Blue Jean Presence: Commanding the Room from a Bean Bag Chair

Today is the day. You’ve got your first meeting with your new team, and your manager has asked you to share your perspectives on what you’ve observed as some strengths and weaknesses of the team’s processes. And to make it even better, the meeting is being led by the Chief Technology Officer. It’s only been a week on the job but you’re getting to meet her and share your impressions on how the team can improve.

This is the best job ever! You grab a quick cup of coffee at the company café, lace up your Allbirds and head off to the meeting. You’re the first one there so you pop in your AirPods and browse Amazon for a few minutes to see what you might want to buy with your first new paycheck. People slowly trickle in and you nod to Karen and Zack, who work on your sales engineering sub-team.

As the meeting starts, you kinda zone-out a bit. This meeting is on your calendar for a full hour and your manager is walking the CTO through a coding error that caused a product delay last month. Your manager let you know this morning that he’d introduce you towards the end of the meeting, so you’ve got some time. You get a text and check your phone as the meeting drags on. Your friend Tony wants to try the new microbrewery after you get off work. Sounds like fun!

All of sudden your manager is introducing you and asking you to share what you’ve thought about the team’s coding process. You get ready to speak when you notice the CTO has a hard look on her face. She gives you a dismissive glance and then proceeds to answer emails while you walk through the observations you prepared for the team. You just started speaking… you don’t understand what went wrong!

After the meeting your manager pulls you aside to let you know that you didn’t exactly show up well in the meeting. Defensive, you immediately look down at your jeans and t-shirt and start to worry that maybe you didn’t dress the part. The CTO was wearing a suit…maybe you were supposed to as well?

Dress codes fluctuate between cultures. The truth is, how you come across to your co-workers goes far beyond tucking in your shirt or choosing slacks over blue jeans. While your wardrobe choices can make a statement in and of themselves, the reality is that clothing only highlights the Presence you carry with you into a meeting or convey across the shared-desk space to your co-workers.

In order to attract and retain talent, top companies have almost made job perks cliché. Free Starbucks coffee, beer on tap with foosball and ping pong tables in the break room, and colorful, creative shared workspaces across the building complete with bean bag chairs, nature wallpaper motifs, and maybe even a slide or two. Yet, one of the most common gaps we see young professionals make in company cultures that promote a relaxed corporate environment, is that being comfortable in your workspace does not change how others experience you and take you in.

Let’s go back to the team meeting with the CTO. When your manager gave you feedback that you did not show up well in the meeting, you immediately thought he meant how you dressed. And that’s a pretty typical response. Many of us have grown up having to “put on our Sunday best” or been told to “dress for success.” But the reality was that CTO never had a problem with your dress code. She had a problem with the signals you were sending to her and the rest of the team throughout the meeting. It wasn’t your blue jeans, it was that you were checked out during the meeting.

And that’s a real problem workplaces face as they seek to make employees feel more comfortable and relaxed in their workflow. The mantras of “do it on your own schedule,” “take as much PTO as you need,” or “bring the dog to work,” so long as you get the job done, are great! But what can often get lost in the use of these new amenities is that, yes this meeting is taking place in bean bag chairs, but that doesn’t mean the expectations of being present and being engaged have changed.

Regardless of your wardrobe, the signals you send in meetings, whether you’re the center of attention or a participant in the far-off corners of a jam-packed room, matter and the impressions they give to your co-workers, managers, and senior leaders can stick around longer than you might think. That CTO doesn’t come to your team’s weekly meeting very often. It might be another three months before she sees you again. So, for the next three months she’ll remember you as the newbie who was more interested in plans with Tony than their new team…if she remembers you at all.

Presence is a funny thing. So often we hear people think about it as something that only matters once you reach a certain level in your career or only if you’re constantly presenting in front of a large audience. But the truth is that each of us has a Presence we put forth regardless of if we’re in a three-piece suit or a faded polo. You can command a room just as easily from a bean bag chair as you can from across a mahogany board room table. And while that may seem unlikely, it’s easier than you might think.

Keep in mind how powerful the impression the CTO formed in our example was. You may not always be the most important person in the room, or even have a defined speaking role in a meeting. But when it’s time to solicit buy-in, report out on an initiative, or lead a small team meeting, being present and being engaged goes a long way. Even if you don’t say a single word in a meeting, if you’re an active participant in your body language, your attention, and your energy…it will be remembered!

The more comfortable and independent we become in our work settings, it can be tempting to think that grey concepts like our Presence or how we come across to our colleagues don’t matter as much as they used to. But it’s actually quite the opposite. With teams working at different hours, working remotely, and colleagues moving around more frequently than ever before, our windows for connecting and influencing across an organization are smaller. And this means the impressions you make today just might pay dividends down the road.

If you’re interested in learning more about our take on Presence and Personal Brand, check out our Open Programs.

Enlisting New Year’s Energy

At my house, the New Year never seems to happen peacefully. From the moment the clock strikes midnight and the next year officially begins, my to-do list seems to grow to epic proportions. First, there’s taking down all the Christmas decorations, then there’s deep-cleaning my apartment, starting to organize my taxes, trying to get back into shape, taking up half a dozen hobbies that won’t last past mid-January…and that’s before I even go back to work!

A new year always seems to bring energy into our lives and it’s the same at a company. January is the season of kick-off meetings and big-crowd keynotes, and it’s a time to refocus energy and dive head-first into new initiatives. And for the most part, employees old and new love this time of year. People prefer to be busy, and after a restful (maybe?) holiday with family and friends, most employees are eager to get back to work and the energy around the New Year is contagious.

But then what happens?

As the excitement and energy of the new year dies down and new projects are completed or continue to drag on, the sense of communal purpose that teams feel at the year’s kickoff begins to fade. And what’s worse, this drop-off of enthusiasm often leads to the dreaded mid-year slump.

We’ve all experienced it at some point in our careers. The pending sense of doom on Sunday night of having to get up early and drag ourselves back to work to get through yet another work week. All the excitement we felt in January around launching new products or achieving those lofty sales goals seems to have evaporated by June. And instead of enjoying the prospect of new challenges to overcome and wanting to grow and stretch ourselves, we’re counting down how many days of vacation we have left to take and wondering why 5:00pm seems so far away.

