HBR: How to Motivate Yourself When Your Boss Doesn’t

Do you request feedback from your peers and/or managers? What do you do to motivate yourself? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Julie Mosow:

How to Motivate Yourself When Your Boss Doesn’t

Let’s face it: some bosses are not inspiring. They don’t motivate us to perform at our best — let alone improve our skills. What should you do if your boss is too hands-off, ambivalent, or downright demotivating? How can you keep your engagement up and your own professional goals on track? Is it possible to motivate yourself?

What the Experts Say

The good news is that while your boss has a lot of influence over how engaged you are at work, you can put yourself in the driver’s seat. “Employees have more control than they realize over their ability to build and sustain motivation in the workplace,” says Heidi Grant Halvorson, a motivational psychologist and author of Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. There are many factors that influence motivation, but “the most significant one is a sense of progress,” says Monique Valcour, professor of management at EDHEC Business School in France, citing Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer’s book, The Progress Principle. “And that comes from the feeling that we are doing work that is meaningful to ourselves, to our colleagues, to the organization, and to the world at large.” Halvorson adds: “Changing your mindset and habits can drive a more fulfilling, more motivated approach to work no matter who your manager is.” Here’s how to motivate yourself when your boss doesn’t.

Understand what makes you tick

If your manager doesn’t motivate you or, even worse, undermines you, it’s important to figure out what drives you personally and professionally. In The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer stress that motivation stems from three things: love of the work itself, the desire to receive recognition, and a sense that our work matters and connects us to others. So ask yourself: When was the last time you felt a sense of meaning and purpose at work? What were the conditions that allowed those feelings to flourish?

Set your own goals

Valcour points out that many people feel they’re sprinting in place with no extra time to tackle anything other than their day-to-day responsibilities. However, it’s important to step back and look at the big picture. Make an individual career plan to help you track your projects and results and set goals for your own development. While some of these goals may be directly related to your current role, others may be geared toward learning and exploring areas of interest outside your job description. Even though it’s tempting to set demanding goals for yourself, Halvorson cautions against going overboard. “Although it’s counterintuitive, setting unrealistic or overly ambitious goals can actually be demotivating because there’s so much on the line,” she says. Instead, set goals with smaller milestones so that you can celebrate your progress each step along the way.

Use if-then planning

Once you’ve decided on your goals, Halvorson recommends using “if-then” planning to stay on track or to handle setbacks. “Accepting that challenges are a part of life and being prepared to deal with them is critical to long-term motivation,” she says. For example, if your goal is to finish a presentation, but you find yourself getting distracted by conversations with colleagues, you might say, “If I haven’t finished the presentation by the end of the day on Wednesday, then I will come in early on Thursday to finish up while it’s quiet.” Or you might use if-then planning to move past a low point. For example, “If we don’t receive funding for this project, then I will rewrite the business plan and approach the partners again.” By anticipating obstacles, you’re less likely to get stuck.

Evaluate your own performance and ask for feedback

One way that poor managers undermine motivation is by not giving sufficient feedback. “Seeking feedback is important,” Valcour confirms, “even if we sometimes hear things we’d rather not.” Halvorson believes that most managers are willing to offer feedback if you ask. You might request the feedback directly and in the moment by saying something like, “How did you think the meeting went? Is there anything I might do differently next time?” You might also look to peers for an objective assessment of your performance. Ask people who will be candid with you and whose opinions you trust. Another option is self-evaluation. “We’re more capable than we realize of generating meaningful feedback about our professional accomplishments,” Halvorson says. “Look critically at your own work and ask yourself the same questions you would use to evaluate the work of others. For example, consider if you’re moving fast enough or if the quality of your work is what it should be.”

Expand your internal and external networks

If your manager isn’t motivating you, it’s essential to look for support elsewhere — not only to boost your confidence but also to increase your visibility. Find mentors within your own company to give guidance and perspective, and, if possible, develop an in-house peer group designed to help all of you move forward. You can also seek out and develop external relationships. Valcour is a strong proponent of online networking. “Particularly for people who live far away from their colleagues, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other networking sites provide a sense of connectedness to a larger professional community that might otherwise be difficult to maintain.” Even for someone in a major metropolitan area with many opportunities to connect, online networking is an effective way to stay in touch with colleagues and to keep abreast of industry-wide developments.

