Security Administration, Department of Education, Department of Homeland Security Inspector General, and DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He is a 2015 Presidential Leadership Scholar, has won the 2010 GovTech Top 25 Doers, Dreamers, and Drivers Award, as well as the 2007 and 2009 Federal 100 Award.  Additionally, he has been featured in many publications and conferences including the Washington Post, Harvard Kennedy School, World Economic Forum, Wall Street Journal, Fox News, Huffington Post, among others.

1. What are the major mistakes you see people make in developing their careers?

Many people are too conservative in their careers (i.e. not taking enough risk). Second, failing to go where the action is – get on the rocket ship!. Specifically, look for areas that are growing in staff, adopting new technology or capitalizing on new trends.

Editor’s Note: Ressler’s recommendation also applies to the private sector. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg shared this observation from Google’s Eric Schmidt: “Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.)”

2. Where do you see major opportunities in government to improve productivity, service and other improvements?

I see huge opportunities to use modern cloud technologies paired with design thinking for intuitive services to provide significantly better and cheaper services to citizens.

3. What are the top areas of demand for education at GovLoop?

Huge demands around topics of data analytics, leadership, human-centered design

Tip: If you’re interested in exploring data science careers further, read my article at InfoWorld: Career boost: Break into data science.

4. What are some of the leadership insights you gained from participating in the 2015 presidential scholars program?

The higher in rank you get, the more difficult decisions you have to make.  If it was easy, the decision would have already been made at a level below you.  As a leader, you are often faced with unclear choices with limited data and you have to decide how to manage the process of decision-making (e.g. how quickly have to make the decision, who to consult, what options are available) and in end, you have to make a call and someone will be upset no matter what.

Resource: Leadership and decision making is a complex art. Shane Parrish, author of the Farnam Street blog, has excellent additional insights such as 16 Leadership Lessons from a Four Star General and Creating a Latticework of Mental Models.

5. What do you see as the role and value for in person events and associations?

The Presidential Leadership Scholars program has been hugely valuable for my growth.

Personal Democracy Forum is an annual event that has been quite valuable in connecting me to technology leaders in the non-profit, political, and government space.

6. What are 3 of the most popular articles at GovLoop?

7. Who do admire as a leader or entrepreneur? What insights do you apply from that person?

Mark Zuckerberg stands out because of his huge vision, focused execution (i.e. Facebook serves over 1 billion people), and his ability to take huge bets (e.g. buying Whatsapp for $10+ billion)

8. What books have found found most valuable in developing your career?

Two books stand out:

9. If readers are interested in joining GovLoop, what is the best place for them to start?

Go to govloop.com and sign-up for our daily newsletter where we send our best articles, training materials, and more.

4 Ways To Get Ready For Promotion

Confused

Winning a promotion is a key discipline in career management. Without promotions, career progression tends to fade into simply having a job with each year feeling like the last. Even worse, a lack of progression and growth makes it more likely than you will be forgotten compared to highly dynamic people in the workplace.

The Two Types of Promotion

According to “The Five Patterns of Extraordinary Careers,” by James M. Citrin and Richard A. Smith, successful executives regularly use two promotion strategies. First, they seek potential based promotions where a senior leader decides to place a bet on the person’s potential (most common at earlier career stages). Second, they seek to leverage proven experience and major accomplishments and make the case that they can achieve similar results again. It is important to recognize the uncertainty involved with both options for the professional and the employer. Let’s explore how to set yourself up for promotion.

Four Foundations For Promotion

1. Deliver a major accomplishment

In the project world, there is a distinction between “run the company” projects and “transform the company” projects. If you are seeking a promotion, projects that make an major impact are the best area to focus on. Citrin and Smith share the example of a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) taking a company public as an example. A successful IPO is a fantastic achievement yet that may not be in the cards for you. What other options are there?

