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Quick, practical management tips and ideas from HBR.org
Updated: 20 hours 1 min ago

Protect Your Non-Work Time

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 12:30

Some jobs have very clear lines between when you’re “on” and when you’re “off.” But when you work in a role where the lines are blurred — or potentially nonexistent — it’s important to protect your non-work time. If you feel like work is taking over most of your waking hours, start by clearly defining what “after hours” means for you. Take into account the number of hours you’re expected to work each week, as well as personal commitments like taking your kids to school, making a certain train, or attending an exercise class you really enjoy. When do you need to start and stop to put in the appropriate amount of work time? Then, develop mental clarity about what needs to get done and when you will do it. Keep track of your tasks and plan them out. Make sure you block off time for an end-of-workday wrap-up, where you review and make sure you did everything you needed to do for the day. Lastly, communicate with your colleagues about how (or if) you want to be contacted during your off hours. Really guard your time. If you don’t, you won’t get the mental break that everyone needs.

This tip is adapted from “How to Leave Work at Work,” by Elizabeth Grace Saunders

What to Consider Before Taking That Stretch Job

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 12:30

A stretch job is a great opportunity to grow and learn. But how can you be sure if you’re taking the right role and not just setting yourself up for failure? First, recognize that any new challenge comes with a bit of anxiety. If you feel a slight twinge of fear, but mostly excitement, it’s a positive sign that this could be a good opportunity. You might also check with current or former colleagues, managers, mentors, or friends. If they believe that you can do the job and encourage you to apply, it’s probably worth getting over your self-doubt. Even if you lack experience with certain aspects of the job, you can leverage your network for support. Remind yourself of challenges you’ve taken on in the past — you likely already have a track record of success. Most importantly, make sure this opportunity fits into a logical career trajectory. Be sure you can craft a clear, coherent story about where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you plan to go next — with the targeted stretch job fitting nicely into the arc of your story.

This tip is adapted from “Is That Stretch Job Right for You?” by Rebecca Zucker

Don’t Penalize Employees Who Raise Problems

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 12:30

Divergent, dissident voices are critical to growth and innovation. Yet some leaders demonize anyone who raises problems, afraid of what those naysayers might be pointing out. When you do this, however, you prevent the organization from growing and discourage others from speaking up when they see problems or opportunities. So instead of blaming someone for raising an uncomfortable topic, celebrate them for having the courage to bring it up. Focus on the underlying problem, not the messenger who called it out. Don’t say “I hear you have a problem.” Say, “I appreciate your helping us to get better.” If you suspect people aren’t bringing you problems, consider why not. Maybe they think that you’ll dismiss their concerns or that you won’t take action. To set the right tone, celebrate hard-fought, newly learned things, rather than the most popular or most productive things that happened at your firm. When you do this, your employees will understand that you value innovation and creativity more than you value looking good, and that you genuinely want the company to get better.

This tip is adapted from “Don’t Demonize Employees Who Raise Problems,” by Nilofer Merchant

What to Do If You Work for a Coward

Tue, 02/18/2020 - 12:30

No one wants to work for a cowardly boss. A manager who avoids difficult issues, praises poor performance, or tries to buy loyalty by saying yes to any idea can have a paralyzing impact on their team. There are a few things you can do if you’re in this situation. First, avoid the temptation to gossip behind your boss’s back. Sure, you may want to vent, but it will only end up making you look bad. Instead, study their behavior. What makes your boss fearful? If you were in their shoes, what would you do differently? Next, redouble your efforts to respectfully raise dissenting views. Talk openly about difficult decisions, making your hard choices visible to your colleagues. This will set you apart, while allowing you to maintain your integrity. It may feel awkward or unfair to “role model up,” but don’t underestimate the power of a positive example. Also, as difficult as it might seem, ask your boss for what you need — being direct in this situation may be the best way to get it. Finally, think about whether your boss is an exception or whether they’re representative of the company’s culture. If cowardice is the norm, it might not be a place you want to stay.