And unsurprisingly, once that attitude develops, particularly among young professionals, our mental health and productivity take a nosedive. It’s a common occurrence across companies, but it doesn’t have to be.

When the New Year season comes around, we tend to focus on the same popular goals: eating healthier, getting in shape, traveling, etc. But when it comes to our professional lives, we aren’t always as quick to reassess and organize ourselves. Sometimes we’ll set a large goal of getting a promotion or earning a higher degree, but these kinds of goals don’t always have a clear path forward and chasing a single goal for months on end can lead even the most dedicated professional to burnout.

So, if we as employees are so motivated at the beginning of the year, how do we keep that same level of enthusiasm and drive through eleven more months?

Reassess, Revisit and Engage  

Honestly, the best ways to avoid the mid-year slump is to take the time in January to reassess where you are in your career and revisit some of the things you maybe didn’t find as challenging or rewarding in the previous year. Most people groan when they think of the prospect of going through some form of feedback process with their manager, and we’ve all been in the mindset of “just grin and bear it” at least once when we’re in the chair opposite our boss.

But what can cause more pain in the long run than just getting a 30-minute performance review, is not taking the time to digest your review and reassess what you’d like to improve upon.

Feedback is a gift, but it’s not one we always utilize as best we could. Taking time in the first few weeks of January to reflect on how your manager and your teammates are perceiving your work can help set you apart in astonishing fashion…because so few of us ever actually do it!

Engaging in feedback can seem like a daunting goal, but it’s not as difficult as it may initially seem. For example:

Say your manager gives you feedback that you seem uninterested in meetings. One of two things is happening: 1) Your manager is observing some behavior on your part (looking at your phone, arriving late, etc.), that is giving an impression of disinterest. That’s an easy, tactical fix to improve how you’re coming across to your colleagues. 2) You may not actually be enjoying what you’re working on. And that’s okay!

We all find ourselves at some point or another in a role or with job functions that don’t excite us as much as we’d like. Discovering what we’re good at and what we like to do is an integral part of our career paths. But what so many of us do in these situations is become defensive or deflective of feedback instead of actively engaging with it.

So, in our example, let’s say you (we’ll call you George/Georgia) really don’t enjoy your current project and your manager, Josh, gives you feedback that you seem disinterested. If you just nod along, apologize, and try to move the conversation along, you aren’t likely to see much improvement in your current situation. But what if you tried something like this:

Your Manager: You know, George/Georgia, you just don’t seem to be very interested in meetings.

You: Wow, Josh. I’m sorry that I gave you that impression and I hope that that impression isn’t reflective in the work I’ve done for you on this project. The truth is that I was excited about joining this new initiative back in June, but I just don’t think it’s as much of an interest of mine as I originally thought.

Your Manager: Well, I appreciate you letting me know that George/Georgia. Your work has been great on this project and I really value what you bring to the team. We will be gearing up for a new initiative this Spring. Would you be willing to help us close out this current project if I can find you a new role on this upcoming project?

Not every conversation with a boss will be as cookie-cutter as that, but you can see where the conversation took a much more meaningful turn than if George/Georgia had simply “taken the feedback with a smile.” By actively engaging with your boss, you not only learned that he appreciates the work that you’ve done for him, but he also said that he’s willing to help find you another role that might be more in-tune with your interests. That ought to give you a little boost of energy for the year ahead!

The New Year is a bustling time, but enlisting some of that energy now to set a course for the year ahead will keep you out of the doldrums and on track for a productive, meaningful year.

Learning from Letdowns

How many times has this happened to you? You have a great idea. No, make that a brilliant idea. You heard about an issue the company is having in your morning staff meeting on Monday, and by Thursday afternoon, you’ve cracked the code.

Excited, you rush down to your boss’ desk. She’s in the middle of looking at something your co-worker Gary gave her to review an hour ago, but she looks like she could put it aside for a minute. After all, you’ve just found a way to solve the company’s problem! It’ll be a great save for your manager, who you already know will be on board, and it will be your first major contribution to the company since you joined a year ago.

This is finally your time! You can feel your heart racing as you lay out all of your plans for the golden fix. You’ve thought it all through and you know this plan is a winner.

But your manager puts down Gary’s papers, seems to consider your proposal for a few seconds, and the drops the bomb. “I’m sorry. I just don’t see how that would work the way you put it.”

You’re devastated. All the energy and midnight candle-burning you’ve put into your idea seems to be sucked out of you all at once. You say, “Oh, okay. Yeah, it was just something I was thinking about,” and then you slink back to your desk, defeated. The day seems to drag on forever and when you finally get in your car to go home that night, you’re not sure you accomplished a single thing that day.

We all get disappointed. And one of the harshest truths to learn in business is that you can hear a lot of “No’s” before you hear a “Yes.” That’s a trope that everyone hears eventually, but there’s almost never a follow-up lesson on how to take that advice and learn from it. Hearing “No,” hurts. It’s not just our pride that gets knocked down a peg when our ideas get rejected, but it’s also an implosion of all the time and energy we put into our own ideas when we get excited.

Especially true of young professionals (see previous articles), most employees in a business aren’t just along for the ride. They want to contribute and help their company succeed. And when someone thinks they’ve found a way to do that, they become more invested in the business than every. The same is true whether a person’s idea is reorganizing an office labeling system or establishing an entire new product division. When you have an idea, you put energy into it, and if that idea is shot down, all that energy you invested feels like a waste.

The truth is, there’s not a catch-all solution to make people buy-into every idea you have. Budgets are sometimes restricted, resources get tangled up, and sometimes people love your ideas, but just don’t have the time to help support you in exploring them. So if we can’t completely eliminate the possibility of hearing “No,” is there anything we can do to learn from the letdowns? As you might’ve guess by the title of this article, there is indeed!