Here are four other examples of significant accomplishments:

  • Revenue Growth. In sales and marketing roles, demonstrating a major accomplishment is usually straight forward. For example, you can state $10,000 earned in 2015, $40,000 earned in 2016 and so forth.
  • User Growth. For apps, web services and other technology roles, significantly increasing the number of users may count. Even better, connect this technical data to business fundamentals such as revenues and expenses.
  • Project Delivery Success. Delivering a project ahead of schedule and receiving high marks from the end customer is often a great accomplishment. Of course, the value of this accomplishment is relative. If everyone delivers on time, then distinguish yourself in a different way (e.g. improved cost performance).

2. Be ready to move

We all know somebody who is “too valuable” in their current job to leave. This challenge is addressed in two ways. First, pursue cross-training for other staff on your critical activities (a good practice in any case so that you can take vacations with peace of mind). Second, top performing managers frequently train a “second in command” person who is capable of performing many of their functions. Remember – training others on your activities equips them to grow in their career and learn more about the organization.

Use these techniques to be prepared to move.

  • Stay In Control With Reviews. Use the Weekly Review process to stay in control of your calendar and avoid loose ends.

3. Boost your visibility

Without visibility, it is difficult to attract opportunities. Some professionals already know the value of personal brand development and promotion. Others – especially those in technical and back office roles – may be less familiar with the concept. We start with the premise that you are already delivering excellent work. Now the question becomes sharing your success with others. Here are a few approaches to share your story:

  • Writing. Writing an article for your website, LinkedIn or an industry newsletter is an excellent way to get started in promoting your brand.
  • Speaking. Delivering a speech at a professional association or industry conference is another well known way to increase your visibility.
  • Volunteer At A Charitable Organizations. Many charitable organizations have executives and other high level professionals on their boards to provide advice, connections and other contributions. Start by finding an organization you care about (e.g. if education and development interest you, consider Room To Read) and then think of ways you can contribute. For example, most boards need accounting and financial expertise as well as help with fundraising.
  • Resource: Read Stand Out by Dorie Clark. It is an excellent resource to learn how to develop a substantial personal brand and grow your career.

4. Take thoughtful risks

There are no certain paths to success especially as the pace of change continues to increase. In some circles, risk is considered to be a “four letter word.” That’s a dysfunctional way to think about uncertainty. Instead, look for small risks to take and gradually expand your appetite for uncertainty. After all, if you are seeking to lead at an executive level, it is vital to become comfortable with taking risks.

  • Evaluate the risk appetite. If you are in an organization, it is useful to know the context. Points to consider: how does the organization encourage innovation and what happens when novel ideas fail? As a general observation, smaller and younger organizations tend to take on more risks.
  • Try something new in a safe context. To build your confidence, start by taking small risks in a safe area. If you are highly confident with a certain sport, take a risk by experimenting with new techniques.
  • Resource: Read “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield to discover a whole new perspective on risk and fear. I discovered Pressfield through Seth Godin a few years ago and I’m glad I did! Pressfield’s focus is on writers and artists, yet the insights certainly apply to other situations.

Further Resources For Promotions

Explore these additional resources for more insights on how to get ready for promotions and make the most of the opportunity.

  • The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter by Michael Watkins. I read this book earlier in 2016 and found it a useful read. Watkins provides useful models to understand your current environment (e.g. the value of using different strategies in a turnaround vs a sustaining success role). It is also interesting to note that the majority of highly successful executives move to a new role (or a significantly change the content of their current role) every 1-2 years.
  • The Manager Tools Promotion Standard: 150%. Limiting yourself to your job description means you are unlikely to get promoted. This excellent guidance from Manager Tools encourages you to take on more responsibility. When possible, there is great value in seeking to perform some of your manager’s tasks so that you grow into that role.

How Meena Dowlwani Delivers Career Results For New Canadians

Meena Dowlwani​, CHRM
Meena Dowlwani​, CHRM

Moving to a new country is exciting. Immigration is often the result of months or years of planning, research and logistics. Unfortunately, many highly educated and capable new Canadians struggle to find rewarding professional opportunities. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Enter Meena Dowlwani.

