The Importance of Your First Job

The first job a person gets is, in many ways, the most important job you’ll ever have.  If – that is – you look upon it as what is should properly be – a learning experience.

Never, ever look down on any work you do thinking it is beneath you or will have no value you to you in life.  Every task and opportunity can be a learning experience if you make sure to look at it that way.
Take a look at me, for example.  During my last year in college (and for a couple of years after), I worked at a restaurant.  I started out busing tables, then waiting on tables and bartending and eventually participating in buying wine for the restaurant.  This was a moderately upscale seafood restaurant.  Twenty five years later, I can tell you it was the greatest learning experience I’ve ever had, with better “real life” training for my career than any college course or seminar I took.
One day, I’ll write an article that will be called, “Everything I Know About Sales I Learned From Waiting Tables.”  Think that’s not true?  I learned about multi-tasking, and customer service, and that different people need to be treated different, with varying levels of urgency.  I learned how to upsell, and look for signs that a patron was looking for something better than the house white wine.  That meant learning about my products and understanding what they mean to people.  The restaurant offered an incentive for additional wine sales, and that was my first experience with commissions.
Working with different types of people in different positions, and treating them the way they prefer to be treated.  Not just clients, but the restaurant management and ownership; chefs and busboys and cocktail waitresses and hostesses.  One of the first great leaders I saw was the owner of the restaurant, who saw something in me and encouraged my development.
It’s only a crappy job if you view it as a crappy job.  Everything is an opportunity to learn.  And in life, learning ultimately is everything.
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The Art of Persuasion

It’s always a little strange to see your thoughts in writing – especially if they’re being written by someone else.

I was recently interviewed by students at the USC Marshall School of Business – they are candidates for Master’s degrees in Leadership and Management.  The focus of the interview was how to persuade employees to see your point of view.

Here’s the paper (and I didn’t edit at all!)

Background:  Eric Swenson has over 20 years of experience in management, sales, training and marketing. He has managed hundreds of employees and interviewed over 2,000 people in his career. RSJ/Swenson LLC is a management and human resources consulting firm with offices in California and Nevada.

Interview Summary: Eric shared his insightful thoughts about the leadership and persuasion. For Eric, persuasion is a natural process and he prefers soft tactics. He is always honest to his superiors and subordinates. Eric believes that effective leaders are very expressive when they come to everybody. They are very candid and direct and these personal traits play a key role for persuasion process. According to Eric, the three most important aspects for managing up and down are communication, openness, and setting a positive tone that focuses on the end result.

Persuasion Strategies:

  • Self Persuasion: “If you were in my position, how would you handle my problem?”
    • You should let team members identify the solutions on their own. You also remind them why they live in the same organization. This especially helps you deal with some conflicts with your members.
  • Logical reasoning: 
    • You use facts, figures, and belief that your idea is correct. You also consider the goals, needs, and interests of your subordinates/superiors you’re trying to persuade. The more they see an idea can help them, the more likely they are to help you.
  • Persuasion Tactics: 
    • Collaboration: You need to work with your subordinates, not at them, in order to get them to enthusiastically support your requests. You collaborate with team members, rather than using authority. You don’t need to overuse that power. The relationship based on the trust is a key for the collaboration.
    • Communication/Honesty: You should facilitate communication and be very honest to your people.
    • Improving Persuasive Skills: Appeal to the subject’s self-interest: You make it sure that what you need align with their best interests.
    • Present strong evidence to support your views/positions: You do intensive research and show the team members an idea that will likely work.
    • Establish credibility: You’re more likely to persuade your subordinates when trust and respect you. You promise to take the blame if it does not go well. This leads you to build up the trust and respect you’re your subordinates.
    • Make your objectives clear: You should get your team understand what you are doing and why are why you are doing that.

Other key factors:
Decision making is a collective effort: As a leader, you have to be honest to your team members. If you found you made a wrong decision, you would change the decision. There is nothing wrong with admitting a mistake.

Employee Communication is a 2-Way Street

The most frequent criticism of management, in every 360 survey we’ve done (and seen on a national basis) is
“I don’t get enough feedback from my boss.”
– or –
“My boss(es) is/are not good at communicating.”

I believe that communication is the crucial component in managing people.

And I agree that most managers and leaders don’t do a good job at communication.

One of the best bosses I ever had was the Training Manager at a large company. He trained me when I started years before. I eventually became a trainer. Chris spent time watching me train and really left me alone. But I had no idea what he though of my performance.