In the scenario I painted above, I would argue that the worst part was not actually the rejection of the person’s idea, but the fact that they felt so depleted by the rejection that their work suffered and they left the conversation feeling defeated rather than encouraged to try a different approach. Oftentimes a first approach is just that, a draft that needs a revision. And the worst thing that can happen when we put our ideas out for consideration is that we feel disheartened to try again if they get turned down. Being rejected will always sting, but there are ways to learn from letdowns and find the silver-lining within a rejection.

1) Yes, Timing Matters:

In the scenario we started with, you picked an interesting time to mention your idea to your boss. You noticed she was at her desk instead of locked away in a meeting like she usually is, and she didn’t seem to be doing anything tremendously important.

The part you didn’t know however, was that Gary had given your boss a proposal to review that was full of errors and had a due date by the end of the day. (Classic Gary, am I right?) The proposal was for a major deal with a new client and your boss was under a lot of stress to try and fix this proposal so it could be out the door by 5:00pm.

She didn’t look like she was stressed, but she was. And when you came to her desk full of excitement and energy about something that wasn’t relevant to her current problem, you were actually the last thing she needed to be dealing with right now. But she’s a good manager, and she put down Gary’s proposal to hear you out. When she heard some gaps you hadn’t thought all the way through, she let you know that she didn’t see how the idea, as it currently was presented, could work.

You were so stunned by the “No,” you didn’t hear her invitation to try and revise your proposal and then she’d get back with you.

In business, timing really does matter. And not just for those of us who trade stocks or try to predict the future. When you have an idea, it matters to you and excites you. And our natural tendency is to rush into an immediate conversation with our managers about it to try and share our excitement. But the truth is that in this scenario, the more pressing need was Gary’s proposal, not your idea. And because your manager was under the gun, she didn’t have time to walk you through her initial reactions. She needed to get her work done, and the abrupt “No,” made you feel like she dismissed you off-hand.

If an idea is not time-sensitive and you want meaningful feedback, you are better off either trying to engage someone over a cup of coffee in the cafeteria (if you’re just brainstorming), or by setting up a scheduled meeting. It takes time to convey a message and have someone engage with it, and impromptu situations are not always the best place to pitch them.

2) Be Clear as Crystal: 

Ideas are funny. What might seem crystal clear to you, might seem vague and uncertain to your audience. Here’s an example. Say you’re having lunch with your co-workers and suddenly an idea pops into your head. You say, “Hey guys, what if we rearranged the social media marketing schedule for next week?” In your mind, you’re already “there,” but your co-workers are left only thinking, “Why?”

Whether you’re presenting your ideas formally or informally, clarity can mean the difference between getting buy-in and reaction to your idea or simply getting a vague, “Yeah, I guess we could.”

Take the same situation. Instead of starting off with a broad stroke of proposing a change to the social media schedule, start by saying why exactly you need to change it in the first place.

“Hey guys, you know how Sharon wants us to increase ad exposure over the next three months in Seattle? Well, I was thinking that if we tweaked the successful campaigns we ran in Boston last year around public school Spring Break a bit, that might be an interesting way to drive traffic to our website in the new market. What do you think?”

Now, you probably aren’t that formal with your friends around a lunch table, but you can see the difference that the more context you provide in the idea, the easier it is for your listeners to follow your train of thoughts and respond to your ideas.

3) Don’t Let Good Ideas Die in Vain:

Lastly, the most important way to prevent future rejections is to take the time to learn why you received a “No” in the first place. The vast majority of us simply let the rejection sting without ever trying to follow up for feedback on how we could’ve improved our idea.

Asking for feedback is never easy, but the reality is that if you don’t ask for it, you won’t always get it. Sometimes your ideas may just need tweaking or sometimes the reality simply is that they won’t work right now. But without asking for feedback, there’s always the risk of making the same mistake again. Even if an idea isn’t destined for greatness, never let it die in vain!

Rejection is an unfortunate part of life, and in business, sometimes it can hurt far more than we expect it to. But there’s wisdom to be gained in hearing “No,” and if we learn from our letdowns, hopefully we can find a few more “Yes’s”.

The Seven Month Itch

Recently I listened to an interview with a departing executive from a major entertainment company. And after the usual round-about responses of “Oh, I love this company,” and “I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given here,” the executive finally answered the interviewer’s question of why he was suddenly leaving during one of the most exciting periods in the company’s history. He said quite candidly, “I’ve just hit my seven year itch. It’s time to move on.”

I admit, I had no idea what a seven year itch was, so I had to look it up. Apart from the movie staring Marilyn Monroe where her iconic white dress gets ruffled above the subway vent, “the seven year itch” is also a popular phrase among psychologists that is used to describe declining interest in a long-term relationship. And while the phrase is usually applied to romantic relationships, it is also sometimes applied to our relationship with our career.

And that’s not too surprising. Seven years is a long time. I’m not sure that I own anything that’s seven years old. So it’s not a great shock that after seven years of working in the same department, or for the same company, we can get a little “itchy.” In fact, what might be the real surprise is that this entertainment executive had actually been at the same company for so long!

One of the taboos of young professionals we’ve discussed before is that business leaders look at young professionals as unreliable, someone who will only work here a few years, or maybe only a few months, before they want to leave. And they’re not wrong. Young professionals likely are changing jobs at a more rapid rate than previous generations. But interestingly, while Gen-Y is usually associated with all of the negative stereotypes about job-hopping, it’s not just young professionals who are doing it.

A recent survey conducted by Careerbuilder said that as many as 45% of employees only plan to stay at their company for one or two years. That’s incredible! Nearly half of current employees enter into a new job already with the mindset of leaving their new company. Not too long ago, someone whose resume labeled them as a “job-hopper,” wouldn’t have even made it past the first round of applications.

So if so many employees are switching (or anticipating switching) jobs frequently, then it seems pretty clear that the negative stigma against job-hopping is fading quickly. Now, I doubt that many employers would be keen to hire someone who leaves a job after only three months, but as young professionals begin to move into management positions themselves, there seems to be less and less stigma against hiring someone who was only at their last job for a year or two.