Among other roles, she serves as a Humber College instructor who has achieved great career results since arriving in Canada in 1999. Even better, she is now sharing her experience through courses, seminars and the forthcoming book Destination CEO. I discovered Meena earlier this year via Kickstarter and happily signed up to support her Kickstarter project.

Why This Article Is For Everyone, Not Only Immigrants

Some readers may assume that this article will only help new arrivals, new Canadians or immigrants. That is not so! Starting over in a new country represents a significant career change to be sure. The strategies developed to overcome that challenge apply to other career changes: switching industries or moving from an individual contributor to management. With that note, let’s dive into Meena’s perspective.

1. How have you developed your career?

I arrived in Canada in 1999 and faced major challenges in my career. I learned the importance of making the most of jobs I held early on when I started as a receptionist at the YMCA. By connecting with other managers and learning about what people wanted from the organization, I was able to advance.

Later on, I developed my business skills and went into the recruiting industry for several years. In recruiting, I set a goal to build relationships with many of Canada’s best managed companies and developed many connections. That experience helped me to understand what employers want from candidates and the hiring process. All of these experiences inform my current work teaching at Humber College and my other projects.

2. What results have your students achieved at Humber College?

I teach Career Connections at the Humber College School of Media Studies & Information Technology. Through this program, I guide IT professionals – including many new Canadians – in finding new career opportunities.

By applying what they learn, the majority of students have found professional IT positions jobs in many companies including CGI, QA Consultants, and Dynacare. In addition, I have also presented a successful workshop at Centennial College where sixty employers connected with students. Many found excellent professional level jobs through that program as well.

3. What is your approach to informational interviews?

Informational interviews are one of the best ways to learn about people and employers. My recommended approach is to develop a portfolio that combines company research, a presentation of the individual’s capabilities and how they can contribute to the company. Students and professionals have had excellent results with sending this document and obtaining positive responses to their request for informational interviews. Knowing your dream job or company matters. Doing additional research on the manager or executive you are addressing takes the process to the next level.

4. What are some of the common job search mistakes you see people making?

There are several common mistakes I see people make that hold them back from success.

First, many people rely on the traditional process of applying to an open job posting and then simply waiting for a response. This job search approach is only one part of the overall strategy.

Second, many people assume that they need 100% of a job’s required skills in order to apply – my view is that you only need the “must have” items (or 50% of the requirements if there is no must-have list).

Third, many professionals decide to take a “survival job” instead of a professional role that relates to their skills. In addition to the reduced income, most people become deeply frustrated after a year or two and then decide to restart their professional job search while having to catch up.

Finally, some people become highly discouraged during the job search process. This mindset prevents otherwise successful and intelligent people from finding an opportunity and connecting effectively with other professionals.

5. What is the forthcoming Destination CEO book about?

I launched a Kickstarter campaign to support the creation of my book, “Destination CEO – Beyond the Traditional Way of Job Search in the GTA is the most comprehensive guide to hacking the local job market.” With 58 backers and over $5000 raised, I’m looking forward to presenting my ideas in book form.

I decided to write a book because I was starting to become overwhelmed with requests for career help and guidance. This book presents job search tactics and strategies for new Canadians looking to develop their career in the Greater Toronto Area. The Kickstarter page provides an introduction video as well as video messages from the individuals I have helped.

6. What is your approach to events and networking?

I think it is important to look for focused events. For example, there are many technology related groups and events organized by Meetup.com. These are great events to connect with others who share the same technical expertise as you. Regarding career fairs, my suggestion is to look at these events as the opportunity to connect and have a conversation rather than immediately seeking an employment opportunity.

[Editor’s Note: Active Meetup.com groups in the Toronto area include: Toronto Big Data University, Women In Technology, Toronto Hadoop User Group and Toronto SharePoint Business Users Group].