Focus on learning

By shifting the focus of your work from performing perfectly to consistently learning and improving, you create the conditions for both heightened motivation and success. “Research suggests that this change in mindset reliably results in better performance,” Halvorsen says. “When it comes to achievement, attitude and persistence are often more important than innate abilities.” Her advice: break the habit of kicking yourself when things don’t go perfectly and replace it by telling yourself that you’ll learn from your mistakes, move on, and do better next time. “No matter your manager’s approach, breaking away from results-oriented thinking is one of the most powerful things you can do to boost your own motivation.”

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Determine your own personal and professional motivators ­— you can’t rely on your boss to get ahead
  • Ask for feedback from your colleagues
  • Build a support system inside ­— and outside ­— your company

Don’t:

  • Set unreachable goals that stall your sense of moving forward ­— keep your goals manageable and celebrate your progress along the way
  • Underestimate the value of self-evaluation — look critically at your own work
  • Dwell on your mistakes ­— it’s more important to keep learning

Case Study #1: Cultivate a supportive, effective network

A vice president of human resources in the financial services industry, Lisa Chang* has had five different bosses during the past two years. The revolving door of managers proved to be very demotivating. So she looked elsewhere for support and decided to create an internal network beyond her team. Lisa developed relationships with three senior women in the organization: a woman who was briefly her supervisor before taking a role elsewhere in the company, another who is a leader in the client group she serves, and the chief human resources officer. “It’s unusual to have such a candid, open relationship with someone so senior, Lisa explains. “The chief human resources officer has given me opportunities at every turn in addition to being someone I can go to for advice.”

Lisa has looked to her peers as well but she feels that these mentorship relationships have been a far more effective way for her to stay motivated. “My peers and I are all in the same boat, so most of them wouldn’t have been a great help to me. By looking to more senior employees at the company, I’ve been able to create the kinds of relationships I might have had if I had been working with a great boss.”

While the lack of consistent, managerial support is not what Lisa would’ve hoped for, the situation has provided Lisa with the opportunity to learn from company leaders she otherwise wouldn’t have met. She says: “I’ve been able to seek feedback, challenge myself through new opportunities, and perform effectively in my role despite the leadership vacuum.”

Case Study #2: Stay focused on your own growth and development

Mark Barnaby* has risen through the ranks at several different investment banks, but with a string of managers who were either completely hands off or overly involved, staying motivated hasn’t always been easy. He coped by staying focused on his own ambitions. “Focusing on my manager’s faults just distracted me from my own goals, so I made it my priority to find ways to help him succeed while learning myself.”

He figured out what his bosses weren’t good at and stepped into the gap. “One of my bosses was a big picture thinker, but her approach wasn’t the right one for our work. I helped her by drilling down into fine points of regulatory policy, providing much needed detail in meetings, and being an in-house resource for her. Doing all of this helped me develop the subject matter expertise I needed to continue to move forward professionally.” Developing and meeting his own objectives kept Mark going even when his bosses didn’t.

Early on, Mark knew his growing interests would serve him well. “There is enormous demand for this kind of knowledge,” he explains. “During the past decade, regulatory policy has emerged as a critical focus of the banking industry.” Even though Mark admits that helping managers who weren’t helping him was frustrating, he acknowledges that it was the right decision for him and for everyone involved to approach each situation with a positive, goal-oriented attitude. He advises, “No matter what, never make an enemy of your boss.”

*not their real names

 

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Everwise: Building a Learning Culture

Do you have a learning culture in your business? The Lumber Buildings Material Foundation (LBMDF) can help with building a learning culture your business. Below is a blog from Everwise by Melissa Fleming: (Reading time is 6 minutes.)

Building a Learning Culture

Last month, Everwise hosted a webinar on “Building a Learning Culture” with Jeff Diana, the former Chief People Officer of Atlassian & Success Factors. A seasoned executive with 20 years of HR experience, Diana serves as a strategic HR consultant and sits on the boards of progressive HR companies including Everwise. He shared his expertise with our community on how to build a learning culture, rooted in the belief that individual growth improves organizational performance. Here are key takeaways:

Focus on career development

One of the most important factors in whether or not an employee recommends a company as a great place to work is career advancement, not compensation. This marks the continuation of a steady shift over the years. It’s true that compensation and career level are correlated, but today’s employees assign a lot of value to how a company helps them develop their careers, not just compensation at each career level. Focusing on career advancement as a company relies on creating a culture of learning, where employees feel they can grow as individuals and in their jobs.