I finally asked him what he thought, and he said, “You’re the best trainer I have, and one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

That was flattering, but I asked him for his suggestions for improvement, and he gave me a few which really helped me.

Chris told me his attitude was “If you’re doing well, I don’t need to talk to you.”

His mistake, which he corrected after this conversation, was that I didn’t know what he thought of my performance.

Implicit in the failure of managers to properly communicate is the failure of employees to “manage up”. Managers cannot simply divine, through ESP, what an employee wants and needs; it’s equally incumbent upon employees to ask and tell their manager what they’re looking for as well.

A good manager will always welcome the chance to find out what their employees need.

So – if you’re an employee who’s unhappy with the lack of feedback, or feels that communication is poor – make sure to ask your boss! You’ll be surprised that your boss didn’t know that was an issue, and the best bosses will take your information and be able to transform your employment experience.

Management & Leadership Trends 2nd Half 2009

Last week, I gave a presentation in Las Vegas on what I perceive to be the significant trends for managers and leaders during the last half of this year – check it out!

Even More Questions To Ask Your Boss

The most important component of management is the ability to communicate.

But communication goes both ways. A manager can’t inherently know what an employee wants. Good managers ask – and good employees proactively manage up by asking what their boss wants.

In April 2008, we wrote about great questions to ask your boss, and it remains the most visited article in the history of this blog.

Here are some more questions, courtesy of Caroline Ceniza-Levine via CareerBuilder.com:

  1. How will we gauge my success in three, six or 12 months?
  2. How do you prefer to communicate and how often?
  3. What does my career path look like at this company?
  4. What areas do I need to develop to advance my career?
  5. What’s our top priority?
  6. Let me see if I understand this correctly … am I missing anything?
  7. What are my strengths?
  8. What can I do to help you?
  9. I’m working on X, Y and Z — do you think I can handle this task?

Avoiding EFCA and Leading Better

The EFCA is designed to make it easier for employees to organize into a union. Although the bill has lost some momentum recently, the possibility of your business turning into a union shop is stronger now than at any time since the NRLB was enacted in 1935.

If you don’t want your workforce subject to the demands of a union, what do you do?

In 2008, Kenexa Research Institute published a report of a study made of 10,000 U.S. workers. Each participant was asked to agree or disagree with a list of statements about their employers. A significant percentage of those favoring unions responded negatively. Although there were also negative responses from the employees who were not in favor of unions, the number of negative responses was substantially lower. The following are statements for which the “pro-union” employees had a significantly more negative view as compared with employees who did not favor unions:

  1. My organization shows a commitment to ethical business decisions and conduct.
  2. I have confidence in my company’s senior leaders.
  3. When my company’s senior management says something, you can believe it is true.
  4. Where I work, ethical issues and concerns can be discussed without negative consequences.
  5. My manager treats me fairly.
  6. Senior management is committed to providing high quality products and services to external customers.
  7. My company enables people from diverse backgrounds to excel.
  8. My manager treats me with respect and dignity.
  9. Management shows concern for the well-being and morale of team members.
  10. Senior management demonstrates that employees are important to the success of the company.
  11. I feel free to try new things on my job, even though my efforts may not succeed.
  12. My company supports employees’ efforts to balance work and family/personal responsibilities.

How do you know if your employees agree or disagree with those statements? Many employers believe wrongly that their employees are satisfied, but with little evidence to back that up. Remember, employees will tell you what they think you want to hear.

Get an employee assessment/360 degree survey done right away. At a minimum, it will provide a road map to show you how to improve your business.

And at most, it may help you avoid unionization of your workers.

You’ve Laid Off Staff. Now What?

Perhaps the easiest part of reducing expenses is cutting back on staff. Because the next step – “What Do We Do Now?” is extremely difficult.

What Do We Do Now? You have fewer employees but need to have the same or better performance.

Hopefully, when reducing staff, you took the first important step which is to identify those employees who are capable of doing more and retaining them.

In identifying employees who can do more – look at attitude (desire) and aptitude (ability). Communication (as always) is key – those employees are going to be doing different things and more of them.

The employees who stay need to understand why they’re there and what their role is.

Employees who stay after a layoff are even more valuable now. There is some guilt (why did I stay and my friends have to depart?), a lot of trepidation, and no small amount of concern and fear.

It’s up to the employer to alleviate those concerns and allow the business to move forward.