Saturday, July 14, 2012

Career Development

Many career driven readers need to know what factors into choosing a good career, how to prepare for this career, and when it is appropriate to switch careers. If you are asking yourself what career you should choose, make sure to factor in the following five points into your decision making process.

  • Find your passion. Corny perhaps, but true. Finding a passion is the most crucial factor in finding a good career. Regardless of what the media portrays, successful people work long hours, sometimes fighting straight through 15 or 16 hours of hard labor. In such a stressful environment, you better like what you’re doing. Without a passion and purpose to drive you, you will inevitably leave your career goals by the wayside.
  • People throw money at interesting things. Research and look into what areas you have worked in. Find out how much money it’s making. Money is the attention unit of society and if people find something interesting, they will throw money at it. Other than the innovative areas that have not yet been discovered, you can determine what careers are viable by what sectors are doing well now.
  • It really isn’t ever too late. True, if you switch careers, you will be the low man on the totem pole for at least a short while. There is no getting around this. However, if you are truly passionate about another career, willing to work from the ground up, and ready to learn about the area, go for it. You need to realize the immense opportunity cost of sticking around in the wrong career.
  • Start preparing early. A significant portion of America’s society has set up the false belief that high school and college are all about having fun and trying different things. That’s okay, but sometimes it’s nice to have a purpose and follow it. Your career is your life and there is no reason to delay starting your life. This doesn’t mean parents need to grind a career into their children; however, starting early gives kids a sense of purpose and direction. For example, my oldest daughter in middle school wants to be a paleontologist, she interns with designers and engineers to see what paleontologists do on a daily basis. This early exposure is optimal for finding the right career.
  • Vocational schools are great when applicable. If you know you want to pursue a specific career, vocational schools are very advantageous, especially for hands-on careers. In vocational schools, talent is very focused and does not get dispersed. In college, I sat through my higher-level math courses only to never use the information again. Instead, I could have spent time on other things relevant to her career.
As the destabilized economy struggles to make a comeback, many readers wonder what are the top careers for the future. The two most promising fields: technology and health care.

  • The Future: Any technology, especially cloud computing, that makes it easier to have technological solutions without having the technology in the office is emerging at the forefront of business as one of the top careers for the future. The technology market will only continue to grow bigger and bigger
  • The Competition: Competition is low in America’s technology market now and Silicon Valley is always in need of more engineers. Competition will start to grow, but America’s education system is not strong enough to effectively compete in the global economy yet. Many companies are outsourcing for engineering resources because it is much more cost effective. However, Americans will be able to compete in the future.

    Regardless of whether engineers overseas cost less, work takes longer and is done incorrectly because of the language barrier. If America can produce well educated engineers, overseas competition will not matter so much in the future. Americans, the last free people in the world, have been historically intelligent and very scrappy.

    When the necessity level rises to a certain point, the United States will make a come back. Above all, Americans need to stop complaining and square away the education system. Furthermore, Silicon Valley needs support. As the heart innovation, Silicon Valley and its expanding technology market have the potential to turn America around.
  • Competitive advantages: Fluency in other languages of emerging markets is key, including Asian languages, Spanish, Portuguese, and in time, maybe even Middle Eastern languages. Because so many companies are expanding their global offices, those who are fluent enough to communicate with a global team and figure out how to handle e-commerce in Asia will dominate in technology.

    Silicon Valley flourishes when its technology sector figures out how to target emerging markets overseas.In addition, a background in engineering is optimal. Engineers translate thoughts into the physical universe better than anyone else. This skill will always be needed in the technology field. As Bromund said, “if there isn’t an engineer to turn dreams into reality, we’re screwed.”
Health Care
  • The Future: Health care isn’t going anywhere. Although its growth depends on the government, Bromund predicts it will get overhauled in some other way. Regardless of the government’s actions, health care is going to be a large field in the future.
  • The Competition: Although 2008 and 2009 were major exceptions, there will be a lot of competition to find nurses and doctors. Especially on the aging side of health care, there will be plenty of openings as well as a shortage of health care professionals. However, compared to the exciting forefront of technology, health care is a relatively lackluster field unless it especially interests you.
  • Competitive advantage: Quite simply, attend nursing schools to become a nurse or medical school to become a doctor. There will always be a demand for these professions.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Unbiased Performance Appraisal

Fair performance appraisal methods use metrics only to judge performance at regular, short intervals. In this way, he or she knows exactly what is expected and can become stable in his role.