7. What resources have you found valuable in your career and work with other people?

There are several outstanding resources on the market to consider. I took a Dale Carnegie course and found that highly valuable – it provided me with connections and new skills. LinkedIn is a powerful research tool to learn about companies and the people with hiring power.

8. Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

There are two ways to connect with me. People interested in the Destination CEO book and related activities, please visit the Destination CEO website for details on events and training. In addition, readers are welcome to connect with me on LinkedIn.

7 Ways To Be A Team Player

Image Credit: Pixabay.com
Image Credit: Pixabay.com

Team work and serving as a team player comes up over and over again in the business world. Yet, this directive often lacks specific examples. Without such examples, it is difficult to put this important concept into action. That is going to change today. You will learn seven ways to become a team player and help those around you to win.

Defining Team Work & The Team Player

Much discussion on these concepts come from the sports world (and sometimes the military). Both sports and the military bring together groups of people to achieve a result so the analogy is reasonable at a high level. However, the professional world is significantly different in several ways when it comes to incentives and ground rules. Let’s use the following team work definitions to guide our thinking.

Belbin’s model makes an important observation that individuals tend to focus on a specific type of team role. For example, technical experts are generally comfortable in the role of the subject matter expert. The same person may be less experienced when it comes to the “shaper” role – the person who drives work forward. The flexibility to switch between team roles is important. Why? Adaptable team players know that they need to make different contributions based on what the team needs, not their preferences.

Seven Ways To Contribute As A Team Player

Use these tips to add more value to your work as a team player. Your job title may be manager or project manager. Yet, you will still serve in the team member capacity from time to time.

1.Take The Off Beat Assignment

From time to time, you may be asked to complete work assignments that have little interest and may not be related to your main work. A strong team player will generally accept these assignments and deliver them. There is one nuance to keep in mind: be mindful of how accepting additional assignments impact your “official role”

Action Tip: Say yes with enthusiasm when new tasks and deliverables come up at the workplace.

2. Support Another Person’s Success

Serving as the lead on a project has obvious appeal – the glory and recognition that comes with a job well done. What about supporting another person’s success? That’s a key contribution to make as a team player. This support role may be simple – helping to proofread an important document or acting as a sounding board for ideas – or it may be complex. Either way, support makes a difference.

Action Tip: Is someone on your team overwhelmed? Ask about the situation and listen to find out if there is a way for you to help.

3. Become A Trainer

Has your department (or a related department) recently hire a new person? In that case, training may be needed. Training could be technical or tips on how to navigate your office successfully. Understanding the organization’s history, relationships between managers and related points is difficult without a guide. Serve as a guide to the new person to help them navigate the organization.

Action Tip: Review the How To Onboard Yourself In 5 Days article for ideas on how you can help someone else with helping somebody get up to speed quickly.

4. Become A Student Again

Starting over in learning a new skill or job function is not easy. I’m reminded of what some used to call “the Grade 9 effect” (i.e. finish elementary school at Grade 8 and you are on the top until you realize that you will soon start over again at high school at the most junior level, Grade 9).

Becoming a student again at work requires that you marshal your inner student, become curious and take notes. If you see flaws or ineffective steps in what you are learning, take note of these and raise them at a later time.

Resource: Read the Zen Habits article “How to Live Life to the Max with Beginner’s Mind” for further guidance on this topic.

5. Ask “How” To Maintain Forward Momentum

Seth Godin wrote, “The devil doesn’t need an advocate. The brave need supporters, not critics.” Raising reasons why some an idea or project will fail has limited value. Instead, contribute as a team player. Instead, ask the “how” question such as “How can we meet this deadline?” or “How can we address this customer situation?”

Action Tip: Ask “How” questions to focus on solutions and move the team forward.

6. Serve As The Meeting Scribe

In 2010, Scientific American reported research showing that eyewitness testimony is often highly flawed. Eyewitness reports are subject to bias and incorrect police procedures. Given these problems, why would you rely on memory in the workplace when important tasks are involved? That’s why it is important for meetings to have a scribe who takes note on decisions made, tasks assigned and deadlines given.