Instead of a seven year itch, it seems like the new standard for dissatisfaction in our careers may actually be a seven month itch. And if that’s the case, why is it happening, and what can employers do to avoid losing key talent?

Well, the first part of that question is actually pretty easy to answer. As the stigma against job-hopping fades, it makes it much easier and more appealing for young professionals to explore new opportunities. Instead of the old practice of having to rely on a single company to promote you and match contributions to a 401K for decades, many young professionals are now moving from company to company to rise quickly through the ranks as well as increase their salaries. Home-ownership among young professionals is also at an all-time low, which means uprooting and moving across the country is becoming more of an adventure and less of a hassle. So in short, if there’s no penalty against my leaving after only a year if I’m unhappy, why shouldn’t I do it?

If salaries and promotions await young professionals who want to switch jobs, does that mean the employers should just expect their top talent to leave every few years? That’s probably a bit extreme. What it does mean however, is that companies will need to shift how they invest in their employees given the ease of changing career and the opportunities that exist in job-hopping.

And investment goes beyond just updating a company’s culture. While a beer tap in the break room is cool, the reality is that that novelty wears off after a few months and eventually, we all start to feel the familiar itch. We start to ask ourselves the same questions: Where is this going? Am I happy here? Do I see myself becoming a leader at this company? At the reality that employers are going to have to deal with is that if someone’s answer to any of those questions is “no,” the chances are very high that the company will lose that individual.

In a recent study conducted by LinkedIn, 36% of participants said that they had switched jobs simply because they were unsatisfied with their work environment. Think about that for just a minute. Nearly half of employees enter into a new job with an established mindset of leaving after one or two years, and more than a third of employees are willing to leave a job because they’re unhappy with their day-to-day work life. Bottom line: Not only are employees (not just young professionals) constantly looking around for the next great opportunity, if they see it’s not with their current company, they will leave without hesitation!

Investment in young professionals is a consistent theme that we’ve discussed in this series, yet it routinely seems to fall to the bottom of employers’ to-do lists. The normalization of job-hopping has accelerated young professionals’ expectations for advancement and the reality is that if you don’t invest in me in some meaningful way within the first few months, I will be more motivated than ever to leave once I start to feel the seven month itch.

Of course, young professionals shouldn’t be elevated to management or given high-risk responsibilities just to keep them on on-board, but the timetable to feel a meaningful engagement within a company has gone from years to months. In order to retain top talent, employers need to establish a path for employee development early on and find ways to make the operation of the business real for their employees.

Dodging Difficult Conversations

We’ve all been there. It’s your first performance review, your first meeting where a senior leader is in the room, or the first presentation that you’ll be giving solo. And you’re a little nervous.

The performance discussion starts off okay, but very quickly you start to get some feedback you weren’t expecting. Your presentation is going well at first, until you start to see some skeptical looks from the senior leader in the back of the room. And when both of these conversations start to become more difficult than you were expecting, you make the mistake that many young professionals make: as a listener, you look away from the communicator, and as a communicator you look away from the listener. 

Difficult conversations are never fun. We avoid them whenever possible in our personal lives, and so it’s no surprise that they make us uncomfortable in our professional lives. And when young professionals get uncomfortable, one of the most common things we do is to trade-off the person we’re talking to or who is talking to us. When your manager surprises you by giving you some hard feedback, the last thing you want to do is look them in the eye. And when you sense that your senior leader is losing interest or isn’t buying into your presentation, you turn back to your slides to try and remember a key data point or graph that might change their mind. 

But this isn’t a mechanical piece about how to make eye contact with someone. It’s about the importance of connection and what it means for your personal brand.

When young professionals are placed in communication situations where we are less confident our greatest tendency is to physically avert ourselves from the individual who is making us feel off-balance. But this behavior has some negative consequences. As listeners, when we look away, down, or to the side of our manager in the first scenario, we can come across at best as being indifferent to the feedback we’re receiving, and at worst, defiant. This is because while you may think you’re just looking away from your manager, your body is actually signalling your disconnect to your manager. Your head may even follow your eyes, which can come across to your manager as if you are disinterested in what they are trying to explain to you.    

On balance, as communicators, young professionals often try to trade-off the listener for their own materials when they’re giving a presentation or leading a discussion. But when we do this, we actually lose our best indicator of how our material is being received. We’re not there to simple regurgitate information. The basic intent behind a meeting or presentation is to convey information to an audience, and then have that audience respond to and/or act on a recommendation or strategy. But when we remove our physical connection with our audience, we lose our best avenue  to influence them and come across as unsure or hesitant.

The unfortunate aftermath of both of these scenarios, is that we don’t come across as confident or engaged professionals. And as a result, our manager, our peers, and our senior leaders can leave these communication situations with an unfavorable impression of us. And while communications situations like these are a pretty common occurrence, most young professionals don’t spend much time thinking about how they can influence how others form impressions of them. 

The truth is that people are always forming impressions of one another. We do it all the time in our own lives, even when we’re not aware of it. And the same is true in the workplace. Whether you’re the center of attention in a meeting or sitting in the very back of the room with no-clue why you were included on the meeting invitation, your co-workers, your manager, and your manager’s manager will all form impressions of you. It matters if you’re slouched over in your chair, daydreaming about the weekend, instead of listening to the financial analytics presentation. And people will notice if you spend the entire meeting taking notes, instead of actively engaging with the communicator. 

And while that might sound daunting, it can actually be a great means for young professionals to establish themselves as an invested employee early on in their careers. Being mindful about your personal brand goes beyond “sitting up straight,” and “looking at people while they’re talking to you.” Influencing impressions means establishing a thoughtful and engaged presence that lets a communicator know that your are actively listening to them, and lets a listener know that you’re not only engaged in your own material, but that you’re engaged in making it relevant for them.     

Engaged doesn’t mean dominant. In order to establish yourself in a conversation or presentation, you don’t have to dominate it, but you do have to present. More often than not young professionals are placed in settings where they don’t have a speaking role. But you can establish a presence for yourself without being the center of attention. Someone who is settled in their seat, is interested in what is being discussed (regardless of whether or not it effects their immediate role), and who is attentive to a communicator, can actually draw a speaker or presenter to them and be seen as contributor in the conversation, even if they don’t say a single word. 