Getting it right is critical to talent retention and attraction, which is increasingly important as many organizations struggle to attract and retain top talent fast enough to keep pace with the markets. “The number one limit on an organization’s success is people’s capability,” says Diana. “In order to get the most out of your people you have to first put in the right cultural foundation.” Diana compares laying the groundwork for a culture of learning to properly equipping your sales team with the tools to crush their numbers. Without a solid foundation that supports people achieving their potential, an organization’s progress will be limited.

Make a case for greater investment

Organizations that are committed to creating a culture of learning have a real competitive advantage. According to Diana, the four primary benefits of putting resources into building a culture of learning are: 1) increased employee engagement, 2) higher retention, 3) streamlined business processes, and 4) higher ROI/organization success. The best way to make the case for increased spending on Learning & Development (L&D) initiatives is to directly link them to specific business outcomes.

“When you look at the business objectives for a three-year period and you tie that to what capabilities the business needs to have, you can see very clear lines that say why we need higher retention,” says Diana.

What we know for certain is that an organization won’t succeed without the right talent. “Supply is lacking,” Diana says. “We have to help people learn on the job within the context of what they are experiencing today to meet the pace and dynamic nature of business.” One way to make the case for increased L&D investment is to identify capability gaps and how L&D programs can help develop the supply chain of skills needed to reach an organization’s desired business outcomes.

Measure your culture to determine development needs

“One way to grab everyone’s attention is to assess culture,” says Diana. “No leader wants to be at the helm of a culture or a team that isn’t deemed healthy and something they can be proud of leading.”

Having employees assess the health of an organization’s culture can help galvanize efforts to create more learning opportunities. Getting employee input also serves the dual purpose of creating a culture that values transparency and its employees’ opinions. Diana suggests starting with a culture quiz that contains 8 to 10 targeted questions. For example, Do you have rituals that regulate and reinforce values? If you have values around learning and growth, do you have rituals that signal that growth? Does your CEO regularly ask for ideas on strategy? Does your company internally publish mistakes and share learnings from mistakes? Is your physical space driving collaboration? Do you have the tools in place to effectively collaborate? Do you have the ability to give feedback? From those questions, strengths and gaps will emerge, making it easier to take action.

Start small and simple

Diana breaks down the process of enabling a learning culture into four steps: process, culture, L&D investment, and measurement. The best way to start is small and low cost. Find a leader who can pilot a program and generate results that could lead to an expansion. Make sure the language within the company – from performance reviews to the handbook to all-hands invitations – reflects a culture of learning. Find internal success stories of high-performing teams of active learners to help you make the case for L&D investment.

While Diana points out that there are many ways an organization can invest in L&D, the most important one is to build learning into the organization’s culture. The four levers that HR professionals can utilize to drive a sustainable culture are values, transparency, rituals and tools. Having a good set of values conveys the message that learning, self-development and risk-taking are part of the company’s mission and an employee’s daily life. A culture that values transparency and access will breed trust and loyalty. Rituals signal learning and the right tools will empower employees to be curious, collaborate and learn and grow on the job.

Putting it all together: Design learning experiences that impact positive behavior change

Learning today is much more about context than content. Simply put, people are more likely to learn if they can easily recall the information and apply it to their day-to-day jobs. So the challenge for HR professionals is to incorporate the social and experiential side of learning into their programs. You’ll see the best results with initiatives that are intimate and collaborative. “Like anything else we’ll participate more in it, we’ll recall it better if the experience itself touches us in a deeper way,” says Diana.

The best learning happens on the job, where the context is clear and the application is immediate. In order to shorten the loop of trying something, gaining insights and putting those different behaviors back in action, Diana says to think about the actual work that is being done. Having the ability to apply that knowledge to what someone does every day is the best way to turn knowledge into capability.

According to Diana, employees want learning experiences to be highly personalized, more social and collaborative, and rooted in real work. Over 70% of managers want their digital experiences to be more adaptive, 60% want the experience to be more social and collaborative and 55% want more experiential learning included.

It’s important for managers to encourage learning on the job to leverage a team’s capabilities and motivate team members. Diana suggests managers encourage learning by providing the content foundations, mentors/coaches, practice in real work situations and performance feedback from teammates. All of these are learning experiences that offer employees opportunities to practice by doing.