This tip is adapted from “How to Work for a Cowardly Boss,” by Ron Carucci

Weigh the Pros and Cons of Grad School

Mon, 02/17/2020 - 12:30

Even though unemployment is low, competition for many jobs remains fierce, leading some people to consider graduate school. But it’s expensive to earn an advanced degree, and the return on investment can be unpredictable. Here’s how to think through the pros and cons for your unique situation. On the pro side, people with graduate degrees are generally paid more. You will probably go into debt though, so ask yourself whether a master’s will really boost earning potential in your field. You might be thinking about grad school as a way to make a career transition. If you want to shift to a completely new field, additional education might help. But if you simply need to learn new skills, you may be able to get that training on the job, or through cheaper online resources like Udemy, Coursera, or even YouTube. Employers, including Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, have all indicated learning aptitude is more attractive to them than skills acquired in a classroom. But this hasn’t stopped many employers from paying a premium for graduate credentials. Ultimately, like many decisions in life, the decision to attend grad school depends on your tolerance for risk.

This tip is adapted from “Should You Go to Graduate School?” by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Don’t Let “Perfect” Be the Enemy of “Good”

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 12:30

We should all strive to do our best, but if you always aim for perfection, you may blow deadlines, annoy your colleagues, and miss out on opportunities. Instead of never being satisfied with “good enough,” talk to others about their standards. What does a good job look like to your boss, peer, or client? Seek their feedback on expected results, costs, and timelines rather than trying to meet your extremely high standards. Then check in regularly with these colleagues. Don’t wait until you think the project is finished, build in checkpoints where you share your progress at 50% or 80% done. Your boss or client just might tell you that the work is good enough at that point. You can also try small experiments where you relax your standards slightly. What happened? Were your worst fears realized? Finally, consider how perfectionism impacts your relationships. Are you setting unrealistic standards for those around you? The need to have it “perfect” will often annoy others, and in extreme cases, drive them away. For their sake — and yours — learn to be satisfied with good enough.

This tip is adapted from “6 Habits That Hurt Your Career — and How to Overcome Them,” by Kerry Goyette

Small Ways to Show Appreciation and Gratitude

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 12:30

You don’t need grand gestures to show your employees you appreciate them. Sometimes, it’s the little, everyday things that matter most. Start by checking in with each of your employees regularly. Give them the space to share what they’re doing or working on. You should also give balanced feedback. Praise is meaningful, but employees also want to know where they can improve. Just don’t give both types of feedback at once — clearly separate out the positive from the developmental. Offering growth opportunities or stretch assignments is another way to show employees they’re respected and valued. So take the time to explicitly discuss their potential. Lastly, make appreciation a habit. Try to build it into your regular routines, perhaps by spending the first 15 minutes of your week writing a personal thank-you note or starting your team meetings with shout-outs for the accomplishments of specific team members. You might be surprised at what a big difference the little things can make.

This tip is adapted from “The Little Things That Make Employees Feel Appreciated,” by Kerry Roberts Gibson, Kate O'Leary, and Joseph R. Weintraub

Stop Trying to Tackle Too Many Goals at Once

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 03:42

Most of us know that trying to tackle too many goals at once is a bad idea. It’s tough to make meaningful progress on any of them, and you’re more likely to just give up. So take a step back to determine which goal deserves your focus right now. Make sure your goal is aligned with your company’s strategic vision. The most direct way to do this is to ask your boss for input: What do you think is the most important goal I can be working on this year? If you’re choosing between equally compelling goals, the next step is to put them in chronological order to determine their optimal sequence. Make a list of what you’ll need to have in place — skills, knowledge, connections, assets, etc. — in order to accomplish your longer-term goals. Be on the lookout for a “keystone goal,” that, if accomplished, makes everything else easier or more attainable. And commit to sticking with your goal for a predetermined amount of time. If you don’t see immediate progress, don’t be tempted to switch course. Give it at least six months. By then you’ll have a better sense of whether you’re on the right track.