Give each employee a set of deliverables and measure those deliverables by graphing them on a daily or weekly basis to show changes. The employee’s performance can be easily judged. Of course, other qualities in an employee matter besides his or her ability to deliver, but this comes first and foremost where fairness is concerned.

As a role becomes more complicated or you head toward the top of the org chart, certain complexities make the evaluation of performance more difficult. In this case, the best idea is to make a list of the deliverables as well as the “soft skills” or intangibles that the position needs. Do this without regard to the person currently in the role. Imagine what an ideal person would do and be in the role and write that into the job description as a standard to judge the person against.

As soon as you enter “soft skills” into the equation, the ability to keep bias out of your performance appraisal methods becomes compromised to a degree. Therefore, the job description should include these skills at the outset, not added after a problem arises. Be thoughtful about the skills, tasks and deliverables of the role as early as possible so that the standard is fairly set.

If you do not currently have a job description for each role in your organization that includes the main tasks, the deliverables and the soft skills for that role, then this is the first task you must take on to get your house in order. From there, develop regular performance reviews based only on metrics that occur weekly.

Then, at longer intervals, such as every six months or one year, look at the whole list of tasks, deliverables and soft skills and write a short comparison of the person to this list. Remember as you go over the comparison of the person to this list that the person is receiving a picture of himself which may or may not be flattering. Think of how you feel when you view an unflattering picture of yourself, and take this into account as you share the information. Be firm but kind in your appraisal and after reviewing any negative information, quickly give the person a list of ways to improve his or her performance. Allow him to improve the picture.

The performance management process is the process of looking at how someone is doing in their role and guiding that person’s performance to a higher level in the organization. The most apathetic employees are the ones who have a ceiling in their job. The performance management process is a process that gives workers hope of getting to that next level. Without this hope, an organization will have bored, irritated employees. If you are not going to do performance management and you are not going to give people feedback or reviews, you might as well stick them in the middle of a forest with no compass.

To recap how to keep bias out of your performance appraisal methods, start off with a clear-cut set of tasks, deliverables and soft skills for each position. Review the deliverables on a weekly basis with the person to judge performance regularly. This allows for no surprises at the formal performance reviews which take place yearly and contain a comparison of the person to all the tasks, deliverables and soft skills. If any negative information surfaces, give the person a development plan to help him improve the picture.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Team Building Techniques

In the business world, top team building activities for the workplace lie on a spectrum of gravitas (seriousness). They range from light hearted, easygoing activities to hard-core exercises that can expose an executive’s vulnerabilities.

On the least serious side of the spectrum, top team building activities for the workplace can involve off site recreation where coworkers can get energized and learn more about each other on a more personal, unprofessional level. These out-of-office activities can range from wine tasting to rock climbing to tours and so on where teammates can learn about what their coworkers like to do in their spare time as well as discuss big picture goals and what the team is doing as well. This side of the spectrum suits companies with the expendable budget to take their team off site to fun environments very well.

In the middle of the spectrum, take assessments as a team. Discuss the results with a facilitator who can talk the team through as to how well it handles different perspectives and how different styles impact the team’s ability to work together. These activities are typically less expensive and very workable in terms of team building perspective.

Assessments can help teammates understand how their coworkers operate and how they are different. This eye-opening strategy is crucial to team building. A team’s biggest downfall is the perspective that everyone thinks exactly the same. With this mentality, team players will approach others in the same way they do things. This kills team building every time.

As far as team building downwards, bosses can work with their employees at ground level for a day. For executives and bosses who have trouble connecting with the team they need to manage, this can be an eye-opening experience. For example, I once sent a COO to work with customer service for a day. The employees loved it and the COO finally understood the full reality of what his customer service team did every day. From this new perspective, he was able to put his finger on their daily goals and problems and, thereby, manage them better.