With the right combination of people, resources and feedback, all employees can achieve their full potential. To do this Diana advises that you find role models of high-performing teams within the organization and point to internal success stories to make the case for more L&D. Start small and low cost with a pilot program. Make it easy for people to provide feedback. And most importantly, tie the L&D experiences to business outcomes. The investment in building a learning culture is valuable to both employees and management, and will allow you to tap into the potential of your workforce and improve your organization’s performance overall.

View a recording of the webinar here.

HBR: How to Ask Your Boss for Time to Learn New Things

Are you making time for personal development?  Have you ever used NRLA’s Learning Management System (LMS) for online technology training? Do you have your Certified Building Materials Specialist (CBMS) designation? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Rachael O’Meara:

How to Ask Your Boss for Time to Learn New Things

We all want to learn and grow. Improving our skills and being exposed to new ideas not only makes us better at our jobs but makes us happier and more engaged at work. But with a full-time job, it can be tough to find the time and resources to dedicate to personal development. Some people, like me, are lucky to work for companies that encourage and even fund classes, sabbaticals, or fellowships. But if you work for a company that doesn’t have an official policy, how can you make the case to your manager (and the necessary higher ups) to support you?

In researching my book, Pause, and learning from my own experience of figuring out how to take time off for my own growth, I’ve come up with a six-step plan for how to negotiate for personal development.

  1. Identify how you want to learn and grow. If you don’t yet have a clear picture of what you want to develop, spend time honing in on exactly what you need. Do you want to build your emotional intelligence skills to be a more attuned business leader? Are you interested in going on a yoga or meditation retreat? Set aside a specific period of time, such as one evening or even a week, to explore ideas and research what appeals to you. Write down what you want to learn and how you would grow from the experience you’ve identified. Research shows that the physical act of writing has a neurological effect on the brain which tells the cerebral cortex to “wake up and pay attention.” Writing stimulates a bunch of cells in the brain called the Reticular Activating System that plays a key role in being more conscious and alert. The more you can write down, the more aware and real your ideas become.
  1. Own it. You may be under the impression that building an underdeveloped skill means you lack a competency or have a particular weakness. This isn’t the case. Rather than being embarrassed or nervous about asking for this time, own it as part of your commitment to becoming a better leader. If you aren’t willing to consider it a growth move for you and your company, you can’t expect others to support you.
  1. Create your vision statement. Ask yourself, “Who will I become as a result of this investment of my time and resources?” Be specific and descriptive. Keep it in the first person. One sentence is ideal. Use descriptive adjectives. Will you be more engaged, influential, or mindful? Visions are a great way to orient and stay on track before, during, and after your development work. As I’ve learned from my mentors, Bob and Judith Wright, your vision should be constantly evolving as you do. The vision I created for my leadership training this year was: “I fully engage as a more authentic woman leader.” Add whatever details you feel necessary to convey your vision to those who will approve the time and resources you need.
  1. Connect your goals or outcomes to what the business needs. To get buy in from your manager, team, or company to support your development, you have to connect what you’ll gain to the business goals. Ask yourself:
  • Are there issues at work that you could better resolve as a result of this training? In what ways will your company benefit from your improved performance, skills, or knowledge?
  • What specific skills or knowledge can you share with your manager, team, and/or company from your training or experience?
  • Can you provide a recap (verbally or visually) based on what you learned or how you plan to apply this at work or in your career?

 

Time Off

  1. Prep and practice. The next step is to get ready for the conversation. Think through: What’s the worst and best case scenarios? Anticipate questions or concerns from your boss. I have yet to meet someone who was let go for asking to expand their horizons. Often times our fear holds us back from negotiating, and we miss out on the opportunity to explore alternatives, or worse, receive a yes.

Make a list of what is negotiable – things like timing, budget, and activity. Is partial or full reimbursement possible? Can you avoid using vacation days? One colleague of mine negotiated time off for a week-long leadership retreat where her manager agreed to her taking vacation for only 50% of the time she was out. The other 50% she was on the company clock.

When preparing for the conversation, think about what each person involved in making the decision has to gain. Do your homework and read up on your HR policies. Know how educational reimbursement works in your company.

  1. Make your ask. When you’re ready to sit down with your manager, don’t catch them off guard. Give them ample notice and consider adding it to the agenda for your next one-on-one meeting. But it doesn’t have to be a formal meeting. If you’re catching up on how the weekend was or plans for the evening, share the class that caught your eye and why it personally matters to you. Better yet, share how you think it could help you be a better employee. Then you can schedule more time to discuss it further.

