Q and A’s
Dr. Indigo Triplett, a career management and professional success expert, offers career advice to professionals seeking to move from the middle to top. The following questions and answers are excerpts from career seminars, workshops and advice columns Dr. Indigo has produced since beginning her human resources consulting business in 1995.
WHERE IS THE LINE BETWEEN TEAM PLAYER AND DOORMAT?
Q. Everyone comes to me for assistance, and while I don’t mind being the “team player,” I’m starting to resent my subordinates asking for help and their work eventually becoming mine. Also, my supervisor thinks I have all the time in the world to do his work. I guess my question is how do I stop something that I started without negatively effecting my performance evaluation?
A. Being a team player doesn’t mean you have to do your direct reports’ work for them; it sounds like you are being managed and not managing. If they ask for assistance and then you are responsible for the problem/task when the conversation is over, your direct reports have delegated their work to you. In regards to your supervisor, he is doing his job by delegating tasks to you. There is only so much time in a day, so you must determine whether or when a task should be accepted and accomplished based on its importance. Boss-imposed, system-imposed and self-imposed are time factors that you consider when accepting a task. When your supervisor gives you a task it is a boss-imposed factor, making it a priority. After all, he is the one who will evaluate you. System-imposed work is daily stuff, which keeps you employed so you need to place importance on those tasks. Self-imposed tasks are those that you personally decide to do, such as your direct reports’ job or volunteering for various committees. If you are finding that you don’t have enough time in the day, start working on managing your self-imposed time to eliminate time wasters. You need to be clear that boss-imposed factors are not an option, but rather a requirement. And, I recommend that you discuss with your supervisor your workload to negotiate a reasonable time frame to complete his add-on projects. This is all about managing your time and yourself, and knowing when to say no, to focus on those things that really matter. Using the principle of time-imposed factors will create a better manager who will receive a commendable evaluation.
SHOULD I FOLLOW MY PASSION FOR A NON-PROFIT START UP OR GET CORPORATE JOB FOR BETTER FINANCES?
Q. I’m between jobs right now, and I’m torn between starting a community-based business or going back to Corporate America. The problem is that I like earning a corporate income, while most people with community-based businesses don’t earn much. Do you have any recommendations on starting a business in general?
A. It appears as if your heart is in the right place, but your mind hasn’t gone to the right places. Your venture sounds like a human services non-profit business, which doesn’t mean that you won’t earn an above average income. In fact, non-profit doesn’t necessarily mean no profit for you, since its you who will determine your salary in the business plan. The most important step will be to research the non-profit industry to find out what it takes to start such a venture in terms of time, money, and resources. I strongly encourage you to identify the resources offered by your local government to get valuable information to establish a nonprofit organization, including free workshops. It is said that many new entrepreneurs borrow just enough money to go out of business. Very often, they make the mistake of following their passion but not dedicating the upfront time and commitment in laying a firm foundation. In your case, you may have a much-needed service, but it is imperative that you understand how a non-profit organization is managed, the taxation structure and which individuals/organizations will support your dreams by awarding you grants. There are numerous philanthropic organizations that seek to align their money with human services agencies. But, as in any startup business, it requires commitment, perseverance, and dedication, and this is way before you even open your doors for business. Another reason to seek these supportive resources is if you find that you don’t want a non-profit business or to go back to Corporate America, you may find that is a great place to conduct a job search.
HOW DO I SAVE MY FRIENDSHIP WITH A COLLEAGUE WHO WAS DOWNSIZED?
Q. My company is downsizing and a close colleague/friend of mine whom I’ve always supported recently received the pink slip. I’m on the reviewing committee that is partially responsible for identifying individuals who will be terminated. When my friend’s name came up, I went to bat for her. But when it came down to it, I couldn’t do anything about the decision. How do I salvage a relationship that has become hostile?