Action Tip: Before a meeting begins, ask the meeting organizer if there is a scribe assigned to take notes. If the answer is no, consider volunteering! Otherwise, much of the value generated in the meeting is at risk.

7. Report On Your Work

If nobody knows your work is complete, does it have value? This is not a Zen koan: it is a practical question to consider! If managers or team members are waiting for you to complete a task, they need to be made aware. Report to those who need to know when you complete a task and advise them of any issues they need to know about in order to keep moving.

Action Tip: Send a communication to others on the team when you complete work assignments.

Team Work Resources

Explore these team work resources to develop this important aspect of your professional skill-set. Even if you are an executive, you need to function in teams so this skill and attitude will always be important.

 

How To Get More Luck At Work: The 4 Factors You Need

Luck of The Irish

Luck.

It’s St Patrick’s Day so what better time to address this mysterious factor? Whether or not you have the luck of the Irish, there is a way to produce more luck in your career. Even better, there is no magic involved (or green beer).

The Luck Formula: The 4 Factors You Need

In reading one of John C Maxwell’s books, I came across the following luck formula and thought it would be a great topic to expand in an article. The good news about luck is that 75% of the model is completely within your control. The remaining factor – opportunity – may be influenced by your perspective though it is not fully under your control.

Luck = Preparation + Attitude + Opportunity + Action

Let’s go through each factor of the luck formula one by one. Increasing any aspect of the formula will lead to greater opportunities for you.

Preparation: Be Ready For Luck To Appear

Preparation takes many forms in career development. The time you spend taking courses, reading this website and studying for certifications give you increased capabilities. Beyond technical skills, taking care of yourself comes into the picture. If you are tired, distracted or otherwise “off your game,” you will not able to identify and maximize luck when it comes your way. Preparation also requires a strategic vision for your career, a willingness to look beyond your current job or projects. If you start developing management and executive skills today, you will be well placed to move ahead in the future.

Preparation goes beyond studying and formal learning activities. On the job learning and development is widely considered one of the best ways to learn new skills. Therefore, analyze around your current job and department for ways to add additional skills. For example, volunteer to take on new tasks during department meetings. Or ask to cross train with a co-worker – that way you can take over part or all of their workload when they head out on vacation.

Resources To Propel Your Preparation

Attitude: Develop Strong Self Awareness

Developing the right attitude regarding your work and career make a big difference. Imagine you are a manager with two staff with roughly comparable technical abilities and you have a new assignment to hand out. The assignment will require personal growth and a willingness to learn. The person with a stronger positive attitude is likely to get the assignment and the opportunity to shine. I see attitude as a part of self-awareness which is a key part of emotional intelligence. Developing and maintaining a positive attitude becomes even more important as you take on leadership roles.

As a leader, your team tends to follow your attitude lead. If you are negative about the company or project, that influence will spread to the rest of the team. In contrast, walking into a meeting with a smile and positive energy puts a different spin on the event. The attitude you bring to meetings has a significant impact on your reputation and ability to get work done through other people.

  • Tip: Sleep your way to a better attitude! Research reported in Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson showed that people who miss sleep tend to emphasize negative thoughts and undervalue what is going well in their life. If you are struggling with keeping a good attitude, additional sleep is one solution.