Share your vision and goals. Be clear what exactly you’re asking for — is it for time off, compensation (expenses), or some combination of the two? What will they get in return? Refer to your notes if needed.

When the conversation is over, consider following up in writing, emphasizing how this would benefit you and your manager, team, or business.

There are three likely outcomes: getting what you’ve asked for, getting some of what you asked for, or getting a flat out “no.” By following these steps, you’ll increase the chances that you get a favorable outcome but that’s not always the case. Even if you don’t get what you asked for, start thinking about ways you can reshape your request in the future.

Spending the time to form a logical, careful request can be rewarding in itself because you’re getting clearer on what you need. And you’re contributing to, maybe even igniting, a corporate culture that supports individuals to learn and grow in ways beyond what’s traditionally done.

Over the past four years I’ve used the above process to request and win support for a coaching certification, graduate and non-accredited courses, week-long emotional intelligence leadership retreats, and a two-day class influencing. In each case, it felt like a leap of faith but I always reminded myself that the worst they can say is no.

Everwise: Seven Tactics to Boost Learning in the Workplace

Does your company provide a learning work environment? Is your company helping you improve your customer service and/or productivity skills? Another resource is Lumber Buildings Material Foundation (LBMDF) for educations seminars and online learningLMS.  Below is a blog from Everwise by Nicole Beckerman:

Seven Tactics to Boost Learning in the Workplace

Successful organizations emphasize ongoing professional development and gaining new knowledge. A learning culture benefits companies by enriching the employee experience, boosting productivity and innovation, and curbing turnover. It is an essential priority to remain competitive in today’s rapidly-changing landscape. Employees must be prepared to learn and adapt to rapidly changing conditions and new technologies. Employers would do well to provide an environment for doing so internally.

While modeling curiosity and prioritizing a passion for knowledge starts at the top, growing an organization-wide learning culture requires on-the-ground efforts. Though employees are busier than ever, there are simple, cost-effective ways to integrate learning into their work experience. Here are seven tactics to get you started:

  1. Learning lunches: Change things up at lunch time by giving employees a chance to increase their knowledge. Mid-day is an ideal moment to shift gears from active work to take in an educational presentation. As this is typically a break time and people will be eating, it’s a good time to present knowledge directly rather than with interactive formats. If employees need extra enticement to attend, offering free food or dessert is always a crowd-pleaser.
  2. Staff presentations: Having employees share their expertise is a great way to capitalize on in-house knowledge and make people feel valued. Setting up presentations where your employees educate each other in person or via online tools is a powerful way to foster connection and learning. This is also a chance to expose people to new experiences outside of their department. Even simply having staff share with each other what it is that they do and what they are working on helps build interpersonal relationships and a clearer picture of the organization for everyone.
  3. Speakers: Industry experts are a valuable source of the latest trends, and inviting them to work with your employees brings a useful outside perspective. If they are physically visiting an office, get the most out of their presence with an interactive format such as a workshop or a small group activity. Make sure to prepare employees to take full advantage of guest speakers by promoting their arrival, distributing background information in advance about them, and sharing related learning materials to spark questions.
  4. Webinars: As a useful way to spread information among a large group of people, webinars are an essential part of efficient learning. They can be one format option for delivering a presentation from an employee or a guest speaker as discussed above, but to keep it more engaging consider putting together a panel discussion. This way, even if employees are passively watching the webinar or are engaged in another activity (like email) at the same time, they will still take in a variety of perspectives and insightful questions.
  5. Distribute resources and news: Most professionals have a genuine interest in their field and want to stay up to date, so employers can facilitate learning by bringing news and resources directly to them. This might look like an organized list of resources for learning that employees have easy access to, or even a more dynamic method like periodic emails with news, relevant articles, and links to short-form video clips.
  6. Stipends: A direct and straightforward way to promote learning is to simply subsidize it. There a variety of ways to provide funds for education, so organizations should consider how predictable they would like this expenditure to be, and how much direct control they would like over the learning process. Some organizations offer an educational stipend as a simple cash bonus add-on to the employee benefits package and let people use it as they see fit. Others will pay for particular courses from approved providers. Another related option is to pay for employee’s’ membership in professional organizations so they can continue to network and learn via a trusted third party.
  7. Office Library: If you have an open office plan, chances are the environment can get noisy and social, which might be great for morale but not conducive to learning. Consider designating a space or specific room as a quiet area, and supplementing it with learning resources to create an office library. Create an employee book exchange or facilitate monthly book clubs. This separate space can be a strong part of emphasizing learning culture by making it clear in a tangible, visible way.