A. Is it salvaging that you are looking for, or exoneration? I believe that you attempted to help her keep her job, so you did nothing wrong. At this point, you need to realize that what your friend is experiencing is not personal. Loosing a job can be just as devastating as the loss of a loved one. The hostility directed towards you is a part of the Death and Dying Syndrome. When people are terminated they experience denial & isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It sounds as if she is in the anger phase, which means someone has to pay for her pain. You are a prime candidate, since you were a part of her lynch mob. Over the next few months, she will move beyond this, while transitioning through each phase as if she is riding an emotional roller coaster. What I recommend is that you don’t get on this ride with her, but rather meet with her to share your feelings about her situation and point out instances whereby you have supported her in the past, and that you value the relationship enough to continue supporting her. Realize that you both may walk away feeling as if the meeting was a waste of time. But, as a consolation, I promise you…it may not be today or even tomorrow, but one day she will realize that you really were a friend. So, don’t give up on her or harbor negativity, but be strong for the both of you, until the storm passes.
IS IT FAIR TO BE ASKED TO DO THE DUTIES OF THE JOB I WANT TO GET THE PROMOTION?
Q. My manager says you should perform the duties of the job that you want before you actually have the title. So, in essence, I’m not only doing my current duties but the duties of the position above mine. Is this a common practice among managers? Should you have to prove you can do the work before you actually get the promotion?
A. I cannot say it is common practice among most managers because most managers are not always concerned with their direct reports’ career development when there are usually other pressing managerial issues at hand. Your manager is absolutely in line with contemporary managers who understand employee development. It’s interesting that you should wonder whether you should prove yourself for a promotion. In my workshops, I encourage and challenge employees to learn the next higher job by requesting to take on added responsibilities to include tasks to support their manager and to alleviate some of the pressures and responsibilities on his plate. This will position you for the next position, while strengthening your relationship with your boss. You will become an integral part of your boss’ success and future plans. If you want to be a key player in your organization it would behoove you to build a broad base of knowledge and skills in a variety of organizational activities to include new responsibilities, which will enhance your long-term attractiveness for promotion. This innovative way of thinking will not only get you the next promotion, but I assure you it will position you for another promotion that will come down the pipe-line much sooner than expected. This is a good practice to adopt in future jobs, as well, to give you marketable skills for external career transitioning opportunities. By taking on these new responsibilities, you can list them as experience on your resume. I would even recommend that you start to take on characteristics of the next higher position to the extent of dressing the part, aligning with other employees, attending seminars and training, reading articles, and joining professional organizations intended for that particular position. You regarded taking on duties as proving your worth, I see it as positioning yourself.
HOW DO I MOVE INTO A POSITION THAT REQUIRES ME TO MANAGE MY PEERS?
Q. My supervisor keeps holding a title promotion in front of me as if I’m a horse and he has a carrot. The title promotion really wouldn’t involve any additional duties, as far as I can tell. The problem is this: with this specific title I have to manage workflow and schedules and if my co-workers or subordinates don’t meet certain standards, it falls back on me. How do I deal with these people who just don’t have my back? They consistently don’t meet deadlines, they don’t follow up, they’re disorganized and just plain incompetent in certain areas. It looks bad on me when they don’t get the job done. I am totally frustrated.
A. It appears that the carrot on the stick is a management position, in which your supervisor is giving you the inside track before making any hiring decisions. Unfortunately, based on your letter, you are not meeting the bottom line objective of a manager, which is to lead and motivate direct reports. If you truly want to be in the next higher position, whatever it may be, you must demonstrate without any uncertainty that you can handle the job. It is very common for a company to hire someone externally because they are able to come in and galvanize a team and make things happen, vs. an internal employee moving up. This is partly due to direct reports having a different level of respect and confidence in the new person. If you don’t want to miss this opportunity to be promoted you are going to have to shift the paradigm that exist between you, your peers and direct reports. Here’s a strategy to move you in the right direction. First, devise a plan that will incorporate processes and procedures that will help you to meet your objective. Secondly, meet with your supervisor to gain approval of your plan and to solicit support and advice, which is what your supervisor is there to do. Thirdly, have a departmental meeting with your manager’s explicit approval and support in rolling out this plan. Lastly, have a meeting with each individual to discuss your expectations as it directly relates to them. At this point, you have to start acting like a manager by being accountable for your direct reports’ weaknesses and strengths. As a manager, you are inheriting this staff. The good ole days of firing everyone and bringing in your own team are gone. So, you must take what you have and build upon it. In essence, your job is to lead and motivate, which are really the “additional duties” aside from your daily tasks.