In the most serious side of the spectrum, of top team building activities for the workplace, upper level executives can perform 360 reviews. They can gather performance info from their peers, employees, and through direct reports. Then, the executives must share with the group what they learned as well as their development plan — how they will be working on improving.

Although 360 reviews were disparaged in the press 5 or 6 years ago, they are making a comeback. Executives work in a vacuum most of the time with nothing to compare themselves to. As a result, they do not realize what other executives are doing or if they are really accomplishing their job. Many executives make massive changes after engaging in 360 reviews.

360 reviews are a very vulnerable thing for most people and, therefore, should be done anonymously. Although some cultures are so open that peers and employees can give feedback freely, it is easier to start with anonymity as a default so that people can be open and say what they need to say.
To decide which of these team building activities for the workplace to use, take a look at the team and decide what level of team building it has accomplished so far. If the team cannot communicate at all, build commonality and get teammates talking with the least serious activities. If the team is not at ground zero but is dysfunctional in some way, start with the more serious side assessments or even 360 reviews to help teammates understand how they can work together best.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Master Strategic Management

First, the strategic management process looks at the actual model of your business and determines whether it is a revenue generation model. You must clarify how your business is going to make money and why people would find your product or service interesting.

In addition, you must find out how much demand there is for your product or service and what qualities are demanded. For example, if you are selling TVs, find out what people want in TVs, if you can make a profit making TVs, and in what volume you can make TVs. All of these are strategic discussions that you must undertake when you draw out your plan so that you can actually have a profitable business. Without this clarity, you get stuck in the day to day.

Part two of the strategic management process is identifying your target market — the customers you are selling to. Survey consistently to find out what your customers think. Know where your customers go, what they buy, where they sleep, and everything else. This knowledge is essential to really grasp what your customers need. You must understand what your customers’ lifestyles are like and understand how your product fits into them.

You must have some way to contact your target market. You can use your current customers to survey if you have them. Find out your target market’s addresses, e-mails, and phone numbers. Draw up a survey about your product and find out what they want.

The best surveys must be short to entice your target market to take them. Furthermore, it is best to conduct surveys in person. Have someone call and actually talk to them. Ask them, “If you were running my business, what would you produce or what problem would you try to solve?” People love to talk about this and their answers can give you tremendous insight as to what your target market really wants.

There are rare exceptions of an innovator who is so visionary that the target market would never be able to come up with what he or she decides to produce. For example, Apple’s iPhone is a brainchild of design. Even for products like this, however, surveys are still conducted so that people can give their opinion about what makes sense to them.

Other than surveys, focus groups have some potential. However, they can be extremely inefficient and there is a lot of setup and preparation involved in conducting a successful focus group. If five people turn up, you are really only getting five opinions. To get a real sense of how the market works, you need a volume of opinions. One person’s off-the-wall opinion is not going to help you as much as a thousand people. With mass data, you can formulate a bell curve and analyze your market much more accurately.

The third step of the strategic management process is listening to the data. A remarkable number of companies fail because they do not take heed of the information they collected. For example, if the target market says they want 12 inch TV screens that fit on top of their microwaves in their kitchens and you produce big screens TVs, it should not surprise you if your product does not sell.

Skype is a great example of a company who listened to their collected data. The company figured out that their target market wanted simple functionality more than anything else. They didn’t want it to be fancy or impressive at all. It just had to work. Thus, Skype did not spend any money on sales. Instead, they put all of their resources into making their product work on the technical side and as reliable as possible.

Sometimes companies have to revisit their strategy because the market changes. However, if you are doing well, do not mess with your strategy. If you do notice that your product is becoming outdated in your market or that you are losing a large market share to your competitors, you need to change your strategy up.

However, once you find out an effective strategic management process that works for you, do not try to change it up just because of other companies. For example, when Michael Dell started building computers for people, they were always desktops. The minute that laptops hit the market, however, Dell started fleshing out into laptops and buying different parts.

This departure from their old strategic management process led to hard times. Until they really got their strategy back together again after a couple years, the company suffered. If you decide to change your strategic management process, make sure you do so for the right reasons.