This list is a place to begin your journey towards a learning culture and spark ideas. However, change efforts should always be tied to an organization’s large-scale development strategy. In implementation, make sure these efforts are also tailored to the unique style and priorities of your staff. Finally, modeling learning culture from the top is essential to reap the full benefits, so leaders must walk the talk.

Culture evolves when an entire organization gets on board, and producing a company of nimble, motivated learners is a worthy goal for everyone.

 

HBR: 5 Ways to Focus at Work, from an Executive Who’s Struggled with ADHD

Are you struggling to stay focus at work? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Jack Kosakowski it explains how to get back on track.

5 Ways to Focus at Work, from an Executive Who’s Struggled with ADHD

By nature, I’m messy and disorganized — and my mind can be too. I have trouble sustaining attention on just about anything.

In grade school, this meant I didn’t do well in classes. In college, it meant that I largely blew them off and spent most of my time partying. (When you’re at a party, no one expects you to focus.) After college, I was diagnosed with ADHD, as 11% of kids are these days.

That certainly explained a lot, but it didn’t let me off the hook. Once I entered the working world, I knew I had to make some changes. I couldn’t spend my life running away from this problem, especially if I wanted to succeed in sales, my chosen field. I’d have to organize and track my interactions with prospects and clients and stay attentive to their needs.

Through a lot of trial and error, I’ve discovered several work-arounds that can help anyone struggling to stay focused at work.

Pursue roles that match your passions and attention style. Most people find it easier to stay focused on things they’re deeply passionate about. Even if they’re “scatterbrained” by nature, they may be fully present when teaching a class, treating a patient, or building a house. So try to work in a field that you love.

But go a step further and look for a job that meshes with the way your mind works. For me, that meant going into social selling. It allows me to use written communication in short bursts across multiple platforms. It also allows for lots of quick conversations. I reach out to business leaders and prospects over Twitter DM, Facebook, and LinkedIn messaging.

Whiteboard your tasks. I list everything I have to do each day, with no exceptions. A small, 2-foot-square whiteboard sits on my desk. All my short-term responsibilities are listed on it, in the order of when they’re due: sales calls, proposals, meetings, contracts, and more. A larger, 6-foot-square whiteboard is mounted above my desk, listing my long-term responsibilities: business growth, prospecting, website changes, and so on.

These lists stare at me all day. I update them constantly and stick to them religiously. When I find myself thinking about a task other than the one I’m supposed to be working on, I glance up, make sure it’s listed for me to tackle in the future, and immediately switch back to the task at hand. And to keep myself focused only on one task at a time, I make sure nothing else is in my line of sight. I have a mini-cabinet on my desk to hide magazines, books, gifts from clients, and other potentially distracting objects.

Structure your days. I do long-term tasks only on Wednesdays. On the other four days, the short-term whiteboard rules my schedule. I don’t give myself the option to improvise or change my mind about this (unless there’s an emergency). I’m strict with myself, because if I allow myself to shift back and forth between the two whiteboards at any time, I’ll just keep bouncing around among different tasks and not get anything done.

Some people structure their work differently — switching to long-term tasks every other day, halfway through the day, or every other week. Find the pace that works for you, and keep to it.

Never multitask during a conversation. When you’re not focused on the person you’re speaking with, they know it. If you’re on the phone, they can hear it in your voice and inflection. If you’re meeting in person, they pick up on it through subtle, or sometimes not so subtle, cues.

When I’m speaking with someone in a professional setting, I don’t allow myself to do anything else at all. I can’t. If I so much as open an email during a call, I’ll miss what the other person is saying entirely. I prefer video conferencing over speaking on the phone — it engages me visually, reducing the risk that my attention will wander. If I’m talking to someone in person, I set aside my phone and other distractions.

I’ve also learned to “scan” conversations for key points. As the person is talking, I pick up on certain lines and phrases — the points I would write down as a summary of what they’re saying. It keeps me listening with intent.

As a result, people know they’ve got my undivided attention — something rare these days. They like talking with me, which matters a lot, since my work is all about relationships.

Have somebody always holding you accountable. Even when you take all these steps, there may be times your mind starts wandering. That’s why it’s helpful to have someone who knows your struggles and can help get you back on track.

