It’s all about that CHANGE!

Change. Transition. Move. Passage. AVARAH.  A very old, Hebrew word that defines what we go through when things change.  And, most importantly for me, the new name of my business – a consulting and coaching company that helps people and organizations manage their way through transition.

Here are just a few of the transitions that I have been through since I last posted on this blog (formerly “Life’s Work”):

  • Left a secure career with a good company after 20 years
  • Started a new DREAM job with a BIG company
  • Began a weekly commute away from home and lived by myself for the first time in my life – except for weekends!
  • Took on responsibilities I never had before, learned an incredible amount and grew more than I thought was possible.
  • Got laid off from the dream job.
  • Found another job.
  • Waved good-bye as one child moved across the country
  • Waved good-bye as another child left home for college
  • Became an empty-nester
  • Moved my father into our home, then moved him out and into his new home 4 months later
  • Decided I had to leave my job and…

Here I am, back to doing what I have always loved best.  Writing, consulting, coaching and speaking.  I’m starting fresh with my own business, just like I’ve said I wanted to for the longest time.  It’s not just a side-gig.  It’s not just for some extra income.  This is for real.  It’s definitely up there in the top 5 transitions of my life.

There’s one thing I’m 100% clear on.  I can help you through your transitions because I know how to do this.  I know how to do this personally and I know how to do this professionally.  In business, I’ve been called a change agent. On a personal level, I’ve been through more change than most – the list above is just a glimpse at the last 2.5 years.

Keeping checking back here for tips on transitioning to a new job, how to dispel your fears, getting support, and for stories of people who’ve made transitions successfully.  I look forward to growing with you!

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Are We Having Fun Yet?

With the summer approaching I’m reminded of those family vacations where, despite our best intentions, we become so focused on fitting everything in that we forget to enjoy ourselves.

The same thing can happen at work. We get busy checking off items on our “To Do” list, and that feels good for a while. Until we realize that we’ve been neglecting the very things that make work satisfying – those things that made our hearts sing. The “fun” part! How does this happen? For me, because I work in a public relations role it’s necessary to be reactive. If a reporter calls, I have to answer. If a parent has a question or complaint, I have to respond. That’s my job and at some times of year it can be all-consuming.

The fun part for me, however, is the proactive part – creating new strategies and concepts that will have a positive impact. I love to work on presentations and articles that explain the transformative nature of a sales experience. Writing this blog is FUN for me, because I love to write. I have fun working with my colleagues, and I have fun being a part of the professional development of so many bright, young people. I have fun working as a career strategist for my private clients and helping them find their life’s work.

I’ve committed to putting more “fun” into my summer work this year. And, I’m creating a protocol so that I don’t miss the stuff that truly needs my immediate attention. Which is really the key, isn’t it? After all, very few of us work in real life or death situations where we must respond immediately. But if I look at my own behavior, sometimes I act like I do and that’s to my own detriment.

Do you want to put more fun into your summer this year? What would happen if you stepped back and considered that maybe those urgent demands you respond to every day could actually wait a little bit? What if you picked one or two fun things and scheduled them into your calendar? Would the world fall apart? I think not!

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not talking about failing to do your job. I’m talking about spending more time on meaningful things at work that give you real satisfaction. The fun stuff. If you want to join me in this experiment here are some steps you can take:

  1. Create a list of positive, proactive work and/or thinking that you want to spend some time on. Remember, only the FUN stuff, not the stuff you dread that keeps sinking to the bottom of your “to-do” list!
  2. Make appointments with yourself and put them in your calendar, just as you would a conference call or a meeting. A good goal is at least a morning or an afternoon (3 hrs.) every week. Protect this time like a lioness protects her cubs – it is yours!
  3. Learn and use the settings on your email to keep it from being a distraction. I turned off the function that has every message pop up on my screen when it’s delivered.
  4. Use your automated replies to let people know you are not checking email. You can set them for just several hours, or several days. “Hello and thank you for your message. I’m working on a special project this morning and won’t be checking email for several hours. If your matter is urgent, please call me.” Only the truly desperate (or truly ignorant!) will call you.
  5. I hope you will join me in my pledge to put more fun into your summer. Let me know what your plan is and we can hold each other accountable. Here’s to a great summer for all of us!