But apart from immediate impressions, does the concept of connection and personal brand really matter down the road? 

Absolutely. In addition to improving short-term impressions, taking ownership for how others see you can have lasting effects in your career. When we interviewed executives for Sally Williamson’s book, The Hidden Factor, we found that 89% of executives said that having an established presence helps employees get ahead, and 79% of executives said that the lack of presence could hold employees back.  

So, not only do co-workers, managers, and senior leaders form impressions of you, they hang onto them as well! What do you think your colleagues would say about your brand? Would they say that you try to dodge difficult conversations or would they say that you’re an engaged communicator and listener?

We want to know what you think about the concept of personal brand. Head back to Base Camp to join the conversation! 

Please Don’t Make Me!: Why You Should Care about Setting Development Goals

It’s that time of year again. The fun of the holidays has come and gone and in the first few weeks of the New Year you’re flooded with renewed energy, renewed purpose…and renewed click-bait on how to maintain your New Year’s Resolutions.

You see articles entitled, “Four Easy Steps to Keep Your New Year’s Resolution,” on Facebook and LinkedIn, and you see photos of your friends lifting weights or running on the treadmill on Instagram and SnapChat. You even hear morning talk show and radio hosts offering segments on how to make sure that you stay with your goals.

And while all this content is meant to be inspiring and useful, the truth is that by now, we’ve heard it all before. The theme of starting fresh in January has become so cyclical that it has lost its edge. We have gotten used to the exercise of setting goals for ourselves at the start of the New Year, but we’ve also grown more complacent to when “life happens” and we miss, forget, or even drop the goals we set for ourselves. After all, if we don’t achieve our goals this year, then there’s always next year!

This pattern can prove especially true for young professionals. At first, second, or even third jobs, it is all-too-easy to put on blinders. We want to impress our managers, land a big sale, or develop a solution that will get the attention of senior executives. And while this focus is important, it can actually lead to neglecting the development of skills that will help you long-term in your career.

Chances are, you may have heard something like this before when your manager asked you to type-up your development goals for the new year. And, if you’re like me, you likely tuned it out and put off turning anything in, because they were far more important priorities on your desk.  So you got your project work done, and then eventually, after a lot of groaning and dawdling, you sent your manager a list of half-hearted goals to check the box. And then you don’t think about them again until your next year-end review.

So, what’s the point of this exercise? Does it really matter that I write down a list of goals? I work hard at my job and having to turn in a written list of goals at the start of the year feels kinda childish. Can’t I just have a discussion with my manager about what I need to improve on, and then move on?

Unfortunately, professional development isn’t that simple. While it may seem like a tedious or even unnecessary exercise (trust me. I fight it every year!), setting development goals and making strides to reach them will actually do more for a young professional’s career than just making a sale or solving a business need.  The key to successful goal setting, and the point that is often missed with early-mid career employees, is that it isn’t just the setting of the goals that’s important, it’s the measurable follow-through that sets a vision for the year ahead and helps us track our own professional growth.

And while that may seem obvious, goal development can become a pain point between young professionals and their managers. And so, in the spirit of the resolution season, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why young professionals can struggle with development goals and how we can bridge each communication gap.

Riding Solo:

Development goals are not something that we can keep in the back of our minds as something we’ll get around to eventually. The truth is that if your goals aren’t top-of-mind, you’ll always find a way to put them off, or you’ll eventually neglect them altogether. And if you don’t involve others in the process of setting goals, then you’re only listening to your own opinion. And that likely won’t help you grow very much.

Your manager should be an equal partner in setting your development goals, and as tedious as finding time to type-up your goals may be, having a physical record to hold yourself accountable to is one of the easiest ways to help others keep you accountable as well.

Checking Out Instead of Checking In:

One of the most common trends when young professionals are asked to think about their development goals is that they simply don’t do them. The truth is that writing down or typing up a laundry list of goals is not going to be an exciting task for everyone. And when a task isn’t an exciting or meaningful one, it gets put it off indefinitely or ignored. It’s a frustrating thing for managers to witness and it can easily make an early-career employee come across as arrogant or disinterested.

However the gap is rarely ever that young professionals are disinterested, they just haven’t been able to see the reason to buy into investing the time in the exercise. Just because setting development goals is a yearly exercise, doesn’t mean that it’s one that automatically resonates with everyone each year. Managers taking the time to check-in with their employees and actively collaborate on the goal setting process are far more likely to make that connection than if goals are treated as another handed down to-do.

Goal setting is a yearly journey and active participation from both young professionals and their manages will lead to far better results.

Setting Only Stretch Goals:

Another common occurrence when young professional set their development goals is that they set too many unrealistic goals. Instead of spending time focusing on their own specific development needs or interests, many early-career folks make their goals about promotions or company revenue.

And while long-term goals can be part of a development conversation, setting a year-end goal solely on becoming a Senior Director by the end of your first year isn’t likely to do you much good. If you don’t achieve that goal you’ll be disappointed, and you’ll become frustrated when you don’t have any other measurements at your year-end review. Development goals are meant to be a full-picture of year long journey in a career, not just an end-point you may or may not reach.

Foundation Over Fluff:

In addition to keeping goals relevant and collaborative, perhaps the most challenging part of setting goals for young professionals is learning how to critique ourselves in an impactful way. Development goals are not meant to be fluff pieces that your manager looks at once and then throws in a file somewhere.

Real development comes from setting goals that require a lot of self-reflection. And it can be hard to be honest with ourselves about where our professional gaps may be. Chances are, we even have a few blind spots. Setting goals of simply “improving in…” won’t lead to any meaningful development and certainly won’t paint the picture to managers of an employee who is open to and even eager to improve.

Goals have to set expectations that pull us in new directions and allow us to grow in a way that will be beneficial not just for our company or our manager, but for ourselves. And as tedious or daunting as the process may seem, in order to continue to develop as future leaders, we have to invest the time and effort into making sure that our development aligns with a business need as well as personal aims.