For me, that’s my wife, a partner in my business. She keeps an eye on my whiteboards as well as my calendar. But it doesn’t have to be someone that close. It can be an assistant, a colleague, or even a boss.

People who are similarly invested in your business want it, and you, to succeed. And there’s reciprocity — you have their back, they have yours. You can hold each other accountable in different ways. Maybe you’re teaching them how to be more confident speaking in front of a group, or sharing some of your savvy with a new technology. We all have things to work on.

 

Opening up to colleagues or bosses about your struggle to focus can be nerve-wracking, because no one wants to be judged. But in my experience, if you give people insight into your world and your unique ways of getting work done, they’re likely to open up to you about their challenges as well. It leads to a more empathic, collaborative, and human work environment.

 

HBR: A 2×2 Matrix to Help You Prioritize the Skills to Learn Right Now

Take time to reflect on the mix of activities in your working day. What would help you the most? Learning to write more clearly, improving meeting skills, or learning to manage your time more productively? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Marc Zao-Sanders.

A 2×2 Matrix to Help You Prioritize the Skills to Learn Right Now

So much to learn, so little time.

The world is bursting with learning. There are several million business books, 3,000 TED talks, 10,000 MOOCs, hundreds of thousands of e-learning courses, and millions of self-published articles on platforms such as LinkedIn and Medium. The article you’re reading right now is just one of thousands of articles on HBR.org. Picking the best and most relevant from all this is hard.

Yet it’s essential. The modern worker has very little time for learning — less than 1% of their time, according to Bersin, a division of Deloitte. And it’s more important than ever to learn continuously as the shelf life of skills shorten and career paths meander and lengthen.

So there’s a significant pressure on us all to learn the right stuff. How do we identify what that is?

One approach is to apply a time-utility analysis (similar in form to a cost-benefit) to the subjects you’re interested in learning. “Time” is time to learn. It’s effectively the opportunity cost to you of achieving competence. “Utility” is how much you’re likely to use the desired skill. For example, today’s manager spends a lot of time emailing, gathering data, running meetings, and making spreadsheets, so the utility for improving at these activities is especially high.

Combine time and utility, and you get a simple 2×2 matrix with four quadrants:

  • Learn it right away: high utility, low time-to-learn
  • Schedule a block of time for learning it, ideally in your calendar: high utility, high time-to-learn
  • Learn it as the chance arises — on a commute, lunch break, and so on: low utility, low time-to-learn
  • Decide whether you need to learn it: low utility, high time-to-learn

2x2 Learning.png

Once you’ve decided what you want to learn, you can use this same framework to zero in on specific skills to focus on.

Let’s illustrate the method with a single workplace activity with high utility: spreadsheeting. Knowledge workers spend almost half an hour in a spreadsheet every day. And in major corporations, this is almost synonymous with using Excel: there are almost a billion users of Microsoft’s spreadsheet program, and more than four-fifths of businesses globally use Excel. A time-utility analysis might suggest you want to get better at it.

But Excel contains over 500 functions and many more features; that’s a lot to learn. Where would you even begin? For a time-utility analysis to be of any use, we need it to help us at this level, down here in the weeds. To get a sense of utility, we reviewed dozens of articles written by Excel experts about their preferred Excel features. We used this analysis to compile a list of the 100 most useful Excel functions, features, tips, tricks and hacks, ordered numerically by utility. We combined this with our own data on how long each of these features takes users to learn, and plotted the two against each other. (Yes, we got a little excited about this project. Don’t worry, you don’t have to delve into this level of detail when you’re prioritizing your own learning.)

Exel Learn.png

As you’d expect, there’s some correlation (r=0.3), so the more useful items take longer to learn in general. But the scattered effect gives rise to some useful, tangible pointers for prioritizing what to learn.

You’ll find the quickest wins in the bottom-right quadrant, which we’ve labeled “Learn it right away.” In here we have time-saving shortcuts that can be applied frequently, like Ctrl-Y (redo) and F2 (edit cell) and a nice combination formula that cleanses your spreadsheet of errors (IF(ISERROR)).

The quadrant “Schedule a block of time for learning it” hosts the highly useful but more complex features, such as conditional formatting and pivot tables — these were deemed the two most useful on the entire list.

Bottom-left is those less useful but quick-to-learn items like Ctrl-5 (strikethrough) and Show Formulas (Ctrl¬).