This tip is adapted from “Don’t Bog Yourself Down with Too Many Goals,” by Dorie Clark

What Not to Do When You’re Hiring New Talent

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 03:41

One of the most important — and toughest — parts of being a manager is hiring. Too many of us look for talent in the same old (wrong) places or follow the popular trend of thinking the “best hire” is the “best culture fit.” It’s time to update your tactics: Here’s what to stop doing and what to try instead. First, don’t just focus on your current needs. Plan ahead and consider whether the new hire has skills that align with your long-term strategy. Then, don’t just look at past performance. Consider the traits that will help the person be successful, for example, do they have the necessary soft skills. Also, don’t think about the candidate as an individual hire, think about the configuration of your team. Will people work together well? Are they likely to complement each other? Do their roles align with what the team needs? And don’t only search outside your company. Research shows that external hires take longer to adapt and have higher rates of voluntary and involuntary exits. On the other hand, internal hires tend to have higher success rates, not least because they are better able to understand the culture and navigate the politics of the organization. They are also more likely to be loyal and committed to the company, which is an important trait in all candidates.

This tip is adapted from “How the Best Managers Identify and Develop Talent,” by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Jonathan Kirschner

Build a Productivity System That Meets Your Specific Needs

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 03:40

It can be hard to find the right productivity tool. The good news is that with a new generation of DIY platforms, you don’t have to be a programmer to build a system that works for you. Here are a few things to consider before setting out. First, know the problem that you’re trying to solve. Your frustrations with your current tools are the best indicators of what you need, so jot those down. Then, if you find a tool that piques your interest, start using it on small tasks. You might have grand plans for an elaborate dashboard that will automate various parts of your work, but start with something easy, like a to-do list. Also, look for integrations with other important tools, such as your email client or phone apps that you regularly use. And be sure you have an escape plan. Because productivity tools come and go, make sure there is a way to export your work, and make a point of doing so regularly, if only as a backup.

This tip is adapted from “Create a Productivity Workflow That Works for You,” by Alexandra Samuel

When Joining a New Company, Find a “Cultural Mentor”

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 03:39

We often assume that if we’re successful at one company, we’ll easily succeed at another. But it can be jarring to join a new organization with a very different culture. One way to ease the transition is to find a cultural mentor: someone who can help you interpret and navigate the implicit codes of the new culture. Look for a person who has a deep understanding of your new company, wants you to succeed, and doesn’t have an overt political agenda that could cause them to give you biased information. This might be a former employee you know through social or professional circles, or a respected colleague in another office or department. But even with help, it’s possible that you’ll trip up at some point. If so, apologize, (“I’m sorry if my feedback came across as too harsh,”) explain the difference, (“That was a common way of expressing things at my last company,”) and commit to adapting. (“I’ve come to understand that’s not effective here, and I’ll take note of that for the future.”) People will often cut you some slack. Observe the nuances of your new culture carefully to ensure you don’t repeat your mistakes and damage your ability to succeed at your new job.

This tip is adapted from “Navigating a New Job with a Very Different Culture,” by Dorie Clark

Pay Attention to These Signs — Your Job May Be at Risk

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 03:38

There are very few jobs that are 100% secure, so it’s worth paying attention to signs that yours might be at risk. For example, a management shakeup can be a harbinger. A new boss may want to bring in fresh perspectives or hire people with whom they are already familiar. Also, take note if you see fewer projects come your way or feel you’ve been cut out of the loop — for example, you’re not being invited to meetings or no longer being copied on important emails. These could be red flags that you’ve fallen out of favor with a new boss. Losing a sponsor can also precipitate a change in your job status. Ask yourself, “Who is willing to advocate for me?” and understand that it’s vital to have more than one influential leader willing to expend political capital on your behalf. It’s always smart to be thinking about your other job options. By recognizing these key signs, you can take the necessary actions to prepare should you need to make a change sooner rather than later.