Resources To Develop Your Attitude

Opportunity: Seizing The Moment

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill

Opportunity takes many different forms and it takes training to identify all this factor in its many forms. Opportunity may take the form of complaints from a manager or stakeholder: that gives you the chance to do better. Opportunity also shows up as event invitations – you never know what you may gain by attending an event and meeting the right people. Hustle, work ethic and long hours of work are another type of opportunity. Several successful people – Gary Vaynerchuk and Elon Musk come to mind – attribute much of their success to pure work ethic. Finally, opportunity may appear as a painful event that creates space to do something new (e.g. Michael Hyatt started his blog, later the foundation of a multi-million dollar business, when he was off his feet for an extended period recovering form an injury)

Opportunity is not evenly distributed. That’s an important reality to recognize as you plan your professional development and growth. Some departments are growing constantly such as sales and customer service while corporate functions tend to add staff more slowly. Before writing off an organization as having no opportunities, look beyond your personal situation. For example, look for any projects or activities that have changed the status quo over the past eighteen months. Do those changes suggest new ways to contribute value? Likewise, look for staff changes – new staff hires, promotions and manager hires – as new people often bring new ideas. If you see no opportunity signals, then it is time to search for greener pastures.

Resources To Find More Opportunities

Action: Do The Work!

Once you are equipped with the right knowledge, it is time to get down to work. In addition to putting in the hours, make sure you are following smart work principles. This part of the LUCK formula does not have the same excitement as the other points covered above, yet it is highly important. Failing to deliver and complete assignments on time will do much harm to professional reputation and ability to get ahead in your career.

Discussion Question:

Which “LUCK“ factor will you work on this month? What are two specific actions you plan to take?

Book Review: Corporate Confidential

Corporate Confidential

Building a successful career in the corporate environment requires savvy, positive attitude, and mastery of certain practices that are rarely disclosed. In her excellent 2005 book, “Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You to Know—and What to Do About Them, “Cynthia Shapiro shares fifty secrets for corporate career success. I found the book helpful and highly thought provoking. Some of her suggestions conflict with conventional wisdom and that makes the book all the more worth your time.

Note that the book is likely to apply to environments beyond the Fortune 500. If you happen to work in government or a medium size company, there is still much great material. The book starts by outlining typical mistakes and mistaken beliefs that cause failure. It may sound negative to start with mistakes. Yet, Shapiro makes a great case that these mistaken habits will prompt management to question your judgement and discount your positive contributions.

Start By Avoiding Career Landmines

Shapiro lays out a number of critical mistakes and problematic beliefs that hold employees back from achieving success. As a former HR executive, Shapiro reminds us that the HR unit serves the company’s interests above all. That means complaining about management to HR and other negative comments are not private and are likely to be shared with others in the organization. Other career landmines include misuse of expense accounts (Shapiro’s comment: “Every time you submit an expense report, you’re putting your true loyalties in writing for all to see. Are you thrifty or extravagant when on the company’s dime?`) and poor dress choices. These are basic concepts that matter to getting ahead.

The Four Essentials All Companies Reward: Flexibility, Sales, Public Speaking & Goal Achievement

In a few short pages, Shapiro delivered outstanding and timeless value to readers. These capabilities apply to all careers and become absolutely vital at higher levels.

  • Flexibility. In the project management world, there is a constant need for flexibility as budgets, testing and other circumstances are in constant flux. Simply coping or acknowledging change is not enough. Shapiro encourages readers to be positive about flexibility. Positive flexibility sets you apart in the eyes of managers. I understand flexibility as both an an attitude and a willingness to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. Here is Shapiro`s take on this concept:

“Flexibility means being able to go with the flow no matter what happens. It also means dealing with and being able to embrace change as well as shift quickly to deal effectively with different systems and styles. Learn as many as you can of the systems, protocols, and skills your company uses on a daily basis, even if it’s not something your department handles.“

  • Sales. Over the past few years, there has been a growing recognition of the value of sales skills (e.g. `To Sell Is Human`by Dan Pink) for the entire workforce. In IT and projects, sales skills matter because project managers need to develop and “sell” their ideas to clients and managers. In career management, professionals are obliged to sell their services in order to win job opportunities and choice assignments. Fortunately, there are many great resources available on sales.

Sales Resource: A few popular authors on sales skills include: Brian Tracy (I`ve used his material and he also comes recommended by Shapiro), Jeffrey Gitomer, and Zig Ziglar.