Exiting from E-Learning

Who among us has not fallen into the YouTube Trap? It starts off innocently enough. You just wanted to watch that two-minute video of a baby panda sneezing. But before that video is even done, you’re already thinking about which video you want to watch next! Should you watch that dog skateboarding your friend sent you the link to last night or the golden classic: the Jurassic Park Honest Trailer you’ve already watched sixty times. And before you know it, you’ve been watching YouTube videos for half an hour!

The YouTube Trap is a common occurrence, and it’s no wonder why. With so much video content available on so many different platforms from television to Vines, we are more easily able to find, view, and share content that draws our interest or connects with us. And because of this saturation of content, if you are trying to relay a message, sell a product, or teach a skill, it has never been more important to offer it in a clear, concise, and creative way. And this is especially true in the corporate learning space.

And it is impossible today to talk about corporate learning without the conversation quickly becoming dominated by E-Learning. Encompassing a wide variety of sub-topics, formats and styles, E-Learning can range from compliance and on-boarding training all the way to VR and AI simulations that can be used to teach highly-specialized tasks. And on the surface, the promises of E-Learning are great for both businesses and their employees. Digital programs are easy to buy and employees are able to complete the training on their own time. That sounds like a win-win!

However, while E-Learning has been successful in offering more technical training, it has not lived up to its promises for soft skills and leadership development. A recent survey conducted by Bersin by Deloitte found that while 97% of managers used some form of digital learning every year, 80% said that their company’s digital training for soft skills and leadership development were not adequate. In fact, when asked whether they preferred E-Learning or face-to-face training, 83% of managers said that they actually preferred face-to-face professionally training, and for employees under the age of 35 that number rose to 89%!

Those numbers are likely the opposite of what you would expect. In a world of constant video streaming and easily accessible content, how can there not be effective soft skills training? And even more surprising, why would early-career millennials prefer in-person training?  The answer, as it turns out, is two-fold:

High-Stakes Content

Between our work and personal devices, employees now have access to more learning content than ever before. And a large part of the difficulty in creating effective E-Learning is that we, as users of the training, have become pickier. We will sit through compliance training that is assigned to us, but our expectations for higher-level training are often higher. And when it comes to leadership training, we tend to be even more selective because the topic is one we are actively choosing to invest in, and as result, our expectations are even higher still.

Think about it this way. Why does the YouTube Trap occur? Because we like the content. It’s interesting, relevant, entertaining, and (usually) short. This is now the same model that we know apply to any sort of content we view online or remotely, and it’s a challenging one to meet! If you don’t grab my attention, my mind is going to wander during an online training session and I’m that much more likely to answer emails, fiddle with a project, or tune it out altogether.

Instructors and Experiences Matter

Based on what we’ve already mentioned, it should come as no surprise that less than half of the participants surveyed in Bersin’s survey said their soft skills E-Learning content was any good. And what’s also interesting about the survey is that when participants were asked what they liked more about the in-person training experience versus E-Learning modules, they overwhelmingly said it was the experience.

And if we stop to think about it, that makes sense as well. While the main benefit of E-Learning is flexibility and avoiding traveling for a training program, in reality, in-person training offers greater connection points for the trainee. We remember people and experiences, and a great instructor or pleasant trip can actually allow us to absorb more training than we would from watching a video or talking with a chat bot.

Training is an investment in someone and is often a sign that the company values an employee and wants to help them grow their career. And when that investment is created as a unique and unplugged opportunity rather than just another assigned checkbox to be completed on your own time, participants not only get more out of the training, but companies get a better return for their investment.

So where does this leave the promises of E-Learning? I would say that they are somewhere in the middle. For leadership development and soft skills training, E-Learning is simply not as effective as in-person training. As a tune-up or supplemental tool, E-Learning does have added value, but relying on it as the sole means of training is not an effective solution.

What do you think about E-Learning? Have you had a positive or negative experience with E-Learning Training. We want to know! Head back to Base Camp and join the conversation!

Burnouts and Busts

Who here remembers having to take the President’s Fitness test in school? You know, that bizarre, poorly explained week in gym class where you had to wait in long lines before seeing how far you could stretch, how high you could jump, and how fast you could run. As a kid I remembered dreading this week, first and foremost because of the dreaded, mile run.

At the conclusion of the long week of boring P.E. classes where I watched my gangling limbs fail to meet the expectations for kids half my size, everyone in my class was herded onto the school baseball field to see how fast you could run “The Mile.” It was always hot without a single cloud for shade, and the precarious route shifted between grass, gravel, and field track intermediately. But when you’re ten, your physical prowess is a direct factor in your popularity, and every year without fail, I would psych myself up just before it was my turn, and when the coach finally yelled go, I would fire off like a rocket at a dead sprint. And every year without fail I would see the coach shaking his head and hear him yelling after me, “Boy, if you keep running like that you are gunna burn out before the first lap!”

And inevitably, I always did. I’d pump my legs as hard as I could and since I was the tallest in my class, I could always manage to get a good head start. But before I’d even finished my first lap my lungs would be on fire, I’d be wheezing like a dying giraffe, and one-by-one, everyone I had left in the dust at the starting line started to pass me.

Burnouts are not typically something most people associate with a millennial generation that hops from job to job every couple of years. If someone spent 20+ years at a job, doing the same task over and over, then yes, we would all understand if that person one day told their boss, “I’m just really feeling burned out.” But how can someone in their twenties or thirties, who has already had three to five jobs, comes to work in their pajamas, and works in a beanbag chair, possibly be burned out?

While loyalty within corporate America is an increasing rarity, we actually still maintain several of the cultural norms that were prevalent in the baby boomer era. It used to be that showing up early, putting in long hours, and staying late, insured a career of 30-40 years that left employees retiring in good shape. But while employees are much more mobile than they used to be and have many more jobs throughout their career, we are still holding onto some of the same workplace stigmas that no longer make any sense.