This tip is adapted from “4 Signs Your Job Might Be in Jeopardy,” by Susan Peppercorn

Learn to Pronounce Your Colleagues’ Names Correctly

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 03:37

Learning to pronounce a colleague’s name is not just a common courtesy, but an important effort in creating an inclusive workplace. When you’re unfamiliar with how to say someone’s name, ask them to pronounce it. Listen carefully to where they put emphasis, and where the inflections are. Repeat after them once or twice, not more. If you know you will interact with them often, make a note on how to phonetically pronounce their name (maybe afterward on their business card). Once you’ve heard the correct pronunciation, thank the person and move on. Don’t spend a long time talking about how unfamiliar you are with their name. If you realize that you’ve been saying a colleague’s name wrong, apologize and ask for the correct pronunciation. A good rule of thumb is to say, “I’m sorry I mispronounced that. Could you please repeat your name for me?” And if you hear others mispronounce the person’s name when they’re not around, step in and correct them gently. A simple statement like “I think it’s pronounced…” will save everyone potential discomfort later on.

This tip is adapted from “If You Don’t Know How to Say Someone’s Name, Just Ask,” By Ruchika Tulshyan

Managers: Don’t Emotionally Overextend Yourselves

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 03:36

Leaders are often approached by employees for help with personal problems — and many are happy to oblige. But new research shows that providing emotional support to direct reports can be taxing and negatively impact your mood and performance. What does this mean for managers who want to help? First, recognize that helping employees with their personal issues may put you in a bad mood. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, of course, but be aware of the potential impact. And because negative emotions are sticky, the impact may bleed into your personal life as well. If you do offer assistance, follow up by asking if your help was beneficial. Knowing that you helped may protect and even improve your mood. You should refer employees in particularly distressing situations to professional counselors in the company or outside, especially if you don’t feel qualified to help. Both you and your employees may be better off in the long run.

This tip is adapted from “The Costs of Being a Caring Manager,” by Klodiana Lanaj and Remy E. Jennings

Use Your Exit Interview to Improve Your (Almost) Former Workplace

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 03:35

You’ve given your notice, and you may be tempted to coast through the exit interview. After all, you’re on your way out. But this is your chance to provide helpful feedback and perhaps make some positive change for your soon-to-be former colleagues, as well as the company’s future employees. So don’t make it a venting session. Be calm, constructive, and stick to the facts. Explain your reason for leaving, whether it’s to pursue a new opportunity, escape a toxic leader, seek better work-life balance, make a career change, or all of the above. Rather than thinking of this as “telling on” anyone, consider it as shining a light on a problem to be solved. Make clear what was positive about your experience — what you liked and appreciated most about the job, your team, and the organization. And identify one or two areas for improvement. These may be the factors that would’ve kept you from leaving (if there are any) and may include things like more flexible work options, more competitive compensation, or a culture that is more welcoming of dissenting views. A good company wants to continuously improve, and the exit interview is a small way to help.

This tip is adapted from “What to Say in an Exit Interview,” by Rebecca Zucker

Are You Working Too Much?

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 12:30

We all need to shift into high gear from time to time, but how can you tell if you are pushing yourself too hard? Watch out for some of these telltale signs. When was the last time you took some time away from work? Consistently putting off vacations, working over major holidays, or regularly working weekends are all signals that you’re burning the candle from both ends. Another sign is deprioritizing personal relationships. If your social invitations have dried up because your friends assume you’re not available, you are probably too focused on work. Also, be aware of your behavior when you do take time to be with people outside of work. Are you fully present? While it’s normal to think about work periodically, it becomes a problem when you’re not able to manage your urge to check your phone or respond to emails and texts right away. If you see any of these signs, take some time to reflect on whether you have enough balance in your life. After all, being too wrapped up in work isn’t good for you or your performance.