  • Public Speaking. At first glance, public speaking skills may not seem relevant to many readers. After all, they do not plan to campaign for votes, address a public meeting or present to an executive. In fact, public speaking skills improve your effectiveness in many different scenarios. Advocating for increased budget, presenting yourself in a job interview and inspiring a new project team during a kickoff meeting are all circumstances where public speaking skills come to play. Of course, professionals seeking a promotion to management are called on to present and speak with regularity. If that is your goal, then it makes sense to get started developing this skill early.

Public Speaking Resource: Toastmasters remains an affordable and friendly way to develop your public speaking skills (see the article I wrote last year: How To Become Successful With Toastmasters). In fact, the organization also provides optional programs on sales presentations and interactions so you can develop both speaking and sales skills.

  • High-level goal achievement. Over the past few years, I have been focused on learning the art of goal setting and achievement. There are several aspects to the skill including designing goals with the right level of challenge and using tracking systems. The step by step process Shapiro presents, adapted from Brian Tracy, is great because it emphasizes developing additional options and solutions – there are often multiple ways to achieve a goal. The ability to develop goals and then devise multiple ways to achieve success is important in a corporate environment where new challenges often emerge to block your success.

1. Write down your five biggest goals for the year.

2. Pick the one that will make the biggest difference in your life. Tackle that one first.

3. Write your chosen goal in the past tense as though it’s already happened. This will not only tell you whether you truly want it by how you feel as you look back at it from the future, it will also help you identify (in imagined hindsight) all the critical steps it will take to get there. Outline as many critical steps as come to mind.

4. Write out twenty different things you could do right now to make it happen. Really stretch your thinking in new directions to get all twenty. Now pick the one that will have the greatest impact on the achievement of that goal.

The Gatekeeper To Your Career: Your Manager

Your attitude and actions toward your manager make a tremendous impact to your career success. In the best case scenario, a manager`s recommendation opens doors, provides resources and advice to help you grow further. In the worst case scenario, a lack of manager support weakens an individual’s promotion prospects. Building an effective relationship with your manager requires both a positive attitude and several actions. Shapiro`s recommendations include volunteering to grow yourself (though not at the expense of your current tasks) and seeking to understand the manager`s preferences. Learning preferences can take a while, so start with the basics: do they prefer to read or listen? This important communication style topic is covered in greater detail in a Manager Tools podcast: Is Your Boss a Reader or a Listener?.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I found this book excellent and well worth reading. Even better, the book reads easily. The “secrets” structure of the book makes it easy to pick up and put down as your schedule requires. However, if you are frustrated with the system or keen to get ahead, you will probably read it quickly like I did.

Why You Need Better Analytical Skills

Analysis

Analytical skills are a powerful set of tools and techniques to understand problems and work toward solutions. The value of analytical capability is much in the news: consider the rise of data science and Big Data.

In 2015, I wrote Adding Value with Big Data Projects for ProjectManagement.com to explore one aspect of the analytics opportunity. This year, I wrote Career boost: Break into data science for InfoWorld to define the career opportunity in data science. However, not all of us are interested in those areas. In that case, how should you approach developing your analytical skills?

What Are Analytical Skills?

Like any important set of skills, there are multiple aspects to consider. Here is a short list of the skills and abilities that contribute to a strong analytical capability

  • Break Down Problems. Many people get stuck when considering a large problem. Analytical skills help to break down problems into smaller parts which are easier to solve.
  • Gathering & Evaluating Information. Also known as information literacy, this skill allows you to separate the wheat from the chaff. After all, you don’t want to embarrass yourself at work by presenting out of date or incorrect information.
  • Managing Information Effectively. The ability to manage ever increasing amounts of information is important. This skill set includes both personal information management and organizational efforts. If you use databases, use Evernote, manage a SharePoint site or use other similar resources, you already have this skill to some degree.
  • Generate Alternatives & Solutions. Over time, I have learned that there are many paths to success in life and business. With strong analytical skills, you will be equipped to generate additional alternatives and therefore achieve success. You can also use analytical skills to evaluate and rank alternatives.
  • Comprehend Difficult Reading Material. From time to time, there is a need to read and understand complex reading material at work. It could be a new corporate policy that requires implementation. It could be a technical document explaining how to use an application. Analytical skills help you to read such materials and put them into action.

