Monday, April 30, 2012

Is passion for what you do the key to happiness?

"I love what I do."
How often do you hear people say these words? Maybe if you spend a lot of time with motivational speakers, it’s commonplace. But no matter how emotionally invested you are in your work, it’s easy to feel like something is missing. After all, isn't putting "love" and "work" in the same sentence akin to using "pleasure" and "toil” in the same breath? Chances are though, if you like what you do, on a good day you might actually feel some love for it. But is that passion for work life the key to happiness?

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Surely this maxim will find it's way into many a graduate's ear this spring. But can it be that are we setting them up for disappointment by expecting work to feel like… not-work? As Chrissy Scivicque in Forbes challenges, “It’s dangerous to suggest that work can be anything other than work."

"That's why they call it work."
It's true that even those who have reached unimaginable success at their would-be dream job would have to admit that, on some level, work is still work. But perhaps after redefining our expectations of what work should be, we can actually appreciate the happiness within. If you have ever had a day where you wanted to swap positions with a happy-go-lucky sanitation worker, maybe it’s the happy-go-lucky part you need to focus on.

"Labor of love."
Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in-between attitude and aptitude. Once you know how much happiness you can reasonably expect from any work, you see your own work in a different light. Start with the notion that some component of work will always be, if not tedious, at least routine. A farmer can still love to farm, even if he doesn't enjoy being at the mercy of the elements. A doctor can love to heal the sick, but they also have to spend a good portion of the day filling out paperwork. Remember that difficulty and unpleasantness are a component of any job worth being passionate about. Being in a position of authority can make these extremes even more marked.

So, is having a passion for what you do the key to happiness? The answer lies not in blindly pursuing something you think might make you happy; it's in deciding to approach everything you do, in and out of the office, with passion. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Addition by subtraction: cutting out bad habits to increase effectiveness

Chances are, as an executive on the go, your business style has evolved along with the latest technology. But for all of the time saving apps and platforms we have at our disposal, some have only clogged our daily to-do list more. Here are a few bad habits to break if you are looking to simplify your schedule.

Bad habit: being trigger happy for meetings
Whether we do it ourselves, or rely on an assistant keeping the daily calendar, sometimes we schedule more meetings than we really need. How many times have you gone to a project status meeting, full of people, only to find that nothing has really changed? Think about who really needs to attend and avoid inviting everyone “just in case.” That’s what a good note-taker is for, so that updates can be shared via email.

Bad habit: being a slave to your inbox
Do you answer your emails one by one as they come in? The constant bleep of a new message can be a huge distraction as you try to accomplish the task at hand, and it can take precious minutes to recover your train of thought. One email can easily send you off on a tangent that suddenly chews up an entire hour. Schedule “mail time” into your day, rather than trying to keep up with your inbox all day long. Utilize your email filters and folders to do some of the work for you. Or better yet, have a trusted assistant monitor and prioritize your inbox.

Bad habit: being vague with your availability
One of the best things you can do as a leader is to make it clear when you are and are not available to chat. A closed or open door is sometimes all you need to send the right signal, but if you work in an open concept office, this can be tricky. Set a precedent by giving people a visual that shows them when you are not to be interrupted: turn on a certain lamp, wear headphones, position your chair towards privacy. You can even have fun with it, setting that teddy bear from your daughter on your desk to ward off those who might break your concentration.

Bad habit: being preoccupied with social media
Whether you have been on board with Facebook since day one, or are a novice tweeter, it’s easy to get caught up in online conversations that might have nothing to do with the business at hand. Set aside time to give yourself a mental break from work, to drop in on conversations that are easily flagged for follow-up later. If you find yourself addicted, most browsers have tools that will place a limit how much time you can spend on a certain site through the course of your day.

We spend a lot of effort measuring the productivity of our teams. Try to spend a set amount of time each day improving your own effectiveness. As you look for bad habits to eliminate, take the last 10 minutes of your day to journal your productivity. Finding out where you lose time during the day can give you a valuable insight into planning your day ahead.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Does your office space create barriers?

So much of efforts in recruiting and retaining employees focuses on salary, benefits, and other perks, that often one of the most attractive aspects of your company goes unnoticed: it’s your office layout.

With changes in the workplace, many are re-visiting office space design, hoping to provide an increasingly appealing space and collaborative culture in which their teams can conduct daily business. Office walls are literally coming down, foregoing traditional cubicle rows with open community space. The New York Times recently reported that “two-thirds of American office space is now configured in some sort of open arrangement.”

Last year FastCompany wrote that digital culture has played an important role in our move away from walled in offices. The article states, “A traditional office layout is designed to communicate power among certain individuals and barriers between departments. This does not support the collaborative ethos which is intrinsic to the web.”

Certainly instantaneous sharing has shifted the way we view the workspace. But additionally, open concept offices boost morale and can be just plain fun, as seen in the notoriously over-the-top design at Google headquarters.

Of course, for most of us, creating an enjoyable environment doesn’t necessitate playground equipment. It can be something as simple as relegating the room with the best view, previously reserved for top brass, as a communal space, as The Kindness Revolution author Ed Horrell suggests in this piece for Custom Service Manager.