This tip is adapted from “Are You Pushing Yourself Too Hard at Work?” by Rebecca Zucker

Strategies to Use When You’re Feeling Anxious

Thu, 01/30/2020 - 12:30

It’s normal to experience occasional anxiety — for example, when we’re faced with a high-stakes meeting, a stressed-out boss, or a conflict with a colleague. Feeling anxious can make you more vigilant, engaged, and productive, but it can also exacerbate negative thoughts. To regain control of your internal monologue, there are a few strategies you can try. First, take note of any physical cues: a churning stomach, sweaty palms, or flaring nostrils. When you experience these systems, divert your attention away from the stressor. One technique is to do a tough math problem in your head. Then, identify the “thought trap” you’re falling into. Are you catastrophizing (i.e. imagining the worst possible outcome)? Mind reading (i.e. imagining what others might think?) Or black-and-white thinking (i.e. considering only two possible outcomes)? Naming converts the vague threat to something concrete and helps you regain power by realizing you’ve encountered it before — and survived. Then, separate your uncertainties from the facts. Consider what stories you’re telling yourself about the situation and whether there are other angles to consider. Finally, think about what you would tell someone else if they were faced with the same scenario, and follow your own advice. These strategies will help you move from self-criticism to self-compassion, giving you more energy to focus on what’s important.

If you are concerned about an anxiety disorder, consult with a medical professional for possible diagnosis and treatment.

This tip is adapted from “How Anxiety Traps Us, and How We Can Break Free,” by Sabina Nawaz

Choose a Career That Matches Your Personality

Thu, 01/30/2020 - 07:37

Don’t beat yourself up if you have the type of personality where you get easily bored or distracted. You’re not alone. And as long as you choose a job or career that matches your natural temperament, there’s no reason you can’t be successful. For example, you might consider entrepreneurship, a career path that provides lots of variety. From coming up with an idea, to finding the resources to turn that idea into action, to interacting with customers or clients, there’s rarely time for boredom or routine. If you have difficulty switching off or disconnecting, you may want to consider a career in PR or media production. There’s never a dull moment in those jobs where you have to be prepared to react to news, or learn how to communicate with very different audiences in a wide range of media. Another career if you want to avoid monotony and routine is consulting, where you regularly interact with new clients and take on novel problems. Your personality is an inherent part of who you are. Identifying a role that is a fit for your natural disposition will help you improve your job performance and maximize your career potential.

This tip is adapted from “4 Careers for People Who Are Easily Distracted,” by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Put Your Audience’s Needs First When Preparing for a Speech

Thu, 01/30/2020 - 07:35

When you’re giving a speech or presentation, it’s not your job to get the audience to like you. In fact, if the audience is paying too close attention to you, they may actually miss your message. Instead, focus on being present and staying attuned to your audience’s needs. From the moment you begin to prepare, think about who will be in the room. Each time you practice, maintain focus on your imaginary audience. The moment you catch yourself going into autopilot, stop and restart your sentence. And right before you speak, take a moment to breathe and look directly at your audience. Then begin with a “you” statement, e.g “Each of you in this room…” or “I want to share a story with you about the power of…” This immediately signals to your audience that you are there to help them.

This tip is adapted from “Do You Need Charisma to Be a Great Public Speaker?” by Sarah Gershman

Find Daily Opportunities to Mentor Junior Employees

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 12:30

Many companies have formal, hierarchical mentoring programs nested somewhere in their HR department. But evidence shows that these programs alone won’t sufficiently engage or develop junior talent. If you’re interested in mentoring, think about becoming a “mentor of the moment,” by seeking development opportunities in daily interactions. Check in regularly with junior colleagues. See how things are going and offer support or resources as appropriate. Ask questions about their development such as: “In a perfect world, what would you be doing in 10 years? How can I help make it happen?” When you observe a junior employee in action, make time to provide reinforcing feedback about what you found most successful and what you learned. This type of mentoring, while informal, often pays off big for organizations in terms of better retention and more loyalty and commitment among employees.

This tip is adapted from “Real Mentorship Starts with Company Culture, Not Formal Programs,” by W. Brad Johnson and David G. Smith

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