HOW CAN I MANAGE A HIGHLY PRODUCTIVE EMPLOYEE WITH A BAD ATTITUDE?
Q. I promoted an employee from one team to another based on his outstanding work productivity, although he has a slight attitude problem. His team members complain that they do not like working with him. When I spoke with him about the team’s perception he was quick to say, “I get the job done.” While this is true, I’m considering moving him to defuse the chaos; another department will take him. What would you do?
A. Interesting, you promoted him by moving him, and now you are attempting to correct his behavior by moving him. Your moving him may send mixed messages. Relocating an employee doesn’t change attitudes but reinforce them. Why let go of a results-oriented employee when they are hard to find? Some managers opt to move problems instead of coaching and counseling. For clarity, coaching is when a manager passes along advice or information on set standards to direct reports. Counseling on the other hand is when a problem stems from attitudes, personal clashes, or factors based on emotions. This is not a productivity problem but rather a performance issue you can resolve by counseling this employee. Clearly your employee needs documented counseling to assist him in understanding that his behavior is not acceptable. At which time, you will discuss your expectations, goals and objectives as they pertain to his performance. Keep this producer, but be fair and expeditious in counseling him because a hard worker with a bad attitude can cause irreparable damage to an entire organization. I have found that people rarely quit their job because of the work in and of itself; they quit because of that SOB down the hall. Now, the real answer to your question: I wouldn’t have promoted him! Managers have to be careful of promoting people solely on productivity when an employee’s performance is questionable.
SELLING YOUR SKEPTICAL SPOUSE ON YOUR DREAM JOB
Q. I was recently hired for a sales position that I love. Now, I am being pressured by my husband to take another position that will bring in a steady income. I have a track record of doing well in sales, but I was single at the time. My heart says stay in the current job, but his mind is saying security.
A. I have a personal quote that was divinely inspired. It is, “learn to listen to your inner voice, for it is God whispering to your soul.” I end my public engagements with this personal quote because people aren’t really listening to that soft but still voice that guides them in the right direction. That is my advice coupled with a suggestion that you and your husband have honest dialogue about both of your careers. He may not be able to see the long-term benefits of earning commission pay. However, if you do what you love, the money will follow. You need his support. Just as a man needs a good woman to support him in his quest, a woman needs the same. You need your husband’s financial and moral support. If you are lacking this support, you may not do as well as you did in the past. I recommend that you put your sales skills to use by giving your husband a “sales pitch” to assist him in making a fair decision on what is best for your family. Share with your husband that sales is one of the top ranking career positions when it comes to earned income. It’s one of the few positions where your net worth is based on your net work. Discuss all of the pros and cons of both positions, and give an estimated projection on what you plan to earn over the next six months. This may allow for a consensus, whereby you have a reasonable time frame to reach a certain point in your career before changing jobs.
SHOULD I INTERVIEW FOR A JOB I DON’T WANT?
Q: A recruiter wants to schedule me for an interview with a certain company. The position is something that I am not interested in pursuing. There are several parts of the job description that I do not like. The recruiter suggests that I go ahead and schedule an interview anyway just for the experience. I think it is a waste of my time. Yes, I need some experience, but I feel as though I can practice in front of a mirror rather than a live interview. What’s your take?