6 Situations That Require Analytical Skills

The following situations are easier to manage when you have well developed analytical skills. Other knowledge and skills come to bear in these situations (e.g. relationships with important people and technical skills). Yet, analytical skills often prove vital in navigating through the situation. If you are struggling with uncertainty or doubt, an analytical approach can help to put you on the right track.

1. Problem Definition

The first instance of a problem is usually misleading or incomplete. A leaking pipe in an office in a production facility appears to be a simple maintenance problem. However, there are other aspects to the situation such as ineffective management oversight or aging infrastructure issues. Simply defining the problem as “a leaking pipe” would fail to capture the whole scope of the problem.

2. Strategy Development

Understanding your organization’s capabilities and opportunities requires an analytical approach. It is easy to overestimate what an organization can do and misunderstand competitors. Analytical skills help to reduce cognitive bias thereby improving the quality of the strategy.

3. Quality Improvement

Delivering quality remains important and it cannot be assumed. Analysis plays a valuable role in detecting and evaluating quality failures. The PMBOK Guide’s list of quality tools require an analytical approach and a willingness to go step by step through those tools.

4. Process Improvement

To operate at scale, it is valuable to look at your work as a process or a system. My view of process is inspired by the classic business book The E-Myth Revisited – a series of defined steps that create success. Analysis contributes value in two ways. First, an analytical approach is needed to document each step of the process. Once that documentation is in place, analysis comes to play again in looking for ways to streamline the process thereby saving time and money.

  • Tip: Looking for accomplishments to add to your annual review? Demonstrating increased productivity by improving a process is a great approach to take. For example, “Saved 5 hours per month in project reporting by implementing streamlined reporting process,” would show that you have delivered a meaningful improvement.

5. Following Through On Goals

I am excited by the vision and possibility of goals! There is a time and place to dream big and consider your options widely. For example, the 5 Days To Your Best Year Ever goal setting program lays out a five day process to define annual goals (I’m a fan of that program!). What happens after those goals are set? If you want to make progress and achieve those goals, analytical skills help.

  • Tip: If you feel stuck working on a goal, look for the smallest step you can take to move forward (e.g. set up a meeting to gather input, write a draft one page project charter). This concept is adapted from BJ Fogg’s excellent Tiny Habits program.

6. Learning New Skills

As a growing professional, there is a constant need to learn new skills. It could be a new enterprise software program at your company. Or it might be further developing your communication skills. This idea is inspired by Tim Ferriss’s  learning book, “The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life.” Ferriss points out that cooking skills are easier to learn when you break down the process into discrete steps – an approach that works for many other skills.

  • Tip: Over the past year, I have developed the “inputs, transformation, outputs” model for learning new processes and activities. It is a simple and effective mental model that guides one through the activity.

Further Reading On Analytical Skills

Explore the following resources to continue your development in developing your analytical skills. These resources are only the tip of the iceberg. Dig in and develop your analysis skills further.

Data Is Useless Without the Skills to Analyze It. This HBR article points out that raw data yields little value. Skilled people are essential to review it and draw useful insights from data.

Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload by Mark Hurst. Managing an ever increasing volume of information is part of analytical skill. This book and other resources help to guide you through the process of finding the information that matters.

Problem solving and data analysis (Khan Academy). Whether you like math or not, the mathematical perspective adds much value. This free online video course shows how to use math concepts to understand data.

Reasoning, Data Analysis, and Writing Specialization (Coursera). The ability to weave together data, words and logic in a compelling way is a powerful skill. In this three course online certificate program, you will learn how to make that happen.