At this point you might be thinking, “You mean give up my corner office!?” Actually, it’s not just lower ranking employees who are seeking out open spaces. Many of today's most successful CEOs are finding that a private office keeps them isolated and unaware of the actual daily work, and unable to get the pulse of their team. Instead some are opting for cubicle life or collaborative spaces. As reported in Forbes recently reported, top CEOs like Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Meg Whitman of Hewlett Packard (and formerly eBay), Klaus Kleinfeld of Alcoa Pittsburg, and even New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, prefer working shoulder-to-shoulder with their employees.

Of course all of these scenarios are reliant upon other factors, such as the type business you run, and how your brand needs to be conveyed. But even in the most conservative and professional offices, there are ways you can make your office layout more fun and practical for your employees. And who knows? You might like it so much that you’ll want to join them.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hiring for Experience vs Hiring for Potential

It’s happened to any of us in a management position. You’ve gone through a few rounds of interviews, and find yourself needing to make a decision between one of two very different candidates.

One candidate has a strong resume demonstrating years of experience in your industry. He has all of the skills and qualifications you could expect, and you know he could hit the ground running.

The other candidate is younger, and hasn’t held positions that would translate directly to this role. But she’s been successful at every turn. Your gut says think that in a few years you might really be kicking yourself for having passed on her.

Which do you pick?

Hire for your objectives, and for theirs

Of course, there’s no one right answer, but the first thing you should do is take a look at your organization’s objectives.

Is there a time-crunch causing you to need immediate help? Are you launching a new product? Is this a highly skilled technical role? Then you’ll probably lean toward hiring based on experience.

However, if your company has a strong mentorship program, is growing steadily and looking long-term, or more interested in innovation, then the candidate with potential might be the way to go.

It’s not all about your needs, either. Take a long look at what the candidate will want to get out of this role, as well.

Make sure your company’s values align with theirs. Consider whether one candidate is a stronger cultural fit for the organization. Be certain that they will have all the tools they’ll need to succeed, whether they have the experience or the potential.

Watch out for red-flags

Experience and potential aren’t always positives. If that first candidate spent fifteen years in a position, was it because he had no motivation to rise above? Did he lack the skills to take his career to the next level? Does he limit his problem-solving abilities by resorting to tried-and-true methods he’s relied upon over the years?

Conversely, potential is always difficult to measure. Her high GPA doesn’t necessarily translate to intelligence. Someone possessing the ability to rise to her potential will already have demonstrated the ability to stand out from the crowd; she’s done more than her peers of a similar age and background. You don’t know that she’ll have the dedication to stay with one organization long enough for your investment to pay off.

Final considerations

Many employers will look at those red-flags and err on the side of experience. Hiring for potential is a risk, but not everyone has it. Experience happens over time, no matter what.

A short-term, safe approach may stagnate your company, as well. Ideally, you’ll have a mix of experience and potential on your team. The attributes complement each other, and both sides of the spectrum will have something to learn from the other.

Most importantly, make sure the candidate wants to do the work that comes along with the position. It sounds obvious, but whether your candidate has the experience or the potential, the most successful hire will be the one who is willing to do whatever the job requires.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The importance of lifelong learning, and how to foster it in your corporate culture

Staying ahead of the curve is tougher than ever. In fact, sometimes it’s all you can do to keep up with changing technology. In an ideal world, you’d hire a person who does one thing really well, and they might do that one thing for their entire career.

The skills you learned in school that got you that first job may have been applicable for several years, but that’s not the case anymore. From advertising to Zamboni repair, technology requires us all to be in a continual state of learning.

Henry Ford said, "Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty." What was true then, is even truer now. Creating an environment where your employees continue to learn shouldn’t be thought of as merely a perk. It should be considered a must. And in our ever-changing business climate, it is a win-win. Here’s how to make learning work for you and your team:


Offering continued education is a great incentive when you’re hiring. It’s also an excellent way to retain the people you already have on board. Your best employees want to stay at the forefront of your industry, and to keep their skills sharp so as to contribute at a high level. If you’re not providing that opportunity or encouraging them to do so, they may go elsewhere. When you consider the cost of hiring and training someone new, you are better off investing that money in members of your existing team. Someone who wants to learn more is someone you want to keep. Facilitating their growth shows that you value your employees, and gives them something to value in return.


Team chemistry is vitally important to the success of any business. Be sure to reward those employees who express a desire to share what they are learning during their course of education. When you offer tuition reimbursement, you are in a sense, paying to have that knowledge imported and spread throughout your business. One enlightened employee can share their newfound wisdom at internal seminars, workshops, and training sessions, saving you money from having to hire outside contractors and instructors.


Tomorrow’s must-have skills are built upon the innovations of today. A recent article in Fast Company points out that thriving in today’s unpredictable climate requires the ability to embrace change. To quote the article, “Few traditional career tactics train us for an era where the most important skill is the ability to acquire new skills.” Perhaps more than any other offering, educating your employees arms them with the tools to succeed.

Of course, continual learning is not just for your employees. It should be number one on your to-do list, as well. If you don’t have time for formal classes, there are several online courses and tutorials that can be affordable, or even free of charge. Sites like can be an economical learning resource for you and your company, offering many very specialized and personalized courses of study.

Are you doing all you can to foster lifelong learning in your company and in your life? Share your tips and advice.