One of the biggest of these still-lingering stigmas is equating workplace hours with productivity and promotability. “If I’m the first one in the office or the last one to leave, my managers will see how valuable I am to the company and promote me.” And if that sounds familiar, it’s likely because you’ve thought that way yourself even if you didn’t realize it at the time. In many organizations, there are not clear or relevant metrics for managers to measure their employees worth and so they begin to associate value with observed face-time. “Oh, Janice. Well, she’s usually the first one out the door at five o’clock, so I don’t know about her….but Olivia is here till almost seven every day. I think we should make her the new supervisor.”

And while that kind of conversation may or may not be happening in your organization now, they’ve been happening in other organizations for years, so much so that millennials are still equating hours with value. In our last post “Trust Me” we discussed the growing trend of employees working remotely, but just because millennials are out of the physical office, doesn’t mean the pressure is off to work more hours. Far from it! And furthermore, according to Ty Tucker, CEO of REV, a company that designs performance management platforms, that pressure is part of a growing, harmful shift in how millennials work.

“In too many workplaces, millennials aren’t challenged to meet specific, defined goals, so they spend time on busyness that doesn’t improve their standing, but consumes a lot of time.”

In several of our previous posts, we’ve addressed the fast-paced work attitudes of Gen-Y and Gen-Z and how both generations have a strong tendency to take off running their first day on the job. Add in cultural pressure to put in long hours, and it’s easy to see how long energy drink-fueled days and nights can start to take their toll pretty quickly. And even big name companies with cultures of comfort can actually increase this problem by making it far too easy to spend long hours on the job. When competing for promotions in highly-competitive environments, it’s a very real fear to be heading home when your co-workers are still at work. And in order to stay ahead of the race, it’s very easy for millennials to latch onto fancy amenities like showers, dry-cleaning services, beer kegs, on-site groceries, remote working etc. to fuel their desire to increase their total hours.

However, spending two hundred late-night hours to finish a non-essential piece of code or complete a minor project a few days in advance doesn’t really help your standing with managers or the company at-large. In reality, that kind of behavior’s only effect is to drain you. And if this behavior becomes a pattern, you run the risk of winding up like me running The Mile: sprinting for little gain and then huffing and puffing to catch back up as everyone else passes you by.

Burnouts are on the rise. According the American Psychology Association, 39% of millennials say their stress increased last year, 52% report lying awake at night from stress at some point in the past month, and 44% report feeling irritability or anger because of their stress. And while it might be easy to simply attribute feeling burned out as just being “really stressed lately,” in reality, burning out is a fast-track to being considered a hiring bust. Once you reach the point of being burned out, it is incredibly difficult to restart your internal drive, and from there, your value to a company will decrease rapidly.

The answer to combating burnouts is not millennials’ common remedy of shaking it off, sucking it up, and trudging back to our 14 hour grinds. In order to stand-out at work and improve your performance, millennials need to know what is important to an organization. What does your company value, prioritize, reward, stray away from etc?

A career is a hopefully a marathon rather than a sprint, and taking the time to invest in your own development by understanding your company’s and your manager’s values will keep you from falling into time and energy traps. If your company prioritizes and rewards speed over quality, okay, maybe it makes sense to pull all-nighters and keep a sleeping bag at the office. (But do you really want to work in that kind of environment?) However, chances are that your company values more than just time spent on the job, and understanding that will help keep you from burning out and turning into a hiring bust.

Do you have experience with feeling burned out? Have you ever left a job because you hit a wall you couldn’t move beyond? We want to hear about it! Head back to Base Camp and join the conversation!

Trust Me

Some of the best work I’ve done in my current role, I’ve done at the Blue Bottle coffee shop. They serve one of my favorite coffee brews, the service is always friendly, and there’s always a general buzz of excitement from the other patrons who, like me, are furiously banging on their laptops or scribbling down notes on their latest project. It’s noisy, crowded, and smells heavily of twenty different types of caffeine. Some people might be hard-pressed to get any work done there, but for me, it’s a perfect fit.

Working remotely is a growing trend. Go to a coffee shop, walk through a park, or take a few sales calls and you’ll find an increasing number of people who are “working from home today.” And why not? Wouldn’t you rather work on spreadsheets on a blanket in the park, or fix that bug in your code while you knock out some long-neglected chores? It’s a no-brainer. Chances are that most of us, if given the opportunity, would leap at the chance to work remotely.

And many companies realize this. Flexibility to work remotely is an incredible incentive to attract and retain talent, and not just because “it’s more fun.” For many employees the option to avoid lengthy commutes, not have to pay for child-care, and to be closer to their families throughout the day can be life-changing. So then why doesn’t every company offer the ability to work remotely?

Well, depending on which company you ask, you may get a different answer. But at the root of most opposition to remote working is trust. And it’s an understandable issue. For managers, what they want to know is “how am I supposed to manage someone who isn’t here?” Particularly in managing early career employees, there is often a very large trust gap between managers and their employees. And the trust divide is a bit more complex than you might initially think.

First and foremost, when you take an employee out of the office, how do you make sure they aren’t watching TV and ignoring the tasks at hand? But beyond that first, basic layer of trust there are other hurdles to managing remote workers that stem more from experience and development concerns. As a manager, if Samantha is not in the office very much and my only communication with her is through email or over the phone, am I going to be able to coach her as effectively on what I need done as someone who is sitting just a few desks down from me? What about if there’s an urgent need from a client and Jack took his dog for a walk and I can’t reach him?

These are reasonable concerns. However in reality, I would argue that they are not concerns with remote working, but accountability concerns.

The first myth to debunk is that working in a company office is more productive and more free of distractions than remote working. The truth is, I can be just as distracted in my office as I can be at home. I can access ESPN, Facebook, and my Gmail account just as easily at work as I can from home. And, as much as I hate to admit it, when I’m in the office I will peruse the internet when I hit a brick wall or there’s a lull in my call schedule. Bottom-line: if you want to check-out, you’ll find a way to check out.

However, when I work remotely I am more easily able to put my nose to the grindstone for two hours, then take my dog for long walk to clear my head, then put in another two hours fresh, stop for lunch, etc. And I find I will actually work longer days on days I am not in the office than days I’m in the office.