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Don’t Pack In The Dark

I was standing by my locker drying off from my shower. I reached into my gym bag and pulled out the clothes I had packed the night before: underwear, nice shirt, sweater, shoes, and … yoga pants. Oops!

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I live by routines. One of my routines is to pack my gym bag before I go to bed. But Sunday night was a late one and my husband had already fallen asleep. Not wanting to disturb him (aren’t I nice?), I packed by the dim light of a bedside lamp. So, knowing where everything is, I grabbed what I thought were my black slacks. Except they weren’t.

This has happened before. Once I pulled out two different boots from my gym bag.

It’s always the same crowd in the locker room, and there’s no arguing we’re an odd bunch. After all, we’re volunteers to be awake before dawn and sweating while the rest of the world is still comfortably asleep. The locker room is always quiet at that hour, save the white noise of the shower or a hair dryer. So after I shrieked “Are you KIDDING me?” met by “Are you okay?” “Do you need anything?” “What happened?” I took a breath, and said simply “Ladies – today’s lesson is: Don’t pack in the dark!”

It’s just human nature to believe that we know what we know. So as I pack my gym bag in the dark, I know my black slacks are in the bottom drawer. I know what they feel like, I remember they were on top of the stack when I put the laundry away. I just saw them there.

But I didn’t really know, did I? This entire situation reminds me of just how important it is to use all of our senses and to confirm what we think we know.

It’s a good metaphor for our professional lives as well. If I’m honest with myself I “pack in the dark” at work more than I should. When I have made a flawed choice it can often be tracked back to a lack of information. I do this by neglecting to ask “Is there anything else I need to consider?” or by failing to consult with the right people before making a decision. Or I’m rushed, and skip a step I should have taken. In short, I’m packing in the equivalent of a dark room.

In life and at work, the message I’m getting from those yoga pants and mismatched boots is slow down. Confirm what you think you know. Remember that something you hadn’t anticipated could have changed since you last checked. Like, for example, someone else doing laundry and nicely putting your clothes away.

You know what, though? The other lesson here is to let things go when you mess up. Have a laugh at yourself. Why not? After all, I’m sure there were a few snickers at the office when people saw that get up I was wearing on Monday!

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Want Me to Help You Out? Don’t do THIS!

Every day I delete 50-100 emails from people I don’t know asking me do to business with them. You know the sort, they act like they know you. “Hey Sarah, I was hoping you could help me out…” This umbrella opening is generally followed by asking something along these lines: “If you’re not the right person, could you forward this to the individual in your company who handles toilet paper purchases?” I’m guessing that someone must be responding to those emails or the companies that send them wouldn’t waste their money, right? But I am an aggressive deleter. If I don’t recognize your name, your company, or the topic in the subject line isn’t relevant to me you’re trashed. Period.

Taking such a hard stance enables me to focus on what’s important. And a big part of what’s important to me is, in fact, helping people. I enjoy introducing good people who may wind up forming a good connection. If your approach is solid, and you’ve done your research and gotten an introduction or demonstrate a connection, there’s good chance that I will help you out.

So, when I got an email earlier this week that said “PSE Referral” I did not delete it. I’m on the National Council of Pi Sigma Epsilon (PSE), which is an organization for college students interested in selling, sales management and marketing. The reference to PSE made me curious, and I had just attended the PSE national convention, so it wasn’t unusual. But the weird thing was, the message was sent to me from an admin on a special email account who saw it in his junk folder. He recognized my name and forwarded it. Here’s the email:

I read the first line “We met briefly…at the Career Panel.” Really? Who sent this? The email address meant nothing to me. And, guess what? I didn’t sit on the Career Panel. My flight was delayed. My colleague subbed for me. Now I’m thinking, a) we have a liar on our hands; or b) we are dealing with an inexperienced person who is trying to make a connection with me and the execution is lousy.