A. You are absolutely right. If you feel that interviewing for the job is a waste of time, it will be a waste of time. But, you may want to rethink your decision by weighing the benefits of interviewing for the job aside from gaining interviewing practice. True enough, you can practice in front of a mirror, but reflections will not give real body language and other important feedback to your answers. Notwithstanding practice, you may have another problem. You need to make sure that you are being marketed for jobs that truly interest you and align with your career goals. Reevaluate your resume to see if it is giving the right impression and that you have made clear to the recruiter the type of job you are seeking. Also, before shunning the job, I recommend that you learn more about the company before saying no to the interview. It is not uncommon for someone to interview for one job and walk away with an offer for another job based on how well the individual sold himself. The company may have other opportunities that may be of interest to you that you can inquire about while interviewing. Also, you do not want to close the window of opportunity with this recruiter. She may be in a position to recommend you to other companies and even other recruiters, since networking is used in developing their pool of clients and candidates. Establish a win-win relationship, even if you decide not to interview. Send a thank you note declining the offer to interview while asking for future consideration, and add value by referring her to someone who you believe will be interested in the job. This is just another way to build your network and keep your resume on her desk and not in the circular file.
SHOULD I GIVE AWAY MY SERVICES TO GET NEW BUSINESS?
Q. Recently, I left a Fortune 100 corporation to become an independent Consultant. I’m starting to get annoyed at all the free work people want me to give away, especially my colleagues at my previous employer. My problem is that this company I am dying to add to my client list requested that I give them a free service to evaluate my work. Should I explain how billable hours work or give them what they want?
A. There is one common denominator for all independent consultants to consider; that is how much is too much, not whether you should give away what you coined “free work”. Most organizations understand billable hours; what they don’t know is you and your work. In granting a contract to independent consultants, potential clients will analyze their track record of satisfied customers. If you don’t have a performance history, you must actually demonstrate that you can deliver the goods by providing a real time example of what you can do. Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of believing that their previous employer’s reputation will transfer to their own company. Clients of well-known corporations conduct business with an employee because of the corporation’s credibility, and not necessarily because of the employee. A potential client cannot assume that you will provide the same quality of service, since you do not have the same resources as your previous employer. In turn, many companies request detailed bids, demos or an investment of your time to see what you can do independently. Your frustration may be an indication that you are giving away too much, which is a slippery slope for entrepreneurs. Avoid giving away the cow when a glass of milk will suffice, by determining exactly what the client is looking for, coming to an agreement on accommodating their needs and your time, and outlining what you are able to do for them at no cost to demonstrate your services. In the future, avoid reinventing the wheel by creating demos or products that you can share with any potential client as a part of your sales pitch, and include that in your marketing budget.
More money is usually going out of the doors by way of services, time and overhead than clients coming in to bring contracts. If you stay in business long enough, you will look back on the first few years of being in business as a time of giving more than getting. This unfortunately is considered a part of doing business, which is why a lot of small businesses, particularly consultants, are unable to sustain the first year of being independent.
If you are becoming frustrated with giving out too much, you must evaluate how giving away a particular service directly correlates with what you are gaining as a result of providing this form of customer service. You must strike a balance between having buy-in from a prospective client, and not giving away the cow when all he needs is a taste of the milk.
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS TOO MUCH EDUCATION?
Q. I live in New Orleans, LA. I’m thinking about relocating to Atlanta, GA. Recently, I received a Master of Public Administration degree with a concentration in public financial management. I am enrolled in financial analysis, marketing management, accounting analysis, and international economics. I have taken classes in organizational behavior and theory, business ethics, management information systems, and strategic planning. Also, I have a Bachelor Degree in psychology. My question is “Do I need a MBA degree to work in the financial services, consulting industry, corporate industry, or will my MPA degree be fine. I will appreciate your directing me in the right direction.