Finally, in the top-left quadrant are the theoretically least appealing items, such as Get External Data and Text to Columns.

But for all of these, you, the individual learner, will impose your own opinions and experience on an analysis like this: “Actually, I already know Ctrl-Y, and I’ll never need to get external data.” And that helps filter out even more items, leaving you with an even more manageable list.

How would you apply this to your working, learning life? You probably don’t want to learn only about spreadsheeting, and you’re unlikely to have the kind of data we’ve used above at your fingertips. But you may have an idea of some of the skills you’d like to acquire or develop.

Consider the mix of activities in your working day. What would help you the most? Finally being able to use Photoshop, getting a grip on Agile or Waterfall, learning to write more clearly? Are there meta-skills that would help you do all of these things better — like coming across the way you intend to in meetings, or learning to manage your time more productively? You could assign approximate scores for time (to learn) and utility for each of these and plot a scatter chart like the one above. Or you could just estimate: Classify the skills on your list as either low or high in utility and time to learn, and place them in the corresponding quadrant. Either way, what shows up in the bottom-right quadrant? You may discover some learning bargains.

You can use this approach just for yourself, or across a team, department, even your entire company. Since you probably don’t have much time to learn, learn to make the most of what you have.

 

HBR: Good Leaders Are Good Learners

Are you setting learning goals? Is your company helping you identify your learning opportunities? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Susan J. Ashford, Peter Heslin, Lauren Keating:

Good Leaders Are Good Learners

Although organizations spend more than $24 billion annually on leadership development, many leaders who have attended leadership programs struggle to implement what they’ve learned. It’s not because the programs are bad but because leadership is best learned from experience.

Still, simply being an experienced leader doesn’t elevate a person’s skills. Like most of us, leaders often go through their experiences somewhat mindlessly, accomplishing tasks but learning little about themselves and their impact.

Our research on leadership development shows that leaders who are in learning mode develop stronger leadership skills than their peers.

Building on Susan Ashford and Scott DeRue’s mindful engagement experiential learning cycle, we found that leaders who exhibit a growth mindset diligently work through each of the following three phases of the experiential learning cycle.

First, leaders set challenging learning goals in the form of “I need to learn how to…” For some leaders, the goal might be to become more persuasive or to be more approachable. With a goal in mind, leaders can identify opportunities to make progress toward it. These could include a new project, an international assignment, a job rotation, or simply striving to approach routine encounters in a fundamentally different way.

Next, they find ways to deliberately experiment with alternative strategies. A leader interested in increasing their persuasiveness, for example, might experiment with sitting in a different place or speaking first or last in a critical meeting. Creating and capitalizing on learning opportunities can be bolstered by having a coach or peer provide feedback and act as a sounding board.

Finally, leaders who are in learning mode conduct fearless after-action reviews, determined to glean useful insights from the results of their experimentation. Candidly reflecting on what went well, what did not go so well, and what might work better in future are essential though often neglected initiatives for learning from experience and discerning what to focus on learning next. Understanding these principles is important for organizations not just because it means that leadership development doesn’t have to be expensive, but also because it means that leadership skills can be systematically learned and practiced.

How can leaders enter learning mode? Leaders can construe setbacks as meaning they have not yet developed the required capabilities, rather than them being just not cut out for the task at hand. They can also avoid the trap of constantly seeking out places and tasks to highlight their strengths, as well as feedback that affirms their innate talents and self-esteem. Simply asking themselves, “Am I in learning mode right now?” can be a powerful cue to wholeheartedly focus, or refocus, on their leadership development, as well as their leadership performance, and thereby truly learn from their experiences.

How can organizations help leaders enter and remain in learning mode? Organizational leaders can help rising leaders focus more on being progressively better than they were in the past, rather than on constantly benchmarking themselves against others. They can model construing mistakes as potential learning opportunities rather than as indicators of leadership inadequacy. In hiring and promotion, organizational leaders might give priority to those most likely to grow and develop in a role. Finally, they might conduct an audit of fixed mindset cues in their organization — such as the use of psychometric testing to select the most “innately qualified” high-potential leaders; forced ranking performance appraisals; and winner-take-all reward systems — and tweak them to focus more on developing than diagnosing leadership capabilities.

The bottom line is that by supporting leaders being in learning mode, organizations can develop the capabilities that leaders need to anticipate, respond to, and continually learn from the stream of emerging challenges to organizational prosperity.