Now, normally, it would have ended right there. But, because I’m involved with this organization, I cared whether the answer was “a” or “b.” Did some enterprising sales person decide to go prospecting and grab the conference program at the hotel? After all, who remembers who they met at these things, right? So, I decided to dig deeper and I called PSE. Had they ever heard of the company? Had they ever heard of the person sending the email?

It turns out, YES! Not only that, she’s an alum. Her employer is reputable. So she is who she says she is, and she won’t be getting my business. Here’s why:

  1. She did not do her homework. As a fellow member of PSE, she could have easily gotten my contact information and a correct email address from any one of a number of sources. She actually staffed a booth at the Career Fair my colleagues attended! A simple walk down the row to our booth would have provided her with a great introduction. Instead, she obviously tried a short-cut, and who knows how she wound up using an obscure email extension where I don’t have an account.
  2. She did not remember the person she actually met. I’m guessing here, but I think she probably met my colleague who sat on the panel when my flight was delayed. She didn’t remember her name, and didn’t collect a business card. So she took another short-cut and referred to the conference program.

The irony here is that this young woman had all of the right access to me at her fingertips! She knows people who know me well, I’m a dedicated board member of an organization she belongs to, both of our companies were involved in the conference, where she met people who work with me. Instead, she opted for short-cuts, indicating she’s not the sort of person I want to do business with or “help.” If she had handled her approach differently, I would have have helped her. Oh well!

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9 Ways to Ruin a Business Meeting

Business meetings are a fact of life in most companies. There are the poorly orchestrated meetings that test our patience without an agenda or real purpose. There are meetings whose topics somehow make people we always thought were rational look absolutely insane. And of course there are the meetings that challenge our physical capacity to sit for interminable hours without moving or answering the call of nature.

On the positive side, there are the meetings that everyone leaves smiling and saying “Great meeting!” Really? What does that even mean? After all, do we really know if a meeting was “great” or not until long after when we’re able to assess if something was actually accomplished?

The best meetings are well led and populated by people who can contribute to the outcome. These meetings result in meaningful action and can move an organization toward its objectives. These are the ones we can all feel great about.

But, let’s say you want to make certain you never get invited to a meeting again. Consider these actions, any one of which will get you banned for life from a meeting I’m leading!

  1. Don’t look at the agenda or any of the supporting materials beforehand. Be certain to ask questions that were answered in the documents you got last week.
  2. Repeat a suggestion that someone else raised ten minutes ago. It helps if you insist on taking credit for the idea.
  3. In response to an enthusiastic discussion about a solution, say “We’ve already tried that, it didn’t work.”
  4. Raise your hand. When recognized by the chair, say “I know this is off topic, but…”
  5. Interrupt anyone else at the table by criticizing an idea before they are able to complete their thought, and don’t forget the condescending tone.
  6. Look at your phone constantly or text throughout because anything else is more important than what we are here to discuss.
  7. Talk to your neighbor in hushed tones, chuckle, have side conversations and pass notes.
  8. Fail to say one single word or weigh in on a single item. When asked your opinion, look confused.
  9. Nod off. Even better, start to snore! The rest of us really need a story to tell when asked how we possibly got anything done with you there!

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5 Ways to Prevent “One of Those Days”

Boy, have I had one of those days! As I was driving home from work I was writing this blog in my head, reviewing the things I did and didn’t do that resulted in the hungry, crabby, jittery, and generally annoyed (and likely annoying) mass of mess my family would greet as I walked in the door.

There can be all sorts of difficult days. We all have days when the completely unexpected comes at us like a gale force wind and everything else must be dropped. Then there are the days we must plow through despite personal concerns and distractions that pull our hearts elsewhere. There are also days when I feel like I must have a bulls eye on my chest that says, “Please, take your anger out here…”

I’m not talking about those days, which are largely out of our control. Nope, today was completely within my control and I have to say I did it to myself. It’s easy to see how it happened, at least in retrospect. So I’m making some notes to myself to try to avoid this in the future!