But as a manager, it can be difficult to extend that level of accountability to someone you don’t have tabs on, particularly if they do not yet have the established credibility and industry skills of a veteran employee. There are countless studies of millennials’ lower attention spans and the unorthodox and risky practices of multitasking. And I’m sure there are hundreds of stories from managers of remote employees who don’t meet expectations or are frequently late on deadlines. It’s not a system that works for everyone. Miscommunication can create mistakes, delays, and, worst of all, loss of revenue. Those are all bad outcomes and they are risky enough gambles to understand why a lot of managers are still skeptical of their employees working remotely.

And, truthfully, there are some fields that do not lend themselves to remote flexibility. If you have to make immediate trading decisions or handle large client investments, it’s probably better to do that in the immediate range of support in case a problem should arise. But my point is that regardless of where the work takes place, managers should always be striving to establish a level of trust and fluid communication between themselves and their teams where they can focus on the result and not have to worry so much about the process. If that trust exists, then working remotely becomes a non-issue. If that trust does not exist, then that’s a bigger internal issue.

And one of the best ways to establish trust between managers and employees is to foster a culture of accountability rather than one of micromanagement. Netflix has recently evolved into one of the corporate standard for accountability cultures. At Netflix, you work where you want, and take as much time off as you want, you just have to get your work done. It seems like such a simple concept, because it is. Extend trust, hold your people accountable, and you’ll get the best product. At Netflix, their management style is to promote a culture of self-enforcement with the expectation that you will consistently meet their high-standards. And if that’s not the case, Netflix protects itself with routine performance reviews and will politely part ways with employees who do not meet their high standards.

That model may not fit within every job function, but it’s a prime example of a company valuing their employees’ results more so than their process. In today’s market, if you can turn out a high-quality project on-time while being responsive to questions, calls, and emails, it doesn’t matter if you’re at the office or in a noisy coffee shop. And in the continuous drive to innovate that so many companies are now facing, the companies that invest in trusting their employees and promoting self-regulation are the ones that will be able to draw-in and make use of top talent.

What are the policies at your company around working remotely? Do you think they are too lenient or too strict? Head back to Base Camp to join in the conversation!

Seeking Greener Pastures

Who remembers the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff? It was one of my favorites growing up and if you’ve never heard it before it goes something like this: Three billy goats (one small, one medium, and one large) run out of grass on the hill where they live and decide they must move to the next hill where there is plenty of green, delicious grass growing. However, in order to get there the three billy goats must first cross a bridge, guarded by a hideous and hungry troll. One after the other the billy goats trick the troll into letting them pass, until the largest billy goat finally defeats the troll for good and all three of the billy goats live happily ever after in their new, greener pasture.

It’s a simple story, but it’s one that has created one of the more commonplace expressions we often hear,  “the grass is always greener.” And, ironically, even though the Billy Goats defeat their challenge and are successful in their pursuit of moving to greener grass, the lesson that has come out of this story over generations is to be thankful with what you have and where you are. Today, the grass is always greener means that while you may think that someone else has it easier or better than you, you don’t really know what their life, job, relationship etc. is really like, and so you should be happy with what you have.

And while some parts of that lesson still hold true, in the business world more employees are seeking greener pastures than ever before and a far greater number of them are willing to cross their bridges. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American will have held three to four jobs by the time they are 32 and our reasons for changing jobs are a little different than you might expect.

According to a survey conducted by Korn Ferry in January, 2017, 73% of employees actively seeking new jobs were not motivated by the promise of more money, better benefits, or nicer bosses, but by the hope of finding a more challenging position at another company. In fact, the same survey found that in many cases, people were actually willing to take an initial pay-cut if it meant working in a more stimulating role.

That’s a pretty staggering statistic when you stop to think about it. 73% of active job seekers (a majority of whom are young professional) are willing to work for less if their new job is more interesting than their current one. And the same survey also found that 76% of job-seekers were looking at new roles within their current career field, in their same city, and with similar job descriptions. So if people are seeking jobs similar to their own in the same field, and are willing to work for less, are most of them just…bored with their current job?

Possibly. Boredom is an increasing problem in corporate America. According to Udemy’s recent report Battling Boredom Blues, 43% of U.S. employees are bored at work and more than half of those who claimed to be bored said that they were bored for more than half of their work-week. And while it would be easy to discount boredom as either laziness or a poor, disgruntled attitude among your employees, boredom can often times be one of the first contributing factors towards a talent drain.

Boredom is inherently a lack of drive, which in a business setting can directly correlate to how employees view their future at a company. Simply put, if there’s no where to go up the ladder, or work on the best projects, or travel, or earn bonuses, then why should I even bother? And the short answer is, I won’t. Today, instead of just sitting in their cubicles and waiting until the end of the day, bored employees leave. Just like the Three Billy Goats, if they’re not getting the nourishment they need on their current hill, your employees will simply move to another one.

And while this higher mobility can seem depressing to recruiters and HR leaders, I would argue that it actually offers an interesting opportunity. If boredom is pushing folks out, then that means that intrigue is pulling them in. Instead of staring idly at a computer screen, most employees are hungry for continued development and challenging opportunities. And acknowledging this can provide a keen retention advantage for companies, particularly in regard to young professionals.

Just like being an innovative company doesn’t require beanbag office chairs and free beer in the lobby, offering challenging and complex opportunities to young professionals doesn’t mean suddenly turning over the keys to the company. Supervised-involvement in top-priority projects, inclusion or observation in high-level meetings, and investment in professional development opportunities go a long ways towards improving employee morale. And beyond just expanding visibility moments within a company, the most successful managers will be the ones who can find the balance between assigning necessary, daily tasks and establishing more accelerated development goals for their employees.

Despite our commonplace expressions, just like the Three Billy Goats today’s workforce is going to wander to where the grass is the greenest. So in order to keep the best goats on your hill, you better make sure that you invest in keeping your hill fresh and green.

What do you think about your company’s development offerings? Would you consider changing jobs for a pay-cut if you knew you’d get to work on more challenging projects? Let us know! Head back to Base Camp to join the conversation!