A. You have an impressive academic history, which says a lot about your value for acquiring knowledge. Unfortunately, you did not share with me your skills, abilities and personal characteristics as it applies to your career plans in attaining a career in the above-listed job/industries. Academically, you look good on paper, but what are you bringing to the table that demonstrates that you have more than just a knowledge base regarding finance, business and economics? Very often, people make the mistake of selling their degree and not their skills, abilities and personal characteristics. As an employer, I need to know that you are able to solve my problems and help me achieve an above average return on my investment. Another degree such as an MBA will show me that you have a certain level of understanding, but what work experience do you posses that demonstrates the ability to apply practical applications to solve my problems and to add value to my organization. I’m not discounting the immeasurable value that an MBA holds, but I do believe that you are placing way too much emphasis in an area that may not bring you the results that you expect when your MPA can be just as effective in opening doors when applied correctly. I recommend that you sell yourself based on your degree and knowledge, and blend that with your skills, abilities and personal characteristics that should align with the various career areas that you are interested in pursuing. It appears to me that you should market yourself with three different resumes that accentuate transferable skills/abilities/personal characteristics that directly match the various jobs/industries that you desire to enter. Also, keep in mind that some business people are a huge success without a degree. The secrets to a successful transition is learning to position yourself and sell your transferable SAP because decision-makers do not hire degrees; they hire people. A friend shared with me that in life we sometimes ask for more than we are able to use, similar to children who will ask for more peas on their plate before they have eaten all that they have on their plate. My question to you is, are you using what you already have before asking for more peas, please?
ADDRESSING INAPPROPRIATE DRESS WITH SENSITIVITY
Q. I am a teamleader at a call center, and we dress business casual. Recently, several women in the department have complained about a lady who dresses really provocative. She is on my team, and sometimes the way she dresses can be a little distracting. Whenever anyone says anything to her she gets an attitude. The other women are starting to become disgruntled and there is obvious friction. The performance of my team directly impacts my evaluation. With all the sexual harassment charges, I’m leery about saying anything. Should I let this ride out or ask another supervisor to speak to her?
A. Napoleon would berate people to hide his inferiority complex. It sounds as if your employee has a case of the HMS (Hoochie Momma Syndrome), which is used by certain women to boost their careers. I have found that some people use career manipulation techniques to compensate for their shortcomings, and as defense mechanisms to get their way. She may not have an understanding of how to dress appropriately or her behavior is a blatant attempt to replace hard work with sex appeal. Unfortunately, you do not have the luxury of accepting either of her choices. To maintain your image as a leader, you cannot ignore the problem or delegate your responsibilities. Your greatest challenge is motivating this employee to change her presentation, while keeping the moral of the department in tact. It would behoove you to meet with this individual, ASAP. Prior to meeting with her, role-play an entire anticipated conversation with someone that you trust and who understands the situation. As you role-play, address concerns that may arise during the real conversation. This should give you more confidence, but I recommend that you ask a female supervisor or another team leader to be present during the meeting. This will protect you from possible sexual harassment charges that might’ve been claimed if you were meeting with her alone. Assure your employee that the meeting is confidential, but ensure that the door remains open. While discussing your concerns take good notes in case your motive is brought into question. This whole affair of coaching and counseling can be uncomfortable for all parties involved, but it is imperative that you address her inappropriate appearance. Discuss professional expectations to avoid the claim of personal attacks. You may do this by referring to your organization’s dress code as a reference tool, which will be better received than mentioning that her peers have complained. Also, in future interactions with this individual keep your conversations very professional, no nonsense and never alone.
CHANGING POSITIONS WITHIN AN ORGANIZATION
Q. I’m a contributing manager in an organization. I wrote a job description for a new position. I attempted to fill that position when it occurred to me that I would be the ideal person for the job. I asked for the job and I was told by the decision-makers that I’m well qualified, but I would not be happy with the pay cut and that my current position would be too hard to fill. What should I do?
A. Often, high performing employees are not afforded the opportunity to move freely into positions that do contribute to the bottom line, which is why some employees are passed over on lateral or downward career moves. You must prove that your acquiring the position is a strategic move that will yield greater long-term dividends for the company. Dispel the money issue by discussing with them that you invision this new position as a career move that will create financial rewards as it becomes a viable position in the company. Clearly indicate how you desire the job for the challenges associated with utilizing your skills and experience. Offer to reallocate your hiring efforts from the new position to placing a viable candidate in your current position. Agree to take on the responsibility of mentoring the new hire to ensure a smooth transition, which is always a factor in the hiring process. In short, give solutions to their perceived dilemma, and keep in mind that any career move is ultimately your decision and not the decision-makers.