Here are five suggestions for avoiding “One of Those Days:”

  1. Get a good night’s sleep. Yesterday we “sprung forward” and my body was still “falling back” on standard time when the alarm when off this morning.
  2. Follow your routine. That struggle to get out of bed messed my morning routine, so I rushed out of the house hastily throwing some food in a bag so I could make it to my morning abs class on time (exercise – something I did right!)
  3. Eat well. That hastily packed lunch wasn’t nearly enough food to get me through my busy day, leading me to temptations that were a bad idea and left me to slog through the afternoon on empty.
  4. Vary your activities. I made the mistake of scheduling three back to back phone calls of an hour each. It’s difficult to keep up the energy and attention required for one intense subject, never mind three!
  5. Give yourself a break. My planning failure led to my general announcement to the office that I had “exactly 10 minutes to pee and eat!” Lest any foolhardy individual attempt to get my precious attention…What was I thinking when I booked that schedule for today? Even the most productive, energetic people can benefit from a break or two in a busy day.

There you have it, folks, my new strategy for avoiding “those” days. And the last thing I did? I looked ahead to tomorrow, realized I was swamped and cancelled that outside meeting. Fresh start!

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It’s Not What You Know…

And it’s not entirely who you know either. It’s how you use what you know, and how you engage who you know.

Nowhere are these two statements more true than in your career. It’s pretty common to hear people say things like “Yeah, I didn’t get that promotion. I didn’t have a shot because Greg had an ‘in’…” Or, “I couldn’t even get my foot in the door there, you have to know someone.” Do you believe these statements to be true?

On some basic level, they are true. Hiring managers are far more likely to select someone they know and like if the choice is between two equally qualified candidates. And, we all know of organizations that seem to be comprised completely of people who grew up together. Why wouldn’t someone who owns a business want to work with people she knows and trusts?

Is that wrong? I don’t think so, but sure, it can present challenges. That’s where what you know can really give you a leg up. And this is especially so in these days of transparency in business operations. Businesses are brutalized in social media if their service is compromised because they’ve got someone in the wrong job. No longer can someone who is incompetent linger in a role for which they are poorly suited. It’s just bad business. And that is very good news for all of us.

As Bernard Baruch pointed out, “Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why.” Newton used his curiosity and his scientific knowledge to come up with the explanation of gravity. We all have “apple” moments, those times when we see something others can’t or won’t. Are you acting on those moments, or do you let then pass?

By consistently performing at a superior level, by doing what others don’t or won’t, you will stand out. By constantly seeking to improve your knowledge and by approaching your work as a lifelong learner, you can leverage what you know so that it will be a great asset for you when it matters. Yes, of course it’s important who you know. In order to advance your career, you must get yourself in front of the right people. Imagine, though, if you got that opportunity and weren’t full prepared to talk about how you could make a great contribution to their to their efforts? Would the introduction or connection alone get you the job? No, it would not.

At the same time, we all know that superior performance and going beyond the requirements of the job won’t always get you noticed. That’s why so many career advisers suggest finding an advocate or a mentor who can sing your praises. It can even be something you and a peer agree to do for one another. Most of us aren’t entirely comfortable tooting our own horns. But there are ways to get the word out that you’ve done something you’re super proud of without sounding arrogant. One great strategy is to send out an email to anyone who contributed or helped you even in a minor way. Thank him and copy his boss. Like this, “Hey Bob, I just wanted to thank you for helping with the data on the training project. I’ve just put the finishing touches on the report, and I couldn’t have done it without you. I thought you might like to see the results, so here’s the link…” Presto! You’ve thanked a colleague, made him look good, and put a copy of your work into the hands of a superior. Now, you’ll have something to talk to her about to initiate a conversation and get to know her better. Nicely done!

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